Growing into the columnist role

This is sort of like my senior year of column writing. I began writing Around the Mid-Atlantic in 2007, and like anyone who has poured this kind of time into an endeavor, I have gained wisdom about the teams; learned humility amid my missteps; and most of all, built a rapport with coaches, staff and fans.

All this while celebrating football at the Division III level.

No doubt, this time of year is a rousing one. From Tennessee to Pennsylvania and all spots in between, we’ll watch the Mid-Atlantic teams go head-to-head over the next 11 weeks, the players vying for a playoff berth and fulfilling a memorable piece of their collegiate experience as student-athletes.

Of course, we also get the relish in the camaraderie of it all. Sure, teams are enemies on the field, but we are all friends in the parking lot. For those of you who might be new to Division III, the relationships built at this level are unique and extend well beyond your son or your alma mater.

Starting today, as much as I will try to reach out to you this season, I hope, too, that you reach out to me. I have some ideas for columns already in the cooker, but there are many weeks that I don’t have planned out yet. Let me know your ideas -- and they don’t have to be entirely based on a player’s performance on the field. These are student-athletes who also contribute so much to life on their campuses and in their communities.

This year, I’m experimenting with Twitter, and I hope this will be a new avenue for you to follow the 29 teams in the Mid-Atlantic. My name there is D3MidAtlantic. And for those who have written to me in the past, note the new suffix on my email address.

But let’s shine the light more on the season ahead with the 10 games to watch for 2010. The Atlantic Central, Centennial, Old Dominion and USA South all have games that will determine championships and that will have pride on the line. These are the biggies:

Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon play football in the mud.
In 2009, Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon met in the mud for their annual rivalry. The Game has grown more important in recent years with not just pride on the line, but playoff possibilities, too.
Courtesy Axionfoto

Games to watch in 2010

N.C. Wesleyan at Salisbury on Sept. 4: The Gulls are one year away from flying away to the Empire 8, but this final year is going to have plenty of turbulence. The opener sees Salisbury and the Battling Bishops colliding for the second consecutive year. Neither team is unfamiliar to the Top 25 rankings, and each will looking for momentum early on if it wants any chance to make it to the NCAA postseason. N.C. Wesleyan’s end to 2009 was a one-and-done in the playoffs; Salisbury struggled last year and hasn’t made the field of 32 since 2007.

Ursinus at Franklin and Marshall on Sept. 11: Is it possible that the Centennial title game will take place in the second week of the season? Definitely. To the loser of this game, I say, “Chin up.” That’s because each team -- with lots of starters coming back -- has a good chance to win every other game on their schedules and get to the playoffs. The Bears dropped this matchup last year by just seven points, but with what they have back, they’re arguably the favorites. The Diplomats are in good shape, but a key graduation here and there (read: replacing George Eager, Barry Lovett, etc.), makes Ursinus a much more desirable late-season matchup rather than a Week 2 one.

Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon on Sept. 11: What a great nonconference matchup. This is the kind of game I’d like to see more teams play. On an average yearly basis, these two teams are competing for a playoff spot and are relatively evenly matched. (JHU is coming off a 2009 trip to the regional final.) This is an instance of scheduling tough -- but not overly tough. Last year’s result was 35-31 Blue Jays win. Expect a competitive one again, and both can use this as a nice barometer for the rest of the season.

No. 10 Delaware Valley at No. 3 Wesley on Sept. 18: There’s a lot to love about a matchup between two Top 10-ranked squads. Both are perennial postseason contenders, and both are returning a boatload of starters. Delaware Valley will be replacing its starting quarterback this year, but the new man under center is a senior and has been in the system for four years. That should give the Wolverines’ stout defense something to think about. Wesley has a 2-1 advantage in the series over the past three seasons. The winner of this round will get on a lot of people’s radars around the country.

No. 3 Wesley at Capital on Sept. 25: Wesley has never been one to shy away from big games -- and I suspect that in some ways, the Wolverines are happy to have a new opponent accept the challenge of taking the field with them. So it is with Capital, a strong OAC team that battle-tests itself against the likes of Mount Union, Ohio Northern and Otterbein. Capital has a fifth-year senior under center and should be one of Wesley’s best matchups in the regular season. Good money is on Wesley, which always brings a quick team to the field, especially if the team can keep Capital to two scores or less.

Christopher Newport at Shenandoah on Oct. 2: Shenandoah is the kind of team that’s ready for a breakout season. Last year, the Hornets finished 1-9, however, six of those games they lost by 3 points or less. And the widest margin of loss was a 10 point difference against conference champ N.C. Wesleyan. CNU will be SU’s first conference game, and the Hornets, historically, have played the Captains very competitive at Shentel Stadium. CNU, in turn, is coming off its worst record since its opening season in 2001. Both teams are looking to climb upward, and this will be the first conference game for them show they deserve to do so.

Bridgewater at Randolph-Macon on Nov. 6: Though not the only scenario in play, I could easily see this being the defacto title game for the Old Dominion. Bridgewater has finally worked its way from a young team into a mature team with both a competent starter and backup quarterback ready to lead. The Eagles have a solid offense at its beckoning. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets return 20 starters, including fifth-year signal-caller Austin Faulkner and 2009 D3football.com All-American receiver Earl Peoples.

Averett at N.C. Wesleyan on Nov. 13: This game should be a stunning cap to the regular season in the USA South. While the Bishops are suffering a few losses in their ranks from last year’s playoff team, they’ve shown year after year that they can reload. The Cougars are sporting their best team since the senior-laden squad of 2006 took the field and came 30 minutes from a conference title. That season, of course, was followed up with a 0-10 outing in 2007 -- but finally Averett has climbed back into the mix and should be in a solid position to capture the Pool A bid. Though, bottom line, either of these teams could nab it.

Muhlenberg at Moravian on Nov. 13: Both teams saw a six-game dropoff from their 2008 to 2009 seasons. And as the Centennial gets tougher this year with the addition of Susquehanna, you can bet that the Mules and Greyhounds will be trying to hog at least a share of the spotlight and get back into the competitive range. But a long-time rivalry such as this one doesn’t need much to be exciting. Even if the conference title isn’t on the line, be sure that pride is.

Randolph-Macon at Hampden-Sydney Nov. 13: In 2009, the Tigers slogged their way through the rain and mud en route to a 34-27 victory over the Yellow Jackets in “The Game.” Factor in the past three years, where the outcome of this matchup has had a direct effect on either the playoff hopes or seeding of these competitors. Not surprisingly, The Game is widely considered one of the top 5 rivalries in the Division III world. R-MC returns a beast of team this fall, while H-SC should have its offensive question marks answered by this time of the season. Expect it be just as intense as recent years’ games.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive of the great games we are likely to encounter this fall. If there’s one or more you want to talk about, email me or let me know on the D3football.com message boards on the Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. It’s free to register!

Contact me

I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at ryan.tipps@d3sports.com. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites 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.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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