The Benedictine Eagles were the Northern Athletics Conference football coaches' choice to take home the league's 2012 title according to the preseason poll, which tagged the defending co-champs with five-of-eight first-place votes.
The Eagles tallied 58 points, followed by their 2011 co-champ Concordia Chicago, who picked up one top vote and 55 points.
Wisconsin Lutheran was third with two first-place votes and 52 points, while Concordia Wisconsin rounded out the top half with 40 points.
Lakeland was tabbed fifth with 32 points, Aurora sixth with 27, and Maranatha and Rockford tied for the seventh spot with 12 points apiece.
Benedictine won the 2010 championship outright with a 7-0 NAC record before a 6-1 record earned a share of the 2011 title. The Eagles finished the season at 7-4 overall and earned the league's automatic berth to the NCAA III Football Championship by their 43-21 victory over Concordia Chicago (8-2, 6-1 NAC) in the first week of the conference schedule.
Senior defensive end Ben Lockton, who shared the NAC's Defensive Player of the Year honor last season, leads the Eagles' defense. Lockton, selected as a preseason All-American by D3football.com, established a single-season school record with 25 tackles for loss on the season. He led the conference in sacks and tackles for loss and also led the nation in tackles for loss for several weeks last year and finished fourth overall.
On the offensive side of the ball senior running back John Borsellino, the 2011 NAC Offensive Player of the Year, will lead the way again for the Eagles. Borsellino led the league in rushing yards (1,361), carries (249), and touchdowns (17) in 2011, and was named to the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team.
Benedictine opens play on Thurs., Aug. 30, at Wheaton (Ill.), while the remaining seven teams open up their 2012 schedule on Saturday, Sept. 1.
New this year, the league will compete in a Challenge Series with the nearby Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association on Sept. 15 that pits member schools from the two conferences against each other. Matchups for this year's series were determined on each school's finish in the 2011 conference standings.
The conference portion of the schedule begins on Sept. 29, while on Oct. 27, Concordia Chicago takes on Benedictine for the 1-2 matchup in the battle of the defending co-champs.
The Northern Athletics Conference champion becomes the league's automatic qualifier in the 2012 NCAA III Championship.
2012 Northern Athletics Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll
1. Benedictine (5), 58
2. Concordia Chicago (1), 55
3. Wisconsin Lutheran (2), 52
4. Concordia Wisconsin, 40
5. Lakeland, 32
6. Aurora, 27
7. Maranatha, 12
first-place votes in parentheses
voted by the conference's eight head coaches
8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 point scale used