It has been a pleasure to write about Division III football and
the Midwest region for five years now. I've seen the rise and fall
and then the fall and rise of teams and the amazing consistency of
other programs. It's been a fun ride and I'm expecting nothing less
from this year's campaign as well.
This is the place where I am supposed to pick the top 10 games in the Midwest, but ended up finding the top date in the Midwest -- Oct. 2. There are several key matchups all falling on the same date.
Franklin at Mount St. Joseph: Since 2004, Franklin and Mount St. Joseph have dominated the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. This game will play an important role of determining who will represent the conference in the playoffs. Franklin, which had to replace some key elements of its team from last year, did quite well for itself going 7-3. The Lions did even better, running the table in the HCAC after coming off a 5-5 season in 2008. This should be another fun contest.
St. Norbert at No. 17 Monmouth: Monmouth will get a chance to defend its title again against its arch rival in the Midwest Conference. For a long time, it was St. Norbert's world and every other MWC team just lived in it. Behind quarterback Alex Tanney (yes, he's finally a senior), Monmouth is nationally ranked and has a chance to three-peat the MWC title. The Green Knights would love nothing more than to beat the Fighting Scots on the road after Monmouth opened up a 52-24 can of whip-butt on them in 2009.
Concordia (Ill.) at Benedictine: Coaches will tell you that revenge is never a good motivation factor for a football team and each season and each team is separate onto itself. That's what they're supposed to say. In reality, the Cougars probably have this date already marked on their calendar. It was Benedictine that ruined Concordia's run at the Northern Athletic Conference championship on the last game of the regular season, giving the title to Lakeland. If nothing else, Concordia would enjoy evening the score against its suburban Chicago rival.
Illinois Wesleyan at Wheaton: Illinois Wesleyan, the Rodney Dangerfields of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, plays the perennial power Wheaton. Illinois Wesleyan captured a share of the conference championship after going unranked most of the year. Again, Wheaton is picked to finish ahead of Illinois Wesleyan in the CCIW standings. If the Titans expect to defend its share of the title, they will have to beat Wheaton on the road, never an easy test for Thunder opponents. This game will make the conference picture a little clearer.
Now that Oct. 2 has been highlighted and the date of dates in the Midwest, let's look at six other games that will have an impact in this part of the country.
Sept. 4: Franklin at Carthage: This is your classic resume game. It's tough to make the playoffs as an at-large team and teams in that position needs all the help they can get. Franklin can help its cause with a victory over traditionally tough Carthage of the CCIW. Carthage, though, is 14-1 over the past five years in non-conference regular season games. This will be a tall order for the Grizzlies but one they need to have right out of the gate.
Sept. 11: No. 7 Central at Augustana: This is classic resume game No. 2. Augustana is a favored to make another strong run at the CCIW title. While this non-conference title won't help the Vikings in that quest, it could certainly add to Augustana's position if they can make a strong run in the CCIW and then show a victory over a Central team that's consistently in the Top 25.
Oct. 9: No. 14 North Central at Augustana: It won't be an easy road for the Cardinals to get another share of the CCIW title. They must beat the predicted No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the conference -- Wheaton and Augustana -- on the road. That first test comes here and the Cardinals can be flying high after this contest or the race and be thrown into tizzy. All eyes in the conference will be focused on this one.
Oct. 9: No. 17 Monmouth at Ripon: This could be a trap game against a very good opponent. Ripon has been knocking on the MWC door for several years, even beating St. Norbert in 2008. Monmouth and St. Norbert are the only two teams Ripon fell to last year. Matching up a fired-up Ripon team playing at home against a Monmouth team coming off a game against its biggest rival St. Norbert a week earlier could make this the most interesting contest in the conference this year.
Nov. 6: No. 14 North Central at Wheaton: The battle for the Little Brass Bell is always a biggest game on campus for North Central and Wheaton and it continues to be one of the CCIW's best games. It will be the same this year with the winner taking a big step toward the CCIW championship and the playoffs.
Nov. 13: Concordia (Wis.) at Lakeland: This game was supposed to determine the Northern Athletic Conference title last year before Concordia (Ill.) crashed the party. If the Cougars fail to put together another monster season, Concordia (Wis.) and Lakeland will likely be back in the driver's seat and this game will loom huge to see who will move on to the playoffs. It was Lakeland that came on strong at the end of the season and got the upset it needed the last game of the season to capture the title.