The season of expectations

Now that Labor Day weekend has passed and all the kids are back in school, you’ll have to forgive me, in a my 11th year as a public school teacher, because I’ve sat through another round of in-service days before school opened. Most of these seminars deal with ways to raise student achievement.

And having spent 10 years as college football coach, these seminars remind me a great deal of preseason coaching meetings (though I found football meetings were much more interesting.) But finding ways to better motivate and teach particular concepts in way that enables to students or players meet expectations is a must for any good teacher or good coach.

The start of a new football season is ripe with expectations as everyone starts out equal (which you wish you could say about students.) Granted, expectations can be different for different programs. The expectations of wins and losses for a Mary Hardin-Baylor, who has advanced to the playoffs for six years in a row, are certainly are higher than say, Texas Lutheran, which was winless last season.

But in the long run their goals are the same, to compete for a national championship while producing educated, well-rounded individuals who contribute positively to society. In the short run, however, expectations for most programs are met if their record improves. (It seems this is the way our school systems are judged too.)

So for this week anyway, I thought I would rank the teams in the Around the South coverage area in three categories based on their Week 1 performances. I realize that after one week, teams that performed above, below or who are meeting expectations are still a long way from the end result. And keep in mind the old coaching adage that teams don’t stay the same over the course of the season, they either get better or get worse.

Above Expectations
East Texas Baptist. The Tigers slipped to 3-7 last season after a pair of 5-5 seasons, but opened some eyes on Saturday with a 33-20 victory on the road against traditional Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference power UW-La Crosse. A rash of injuries last season, including the loss of quarterback Sed Harris, were partly to blame for a disappointing 2009. Harris returned with a bang on Saturday totaling over 400 yards of total offense, including two touchdown runs of over 90 yards. The schedule won’t get any easier this week for ETBU as the host a Redlands team that beat them 36-3 last season, but you have to respect their willingness to schedule tough nonconference opponents.

Huntingdon. Sure the Hawks made their first playoff appearance last season, but then most of the nation’s top-ranked offense from 2009 graduated, including most of the offensive line, the quarterback and a 1,200-yard rusher. It didn’t matter on Saturday as they rolled up 50-plus points for the fourth time in their last seven games at against Maryville. The defense was just as impressive allowing just three points to a team that it allowed over 500 yards of total offense last season.

Sewanee. The Tigers won their first game since Sept. 20, 2008 in impressive fashion by downing Earlham on the road in Indiana by a score of score of 33-14. The victory snapped a 16-game losing streak. Sewanee rolled up 420 yards of total offense and spread the ball around with four player rushing for more than 40 yards. They host Washington and Lee, who fell 35-7 to Franklin & Marshall, on Saturday at home looking to go 2-0 for the first time since 2001.

Meeting Expectations
Hardin-Simmons. The 14th-ranked Cowboys took care of business on a long road trip to Spokane defeating Whitworth 27-7. The offense was impressive rushing for more than 200 yards and passing for more than 200. Quarterback Justin Feaster and receiver ZaVious Robbins, both coming off season ending injuries from a year ago, hooked up 10 times for 134 yards, while the thunder and lightning tailback combination of Steven Rockwell and Derrick Grant combined to rush for 165. On defense, the Cowboys allowed just 225 yards and Hank Hornsby showed why he’s one of the top defenders in the country with a pair sacks and two tackles for losses. Hardin-Simmons will need a similar effort this Saturday when they host 13th-ranked Williamette in Abilene.

Howard Payne and Trinity. Both these teams lived up to expectations in a 40-34 two-overtime thriller in San Antonio won by the Tigers. The game featured eight lead changes and three ties. The Jackets, who already have an adept passing game with senior quarterback Zach Hubbard, may have found the improvement in the running game that they’ve been searching for the past couple of seasons. Walter Pam and Brandon Young combined for 149 yards on the ground. Howard Payne had averaged less than 50 rushing yards at game during the past two seasons. Kicker Mitchell Bailey also booted two 50-yard field goals. Though some at Trinity may be disappointed with a narrow escape against a team that went 4-6 last season, HPU has shown the ability to sneak up on teams in the past, such as when they upset Mississippi College 38-24 last season to cost the Choctaws the outright ASC title. (They shared it with UMHB.)

