By Al Zipsie

The toughest small school football Conference in the state is about ready to begin another season with the season openers Friday, August 24th.

Lena-Winslow is the defending 1A State champion and is the favorite in the NUIC once again this season. Lena-Winslow went 14-0 with the state title last year to tie Aquin, Dakota and Galena with the lead, all with three State football championships in NUIC history. Forreston and Stockton are next with two. Eastland, Amboy, and Orangeville have one each. Stockton leads with the most state championship appearances with six

New coaches in the league this year are Kyle Zick who moves from assistant to head coach replacing Denny Diduch who left for Guilford. Jared McNutt replaces Randy Asche at Eastland/Pearl City. Kyle Zick who takes over for Denny Diduch who is on to Jefferson. Jared McNutt moves from Warren to take over at Eastland/Pearl City for Randy Asche,  Principal and former head coach Shawn Teske takes over for the Warriors. They begin a two year Coop agreement with Blackhawk in South Wayne, Wisconsin next season. Scales Mound already is a Co-op with a Wisconsin school in Benton. It means that they are not allowed in the Illinois playoffs, but are in Wisconsin. While Warren leaves the Conference next year the NUIC Upstate will also lose Polo playing its last season in the NUIC. They will be moving to 8 man football next year, even though it has not yet been Sanctioned for playoffs. Aquin has former Freeport assistant coach Broc Kundert taking over for Troy Barr.

Defending state champion Lena-Winslow is the favorite in the Northwest. They lose to graduation all-state running back Rahveon Valentine but do return many solid players. Despite all the success of the NUIC. The Panthers are looking to be the first team to win back to back state championships. Stockton was runner-up in 1974 and then won the title in 75. Forreston won state in 2016 and was hoping to win it again in 2017, but Lena-Winslow stepped up and beat them in the semifinal. Dakota and Eastland/Pearl City are hoping to challenge for the crown. Forreston lost a lot from those talented teams to graduation, but they are reloading and should not be taking lightly. With no way to go but up is Galena who are coming off their first winless season in school history. For Dakota, they are looking to take the next step under coach Joe Free. They are looking to compete with the elite, they have lost to powers Lena-Winslow and Forreston by a lopsided margin the last few years.

In the Upstate Milledgeville, Stockton and Orangeville are hoping to contend for the championship. Orangeville lost to graduation Austin Guy a standout, but have a solid core of players back looking for their first playoff win since 2008. Aquin, as usual, has no depth but promising young players. While it was late in coming to Aquin and Sacred Lady of our Heart from Rockford tried to get a Coop for this season. However, the NUIC Conference voted them down. They needed 75 percent of the vote and came up just short at 70 percent. Sacred Heart barely has enough students to field a team, but insists on playing 11 man instead of 8 man football. They had a Coop with Warren for two years but ended it last year to field a team of their own that was winless. They left the Warren Coop because of the driving distance. Maybe in time, this Coop will happen, but not this season.

Before the season starts we will have the NUIC Preview 2. This will include a look at each team for this coming season.

The Stateline Sports Hub will once again pick the NUIC games weekly. Our panel of ten from last year all return once again. They are last years champion Cody Cutter of the Sauk Valley News. Cutter beat out Mike Buda of WIFR TV and Shane Klever of the NUIC Football Fanatics in a three-way tiebreaker. Also returning are Scott Leber WTVO TV, Matt Trowbridge Rockford Register Star/Freeport Journal Standard. Kyle Kampmier of NUIC Football Fanatics. Joe Dredge of the Stateline Sports Hub and WROK. Al Zipsie of the Stateline Sports Hub. Terry Werntz former Dakota and Freeport head football coach and Pete Leinweber of Deep Dish Football. A newcomer this year will be Tim O'Hallaran (Edgy Tim) of NBC sports.