MADISON -- University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the defending conference champion and winner of 11 of the last 14 titles, is the favorite to secure the 2019 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) football championship, according to a preseason poll conducted by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.

The Warhawks own a conference-best 36 first-place finishes and enter the 2019 campaign ranked third in NCAA Division III by College Football America and fourth by D3football.com, Lindy’s Sports and Street & Smith’s. UW-Whitewater brings back nine starters on offense from last year’s squad that advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III championship.

The Warhawks are followed in the conference predictions by: UW-La Crosse; UW-Oshkosh; UW-Platteville; UW-Stout; UW-Stevens Point; UW-Eau Claire; and UW-River Falls.

UW-River Falls returns eight starters on offense, including senior quarterback Ben Beckman, who completed 163 of 316 passes for 2,155 yards and 13 touchdowns during the 2018 campaign. He was the only WIAC player to produce a 400-yard passing effort a season ago with 405 yards against UW-Platteville on Oct. 6. Sophomore running back Sam Altena of New Richmond had a team-best 734 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Alex Herink of Hudson was second in the league with nine touchdown receptions and added 692 receiving yards.

Of the six returning defensive starters, senior linebacker Max Praschak of Hudson was second in the WIAC with 107 tackles, including a 19-tackle effort against Bethel University.

The Falcons open the 2019 season at the University of Minnesota-Morris Saturday, Sept. 7.