Mount Union pick to win OAC crown



Capital was selected as runner-up.
By RUSTY MILLER
AP SPORTS WRITER
Dean Paul was nervous that he wouldn't be allowed to go back home.
"The only thing I was not sure about was whether I was going to get invited to some of the things they have for alums at Mount Union. You know, my name would mysteriously disappear from the invitation list," he said with a laugh. "But that hasn't been the case."
Paul went to Mount Union, is proud that he was in the first class to play for rookie coach Larry Kehres in 1986, that he helped lay the foundation for one of the most successful programs in any division in any era.
Aspiration
Paul is from northeast Ohio, grew up wanting to play for Mount Union and to be a football coach.
Last Oct. 22, on Mount Union's home field no less, Paul felt the ultimate in football agony and ecstasy. As the head coach of Ohio Northern, he engineered a 21-14 upset of the mighty Purple Raiders.
Mount Union hadn't been beaten during the regular season by an Ohio Conference team in 12 long years -- a streak of 110 games.
Imagine: Mount Union lost!
"We don't make a big deal out of wins, so we won't make a big deal out of a loss either," Kehres said that day, after his conference record dropped to 162-8-3 in his 20 years.
Paul said that years from now, when he's retired and sitting on his porch sipping an iced tea, one of his most vivid memories of that day will be how Kehres and Mount Union handled the loss.
Almost a year has passed since that stunning upset. All has returned to normal. Mount Union went on to win its last three regular-season games to clinch its 14th OAC title in as many years.
Then the Purple Raiders gained steam through four playoff games -- barely edging another conference team, Capital, 34-31 in the quarterfinals -- before topping Wisconsin-Whitewater 35-28 to win their eighth national championship in the last 13 years.
Now Mount Union is again the pick to win another OAC title. Fifteen starters are back, including six All-OAC players.
The capsules
Here's a capsule look of the rest of the OAC, in order of coaches' preseason balloting:
Capital -- Coming off a school-record 10 wins, the Crusaders will build on a defense that returns nine starters and an offense led by QB Rocky Pentello, who has completed more passes (749) than anyone in OAC history and is out to pad a host of other staggering numbers (8,994 passing yards, 75 TDs).
Ohio Northern -- Dean can rely on QB Adam Quirk (18-5 as a starter) and RB R.J. Meadows (led OAC with 93.6 ypg and 20 TDs).
John Carroll -- Chasing their 20th consecutive winning season, the Blue Streaks have eight front-liners back on defense and three more on the other side.
Otterbein -- The Cardinals went 7-3 last year, their first winning record since 1999. QB Paul Stelzer fronts the offense.
Baldwin-Wallace -- Six starters return on each side of the ball, led by RB Brandon Hedges and QB Mickey Mental on offense.
Marietta -- Curt Wiese debuts as head coach, with all but two starters back on defense and another six frontliners in the mix on offense.
Muskingum -- The Fighting Muskies return seven starters from a defense that led the OAC in turnover margin last season. ... LB Jack Junker led the team with 90 tackles. ... Jeff Heacock back for 26th year as head coach.
Wilmington -- Second-year coach Barry Wulf welcomes back 19 starters, including offensive threat Marque Jones who can return kicks, run with the ball and catch it.
Heidelberg -- The entire starting offense is back but that would mean more if The Berg hadn't lost games by scores of 66-0, 63-0 and 68-6. ... Enters season with 26-game losing skid.