Aug. 31, 2010

By Amy Farnum

There are thousands of student-athletes all over the country that are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to lace up their cleats, put on their shoulder pads and feel the adrenaline rush through their bodies when regular season action kicks off on Thursday.  The Division III football weekend schedule begins Thursday headline by a pair of contests involving nationally-ranked squads.

No. 19 Trine will play intrastate rival Manchester as the Thunder hosts their first-ever night game following the opening ceremonies of the newly-built Fred Zollner Stadium.  Trine is the preseason favorite in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association after becoming the first league school to win an NCAA Division III playoff game in 16 years with a first-round defeat of Case Western.

No. 11 Ohio Northern enters the season on a seven-game winning streak as the Polar Bears begin 2010 by hosting Wisconsin-River Falls.  The Polar Bears were voted to finish second in the Ohio Athletic Conference preseason poll after unanimous choice Mount Union as they return 13 starters and 40 letterwinners from last year’s squad.  UW-River Falls head coach John O’Grady recently announced his retirement for the end of the 2010.  O’Grady has mentored his alma mater for 22 seasons.

The match-up between No. 15 Hardin-Simmons and Whitworth will be an interesting one as both squads return All-Americans from 2008 that sat out last year due to injury.  

HSU welcomes 11 starters back on offense, including quarterback Justin Feaster, who tossed for 3,100 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2008.  Feaster turned in an all-star performance against Whitworth in 2009 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Linfield.  The Preseason American Southwest Conference Player of the Year connected on 26-of-32 passes for 284 yards and four TDs in a come-from-behind win against Whitworth.  He was granted a medical redshirt, and will be participating in a rare sixth season in 2010.

Adam Anderson of Whitworth, the 2007 and 2008 Northwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year, also returns to the field after undergoing ankle surgery in 2009.  In 2008, Anderson paced the nation with 243.8 all-purpose yards per game, and ranked second in scoring with 16.89 points per game.  

The Cowboys defeated Whitworth, 48-21, in Abilene, Texas, last year.  The two squads will tangle on Sept. 4 in Spokane, Wash.

TOMMIES STILL TURNING?  After mulling through a 2-8 season in 2007, St. Thomas (Minn.) posted an 11-2 record last year – the best won-loss turnaround in Division III football from 2007 to 2009 with the nine-game improvement.  

Ranked No. 5 in the Preseason Top 25, the Tommies are expected to continue their winning ways with 20 returning starters from a squad that advanced to the Division III quarterfinals in 2009.  

The Tommies will test their turnaround strength against St. Norbert College, which posted a 9-1 mark as the second-place team in the Midwest Conference in 2009.  St. Norbert, which will be opening the newly-built Donald J. Schneider Stadium against the Tommies on Sept. 4, leads the all-time series against St. Thomas 13-9-1.  The teams last met in 2003 with SNC coming away with a 21-19 victory.

TOP 25 CLASH:  In the week’s only match-up between Top 25 squads, No. 18 Willamette heads almost 2,000 miles eastward to visit No. 16 Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Sept. 4.  Both squads are predicted to finish second in their respective conferences – the Northwest Conference and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  

Willamette, which led the NWC in total and scoring defense last season, plays three nationally-ranked squads in the first four games of the year.  On Sept. 11, the Bearcats head to Abilene, Texas, for a meeting with No. 15 Hardin-Simmons.

UW-Stevens Point, the 2009 league runner-up to defending NCAA champion Wisconsin-Whitewater, returns over 60 letterwinners to a team that posted a 7-3 record last season.