Week 4 marks the debut of the remaining Division III teams — those from the NESCAC. After this week, every one of the 238 teams we cover will have game time in the bank.
But while some teams are taking the field for the first times, in other parts of the country, squads are setting up for some pretty big showdowns, and they go beyond the purview of the Top 25.
Three D-III minds – Pat’s, Keith’s and mine — help make sense of what’s in store.
– Ryan Tipps
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 Hardin-Simmons at No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor. There’s so much to pick from this week, but I have to go with this battle in the heart of Texas because on my Top 25 ballot, I have these two teams flipped around. Especially coming off of a trouncing of another top-ranked team last weekend, it’s hard not to be excited about what HSU brings to the table. The offense is operating as if Justin Feaster and ZaVious Robbins never missed a year. UMHB is good, too, but if the Crusaders get in the unenviable position of falling behind early (which can happen against a team like the Cowboys, which hits hardest in quarters 1 and 2), UMHB won’t have the tools to claw back by the end of 60 minutes.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Central at No. 9 Coe. Must. Stay. Home. Too. Many. Good Games. This is the closest of the great games to me but if I drove four hours (or so) each way to Iowa I would miss being able to follow all of the other good ones. Hoping to set up both screens and see this Wittenberg-Allegheny game on Fox College Sports-Central. Do I get that with the sports pack on DirecTV? Central has a habit of pulling out great games late but Coe has to know that because it played practically nobody in the non-conference schedule, it needs to win this to have a real playoff shot.
Keith’s take: No. 17 UW-Eau Claire at No. 11 North Central. I’m in agreement with Ryan, that Hardin-Simmons looks dangerous, and with Pat that there are more good games than one can watch this Saturday. And since they chose first, that leaves me Blugolds at Cardinals for my GOTW. But it’s worthy, not only as the week’s third clash of top 25s, but as one of the last big inter-conference clashes of 2010 until the playoffs in November. So can we try to extrapolate some meaning from it, with CCIW teams off to a 19-2 start, and the WIAC at just 5-9 but having played No. 2 Mount Union, No. 4 St. Thomas, No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor, No. 7 Central, No. 10 Ohio Northern, No. 11, No. 14 Trine, No. 15 Willamette, No. 18 St. John’s and No. 22 Wheaton? Honestly, it’s hard to say. It might just be about how the Blugolds rush offense (175 yards per game so far) deals with the Cardinals’ run D (36/game). It’s North Central’s first big test, if nothing else.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Dickinson at McDaniel. Most years, you’d expect Dickinson to be the top dog in this fight, but 2010 brings a twist with McDaniel being undefeated and Dickinson currently winless. The Red Devils don’t boast any of the obvious strengths they’ve held in the past, but they’re not likely to play into the hands of the Green Terror’s conference-leading run defense. Dickinson can throw the ball well, which means they will still be an offensive threat late in the game, no matter what the scoreboard is showing.
Pat’s take: Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. W&J hasn’t shown much of late and the scuttlebutt might be that Thomas More has left them in the dust, but there’s still a lot of pride left in this program and this is a chance to make a splash again and return to relevancy on the national scene. Three losses in six games isn’t Presidents football.
Keith’s take: Lewis & Clark at Whitworth. Coming off a 63-point Saturday against Pomona-Pitzer, the Pioneers’ confidence might be the highest its been since we I can remember. L&C features the the nation’s sixth-most productive rushing attack at 330 yards per game, with both Joevonte Mayes and Keith Welch averaging more than 130 per. But doing it against a pair of mid-level SCIAC teams isn’t like winning in the NWC. ‘Surprisingly close’ might just mean another touchdown closer than the last three (48-7 in ’07, then 42-7 and 34-7 last year), but when coming from the depths the Pioneers have seen, any step forward is progress.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None. This might be the first time ever that I’ve said “none” to this question. Aside from the game in Texas I already mentioned up top, I don’t see any teams losing to a lower-slotted opponent this weekend.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Alfred. Springfield has just been too efficient on offense this season and only one game is against an opponent from a bottom-feeding conference. The fact that Springfield took it to Wilkes last week (566 yards, 90 carries) gives the offense a legitimate performance against a representative Division III team. Alfred isn’t in for a rude awakening, because it knows what it’s getting into, but this first salvo in the war for the top of the Empire 8 is going to shuffle the Top 25 a bit.
