The Lincoln Blue Tigers were picked to finish last in the coaches and media polls, which were released Tuesday during the MIAA Football Media Day at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
Lincoln received 15 points in the coaches poll and 16 points in the media poll.
Northwest Missouri was picked to win the 2021 MIAA championship by both the coaches and the media in the 12-team conference, receiving 10 first-place votes in each poll. Central Missouri and Fort Hays State also received a first-place vote in each poll, as the Mules and Tigers tied for second in the coaches poll. Central Missouri was picked No. 2 by the media and Fort Hays State was No. 3.
There was no 2020 fall football season in the MIAA. However, teams were given the option to play games and scrimmages in the spring.
"These were painful and difficult decisions that our universities and our conferences had to make," MIAA commissioner Mike Racy said, "especially knowing that many Division II seniors would not have a chance to complete their intercollegiate athletic seasons in their chosen sport."
Sports began to return to normalcy in the MIAA for the winter and spring seasons.
"The MIAA, I'm pleased to say, helped lead the way to get NCAA student-athletes and coaches back into action," Racy said. "The MIAA was the first Division I or Division II conference to adopt conference protocols for the safe return of competition in the sports of men's and women's basketball."
The MIAA was able to play every basketball game on the men's and women's schedules in 2020-21. Racy noted only the only other NCAA conference to complete a full regular-season schedule were the Big 12 Conference for women's basketball and the Missouri Valley Conference for men's basketball.
Racy had a few additional comments before each of the 12 football teams took the podium at MIAA Media Day.
"I want to encourage everyone, especially our incoming and current student-athletes, to get vaccinated," he said. " Second, as far as I know, the MIAA is the only NCAA Division II conference that's announced a conference-wide name, image and likeness program."
The Lincoln football team played two games in the spring, losing 87-3 at Nicholls State and 54-20 at Texas Permian Basin.
"It gave us an opportunity, as a litmus test, to see where we were as a program," Lincoln football coach Malik Hoskins said of the game against Nicholls State, an FCS Division I team.
"On the bright side of it, we got to go down and see a team that used to resemble Lincoln, and what it can become, with the right resources, with the right people backing you. Even though we went down there and we got things handed to us pretty good, looking back at it, there were some good things to come out of that football game."
Also attending the MIAA Media Day for Lincoln were junior running back Hosea Franklin and junior linebacker TeAndre Skinner.
Franklin was the 2019 MIAA rushing champion, leading the conference with 1,359 yards in 11 games.
"I've been working on a lot of recovery, also looking at film and the mistakes I've done in the 2019 fall season," Franklin said. " I'm looking forward to showing what I'm able to do on the field."
The Blue Tigers return to action Sept. 2 against Washburn at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. It will be Lincoln's first MIAA game - and first home game - since Nov. 13, 2019, four months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been a long 16 months since the start of the pandemic for the Blue Tigers.
"I took it as a great opportunity for us to work harder and come together as a team," Skinner said. " Coach Hoskins is determined, and he's changing this program. I see it first-hand, and I believe in him with all I've got."
The 2021 season will also be Hoskins' first full season as a full-time head coach for Lincoln. He was an interim head coach in 2019, but the interim tag was removed less than a week after the season ended.
The Blue Tigers finished 1-10 in 2019.
"I have to be different," Hoskins said. "In '19, I had the interim tag, and I'll be honest, my stress level was day-to-day, thinking, 'What am I going to do after the season if they don't retain me?'
"That was so selfish of me, to not fully put myself into the players on the team. I have to be more selfless, and I have to give more of myself to this football program. They deserve it, Lincoln deserves it, Jefferson City deserves it. There are so many people deserving of a product that's worthy to be proud of, and that's my job, that's my goal, to be a better football coach."