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Gene's Blog: Football's 18 fun facts for '18

Gene's Blog: Football's 18 fun facts for '18

After 95 years, the nearby Division III Iowa Conference has changed its name to the American Rivers Conference.

After 52 years of holding training camp in Mankato and 36 years with its headquarters in Eden Prairie, the Minnesota Vikings have moved both to their new facility in Eagan.

After 35 years and concluding next month after Labor Day, Twin Cities AM listeners will no longer be able to turn the dial to hear Patrick Reusse and Joe Soucheray live on KSTP Radio.

After a 23-year high-school, college and WNBA career, world-class basketball point guard Lindsey Whalen has retired into a full-time coaching role as Gophers' head coach.

Whoa, is anyone else's head spinning with all these abrupt changes in these parts?

Glenn Caruso, do us a favor. We could use some old-fashioned predictibility on the sports scene: a rivalry game or two... 50-50 run-pass balance on offense... another speedy, playmaking defense... a breakout star or two to help replace those unselfish 2017 seniors.  

Here are 18 Tommie Football notes for 2018 as another season is fast approaching:

 

No. 1: Here We Go

Caruso's 11th Tommie Football team opened fall practice on Sunday as it prepares for its first preseason scrimmage next weekend.

UST will play its first three 2018 games -- and six of its first eight -- at home at Palmer Field in O'Shaughnessy Stadium.

A key three-game stretch from Sept. 29-Oct. 13 starts with a road game at Concordia (the Cobbers' Homecoming); continues with a home game against Augsburg (UST's Homecoming and Family Weekend); and concludes with the annual Tommie-Johnnie showdown (this season back in Collegeville). 

The Sept. 1 opener is against Trinity International, an NAIA school located in Deerfield, Ill. It will be Tommie Football's first non-NCAA Division III opponent since 1997 (Concordia-St. Paul). Concordia (then known as the Comets and now Golden Bears) was in NAIA before it joined NCAA Division II in 1999.

 

No. 2: It's On 830

WCCO-AM 830 will again air all St. Thomas football games live in 2018, with Dave Lee and Eric Nelson on the call.

This marks the 95th consecutive season that WCCO Radio has aired college football games. WCCO has called 92 Tommie contests in a row since a 2010 playoff game against Bethel.

 

No. 3: Territory Grows

St. Thomas' 140-player preseason roster has 50 players from out of state – including 22 from Wisconsin and 16 from Illinois. The 2018 Tommies have seven players from Prior Lake High; six from Maple Grove High; and five apiece from Chanhassen High and St. Thomas Academy.

Caruso was hired at St. Thomas in 2008. In his second Tommie season, 2009 – his first full recruiting class -- his 113-player camp roster had nine players from Wisconsin and five from Illinois.

The 2018 Toms have 10 players standing 6-foot-5 or taller and 17 players who weigh 270 pounds or more. For a comparison, nine years ago, the 2009 Toms had six players at 6-5 or taller, and 10 at 270 pounds or better. Going back 38 years, the 1980 Toms had no players taller than 6-4 and no players weighing in above 240.

 

No. 4: Poll Talk

St. Thomas comes into the 2018 season ranked No. 3 in preseason top-25 poll released by D3football.com. Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor, St. Thomas, UW-Oshkosh and Linfield took the first five spots.

This marks the 10th consecutive season St. Thomas has been ranked in the top 25 in the preseason by D3football.com, including a top-five slot at sone point in nine of the last 10 years.

 

No. 5: Tied a Record

When St. Thomas won the 2017 conference title with an 8-0 finish -- including a fourth consecutive victory over archrival St. John's -- it tied a conference record for most solo (non-shared) football team titles in one decade.

The Tommies' six solo crowns so far during the 2010s matches what Gustavus did in the 1950s and what St. John's did in the 1990s. (Gustavus also had two co-championships during the 1950s, and SJU had one co-title in the 1990s).

 

No. 6: No Kidding

Caruso has guided the Tommies to a 37-4 record over the last three seasons. That includes a 25-0 mark against conference teams, and an 8-3 postseason record.

St. Thomas' .885 win clip this decade (92-12) ranks sixth best among all 660 NCAA football teams. The decade's top five win percentages are claimed by Mount Union (.950, 113-6), Mary Hardin-Baylor (.927, 101-8), UW-Whitewater (.916, 98-9), Alabama (.892, 99-12) and North Dakota State (.891, 106-13).

 

No. 7: Elite Company

Out of 660 football teams at all four NCAA levels, just 12 have played in two or more national championship games during the 2010s decade. That elite list includes:

Alabama; Auburn; Clemson; Oregon; North Dakota State; James Madison; Sam Houston State; Northwest Missouri State; Mount Union; UW-Whitewater; Mary Hardin-Baylor; and St. Thomas.

 

No. 8: Streak Talk

  • St. Thomas' current 28-game football win streak over MIAC opponents -- matching SJU's conference record of 28 -- leads all 240 D-III programs and ranks in the top five among all NCAA institutions.
  • The Tommies have won their last 77 games when they allow 19 or fewer points.
  • The Toms have scored 21 or more points in 25 consecutive home games at Palmer Field.
  • Jacques Perra (13 games) or his predecessor at QB, Alex Fenske (nine), have given St. Thomas a current streak of 22 consecutive games having thrown at least one TD pass.

