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PELLA — Central College’s surprising NCAA Division III football playoff run has landed the Dutch back in the preseason national spotlight. The Dutch are No. 10 in the Street & Smith College Football Yearbook.

Central was 10-2 last year and 7-1 in American Rivers play, good for a share of a record 31st league title. In the opening round of the NCAA playoffs, the Dutch rallied from a 24-point halftime deficit in a 38-37 overtime triumph over the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh before getting ousted the following week by Wheaton College (Ill.). It was Central’s 21st NCAA playoff appearance.

With 14 starters returning—seven on each side of the ball—the Dutch should land additional preseason hype before opening Sept. 5 with a non-conference contest at Olivet College (Mich.). Among the returnees is the league offensive player of the year, quarterback Blaine Hawkins (senior, Ankeny), along with first-team all-conference defensive lineman Blade Durbala (senior, Blairstown, Benton HS).

Defending champion North Central College (Ill.) tops the rankings, with College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rival Wheaton next followed by traditional Division III titans the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the University of Mount Union (Ohio), the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Saint John’s University (Minn.).

Wisconsin-Oshkosh follows Central at No. 11 and Wartburg College, which shared the conference title with the Dutch last fall, is No. 24.

The rankings were compiled by Keith McMillan of D3football.com.

Central closed 2019 at a season-high No. 17 in the American Football Coaches Association Division III Coaches’ Poll and has appeared in several polls during recent seasons, but this is the program’s first preseason ranking since 2010. That year the Dutch were tabbed No. 7 by D3football.com, No. 9 by Lindy’s, No. 10 by USA Today and No. 18 by Sporting News. The squad went on to post an 8-2 record.

Street & Smith’s Division III preseason football rankings

1. North Central (Ill.)

2. Wheaton (Ill.)

3. Wis.-Whitewater

4. Mount Union (Ohio)

5. Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas)

6. Saint John’s (Minn.)

7. Delaware Valley (Pa.)

8. Muhlenberg (Pa.)

9. Salisbury (Md.)

10. Central

11. Wis.-Oshkosh

12. Chapman (Calif.)

13. Susquehanna (Pa.)

14. Union (N.Y.)

15. Bethel (Minn.)

16. Aurora (Ill.)

17. Brockport State (N.Y.)

18. Middlebury (Vt.)

19. Texas Lutheran

20. Linfield (Ore.)

21. Case Western Reserve (Ohio)

22. John Carroll (Ohio)

23. St. Thomas (Minn.)

24. Wartburg

25. Wesley (Del.)

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