UW-Whitewater unanimous pick to win WIAC

Two-time defending NCAA Division III national champion, UW-Whitewater is the preseason choice to win the 2011 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football title, according to the league’s sports information directors.

For the first time in history, the schedule for each WIAC team will include one “non-conference game” against another WIAC opponent. The second game played between both schools will count as the league contest.

UW-Whitewater, ranked No. 1 nationally in preseason rankings by D3football.com, captured all eight first-place votes in the conference poll and is aiming for an unprecedented seventh consecutive WIAC first-place trophy. The Warhawks enter the 2011 campaign riding a NCAA-best (all divisions) 30-game winning streak, 17-game league victory string and 21-straight home triumphs.

Senior Levell Coppage claimed WIAC Player of the Year honors a year ago and needs 910 rushing yards to become the conference’s all-time rushing leader, breaking the previous mark of 6,584 yards by UW-Whitewater’s Justin Beaver (2004-07). Coppage already boasts the league career marks with 81 rushing touchdowns and 486 points scored. Head coach Lance Leipold, in his fifth season, owns as many NCAA Division III national championships as he does losses in his head coaching career (three).

UW-Stevens Point, ranked No. 23 by D3football.com, is 17-4 in WIAC play in the last three seasons and the last conference team to beat UW-Whitewater (October 25, 2008). This year’s roster will be bolstered by graduate school attendees Joe Mleziva and Justin Ourada. Head coach John Miech is the longest tenured football coach in the WIAC and needs seven victories to move into third place on the league’s all-time wins list. The Pointers have won at least six games in 20 of 23 seasons under Miech’s leadership. Gone from last year’s squad is Jared Jenkins who graduated as the school’s No. 2 all-time leading receiver.

UW-Stout is marking its 100th year of football in 2011 (started in 1911). Last year’s squad led the NCAA Division III in fewest turnovers (four fumbles, three interceptions) and placed second in the WIAC in total defense for the second consecutive year. The defensive unit returns leading tacklers Ryan Pearcy, Trevor Fiege and Aaron Kobes - all seniors.
Senior Ross Carey threw a league low three interceptions (for starting quarterbacks) in 273 pass attempts in 2010, while sophomore Richard Marteney converted 30 consecutive PATs, and established a school single-game record of 9-for-9 PATs against Eureka College (Ill.).

UW-Oshkosh returns seven starters on an offensive unit that led the WIAC with 226.8 passing yards per game during the 2010 campaign. Eight starters are back on a defense that placed second in the league in pass defense (186.0 yards per game). Junior Nate Wara, who owns 32 career touchdown passes, threw just four interceptions in 295 pass attempts last season. Senior Jeremy Roach needs 11 kickoff return yards to set the school record and move into second-place on league chart. The Titans have won 27 of their last 30 season openers and will play both teams who appeared in the title game of the NCAA Division III Championship for the second straight year. They visit Mount Union on Sept. 10 and host UW-Whitewater on Oct. 22.

UW-Platteville’s 2010 defensive corps allowed 156.3 rushing yards per contest - the second-lowest average since 1986 - and held Buena Vista to a school record minus-20 rushing yards in the opener. In 12 seasons under head coach Mike Emendorfer, junior Lee Vlasak became the first person to rush for over 100 yards in five games and junior Nick Anderson became the third quarterback to have multiple 300-yard passing games in a season. A year ago, UW-Platteville defeated both UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls in the same season for the first time since 1992. The Pioneers have won all 12 season openers under Emendorfer, holding opponents to 10.2 points in those contests.

UW-La Crosse welcomes Joel Dettwiler as its head coach in 2011, replacing Larry Terry who compiled 65 wins in 11 seasons. Dettwiler served as the defensive coordinator at Wartburg College (Iowa) the last three years and played in UW-Platteville’s defensive backfield for four seasons. UW-La Crosse returns three of its top-four leaders in receptions, including senior Lee Lauters who also topped the squad with 148 rushing attempts, 746 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Senior Derek Dreher, who owns 12 career interceptions, returns after missing most of last year with an injury. The Eagles open the season against UW-Whitewater and follows that bout with a trip to 2010 national quarterfinalist University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas).

UW-Eau Claire returns all 11 starters on offense, including sophomore Joel Sweeney who ranked third in the conference with 102.8 rushing yards per contest and 13 total touchdowns. Senior David Goodman needs five touchdown receptions to break the school career record. The Blugolds open the 2011 campaign against Bethel University (Tenn.) for the fourth consecutive season and will play the same WIAC opponents at home as they did in 2010. UW-Eau Claire has won seven straight homecoming contests and will host UW-Oshkosh in this year’s game.

Matt Walker begins his first season at UW-River Falls after serving three seasons in charge of DePauw (2006-09) and an offensive assistant at Butler a year ago. He becomes just the third head coach at UW-River Falls since 1970 and replaces John O’Grady who accumulated 105 victories in 22 years. In 2010, senior Greg Klingelhutz set a NCAA Division III record with 1,017 kickoff return yards and tied the mark of 49 kickoff returns. He needs 29 returns and 644 yards to set the NCAA Division III career record. Senior Taylor Edwards has posted back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons - the first Falcon to accomplish the feat since 1989-90.

2011 Preseason Predictions--Voted on by WIAC Sports Information Directors 

  2010 Record
1.  UW-Whitewater (8) 15-0, 7-0 WIAC
2.  UW-Stevens Point 7-3, 5-2
3.  UW-Stout 6-4, 4-3
4.  UW-Oshkosh 4-6, 3-4
5.  UW-Platteville 5-5, 3-4
6.  UW-La Crosse 3-7, 3-4
7.  UW-Eau Claire 4-6, 2-5
8.  UW-River Falls 1-9, 1-6