10 games to watch for 2016

As a linebacker, Framingham State's Stephen Beahn led the Rams last year in their Homecoming win over Fitchburg State. But did you catch the fact that Beahn is listed as a wide receiver on the team's 2016 roster?
Framingham State athletics photo

There is something glorious about openers. Anticipation is half the fun and now we are ready for the other half. It all begins Thursday night when Anna Maria hosts Coast Guard.

The opener is a multi-sided event. You use it and the following out-of-conference games to steel yourself for the rigors of league play. You also experiment and look to make decisions on positions that were too close to call by the end of camp. Many teams might find one of these nonconference games could make or break them when it comes time to hand out at-large berths for the playoffs.

But the games are also important for the conference itself.

During a teleconference of the MASCAC coaches last week, Western Connecticut coach Joe Loth threw down the challenge to his fellow coaches when he said, "Let's show we are one of the best conferences in the country. Let's win them all."

Worcester State coach Brien Cullen got behind Loth. He urged winning the games to "elevate us more into the national spotlight."

There are some good ones and certainly one of the best openers is between New England Football Conference preseason favorite Western New England and Springfield in the Pynchon SAW Game. There is an explanation for that unwieldy rivalry game name but for now just let's say it is for bragging rights of the city and a game between two very good teams. It happens on Friday night.

Whenever any of the Maritime schools get together the game is special and SUNY-Maritime visits Maine Maritime on Saturday.

The Plymouth-Castleton game has become a fixture as an opener and the MASCAC's Panthers visit Castleton on Saturday.

"I consider it a rivalry game. There is a lot of cross-over in recruiting," Plymouth coach Paul Castonia said.

Framingham State is the preseason choice to win the MASCAC. Coach Tom Kelley is not so sure.

"I am honored that we were picked No. 1 in the conference, but we graduated a lot of players and have a lot of young players getting their feet wet," Kelley said.

Kelley and the rest of us will find out plenty about his Rams immediately. Framingham hosts Endicott on Saturday in what is one of the most intriguing of the weekend's games.

Most importantly these games mean we are getting started. Here's a look at 10 of the "don't miss" games.

Mass. Maritime visits SUNY-Maritime on Sept. 9.
The setting with the New York skyline is majestic, and the Chowder Bowl has quickly become something very important to both schools. It figures to be a contrast in styles with the Bucs airing it out and the Privateers running the option.

Framingham State at Fitchburg State on Sept. 16
This is the game that might well determine the MASCAC champion when all is said and done. It would have been dramatic to have this showdown in November. Then again, we really don't want to wait for it.

Wesleyan at Tufts on Sept. 24.
The NESCAC finally opens, and this looks like the best opener of all. A couple of contenders slugging it out in a league where you don't want to lose one because it is only an eight-game season.

Tufts at Trinity on Oct. 1.
The Bantams rarely lose at home but Tufts could be a problem for them and everyone else.

Salve Regina at Endicott on Oct. 29.
Western New England is the NEFC favorite and might be controlling its own destiny the following week. But this one certainly has the feel of a game where something big could be at stake.

Western New England at Salve Regina on Nov. 5.
Do not be surprised if the NEFC title is on the line here. A lot could happen between now and then and who knows what will have happened on Oct. 29 in Beverly. But everyone has this one circled.

Norwich at Husson on Nov. 5.
Last year the Cadets ambushed Husson in Northfield and won the game that landed them the ECFC crown and the automatic playoff berth. Now, the Eagles get them in Bangor and will be looking to return the favor. The ECFC title might well be on the line again.

Bates at Bowdoin Nov. 5.
We have to have one CBB (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) rivalry games on our list. These games matter to the schools, alums and to the state of Maine,. Bates is supposed to be one of the most improved teams in New England and you have to believe J.B. Wells is on his way to resurrecting Bowdoin in much the same way that he built Endicott. It might well be cold and snowy, but the emotions will be red hot.

Castleton at Norwich Nov. 12.
If the ECFC title was not decided the previous week in Bangor, it will very likely come down to this one. At the least, the Maple Sap Bucket is up for grabs and in this intrastate rivalry that's enough.

Williams at Amherst on Nov. 12.
Biggest Little Game in America. Passionate alumni at viewing parties throughout the world. This one is everything to the teams and alums. Huge crowd. This one has it all. 

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter. He has been D3football.com's Around the Northeast columnist since 2007.

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