Willamette Holds Second Place in NWC Football Preseason Poll

Bearcats are 26-6 Overall since 2008, including 15-3 in Conference Play

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

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University football team is predicted to finish second in the Northwest Conference this year, according to votes cast by the league's head coaches in the 2011 NWC Football Preseason Poll. Linfield College received five of seven first place votes and was picked to repeat as NWC champion after winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

Willamette will be seeking to reclaim the NWC championship it won in 2008. WU was second in the NWC in 2009 and finished third in 2010. The Bearcats are 26-6 since the start of the 2008 season, including a combined record of 15-3 in the NWC the past three years.

Linfield took first place in the NWC in 2010 with a 6-0 record on its way to a 9-2 overall mark. The Wildcats, who reached the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last season, took the top spot in this year's preseason poll with 40 points.

Willamette, which finished 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the NWC last year, held second place in the poll with two first place votes and 34 points.

Pacific Lutheran University (8-1, 5-1 NWC) placed second in the NWC in 2010 and was ranked third in this week's preseason poll with 26 points. Whitworth University (5-5, 3-3 NWC) was listed fourth with 20 points, while Lewis & Clark College (4-5, 2-4 NWC) followed in fifth with 16 points.

The University of Puget Sound (2-7, 1-5 NWC) was sixth with 11 points. Pacific University (0-9, 0-6 NWC), which fielded a team in 2010 for its first competition in football since 1991, was seventh in the poll with seven points.

In 2010, Willamette led the NWC in rushing offense with 236.3 yards per game. The Bearcats also ranked first in passing efficiency rating (164.2 points) and turnover margin (+11 takeaways in 10 games).

WU ranked second in the conference in numerous categories, including scoring with 37.1 points per game, total offense at 416.6 yards per game, scoring defense at 20.7 points per contest, rushing defense at 94.7 yards per game and total defense at 329.8 yards per game.

The Bearcats have five returning starters on offense and seven returning starters on defense.

Leading the offense will be junior quarterback Brian Widing (Canby, OR/Canby Union HS), who completed 63.0% of his passes last year (85 of 135). He threw for 1,455 yards and 14 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He led the NWC in passing efficiency with a rating of 178.8 points.

At the top of the list of returning defensive starters is senior outside linebacker Harmon Bruno (Danville, CA/San Ramon Valley HS). In 2010, Bruno registered 51 total tackles to rank third on the team. His tackles were nearly split between unassisted stops (25) and assists (26). Bruno helped Willamette hold opponents to just 3.0 yards per rush.

Bruno is one of three returning First Team All-NWC selections from last season. Also returning with First Team All-NWC honors are Juan Alvarado (Sr., DT, Stockton, CA/Franklin HS) and Kenny Miller (Sr., C, Woodland, WA/Woodland HS).

Head Coach Mark Speckman enters his 14th season with a 78-53 (.595) record at Willamette. He was named NWC Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2008. Also in 2008, he was chosen NCAA Division III Region 5 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and was chosen West Region Coach of the Year by D3football.com. He has guided the Bearcats to the NCAA Playoffs three times -- in 1999, 2004 and 2008.

The Bearcats will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 3 with a home game against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Kickoff at McCulloch Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m. (PDT). The game against UW-Stevens Point is the first of five consecutive home games to open the season. Overall, Willamette will play seven of 10 regular season games at home.

NWC Football Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Linfield (5), 40 points, 9-2 overall, 6-0 NWC in 2010
2. Willamette (2), 34 points, 7-3, 4-2 NWC
3. Pacific Lutheran, 26 points, 8-1, 5-1 NWC
4. Whitworth, 20 points, 5-5, 3-3 NWC
5. Lewis & Clark, 16 points, 4-5, 2-4 NWC
6. Puget Sound, 11 points, 2-7, 1-5 NWC
7. Pacific, 7 points, 0-9, 0-6 NWC

Note: Points were awarded on an 7-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each coach was not allowed to vote for his own team.

Brian Widing completed 63.0% of his passes for 1,455 yards and 14 TDs last season.

Brian Widing completed 63.0% of his passes for 1,455 yards and 14 TDs last season.