MARQUETTE - Based on the 2011 standings, it's easy to argue that Northern Michigan University will play the toughest football schedule in the GLIAC this season.
Now the coaches have appeared to concur with that argument.
On top of playing everyone in the loaded North Division, the Wildcats will see the top three teams in the GLIAC South, as voted on by the league's 16 head coaches in the preseason poll released Wednesday.
Northern was picked seventh out of eight teams in the North with Grand Valley State on top. Michigan Tech was slotted fifth.
"It's a great league, and to be in the league, you should feel pretty good about yourself," NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. "I think if it's not the best Division II league in America, it's certainly (among) the top two, top three depending on the year."
Ashland, which finished 6-5 in 2011, was picked to win the South with 10 first-place votes and 113 points. The Eagles travel to Marquette for the Wildcats' Homecoming game on Sept. 22.
Ohio Dominican, which was picked second in the South with 108 points and five first-place votes following a 7-4 campaign, hosts NMU the week before on Sept. 15.
Findlay, which nabbed one first-place vote and 97 points, hosts NMU in the season opener for both schools on Aug. 30 coming off a 6-5 mark.
"I don't know too much about the South," Ostrowsky said. "I can tell you the three teams we're playing down there in Findlay, Ohio Dominican and Ashland are pretty damn good. I think they are perennial."
Ashland, Ohio Dominican and Findlay have jumped to the top of the South Division because of some departures and additions to the league in the offseason.
Indianapolis, an affiliate member of the GLIAC in football from 1999-2011, left this offseason to be a part of the new Great Lakes Valley Conference in football. In response, Notre Dame College in Ohio was accepted as an associate member while Walsh University and Malone University, also from Ohio, joined as full-time members.
The additions and subtractions resulted in a reshuffling of divisions to better reflect the league's geography.
NCAA Division II national runner-up Wayne State and 2011 GLIAC champion Hillsdale moved from the South to the North to create an all-Michigan division, while the South took on the three new members for an all-Ohio division.
The North Division comes into 2012 with a combined record of 54-39 in 2011 while the eight South schools combined to go 36-52 with all but the top three posting sub-.500 records.
"It hasn't even been entertained as the toughest in the league," Ostrowsky said. "We're going to play the schedule that is scheduled and we're going to do the best we can every week."
Northern will host four of the six division rivals ranked above it, starting with a trip to No. 3 Hillsdale on Sept. 29, No. 5 Tech visiting Marquette on Oct. 6 and No. 1 GVSU at the Superior Dome the following week on Oct. 13.
NMU travels to No. 2 Wayne State on Oct. 20 and No. 8 Northwood on Oct. 27 before hosting No. 4 Saginaw Valley State and No. 6 Ferris the final two weeks of the regular season.
WSU at No. 5, GVSU at No. 7 and Hillsdale at No. 17 are also ranked nationally in the American Football Coaches Association preseason poll, which was released Tuesday.
"I think Wayne is tremendous," said Ostrowsky, who admitted to slotting WSU over GVSU in a tight decision as to who would top the North.
"They certainly don't have the tradition of Grand Valley, but I think their coaching staff is great, they're physical and they do a great job."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.