Bearcats are Picked Fourth in Northwest Conference Football Preseason Poll

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University has been picked to achieve a fourth place finish in the Northwest Conference football standings, according to the NWC Preseason Poll for 2007. Linfield College was chosen to win the NWC title, while defending champion Whitworth University was selected to finish second. The poll included votes from all seven NWC head coaches, with Linfield listed first on five ballots and Whitworth garnering two first place votes.

Last year, Whitworth won the NWC title at 6-0 and represented the conference in the NCAA Division III national playoffs. The Pirates finished the season with an 11-1 record. Linfield was 6-3 overall and finished in second place in the NWC with a 5-1 mark.

Willamette has claimed a total of 22 conference titles. WU's most recent Northwest Conference championship was earned in 1999. The Bearcats tied for second placed in the conference in 2002 and finished in outright possession of second place in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Willamette was 2-7 overall and 2-4 in the NWC (5th place) last season.

The Bearcats enter the 2007 season with six returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense. Leading the list of returning players is offensive tackle Brandon Bennett (Sr., San Marcos, CA/La Costa Canyon HS), who was chosen First Team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) in 2006. Bennett was named First Team All-NWC in 2005 and 2006, after earning Honorable Mention All-NWC honors as a freshman in 2004.

Also returning on offense for the Bearcats are the team’s top two quarterbacks, senior Kevin Whipps (Eagle, ID/Eagle HS) and junior Grant Leslie (Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS). Whipps started all nine games and completed 61 of 116 passes (52.6%) for 798 yards and three touchdowns. Leslie saw action in seven games. He connected on 20 of 51 passes (39.2%) for 284 yards and two touchdowns.

WU also returns its starting place-kicker, Matt Bicocca (Sr., San Andreas, CA/Calaveras HS), and its starting punter, Clint Moran (Sr., Mission Viejo, CA/Capistrano Valley HS). Bicocca, who was named First Team All-NWC last season, converted 7 of 9 field goal attempts (long of 47 yards) and hit 19 of 22 extra points. Moran averaged 35.3 yards per punt and placed seven punts inside the 20-yard line.

Top veteran players on defense are linebacker Phil Sweet (Sr., Albany, OR/West Albany HS) and defensive tackle Mitchell MacCready (Sr., Manteca, CA/Manteca HS). Sweet led the Bearcats with 59 total tackles (27 solo, 32 assists) and tied for the team lead with two fumble recoveries. MacCready ranked sixth on the team with 31 tackles (14 solo, 17 assists). MacCready topped the defensive chart with seven tackles for losses (26 yards lost) and was first on the team with three quarterback sacks (20 yards lost).

Willamette Head Coach Mark Speckman is entering his 10th season as the leader of the Bearcats. He has achieved an overall record of 48-41 (.539) as WU’s head coach. He led Willamette to the Northwest Conference title in 1999 and to the NCAA Division III Playoffs in 1999 and 2004. He is entering his 13th season on the WU football staff, including three years as the team’s offensive coordinator from 1995 through 1997.

The Bearcats open the 2007 season against nearby rival Western Oregon University on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. (PDT). Western Oregon competes in NCAA Division II.

After taking on WOU, the Bearcats will travel to St. Peter, Minn., to play NCAA Division III West Region rival Gustavus Adolphus College on Saturday, Sept. 8. Willamette will play its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 1:30 p.m. (PDT) against California Lutheran University in another West Region game.

2007 Northwest Conference Football Preseason Poll

Kevin Whipps completed 52.6% of his passes for 798 yards and three touchdowns for the Bearcats in 2006.

Kevin Whipps completed 52.6% of his passes for 798 yards and three touchdowns for the Bearcats in 2006.