The first week of the New England NCAA D-II college football season has officially arrived, which means it is time to unveil our first-ever Top Five Poll, which features teams from the Northeast-10 Conference. And speaking of the NE10, make sure to check out our New England D-II preseason team — there are quite a few Massachusetts and New England natives on our squad.
Best of luck to all teams competing, both later this week and weekend, and make sure to stop by for more New England college football content over the next few days.
Noontime’s New England D-II Top Five Poll (Week No. 1 | August 30, 2021)
Univ. ofNew Haven (7-3, 6-2 in 2019): Picked to finish first in the preseason coaches poll, the Chargers, who begin their 2021 campaign at home against Franklin Pierce University on Saturday, will certainly be a team to watch in the conference this fall — keep your eyes on halfback Shamar Logan, who was one of two running backs named to our inagural preseason team, along with a defense that won’t make things easy on opposing offenses.
Bentley University (6-4, 6-2 in 2019): The defending conference champions from 2019 will open their title defense against a West Chester University Rams squad that was picked to finish second in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) preseason poll on Friday in Waltham. Quarterback Stephen Sturm returns for his final season with the Falcons — he was certainly a player to watch in 2019, recording career-bests in passing yards (2,221), touchdown passes (14), rushing yards (297), and rushing touchdowns (four).
Stonehill College (6-4, 5-3 in 2019): Halfback Justin Felder is back — the Springfield Gardens, New York native garnered a slew of postseason honors in 2019, including the NE10’s MVP award, and will certainly provide some challenges for Bloomsburg University on Saturday.
Assumption College (6-4, 5-3 in 2019): The Greyhounds offense was explosive in 2019, averaging 34.3 points per game, which was the most by any NE10 squad, along with 202.4 rushing yards. Assumption will be led by a few Massachusetts natives this fall, including defensive end Trenton Wright, who enjoyed his best season on defese.
Saint Anselm College (4-7, 4-4 in 2019): Despite finishing with just four wins in 2019, the Hawks provided some serious challenges for some of the top teams in the league, including New Haven and Southern Connecticut State. The Hawks return some key pieces from their squad two years ago, including two members of the o-line — Michael Boucher and Brian Kosicki — that appeared on our preseason squad.
Sure, it is the 24th day of June, but football is on our minds. So, let’s keep with tradition from the past two years by unveiling our third annual Noontime Sports Way Too Early New England NCAA Division III Top 20 Poll.
Revisit our previous Way Too Early polls from 2019 and 2020.
This year’s Way Too Early Poll is based on last year’s poll (and somewhat our 2019 poll, too) — we know it will change as we get closer to the start of the 2021 season, so stay tuned for our first official poll at the end of August/early September.
Alright, without further ado, let’s get back to football with our 2021 Way Too Early New England D-III Top 20 Poll!
Noontime’s Way Too Early New England D-III Top 20 Poll (June 23, 2021)
Williams College (2019 Record: 7-2, 7-2 NESCAC): The Ephs were our top team in this poll last year, so let’s see if they remain in this position in a few weeks.
Western New England (2019 Record: 9-2, 7-0 CCC): It’s hard to pick against the Golden Bears, who continue to be the team to beat in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC).
Wesleyan University (2019 Record: 8-1, 8-1 NESCAC): Last year, the Cardinals were fourth on our list. This year, they move up one spot — they should be ready to contend with Williams and others once the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) football season kicks off in mid-September.
Endicott College (2019 Record: 9-2, 6-1 CCC): The Gulls seem primed for an exciting 2021 campaign under coach Paul McGonagle, who has a former signal-caller on his staff: Joe Kalosky.
MIT (2019 Record: 7-3, 6-1 NEWMAC): The Engineers captured the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championship in 2018 before sharing it with WPI one year later. They will once again be the team to watch in the NEWMAC.
Framingham State (2019 Record: 8-3, 8-0 MASCAC): Aynsley Rosenbaum will finally guide the Rams for the first time this fall after being promoted to the team’s head coach on January 19, 2020.
