Pacific Lutheran enters 2014 at number 20 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 8-2 (5-1) Northwest Conference
For the third time in four years, Pacific Lutheran finished second in the Northwest Conference to the Linfield Wildcats – the only team to beat them. They won a few close games (21-19 at UW-Eau Claire, 17-16 over Pacific, and 28-21 at Whitworth), but other than those few games and the two times they travelled to play Linfield, the Lutes were fantastic. They featured the 12th-best rushing defense in D3, and had six players named to the All-Northwest Conference first team.
Linfield was, once again, the biggest obstacle in the Lutes’ way. Their first meeting was a lopsided 29-0 loss for Pacific Lutheran, who managed only 216 yards on offense on the day and gave up five turnovers to Linfield’s zero. Fail to control the ball like that and you’re going to lose 99 times out of 100. They bounced back with five wins in a row, finished the regular season 8-1, and earned themselves another shot at the Wildcats in the first round of the D3 playoffs. This time, the Lutes actually outgained the Wildcats on offense (379 yards to 355) but lost the turnover battle, and ultimately, the game once again – final score 42-21.
– Chris Edison OL – Second team All-NWC
– Mychael Tuiasosopo DL – First team All-NWC, 33 tackles, 6 TFL, 5 sacks
– Ben Kaestner LB – Second team All-NWC, 43 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 4 pass defenses
– Jordan Patterson LB – First team All-NWC, 83 tackles, 19 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 FR
– Sean McFadden DB – First team All-NWC, 59 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 7 pass defenses
What to Watch For
Offensive Improvement – Lute fans should be excited about the development of second team All-NWC quarterback Dalton Ritchey. It was his second all-conference appearance after featuring on the first team last season. He’ll have all of his top receiving targets back for the 2014 campaign as well as his top running backs and almost all of his best protectors on the offensive line. This offense had the pieces in place to do very well last season, but disappointed when it counted – against Linfield. The Wildcats will be as weak on the defensive side of the ball as they have been at any point during their four-year run of dominance, so now is an ideal time for the Lutes to peak on the offensive side of the ball.
Like their big brothers to the south, Pacific Lutheran lost quite a few of their defensive stalwarts this offseason; all five of the Lutes’ top tacklers moved on. That much attrition to what was formerly the strength of the team could lead some to worry the offense won’t improve enough to bring wins. The NWC as a whole isn’t very strong – it’s really just a matter of taking down Linfield – but without big contributions from new starters and recruits, it’s going to be difficult for the Lutes to take that last step up the NWC ladder.