|#5 Brian Balsiger and the 'Cats look to make it 6 consecutive NWC titles this fall.|
|(Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2013 Linfield Football Photos here)|
NWCsports.com has released information that shouldn’t be surprising to anybody as the Northwest Conference coaches overwhelmingly pick Linfield as the favorite for the 2014 title. We all know the preseason honors amounts to a hill of beans once the actual games are played. It’s a nice nod of respect to the fact that Linfield has won 11 out of the last 14 NWC conference titles but has zero impact the season ahead.
However, this is the 13th time in the past 14 years that Linfield was named by the coaches as the NWC favorites. Even during the 3 consecutive seasons that Linfield didn’t win the NWC crown (2006, 2007 & 2008) the ‘Cats were still preseason favorites. It wasn’t until 2009 that the coaches finally decided that Linfield wasn’t Linfield anymore and choose Willamette as the preseason champs. I think we all remember what happened that year as Linfield went 9-0 during the regular season and reached the NCAA final four (12-1 overall).
2014 should be a very exciting year in what many, including myself, consider one of the best Division III conferences in the country. It will not be an easy road for Linfield as the ‘Cats have three tough road games to open up the year and that includes a gigantic test up at Sparks Stadium vs PLU on Oct 4th (The ‘Lutes are stacked on offense). The rest of the major NWC tests consists of a new look Whitworth team and NWC showdowns against Willamette and Pacific.
As for the rest of the NWC coaches picks….I don’t know if I agree but here are how the coaches see it:
1. Linfield -This is where Linfield belongs until proven otherwise and there’s a list of teams that are gearing up their programs to make a run at the ‘Cats. Send 'em up.
2. PLU -Easy top two pick. The ‘Lutes have a chance to be a scary offensive unit with weapons on the outside, tight end, RB, and proven offensive line. They lost some key defenders but I feel PLU will be outstanding.
3. Willamette - I’m not sold on Willamette. Their offense is so quarterback-centric and I don’t know if they had a QB in waiting to replace the productivity of now departed Josh Dean. The Bearcats have some pieces but I can see them slipping this year if they don’t have a dynamic trigger man.
4. Pacific - Again, quarterback play is a big question in 2014 but could be a year away from pushing the top teams to the limit. The Boxers lost their 1st true senior class that logged a huge amount of games played and experience (especially on off & def lines). The Boxers have some good vets and a lot of young talent. They could have some bumps early but should be hitting a stride at end of year.
5. Whitworth - New Coach, New attitude, New look. Word is the offense is going to be a major departure from Tully Ball (zone left, QB draw, incomplete pass, crown moans, and punt) as the Rats should be playing a minimal substitution passing offense and switching to a 3-4 defense. The Rats brought in 50 something new players and I think that while this will be a transition year, Whitworth will be on an upswing moving forward.
6. UPS -Might be better than last year but not good enough to challenge the middle NWC teams. I see them beating Lewis & Clark to start NWC play (BREAK UP THE LOGGERS) and maybe…just maybe are able to beat George Fox (maybe) but it gets into mud stopping territory after that.
7. Lewis & Clark - The Pios could be historically bad this year. That’s saying something. Since the 2000 season, the 2013 Lewis & Clark team had the worst total defense (502.6 yards allowed per game) and allowed the most points per game (53 points per game!!!) than any NWC team over the past 14 years. (yeah, I keep track of that stuff). With the departure of their lone difference maker, Keith Welch, and a 57 man roster, I just don’t see them winning an NWC game this season. That includes George Fox.
8. George Fox - The Bruins are screaming they’re going to be better than people think and that could be the case with their weak non-conference opponents, numbers, and some transfers. They could fast track some wins before their players realize they actually are having to go to school at George Fox.
How Wildcat11 sees 2014 playing out (reminder, I’ve been terrible at this in the past):