Trinity College (2019 Record: 5-4, 5-4 NESCAC): The Bantams will be in the mix for the top spot in the NESCAC this year. That’s a fact.
Western Connecticut (2019 Record: 8-3, 6-2 MASCAC): The Colonials will once again be in the mix for the top spot in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) this fall, but will they be able to beat Framingham State and UMass Dartmouth to secure the top spot?
Springfield College (2019 Record: 6-4, 5-2 NEWMAC): Look for the Pride to compete with the Engineers of MIT for the top spot in the conference this fall.
Salve Regina University (2019 Record: 4-6, 3-4 CCC): Get ready for the Joey Mauriello show in Newport, Rhode Island.
Tufts University (2019 Record: 4-5, 4-5 NESCAC): Look for the Jumbos to bounce back this fall after posting just four wins in 2019.
Middlebury College (2019 Record: 9-0, 9-0 NESCAC): After posting the first-ever 9-0 record in NESCAC play, the Panthers will finally have a chance to defend their crown this fall.
WPI (2019 Record: 10-1, 6-1 NEWMAC): The Engineers graduated a slew of talent from their 2019 squad, but have brought in some impressive recruits that should help them compete with MIT, Springfield, and Merchant Marine Academy.
Bridgewater State University (2019 Record: 6-4, 6-2 MASCAC): The Bears won eight games in 2018, but just six one year later. They were competitive — they certainly provided challenges for their conference foes and should find a way to be in the mix for the top spot as their 2021 campaign progresses.
Amherst College (2019 Record: 4-5, 4-5 NESCAC): The Mammoths may have taken a step back in 2019, but you can bet they’ll be ready to challenge the top teams in the NESCAC in a few months.
Nichols College (2019 Record: 6-4, 4-3 CCC): Every year, this team takes a positive step forward.
Coast Guard Academy (2019 Record: 5-5, 2-5 NEWMAC): The Bears did compete once last year — they lost to Merchant Marine Academy last November, but we were able to get a glimpse of some student-athletes to watch this fall.
Husson University (2019 Record: 4-6, 2-5 CCC): Something tells us that these Eagles won’t be on the bottom of our list for long.
Colby College (2-7, 2-7 NESCAC): Keep your eyes on the Mules — Jack Cosgrove will have the Blue and White ready to compete with the top teams in the conference this fall.
Like many of our fans and friends, I miss New England D-III football. But as an optimist, I believe we’ll see our favorite teams and student-athletes back on the gridiron at this time next year vying for conference crowns, along with at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
And speaking of conference crowns – and yes, the national postseason, too – I thought it would be fun to produce a special Noontime’s ‘What If‘ post on which teams I believe would have won their respective conference this fall.
As expected, these predictions were not easy as there are a slew of teams and programs capable of winning their respective conference, but here are my predictions. And as usual, you can share your thoughts with me on social media, as well as send a note to MattNoonan@noontimesports.com.
Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC): Western New England
For the past few seasons, the Golden Bears have been the team to watch and beat in this conference. And once again, Western New England would be the squad to watch in the CCC this fall. They would most likely enter their final game of the regular season with two important wins against Endicott College and Salve Regina University. And like most teams highlighted in this post, the 2020 Golden Bears would look a bit different than previous years, especially on offense as they would have a new quarterback, but their defense would be be a unit to watch – it would be led by linebacker Erich Keutmann, who was named a D3Football.com Preseason All-America second-teamer in September.
Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC): Dean College
The Bulldogs captured their first-ever conference crown last season, thanks to quarterback Terrell Watts, who was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, along with wide receiver Errol Breaux and safety Tyzohn Poole. Of course, there would be other student-athletes to watch as the season progressed, but at this point of the 2020 season, the Bulldogs would have claimed some important wins against Castleton University and SUNY Maritime. They would have also beaten a new D-III football team: Keystone College.
Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC): Framingham State University
Like Western New England, it is hard to pick against the Rams, which would be starting a new chapter in its program history with first-year coach Aynsley Rosenbaum, who spent the past 12 seasons overseeing the Framingham State offense. But like prior years, this would be the team to watch in the MASCAC. Sure, they would look a bit different on offense without quarterback Adam Wojenski, who graduated last spring, but the Rams would welcome back some key pieces from that unit, including halfback Devaun Ford, who was named the 2019 MASCAC Rookie of the Year. Framingham State would be challenged for the top spot by Bridgewater State, UMass Dartmouth, and Western Connecticut.
New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC): Williams College
The Ephs of Williams College suffered just two setbacks last season, including an opening day loss to Middlebury College, which would be a game circled on their calendar this season. Williams would somehow find a way to beat the Panthers at home, along with Wesleyan University, which tripped up the Ephs prior to their season-ending win over Amherst College last November. But for the Ephs to win the NESCAC, they would not only need to beat Amherst, Middlebury, and Wesleyan, but also Trinity College and Tufts University. Additionally, let’s not overlook Colby College and Hamilton College, which would challenge the Purple and Yellow, but in the end, quarterback Bobby Maimaron, along with the rest of the Ephs would make just a few more plays in all nine contests to secure the NESCAC title.
New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC): Springfield College
Sure, MIT maybe the favorite after winning the NEWMAC crown the past two years, but it would be hard to overlook Springfield College, which would be led by halfback Hunter Belzo and linebacker AJ Smith. The Pride, which finished with six wins last year, would win at least seven, maybe eight games this season, but their most important victory would occur during the final weekend of the regular season against the Engineers in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
And welcome to our second installment of ‘Football Friday,’ a post where we revisit stories, teams, coaches, and student-athletes that we have covered over the past decade.
Today, we’re jumping back to 2012 to highlight a Framingham State University football team that not only won the New England Football Conference (NEFC) championship against Salve Regina University but also advanced to its first-ever NCAA D-III Tournament.
The Rams’ run toward a national championship, unfortunately, concluded in the opening round against SUNY Cortland – the Red Dragons edged Framingham State, 20-19, despite a fourth-quarter rally by the Black and Gold.
Yet, despite a one-point setback in the national tournament, the 2012 season was quite a memorable one for the Rams, which captured the program’s first and only NEFC title, while four members of the squad, including coach Tom Kelley, garnered major postseason awards from the conference. Additionally, Framingham State won 10 games for the first time in program history and only lost once in the regular season to Endicott College, which defeated the 2011 NEFC Bogan Division and Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) champions on the opening day of the 2012 season.
Endicott’s defense shined in its week one victory against the Rams as the unit finished the contest with five interceptions, five tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery, and a trio of pass break-ups.
“We stuffed them on first down (and) forced them (into) long second downs (and) that really got them out of their groove,” Endicott’s Andrew Holfinger said following his team’s initial win of its 2012 campaign.
Luckily, the loss to the Gulls was quickly forgotten six days later when Framingham State scored its first win of the 2012 season against Nichols College.
The Rams, who defeated the Bison by a score of 34-6, leaned on its ground game as both Matthew Mangano and Melikke Van Alstyne combined for four touchdowns and 393 rushing yards.
The victory over the Bison seemed to provide the Rams with a ton of momentum as they would go onto capture its next nine contests, including a 16-0 win over rival Bridgewater State University followed by an exciting overtime victory against Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Not only did the Framingham State offense shine throughout the 2012 season, but so did the defense, which limited its numerous foes to 12.8 points per game, along with 63.0 rushing yards per contest.
After registering just seven points in the opening week, the Rams concluded seven contests with 30 points or more. But during the team’s final regular-season contest against Worcester State University, all three units – offense, defense, and special teams – collaborated to produce a season-high 65 points.
The 65-21 win over the Lancers allowed the Rams to clinch its second-straight NEFC Bogan Division crown, as well as secure a spot in the conference’s championship round one week later against Salve Regina.
