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Kansas State Top Five: Defensive Backs. Also, New England and Minnesota conference previews

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We dig around in our staff's brain pans for rankings!

Was there any doubt who'd top this list?
Was there any doubt who'd top this list?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Lead

You can't really get ready for the season without a good side-helping of nostalgia. So we're polling our staff to make top five lists for each position group as part of Preseason Conditioning. Today, we asked about the defensive backs.

Honorable mention

Our staff gave respectful nods to three players who didn't make our top five. Ty Zimmerman received quite a few votes, but they were all in the number five position. Your Benevolent Despot listed Mario Smith, who used to hit guys so hard some of them still hurt now. And while nobody actually voted for Jon McGraw, his name came up.

5. Clarence Scott

When you're an All-Pro and All-American, you make this list. Scott, of course, is one of the few pre-Snyder Wildcats to have had an excellent career both in college and professionally.

4. Thomas Randolph

One of the key members of the squads which finally lifted K-State into relevance, Randolph graduated in 1994 and was taken in the second round of the draft by the New York Giants. His pro career wasn't stellar, but his contributions were vital for Bill Snyder's first two bowl teams.

3. Chris Canty

It's one of the tragedies of Wildcat fandom that Chris Canty will always be more remembered for his actions at the end of his K-State career than for his absolute excellence prior to that point. A two-time All-American, Canty won the Jack Tatum Award in 1996.

2. Jaime Mendez

Mendez was a native of Youngstown, making him the perfect target for the Stoops brothers. Still the all-time leader in interceptions at K-State, Mendez was part of Bill Snyder's first recruiting class, and ended his Wildcat career by hoisting the school's first-ever bowl championship trophy after the 1993 Copper Bowl.

1. Terence Newman

Look, even just looking at the headline you already knew this. Lest there be any doubt as to whether Newman's getting extra credit for being a stellar kick returner, remember that he was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and Jim Thorpe Award winner in 2002. He was even a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, which goes to the nation's best defensive player, period. There was no other choice here.

New England Football Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION NEFC OVERALL
rv Massachusetts Institute of Technology Engineers Cambridge MA 7-0 10-1
Western New England University Golden Bears Springfield MA 5-2 8-2
Salve Regina University Seahawks Newport RI 5-2 7-4
Endicott College Gulls Beverly MA 4-3 5-5
Curry College Colonels Milton MA 3-4 3-7
Maine Maritime Academy Mariners Castine ME 2-5 3-6
United States Coast Guard Academy Bears New London MA 2-5 3-7
Nichols College Bison Dudley MA 0-7 1-9

The New England Football Conference was halved last year, when the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference began sponsoring football on its own. The league, along with the East Coast Football Conference and Liberty League, is about to get shaken up again. In 2017, the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference will begin sponsoring football, which will strip the NEFC of three more teams (MIT, Coast Guard, and Maine Maritime), and cost the league its autobid unless something happens. The most common suggestion is to effectively merge with the Liberty League, which will also be left with only five football-playing members.

MIT... so, yeah, I don't really think anyone saw this one coming. The Engineers exploded for a perfect regular season, and even added on a first-round playoff win at Husson before finally being ground to past by the Wesley death machine. Six first-team NEFC selections graduated, including QB Peter Williams and Offensive Player of the Year RB Justin Wallace. That's not good, but Offensive Lineman of the Year and honorable mention All-American G Elliot Tobin is back along with first-team linemate T Brian Copeland and K Tucker Cheyne, as well as second-team reps T Joe Hanley and WR Seve Esparrago and Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Mitch Turley. That talent returning on the offensive line will be key to MIT's title defense, which seems likely (although 10-0 probably isn't).

Western New England had peaked in 2010-11 with 19 wins and a playoff bid, but 2012-13 were a plunge into sub-.500 territory. The Golden Bears bounced back last year, though, and while a pair of second-team offensive lineman graduated along with first-team RB Kevin Cook, they've got horses in the stable. First-teamers LB Dean Soucie and DBs Isaiah Berrios and Obi Etuka are back, as is second-team TE Trent Vasey. WNE should challenge the Engineers in 2015.

