Louie St. George: Are the Bulldogs embarking on a special season? It sure seems that way
Prior to the season, University of Minnesota Duluth senior running back Isaac Odim said the Bulldogs would relish the proverbial target on their back. For a team two years removed from a national championship -- and with a cadre of talent returni...
Prior to the season, University of Minnesota Duluth senior running back Isaac Odim said the Bulldogs would relish the proverbial target on their back. For a team two years removed from a national championship -- and with a cadre of talent returning from a 2009 squad that waltzed to a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference crown and advanced to the national quarterfinals -- there was nowhere to hide.
Opponents focused on an upset win would be gunning for the Bulldogs on a weekly basis.
"We know that every team is going to be circling our game on the schedule, knowing that they want to beat us," the all-world Odim said in early August, "but it's a challenge we're willing to take, so we're happy about it."
Either UMD's first four opponents never got the memo, or the Bulldogs are really, really good. Maybe it's a combination of both factors, but UMD has been downright ridiculous en route to a 4-0 start. The 'Dogs opened on the road at Central Washington, which carried a No. 5 ranking into the showdown. The result? A 35-10 Bulldogs win.
The next week featured more of the same: a 62-13 thumping of Upper Iowa. Odim highlighted that win with 163 rushing yards and five touchdowns as UMD scored 48 first-half points, including a stunning 34 in the second quarter alone.
In their home opener two weeks ago at Malosky Stadium, the Bulldogs again overwhelmed a highly touted club in No. 18 Wayne State. The UMD defense, often overlooked by the team's point-a-minute offense, scored two touchdowns to trigger a 42-10 victory.
A week ago, it was a 44-21 trouncing of rival Bemidji State.
Entering this weekend's trip to Moorhead, the Bulldogs have outscored four opponents -- including two ranked in the top 18 nationally -- by a combined 183-54. It's no surprise, then, that the 'Dogs have climbed to the top of the D2Football.com poll, while they remain second (behind perennial power Grand Valley State) in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll.
Apparently, Odim and his teammates weren't kidding about embracing the challenge of being the hunted. Each week offers another amped-up foe looking for a season-defining win.
So far, so good for coach Bob Nielson and the Bulldogs.
One of the nice things about this club is its cool demeanor. In the grand scheme of things, a 4-0 start means little. Eye-popping stats and blowout wins are fun for the fans and good for regional and national rankings. But there's a stark difference between regular-season games in September and win-or-go-home affairs in November and December.
Don't expect the veteran Bulldogs to get over-confident.
"We've still got a long ways to go, but the thing that is really exciting for me as a coach is knowing we can still play much better," Nielson told the News Tribune following the game against Wayne State. "This team has a lot of potential. We just need to keep getting better each week."
And therein lies the secret: week-to-week improvement, a commitment to refining the little stuff.
That, coupled with an ultra-talented roster, excellent coaching and an understanding of what it takes to be successful in the postseason, could pave the way for another dazzling UMD football season -- despite (or maybe because of) that persistent target on the Bulldogs' back.
- From the "What happened to summer?" department: The Minnesota Wild is less than a week away from its regular-season opener (at home Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes).
- UMD's football team isn't the only program on campus enjoying a lofty national ranking. The volleyball team is ranked first in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II poll. The top three spots in that poll belong to NSIC clubs. And in men's hockey, the Bulldogs have been ranked as high as ninth in various polls.
- In the spring of 2008, the Vikings signed wide receiver Bernard Berrian to a six-year, $42 million contract. No, really, they did.
- Speaking of the Vikings, this is the way I feel about Brett Favre through three games: You know when you have a dog and you splurge on some high-quality wet food for a couple days, and then you go back to the old stuff, the flavor-deprived dry food? Your dog couldn't be any less interested in that stuff. It kind of mopes around, maybe whines a bit and just generally looks disgusted.
That's the vibe Favre has given off: the disgusted dog vibe.
- The Duluth Amateur Youth Basketball Association (DAYBA) is holding sign-ups for rec basketball Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln school and Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Washington Center, Room 109. Rec leagues are for players in grades 5-8. The registration fee is $75. Also, DAYBA hosts free open gym each Saturday (through Oct. 30) at the Washington Center from 10 a.m. to noon. It is for players in grades K-12. For more information, including dates and times for travel team tryouts, go to DAYBA.org.
- St. Scholastica's football team, showing steady improvement in its third year of existence, is 2-2. The Saints opened with back-to-back wins before dropping two straight. They will celebrate Homecoming this weekend against Crown College.
Budgeteer sports columnist Louie St. George can be reached via email@example.com .