Linfield picked to repeat in NWC

2011 NWC Football Coaches' Pre-Season Poll: 2010 records
School (1st) Pts. All NWC
1. Linfield (Ore.) (5) 40 9-2 6-0
2. Willamette (Ore.) (2) 34 7-3 4-2
3. Pacific Lutheran (Wash.)   26 8-1 5-1
4. Whitworth (Wash.)   20 5-5 3-3
5. Lewis & Clark (Ore.)   16 4-5 2-4
6. Puget Sound (Wash.)   11 2-7 1-5
7. Pacific (Ore.)   7 0-9 0-6
(First-place votes in parenthesis. Points awarded on 7-5-4-3-2-1 basis).

Defending champion Linfield is a strong favorite to repeat as Northwest Conference football champions in 2011, according to the preseason poll of league coaches. For the first time the coaches were not allowed to vote for their own school.

The Wildcats, who advanced to the NCAA Division III second round last year and finished 9-2 after an unbeaten conference slate, picked up five out of seven first place votes and totaled 40 points in the poll. Linfield returns a strong defense, led by seniors Drew Fisher and Nate Dixon, a pair of All-NWC defensive backs.  But the Wildcats will have to overcome the graduation of two-time conference Offensive Player of the Year Aaron Boehme (QB) and 2010 NWC Defensive Player of the Year Eric Hedin (DE).  Linfield will benefit from the return of Aaron Williams, a running back who was a First Team All-Conference selection in 2009 but missed the 2010 season with injury.

Willamette had two of the first place votes and four second place votes for a total of 34 points in the poll. Senior defensive lineman Juan Alvarado, a First Team All-NWC selection in 2010, will lead a stout Bearcat defense.  Senior Kenny Miller anchors what should be a big offensive line, but Willamette will need to replace Scott Schoettgen, who graduated as the Bearcats' all-time leading reciever.

Pacific Lutheran had a breakthrough year in 2010 and the Lutes find themselves just behind the favorites in the 2011 poll with 26 points.  The Lutes graduated four First Team All-NWC players on offense, but All-NWC DB Sean McFadden returns for his sophomore season after sparking PLU's defense with an All-Conference freshman campaign.

Whitworth is fourth in the poll with 20 points.  The Pirates will have a very different look on offense now that All-NWC running back Adam Anderson has graduated.  But Whitworth returns every starter on the offensive line, including senior Emilio Sulpizio at center.

Lewis & Clark (16 points in the poll) won four games in 2010, the highest Pioneer win total since 1995.  All-NWC quarterback Keith Welch and preseason All-American tight end Shawn Evans return to help spark L&C to further success.  Senior DB Chris Kelly will lead the Pio defense.

Puget Sound is sixth in the poll with 11 points.  The Loggers look to continue their resurgence under second-year head coach Jeff Thomas and explosive WR Adam Kniffen, who earned First Team All-NWC as a sophomore in 2010.

Pacific (Ore.) is seventh with 7 points. The Boxers were explosive at times offensively last year in their first season, thanks in part to WR Jordan Fukumoto, who earned Second Team All-NWC as a first-year player.

The season will officially get underway on Sept. 3 when Willamette hosts UW-Stevens Point, Pacific hosts Simon Fraser and Whitworth heads to Chapman.