North Central College has been selected as the favorite to win the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Championship in football for the seventh consecutive season, as the Cardinals received the No. 1 spot in the CCIW's annual preseason poll of the conference's eight head coaches.
North Central received six of the eight first-place votes and totaled 48 points in the voting, while Wheaton College received 43 points and two first-place votes. Illinois Wesleyan University showed up third with 36 points, followed by Elmhurst College (32), Augustana College (21), Carthage College (19), Millikin University (18) and North Park University (7).
The results of the poll were released at the conclusion of the CCIW's third annual live online coaches' chat. North Central head coach John Thorne participated in the chat; his responses can be viewed by clicking here.
The Cardinals have gone 39-3 in CCIW play and 59-12 overall in the past six seasons, going undefeated in conference games in three of the past four seasons. North Central's 2011 squad extended North Central's current winning streak in conference play to 16 games, including a CCIW-record 15 straight wins by 20 points or more.
North Central returns eight players who earned All-CCIW honors last season in senior defensive back Josh Mitchell, senior running backs Nick Kukuc and Jordan Tassio, senior linebacker Joey Michals, senior offensive lineman Joe Guenther, senior punter Tyler Rasche, junior defensive back Shane Dierking, and junior offensive lineman Jace Werkheiser.
Mitchell and Werkheiser were cited as Preseason All-America selections by D3football.com and Lindy's Sports. The Cardinals were ranked fourth by USA Today and 11th by Lindy's Sports in their national preseason publications and start the season ranked sixth in the nation by D3football.com.
North Central opens the 2012 season on Saturday, Sept. 1, hosting the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The Cardinals open CCIW play on Sept. 29, hosting Elmhurst College.