Throughout the summer, the UNDSports.com staff will take a deeper look into the 2012 opponents for the North Dakota football team as it embarks on its first season in the Big Sky Conference.
August 30. 7 p.m. It's a date and time circled on many calendars and its significant to North Dakota football fans because it is the initial kickoff of what promises to be an historical 2012 football season.
With that first kickoff comes many exciting things for the UND football team: first year in the Big Sky Conference, playoff eligible for the first time since making the transition to Division I, new turf at the Alerus Center and much, much more.
The first team on the docket is the South Dakota School of Mines Hardrockers, who are in their third year of transition to the NCAA Division II level after moving up from the NAIA ranks.
There will be a new voice leading the Hardrockers into this season, however, as Stacy Collins was named head coach on Dec. 20, 2011. Collins spent the 2010 season as the special teams coordinator at Portland State - a team UND will play at home on Sept. 8. He was the Hardrockers' defensive coordinator in 2002, so he has some familiarity with the school.
Collins plans to implement the pistol offense, while he will likely run a 4-3 or 3-3 defensive scheme.
Offensively, Mines will have to replace senior quarterback Nick Russell and classmate Jamie Dale, who both graduated after respectable 2011 campaigns. Russell threw for 1,409 yards and nine touchdowns, while Dale ended his career as one of the top running backs in program history. He rushed for a team-leading 586 yards in his final go-around in college football to finish as the school's all-time leading rusher with 3,351 yards.
Sophomore quarterbacks Patrick Bloemen and Mitchell Syverson will try to lock down the top spot at their position. Both signal callers saw action as rookies last season as Bloemen played in eight games and Syverson saw action in four.
Defensively, strong safety Patrick Shaw is the team's top returning tackler. He had 81 stops, including four for a loss, an interception and a forced fumbles in 2011. The unit will have to replace its top three tacklers, however, as the senior trio of Josh Sherman (104 tackles), Erik Yeash (92) and Colen Kling (82) have departed.
Did you know?
The season-opening tilt with South Dakota School of Mines on Aug. 30 will be the first between the two teams on the gridiron.
The teams played two mutual opponents during the 2011 season as UND defeated both Black Hills State 53-19 (Sept. 24) and Sioux Falls 15-13 (Nov. 4). The Mines lost to both of those squads, including twice to Black Hills State (37-21; Sept. 17 and 43-21; Nov. 12). Sioux Falls belted the Hardrockers 71-0 on Oct. 22.
The Hardrockers first football game was an 18-0 loss to Black Hills College on Nov. 28, 1895.
The Hardrockers have won 14 conference titles throughout its program history with the last one coming in 1991.