UW-Whitewater's Alex Peete (23) points upward after scoring the Warhawks' first touchdown against St. Norbert on Saturday, November 24, 2018, at UW-Whitewater.

Expectations, as usual, are high for the UW-Whitewater football team.

The Warhawks are the preseason favorites to win the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, according to a poll conducted by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.

In addition, the Warhawks enter the 2019 season with lofty rankings nationally—they’re ranked third in Division III by College Football America and fourth by D3football.com, Lindy’s Sports and Street & Smith’s.

Whitewater returns nine offensive starters and three defensive starters from the 2018 team that was unbeaten in WIAC play, reached a national semifinal and finished 13-1.

Junior running back Alex Peete is back after leading the WIAC with 1,275 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last season.

Senior linebacker Jacob Erbs, who recorded a team-best 75 tackles in 2018, is one of three defensive starters back.

Whitewater opens the season Sept. 7 at home against Dubuque—a game that has some added intrigue after reports emerged in January that a former Whitewater assistant, Craig Smith, had shared information about the Warhawks’ defensive strategy with coaches at Dubuque.

“I’m going to take the high road,” UW-Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis told The Gazette at the time. “I don’t worry about the things I can’t control.”

The Warhawks crushed Dubuque 38-6 in their 2018 season opener.

Whitewater will face Concordia-Moorhead and Saint Xavier in road games before beginning its WIAC slate Oct. 5 at home against UW-Eau Claire.

La Crosse, picked to finish second in the WIAC with seven starters back on both sides of the ball, will visit Perkins Stadium on Nov. 2.

The Warhawks will end the regular season Nov. 16 at Oshkosh, the team pollsters tabbed as the third-best in the WIAC.

Whitewater is ranked behind defending NCAA Division III champion Mary Hardin-Baylor, DIII runner-up Mount Union and St. John’s (Minn.) in D3football.com’s national preseason rankings.