By Matt Noonan
Four weeks of the New England NCAA Division III football season are complete.
The fifth week begins this evening with two teams competing under the lights: Western Connecticut and UMass Dartmouth.
Before we kick off another weekend of college football, let’s check in all five conferences, as well as highlight a few teams (and storylines) to watch, both this weekend and over the next few weeks.
Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC)
Current Leader: Endicott College (4-0, 0-0 CCC)
The surprise team: Nichols College (3-1, 0-0)
Thoughts on the CCC: As of now, Endicott College appears to be the front-runner, but we should know more about this conference after both this weekend and next weekend with league play beginning tomorrow. The Gulls’ defense, which has yielded just 20 points through four contests, will certainly be challenged against Husson University, as well as when they compete against Nichols College and the University of New England in early October. The Bison of Nichols can solidify themselves as a contender by scoring a week five win over Western New England, which is looking to bounce back from a 35-0 setback to Salisbury University. The Golden Bears have not lost to Nichols since 2006 – additionally, Nichols has not beaten Western New England in Springfield since 2003.
Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC)
Current Leaders: Anna Maria College (2-1, 0-0 ECFC) and Gallaudet University (2-1, 0-0 ECFC)
The surprise team: Alfred State (2-2, 0-0 ECFC)
Thoughts on the ECFC: Like the CCC, ECFC play commences this weekend with some enticing matchups, including Anna Maria hosting Alfred State to Gallaudet visiting Keystone College. Anna Maria remains the favorite to win the league crown, despite losing last weekend to Coast Guard Academy. The AMCATs can take a step toward winning its second-straight ECFC title on Saturday by beating Alfred State, a squad they have beaten in back-to-back meetings. The Pioneers enter the contest with two wins and two losses – to be honest, I thought this team would have at least three wins by the fifth week, especially with so many returners back from last season. But while all eyes will be on Alfred State and Anna Maria, don’t overlook Gallaudet, which scored an impressive week three win over UNE, thanks to quarterback Brandon Washington. The Bison did commit eight penalties in their three-point win over the Nor’easters, which is something they cannot do in future contests. Keep your eyes on Dean College this weekend as the Bulldogs will aim to provide first-year coach Andrae Murphy with his first win when they visit Castleton University.
Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC)
Current Leader: UMass Dartmouth (3-1, 2-0 MASCAC)
The surprise team: Western Connecticut (2-2, 1-1 MASCAC)
Thoughts on the MASCAC: Following their week one win over Husson, I was ready to anoint the Corsairs of UMass Dartmouth as the “team to beat.” One week later, they suffered a disappointing setback to Anna Maria, which provided an opportunity for Framingham State and Western Connecticut to catch up. In week three, UMass Dartmouth scored its first win against the Rams of Framingham since 2016, which was followed by a week four win against Worcester State. Tonight, they can truly solidify themselves as the front-runner with a win over the Wolves of Western Connecticut. The Wolves are looking to bounce back from their week four setback to Bridgewater State. Plymouth State is also a team MASCAC football fans should keep an eye on. They were idol last week after starting their 2022 campaign with three-straight wins. They visit Framingham State tomorrow. A win for the Rams over the Panthers could provide the Black and Gold with some much-needed momentum heading into upcoming contests with Fitchburg State and Western Connecticut. All in all, it’s hard to pick a clear favorite after four weeks.
New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)
Current Leaders: Middlebury College (2-0, 2-0 NESCAC) and Trinity College (2-0, 2-0 NESCAC)
The surprise team: Bowdoin College (1-1, 1-1 NESCAC)
Thoughts on the NESCAC: Entering the third week of the NESCAC season, Middlebury and Trinity appear to be the teams to watch – to be honest, I did not anticipate Middlebury being a front-runner after two weeks, but their recent win over Wesleyan University proves we cannot overlook this squad. The Panthers’ defense has allowed the fewest points amongst all NESCAC teams with 16 while Tufts University leads the conference with 58 points scored. Tufts, like Middlebury, is not a team to overlook as they rolled past Bates College last weekend and almost beat Trinity in their season-opener. Bowdoin has been a pleasant surprise – they scored a big opening day win against Hamilton College but suffered its first setback last weekend to Williams College. Bowdoin hosts Middlebury on Saturday – perhaps they bounce back against the Panthers? Through two weeks, Middlebury and Trinity are clearly the teams to beat — or watch? — but don’t overlook Tufts and Colby College. Maybe we shouldn’t rule out Williams?
New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC)
Current Leaders: Merchant Marine (2-1, 0-0 NEWMAC) and MIT (2-1, 0-0 NEWMAC)
The surprise team: Coast Guard Academy (2-2, 0-0 NEWMAC)
Thoughts on the NEWMAC: I’ll be honest, I didn’t think MIT or Merchant Marine would be leading the NEWMAC after four weeks. Yet, they are, which means we should be in for an interesting few weeks of conference play. MIT hosts Catholic University on Saturday – the Cardinals have yet to crack the win column since week one when they beat McDaniel College. Catholic beat MIT last year but fell to the Engineers two years earlier. Both contests were held in Washington, DC. Merchant Marine will attempt to win its third contest of the season against a WPI squad that enters NEWMAC play with two wins and two losses. Maybe we shouldn’t overlook the Engineers of Worcester? Coast Guard Academy appears to be a team to watch, thanks to halfback Spencer McMillion, who leads all D-III rushers with 653 rushing yards through four weeks. McMillion has rushed for 11 touchdowns — I expect his early-season success to continue against Norwich University on Saturday. Springfield College is idol this weekend after concluding its non-conference schedule with a big win over Husson. They won the NEWMAC last year and will certainly be well-rested for next week’s initial conference meeting with the Bears of Coast Guard.