September 3, 2013

Games to watch for 2013

 
As a freshman, Jimmy Dehnke had a dominating outing against the Little Giants in 2012, despite his team's loss. More will be needed on Nov. 9 if the Tigers hope to avenge that 27-24 defeat.
Wittenberg athletics photo

Well, it's that time of the year again. Another Divison III football season is upon us, and I am excited to be back for a second year as the columnist for the Great Lakes Region.

The start of football season always comes with a heavy dose of optimism, and it provides an opportunity to look ahead to games that could be the most interesting ones in the region, and in some cases, have conference championship implications riding on it.

It's hard to say which games will actually live up to the hype and which games might not be as good as expected. There will be a game or two I will probably miss that turns out to be top-10 worthy. 

Still, it's time to give it a go and give you a look at what I believe will be 10 games to watch in the region this season. And throughout the season I will work hard to provide the best possible coverage of the OAC, MIAA, PAC and NCAC. I will also be covering Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve based on geographical location.

Games to watch

Franklin at Mount Union on Sept. 7: The defending national champions open their 2013 season against a Franklin team on the rise in a matchup of teams that qualified for the 2012 playoffs. Franklin's postseason run ended in the second round, but the Grizzlies return 19 starters and will be gunning for an upset of the No. 1 team in the country on the road. It wasn't much of a game a year ago, with the Purple Raiders rolling 45-7, but it should be much more competitive this time. If Franklin wants any shot an upset, though, it needs to strike early and strike often.

Concordia (Wis.) at Trine on Sept. 21: Trine has hopes of winning an MIAA championship. This early-season game will give the Thunder an opportunity to make a statement outside of its conference. Playing at home will be a huge benefit for Trine, which returned only five offensive starters but should have its offense set by the time this game rolls around. Concordia will be in the mix for its first NACC title since 2007 and understands the importance of winning this one on the road. The winner will no doubt walk away with a huge boost of momentum.

Linfield at Case Western Reserve on Sept. 28: Case Western Reserve is seeking its first postseason bid since 2009, and this is a game it probably needs to win to make that dream a reality. The Spartans have some defensive issues to solve as they returned only two starters, but one would think those would be resolved by the time Linfield pays a visit to town. The defending NWC champions featured one of the top offenses and defenses in the nation a year ago. The Wildcats return 18 starters, too, which means the Spartans will have to be sharp from start to finish to nail down a big win.

Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson on Oct. 12: Washington and Jefferson played this game a year ago just days after the death of running back Tim McNerney and were blown out 54-18. Yet, the Presidents managed to win the title and ended the Saints' four-year run as champions. Both teams have plenty of experience. Thomas More returns 18 starters and Washington and Jefferson welcomes back 15. While there will still be a lot of football left after this one,,the winner no doubt gains an edge in the quest to be a PAC champion and nail down a playoff berth as well. Expect this game to be one of the most intense and competitive games in the league this year.

Mount Union at Heidelberg on Nov. 2: Both OAC teams made the playoffs last season, and Heidelberg has enough talent back to make another postseason run. But the Student Princes want a conference championship, too, and this will be their shot to put themselves in the discussion. You don't win an OAC title unless you beat Mount Union, and Heidelberg, with 15 starters back, is fortunate to have this game at home. Still, it will take a near-perfect effort to take down the Purple Raiders, who will likely come to town clicking on all cylinders for a game that will have a playoff-like feel to it.

Baldwin Wallace at Mount Union on Nov. 9: One week after having to play Heidelberg on the road, Mount Union will come home to face a Baldwin Wallace team that is also entertaining OAC championship aspirations this season. The Yellow Jackets believe they have a team capable of contending for a title and playoff berth, and this is a must-win game if they want any shot of living up to expectations. Baldwin Wallace should be much better off offensively this year, but it's on defense where it will need to be its best to slow down a Mount Union team led by national player of the year candidate Kevin Burke, the quarterback of the Purple Raiders.

Albion at Adrian on Nov. 9: Albion had to settle for a .500 record in the MIAA last season, but it has enough experience back -- 15 starters -- to rise in the standings and be in the mix for a championship. The only way to go to the top is to get through Adrian, and a year ago, it nearly took down the Bulldogs before falling 20-19 in overtime. The Britons were just a couple of inches short of capitalizing on a conversion run in OT. The returning players likely haven't forgotten that loss, but beating Adrian on the road won't be easy. The Bulldogs welcome back 16 starters, including eight from a defense that ranked seventh in the country statistically last season.

Wittenberg at Wabash on Nov. 9: Wittenberg won the NCAC title a season ago, but the Tigers' perfect run to the title was halted by Wabash, which earned a 27-24 win in early October. This time, the game falls much later in the schedule and there is a good chance both teams will be undefeated when they collide. The Little Giants bring back 18 starters and will look to capitalize on home field advantage against the Tigers. Like last year, this game will be close and or two big plays could mean the difference between victory and defeat in a tilt that should decide the conference championship.

Case Western at Washington U. on Nov. 9: Washington U. highlighted its 2012 season with a University Athletic Association championship, taking out Case Western 10-7 along the road to the title, and that setback will be on the minds of the Spartans when they go at it against the Bears in November. The Bears have 19 starters back and could have an edge in experience as Case Western only returns 11 starters, including only two on defense. If the Spartans want to bring home a title for the first time since 2011 and have a shot at the postseason, this is a must-win game.

Wabash at DePauw on Nov. 16: Wabash and DePauw are part of one of the most well-known rivalries in Division III, and records won't matter when the Little Giants and Tigers square. DePauw can't be happy with how the last three games of this series have played out as they have been held to under 10 points in each of those encounters. A year ago, it lost 23-0 to Wabash and will come into this battle looking to restore its pride and pull off a stunning win in the process. Wabash will have to be careful, though, because it could come into this game needing only to take care of business to seal the deal on a conference title and playoff berth. The Tigers would love nothing more than to ruin those plans.

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