10 games to watch for 2012

It doesn't get much tougher for a veteran quarterback like ETBU's Seth Hubbard than to start the season against a team of Wesley's caliber.
ETBU athletics photo

The D3football.com staff suggested that I introduce myself to the readership in the first column of the year. So I will, but I will try to keep it brief because there are a lot more interesting things going on in the Division III South Football Region heading into Week 1 than the guy who's writing about it.

My name is Kyle Robarts; I'm a Texas boy and grew up in a town that could fit a lot of the stereotypes of a "Friday Night Lights" town when it comes to high school football. High school football rules our state with a cult following. I went to Abilene High, and the Eagles haven't missed the playoffs since 1998 (my sophomore year) in the state's largest classification, 5A. Across town is Cooper, a consistent playoff contender and also a member of 5A. Then there's Wylie High School, a 3A power as well as six-man Abilene Christian High School -- last year’s state champs.

However, even as a kid, I preferred the college game. Abilene has three college campuses, and I don't think I missed an Abilene Christian University football game at home from age 7 on. There were smaller crowds than the 18,000 to 20,000 that would show up for an AHS vs. CHS contest, but the players were bigger, faster and stronger. And, even with the diminished crowds, there's nothing quite like a college atmosphere.

I have been to one Abilene High game since I graduated in 2001. And between ACU and McMurry, I can count on one hand how many games I have missed home and road each season since I got to college. I became the sports information director at McMurry in January of 2006, serving in two different stints. I missed the 2008 season in which McMurry put up an 0-10 mark but rejoined the staff in 2009 when Hal Mumme's arrival provided an instant overhaul for the War Hawks, who left D-III after last season advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

I entered private business, and with McMurry no longer a D-III school, I can now become a more objective writer for the American Southwest Conference, what's left of the SCAC, the Southern Athletic Association and independent Huntingdon. I am excited to bring what insight I have to the table and want to bring you the stories of the programs, players and coaches who are making a difference off and on the field.

I want to thank Jason Bowen, my predecessor, for his work in this area while I was the SID at McMurry. He did a great job and wrote some powerful stories for the region, and I am now glad to have the opportunity to follow.

As a final note; I cannot say that I advocate the D-III level more than any other, but I will say this; in my experience watching players at this level, there is still a very real dream to these players to play at the next level. And while, the odds are about as favorable as taking the house at a Las Vegas casino, the financial sacrifice that these guys make to play the game they love adds an element of commitment that I respect like no other level.

In the Top 25

No. 3 Wesley at East Texas Baptist on Sept. 1. The Wolverines trek from Dover, Del., to Marshall, Texas, to take on the Tigers. Wesley has 37 wins the past three seasons, while East Texas Baptist has 34 wins in the past eight. The Wolverines advanced to the D-III semifinals last season by hanging their hat on a balanced offensive attack (195.4 rushing yards per game, 218.9 passing yards per game) and a stifling run defense that allowed just 90.1 yards per contest. ETBU's Seth Hubbard can finally call the team his after Sed Harris exhausted eligibility; Hubbard backed up the oft-injured Harris the past three seasons and performed well.

No. 14 Kean at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sept. 8. UMHB hasn't had a season with fewer than 10 wins since 2005, and this year will have a senior quarterback in LiDarral Bailey to rely on. Sights will be set on an eighth-straight ASC championship with a deep run in the playoffs. Kean, out of Union, N.J., will have upset on their minds after a 10-1 season and an NJAC title in 2011. This is the first meeting between the two institutions.

Howard Payne at No. 16 Trinity on Sept. 1. The Yellow Jackets have an overhauled coaching staff with former assistant Roger Geise now at the helm. However, visiting HPU team will find out quickly where they stand against the ever-consistent Tigers who have had at least eight victories in 11 of the last 13 seasons under head coach Steve Mohr.

LaGrange at No. 24 Birmingham-Southern on Sept. 1. Since B-SC moved from D-I to D-III, it began football in 2007 as a member of the SCAC. B-SC increased its win total in each of the first five seasons with a 7-2 showing in its final season in the SCAC before joining the Southern Athletic Association. The Panthers will look to make a statement in the opener against the LaGrange Panthers, who haven't had a winning season since 2008. Watch for first-team All-America senior running back Shawn Morris to build on last year's performance, in which he totaled 17 touchdowns and rush for 1,449 yards in only nine contests.

Beyond the Top 25

Hurricane Isaac affects Backyard Brawl. The 13th annual meeting between Mississippi College and Millsaps was set to kickoff the season Thursday, however, Mother Nature and her son Isaac had other plans. If all goes well, the two teams will play Saturday in Jackson, Miss. at 3 p.m. rather than the originally scheduled contest Thursday night. Mississippi College sports information director David Nichols said it was the Mississippi Sports Council that made the decision to delay to help potential attendees avoid a long trip for a game that might not take place. The Choctaws have won the last three contests.

Willamette at Hardin-Simmons on Sept. 1. The Cowboys, under second-year head coach Jesse Burleson, could be in a season-long battle with Louisiana College for the right to nip at Mary Hardin-Baylor's heels. HSU will look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and will rely on one-year transfer Logan Turner at quarterback and Devin Carver, who has been waiting in the wings to take over at running back. Turner won the job in training camp and started games at Division I-FBS Southern Methodist as a freshman and was a two-year starter for Southeastern Oklahoma State at the Division II level. Carver was third on the depth chart to Steven Rockwell and Derrick Grant, who combined for 1,783 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.

Centre at Bethany on Sept. 1. Centre and Birmingham-Southern are the front runners in the newly formed five-team Southern Athletic Association and Centre will look to build on its first nine-win season since 2001 out of the SCAC. They'll head to West Virginia to take on Bethany, a middle-of-the-road PAC team with .500 records the past two seasons. It will be the first of 10 in-region contests for the Colonels taking the extra step in scheduling to gun for a Pool B bid at the end of the season if all goes well.

Tweet of the Week

"everyone is gonna say lets get ready for Wesley, not true tho. Lets prepare for us and the opponent won't matter" -- @MiNiHuBb -- Jordan Hubbard, East Texas Baptist quarterback on the Tigers' tough task of facing the No. 3 team in the nation to start the year at home

Humorous Tweet of the Week

"I feel bad for them bball girls having to run them long distances" -- @jbunting14 -- Louisiana College starting quarterback Jamie Bunting empathizing with his fellow Wildcat Student-Athletes


Please feel free to follow me on twitter and update me with news throughout the D3football South Region. Hit me @kylerobarts. It's going to be a great season!