“We’re certainly going to be tested,” Kelley said when previewing his team’s contest against the Seahawks at the New England Football Writers’ Gridiron Club of Greater Boston luncheon, which was held at Harvard University.
Salve Regina entered the contest with an identical 9-1 record. The Seahawks averaged nearly 400 yards of offense while the defense limited opponents to roughly two touchdowns per game.
But despite scoring the first points of the 2012 NEFC title game, Salve Regina struggled to contain both Melikke Van Alstyne and Matthew Silva, who combined for three rushing touchdowns.
James Muirhead led the Rams defense with eight total tackles, including three stops for a loss of 17 yards and one forced fumble.
Salve Regina, which trailed Framingham State by four points (14-10) at the break, attempted to mount a late comeback during the final minutes of the fourth quarter but saw its rally dashed when the Rams recovered its onside kick.
Moments after the final kickoff of the game was recorded, the Rams celebrated a hard-fought championship, which Muirhead considered “so surreal.”
“All the hard work paid off,” said Muirhead, who was named the Bull Mottola Championship Game Most Valuable Player Award following the final whistle.
“I don’t really have any words to explain it,” he would add.
The 28-16 win over the Seahawks was a culmination of the Rams’ commitment of hard work and determination that was fueled by an overtime setback one year earlier in the same contest to Western New England. And while the victory over the Seahawks did not spark a deep postseason run, it was certainly the beginning of many more conference titles and postseason appearances for a squad that has maintained its success over the past few years.
Watching – and yes, covering – this team truly made me fall in love more with small college football. The 2012 season truly marked the beginning of my tenure of producing content on various New England D-III athletic teams and programs, and I am thankful for the time both Tom Kelley and the players provided me throughout this exciting and historic campaign.
Last night – Sunday, August 9, to be exact – we learned the Big Ten conference, which met twice this weekend, is leaning toward canceling its football season. And if football is canceled, it is likely both the presidents and chancellors of each institution would pull the plug on other fall sports, too.
An announcement from the Big Ten is expected if not today definitely this week, and pending the league’s final decision on the 2020 fall sports season, it is possible other Power 5 conferences such as the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) could cancel their respective fall sports seasons or perhaps make tweaks to their newly updated schedules.
While nothing official has been announced by the Big Ten or any Power 5 conference as of this morning, Bob Bowlsby, who is the commissioner of the Big 12, did provide some insight into what leagues might take into consideration when deciding to cancel games this fall: players enduring longlasting cardiac issues from contracting the coronavirus (Covid-19) that may prohibit them from future competition.
As noted in a recent story from Sports Illustrated, team doctors and physicians are worried that youth athletes, who are healthy and may be asymptomatic, could develop life-long heart problems, including myocardial, which causes damage to the heart muscle. It appears this issue is just one of many both presidents and chancellors are grappling with when it comes to making a decision on the 2020 fall sports season.
Here in New England, it appears as if both Boston College and the University of Massachusetts will play football this fall, but it is not a given that either program will play or perhaps complete its entire schedule. It is possible, pending future announcements from the Big Ten and other leagues, that both seasons could be canceled or punted to next spring.
Merrimack College, which competes in the Northeastern Conference (NEC), will have to wait and see if their football team will be allowed to play games this fall. According to last month’s update, the NEC President’s council will reconvene on Thursday, October 1 to assess the ongoing pandemic and see if it’s possible to provide not just the Warriors, but every team in the conference with some form of competition.
Other New England schools, including those that compete at both the Division II and III levels, will not be competing this fall, despite some athletic departments still not announcing that fall sports are canceled. But it is likely those announcements could come if not this week later this month once students return to campus.
At the end of the day, these are not easy decisions, so fans and football fanatics need to respect whatever is announced either today or over the next few days. Yes, no college football in the fall would seem strange, but if these decisions result in keeping the student-athletes safe, along with everyone else involved with college athletics safe and healthy, then we should applaud both the presidents and chancellors for making the right call.