Ten games to watch for 2011

Albion's Chris Greenwood
Chris Greenwood and Albion have a big slate ahead of them this year, with three Top 25 teams and a D-I FCS non-scholarship opponent. 
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

Hello D3football fans, this is the first column for the Great Lakes Region. I join Pat, Keith and the D3football.com gang after serving as a Sports Information Director. I've been covering sports as a writer, broadcaster or a media professional for nearly 25 years.

NCAA Division III sports are rich with tradition and seemingly endless story lines. Over the weeks to come, I'll endeavor to share of those tales that makes “student-athlete” model so compelling.

First things first though, you have to know what stories to follow. The regional columnists like myself are offering our top ten games in their region. My beat includes Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Ohio Athletic Conference, the North Coast Athletic Conference and the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. We also have future NCAC member DePauw and University Athletic Association members Case Western Reserve and Carnegie Mellon, because of their geography.

Here were go, organized by date, rather than by importance, my top ten games in the Great Lakes region this fall.

Albion at Wheaton, Sept. 10: With two All-Americans in the lineup, Albion has have opted to take on several Top 25 teams head-on. The philosophy is simple: be a playoff qualifier come November. This one is a Saturday night affair making it even more intriguing.

Washington and Jefferson at Delaware Valley on Sept. 10: This is a game in the second year of the PAC-MAC Challenge series. The Presidents struggled early last season and will be tested early this year with a Week 2 contest with 2010 Middle Atlantic Conference champ and playoff qualifier Delaware Valley. Both teams are just outside the Top 25.

Albion at UW-Stevens Point on Sept. 24: Everyone knows that one team from Wisconsin, but Stevens Point isn't too shabby either. The Britons go right into the eye of the storm. By the time they open up MIAA play, they'll either be a battle tested unit, or wounded physically and emotionally. One thing is certain they haven't feasted on a cream puff schedule.

Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson on Sept. 24: The conference elite go ahead to head early to take an upper hand in the PAC title race. There's a lot of football to play, but the road to the conference title likely will be an exit ramp for the loser. In the last five years,W&J has finished second three-straight seasons and their only losses have come at the hands of The Saints.

Mount Union at Ohio Northern, Oct. 1: Perennial powers Mount Union and Ohio Northern meet up in what could be the game of the year in the region, and it will surely be the marquee game in the OAC. Ohio Northern has toiled in the shadows with regular playoff appearances and has been ranked in the top 25 for eight straight years, while the Purple Raiders have played for, or won the national title every year since 2000. 

Case Western Reserve at Wooster, Oct. 22: When Case and Wooster meet, its one of the great traditions in D-III football - The Baird Brothers Trophy name honoring brothers Bob and Bill Baird one-time professors at Case and Wooster.

Baldwin-Wallace at Mount Union, Nov. 5: If the Mount Union-Ohio Northern wasn't the game of the year in the OAC, this one will be it. The winner should be the conference champ. Mount Union might be untouchable, but the Yellow Jackets seem to be on the rise and hope to challenge for a playoff berth.

Wittenberg at Wabash, Nov. 5:  Always a big rivalry, but this sets up to be the NCAC championship, both teams enter the season in the Top 25. Wabash and Wittenberg have split the last 12 games and six of those have been by a touchdown or less.

Trine at Albion, Nov. 12: It's a rematch of the 2010 MIAA title game. On paper, the Thunder could be vulnerable. Don't count on it. Sure, they've replaced a lot of key players, but as with any quality program, success hinges on keeping the momentum going as understudies step into the spotlight. Depending on how Albion navigates its ambitious non-conference schedule, this one could be a classic.

Wabash at DePauw, Nov. 12: The Monon Bell game. These teams meet for the 118th time with as much pageantry, tradition and history as any game at any level. Wabash blasted DePauw in last year's clash. With significant playoff implications at stake, there is even more fuel for this fire. If there was a game that defined D-III football, this certainly one of them.