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Football: Looking in on the WIAC

Considered by many as one of the most powerful conferences in D3 Football, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) is once again poised to dominate in the national rankings.

In the preseason poll of WIAC head football coaches and sports information directors, the UW-Whitewater football team prevailed as the favorite to capture the conference crown in 2017.

The Warhawks are winners of 10 of the last 12 conference titles and own a league-best 35 first-place finishes, compiling an astounding 161-11 record over the past 12 seasons. Nationally, Whitewater was selected third nationally in the Street & Smith’s College Football Preview, as well as the D3football.com Preseason Poll.

Head coach Kevin Bullis was honored with the league’s George Chryst Coach of the Year Award last season, and returns 10 starters on offense from last year’s squad. Returning are All-WIAC Second-Team quarterback Cole Wilber, along with All-WIAC First-Teamers senior wide receiver Marcus Hudson, and junior running back Drew Patterson.

UW-Whitewater senior co-Captain, All-WIAC linebacker Matt Seitz (photo credit Michael McLoone/Whitewater Athletics)

Last season Wilber tossed 135 consecutive pass attempts without an interception for the sixth-longest streak in program history. On the other end of Wilber’s passes, Hudson led the team with 52 receptions and 843 receiving yards. From the backfield, Patterson ranked 10th in Division III reaching the end-zone 19 time and led the WIAC with 114 points.

The Warhawk defense returns three starters, including senior linebacker All-WIAC First-Teamer, co-captain Matt Seitz – Seitz ranked second on the team with 64 tackles last season.

Ranking second in the WIAC poll was UW-Oshkosh, followed by UW-Platteville, UW-Stevens Point, UW-La Crosse, UW-River Falls, UW-Stout, and UW-Eau Claire.

UW-Oshkosh, last season’s runner up in the Stagg Bowl, welcomes back 39 letterwinners from last season’s National Championship runner-up squad.

Ranked fourth in the D3football.com Preseason Poll, the Titans return senior quarterback Brett Kasper. Coming off a sophomore season in which he was named the WIAC Offensive Player of the Year, Kasper completed 202-of-334 passes for 2,589 yards and 19 touchdowns during the 2016 campaign.

Also back for the Titans is senior running back Dylan Heckler, who set a program record with 45 rushing touchdowns last season and topped the WIAC with 1,143 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.

UW-Platteville made the program’s second postseason appearance in 2016. Junior running back Sean Studer had a team-best 664 rushing yards last season. The Pioneers, ranked 15th in the D3footballl,com Preseason Poll, have won at least seven games each of the last six seasons, including a program-best 10 in 2013.

Rounding out the highlights from last season around the league, UW-La Crosse senior quarterback Tarek Yaeggi led the conference with 302.7 passing yards and 321.8 total yards per contest in 2016. He also established single-season school records with 218 completions, 2,724 passing yards and 2,896 total offense yards.

Over at UW-River Falls, the Falcons have posted back-to-back four-win seasons – their best stretch since the 2000 and 2001 campaigns. Senior running back Michael Diggins led the Falcons with 536 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns and 11 total touchdowns last year.

UW-Stout junior kicker Drew Pearson earned a spot on the D3football.com Preseason All-America First Team. A year ago, he was selected the WIAC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year and earned a spot on the D3football.com All-America First Team and American Football Coaches Association All-America Second Team.

UW-Eau Claire will benefit from the return of junior quarterback JT DenHartog. As a sophomore, DenHartog completed 121-of-224 passes for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading the Blugolds with 266 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.

The 2016 season featured three conference teams earning bids into the NCAA Division III Championship for the first time in history, with UW-Oshkosh advancing to the Stagg Bowl and UW-Whitewater to the quarterfinals. UW-Platteville suffered a last-second defeat in the first round.

UW-Oshkosh’s appearance in the Stagg Bowl marked the 10th time in the last 12 seasons the WIAC has been represented in the national title game.

2017 Preseason Predictions

Voted on by WIAC Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors
2016 Record
1. UW-Whitewater 12-1 overall, 7-0 WIAC
2. UW-Oshkosh 13-2, 6-1
3. UW-Platteville 8-3, 5-2
4. UW-Stevens Point 6-4, 3-4
5. UW-La Crosse 5-5, 2-5
6. UW-River Falls 4-6, 3-4
7. UW-Stout 3-7, 1-6
8. UW-Eau Claire 2-8, 1-6

 

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