Here we are, NESCAC football fans. Not only is this opening weekend (always exciting) but it is also the first opening weekend of the Ninth Game era, something that fans and players have wanted for a while. I would caution you to take your excitement with a grain of salt, however. This season starts a week earlier than usual. That means a week less practice time for teams to get ready for game play. I would expect these games to be somewhat sloppy, and potentially fairly low scoring. Some grizzled, older fans like my father would like that “smash-mouth football style,” but I like offense. We will see how well teams have adjusted to this new schedule. However, if it means we get to watch football earlier, I’ll gladly accept some sloppiness.
Bowdoin @ Williams, 12:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
The first kickoff of the season features two teams that are looking to put 2016 in their rearview mirror. This can only happen with a good start in 2017, so both sides should be very motivated. All eyes will be on who starts at quarterback for Williams, although sources are telling us that it will most likely be John Gannon ‘18, who is returning from missing last year with a torn ACL. A fair amount of rust is to be expected (from everyone, not just Gannon,) but if he can get into a rhythm then he has the weapons to really explode. TE Tyler Patterson ‘19 is a beast when healthy, and experienced receivers Adam Regensberg ‘’18 and Kellen Hatheway ‘19 give him a lot of options to throw to. Bowdoin’s defense wasn’t exactly world-beating last year, allowing the most rushing yards AND passing yards per game last year, but they return two stellar linebackers Latif Armiyaw ‘18 and Joe Gowetski ‘18 and will be looking to make a statement. However, I think Williams is ready to start trending upwards, and this game is the start of that.
Final Score Prediction: Williams 27, Bowdoin 10
GAME OF THE WEEK: Wesleyan @ Middlebury, 1:00 PM, Middlebury, VT
It’s not every year that a Week One game could have championship implications, but this game might. Wesleyan and Middlebury both have the returning talent to make a run at the championship, but one of them is also starting off the season 0-1. With Trinity’s level of talent and easier opening matchup, one loss might be too many to win the league outright. Therefore, we can expect both teams to be extra-fired up entering this one. Middlebury has been excellent at home over the last few years, but Wesleyan is well equipped to attack the dynamic Panther offense. The only way to beat Middlebury is to get pressure on QB Jared Lebowitz ‘18. If he has enough time, he will pick your defense apart. But when under pressure, he is prone to rushed throws and turnovers. Wesleyan’s defense is certainly athletic enough to get through the young Middlebury offensive line.
However, the Cardinals offense can be inconsistent. They lost two of the major weapons from their running attack last year in WR/RB Devin Carillo and RB Lou Stevens. Therefore, they either have to use Dario Highsmith ‘19, the new starting RB, in a much larger role or reinvent themselves as a more pass-heavy offense. If their offense struggles, Middlebury’s no-huddle offense will wear down the defense, and eventually Lebowitz will get the time he needs. And at that point, it’s game over.
Score Prediction: Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28
Hamilton @ Tufts, 1:00 PM, Medford, MA
This game has by far the highest upset potential of any this weekend, and I’m jumping on it. Hamilton returns a great deal of their much-improved offense from last year, including quarterback Kenny Gray ‘20, who impressed many with his poise as a first year last season. The defense is far newer, but they benefit this week from facing a Tufts team that graduated most of their offense from last year. Of course, that offense came in the form of one man, RB Chance Brady, who dominated the league like Tecmo Bo Jackson last year. It will take a great deal of work for Tufts to adjust to life without Brady. I think they’re up to the task, but the shortened preseason will cost them here in Week One.
Final Score Prediction: Hamilton 17, Tufts 14
Bates @ Amherst, 1:00 PM, Amherst, MA
This game features the return of Amherst QB and POY candidate Reece Foy ‘18, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. And not only do the Mammoths get Foy back, they return red zone weapon Jack Hickey ‘19 at running back. Hickey scored seven touchdowns last year, and seems poised to break out as a star this year in a wide open race for First Team RB. Amherst also returns star WR Bo Berluti ‘20. The Mammoth’s offense is ready to break out after struggling at times last season, and a strong defense puts Amherst back towards the top of the preseason rankings. Bates returns a great deal of talent as well. QB Sandy Plaschkes ‘18 has been solid for years, but has to raise his game in this game, and this season, if Bates wants to compete with teams like Amherst. Bates has the talent to make it a game, but Amherst is back and there’s nothing the Bobcats can do about it.
Final Score Prediction: Amherst 28, Bates 17
Colby @ Trinity, 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT
There are teams that have a chance to take Trinity down this season, and games in which they could struggle. Colby is not that team, and this is not that game. Trinity brings back QB Sonny Puzzo 18, RB Max Chipouras ‘19 and WR Bryan Viera ‘18. In other words, they bring back arguably the best in the league at three skill positions. This bodes well for Trinity’s offense. Colby, on the other hand, lost their biggest weapon in Sebastian Ferrall ‘19. They do return a great deal of talent on defense, especially in the secondary and at linebacker. If everything goes perfectly for the Mules, they put up a great performance on defense and only lose by one touchdown. Unfortunately, the team that beats Trinity this season will have to beat them in a shootout, not a defensive battle.
Final Score Prediction: Trinity 40, Colby 10.