NWC Coaches Poll: National Champion Wildcats Are Unanimous Pick to Win NWC Title; Bearcats Picked for Second

SPOKANE, Wash. — Defending national champion Linfield College is heavily favored to claim its sixth straight Northwest Conference football title, according to the 2005 pre-season poll of conference coaches. The Bearcats are picked to finish second I the confernence.

Linfield went 13-0 in 2004, claiming the Stagg Bowl title and NCAA Division III national championship with a 28-21 win over University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, after posting an undefeated NWC record. The Wildcats claimed all six first place votes and the maximum of 42 poll points in this year's preseason coaches poll. The Wildcats return 15 starters from last fall, six on offense and eight on defense, as well as their place kicker. The All-America tandem of quarterback Brett Elliott and wide receiver Casey Allen will once again key the explosive Linfield attack.

Willamette University finished second in the poll with 27 total points. The Bearcats return four offensive and four defensive starters from a team that finished 7-4 overall and 4-1 in the NWC last season before advancing to their second-ever appearance in the NCAA playoffs. Senior Quentin Brock, a First Team All-NWC running back in 2004, will again be a key cog in the Bearcats' fly offense.

Pacific Lutheran University is third in the poll with 21 points, just ahead of Whitworth College's 20 points. The Lutes return three starters on offense and four on defense from last season's 6-3 team. Junior running back Matt Steiner returns after averaging 5.7 yards per carry in 2004. Whitworth returns a total of 14 starters, seven on each side of the ball, from 2004 when the Pirates went 7-2, losing only to Linfield and Willamette. Michael Allan, a First Team All-NWC tight end, will once again be a favorite target for Second Team All-NWC QB Joel Clark.

The University of Puget Sound is fifth in the poll with 15 points. UPS made great strides in 2004, winning five games after a winless 2003 season. The Loggers hope to continue the momentum with the return of seven offensive and nine defensive starters. First Team All-NWC running back Rory Lee will lead the way.

Lewis & Clark College is sixth in the poll with seven points. L&C will have seven starters back on offense and eight on defense from last fall's 1-8 finish. Honorable mention All-NWC DB Gerry Swanson will lead the Pioneer defense.

Beginning in 2006 the Northwest Conference will expand to seven teams in football with the addition of Menlo NWC schools this season.College as an affiliate conference member. Menlo is located in Atherton, California and the Oaks are playing four

This will be the tenth 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.