THE FAVORITE: GREENVILLE COLLEGE OF ILLINOIS
The addition of Presentation College boosts football membership in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference to 10 teams this season. For the first time, the league champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs, making this a landmark season for UMAC football.
Greenville College of Illinois, which went 6-0 in league play to win the 2010 title, is a favorite to repeat. It has won the past two UMAC championships, and Ordell Walker was the conference coach of the year in 2010. St. Scholastica, which has improved in each of its four seasons, returns most of its players from a team that went 5-2 in league play and ended the 2010 season with a four-game conference winning streak.
THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
A brief look at the Minnesota teams, in order of their 2010 UMAC finish and with 2010 record in parentheses:
St. Scholastica (7-3): Look for another step forward for the Saints, who started their program in 2008 and have made steady progress. They posted the first winning record in their history last season and finished second in the league. The Saints lose only five players from that team, with returnees including OL Stephen Voelkner, a preseason third-team All-America pick, and All-UMAC QB Alex Thiry.
Crown (6-3): The Storm will have to replace QB Adam Hayes, who led Crown to the best season in its history in 2010.
Martin Luther (5-4): Three of the Knights' four losses last season came by a total of nine points.
Minnesota-Morris (5-4): In his fourth season, coach Todd Hickman got the Cougars back over .500. A dozen starters return from the 2010 roster; RB Todd Gramenz, the league's second-leading rusher in 2010 with 103 yards per game, is the only UMAC player to be named a first-team preseason All-America.
Northwestern of Roseville (1-8): Coach Kirk Talley hopes last season was an aberration for a team accustomed to winning. It won't be easy to rebound, with the graduation of three all-conference players -- and a season opener Saturday at nationally ranked St. John's. QB Josh Balzer returns, as does top receiver and kick returner Chad Rusinkovich.