September 1, 2010

10 games to watch for 2010

Welcome back! I just wanted to take a little time to introduce myself to those of you who are new to Around the South and reintroduce myself to those of you having been long-time followers of Division III football in the South.

For the third season, I am writing this column which covers the America Southwest Conference and the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference as well as region independents Huntingdon and LaGrange. My background includes ten years of coaching on the Division III level at Wesley. I am beginning my seventh year broadcasting their games, including my fourth for WDEL – 1150 AM Radio.

So how does a guy in Dover, Del., keep up with a region where the nearest school is more than 500 miles way?

Well, there’s the Internet, of course, which provides a wealth of information and gamecasts. But my radio duties have taken me to many of the Around the South locations, including DePauw, Mary Hardin-Baylor, LaGrange and Huntingdon. And just last season, McMurry hosted my trip to Abilene last October to see a Hardin-Simmons play UMHB in the afternoon and McMurry and East Texas Baptist that evening. I also got to see Mississippi College live for the first time when they traveled here to Dover for the second round of the playoffs in November.

At any rate, unfortunately, my travel schedule may be a little lighter this regular season. The only school that Wesley plays this year from the ATS coverage area is Huntingdon and I am not sure just yet whether I will be making the trip to Alabama the first weekend in October.

So now that you know a little about me, let’s get to the football. I won’t waste time giving you a preview of the each team or conference, you can get all of that from Kickoff, our site’s comprehensive online preview of all 238 Division III teams with features and conference predictions. I talked to all the head coaches in the America Southwest Conference and you can find my thoughts on the order of finish and players of the year in Kickoff.

So now we’ll take a look at the big games for this weekend and some of the games from rest of the year which will likely shape the conference and playoff races. Remember that the winners of the SCAC and ASC both receive automatic bids to the playoff field of 32, but that the conferences, especially the ASC, have also earned a good number of at large bids (Pool C) over the past decade. The independents, Huntingdon and LaGrange are competing for Pool B bids which are reserved for teams without access to automatic conference bids. Huntingdon earned a Pool B berth last season, while LaGrange went in 2008.

Games of the Week

LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern: This matchup between two schools still in their toddler years could be one of the most exciting games in the region this season. Both also happen to be nicknamed the Panthers. LaGrange, a fifth-year program, has won by three points each of the last two seasons. The Georgia school has a lot of starters to replace, but return senior quarterback Drew Carter and 2008 All-Region tackle Jon Milner return. Birmingham-Southern, which has its first senior class this year and returns 19 starters, is looking to break the .500 mark for the first time in 2010. Running backs Walter Arrington and Shawn Morris combined for over 1200 yards last year.

Howard Payne at Trinity: One of two ASC-SCAC matchups this weekend. After going 7-3 last season, Trinity is coming off its worst record since 1995. The Tigers lost their top receiver and two top rushers from last season. It will be interesting to see who emerges at quarterback as senior Robert Davidson and junior Patrick Dickinson both played efficiently a year ago combining for 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Yellow Jackets’ higher-powered offense is triggered by quarterback Zach Hubbard, who passed for over 3,100 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2009.

Mississippi College at Millsaps: The annual “Backyard Brawl” is the second match up between SCAC and ASC schools this weekend. This game is important not only for bragging rights since both teams were co champions in their respective conferences in 2009 and expect to be in the mix again. A win here strengthens their resume for an at large bid (Pool C) at the end of the season. Each team will have a new starter under center, though the Choctaws’ Tommy Reyer led Mississippi College a 5-3 record as a starter in 2008.

East Texas Baptist at UW-La Crosse: This will be a tough early test on the road for the Tigers who have two experienced quarterbacks returning in Sed Harris and Seth Hubbard. The coaching staff feels the receiving corps is the most talented group they’ve had. Getting a win over a traditional WIAC power would be a great start for a program to back to the upper echelon of the ASC.

