NEW ULM - The Martin Luther College football team was picked to finish eighth in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Preseason Poll released Wednesday by the conference.
MLC returns a number of key performers from its youthful 2013 roster that finished with a 4-6 record (4-5 UMAC). The Knights are hopeful that the experience gained last season can help them to a better finish in the 2014 UMAC standings.
The offense returns eight starters from last season's team that averaged more than 400 total yards per game (220.8 yards rushing and 181.2 yards passing). Junior Luke Rothe returns at quarterback after throwing for 1803 yards with 18 touchdowns to go with 813 yards rushing and nine scores in 2013.
Rothe will be joined in the backfield by Matt Olson, who ran for 700 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games last season.
Receivers Josh Rathje, Dan Rodewald and Chris Arndt all return with experience on the outside, while the offensive line returns four of the five starters from last season.
Jeff Rick, Jacob Bode and Aaron Platzer each have at least two years of starting experience under their belts along the offensive line.
Defensively, the Knights return 10 starters from one of the most inexperienced units in the UMAC a season ago. The strength of the defense will remain up front, where Ben Ewings, Ben Hansen and Nick Kressin return after strong 2013 campaigns. Ewings was a First Team All-UMAC selection after setting an MLC single-season record with 11.0 sacks in 2013. Kressin led the team in tackles (77), and also finished with 15.5 tackles for loss, while Hansen finished with 67 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss.
The back seven returns veterans Colin Paustian and Jacob Brohn, while underclassmen Thomas Keller, Chris Dean and Nathan Schoenherr look to show improvement after gaining experience as freshman a season ago.
St. Scholastica took first in the preseason poll with a total of 74 points and five first place votes. Greenville (70 points) and Northwestern (69) finished second and third, respectively, with two first-place vote apiece.