Are you sold yet?
That was the focus of this week’s Around the Nation Podcast, and as we draw near to the middle of the season, it’s expected that we’ll see more undefeated teams start to fall. Some conferences are sporting multiple teams without losses, such as the CCIW (five) and the NCAC, MAC and SCIAC among the surprises (three unbeatens each).
Others out there will be looking to shrug off tough non-conference records and find their way to their automatic qualifiers. The NCAA’s first regional rankings will be here before we know it, and a combination of challenging schedules and on-field success is the gateway to postseason Pool C bids and seeding.
— Ryan Tipps
Game of the Week
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Ithaca at Hartwick. No team in the Empire 8 has a losing record this season, and with two surprise undefeated teams looming at the top of the leader board, conference games are becoming more and more important. The Bombers and Hawks represent the two best air attacks in the conference (though not by too wide of a margin), but Hartwick has been exceptional at getting pressure on quarterbacks and making them scramble. Ithaca will need a win here to stay in Pool A contention after an early season blemish, and continuing to force turnovers will be one way to make that happen.
Keith’s take: Bethel at No. 6 St. John’s. The Royals are a last-gasp touchdown vs. No 4 Wheaton away from making this a battle of 4-0 teams. But each is still 2-0 in MIAC play, meaning there’s plenty to play for in terms of jockeying for position before the playoff stretch. The Johnnies come in with the lofty ranking, but Bethel comes in knowing it’s won three in a row against St. John’s, including during a 4-5 down year last season.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater at Hampden-Sydney. This game has been a war for about the past seven years and I’m not expecting anything different this time around. Hampden-Sydney has the home-field advantage and looks better on paper and has won two in a row … but despite that I expect it to be anything but routine.
Surprisingly close game
Ryan’s take: Shenandoah at Christopher Newport. I’d like the Hornets even more if they were playing at home, but with the Captains’ offense still struggling to find consistency on the field one month into the season, a lot of this will depend on which CNU team shows up. Shenandoah will need to make more happen in its passing game to do well, but for both squads, it will come down to which defense steps up.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at Trinity (Texas). The Panthers have two of their five Division III wins in history this season, including last week’s 51-17 romp against Rhodes. The Tigers have looked uneven in a 3-1 start entirely on the road. I still think Trinity wins its home opener, but B-SC seems to be closing the gap.
Pat’s take: St. Olaf at Carleton. St. Olaf looks like it will have the upper hand significantly on paper, but Carleton’s desire to keep the Goat and the things that go with it in Northfield, Minn., will keep them in the game longer than expected. That and the fact that St. Olaf managed just nine yards rushing last week without electrifying sophomore tailback Leon Clark.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Willamette. A win by Whitworth wouldn’t be much of an upset after already proving able to hang close against teams like Hardin-Simmons (in its Week 1 prime) and Redlands. If Whitworth can play 60 minutes of football, as opposed to the 30 on/30 off that has emerged at other points this year, then they will have a shot at winning and gain some momentum heading into the Linfield game.
Keith’s take: No. 17 UW-La Crosse. Honestly, there aren’t many top 25 teams I think are in trouble this week, but UW-Oshkosh is two points from being unbeaten, and the ride on the Eagles’ bandwagon is herky-jerky. Plus, it’s the WIAC.
Pat’s take: No. 6 St. John’s. Not that anyone has really had St. John’s number, but Saturday’s opponent, Bethel has won the past three meetings, including 14-9 last season at home. They’re far apart on the national radar, though perhaps not deservedly, as Bethel is 3-1, with its only loss at home to Wheaton (Ill.) on a touchdown on the final play of the game. How much distance there is between Wheaton and UW-Eau Claire (which had a shot to tie St. John’s on the road on the final play of regulation) is debatable.
They’ll be on your radar
Ryan’s take: Hope. The Dutchmen are 0-4 against teams that are a combined 11-1, including an overtime loss against a WIAC team and last week’s valiant stand against No. 4 Wheaton. If not too battered and beaten, I want to see how this tough schedule benefits them once they play good teams closer to home, as in this week against Trine. Hope has a chance to make its effort pay off en route to the MIAA’s automatic qualifier.
