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Look, you've got a September to plan, and Around the Nation doesn't want to be responsible for your getting caught on a ladder cleaning the gutter when you'd rather be in the bleachers screaming for your team to go for it on fourth-and-1.
Before the first kickoff, most of the good stuff is still inside Kickoff. If you're a first-time reader, ATN's function is as important in Division III as it would be at any other level of college football; without national television broadcasts in the regular season, this is where we'll take everything happening between New England and Southern California, from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South and make sense of it. I'll explain a bit more later.
If you're wondering, however, whether you really want to commit to something other than football on a September Saturday, drop the phone before you RSVP. ATN, as usual, has your back. Here's a September non-conference clash primer, so you know which weekend to schedule that date with your significant other, and which week to schedule that tailgate with your significant brothers.
Around here, you'll rarely see Saturdays referred to by the actual date. In Week 12, 32 teams will be vying for the national championship, and more than 200 won't be. We've got 11 weeks to shoehorn 10 games in. For the 220-plus playoff-eligible teams, jockeying for playoff position doesn't begin when you get to seven or eight wins, it begins now. Should a team fail to secure one of the 23 automatic playoff berths (also known as automatic qualifiers or AQs), early non-conference results could come back to haunt them. Or it could be what puts the team into the field. That's why we care so much about these five games:
No. 10 St. John Fisher at No. 1 Mount Union: There would be a lot more to look forward to here if the Cardinals had come as close to the Purple Raiders in the 2007 playoffs (a 52-10 loss) as they did in 2006 (26-14). But our first look at the perennial class of Division III comes against a team that will at least approximate a decent challenge from within the OAC. (In fact, there are those who would argue that last year's Empire 8 performances against the Purple Raiders would indicate it's better). Previous years might be of little relevance in this game anyway -- except for that SJF has twice been to Alliance and should no longer be in awe. The Cardinals have seven offensive starters back, but the ones who moved on were a standout quarterback, a leading rusher and two highly regarded linemen. Mount Union on the other hand doesn't have many starters back at all, but quarterback Greg Micheli and running back Nate Kmic are preseason all-Americans.
NAIA No. 8 St. Xavier at No. 2 UW-Whitewater: Our defending champion hosts a quarterfinalist from a parallel classification on Friday night. There aren't any playoff implications, but just as with Mount Union, we're eager to get a look at what turns up in place of the Warhawks' gutted Stagg Bowl lineup. Three seasons of national exposure, recruiting with the word ‘championship' and 15 more games and weeks of practice than some of its competitors could bode well for UW-W. Hard to know what to expect from St. Xavier -- a lot of its talent is back, including four offensive and three defensive linemen, but it replaces its best quarterback, receiver and kicker. Whitewater took a 31-0 first-half lead in a 34-20 win when the teams met in 2005. Still, it's safe to say this is a measuring stick game for the ongoing Division III/NAIA comparisons. Or maybe it isn't; St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis told his school's Web site in March, “We are obviously throwing ourselves right into the fire by opening up against Wisconsin-Whitewater. Sometimes it is difficult to compare the different levels of competition, because they are not your normal Division III program.” Also, it's the debut of turf at Perkins Stadium, until August one of the last bastions of grass in an elite program.
Hardin-Simmons at UW-La Crosse: Neither of these teams are top 25, but they have the talent and potential to be. But after suffering through unexpected four-loss seasons last year -- the Cowboys because they couldn't stop anyone, the Eagles because they lost their mojo after a stunning comeback by UW-Whitewater -- each team needs to rebuild its confidence. Starting with a fresh slate is nice. Fielding a new team with new quirks in a new year is great too. But doubt creeps into players' minds, and it's a shame that one of these teams will point itself toward the rankings on Saturday while the other begins to think ‘here we go again.' UW-La Crosse won 47-21 in Texas last season, for what it's worth.
No. 25 Mississippi College at Millsaps: The Choctaws have a chance to win the ASC this season, but getting off to a good start against the rival Majors, a contender in the SCAC, can't hurt. Millsaps is milling about the fringes of the top 25, but they were a hair from 10-0 last season; a 21-point Choctaws fourth-quarter rally is partly to blame. It's simple, we'll stop mentioning last year if Millsaps -- led by Juan Joseph, a third-year starter at quarterback -- wins the Backyard Brawl. If not, well, there's always that automatic bid to chase. And perhaps a playoff rematch -- at 9 miles apart in the Jackson, Miss., metro area, you think a selection committee could resist pinching those pennies?
