Ten games to watch

Will Benedictine repeat its surprising run through the NATHC?
Benedictine photo by Steve Woltmann 

After a summer of debt ceiling debates, earthquakes and hurricanes, thank goodness that football is here.

There will be no shortage of great games in the Midwest this year. In fact, it was a little bit of a challenge to narrow these down to just 10 games. Of course, with upsets, new contenders and falling favorites, these games could dramatically change in importance.

But as of pre-Sept. 3, here are the 10 games you may want to keep your eye on in the Midwest as we zip through the 2011 football campaign – and hope it doesn’t go too quickly.

St. Norbert at No. 5 St. Thomas, 2 p.m., Sept. 3: Midwest Conference favorite St. Norbert will try to get off to a strong start hitting the road to St. Paul, Minn. to take on the nationally-ranked Tommies. An upset would likely bolt St. Norbert right into the Top 25 and a close game could give the Green Knights (and the Midwest Conference) some much needed respectability.

No. 15 Wartburg at Monmouth, 2 p.m., Sept. 3: This game marks the return of preseason second-team All-American Alex Tanney at quarterback for Monmouth. Tanney has piled up impressive numbers and if he could lead Monmouth to victory, it could mean instant recognition for the Fighting Scots and show he’s more than ready to take on St. Norbert for the MWC title.

No. 4 North Central at Redlands, 7 p.m. PDT, Sept. 3: This one-off game to open the season pits the Cardinals, who played even with two-time defending national champion UW-Whitewater until late in last season’s regional finals, with a program which is always a threat to go to the playoffs. Since it’s in-region, the chance at a high playoff seed all but disappears for the team which loses.

Sept. 10: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 24 Franklin, 1 p.m. EDT: Speaking of “measuring stick” games, try one against the two-time defending national champion Warhawks. Franklin, favorite to repeat as Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference champs, can solidify itself as a force in Division III with a victory or solid showing against UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks whipped Franklin 52-21 in the first round of the playoffs last year.

Sept. 24: Defiance at No. 24 Franklin, 1:30 p.m. EDT: Franklin goes from the hunter to being the hunted in this HCAC league game. The Defiance Yellow Jackets will be looking to take the next step toward an HCAC title after going 6-2 in the league in 2010. Defiance returns 18 starters, including 10 on offense, and hope to avenge a 42-7 loss to Franklin last year.

Oct. 1: Monmouth at St. Norbert, 2 p.m.: Don’t be surprised if this game decides the winner of the Midwest Conference. But of course, this game has had a huge bearing on the conference title for quite some time. This will be Alex Tanney’s last shot at the Green Knights. Monmouth, with Tanney at quarterback, averaged 41.5 points against St. Norbert in 2009 and 2008, so bring your calculator to keep score.

Oct. 1: Benedictine at Concordia (Ill.), 2 p.m.: The first of several major challenges Benedictine will face while trying to repeat at Northern Athletics Conference champions. While Concordia lost some key players on offense, the Cougars will be at home and have a little bit of motivation on their side trying to avenge a wild 47-41 Benedictine victory last season.

Oct. 8: Aurora at Benedictine, 2 p.m.: The second hurdle facing Benedictine will be taking on Aurora, picked second behind the Eagles for the NATHC title. Aurora held a 14-7 lead against Benedictine before losing at home 28-21 in 2010. The Spartans hope to use the confidence of knowing that they can compete and turn it into a victory.

Oct. 29: Chicago at Case Western Reserve, noon EDT: The Maroons upset then nationally-ranked Case Western on its way to a University Athletic Association title in 2010. This time Chicago must travel to Cleveland to try to duplicate the effort. A victory could pave the way to another UAA title and maybe even a Pool B playoff berth depending on how the Maroons begin the season.

Josh McLeod had the ball in his hands often for North Central last season, picking off eight passes.
North Central (Ill.) photo by Steve Woltmann

Nov. 5: No. 8 Wheaton at No. 4 North Central, 2 p.m.: The annual battle for the Little Brass Bell will likely mean the fight for all the marbles again in the CCIW. North Central went into Wheaton last year and comfortably beat the Thunder. Don’t think that fact will be lost on Wheaton as it travels to Naperville, Ill. Expect a hard-hitting, competitive game down to the wire.

Along with giving you the top games in the Midwest this year, let’s also take a look at 10 players you might want to keep your eye on in the Midwest this season as 2011 progresses.

Midwest 10 Players to Watch

John Borsellino, running back, junior, Benedictine: After losing its quarterback and top receiver to graduation, the Eagles will look to Borsellino to carry the load, who averaged nearly 90 yards a game in 2010. The first-team All-Northern Athletic Conference performer will have help running behind other first-team all-conference lineman Bryan Wieseman and tight end Kevin Novacich.

Derek DiNino, defensive line, senior, Aurora: DiNino, another first-team All-Northern Athletic Conference performer, will anchor the Spartans defensive line as Aurora tries to unseat Benedictine for the conference title. DiNino had 48 tackles and returned one interception 85 yards for a touchdown last season.

Kyle Fiedorowicz, tight end, senior, North Central: A preseason first-team All-American, the 6-7, 271-pound Fiedorowicz averaged 18.3 yards per catch last season as the Cardinals advanced to regional finals. His 78-yard touchdown catch against Millikin last season was the fourth longest in school history.

Josh McLeod, free safety, junior, North Central: A preseason second-team All-American for the Cardinals, McLeod hopes to create the same havoc he created for opponents last year. His eight interceptions tied the Cardinals single-season record. He also made 50 tackles, 29 of them solo stops. 

Jared Millikan, cornerback, senior, Anderson: Millikan, a second-team preseason All-American, hopes to duplicate his sensational 2010 season that saw him lead the nation, regardless of division, with interceptions with 11. Millikan returned three of those picks for touchdowns. He also made 34 tackles while earning All-American and first-team All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference at the end of last season.

David O’Rourke, linebacker, senior, Franklin: O’Rourke, an All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference linebacker in 2011, will anchor a defensive that was sixth best against the run last season (68.64 yards per game). O’Rourke was also a beast against the pass, recording 13.5 sacks.

Dan Sjoquist, defensive back, senior, St. Norbert: Sjoquist was an All-Midwest Conference performer last year for the Green Knights, grabbing four interceptions and making 58 tackles. St. Norbert will depend on his leadership to help improve a defense that was no better than fourth overall in the MWC last season.

Alex Tanney, quarterback, senior, Monmouth: Before an injury ended his season early last year, Tanney, a preseason second-team All-American, had been outstanding under center. His statistics are staggering, throwing for a career 10,382 yards and 119 touchdowns. He is closing in on the NCAA Division III career marks in both categories.

Nate Williams, offensive tackle, senior, Chicago: Williams has started every game for the Maroons on their offensive line and has earned All-University Athletic Association honors each season as well. His leadership upfront will be critical for Chicago’s fast-paced no-huddle offensive that averaged 31.7 points and 364.9 yards in total offense per game in 2010.

Scott Williams, running back, junior, Elmhurst: As a sophomore, Williams was one of the CCIW’s top rushers, averaging 120 yards per game. He also scored 14 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Williams will need to produce again in similar fashion to give Bluejays a chance in the upper level of its tough conference.

*Hey Clyde, where’s Daniel Passafiume, of Hanover: Passafiume, one of the leading wide receivers in the country last year and a preseason first-team All-American will sit out the 2011 season as he recovers from an offseason bout with mono.

Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss
1999-2000 columnist: Don Stoner

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