10 games to watch in 2016

Luke Bailey led the Hawks to a 2015 playoff win. Now, Huntingdon gets to defend a USA South title for the first time.
Photo by Joe Fusco, d3photography.com 

Fall is in the air. OK, perhaps not technically -- the calendar says the first day of autumn is September 22.

To that I say -- sorry calendar, you're wrong. Fall arrives when football does, and football is here. Get those final cookouts and swims in the pool in over Labor Day weekend because once we move into September, the weekends are preserved for football. High schools on Fridays, colleges on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays.

Each has its own unique identity, but there's just something perfect about college football, isn't there? The camaraderie and sense of pride shared by alumni and current students, the sheer volume of games to choose from, and Saturdays themselves -- it's the best day of the week, for my money. It all combines to form a shared, cross-country experience that's unmatched in sports.

I've been a part of the Division III world since I stepped foot on the campus of Ithaca College in the fall of 2004. I didn't play, but I attended games as a fan and as a member of the media. Over those next four years, I learned how special football games at Butterfield Stadium were and how much it meant for students and alumni to proudly proclaim "It's a great day to be a Bomber" after wins. Every school has its owns traditions and unique traits -- yet another reason college football is special to all of us.

I have written for D3football.com since my days at Ithaca, including a four-year stint handling the Around the East column. After a one-season hiatus, I'm back, but this time as the Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist. I look forward to covering new teams and interviewing new players and coaches, but most importantly, I'm excited to tell great stories.

We'll kick things off this week with our annual look at 10 games to watch from around the Centennial Conference, Old Dominion Athletic Conference and USA South Athletic Conference.

No. 20 Washington and Lee at No. 15 Johns Hopkins, 7 p.m., Sept. 1: How's this for a tasty Week 1 matchup? Two of the top 20 teams in the D3football.com preseason poll, and quite possibly the top two teams across the Mid-Atlantic column coverage area, square off under the lights in Baltimore, Md. This is one of the premier matchups on the Week 1 slate, and it gets an entire night to itself (Thursday, Sept. 1).

Mount Union at N.C. Wesleyan, 12:30 p.m., Sept. 10: After posting back-to-back .500 seasons, the Battling Bishops return a whopping 19 starters for the 2016 season. N.C. Wesleyan hasn't had a winning record since 2010, but there is optimism for that to change this season. The Week 2 matchup against the defending national champion Purple Raiders will be a measuring stick. Fans of USA South football can get an up-close look at Division III's banner program.

Franklin and Marshall at Muhlenberg, 1 p.m., Sept. 10: These two schools, along with Moravian, figure to make up the next three teams in the CC standings behind Johns Hopkins. The Diplomats and Mules have alternated wins in this series for the last four seasons, with two of the games being decided by seven points or less. Expect another good one in early September.

Moravian at No. 15 Johns Hopkins, noon, Sept. 17: This matchup, in all likelihood, will determine the winner of the CC. The six-time defending champion Blue Jays will certainly be favored, seeing as how they haven't lost a conference game since 2012. But Moravian returns 15 starters from its 2015 team that finished 8-3. If you're a CC fan, circle this game on the calendar.

Susquehanna at Dickinson, 1 p.m., Sept. 17: On the same day that Johns Hopkins hosts Moravian, Susquehanna and Dickinson will play for the first time since a thrilling 42-35 Crusaders (now River Hawks) victory last September. Susquehanna failed to build any momentum off that win last season, losing its next three games. Dickinson is trying to snap a streak of three straight 3-7 seasons.

Ferrum at Greensboro, 1 p.m., Oct. 1: This game might not mean much in the standings, as both teams are likely to finish below .500. However, both teams have new head coaches, and if history is any indication, this game should be fun to watch. Ferrum has won two of the last three meetings, but each of those games was decided by 11 points or less.

LaGrange at No. 24 Huntingdon, 2 p.m., Oct. 15: Huntingdon is the favorite to win the USA South title, something it did last season. Its toughest competition could come from a rejuvenated LaGrange team that, despite finishing 2-7 in 2015, returns 20 starters. The game being in Montgomery, Ala., certainly gives the Hawks an edge, but this is still a matchup to watch.

Hampden-Sydney at No. 20 Washington and Lee, 1 p.m., Oct. 22: What's not to love about this matchup? It features two programs with postseason pedigrees that have played close, competitive games over the years. The Generals and Tigers have split the last six meetings, with three of those games being decided by a touchdown or less. Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee have combined to win nine of the last 10 ODAC titles. Expect that to become 10 of 11 in 2016.

Guilford at Emory and Henry, 1 p.m., Nov. 12: This should be a great game in the final week of the regular season. Guilford, despite going 9-1 last season, missed out on a postseason berth by virtue of its three-point loss to Washington and Lee. Emory and Henry went 6-4 and played the Quakers tough in last season's finale. Expect that to once again be the case in 2016. This game should have conference, and potentially postseason, ramifications on the line.

Randolph-Macon at Hampden-Sydney, 1 p.m., Nov. 12: The Game. One of college football's oldest rivalries, this series dates back to 1893. With history like that, is any additional context even needed? Perhaps not, but it's still there anyway -- both teams expect to be in the ODAC title hunt. The Yellow Jackets have won four of the last five meetings between the two teams, but like any great rivalry, you can throw the records out of the window when these teams meet.

Contact me

Have a story idea? A fun stat? Just want to talk some football? I'm always happy to hear from fellow D-III fans. I can be reached via email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com, or on Twitter at @Andrew_Lovell.