There are nine undefeated teams still outside of the Top 25. That will change this week as we get to more pairing off in conference play, particularly in the OAC and IIAC.
But as teams look forward to the playoffs, they also have to find ways to stay in the moment. Teams can get caught looking ahead, and midseason is when players’ bumps, bruises and other injuries begin to take their toll, especially on squads that lack depth. Last week, we saw how injuries can help derail teams that appeared to be on track to the postseason.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps go over a few teams that will bring the hurt on Saturday, while spotlighting some of the country’s biggest contests.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Baldwin-Wallace at No. 13 Ohio Northern. We usually count Mount Union as getting the automatic qualifier in the OAC. But what about the other nine teams in the conference? I appreciate history, and history suggests that the OAC will get a second team into the playoffs. In fact, over the past decade, the conference has fielded a second team all but three times. Right now, B-W and ONU are the clear front-runners for that spot, so playoff gold will be on the line come Saturday.
Pat’s take: Wartburg at No. 6 Coe. Wartburg has been sitting outside the Top 25 for too long, and admittedly, I could find a higher spot for the Knights on my ballot. This weekend provides for the distinct possibility that Wartburg could move up in our poll with a close loss. The dissenting view would point out that after the season-opening win against Monmouth, Wartburg has faced Gustavus Adolphus, Cornell, Loras and Buena Vista, not the strong part of its schedule. Coe and Wartburg have no common opponents so far to make the comparison easier.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Cortland State at Rowan. The Red Dragons lead the nation in scoring defense (19 points allowed, or 3.80 per game; They haven’t given up a point since Buffalo State’s third-quarter touchdown on Sept. 18.) and are second to NJAC rival Montclair State in total defense (194.60 yards per game). To stay on track for the all-red defensive showdown in Week 9 (Oct. 30), Cortland needs to eliminate the only other remaining threat to the conference throne in the Profs. Rowan has settled on quarterback Tim Hagerty but hasn’t found its way offensively, averaging just 17.60 points per game despite rushing for 205 yards a contest. The Profs aren’t bad defensively, surrendering a shade over 14 points per game, so long drives should be tough to come by for either side, and the game could be swayed by a fluke turnover or a special teams score.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Adrian at DePauw. DePauw might be undefeated, but Adrian has been down this road before — they’ve already squared off against UW-Whitewater and Trine this season. So let’s take any intimidation factor off the table right now. Adrian is not a running team, clearly, but against a rush defense like DePauw’s, that’s probably for the best. What Adrian can do is air out the ball, and a few big plays here and there could present some big problems for the Tigers’ secondary.
Pat’s take: Oberlin at Wabash. Actually, I’m not even sure who to favor, except that Wabash is at home which would give them a bit of an edge. But from a name perspective, this game is likely to produce a score that 12 months ago would make you sure it was posted incorrectly.
Keith’s take: St. Vincent at No. 11 Thomas More. Because the Bearcats are just 1-4 and haven’t developed into a consistent winner so far in the program’s revival, folks outside the PAC might not have taken note of the improvement. Three of St. Vincent’s losses have come by five points or fewer, and all have come against teams .500 or better. In last week’s 31-20 loss to the other PAC power, Washington & Jefferson, St. Vincent fell behind 17-0 but didn’t let the game get away, making the score 24-14 in the second half. Thomas More poses quite the challenge, as the measuring stick for PAC teams these days, and we’ll likely see another mark of progress for the Bearcats.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Randolph-Macon. I don’t see a lot of potential for upsets outside of the Game of the Week contests that we’ve already addressed. And I’m not saying here that Macon is flawed, but in going up against Washington and Lee, we do have a nice comparison in Emory and Henry to use. E&H played each team in the past two weeks and was beaten by at least two scores each time. What’s caught my attention though, is how many points W&L has been putting up. The team’s wins this season have come on 48-, 55- and 45-point performances. R-MC should win this one, but W&L could sneak up if the Yellow Jackets aren’t on their game.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Cortland State. The distance between Cortland State and opponent Rowan is probably not very significant. Rowan struggled on offense earlier in the season but has rebounded with Hagerty taking over the starting quarterback spot.
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater. Okay, so they’re technically the least likely top 25 team to be upset, but if it’s going to happen before the Stagg Bowl, this Saturday is likely as any. UW-Eau Claire is 3-2 and doesn’t stand out statistically, but they’ve played St. John’s, No. 7 North Central and UW-Stevens Point already, so they’ve proven they can stand up with top Division III talent. If the Blugolds can hang close to the almighty Warhawks, they might fare well; UW-EC beat the Johnnies and Pointers in overtime. Plus, the state’s pride, the Badgers, kick off later in the evening, which means any football fan near Eau Claire can come out to Carson Park to give the Blugolds a raucous home atmosphere.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: McDaniel. Over each of the past four weeks, Green Terror defenders have been honored by the conference. And rightfully so. McDaniel opponents average only about 13 points a game this season. All will be on display when the team faces its 4-1 conference bedfellow, Muhlenberg. Both teams are trying to regain their peak, but McDaniel has been enduring a much longer climb to get there.