Salve Regina spent the last decade floundering, but slowly climbed back to nine wins in 2012. They've tailed off a bit, but the Seahawks are in relatively solid shape. First-team LB Matt Conroy and DB Frank Musco are gone, as are five second-team selections. But WR/KR Alex Hulme returns from the first team, as well as RB Dan Buonocore, DL Hayden Stanton, and LB Danny Ives from the second squad.

Endicott skidded to .500 after a four-year stretch where they failed to win fewer than eight games in any season. The Gulls also lose head coach J.B. Wells, hired away by Bowdoin; Kevin DeWall, formerly the offensive coordinator at high-powered Hobart, takes over. He'll have some rebuilding, as three selections from both the first and second teams graduate, including QB Drew Frenette and WR Nate Lewis. TE Dimitri Skinsacos returns from the first team, as well as K Kyle Regan and DL Craig Anderson.

Curry loses Defensive Player of the Year DE Parrish Rogers-Reed, but has two other first-teamers returning: FB Dave Digiorgi and LB Devin Williams. Still, last year was the Colonels' worst this century; eight times between 2001-2009, Curry won eight or more games but haven't gotten above six since. With the relative quality of teams above them, rebounding will be difficult.

Maine Maritime is also trying to claw their way back to former glory, though those heights were never close to Curry's. Last year was progress, bouncing back from an 0-9 2012 and 1-8 2013. DL Michael Burgess and LB John Doyon were the Mariners' only first-team selections last year, and both return along with RB Jacob Doolan, last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year and second-team honoree.

Coast Guard has been lost at sea since a pair of 8-win years in 2006-07. DL Aaron Black has moved on, but three other first-teamers return. LB Lyle Wood, DB Joe Rizzardi, and P Tyler Henning will be joined by second-team WR Bryan Popp and DB Mark Behne. The Bears should improve, although not enough to contend.

Nichols has been, pulling no punches, putrid for several years. They've been spared the indignity of a crushingly long losing streak, but they've gone 4-44 over the last five seasons, and also ran a winless campaign in 2005. The Bison had exactly one all-conference selection last year, second-team FB Lucien Cance. On the bright side, he'll be a senior this year.

Game of the year: In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we'll assume the league's top two are still the teams to beat. As such, October 24 is the date to circle as Western New England visits MIT.

Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION MIAC OVERALL
9 Saint John's University Johnnies Collegeville MN 7-1 10-2
14 University of Saint Thomas Tommies Saint Paul MN 6-2 8-3
Concordia College Cobbers Moorhead MN 6-2 8-2
20 Bethel University Royals Arden Hills MN 6-2 7-3
Gustavus Adolphus College Gusties Saint Peter MN 4-4 6-4
Augsburg College Auggies Minneapolis MN 3-5 4-6
Hamline University Pipers Saint Paul MN 2-6 4-6
Carleton College Knights Northfield MN 1-7 2-8
Saint Olaf College Oles Northfield MN 1-7 1-9

The old order returneth. After several years of Saint Thomas and Bethel scrapping for the crown, Saint John's finally returned to the pinnacle.

Saint John's (MN) had slipped all the way to .500 in 2012, the final season on the sidelines for the venerable legend John Gagliardi. The man for whom Division III's player of the year award is named retired with 489 wins as a head coach, blowing everyone else's total out of the water. Under Gary Fasching, who'd spent 17 years working for Gagliardi, the Johnnies bounced back to a 7-win season in 2013, and then back into the 10-win zone last year.

Two seniors are lost from the first-team MIAC offensive line, Alex Jarosz and honorable mention All-American Ross Carlson. LB Matt Workman and DB Andrew Norri are also gone, as are second-team TE J.T. Ford and DL Ben Rossim. But there's talent returning. The entire special teams unit was honored; K Alexi Johnson and KR Josh Bungum were on the first team, and P Griffin Toomey on the second. Bungum also earned a second-team nod at WR, joined by OL Ben Brown. And returing from the first team, the Johnnies have LB Carter Hanson and RB Sam Sura, a first-team All-American and Jim Christopherson MIAC MVP. Sura rolled up 1,754 yards in his junior campaign, scoring 19 touchdowns.

