Dan Griffin has rushed for 1,016 yards and 13 scores from his quarterback position for Salisbury. Will Wesley be able to contain the Sea Gulls’ rushing attack?
A one-loss record isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be — at least in the eyes of the NCAA. We’ve seen this week what teams in that category matter most, thanks to the release of the NCAA’s Regional Rankings. And in the ATN Podcast, we’ve heard Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan break down the strength of schedule numbers for a lot of the pack that is hoping to swim in the Pool C waters.
Less than a month before the end of regular-season play, D3football.com has also been able to touch on which four teams the NCAA could build its four brackets around. We’re no longer living in a North/South/East/West mentality. With the shifting of Mount Union and some other changes in recent years, the NCAA has done a much improved job of picking the four top teams (according to their standards) and creating the regions around them.
As was stated in the Podcast, it’s amazing how different the playoff picture can wind up in just these last couple of weeks. Most teams have just three games left to make or break their season.
Pat, Keith and Ryan Tipps have a few things to look out for on Saturday:
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 3 Wesley at Salisbury. These longtime foes will clash for the last time this year in conference play, and, like often, the drama is swirling. Wesley is riding an undefeated streak that includes a win over Delaware Valley as well as over Christopher Newport and Capital, the latter two of which lost some of their luster this season. Salisbury, in turn, has often steamrolled teams this year on the ground (500- and 600-yards rushing hasn’t been uncommon). But have the Gulls been tested? They’ve played just two teams all season that have a winning record, one of those matchups ending in a close loss to Hampden-Sydney. Salisbury needs to perform well on Saturday to show they’re a playoff-worthy team, especially in an environment that has been skeptical of two-loss Pool C teams. And for Wesley? An undefeated season, one notably built around their successful backup quarterback, would go far in seeding consideration.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Montclair State at Cortland State. For Cortland, the big challenges come late in the season, and the Red Dragons have already failed one of them, losing to Rowan. I don’t think it informs us much to compare their games against Rowan — Kenny Brock played quarterback for Rowan against Montclair (and was 7-for-28) while Tim Hagerty took over the starting job after that. Both have had some great defensive performances this season, however. So expect a high-scoring game. That’s how it works, right?
Keith’s take: Montclair State at Cortland State. I could have gone with the other Pool B clash, Norwich at SUNY-Maritime, for variety. And that is probably the third biggest game of the week. But while Wolverines-Gulls and Cadets-Privateers will impact the playoff fortunes of the teams involved, and maybe each other, the NJAC battle has far-reaching consequences. A Montclair State win keeps the Red Hawks on track to be the first East Region team to go unbeaten and earn a No. 1 seed in the playoffs since Wilkes in 2006. A loss opens the door to another team, either Mount Union or Wesley, likely being the center of the easternmost bracket. Plus, Red Hawks-Red Dragons is a matchup of silly-good defenses: Cortland is the national leader in scoring defense (6.43 points per game) and is fifth in yardage (210.86), while Montclair is fourth (8.14) and third (205.57).
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Luther at No. 13 Wartburg. Once Wartburg beat Coe, the Knights were seen as having clear control of the IIAC. I agree with that notion. But Luther is not far behind at 4-3, and could put a kink in this conference race. Wartburg’s defense is stout, but Luther’s offense is balanced just enough that they should be able to move the ball. And perhaps most of all, Wartburg will showdown with Central a week from now and could be in jeopardy of getting caught looking ahead to that game.
Pat’s take: McMurry at No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. I certainly expect a lot of offense in this game. Is 62-45 close? McMurry hasn’t beaten Hardin-Simmons since HSU restarted football — and picture that, by the way, the first-year Cowboys beating the Indians back in the 1990’s.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at DePauw. Because the Panthers are in their fourth season in the transition from Division I, and are yet ineligible for the playoffs or the SCAC title, their 5-2 record has gone largely unrecognized nationally. They rush for 285 yards per game, with a low of 149 against Trinity, and 5.6 per carry. Across the white lines, DePauw may well relax after clinching a playoff spot and find itself in a familiar spot. The Tigers have pulled out wins of five points or fewer against Centre (4-3), Adrian (3-4) and Trinity (3-4), but it’s dangerous living on the edge.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ursinus. Opponent Moravian is one of those teams that has flashes of greatness — but when things on the field start to snowball, they really snowball. The Greyhounds have improved in recent weeks, using a varied ground attack enhanced and complemented by Matt Johnson taking the reins under center. As quarterback, he has put up 788 passing yards in the past four games and will help his team become a real threat to the Bears’ perfect season.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Wesley. No disrespect intended, as always, but the rivalry aspect of this game plays large, plus Salisbury fighting for its playoff life. Salisbury has certainly been on a roll lately, at least, rushing for 420 or more yards in every game since opening day.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Wheaton. It’s not so much a slap at the Thunder, who we’ve already disrespected by including them in Pool C talk before actually losing a game. It’s more a recognition that the CCIW is a week-in, week-out test. Augustana has the nation’s toughest schedule (opponents are 46-19, or .707) by a shade over Ithaca, according to NCAA data. After playing Central and North Central, the teams that handed the 5-2 Vikings their losses, nothing about Wheaton should overwhelm Augustana.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: The first-year starting quarterbacks. Three of the top four most efficient passers in the country are in their first year as starters for their teams. Wittenberg’s Ben Zoeller, UW-Whitewater’s Matt Blanchard and Welsey’s Justin Sottilare are all leading teams that are gunning for playoff runs — and if they repeat last year’s performances, deep playoff runs. Each quarterback has a passer rating of at least 182, and it’s easy to forget how hard it is to lead a team in the spotlight. Witt is on a bye week, but UW-W and Wesley each have arguably their biggest games of the regular season this week. All eyes, including mine, will be on them.
