Welcome to the 2011 season

LiDarral Bailey
LiDarral Bailey and Mary Hardin-Baylor look to stay in the hunt for the top seed in the South Region.
Mary Hardin-Baylor athletics photo 

Greetings! Welcome to the first edition of this year’s Around the South column. This is the fourth season that I have written the column which covers the American Southwest Conference, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and independents Huntingdon and LaGrange.

If you are like me, you are excited as Saturday kicks off another season of following Division III football. I hope to bring you plenty of stories about the most interesting players, coaches and teams in the region. If you are new to following football where the players aren’t on scholarship or making millions, beware. You may soon find yourself as obsessed as many others who frequent this site and spent Saturday nights browsing the D-III scoreboard and voicing your options on Post Patterns.

What does a newbie need to know?

Well, in the ASC, expect Mary Hardin-Baylor to be in the title hunt as always. With nine conference titles, the Crusaders are looking for “one for the other thumb” in 2011 to quote ASC post board contributor.

They should have plenty of competition. Louisiana College (7-3), was maybe three plays away from taking the ASC title and finishing undefeated last season. It was the Wildcats who knocked off perennial bridesmaid Hardin-Simmons in the final week of 2010 and might have cost the Cowboys an at-large playoff berth.

McMurry and East Texas Baptist each gave the Cru a fight for their lives last season and hope to the make some noise. Don’t forget Mississippi College either. The Choctaws, who return a senior quarterback and all-region running back Steven Knight, who missed most of last season with an injury, tied for the ASC title in 2009 handing UMHB its only conference loss since 2005.

And in the SCAC, it will be wide open this season, with Centre, Millsaps, Trinity, Birmingham-Southern and maybe even Austin chasing the conference’s final automatic playoff berth.

Both Huntingdon and LaGrange, who have made playoff appearances in recent years face the tough schedules common to most D-III independents. They face a tough road, but they’ve both surprised folks in the past.

What’s different since last season?

For me, personally, a lot has changed. My wife, Amy, and I welcomed our third child and first boy -- Sean Patrick -- in May. And at the rate he is growing, I am sure I’ll have him ready to play linebacker for somebody in about 18 years. More recently, I experienced my first earthquake and a hurricane all in one week.

And like forces of nature, much has changed the complexion of the conferences that this column covers. The biggest change was the announcement of the breakup of the SCAC following the 2011-12 school year. This will leave Texas schools Austin and Trinity as independents after this fall (in football, anyway), while five football-playing schools in the conference form the Southern Athletic Association.

In addition, two-time defending conference champion, DePauw has left the SCAC to join the North Coast Athletic Conference in 2012-13. (They’ll be an independent this season.) Rhodes and Sewanee have new head coaches too.

In the ASC, McMurry will begin its final season as a conference member before moving up to Division II provisional status next year. The school in south Abilene as has a new mascot for the first time in years. They are now the War Hawks, after several nameless seasons since giving up Indians, due to the NCAA sensitivity mandate about a decade ago.

As for our independents, LaGrange has found a new home as well. The Panthers, Georgia’s only D-III football-playing school, will join the USA South next year.

The following is a quick look at this weekend’s opening games and a look at the Around the South top 10 games of 2011 preseason edition.

This week’s big games

Millsaps at Mississippi College:  The annual “Backyard Brawl” is one of three inter-conference match ups between SCAC and ASC schools this weekend. Throw the two Jackson-area schools together on a Saturday night before a crowd approaching 10,000 people, and there might not be a better atmosphere for football anywhere in the country. Intensity will be high and though the Choctaws have won the last two meetings, it has only been by seven points. Both teams return talented senior quarterbacks in Tommy Reyer for the Choctaws and Garrett Pinciotti for the Majors.

East Texas Baptist at Wesley: The Tigers will be traveling to Dover, Del., to take on two-time defending regional champ Wesley. ETBU quarterback Sed Harris, who rushed and passed for over 1,000 yards each last season, will face a tough test in a Wolverines defense that ranked No. 1 in the country statistically in 2010. The Tigers are hoping to move up from the middle of the ASC pack and this game could be a good indicator to see if they are for real. They have their first full set of seniors recruited by coach Mark Sartain and his staff. I will here to see this game, as I begin my eighth year broadcasting Wesley games on WDEL Radio 1150.

Coe at Hardin-Simmons: The Cowboys begin their usual murderous nonconference schedule against a Coe team that reached the playoffs for the second year in a row last season and returns 23 starters. First year head coach Jesse Burleson, who takes over for retired Jimmie Keeling, must replace the dynamic passing duo of quarterback Justin Feaster and receiver ZaVious Robbins.

Centre at Hanover: The Colonels travel to the 2010 HCAC runner-up to open the season.  It is the first of two tough non-conference opponents for Centre. Last season, the Panthers won 28-27 by going for two in overtime.