No. 12 Salisbury at Albright: This 6 p.m. game starts off a fairly front-loaded and definitely difficult schedule for the Sea Gulls, who can't afford more than two blemishes come Pool B selection time. With Delaware Valley, Christopher Newport, St. John Fisher and Wesley ahead, Salisbury is going to have to beat some good teams, and the Lions qualify. There are 18 starters back on a team pegged by Kickoff to go 9-1 and win the MAC. Quarterback Tanner Kelly bears watching, but so does Salisbury defensive end Jarrell Chandler, who has the talent to be national defensive player of the year.
OK, so we gave you the hook-up for opening week. If you're trying to plan ahead, here's what else will get us excited in Sept:
No. 5 Bethel at No. 17 Wheaton: MIAC champ and CCIW contender will have bigger fish to fry in conference play, but bold scheduling often makes for great games. Like-minded institutions could put on one of the friendliest games in history.
No. 16 Ohio Northern at No. 15 North Central: OAC challenger and CCIW champion get together in what might be a look at two North Region playoff teams.
Dickinson at Hobart: The Statesmen haven't received much love this preseason, but a win over a projected Centennial contender could get them some.
No. 23 Wartburg at Augsburg: The Auggies' upset was a shocker last season. This time around we'll be watching more closely.
Linfield at Hardin-Simmons: Ninety-four points in a shootout last season in Oregon.
UW-La Crosse at North Dakota: Two seasons after beating I-AA South Dakota State (17-3 in their 2006 opener), the Eagles take on another legitimate scholarship program a couple states to the West. The Fighting Sioux are in their first FCS year, up from Division II. As for La Crosse, good luck with that.
Geneva at No. 12 Salisbury: Golden Tornadoes might not get to participate in the playoffs just yet, but there's no transitional period for playing spoiler.
Also intriguing: No. 3 Wesley at Delaware Valley, Wilkes at Montclair State, Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon, N.C. Wesleyan at Widener, Union at Springfield and a conference clash, No. 2 UW-Whitewater at No. 14 UW-Eau Claire. Plus three crazy road trips, Pacific Lutheran at St. Olaf, Dubuque at No. 24 Redlands and Principia at Whittier. Whaaaaat?
Whitworth at No. 24 Redlands: Pirates' loss to Bulldogs last season played a role in keeping them out of the playoffs.
Christopher Newport at No. 12 Salisbury: Neither team has an easy schedule.
Widener at No. 3 Wesley: Ditto the above.
No. 8 Muhlenberg at Union: Centennial favorite clashes with Liberty contender a week after Fighting Dutchmen visit tough Empire 8 opponent.
Principia at Crown: A team from the 26th-ranked conference, the SLIAC, faces one from the 27th-ranked UMAC.
In conference play: No. 22 Cortland State at Rowan, No. 9 Central at No. 23 Wartburg, No. 16 Ohio Northern at No. 1 Mount Union
Bridgewater at Lycoming: A lot has changed since these teams met in the 2003 playoffs.
No. 15 North Central at Olivet: Matchup of last season's CCIW and MIAA champs.
Augustana at UW-Platteville: Wonder if the Vikings tried any of Mike Emendorfer's tutorials on the spread while switching offenses this season.
Christopher Newport at Wilkes; No. 12 Salisbury at Delaware Valley: Mid-Atlantic powers and MAC contenders are still at it.
In conference play: Trinity (Conn.) at Williams, No. 18 Ithaca at No. 10 St. John Fisher, No. 5 Bethel at Concordia-Moorhead, No. 25 Mississippi College at Hardin-Simmons
We love aggressive scheduling, especially with the AQ system in place to undo any non-conference mishaps. As you can see, by the end of the month, a lot of leagues are into conference play and the need to schedule those games isn't present.
Games of the weekWe already gave you our top five games for Week 1 (It was six before No. 3 Wesley at Christopher Newport was cancelled). Led by a matchup of conference champions last season, here are a handful of other possibly intriguing games, followed by a couple of other lists of the week's clashes to keep an eye on:
Possibly also intriguing: Hampden-Sydney at N.C. Wesleyan, Baldwin-Wallace at No. 21 Franklin, No. 8 Muhlenberg at Wilkes, Coe at Augustana, Concordia (Wis.) at No. 5 Bethel, Lakeland at No. 9 Central, Ursinus at Alfred, Olivet at Wittenberg, St. Norbert at No. 23 Wartburg, Illinois Wesleyan at Hope.
