August 30, 2011

Ten games to watch

More news about: Rowan | Salisbury
Steve Hevalow and the Rowan Profs figure to have plenty of eyes on them this season.
Rowan athletics photo by Larry Levanti

I used to love when Tim Tebow -- then with the Florida Gators -- would come up in a sports debate. Someone would inevitably call Tebow "one of the best rushing quarterbacks ever," or at least the one of the best currently playing. It's at that point I would jump in.

"But what about Springfield's Chris Sharpe?" Blank stares all around. "Over 3,000 rushing yards and 56 touchdowns in just two seasons. Unstoppable leader of Springfield's triple-option offense. Nothing?" More blank stares. Hey, at least I always tried.

That's where my mind goes. I am a Division III sports fan, through and through. From the moment I stepped foot on Ithaca's South Hill in the fall of 2004 until now as I write this column, I have immersed myself in the world of Division III. 

This is my fifth year working with the guys at D3football.com. You will not find a harder-working, more dedicated group of journalists that take the utmost pride in what they do. It's both a pleasure and an honor to work side-by-side with them. I started small in the summer of 2007, working on Empire 8 preview capsules for Kickoff. I have worked on Kickoff every summer since, along with features that have introduced me to coaches, players, administrators and fans all across the country.

After graduating from Ithaca in 2008, I worked as a sports writer/copy editor for the New Britain (Conn.) Herald for just over two years. At the Herald I mainly covered high school sports, along with occasional college sports and other local events. After the Herald, I moved on to ESPN last October as an associate editor for the ESPN.com news desk. 

I'm thrilled to take over the Around the East column this year. It's my goal to cover as many players, coaches and teams in a fair and balanced manner. The Around the East column covers the Empire 8, Liberty League, Middle Atlantic Conference and New Jersey Athletic Conference. Now, with all the official business out of the way, let's jump into the top games to watch this season. This is by no means a hard-and-fast list, but rather a list of suggestions based on preseason expectations and history.

Games to watch
Lebanon Valley at Delaware Valley, Sept. 17:
 These two squads finished first and second in the MAC last season, and should be contenders again in 2011. Delaware Valley, the defending conference champion, will enter this matchup as a heavy favorite, and for good reason. The Aggies have won the last four meetings between these teams by at least 12 points. But a few factors might work in the Dutchmen's favor this time around, particularly the timing of the matchup. Delaware Valley returns only three starters on offense, so Lebanon Valley may be able to take advantage of a team still working out the kinks early in the season. Of course, a healthy dose of Ben Guiles has never hurt the Aggies' cause either.

Albright at Lycoming, Oct. 1: One team looks poised for a breakout season, while the other is trying to bounce back from its worst season in four years. Lycoming finished 6-4 last season, which included a 50-0 rout of Albright. But a promising 5-1 start for the Warriors was derailed by three consecutive losses late in the season. Albright, on the other hand, managed just five wins last season, its fewest since a 2-8 campaign in 2006. Both teams should fare better in 2011.

Hobart at Union, Oct. 8: Two of the Liberty League's perennial powers struggled last season. As a result, the conference as a whole suffered. The Statesmen and Dutchmen should both rebound in 2011, but this mid-season clash will provide an honest assessment of which team is ahead in that process. Hobart might have the conference's best player in sophomore linebacker Devin Worthington, but Union has a veteran passing attack led by senior quarterback Drew Connolly. This matchup will likely play a key role in determining the Liberty League champion. Expect a nice, competitive battle as well -- Hobart and Union have split the last four meetings, with each game being decided by 10 points or less.

Frostburg State at Wesley, Oct. 8: The Bobcats might not win many games this season, but that probably won't be a reflection of the team's talent level. With their move to the Empire 8, Frostburg State will face the likes of Alfred, St. John Fisher and Springfield, all of which are ranked in the top 40 in the D3football.com preseason Top 25 poll. Add to that in-state rival Salisbury (No. 30) and sleeper teams like Ithaca and Utica, and it's easy to see the gauntlet the Bobcats face. Of course, the team that immediately jumps out on the schedule is No. 3 Wesley. Wesley is on the short list of teams capable of knocking off Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, so Frostburg State probably won't win the game. But it's at least an opportunity for East region fans to see one of the country's premier teams.

Cortland State at Montclair State, Oct. 8: The NJAC race was one of the best in the country last season, with Rowan, Cortland State and Montclair State all tying for the conference crown. Both Cortland (No. 13) and Montclair (No. 12) are ranked in the top 15 in the D3football.com preseason Top 25 poll and, along with Rowan, figure to be right in the thick of the race until the end. Cortland pulled out a 10-9 win on a Dan Pitcher touchdown toss with just over a minute left in last year's contest. This annual tilt has turned into a must-see.

Salisbury at Alfred, Oct. 15: Welcome to the Empire 8, Salisbury. Though this matchup with Alfred won't be the Sea Gulls' first conference game as a member of the Empire 8, it likely will be the most important. Salisbury finished second behind the Saxons in the conference preseason poll. Alfred, which returns standout senior quarterback Tom Secky, is looking for its third consecutive conference title. A victory over Salisbury would help in that cause. The Sea Gulls, on the other hand, could announce their presence in the Empire 8 with authority by knocking off Alfred in Western New York.

St. Lawrence at RPI, Oct. 22: Mark Raymond might not know Pete Carroll, but the two now share a similar experience. Much like Carroll's Seattle Seahawks, which won a subpar NFC West with a 7-9 mark last season, the Saints won the Liberty League -- and earned the automatic playoff bid -- with a 5-5 overall record. Raymond isn't apologizing, nor should he have to. St. Lawrence went 5-1 in the conference and won the games it had to. Now, in Raymond's second year, St. Lawrence isn't just looking to get back to the playoffs. The goal is to improve the overall record and make a playoff run. A win over a traditional Liberty League power such as RPI late in October would stand as a signature win. 

St. John Fisher at Springfield, Oct. 22: Before the Pride make the jump to the Liberty League, they'll likely treat us to one more classic with Empire 8 foe St. John Fisher. This matchup has become a unique barometer for Springfield's success over the last handful of seasons. The Pride edged the Cardinals 55-49 in a shootout last season, picking up their first win in the matchup since a 55-38 decision back in 2006. Interestingly enough, Springfield earned postseason trips in both seasons -- ECAC North Atlantic Bowl in '10 and NCAA playoffs in '06. 

Montclair State at Rowan, Nov. 5: As big as the Oct. 8 meeting between Montclair State and Cortland State is, this one might be bigger. Rowan, which was the odd team out come playoff time last season, lost only one game last season. That opponent? You guessed it -- Montclair State. That defeat came in the Profs' second game of the season. This time around, the matchup comes in Week 10. This one should have it all -- a pair of top 25 teams, top-level talent all across the field, and conference and NCAA ramifications. Make sure to catch this game.

Cortland State at Ithaca, Nov. 12: What needs to be said about this one? The annual Cortaca Jug rivalry is one of the best in Division III. The game -- always the final of the regular season for both squads -- usually carries NCAA ramifications. This year should be no different. Both Ithaca and Cortland figure to be that seven-to-nine-win territory entering this contest, so a win in the finale could lock up a playoff berth. Cortaca's win in 2010 was its first since 2006, but for such a rich rivalry, the year-to-year history tends to mean nothing. Since 2000, eight of the 11 matchups have been decided by seven points or less, including a pair of overtime finishes in '05 and '06.

Contact me
To me, this column is a service to Division III football fans. I want to share stories with you, the readers. I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com. You can also follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell), and be sure to get involved in the discussions on the Around the East thread on the message board.

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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