 

No. 9: Rare Air

Among all NCAA coaches' records at their current schools -- minimum of six seasons -- Glenn Caruso's .866 winning clip at St. Thomas (110-17) is third best among all NCAA football coaches behind Ohio State's Urban Meyer (.901, 73-8, six seasons) and Alabama's Nick Saban (.868, 132-20, 12 seasons).

 

No. 10: Who's Back

The Tommies return 32 of their 50 players listed on last year's postseason two-deeps. That includes at least 14 players with starting experience -- including eight on offense -- from an 11-2 squad of 2017 that reached the NCAA playoff quarterfinals.

The 2017 Toms had a season-ending road loss to eventual NCAA runner-up Mary Hardin-Baylor 24-10 in a game that was tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter. The dangerous Crusader offense scored just one touchdown against the UST defense and had its lowest yardage output in the 20-year history of its program.

 

No. 11: It Starts with Defense

Last fall's St. Thomas team ranked first or second in five defensive categories among all 660 NCAA football teams at all levels.

UST's 21.9 net rushing yards allowed per game in 2017 were the fewest allowed by any NCAA football team (all four levels) in one season in the last 16 years.

UST's defense's 157.6 total yards allowed per game were the fewest allowed by any NCAA team in one season in the last 20 years. It was 50 yards better than the next closest team.

UST's defensive unit has allowed less than five points a game in the first halves since the start of 2015 (198 first-half points in 41 games). St. Thomas' defense has limited opposing offenses to 10 or less points in 49 of 104 games this decade, (11 shutouts).

In 38 career games senior linebacker Adam Brant has 28 tackles for loss (six sacks) with a total of 83 solo tackles. He has one touchdown, one interception, five forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles.

 

No. 12: Shoes to Fill

St. Thomas graduated four All-America players last May, although another All-America returns in 2018: center Matt Beck.

All-America honorees Austin Jochum (DL), Isaac Seering (S) and Matt Christenson (TE) were among a deep senior class that graduated. Jochum became the third Tommie in a row to win the MIAC's annual Mike Stam Award for top lineman.

Jordan Roberts (RB) was a National Offensive Player of the Year and consensus All-America in 2015 as a junior. After a medical redshirt in 2016, Roberts' final year of eligibility was halted at mid-season 2017 by a concussion. In his 23-game Tommie career, he scored 46 touchdowns, rushed 483 times for 2,569 yards, and had 22 catches for 267 yards.

 

No. 13: Offense Ready to Roll

Beck and his offensive line mates helped the Tommies average more than 47 points a game and score 75 offensive touchdowns last fall. The Tommie offense had an impressive balance with 258 passing yards and 208 rushing yards per contest, plus 23 first downs a game.

UST led all Division II and III teams in offensive plays (1,015), and led all NCAA teams in fourth-down conversions (34).

St. Thomas football returns 85 career touchdown runs or receptions from these seven backs or receivers: Tucker Trettel (31), Josh Parks (22), Stephen Wagner, Gabe Green, Perra, Vinny Pallini and Emitt Peisert.

 

No. 14: Vet Under Center

Senior QB Jacques Perra was named all-conference in 2017 as a first-year starter. He has thrown for 3,487 yards and 30 touchdown passes in 23 games with the Tommies with just 11 interceptions.

Last season, he threw for 24 TDs and ran for six, and also averaged 47.1 yards on 14 punts. He ranked in the top 32 among Division III QBs in passing yards, passing TDs, yards per completion, and points responsible for with his hand in 30 TDs.

 

No. 15: Coaching Staff

Caruso and his 12-man assistant coach and support staff have playing or coaching experience at 30 different colleges or universities. Most of that is in the Midwest but also in states as far away as Montana, New York, and Virginia.

That experience includes all football levels from junior college, NAIA, D-II and D-III, FCS and FBS. Speed and Strength coach Stu Borne also had an internship in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.

 

No. 16: Travel Log

Earlier this summer -- for the third time in the last seven years -- Tommie Football travelled for exhibition games and cultural opportunities, visiting Ireland and Italy.

St. Thomas Football used its 2012 and 2015 international trips as a springboard to advance to the Stagg Bowl national championship games.

 

No. 17: 1,000 in Sight

Sept. 15 at O'Shaughnessy Stadium, St. Thomas will play varsity game No. 1,000 in program history, against Hamline. UST joins the Minnesota Gophers as the only in-state programs to reach 1,000 contests.

A fun sidelight to that game: new Tommie assistant coach Nick Olson (tight ends) will coach against his dad, 1980 Tommie alum Todd Olson, who recently joined the coaching staff at Hamline on the offensive line.

 

No. 18: More History Lessons

  • St. Thomas Football won five MIAC championships during a 60-year span from 1950-2009 but has won six in the last eight seasons.
  • There's a World War I back story, but this fall marks the 100th anniversary of the Tommies' 1918 home game against the Minnesota Gophers, a 25-7 loss.
  • It's been 88 years since St. Thomas installed stadium lights at O'Shaughnessy and played the first night football game in Twin Cities history.
  • This fall marks the 70th anniversary of the Tommies' famed Cigar Bowl football season (Jan. 1, 1949 bowl game in Tampa Fla.). That team still has some living members, including ex-NFL player Jim "Popcorn" Brandt, who resides in Rochester.

Popcorn? Show up at O'Shaughnessy on Sept. 1 for the official start of another fun season, and the popcorn is on me. 

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working his 24th season at St. Thomas and 30th overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at ejmcgivern@stthomas.edu