The facts say that only a handful of starters return from the Mount Union team that won another Division III national championship, but Ohio Athletic Conference coaches know better than to doubt its resident dynasty.
According to a poll of OAC coaches, the Raiders are an overwhelming choice to win their 29th conference championship, and the only reason it wasn’t unanimous is that coaches couldn’t vote for their own teams.
Vince Kehres returns for his sixth season with four players back on offense and five on defense, but quarterback D’Angelo Fulford and linebacker Danny Robinson are two of the best at their positions in the nation.
Fulford, a junior, threw for 3,096 yards and 50 touchdowns and completed 68.8 percent of his passes. He was intercepted five times. Robinson made 101 tackles, 8½ for a loss.
The top two receivers return in Justin Hill (1,202 yards, 20 touchdowns) and Jared Ruth (839, 14).
John Carroll, Ohio Northern and Baldwin-Wallace have been picked to finish second through fourth, respectively. Otterbein is predicted to finish seventh and Capital ninth.
In the North Coast Athletic Conference, Wittenberg is the closest team to a Mount Union. The Tigers, hunting a fifth championship since 2013, have a bundle of players back from a team that finished 10-1 overall and 9-0 in the conference.
The offense runs behind senior quarterback Jake Kennedy. He threw for 2,666 yards and 24 touchdowns and completed 59.2 percent of his passes last season. Top receivers Thaddeus Snodgrass and Liam Duncan and running back DeShawn Sarley return.
The defense, which forced 27 turnovers and led the conference in lowest yardage per play at 4.7, will be led by linebackers Terrance Crowe (94 tackles) and Jonathan Seay (91).
Conference coaches picked Wabash, DePauw, Denison and Ohio Wesleyan to finish second through fifth, respectively.
Denison, which was 7-3 overall and fourth in the conference last season, returns quarterback Canaan Gebele (2,016 yards passing, 791 rushing) and running back Alex Minton (1,001 yards). Four of the five top tacklers are gone.