Mississippi College and Millsaps. The “Backyard Brawl” lived up to expectations as the Choctaws took a 27-23 lead midway through the fourth quarter, then shut down the Millsaps offense on the final two possessions. Quarterback Tommy Reyer, who passed for 204 yards and ran for 41, showed the post Adam Shaffer-era is promising and improved his career record as a starter to 6-3. The 21st-ranked team in the nation also got a big game on the ground from Stephen Knight who rushed for 231 yards and two scores. Though Millsaps lost their first game in the post Mike Dubose-era, Shane Bowser rushed for 110 yards and quarterback Garrett Pinciotti passed for 219 yards and a two touchdowns. Pinciotta did not play on the Majors last series in the fourth quarter. I did see a mention of injury in the write of the game.

Birmingham-Southern. For a program with its first group of fourth-year seniors, avenging a pair of three-point losses to LaGrange was a step forward.

Austin. The Roos defeated Southwest Assemblies of God 28-6 and could be 2-0 for the second staright season if they can defeat Texas Lutheran, who was winless last season. Nice way to start for a new coaching staff headed by Loren Dawson.

McMurry. Jake Mullin threw for 420 yards and five touchdowns in under three quarters as the”Nation” battered Bacone 41-6 on the road in Oklahoma. In the opener of Hal Mumme’s second season at the helm, the defense also looked improved allowing just 222 yards.

Below Expectations
Centre. For a team considered to be one of the top contenders for the SCAC title this season, a loss to Hanover, which has only five wins the past two seasons, is a major disappointment.

Louisiana College. For a team hoping to compete for the ASC title this season, a 41-34 loss to Belhaven was not the way the Wildcats had planned to start the season. There were some bright spot that included a late comeback to tie the game at 34-34, but allowing 449 yards of offense to the Blazers, now 2-0, doesn’t bode well for a team that in breaking new four new starters on the defensive line.

LaGrange. Two seasons removed from an appearance in the playoffs, the Panthers dropped their opener to a team they had beaten the last two seasons.

Rhodes. A disappointing 20-17 loss to Westminster, a team they beat last season, for the Lynx. They surrender nearly 450 yards, while gaining just 261. Still they were in the game before fumbling inside their own 30-yard line with less than 30 seconds left. That turnover set up a 27-yard field goal that provided the final margin.

Games of the Week
Willamette at Hardin-Simmons: A pair of Top 15 teams square off in Abilene. The winner is an early leader for at least a Pool C (at large) bid at the end of the season.

Huntingdon at Louisiana College: The Hawks pulled an upset at home last season that keyed a playoff run. The Wildcats are still smarting from an opening-week loss to Belhaven ad can’t afford an 0-2 start. This could be shootout as both offenses rolled up yardage last week and have young defensive lines.

Mary Hardin-Baylor at UW-La Crosse: The six-time defending champs of the ASC open on the road against a team that conference mate ETBU defeated last week. Anything less than a big win would be a surprise.

Redlands at East Texas Baptist: The Tigers could really open some eyes if they can get a second nonconference win in a row.

Belhaven at Mississippi College: “Backyard Brawl Part Two” for the Choctaws who take on the 2-0 Blazers a week after they knocked off ASC conference mate Louisiana College. The two programs share common recruiting ground and Choctaw coach Norman Joseph’s coaching roots are at Belhaven where he coached for three seasons in the 1990s.

Rose-Hulman at DePauw: The Indiana Tigers will have someone other than Spud Dick at quarterback for the first time in a while in the opener for both programs. After advancing to the playoff for the first time ever last season, DePauw opens with a program with just one losing record over the past seven years. New quarterback Michael Engle will still have All-American receiver Alex Koors to throw to.

Contact Info
Had a great Labor Day weekend as I traveled to broadcast the Wesley victory over Christopher Newport on Saturday and found out that I am going to be a dad for the third time. (I am hoping for a boy this time after producing two girls.) This weekend I’ll be in Maryland at Wesley travels to the panhandle for an Atlantic Central Football Conference opener with Frostburg State. Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter @d3jason. Hope you have a great weekend.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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