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UMAC football coaches' poll announced

Greenville College placed first in the 2010 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Preseason Coaches' Poll, earning five first-place votes in the first preseason ballot to include all nine conference teams in one division. Greenville bested second-place Martin Luther College in the poll. Greenville and Martin Luther won their respective division in the two-division conference in 2009.

In 2010, the divisions will be eliminated and all nine UMAC teams will be competing for one conference championship. A year later in 2011, all nine teams - plus Presentation College - will compete for an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Greenville defends its 2009 divisional crown with new teammates, a new field, and a new head coach. Ordell Walker, who was an assistant coach with the Panthers program for seven years, will take the team's reigns. Greenville's offense starts the upcoming season with the core of its 2009 team in place. The Panthers return seven starters from an offense that averaged over 25 points and 175 yards rushing per game a year ago. Greenville's running game will again be the team's offensive strength, as the front line has four returning starters, including the 2009 UMAC South Lineman of the Year in Tim Burroughs. UMAC South Co-Offensive Player of the Year Anthony Ambers, the team's featured back, is also returning. The Greenville defense returns five starters, but lost the 2009 UMAC South Defensive Player of the Year and three first team UMAC South All-Conference defensive linemen.

Last season, Martin Luther won the north division with a perfect 4-0 record. Head coach Doug Lange returns 15 starters from that team. Quarterback Greg Holzhueter returns for his fourth season at the helm, while Aaron Voss and Andrew Becker each enter their third seasons as starters. They will play behind an offensive line that returns three starters, but the offense will need to find a threat at wide receiver to replace all-conference award-winner Ryan Kolander. On defense, the Knights return nine players with starting experience, including defensive tackle Chuqee Fletcher, the UMAC North Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. Matt Rothe, Bill Fuerstenau, and Jake Rothe also return as part of the front seven, while Joseph Lindloff, Josh Schultz, Jake Unke, and Benjamin Olson give the team's secondary experience.

After a UMAC championship in 2008 and a second-place divisional finish in 2009, third place Northwestern College (Minn.) returns only three starters on offense and four on defense. Josh Balzer, Noah Hadro, and Cody Crum will arise from the shadows of Zach Tarter, Ryan Long, and Kyle Thomforde to lead Northwestern. Balzer was a freshman understudy under a three-time UMAC Offensive Player of the Year in Tarter, while Hadro actually started on defense in 2009. Crum saw plenty of playing time as the team's third wide receiver last season and will be the featured receiver this season. A more solid core returns for Northwestern's defense, especially on the line and in the secondary. Dave Kleiner returns to an experienced defensive line after taking a year off due to military duties.

Just two points out of third place in the poll was Westminster College (Mo.), who returns 17 starters - nine on offense and eight on defense. Head coach John Welty will have to answer a big question on offense as to who will replace three-year starter Daniel Eidson at quarterback. But the return of three all-league receivers is a positive for an offense that was 31st nationally in NCAA Division III Total Offense a year ago (423.5 ypg) and 18th nationally in passing offense (297.3 ypg). The return of a consistent kicker is another plus for Westminster, who was 34th nationally in scoring offense at 34.5 points a game in 2009.

Crown College edged the College of St. Scholastica in the poll, taking fifth place. The Storm enters the 2010 season returning 21 starters from a 2009 squad that finished 4-6 overall and 1-4 in UMAC play. Offensively, Crown brings back 10 starters from last season's team which finished ninth in the country in points per game (39.6). The Storm are led by fifth-year senior and All-UMAC performer Adam Hayes. The Storm also return a talented receiving corps which includes seniors Drew Milner, Steve Boger, Eric Chavoustie, and Robert Yang. Milner and Boger are both members of last year's UMAC First Team, while Yang was a first team award-winner on special teams a season ago. Crown's running game will be bolstered by returning sophomore starter Tyler Hallblade, behind a veteran offensive line which returns three seniors. Senior defensive back Marquise Dixon returns as a starter for his fourth season. Dixon will be joined by second team All-UMAC member Brandon Green.

St. Scholastica improved by three wins in 2009 from its inaugural season. St. Scholastica brings back key players on both sides of the football. Offensively, the Saints are led up front by first team All-UMAC selection Stephen Vaulkner. He is joined by second team selection Kyle Groves, while quarterback Jake Olson is back for his junior season. Last year's leading receiver and second team All-UMAC choice Jonny Bennett is also back for head coach Greg Carlson, who started the Saints program three years ago. St. Scholastica's biggest question will be who will replace last year's UMAC North Division Co-Offensive Player of the Year Christopher Henagin at running back. Defensively, the Saints' leading tackler and second team All-UMAC choice Sean Graskey is back. First team All-UMAC selection Scott Greening will be roaming the defensive backfield, while second team All-UMAC choices Zack Dubanoski and Christopher Doran also return.

Eureka College came in seventh in the poll as a second-year member of the UMAC. Head coach Kurt Barth's squad returns 10 starters and five All-UMAC selections from a year ago. While the Red Devils will undergo a quarterback change after the graduation of 2009 UMAC South Division Co-Offensive Player of the Year Nick Lindsey, junior wide receiver Wes Schmidgall will return to lead an offense that averaged 30.0 points per game. Schmidgall ranked fourth among all NCAA Division III players and earned All-UMAC First Team All-Conference honors. Senior Dillon Reed is back at the tight end position after earning All-UMAC South Second Team honors last fall. A pair of defensive backs will return to help anchor the Eureka defense. Senior cornerback Rosney Beverly and junior strong safety Mike Minehan are back in the fold after earning All-UMAC Second Team honors last season. Barth will welcome one of the largest recruiting classes in program history with a total of 44 newcomers listed on the roster, including 30 that will have freshman eligibility.

MacMurray College and the University of Minnesota, Morris tied for eighth place in the poll. In last year's campaigns, neither team recorded a conference victory. Offense was not a problem for MacMurray in 2009 as the Highlanders scored 301 points, averaging 30 points per game. All-conference wide receiver Marc Randle will lead the Highlander offense. Steven Etheridge will also be a key returning player on MacMurray's offensive line, as well as wide receiver Dan Routh. Second team all-conference running back Brian Clay returns to the offensive backfield. Head coach Leading MacMurray's defense in 2010 will be linebackers Kelsey Mankins and Tobias Alaribe.

UMM returns 15 starters in 2010, including six all-conference performers. Sophomore quarterback Derek Foss returns to run the Cougars' offense after playing in all 10 games and passing for over 1,100 yards in his rookie season. Foss threw 12 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Morris must replace Foss's favorite target, Brady Rose, who graduated after hauling in 47 catches for 655 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Ready to fill the void, however, is John Russow, who returns after an all-conference sophomore season. Russow caught 30 passes for nearly 400 yards. Leading the attack on the ground will be Robert Koranda who carried the ball 154 times for 585 yards, and gathered second team All-UMAC accolades in his sophomore campaign. Koranda was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2008. On defense, lineman Mitch Zimmer leads the charge in his junior season, fresh off his second straight first team All-UMAC nod. Zimmer racked up 45 tackles from his defensive end spot, including eight tackles for a loss of 30 yards. He also notched 3.5 sacks on the season. Nate Lund joined Zimmer on the All-UMAC first team, and returns for his senior season after leading the team with 80 total tackles as a defensive back.

All nine UMAC schools will play seven conference games with the exception of Greenville College, who will play six league contests due to non-conference agreements that were already in place. With the addition of Presentation and moving to a complete round-robin schedule, every UMAC team will play nine conference games in 2011, the first year that the league champion will earn a spot in the NCAA playoffs.