Hey ’Cats. With only two regular season games left, I figured now would be the perfect time to write a column dissecting the Northwest Conference football playoff picture. So, without further ado, a short analysis of the top contenders in the NWC, with their current standing, name, record and conference record (in parentheses):
Linfield College, 6-1 (4-0)
Linfield has once again shown why it is the cream of the NWC crop with commanding victories in each of its four conference games.
The ’Cats are averaging an unreal 487.2 yards and 47.8 points per game while only allowing 13.8 points and 290.5. With only games against Whitworth University and Lewis & Clark College left, Linfield figures to waltz into the playoffs wearing the NWC crown for the second-straight year.
Watch out for Lewis & Clark on offense, however: The Pioneers are just behind Linfield in both points and yards per game. Whitworth’s stingy pass defense may present some problems for senior quarterback Aaron Boehme as well.
Pacific Lutheran University, 6-1 (3-1)
The Lutes began hot this season by rattling off five consecutive victories before getting emphatically swatted by Linfield at home two weeks ago. Their success has largely been on the back of senior quarterback Jordan Rassmusen, who is playing the best ball of his life this year at around 230 yards per game and 10 touchdowns.
In the end, PLU’s porous defense led to its undoing; the Lutes are allowing just more than 393 yards a game in total offense.
Despite all this, they remained No. 8 in the NCAA’s latest regional rankings, meaning they may be able to secure an at-large bid in the playoffs should Linfield win out. PLU controls its own destiny now, and their final regular season game against Willamette will ultimately decide whether one team or two will represent the NWC when playoffs come around.
Willamette University, 6-2 (3-1)
Just like PLU, Willamette’s lone conference loss was a 35-7 drubbing at the hands of Linfield. Defense has been the Bearcats’ strong suit this season, as they only allow 18.8 points and 291.2 yards a contest.
Don’t count out their offense, either: 39 points and 453.8 yards per game are nothing to sneeze at.
Also like PLU, the Bearcats have a shot to break into the West Region’s top eight teams and secure an at-large
playoff berth if they can win out in its last two games against the Lutes and the Pioneers.
Should Linfield drop their remaining games and the Bearcats win out, Willamette would even win the NWC.
Their final game of the season against Lewis & Clark looks to be a retelling of the age old adage, “What happens when an unstoppable force (Lewis & Clark’s prolific offense) meets an immovable object (Willamette’s sturdy defense)?”
Lewis & Clark, 4-3 (2-2)
The Pioneers are undoubtedly the biggest surprise in the NWC this season. Predicted to finish last, Lewis & Clark has defied all odds to surge to the middle of the pack in the conference race and are not completely removed from title contention.
If the Pioneers defeat Willamette and Linfield in their final two games, and the Wildcats also lose to Whitworth, Lewis & Clark would wrap up its first conference championship in God only knows how long.
Freshman Pioneer quarterback Keith Welch is averaging 279.5 yards of total offense in a breakout season, but the Lewis & Clark defense has been atrocious, allowing 404 yards and 34.2 points a game.
If Lewis & Clark can mange to crack Willamette or Linfield’s defensive scheme, it just might be able to outgun them and eke out a huge upset
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.