Bearcats Picked Third in NWC Football Preseason Poll

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

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University has been picked to finish third in the Northwest Conference this season according to the 2014 NWC Football Preseason Poll in voting by the league's head coaches. Linfield College, which won the 2012 NWC title with a 6-0 record, was chosen to repeat as champion.

Linfield, which received seven of eight first place votes and 56 points in the poll, finished last season with an 11-1 overall record. The Wildcats have won five consecutive NWC titles since Willamette claimed the championship in 2008. Last year, Linfield lost to eventual national champion University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the NCAA quarterfinals. Linfield is ranked #4 in this year's Preseason Top 25.

Pacific Lutheran University (8-2, 5-1 NWC in 2013) was listed second in this year's NWC Preseason Poll. The Lutes received one first place vote and 42 points. PLU is ranked #19 in the Preseason Top 25.

Willamette held third place with 36 points in the poll. The Bearcats, who went 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the NWC last season, have achieved a combined record of 15-4 over the past two seasons.

Fourth place in the poll went to Pacific University (7-3, 3-3 NWC). The Boxers received 34 points. Whitworth University (4-6, 2-4 NWC) was ranked fifth in the poll with 25 points.

University of Puget Sound (1-8, 0-6) followed in sixth place with 15 points, narrowly edging out Lewis & Clark College (1-8, 1-5 NWC), which placed seventh with 14 points.

George Fox University rounded out the poll in eighth place with 10 points. The Bruins will be playing football in 2014 for the first time following a 46-year absence.

Last year, Willamette averaged 41.1 points and 471.9 total yards per game. The Bearcats threw for 283.4 yards per contest and added 188.4 years per game on the ground. WU completed 62.9% of its passes and averaged 4.7 yards per rush.

Wide receiver Derek Traeger (Sr., Mt. Angel, OR/John F. Kennedy HS) led the Bearcats in 2013 with 67 catches for 808 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was named First Team All-NWC and led the conference in touchdown catches. He ranked second in the NWC in pass receiving yards and total receptions.

Beau Smith (Sr., WR, Roseville, CA/Roseville HS) is back after hauling in 17 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns. He earned Honorable Mention All-NWC recognition.

Running back Dylan Jones (Sr., Santa Maria, CA/Ernest Righetti HS) is Willamette's top returning rusher. He carried the ball 58 times for 319 yards (5.5 avg.) and four touchdowns last season. Jones was named Honorable Mention All-NWC.

The offensive line will be led by senior center Ryan Springer (Eureka, CA/Eureka HS), who earned Second Team All-NWC honors a year ago. Springer's blocking helped Willamette scored 370 points and earn 214 first downs.

Jack Nelson (Sr., ILB, Portland, OR/Jesuit HS), who was named First Team All-NWC for the second year in a row last fall, will lead the Willamette defense. In 2013, he topped the WU defensive chart with 112 total tackles, including 67 unassisted tackles and 45 assists. He ranked seventh in NCAA Division III in unassisted tackles per game (7.4) and was ninth in total tackles per game (12.4).

During his first three seasons with the Bearcats, Nelson has achieved 211 total tackles to go along with 16.0 tackles for loss and 6.0 quarterback sacks.

Outside linebacker Brendan Manion (Los Altos, CA/Archbishop Mitty HS) ranked third on the Willamette roster with 52 total tackles last season. He registered 34 unassisted tackles and was credited with 7.5 tackles for loss. He forced three fumbles.

Corey Walsh (Sr., OLB, San Pedro, CA/San Pedro HS/Western New Mexico Univ.) received Honorable Mention All-NWC recognition in 2013. He achieved 48 total tackles, made 7.5 tackles for losses and provided 2.5 quarterback sacks.

Willamette will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 13 against Trinity University (Texas) at McCulloch Stadium. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. (PDT). It will be Reunion Weekend and will also be the Bearcats' Homecoming Game.

2014 NWC Football Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Linfield (7), 56 points, 11-1 overall, 6-0 NWC in 2013
2. Pacific Lutheran (1), 42 points, 8-2, 5-1 NWC
3. Willamette, 36 points, 7-2, 4-2 NWC
4. Pacific, 34 points, 7-3, 3-3 NWC
5. Whitworth, 25 points, 4-6, 2-4 NWC
6. Puget Sound, 15 points, 1-8, 0-6 NWC
7. Lewis & Clark, 14 points, 1-8, 1-5 NWC
8. George Fox, 10 points, did not play football in 2013

Note: Points were awarded on a 8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each coach was not allowed to vote for his own team.

Derek Traeger led the NWC with 11 touchdown catches in 2013. He caught 67 passes for 808 yards and was chosen First Team All-NWC.

Derek Traeger led the NWC with 11 touchdown catches in 2013. He caught 67 passes for 808 yards and was chosen First Team All-NWC.