August 29, 2012

10 games to watch

Salisbury and St. John Fisher each reached the national quarterfinals last season out of the Empire 8.
Salisbury athletics photo

It's different for everyone, and yet, it's really the same feeling.

Maybe for you it's watching that first game, be it high school, college or professional. If you're a player or coach, then it's probably that first live practice. Heck, maybe it's buying the new Madden video game. Whatever "it" is, every football fan has that connection, that one lasting image or event they associate with every new season.

Football is back. Good to see you, old friend. We've missed you.

For me personally, the start of D3football.com Kickoff coverage has been my football ignition for the last few years. I have never played the game at a competitive level, unless you count backyards (I do not). But I have been a fan in the truest sense of the word. When I was in the sixth grade, I became a Seattle Seahawks fan. Just decided like that (truthfully, I liked their colors and Joey Galloway). I've been a diehard ever since. When I was accepted to Ithaca College in the spring of 2004, I became a Bomber for life. I live and die with these two football teams on Saturdays and Sundays. That will never change. It sounds extreme when I type that out. And yet, it's not. It's simply a level of love devotion only found in sports. The names and faces may change every year, but the fans? We're always there.

I'm ready for the 2012 football season. I'm ready to watch hundreds of college teams kick off this Saturday. And I'm ready to waste too much time on fantasy games. Like an old friend who, even after 10 years in between visits, you can feel right at home with, I'm glad football is back in my life. I'm glad, too, to return as the Around the East columnist for a second straight year. Last year was both a pleasure and an honor, and I'm ready to build upon it. If you're a regular reader, thank you for support. If you're a casual or first-time reader, keep coming back for more. My contact information can be found in the tagline at the bottom of the article.

Now, in preparation for the start of another season, here are 10 games to circle on your calendar in the East region this season:

1. No. 3 Wesley at No. 7 Salisbury, 6 p.m., Sept. 8: Fans get an early-season treat in this matchup of top-10 teams. The Wolverines held on for a 23-14 win last season, but the Sea Gulls gave them one of their toughest challenges of the season. This year's game is at Salisbury, under the lights at Sea Gull Stadium. The result of this game isn't likely to knock either team from NCAA playoff contention. But a win would look quite nice on a playoff resume for both schools.

2. Lebanon Valley at Lycoming, 1 p.m., Sept. 15: Here's another early-season battle, but this one could have direct ramifications on the MAC conference title. Lycoming edged Lebanon Valley 10-7 last year, but then fell to Delaware Valley the following week. If Lycoming hopes to push past Delaware Valley and Widener, it can't get tripped up by Lebanon Valley first.

3. Salisbury at St. John Fisher, noon, Oct. 6: If you're going to watch one Empire 8 game this season, make sure it's this one. There's a significant chance the winner of this game will take home the conference crown, and the automatic playoff berth that comes with it. Salisbury notched a convincing 41-21 win over St. John Fisher a year ago. The Cardinals have home-field advantage this time around, but that won't matter much if they can't slow down the Sea Gulls' triple-option offense. The two quarterbacks -- Salisbury's Dan Griffin and St. John Fisher's Ryan Kramer -- are the key players in this one.

4. Springfield at Hobart, noon, Oct. 6: Springfield, a newcomer to the Liberty League, should push for a conference title in its first year. This matchup with Hobart, the defending Liberty League champion and preseason top pick, looms large. Springfield, though new to the conference, has played Liberty League teams like Union and Merchant Marine in the past. Hobart looks particularly strong on defense, with junior linebacker Devin Worthington and sophomore defensive end Tyre Coleman as the anchors.

5. Rowan at Montclair State, 1 p.m., Oct. 6: Year in and year out, you can bet on this being a close game. You can also bet it will have a major impact on the NJAC race. Four of the last six meetings between these two teams have been decided by seven points or less. However, Montclair State has owned the series in recent years, winning the last six games. For Rowan to bounce back after a disappointing 5-5 season, this will be a critical contest.

6. St. John Fisher at Alfred, 1 p.m., Oct. 13: Many people probably look at the Empire 8 as a two-team race this season, but they'd be wise not to completely discount Alfred. The Saxons took a small step back last season after consecutive NCAA playoff berths, but a win in this key midseason tilt could help push them toward a return trip. Alfred's offense struggled in a 17-3 loss to St. John Fisher last season, completing only 15 of 37 pass attempts with four interceptions. When the teams last met in Alfred, the Saxons walked away with a 42-31 win. This will be a good one.

7. Cortland State at Kean, 1 p.m., Oct. 27: So, who is your pick to win the NJAC? The smart money's on one of these two teams. Cortland loses some key pieces from a year ago, most notably quarterback Dan Pitcher. But the Red Dragons return enough to check in as the preseason conference favorite. Kean was a surprise a year ago, putting together a 9-1 regular season that included a 31-28 win over Wesley. Both Cortland State and Kean should vie for playoff berths, but in the deep NJAC, the loser of this game may be left on the outside looking in.

8. Ithaca at Cortland State, noon, Nov. 10: Am I being partial here? Perhaps. But is this a rivalry game worth watching? Without question. Ithaca is coming off its worst season in 40 years, a campaign that ended with a 27-3 pounding at the hands of Cortland. The Bombers should be better, but the Red Dragons will still be favored. It seems unlikely that Ithaca will be competing for a playoff spot in mid-November, but Cortland certainly should be. The Bombers could play the spoiler role well. But really, like any good rivalry, throw out the records for this one and just enjoy some hard-nosed football.

9. Delaware Valley at Widener, 1 p.m., Nov. 10: This juicy matchup could -- and in this writer's opinion, will -- decide the MAC conference champion. Does it get any bigger than that in the final week of the regular season? I don't think so. The Aggies scored an impressive 56-28 win last season, but Widener pulled the upset with a 28-27 win in 2010. Delaware Valley should get the best Widener has to offer in what will likely be quarterback Chris Haupt's final home game.

10. Union at RPI, 1 p.m., Nov. 10: Just for good measure, here's another great rivalry game that's sure to produce a close, hard-fought battle. Union has two of the last three meetings, including a 38-28 decision last season. The Dutchmen closed last season with four straight wins and should again remain the contention for the conference crown. RPI, which returns senior quarterback Mike Hermann, could be a surprise team.

Contact Me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell) and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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