Pat’s take: Chicago. Am I just projecting a Pool B blowup this week? Maybe, but Chicago has had a fine season to date, heading or its best season since 2000. A 17-point loss against comparable opponent Wabash was on the road, at least. Perhaps the magic of Stagg Field will give the Maroons a boost against Case Western Reserve.
Keith’s take: Otterbein. I’m curious, as Pat is, about the UAA. WNEC-Endicott interests me. But I’ll be looking for the Cardinals to show us something against Mount Union; specifically, if reports of the Purple Raiders’ demise are exaggerated. Mount Union has shut out three teams and held two others to single digits. They’ve given up only 7 points at home, but UW-Oshkosh (28) and Marietta (14) earned their totals as hosts. Otterbein is averaging more than 35 points per game.
What team in the NCAA regional rankings is going to make a statement this week?
Ryan’s take: Western New England. In a conference that has long been dominated by the likes of Curry and Plymouth State, the Golden Bears are coming off a week of taking down the second of those two foes. This week, they line up against Endicott, which has just one conference loss and isn’t out of the NEFC Boyd race. Western New England has a shot to improve its strength of schedule and further showcase a defense that has given up more than 10 points only once all season.
Pat’s take: Wartburg. Sorry — with all due respect to my Virginia colleague, I don’t see Luther making it close against Wartburg. Not many teams have been able to score on Wartburg and while I don’t see Luther getting enough to make it close. A big win isn’t going to change this regional ranking but it seems inevitable to me.
Keith’s take: Norwich. At No. 8 in the East Region playing No. 6, there’ll be an opportunity to move up.
Which Pool B contender will need the most help getting into the postseason after this week?
Ryan’s take: SUNY-Maritime. Because of the perceived strength of the ECFC, it’s easy for even the good teams from that conference to slip under the radar for a few weeks. But on Saturday will be the challenge for the top spot when one-loss Norwich takes on undefeated SUNY-Maritime. The winner has a good shot at getting a Pool B bid. However, if the Privateers lose, there will have to be a lot of shake-ups elsewhere (Case Western Reserve dropping a game, Norwich losing in the final two weeks, Wesley falling to Salisbury) for them to appear viable at the table. A loss to Norwich isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. The Cadets are regionally ranked and have some solid wins on their resume: notching itself as Western New England’s only loss or the year and beating St. Lawrence, which is now at the top of the Liberty League. Norwich should have the firmer handle on this game, which means SUNY-Maritime could need to be paying attention to the wider D-III landscape.
Pat’s take: Salisbury. Which is unfortunate, because the Sea Gulls are better than either of the ECFC teams. Even with a win, Salisbury isn’t a lock for the playoffs, but with a loss, Salisbury is definitely hoping for some of those things Ryan mentioned above.
Keith’s take: Salisbury. Taking a second loss could devastate the Gulls in their last non-AQ run before moving to the Empire 8. Their playoff hopes would be virtually none this season with another defeat.
What game slipped under the radar in the East?
Ryan’s take: Middlebury at Trinity (Conn.). Both NESCAC teams have been putting up solid points this year: The Panthers average 24 per game while the Bantams bring home almost 31 a game. Middlebury benefits from its star signal-caller, Donald McKillop, who throws for 331 yards a game. Trinity, on the other hand, creates discord for defenders on the ground, tallying 240 rushing yards a game while holding opponents to just 41 such yards per outing. Expect high scoring and a lot of yardage in Hartford, Conn.
Pat’s take: Widener at Lebanon Valley. Widener’s first-year coach, Isaac Collins, can’t be hearing good things from higher-ups about this season. The Pride have (has?) played a tough schedule but lost all three of those games, 37-0, 31-7 and 31-7. That’s one thing, but last week’s home loss to Albright can’t inspire confidence. Lebanon Valley can’t be very happy with its season either, coming off a near-playoff trip in 2009, but Jim Monos has been through thick and thin with the Flying Dutchmen.
Keith’s take: Union at RPI. Can you believe we got this deep into Triple Take without mentioning The Shoes rivalry? Hard to know what to make of the two teams being down along with the rest of the Liberty League, but I think it enhances the game. There are no second chances this season. No playoffs to alleviate the sting for the loser. Beating a rival might be all either side has to play for.