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Wesleyan football ranked in spring poll

After a strong finish to the 2013 season, the Dakota Wesleyan University football team received a bit of recognition, being ranked in the NAIA spring top 25 coaches’ poll.

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The Tigers, who finished 8-3 last season and were not selected for the national playoffs, were slotted 21st in the list after winning their final four games last season. DWU was not ranked and did not receive votes in last year’s spring top 25 poll.

“At the end of last year we were ranked, and to go into the season ranked in the top 25 is huge for us,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said after the poll was released Monday.

“It’s where we want to be and that helps us going into the season with three home games to start.”

In the final poll of 2013, the Tigers were ranked 20th, missing the playoffs by a handful of spots. A slow start to the season kept the team out of the rankings until the final week.

After losing two of its first three games, DWU started to build momentum midway through before a one-sided loss at home to eventual Great Plains Athletic Conference champion Morningside College.

“If we want to be a playoff team, and we do, the only way you can move up the rankings is to win games,” Cimpl said.

Morningside is the top-ranked GPAC team in the poll at No. 4, while Northwestern College, which tied DWU for second place in the league last year, is No. 13.

Defending NAIA champion Grand View (Iowa) received all of the first-place votes as the unanimous No. 1 team. The Vikings were No. 17 in the 2013 spring poll before going 14-0 to win the national title.

If DWU hopes to reach the NAIA playoffs this year, Cimpl will have to find players to fill the gaps left by four-year starting quarterback Jon Bane and All-American wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg. Both players set numerous DWU school records in their time as Tigers.

Junior college transfer quarterback Logan Massop is in Mitchell for spring practice, but he will be pushed by a pair of other incoming Tiger signal callers.

Cimpl will have the returning services of running back Francois Barnaud, who set the school’s single-season rushing record in 2013 with 1,893 yards, which was good enough for second best in the country.

“Fran is on everybody’s radar and he is going to be someone that everyone is looking out for,” Cimpl said.

The Tigers also welcome a recruiting class that Cimpl has called the best he has seen at DWU, which finished 8-3 (7-2 GPAC) last season.

The Tigers will not play a spring scrimmage this season as the team has decided to hold a modified practice due to depth issues and some injuries. Last season, Cimpl ran his players through a scrimmage with the offense versus the defense, putting his players in different situations. The third-year coach sees added depth coming this summer with a large incoming class of freshmen and transfers. 

The GPAC does not allow for a full spring game to be played by its member schools due to Nebraska Wesleyan University being a member of the Division III of the NCAA. The Prairie Wolves are not allowed to wear pads in spring practice due to NCAA rules, so other GPAC schools do not hold spring games as a compromise.