September 5, 2013

Games to watch for 2013

Russell Wilson took the snap out of the pistol formation and turned to hand off to Marshawn Lynch.

With the defensive end crashing in toward Lynch, Wilson pulled the ball back and sprinted right outside the pocket. Just before the outside linebacker hit him, Wilson flipped the ball to wide receiver Golden Tate for a 15-yard gain.

This was not a play from the Seattle Seahawks' 2012 season, but a rather a virtual practice play -- executed by yours truly -- in this year's version of "Madden," the popular NFL video game.

I've always loved playing football video games. But I always thought the playbooks in "Madden" left a little to be desired, especially when compared to the creativity found in its college video game counterpart. Of course, that was simply just a reflection of the two brands of football.

The NFL has long stressed traditional running and passing plays and formations, while college football has been a breeding ground for new, innovative packages. Maybe because of quarterbacks like Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, the NFL is starting to catch up. 

Whatever the reason, I can now run a triple-option offense with my favorite NFL team. The same triple-option offense I developed an appreciation for in the mid-2000s while watching Springfield overwhelm opponents with it. The same offense that Salisbury now gives so many teams fits with.

Maybe you prefer the more wide-open passing attacks of teams like Widener or Buffalo State? Or maybe you like a more traditional, run-first offense in the mold of an Ithaca? The best part is that it doesn't matter. Whatever you like style-wise, you can find it in college football.

And if you're reading this, you probably have an interest in a team from one of the four East regions -- Empire 8, NJAC, Liberty League, MAC. I hope that's the case, because there's a lot of good, entertaining football to be played among the 34 teams this season.

I've highlighted below what I feel are the 10 best games to watch this season. This is now my third year as the Around the East columnist and if I've learned one thing, it's that picking this list is a futile cause. Inevitably there will be a handful of games that turn out better. But this is a strong list to start with.

If you're a regular reader, thank you for support. If you're a casual or first-time reader, keep coming back. My contact information can be found at the bottom of the article.

Salisbury at Wesley, 1 p.m., Sept. 14: This matchup has become one of the finest Division III has to offer, particularly in the early portion of the season. Salisbury and Wesley are again ranked in the top 25, and again figure to reach the NCAA playoffs. And though these two teams usually seem to match up well, Salisbury hasn't defeated Wesley since 2004. This year's clash should again be a great matchup.

UW-Whitewater at Buffalo State, noon, Sept. 21: Last season, Buffalo State tallied one of the biggest upsets in Division III history with its stunning 7-6 win against then No. 1 UW-Whitewater. A year later, the Warhawks come to Buffalo for the rematch, without a 46-game winning streak in tow. Even if this matchup fails to deliver another last-second classic, it will at least give East Region fans a chance to see one of the premier Division III programs in the country. Whitewater rarely faces East teams unless it's in the playoffs, so this is a prime opportunity for fans to get a glimpse.

Lycoming at Widener, 1 p.m., Sept. 28: Widener overcame seven turnovers to edge Lycoming, 28-23, last season. That slim margin was the difference between a MAC conference crown and NCAA playoff berth for the two teams. These two squads enter 2013 as two of the favorites in the conference race, so this matchup should again be critical. Lycoming was the favorite in the conference preseason poll, but Widener has won the last two meetings and draws the home-field advantage this time around.

Buffalo State at Alfred, 1 p.m., Oct. 5: The favorite to win the Empire 8 this season is Salisbury. St. John Fisher should be in the mix, too. But fans would be unwise to consider the E8 a two-team race. Alfred, just a few seasons removed a string of conference titles, should again field a strong team. Buffalo State may be the ultimate wild card in the conference. That makes this early-October matchup one worth watching. The Saxons notched a convincing 40-17 win last season, but the Bengals have shown they can compete with any team.

Delaware Valley at Lycoming, 1 p.m., Oct. 5: Though Lycoming's matchup against Widener just one week prior will be crucial, so too will this one against Delaware Valley. The Aggies had their string of four straight conference titles snapped last season, but figure to again be in the mix in 2013. In fact, the MAC could once again end up being a three-team race.

Hobart at Springfield, noon, Oct. 12: Hobart is the clear favorite in the Liberty League this season, and for good reason. The Statesmen boast one of the most dominant defenses in the country, and back that up with potentially strong offense. The biggest -- and possibly only -- threat to Hobart's conference title is Springfield. The Pride won five conference games and eight overall in the first season in the Liberty League last season. Springfield should be even better this season, and it will have the home-field advantage in this matchup. Expect a closer battle than last year's 28-7 Hobart win.

St. John Fisher at Salisbury, noon, Oct. 19: If you pick one Empire 8 game to watch this season, make sure it's this one. This matchup, in all likelihood, will decide the conference's champion. St. John Fisher and Salisbury stand above the rest of the conference and, barring injuries or other unforeseen events, should both push for playoff berths. Salisbury churned out a 28-17 win in Pittsford, N.Y., last year. But expect the Cardinals to put up a strong fight in Salisbury, Md., in this year's meeting.

Cortland State at Rowan, 1 p.m., Nov. 2: Cortland State needed a late touchdown pass to clinch a 24-21 win against Rowan last season. That, of course, was the difference in the conference race, as the Red Dragons went unbeaten in the NJAC and earned a playoff bid. Rowan did get into the playoffs as well, but missing out on the conference crown won't be forgotten. The new-look Red Dragons will be considerably younger this season, and that should favor Rowan, which hosts this year's game. It's reasonable to expect this matchup to have a direct impact on the NJAC title race.

RPI at Union, noon, Nov. 16: Rivalry alert. As far as East Region rival games go, the Dutchman Shoes Trophy game is one of the better matchups you'll find. Union pulled out a 34-28 victory in overtime last season, and has won three of the last four meetings overall. Union should again be favored, but RPI, under new coach Ralph Isernia, could surprise. Like any good rivalry though, throw the records out and enjoy this game.

Cortland State at Ithaca, noon, Nov. 16: With all due respect to Union and RPI, if you're looking for the premier East rivalry game, you'll want to take in the Cortaca Jug. This matchup usually has playoff ramifications riding on it. Both teams have traditionally found themselves in the mix for the Empire 8 and NJAC conference titles. And, of course, both teams genuinely dislike each other. Cortland has been the stronger team of late, winning the last three meetings. But the Red Dragons are facing some transition this season. Ithaca figures to once again finish in six-win territory. But, like the Dutchman Shoes, throw out the records when the Cortaca Jug is on the line.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

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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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