Best road trips: East Texas Baptist at No. 6 St. John's (1,077 miles), Concordia-Moorhead at Willamette (1,264 miles), UW-Stout @ Menlo (1,644 miles).
Soup Bowl, Greensboro at Guilford: Pride have lost three straight to Quakers, twice by six points and once by a point.
Backyard Brawl, No. 25 Mississippi College at Millsaps: Rivalry and revenge.
Western New England at Hartwick: What do the Hawks have in store, since they built a ton of confidence since last year's season-opening 48-21 loss at WNEC?
Macalester at St. Thomas: Coach Glenn Caruso makes his Tommie debut against his former team.
Brockport State at William Paterson, Morrisville State at No. 22 Cortland State: NJAC debuts are made in road games.
Wins are hard to come by, so get this one: Lewis & Clark at Principia, Hiram at Gallaudet, Grinnell at Cornell, MacMurray at Beloit, Eureka at Knox, Denison at Kalamazoo.
Around the Nation tracks Division III's performance against teams from other classifications. Birmingham-Southern's 12-6 victory last weekend against Campbell, a I-AA member of the Pioneer League which restarted football after 58 years, got Division III off on the good foot. In 14 games this week, 10 Division III teams play at home.
vs. Division I, FCS (I-AA; 4-7 in 2007, 1-0 in 2008)
Butler at Albion
Iona at Delaware Valley
Campbell at Methodist
vs. Division II, FCS (3-12 in 2007)
Husson at Merrimack
St. Anselm at Plymouth State
Seton Hill at Geneva
vs. NAIA (21-9 in 2007)
Malone at Newport News (cancelled, Hurricane Hanna)
Taylor (Ind.) at Anderson
Grand View at Simpson
Webber International at UW-Stevens Point
Austin at Southwest Assemblies of God
No. 14 UW-Eau Claire at Bethel (Tenn.)
Louisiana College at Bacone
Games against former UMAC member Trinity Bible, N.D. -- this week at Minn.-Morris -- don't fall under any of the above classifications.
At right below the headshot are links to last January's year-in-review installments (Part 1 ran on Christmas '07). You'd be surprised not only how much of last year you've forgotten, but how well that gets you primed for what's ahead. If you haven't checked them out yet, it's a good idea.
This season you'll find the rest of our articles of interest from outside sources linked on the front page, down the right-hand rail under the heading ‘What we're reading.'
If you're new to the column or the site, D3boards.com is where the buzz is at. Around the Nation will broach a topic each week for readers to take on on our thread at the top of the General Football page. Right now we're compiling (yet again) a list of famous Division III alumni. Join the discussion!
First-time visitors and longtime die-hards alike should each find plenty to enjoy in this season's Around the Nation columns, which appears weekly, generally on Thursdays, through the regular season and often continuing along the way to the Stagg Bowl.
The main focus is to highlight issues of national significance: occurrences, trends, specific teams, streaks, polls and the like. Around The Nation aims to start a dialogue, something often impossible in such a giant, geographically fragmented division. The 239 teams we cover are an interesting lot, covering the gamut of larger state schools to highly respected small privates, coast to coast. We all play football, for the love of the game, but sometimes it seems that's all we have in common. With so many to keep an eye on, we'll spend the season traveling, watching games, talking to players and coaches, crunching numbers and sparking conversation about Division III football.
Beginning next week, we'll start featuring regular departments like My 26-35, designed to provide insight into the mind of a D3football.com pollster, Streak Watch more. Around the Nation will point you toward the best articles, message board topics and engage readers in conversation.
Around the Nation also has a hand in Monday's weekly podcast, featuring myself and Pat Coleman looking back and ahead, and Friday's Triple Take on The Daily Dose blog, where you'll get three opinions on a handful of the weekend's big games.
As always, thanks for your patronage and enjoy opening weekend.
Around the Nation is largely interactive, and since its inception has made reader feedback a part of the column. We keep a running board on Post Patterns (under general football) to discuss issues raised in the column, and we'll share feedback and answer questions there, as well as in the column occasionally. E-mail correspondence can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or submitted with our feedback form.
Keith McMillan is available by appointment to talk Division III football. For more information, e-mail Keith.
As always, Around the Nation appreciates help in covering your school or conference this season. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at email@example.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.
Links to online media guides are preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on D3football.com's front page and your team's page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher Pat Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
An early version of the column had the wrong team defeating Minnesota last season. It was North Dakota State, who are known as the Bison. North Dakota is the Fighting Sioux.