Keith’s take: No. 12 Thomas More. Even with six teams playing each other in what would be slight upsets at best, and with Montclair State-Morrisville State, Linfield-La Verne and Mount Union-Wilmington on the docket, there are still some distinct possibilities. Chicago might not be a pushover for Wabash, and Allegheny could be the toughest opponent Wittenberg sees until November. Capital could do a number on Wesley. But football, and the pride its players have, is funny sometimes. Just as we start to hand over ‘dominant team in the PAC’ status from Washington & Jefferson to Thomas More, the Presidents could summon an effort that throws it all into doubt again.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Denison. On the standings list, here’s this little undefeated team sandwiched between the NCAC’s power W’s. The Big Red have struggled to land just two winning seasons in the past decade, but here they are, 3-0 and facing a Case team that’s been surprisingly impressive despite the holes left by graduations. I’ll be looking at Denison much in the same way I did with McMurry last week: I’m not expecting a win, but a strong showing will go a long way toward seeing how much this once-lower-rung NCAC team has risen.
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. When I saw this team play last year, I thought they looked good … probably for this year. So far that’s been true, as they’re the country’s No. 4 scoring offense (49 points is their low game during the 3-0 start). Hobart (2-0) is averaging 36.5 points and five sacks a game, and this marks a test stronger than any the Cardinals have had this season. With a win, SJF could shoot into the top 25.
Pat’s take: Salisbury. This team should already be on your radar, but Hampden-Sydney will be the highest-profile team the unbeaten Sea Gulls have taken on. It might be tempting to think that Salisbury won’t be ready for a close game after beating Christopher Newport by 48 and Husson by, yes, 77, but the Sea Gulls also beat North Carolina Wesleyan 13-7 to open the season. The defense came up with two stops inside the Sea Gulls 25 in the final four minutes to seal the deal. More than 278 total yards will be needed this week, however.
In a game between winless teams, pick a winner in one of them.
Ryan’s take: Hope, against Lakeland Not since 2005 has Hope won a nonconference game. I thought that the Dutchmen were going to get the nonconference monkey off their back in Week 2. I was wrong. If they fall short on Saturday, they’re likely left with another 11 months before the opportunity arises again.
Pat’s take: Anna Maria, against Becker. Neither team’s resume gives it a clear advantage over the other, but I’m picking the Amcats not because of their nickname (AMCAT = Anna Maria College Athletic Team) but because this program is still in search of its first win. Becker wasn’t on the schedule last year, so there’s no history to draw from.
Keith’s take: Thiel, against St. Vincent. It’s been a rough week for the Tomcats, first with the death of freshman defensive end Louis Giuntini, and much less importantly, with a Pittsburgh news organization wondering if they’d lose to their No. 1-ranked high school team. Later in Triple Take we look at situations where a team could lose focus; Thiel’s rough week might have sharpened theirs. It’s not hard to give it all in practice with such a stark reminder that you’re lucky to be playing; I’d go Thiel this week even if the opponent weren’t the Bobcats, 1-31 since reviving football. Both SVU losses are by five, while Thiel’s gained just 183 yards per game (216th of 226 teams recognized in the national stats and with games played) and scored 4.33 points per (224th), so without the emotional factor, it’d be wise to have picked the other way.
As the NESCAC debuts, which game from there are you most looking forward to?
Ryan’s take: Wesleyan at Middlebury. Mostly I’m looking to see how Middlebury quarterback Donald McKillop responds on the field to having lost to graduation three of his five favorite throwing targets. With the ground game missing a key element, too, McKillop will have to lead his team against an opponent it hasn’t faced since 2007.
Pat’s take: Wesleyan at Middlebury. But I’m interested for a different reason, wondering what the first game in the Mike Whalen era is like. The successful Williams coach returned to his alma mater this offseason.
Keith’s take: Colby at Trinity (Conn.) Amherst, as defending champions returning 15 starters, is the team I’m most curious about, but opening up with Bates (1-7, last place last season) won’t tell us much. The White Mules (14 back) and Bantams (15) are among the teams which could push to finish in the NESCAC’s top half, with Trinity among the three traditional challengers.
What team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Endicott. The Gulls are staring down Curry in two weeks, but first they have to line up against 1-2 Salve Regina on Saturday. The Gulls are coming off a 42-point margin win last week, so bottom line will be adjusting to a Salve Regina team that has given up an average of just 12 points per game all year. But the Seahawks’ secondary will be playing on its heels all day against Endicott’s pass game, and a few breaks one way or another could leave the favored Gulls in trouble.
Pat’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas. Coach-speak is all well and good but let’s be honest: After the frustrations of the past two seasons for St. Thomas against archrival St. John’s, what Tommie doesn’t at least have the Oct. 2 date with the Johnnies mentally circled, if not actually physically marked on some form of calendar? This week’s game against Concordia-Moorhead is the definition of a trap game. Oh, and I said this last year too. But it’s still the case.
Keith’s take: No. 22 Wheaton. With a CCIW clash against No. 21 Illinois Wesleyan (off this week) looming, it could be difficult for the Thunder to take Olivet seriously, even under the lights in Michigan. Coaches preach against it, but it absolutely happens.
So, how about your thoughts on this week’s games? What’s most interesting about your team’s game? Give us a comment below.