Don't look now, but there only 100 days until kickoff of the 2017 Tommie-Johnnie Football game to be played at Target Field.
Wait, to be even more precise, it's 100 days until "2017 Tommie-Johnnie Football at Target Field, presented by Oppidan."
If you missed Wednesday's announcement, St. Thomas signed up a presenting sponsor for the rivalry contest. Such a business opportunity is rare at the Division III level. Twin-Cities-based Oppidan is a property development firm which works in real estate, asset management, brokerage services, construction management and project management.
If anything could break the norm in Division III athletics, it would be a Tommie-Johnnie football game. In the last several years alone, this cool football rivalry has produced record attendance figures, overtime games, an unprecedented NCAA playoff matchup in 2015, plus a multi-day visit from the crew of ESPN's SportsCenter on the Road with stops at each campus.
The year's edition of the rivalry game was already set to make history as the first football game to be played inside the seven-year-old Target Field. And with P.J. Fleck and his Minnesota Gophers not rowing the boat that afternoon with a bye week on Sept. 23, this fall's contest likely will gain extra buzz in this region throughout that week.
Tickets went on sale last December and the game is already on pace to break the Division III attendance record. It's not crazy to project that this could be the first D-III contest to attract 20,000 or more fans.
Another recent news blurb won't hurt the pregame buildup: Lindy's Football Magazine includes both the Tommies (No. 3) and Johnnies (No. 4) in its preseason top 25 Division III poll. While at least one of the teams has been ranked in the top 10 in 11 of the past 12 years, this marks the first time both programs are listed together in any top five of a Division III poll/ranking.
Lindy's put defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 1 followed by Mount Union, St. Thomas, St. John's and Johns Hopkins.
Street & Smith's summer magazine has a top five of Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor, UW-Whitewater, St. Thomas and UW-Oshkosh, with St. John's at No. 8.
D3football.com will release its preseason poll in August.
Thanks to a fluke in the schedule, both St. Thomas and St. John's football teams will be playing in Northfield on Sept. 16 -- the Tommies at Carleton, and SJU at St. Olaf.
That also means the Tommies will do something that's getting rare at any level of college football -- play back-to-back games in venues with natural grass (Carleton, Target Field).
If both road teams win Sept. 16 at St. Olaf and Carleton, maybe we should hold a prizefight-type weigh-in later that afternoon in downtown Northfield, to start the hype for Target Field week. (Big-roster joke coming...) Perhaps the Johnnies' three guys who share jersey No. 20 and the Tommies' three guys who share No. 17 could arm wrestle?
While the Target Field opportunity will cost St. Thomas an on-campus game, Coach Glenn Caruso still has a more favorable schedule than in 2016. Last year, the Tommies went on the road to face top MIAC challengers St. John's, Concordia-Moorhead, Bethel and Gustavus.
UST's 2017 schedule has all four of those teams coming either to O'Shaughnessy Stadium or Target Field.
The Tommies' Sept. 2 opener at home against UW-Eau Claire will be the first game played on St. Thomas' new field turf. Construction is underway on the UST campus for a resurfaced track and new turf inside O'Shaughnessy, as well as new infield turf and improvements for Tommie Baseball nearby at Koch Diamond.
Did You Know?
- Fans who love schedule quirks can note that this is a rare year that the Tommies will play five September football games.
- Glenn Caruso, who starts his 10th season at St. Thomas' head coach, comes into 2017 with a 99-15 record. In the 17 seasons prior to that, Tommie Football won 97 games
- St. John's plays UMAC teams St. Scholastica and Presentation at home then opens MIAC play at St. Olaf in its first three games. The Johnnies are expected to return 12 starters (seven on offense).
- St. Thomas will play off campus four weeks in a row. After it meets UW-Eau Claire at home on Sept. 2, it plays at UW-Stout; at Carleton; the Johnnie game at Target Field; and Sept. 30 at Augsburg.
- The Tommie Homecoming game will be against Concordia-Moorhead Oct. 7.
- The Sept. 9 Stout game (61 miles) will be the longest road trip of UST's regular season.
- St. Thomas has the fourth most overall victories (81) and postseason victories (17) in Division III football during this decade (2010-present).
- Caruso's 81 wins this decade are the second most by any Division III head coach.
- St. Thomas Football graduated seven different seniors who were named All-America, Academic All-America or a conference MVP last season.
- St. Thomas returns starters at RB, FB, blocking TE, receiving TE, OG, OT, LB, LB, CB, SS, PK.
- 2015 Division III Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Roberts returns for his final season at running back after missing 2016 following in-season knee surgery.
Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working in his 23rd season at St. Thomas and 29th overall in the MIAC. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and Division III sports.
If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at [email protected]