Despite blowouts the past two seasons,
Welcome to another year of college football Division III style. My name is Brian Lester, and I am in my first year as the Great Lakes Region columnist for D3football.com.
I have plenty of experience in the sports-writing business. I have covered everything from the preps to the pros after coming out of Eastern Illinois in 1997. And I am entering my 11th season covering the University of Findlay, an NCAA Division II schobaol in Ohio.
Although I spend a lot of time on D-II football, I am well aware of how big D-III football is, especially in the region, which just happens to feature one of the top programs in the nation in Mount Union.
I am looking forward to providing you with the best coverage possible of the Ohio Athletic Conference, the North Coast Athletic Conference, the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Presidents' Athletic Conference. I'll also have coverage of Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve based on geographical location.
It should be an exciting year, but before we dive into another season, here are 10 big games to watch in 2012.
Games to watch
Wheaton at Albion on Sept. 8: The Britons want revenge, but more importantly, they need to make a statement when the No. 15 Thunder comes to town. Albion was blasted 54-34 by Wheaton a year ago, but this is their chance to gain a surge of confidence and set the stage for another MIAA championship and playoff berth. Even if it doesn’t win, Albion needs to be competitive from start to finish.
Ohio Northern at Mount Union on Sept. 29: The Purple Raiders have owned the Polar Bears since 2006, winning five of six games by 20 or more points. ONU only lost 14-6 a year ago, and it has to believe this year is its chance to finish the job. If the Polar Bears can play well defensively again, they will be in a position to pull off the upset.
Wabash at Wittenberg on Oct. 6: The top two contenders for the NCAC championship will be fighting for an inside track to the 2012 title. The last seven crowns have been shared by the two squads. Keep an eye on the play of Little Giants quarterback Chase Belton and Tigers signal-caller Reed Florence. Both have tremendous athleticism, and the team that gets the best effort from its quarterback that day will nail down the win.
Wooster at Wabash on Oct. 20: I don't know if Wooster is good enough to win the conference title, but this game will give it a chance to be in the mix. The Fighting Scots led Wabash 7-6 at halftime last year but lost 19-7. It will be tougher to keep it close on the road, but if Wooster is in the game at halftime, don't expect it to fizzle out offensively this time around.
St. Vincent at Thomas More on Oct. 27: St. Vincent is searching for its first title in program history, and this tilt provides a stage for the Bearcats to catapult to contender status. The key to getting the job done is having its defense ready to be at its best. After all, the Saints have a rising star at quarterback in Luke Magness, who took over in the 2011 season finale and then nearly guided his team to a playoff win on the road.
Mount Union at Baldwin Wallace on Nov. 3: The OAC title should be on the line. Mount Union won 25-20 last year, and Baldwin Wallace hasn't forgotten it. Baldwin Wallace believes this is its year to be the top team in the OAC. If the Yellow Jackets are going to come out on top, they will have to slow down the high-powered Mount Union offense. Anything less probably won't be good enough.
Adrian at Albion on Nov. 3: The MIAA championship will probably be hanging in the balance. Adrian is trying to end a 14-year title drought while Albion is looking for a repeat and a return trip to the postseason. Containing Clinton Orr, the top offensive player in the league last year, will be important if Adrian wants to get out of town with a victory.
DePauw at Wabash on Nov. 10: It is one of the biggest rivalries in D-III football. It has been spiced up even more now that both teams are in the same conference. Wabash rolled to a 45-7 win in the 118th meeting, driving a dagger into the pride of the Tigers. There is a good chance Wabash will come in unbeaten again. It will be a daunting task on the road, but DePauw would love nothing more than to give Wabash's shot at perfection a black eye.
Heidelberg at Baldwin Wallace on Nov. 10: This showdown could very easily be for second place in the conference, or heck, even for a share of the conference championship depending on what happens when Baldwin Wallace plays Mount Union a week earlier. The Yellow Jackets will be favored, but if the Student Princes can run the ball effectively, they have a shot at a win.
Carnegie Mellon at Case Western Reserve on Nov. 10: The Spartans are the team to beat in the University Athletic Association and should arrive at this game with a chance to finish out a 3-0 run through the UAA. The Tartans have nearly everyone back from a rushing attack that churned out more than 2,300 yards. They also have three All-Conference linemen returning. But the Spartans are talented in the backfield as well, and the team that dominates on the ground will be in the best position to win.
I love hearing from the readers and feel free to share your thoughts in addition to potential story ideas. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.