McMurry at Stephen F. Austin: The War Hawks face a tough task on Thursday night against a team entering the season ranked 14th in the preseason in D-I FCS. The Lumberjacks have won the past two Southland Conference titles. Job one in this game for McMurry is to keep senior quarterback Jake Mullin healthy.

Belhaven (1-0) at Louisiana College:  The Wildcats open with the NAIA Blazers, who already have a win under their belt after defeating Texas College last week. LC lost a tight one to the Blazers 41-34 on a late touchdown pass in last season’s opener.

Birmingham-Southern at LaGrange: Statistically, this one broke down fairly even in last year’s 28-19 BSC victory.  Both teams have the same nickname and the Georgia variety holds a 2-1 series advantage in three games that have all been close.

Trinity at Howard Payne: Trinity need overtime last season to knock off a Yellow Jacket team that struggled last season. HPU hopes to improve its chances by installing the triple option.

Huntingdon at Maryville: This game wasn’t close last season as the Hawks prevailed 54-3 at home. Scoring that many will be tougher on the road this season, but Huntingdon has shown it can move the ball on almost anyone in D-III over the past couple years.

Sul Ross State at Western New Mexico: On paper, it looks like a good opportunity for the Lobos to compete against a Division II team that edged them 35-32, last September. They do have to replace quarterback Monte Morales though.

Earlham at Sewanee: The Tigers gained their only win last season against the Indiana school. First-year coach Tommy Laurendine will unveil Sewanee’s new triple option scheme.

Games to watch for 2011

Huntingdon at Birmingham-Southern, Sept. 10: The lone D-III football playing schools in the football-crazy state of Alabama will battle for the Wesley Cup. The Panthers hope to be players in SCAC race this season. It is their chance to earn an automatic bid after four years of provisional status. Huntingdon is still looking for a conference home. But make no mistake this one is for bragging rights in D-III’s version of the Iron Bowl.

Hardin-Simmons at Williamette, Sept. 10: Don’t loved it when to two top teams from different parts of the country square off in a nonconference game? The Cowboys do it for a second straight week. If they can both of these at least an at-large (Pool C) bid becomes more likely.

McMurry at Mary Hardin-Baylor, Sept. 17: McMurry coach Hal Mumme and his War Hawks were picked second in the preseason ASC coaches poll. They’ll get a shot at the conference’s top dog after opening in consecutive weeks against D-I FCS competition. Expect them to either be ready for the team speed of the Crusaders or beat up after playing up a couple levels. The game features a great matchup in different styles with power of UMHB led by junior quarterback LaDarral Bailey and the Air Raid offense triggered by War Hawk senior Jake Mullin.

Washington and Lee at Centre, Sept. 17: This is a nice early season matchup for the Colonels against a 2010 playoff team and defending ODAC champ. If Centre can out-rank the Generals, it is great-looking win for a playoff resume.

Trinity (Texas) at Millsaps, Sept. 24:  The Tigers had their first losing season in 18 years in 2011. They have also lost three games in a row to the Majors since the “Mississippi Miracle” back in 2007. If Trinity is going to make a statement, this is the week that they need to do it. Trinity quarterback Nykolas McKissic could show he is among the elite in the conference if he can lead his team to a win on the road here.

Mary Hardin-Baylor at Hardin-Simmons, Sept. 24: The Cowboys have not beaten the Cru in nine tries dating to 2004, which includes a couple of playoff losses. If HSU is going to win the ASC and get the bridesmaid label off its back, it happens during this week.

Louisiana College at Mary Hardin-Baylor, Oct. 1: The Wildcats hope avenge a 38-34 loss that ended in the Crusader red zone with an interception. Meanwhile, if UMHB wins this one and has defeated HSU and McMurry the previous two weeks, everyone else will be playing for second place again.

Centre at Millsaps, Oct. 29: The two preseason favorites for the SCAC title meet in a game that could determine who wins it. The Colonels, led by dynamic senior quarterback Tyler Osterman and running backs Jonathan Pinque and Monte Scotton, hope to wash away two seasons of disappointment. The Majors hope to clinch their fifth title in six seasons.

Hardin-Simmons at McMurry, Oct. 29: This matchup of crosstown rivals could have ASC title or Pool C (at large) playoff implications. Of course, I’m sure the War Hawks are sick of hearing how they haven’t beaten the Cowboys since the early 1960s, as well.

Hardin-Simmons at Louisiana College, Nov. 12: This matchup could determine the ASC title or a Pool C bid (at large) for the playoffs. Last season, the Wildcats had never beaten HSU before 2009. Now they’ve won the last two. I am sure the Cowboys weren’t too pleased to have the playoff hopes dashed in coach Jimmie Keeling’s final game last fall.

Have a great Labor Day weekend. Coming up the next few weeks, I’ll tell you how many of the SCAC’s football coaches feel about the breaking up of the conference. Since ETBU is in the town I live this weekend, I expect to do something on them too. And late, I’ll tell you about an SCAC running back who has overcome a lot of adversity to become not a great football player, but a true hero.

Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@D3Jason).

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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