With Sura returning, the Johnnies will probably be favored to repeat.

Saint Thomas (MN) has fallen off from their huge success of the last few years which culminated in their 2012 Stagg Bowl appearance -- the only team in the last ten years other than Mount Union or Whitewater to make the trip to Salem. Their four-year rampage resulted in a 50-4 record and four straight MIAC titles. After that run, a pair of 8-win seasons seems disappointing, and the first-round playoff exit last year was just salt in the wound.

Second-team All-America C T.J. Woodrow is gone, as are his first-team linemate Ulice Payne III, DL Sam Polomowski, all-name team candidate LB Rutger Heffelfinger, DB Sean Hamlin, and second-team DL Josh Corbin. Returning with all-conference nods in their pocket are TE Charlie Dowdle, RB Jack Kaiser, OL Will Hilbert, and DB Mozus Ikuenobe. THe Tommies will contend; Glenn Caruso has had no problem reloading his squad.

Bethel (MN) loses six all-conference starters on defense, as well as QB Erik Peterson and second-team All-Americans OL Bubba Friedlund and RB Brandon Marquardt (as a kick returner). RB Marshall Klitzke, OL Landon Mathis, and LB Landon Mathis return. The Royals have really been up and down, albeit with the "valley" being a seven- or eight-win season. But their three 12-win campaigns over the last decade have all been separated by two recovery years. Unfortunately for the Royals, if you believe in patterns, they won 12 games in 2013. Wait 'til next year?

Concordia-Moorhead posted their third straight 8-2 season, and for the third straight time that didn't result in an at-large bid because they lost to the wrong teams. Last year, the Cobbers actually handed St. John's their only loss -- but lost to St. Thomas and Bethel, thus placing themselves behind those two in the pecking order. QB Griffin Neal, DL Nate Adams, and DB Christian Erickson have graduated along with three second-teamers including RB Alex McLean. OL Josh Berg returns after a first-team nod, as do second-team WR Brandon Zyrstra, LBs Erik Bye and Lew Hintermeister. The Cobbers will be part of the conversation, but probably won't have the last word. Again.

Gustavus Adolphus posted their second-straight 6-4 record last year, and unfortunately for the Gusties that's been their ceiling this century. Third-team All-American WR Matt Boyce returns along with his fraternal twin brother Gabriel, also a first-team All-MIAC selection. Joining them are QB Mitch Hendricks, OL Marcus Kelly and Scott Newby, RB Luke Martinez, and DB Nick Frandsen. If Gustavus is going to make a move, this is the year; all those returning players will be seniors.

Augsburg has been consistently average since a horrid 4-36 run from 2003-06. DL Chris DeVel won the Mike Stam Award as the MIAC's top interior lineman last year, but he's gone along with RB Jerise Washington and DB Felix Coleman. QB Ayrton Scott, WR Joey Sonnenfeld, and OL Zach Swingen will be back, and Augie will probably stay right where they are.

Hamline won two or three games every year from 1999 to 2008. They improved to 4-6 in 2009, and paid for their impudence with a four-year walk through the wilderness, going 4-36 from 2010-13. They jumped back to 4-6 last year, and while a couple of all-conference honorees have graduated, RB Austin Duncan and DB Anthony Hill return. Still, it's going to be tough to improve when the top half of the league has actually gotten better.

Carleton regressed after improving to 5-5 in 2013. The Knights had not one all-conference selection, and their best returning player is junior RB Chris Madden. They're not going to be very good, kids.

Saint Olaf (MN) would, if not for a 5-5 2009, have run off nine straight winning seasons heading into 2013. The Oles have gone 2-19 since, and just watched their lone first-team honoree walk out the door as DL Colin Brown graduated. Junior LB Colten Yahn and DB Coleman Foley return along with senior QB Nate Penz and RB J.J. Strnad. They won't be good, but they'll probably climb past Carleton.

Game of the year: September 26, Saint Thomas visits Saint John's for the annual hatefest, which may or may not result in our pal and Tommie alum Nick Gustafson having to do some ludicrous task for his uncle, a Johnnie. That's what college football is all about.

Tomorrow

The Midwest Conference and the Middle Atlantic Conference.