Six-Time Champion Wildcats Are Unanimous Pick to Win Again

Six-Time Champion Wildcats Are Unanimous Pick to Win Again

Six-Time Champion Wildcats Are Unanimous Pick to Win Again

NWC Football Coaches' Pre-Season Poll: 2005 records
School (1st) Pts. All NWC
1. Linfield (Ore.) (7) 56 10-1 4-0
2. Whitworth (Wash.)   41 5-3 2-2
3. Willamette (Ore.)   33 5-4 3-1
4. Pacific Lutheran (Wash.)   26 3-6 0-4
5. Puget Sound (Wash.)   23 4-5 1-3
6. Menlo (Calif.)   15 0-9 --
6. Lewis & Clark (Ore.)   8 0-4 --
(First-place votes in parenthesis. Points awarded on 8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis).

Emblematic of the respect Linfield College has earned by winning six straight Northwest Conference championships and holding the nation's longest streak of consecutive winning seasons, the Wildcats are unanimous picks to win the NWC again this season according to the Northwest Conference coaches in their 2006 preseason poll, despite significant losses in personnel and in the coaching staff.

Linfield went 10-1 in 2005, losing in the west region finals to eventual NCAA DIII runner up Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Wildcats have not lost a regular season game since 2001. Therefore, despite the losses of 2005 NWC Coach of the Year Jay Locey to Oregon State and 2005 NWC Players of the Year Brett Elliott (offense), Brandon Olson (co-defense), and Josh Ort (co-defense) to graduation, Linfield picked up all seven first place votes in this year's poll. In addition, the Wildcats must overcome the graduation of All-American wide receivers Casey Allen and Brandon Hazenberg. Overall, Linfield must replace 13 position player starters. However, All-NWC guard Jake Lucey returns to anchor what should be a strong offensive line. And three all-conference defensive linemen also return, led by three-time honoree Micheal Greenberg.

Whitworth College finished second in the poll (41 points), the Pirates' highest finish in the preseason list. Whitworth, which returns 16 starters, was named as the runner-up on six of the seven ballots. The Pirates will be led by preseason All-Americans Joel Clark (QB), Michael Allan (TE) and Ryan Marshall (CB). Whitworth is coming off of a 5-3 season.

Willamette University finished third in the poll with 33 total points. The Bearcats also return 16 starters from a team that finished 5-4 overall and 3-1 in the NWC last season. However, they must replace graduated NWC All-stars Quentin Brock (FB), Cameron Walton (QB) and Megdy Khoury (LB). But the dangerous Ryan Hernandez returns to run the "fly" sweep and linebacker Phillip Sweet will lead what should be a very strong defense.

Pacific Lutheran University is fourth in the poll with 26 points, just ahead of University of Puget Sound's 23 points. The Lutes return nine starters on offense and seven on defense from last season's 3-6 team. Craig Chiado and Chase Reed developed into an All-NWC wide receiver combination last season. UPS will look to two-time NWC rushing champion Rory Lee to continue to make the Logger attack dangerous. Second Team All-NWC defensive lineman Beau Jacobson also returns to lead the defense.

Menlo College, in its first season as an affiliate (football-only) member of the conference, is sixth in the poll with 15 points. The Oaks return only six starters from a team that finished 0-10 last season. Adam Hazel returns at quarterback, while speedy Kevin Lyle is back at receiver.

Lewis & Clark College, coming back from a partially completed season, is seventh in the poll with eight points. L&C will have 19 starters back from 2005, when the Pioneers went 0-4 against a non-conference only schedule. Wide receivers Mike Wennerlind and Brandon Zerr-Smith will lead the offensive attack.

This will be the 11th season since the Northwest Conference readopted football as a conference sport. From 1985 through 1995 the Northwest Conference schools played football as part of the Columbia Football Association and the NAIA. In 1995 the Northwest Conference began the process of joining the NCAA and withdrew from membership in the CFA.