September 2, 2009

Games to watch for 2009

It’s hard to believe this is the seventh straight year I’ve geared up to write the West Region! I’m thankful every year that I get to cover the best region in college football — three different national champions have come out of the West Region over the past seven years. I’ll concede Mount Union is the best team but for competition week in and week out you won’t find a better region than the west. 

Once again this year I’ll be covering the IIAC, MIAC, NWC, SCIAC, WIAC and UMAC. That’s six conferences and one of me! Obviously, I will count on your eyes and ears to fill me in on some of the great performances and unique story ideas that are part of your favorite teams’ season. Be sure to drop me a line at adam.johnson@d3football.com. 

While it’s unclear who will rise to the top of the West Region conferences when the dust settles, there are certainly some games you won’t want to miss. Some are year in and year out, conference-championship-on-the-line, type games while others are unique inter-conference games which give us a taste of how some playoff matchups may pan out at season’s end.

Without further adieu, drum roll please…(In no particular order)

St. Thomas at St. John’s, Oct. 17. For the past decade the best thing about the Johnnie/Tommie rivalry has been the creative T-shirts designed by the student bodies, which usually reference something about the opposing schools’ female student population. This year, the best thing might actually be the game. After last year’s game went to the Johnnies on a very controversial call, (an apparent dive through the touchdown plane by St. Thomas was ruled to not be a touchdown) there is little doubt the Tommies will enter this year’s game with a chip on their shoulder. It will be coach Glenn Caruso’s first game in Collegeville and he will need to keep his team mentally focused after the emotion of revenge in Collegeville wears off. The winner of this game has the inside track on the MIAC conference championship at the midway point of the season.

Wheaton at Bethel, Sept. 12. How similar are these two teams? In each teams’ last trip to the playoffs, they went all the way to the final four before losing to Mount Union. Bethel’s dream run came in 2007 after an improbable trek through the playoffs on the back of freshman running back Logan Flannery.  Wheaton’s came last year on the arm of junior quarterback Sean Norris. Flannery returns for the Royals as a more experienced junior running back and the senior Norris will captain the #6 ranked Thunder. Both of these religious institutions are hoping for a return trip to the playoffs and this early-season matchup will get one of them off to a great start. 

UW-Stevens Point at Central, Sept. 12. This is one of those games that will either be a playoff preview or give fans at home a chance to compare scores to predict a potential winner during playoff time. UW-Stevens Point is fresh off a WIAC championship and trip to the playoffs where they lost to IIAC foe Wartburg. Central had a disappointing 2008 after a nice run in the playoffs in 2007. This will be a smash mouth game to open the season and an early indication of which team is ready for a playoff run in 2009.

Buena Vista at Wartburg, Oct. 10. This matchup of the top two teams in the IIAC in 2008 will show who is for real in 2009. Buena Vista raised some eyebrows around the IIAC last year when they jumped out to a 6-1 record to start the IIAC season including a victory over eventual champion Wartburg 26-21 at home. Wartburg recovered from the stunning blow and eventually made it deep into the playoffs. Will this be the conference deciding game in 2009 or will Central and Coe regroup to challenge? Only time will tell.

Linfield at Willamette, Oct. 24. This game could be the official passing of the guard in the NWC. For the first time in nine years Linfield is not the coaches pick to win the NWC. Willamette ran the table in the NWC last season including a convincing victory over Linfield on the road 52-28. If both teams are undefeated in conference this game should decide conference however a lurking Whitworth squad could throw a wrench in things.

Hardin-Simmons at Linfield, Sept. 12. It’s a safe bet that being picked to finish second in the NWC is not sitting well with Linfield or their faithful following. This matchup affords the ‘Cats the opportunity to show NWC coaches they are better X and O guys than prognosticators. Hardin-Simmons enters the game ranked fifth in the preseason poll after going 9-2 in 2009. This is the fourth straight year the Cowboys and Wildcats have matched and the Cowboys hold a 2-1 lead in the series.

Linfield at Occidental, Oct. 19. In what could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup, Linfield takes on their second straight ranked opponent to open the season in No. 23 Occidental.  Oxy claimed the 2008 SCIAC crown but made an early exit in the playoffs to NWC representative Willamette. There’s no love lost between these two conferences and these teams represent five years of dominance in their respective conferences. Occidental is 28-2 in SCIAC play since 2004 while Linfield has compiled a 23-4 record in the same span in the NWC. This early season inter conference matchup should be a good one.

Redlands at Cal Lutheran, Nov. 14. These two teams have fallen in the second and third spot in conference three of the last four seasons—always looking up at Occidental. If Oxy trips up this season it will likely be one of these teams to claim the crown. The teams have split the last six matchups with three of those separated by a touchdown or less. 

UW-Whitewater at UW-Stevens Point, Oct. 31. It’s ironic that this game falls on Halloween as it has potential to be scary good. After handing UW-Whitewater their first conference loss in four seasons, Stevens Point showed they could play with anybody. This year they will tango with a team trying to develop an identity, PB—post Beaver. Look for the smash mouth style of football we have come to expect in the WIAC. This game will likely once again determine the conference championship.

UW-Eau Claire at St. John’s, Sept. 13 It’s always a classic matchup when the WIAC and MIAC do battle. This game marks Saint John’s home opener and they hold a 5-3 record over UW-Eau Claire in the last eight meetings. However, two of the Blugolds victories have come in Collegeville so the Johnnies hoe field mystique may not intimidate this Blugold squad like it has numerous other opponents. 

Northwestern (Minn.) at St. Thomas, Nov. 14. There will be plenty of purple on the field to end the 2009 regular season between these two squads. St. Thomas is ranked nationally and Northwestern is hungry for respect. With all their skill offensive positions back, the Eagles are eager to prove they can play with nationally ranked programs.  St. Thomas will need to keep the intensity up as they will potentially be waiting on a playoff position. Regardless of how the seasons go for these two squads this battle for Saint Paul should be worth watching.

Regardless of whether you make it to one of these games or not, find your way to a Division III stadium this fall and cheer on your favorite team. There is no better time of year and no better level of football than Division III.

I look forward to bringing the west region to you this fall. Don’t hesitate to send me story ideas, preposterous predictions or inside information that you’d like to see in the column: adam.johnson@d3football.com

Cheers.

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Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith covers high school and Division III athletics for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wis. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and contributes to multiple publications in addition to his duties at the Daily Union, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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