Aug. 6, 2009

By Amy Farnum

The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football squad has been chosen as the preseason favorite to win the American Southwest Conference title after turning in a perfect 8-0 record in league play last year and reaching the NCAA Division III semifinals for the second straight year.

The Crusaders have won at least a share of the ASC championship in six of the last seven years, posting a 56-3 league record during that span.  UMHB, preseason No. 3 nationally, enters the 2009 season on a 30-game winning streak against ASC foes.

The Cru will have their work cut out for them once again as 2008 NCAA playoff participant and preseason No. 5 Hardin-Simmons looks to improve on its second-place league finish.  Senior quarterback Justin Feaster, a Gagliardi Trophy finalist, returns as the ASC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for the Cowboys.  The native of Glen Rose, Texas, threw a league-best 3,023 yards and 31 touchdowns as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year last season.

BEAR MINIMUM: Despite losing both the league’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year from 2008, Franklin College is poised to win a third straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title according to a preseason vote of the conference head coaches.

The Grizzlies cruised to the HCAC title with an unblemished 7-0 mark behind quarterback Chad Rupp, who threw all but 11 of Franklin’s pass attempts last season.  Rupp tossed 45 TD passes and over 4,000 yards last fall.  Franklin returns just six starters from the 2008 squad that posted a program-best 11-2 record, with all four offensive starters on the line.  

The No. 19 Grizzles open the 2009 season at Baldwin-Wallace College Sept. 5.

TEAM TO BEAT:  Ithaca College will be seeking to repeat as Empire 8 champions as the Bombers return four first-team all-conference selections from the 2008 squad.

Linebacker Matt Scalice led Ithaca with 89 tackles, including 12 for loss, as the Empire 8 and East Region Defensive Player of the Year last season.  He has also been named a preseason All-American pick by  The Bombers’ offense will be sparked by running back Thomas Bergerstock, who averaged 124 yards per game with 20 touchdowns.

Ithaca and second-place St. John Fisher have won or at least shared each of the eight football titles in Empire 8 history, including when the two teams shared the 2004 title. The Bombers lead all teams with five conference titles, but three of their five conference losses in the past three years have been to the Cardinals by a combined score of 108-32.

NOTABLE:  North Central College is the preseason favorite to win the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin after completing a perfect 7-0 league slate in 2008.  The Cardinals have won or shared the CCIW title in each of the last four years … Christopher Newport University is on top of the preseason coaches’ poll in the USA South Athletic Conference.  The Captains won their first-ever outright league title in 2008 after sharing the crown five previous times … The Ohio Athletic Conference will host its annual media day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 11.  Defending league and national champion Mount Union is once again at the top of the Preseason Top 25 … Pacific University has hired former UC Davis assistant coach Keith Buckley to guide the Boxers as they add football to the school’s varsity program in 2010 … Thomas More College was voted as the team to beat in the Presidents' Athletic Conference, according to the preseason poll.  The defending league champion Saints return 18 starters and 35 lettermen from last year's team which finished 8-3 overall, including a perfect 6-0 mark against conference competition, under head coach Jim Hilvert.