Close to 150 Wittenberg football players will report to school today with the first practice scheduled for Thursday evening.
Coach Joe Fincham and his staff have a lot of names to learn before they start worrying about winning the North Coast Athletic Conference championship. But that is the eventual goal, and the 10 NCAC coaches picked the Tigers to finish second in the preseason poll released Monday.
Wittenberg received one first-place vote, and Wabash, the defending champion and preseason favorite, got the other nine.
“It ought to be a very competitive race,” Fincham said. “With DePauw coming into the league, that’s going to make it that much more competitive. I haven’t paid much attention to everyone else. I’m more worried about us. I worry about having to go to Wooster and Allegheny and places like that. I guess it’s good we have Wabash and DePauw at home.”
The Tigers face one of their toughest schedules in years, especially in the first half of the season. They open the season Sept. 1 at Capital, host NCAC newcomer DePauw on Sept. 15 and then travel to Wooster and Case Western before hosting Wabash on Oct. 6.
“In our first five games, there’s nobody where you say, ‘Thank God, those guys are coming to town,’ ” Fincham said. “Every week you’re going to have to be prepared to play.”
Wittenberg’s question marks are at the skill positions. It has a new quarterback — junior Southeastern High School graduate Reed Florence, who did get a lot of experience last year as a backup to Ben Zoeller. But its running backs and receivers will be unproven.
The defense is more experienced. The Tigers lost only two starters and return a group that includes South grads Jon Daniels on the line and Karlos Marshall at cornerback.
Wabash will be strong again with the return of third-year starting quarterback Chase Belton, a Northmont grad.
DePauw, picked to finish third, is trying to end a three-year drought against Wabash, its biggest rival, and now the Monon Bell game counts in the conference standings.
Wooster, picked fourth, had a disappointing season a year after losing starting quarterback Richard Barnes to a broken leg. He’s back, but competing with the quarterback who replaced him for his old job.
Here’s the complete poll: 1. Wabash (9 first-place votes) 98; 2. Wittenberg (1) 90; 3. DePauw 72; 4. Wooster 63; 5. Allegheny 62; 6. Denison 55; 7. Ohio Wesleyan 42; 8. Oberlin 38; 9. Hiram 16; 10. Kenyon 14.