Pat’s take: Ursinus. See Wartburg above. This is a no-room-at-the-inn exclusion from the Top 25 as well, in my opinion. Perhaps beating Johns Hopkins will get the Bears on enough voters’ radar.
Keith’s take: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Stags are one of the nine unbeaten teams mentioned frequently in this post, and their four wins are Lewis & Clark, first-year Pacific, La Verne and Chapman. SCIAC power Redlands is the stiffest test to date, but CMS has mixed and matched with Patrick Rooney, Peter Kimney, Spencer Clark and Alex Wheatley to rush for nearly 250 yards per game, and if they can pull off a victory against the Bulldogs, nationally we’ll start to take notice.
Which team will we have to start taking seriously?
Ryan’s take: Lycoming. With perennial MAC star Delaware Valley looking good, lots of preseason hype around Lebanon Valley and the not-so-distant playoff past of Albright, the Warriors seemed to duck under the radar for the first six weeks. But now they’re coming off a 50-point walloping of Albright and standing at 4-1, their only loss to a tough Rowan team. With Widener and DelVal games over the next two weeks, we’ll see exactly what Lycoming is made of.
Pat’s take: Salisbury. The Sea Gulls lost their showdown with Hampden-Sydney three weeks ago — barely — but they’re not out of the Pool B race by any stretch, especially considering they have a head-to-head shot with Wesley later. First things first, though, including this week’s home game against Huntingdon.
Keith’s take: The Elmhurst/Illinois Wesleyan winner, and Carthage. Rarely do we discuss defending conference champs as teams we’re not certain about this far into the season, but IWU has underwhelmed while going 4-1, which is the same record both the Bluejays and Redmen have. IWU (29-19) and Elmhurst (27-24) lost to Wheaton, and Carthage (43-8) lost to North Central. But all of these teams can stay in the CCIW hunt with wins on Saturday, Elmhurst or IWU against one another, and Carthage against Augustana. And the CCIW is known for its frequent three-way tie scenarios and sending two teams to the field of 32.
Which team will be affected the most by injury?
Ryan’s take: Wabash. The Little Giants drew their first loss of the season after starting quarterback Chase Belton left midway through last Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. The sophomore signal-caller who went 9-12 that day was replaced by Tyler Burke, who managed only 11 for 19 the rest of the game. What makes this particularly stinging isn’t just Belton’s injury but the fact that this is compounded upon other wounds in the skill positions to wideouts Kody LeMond and Wes Chamblee. As of Thursday, Belton is still not cleared to play. A resurging Oberlin team is in town Saturday, and then three even tougher games are right around the corner for Wabash.
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater. The Wisconsin State Journal report regarding the status of running backs Levell Coppage and Booker Stanley gives pause. That still leaves Antwan Anderson — you remember him, he rushed for 1,213 yards in 2008 — but that’s not the same as having three guys who could rush for 100 yards at the drop of a hat.
Keith’s take: No. 2 Mount Union. The Purple Raiders have D-III’s most dynamic talent in wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (3,938 career receiving yards @UMU) and perhaps its most prolific Twitter user (7,493 @CShorts10). Bothered by a foot injury that cost him part of last week’s game against Marietta, Shorts tweeted midweek that his boot “had to go.” Mount Union, which hosts Heidelberg, might not be affected in the win-loss column, but you can bet the loss of Shorts changes what they do offensively.
How many undefeated teams will be outside the Top 25 after Saturday?
Ryan’s take: Six. I could see two of those teams taking headers: an Adrian upset at DePauw and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps falling to Redlands. And factor in a Baldwin-Wallace loss to Ohio Northern. I also reserve the right to leave on the table any other combination that results in six remaining.
Pat’s take: Four. Well, I see that we have 19 unbeatens in the poll so far and nine out of the poll. We’re guaranteed to lose one unbeaten because Wartburg and Coe face off. Some of our unranked unbeatens aren’t going to make the poll no matter what. I count four additional unbeatens who could lose, one in the poll, and will bank on one moving into the Top 25. But this is still a guess.
Keith’s take: Six. Here are the nine: Wartburg (first team outside the top 25 in also receiving votes), Case Western Reserve (third), Baldwin-Wallace (fourth), Ursinus (sixth), DePauw (seventh), Amherst (11th) and Williams, SUNY-Maritime and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps not receiving any votes. Two factors are at work; how many teams will stay unbeaten, and how many move into the top 25 with wins? Safe bets are on CMS losing to Redlands, and either Wartburg losing to Coe or B-W to ONU. So I say seven of nine stay unbeaten, but only Wartburg or B-W are close enough to move in and playing an opponent that will make voters shake up their order. And there aren’t many top 25 teams facing ultra-tough challenges this week, so not many poll spots will open up. One moves in, and two lose, leaving six.