More games to watch for 2010
Sept. 11: Willamette at Hardin-Simmons: This is the Cowboys second straight nonconference game against a Northwest Conference contender after traveling to Whitworth in Week 1. If they win both and can survive their ASC schedule with just one loss, a Pool C bid seems very likely.

Sept. 11: Huntingdon at Louisiana College: The Wildcats were extremely disappointed about last season’s 34-21 loss at Huntingdon which started a three-game losing streak -- their only three loses of 2009. All three of the teams they lost to ended up going to the playoffs. Louisiana College, who hopes to get there this season, will get a chance to payback the Hawks, who are replacing departing quarterback Justin Ridgeway.

Sept. 18: DePauw at Centre: The defending SCAC champs in their first big game without departed quarterback Spud Dick. The Colonels, who beat DePauw 34-24 last season in Greencastle, are the preseason favorite for the title this year. Centre was 5-0 last season when versatile quarterback Tyler Osterman went down hit a broken ankle. They return seven other starters on offense in a game, while the Tigers feature receiver Alex Koors.

Sept. 18: Mississippi College at Hardin-Simmons: Last season, the Choctaws snapped an 11-game losing streak in the series with a last second touchdown to win 39-34. It will be tougher in Abilene this year with Justin Feaster back for the Cowboys and Adam Shaffer graduated.

Sept. 18: Mary Hardin-Baylor at McMurry: A resurgent McMurry program under Hal Mumme for a second year gets a big litmus test against the traditional conference big dog.

Sept. 25: Millsaps at Trinity: It’s always fun when these two schools get together. “Do you believe in miracles?” Trinity sure does. The winner stays the drive seat for a matchup with the DePauw/Centre winner later in the season.

Sept. 25: Hardin-Simmons at Mary Hardin-Baylor: The winner of this one will mostly be looking at a high playoff seed and while loser is will have to fight for its playoff life.

Sept. 25: Louisiana College at Mississippi College: Last year’s conference team on-the-rise talking in this season’s challenger. Could be great to watch too as the teams combined for 98 points last season in a Choctaw win.

Oct. 2: DePauw at Millsaps: This is a battle of the SCAC’s defending co champions from 2009. Last season, the Tigers held off a late Millsaps rally to win 29-27. This season, both will be starting new quarterbacks but return the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball.

Oct. 9: Mississippi College at Mary Hardin-Baylor: Last season, the Choctaws handed UMHB their first ASC loss since 2005 on a last second field goal. Do you get the feeling that doesn’t sit well with the Belton Cru?

Oct. 23: Millsaps at Centre, DePauw at Trinity: After these two games we’ve some clarity on who will be the represent the SCAC in the playoffs or a huge mess. Can somebody check on conference tiebreaker rules?

Nov. 6: Trinity at Centre: A loss to Trinity last season cost Centre a share of the SCAC title. A win this year could secure them their first since the shared it with Trinity in 2003.

Nov. 13: DePauw at Wabash: The Monon Bell game will be a nonconference game for the last time as DePauw will join Wabash in the NCAC after this season. Both teams made the playoffs last year and the game could have a big impact again this season. If you are not attending a game that day, check it out on HDNet. Or set your DVR.

Nov. 13: Hardin-Simmons at Louisiana College: This matchup could determine the ASC title or a Pool C bid (at large) for the playoffs. Last season, the Wildcats beat HSU for the first time ever 28-7.

Hope you enjoy Labor Day weekend. I know I am excited to cover D-III football again this season. I will be traveling to broadcast the Wesley/Christopher Newport game on Friday. Hopefully, a hurricane won’t cancel the game as it did two years ago. After the game Saturday, I’ll be headed to the Williamsport, Pa., for my family’s annual pig roast.

If it’s September it must be time to travel. Last season, I visited Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas through the first five weeks of the 2009 season. Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and next week I’ll probably be adding a Twitter feed.

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