Keith’s take: DePauw. There are so many games to keep an eye on this week, from Johns Hopkins-Muhlenberg to Williams-Trinity to Mississippi College-Louisiana College. But Millsaps-DePauw is most intriguing because I still don’t quite know what to make of the Tigers. Was their loss to Centre because the Colonels are that good? Was the three points scored last week because of the sloppy weather? Is DePauw any good if quarterback Spud Dick’s concussions return?
Pat’s take: RPI. Though the Engineers are more than a little bit overexposed in the coaches’ poll, they would be worthy of at least getting some votes in the Top 25 with a win at home on Saturday against Rochester.
Which of the nation’s surprise undefeated teams has the most interesting matchup on Saturday?
Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney (facing Bridgewater). I realize that some people may not be surprised that the Tigers are 4-0, but I’ll â€˜fess up to believing that there was a good chance they’d start the season 0-2, namely after the loss to graduation of their leading rusher and receiver. I certainly wasn’t thinking they’d have already put up 183 points this year. But with the ODAC overall showing less dominance than in years past, H-SC’s game against 3-1 Bridgewater becomes all the more important as the top teams vie to separate themselves. The Eagles themselves have put up 131 points against opponents. Both teams have relatively balanced defenses to make this a battle.
Keith’s take: Lebanon Valley (facing Delaware Valley). The Flying Dutchmen will likely move into the top 25 for the first time in 10-plus seasons of D3football.com if they can keep their hot start going at home against the Aggies this week. And if not now, a visit to Wilkes (currently 3-0, but facing 3-0 Albright) follows.
Pat’s take: The College of New Jersey (facing Kean). Kean is 2-1 against a much tougher schedule, while unbeaten TCNJ hasn’t shown it can stop anyone on defense. TCNJ will be playing its first road game. What will the 57.3 points per game TCNJ scored against Buffalo State, FDU-Florham and Morrisville State translate to at Kean?
Around the Nation this week talked about turnarounds, and three ‘08 playoff teams have just one win so far this season. Which still has the best shot at a turnaround?
Ryan’s take: LaGrange, with a maybe. Hobart and Lycoming clearly have tough stretches ahead of them, and I don’t know that there’s any reason to think there will be a grand turnaround from either of them. LaGrange, however, has been bounced around by Wesley and Maryville, yet the Panthers do have a couple of winnable games left to play.
Keith’s take: Lycoming. This is AQ 101. Hobart’s 1-2 start includes a Liberty League loss at Susquehanna, while LaGrange, in Pool B, isn’t going back to the playoffs with three losses. But Lycoming’s 1-2 start doesn’t involve any MAC games, so it still determines its own playoff fate, and there’s no better turnaround (or reason to stay motivated) than to return to the postseason.
Pat’s take: Hobart. The Statesmen have played a couple of pretty decent opponents to take those two early losses. Turn all the way back around into a playoff spot? Probably not. But maybe 6-3 is possible. They may find themselves kicking themselves for not playing Alfred on their mutual open date, because it could be as close to a tenth game as Hobart gets this season.
What will be the final score of the somewhat deflated matchup between Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons?
Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 35, Hardin-Simmons 10. Even if this game were to be played later in the season, I don’t know that I’d pick a much different outcome.
Keith’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 42, Hardin-Simmons 28. I hate to even take a crack at this one. The Cowboys lost, 20-18, in the regular season last year and 38-35 in the playoffs, and 47-14 the regular season before. And since Hardin-Simmons has injury, and likely confidence, issues after its 1-3 start, it’s difficult to determine which band of Cowboys will take the field.
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 48, Hardin-Simmons 24. I expect HSU to get a few points on the board, but not many. Regardless, it’s likely to be more competitive than the game I’ll be at at that time: Baldwin-Wallace at Mount Union.