After last week, the Top 25 got an overhaul as a handful of undefeated teams fell. To top it off, there’s been a lot of shuffling in some of the conferences across the country. The Iowa Conference, Empire 8, the USA South, the Old Dominion — all have featured significant changes in just a week’s time.
The playoff picture in those areas may have gotten a little foggier, if not defied expectations all together.
That’s much of what we do with Triple Take, try to spot the unexpected — a seemingly impossible paradox in and of itself. But there’s a nuance to predictions: finding the statistical mismatch, the key injury, the motivation that could make or break a team. In Week 7, much happened to defy expectations and create a new way to approach a team.
That’s part of the fun of playing the game every Saturday, isn’t it?
Will the eighth week of the season hold as much drama as the seventh did? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps weigh in.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Lycoming at No. 9 Delaware Valley. Both teams sit as one-loss teams overall yet are undefeated in conference play. And each of their losses comes against quality opponents, the Aggies especially being just 3:29 from beating Wesley. We all expected DelVal to have a prime year, but Lycoming is somewhat of a surprise. Going now into Week 8, no one takes any team for granted, and Lycoming has rolled through the past six games, sometimes winning by 20-, 30- or even 50-point margins. Both teams have been impressive all year, and the winner on Saturday has the inside track to a game on Nov. 20.
Pat’s take: No. 19 St. John Fisher at Alfred. No longer a battle of unbeatens, but it is a battle of Empire 8 unbeatens. The winner stays on the shortest path to the Empire 8 title, but only St. John Fisher can have aspirations of getting a No. 1 seed and keeping Mount Union away until the national semifinals.
Keith’s take: No. 12 Linfield at No. 22 Pacific Lutheran. So rarely do you go third and get the two best choices. Between No. 20 Bethel at No. 4 St. Thomas and Linfield-PLU, I can’t go wrong. I took the NWC clash because there, the lower-ranked team at least has home-field advantage, and because Linfield has a loss and needs to win to stay on track for the automatic bid, or become a team that went from last year’s final four to probably out of this year’s 32. The Wildcats feature the nation’s fifth most prolific offense, but it’s the defense that’s begun to stand out. Since giving up 47 to Cal Lutheran, the team’s given up 38 in four games, and not all of that has come against the first team. Senior Eric Hedin has 10 sacks in five games, and will get after Jordan Rassmussen and the PLU offense.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury at Union. Chalk this up more to a feeling than anything else, but Union’s schedule has not been an easy one and yet they’re still able to get a couple scores on the board each week. If the Dutchmen want to stay in this game, it will have to be because of the offense. Union hasn’t done particularly well this season against running teams — and Salisbury is just about the mother of all run teams. If Union finds its groove on offense, this could be a high-scoring affair.
Pat’s take: Carthage at No. 17 Wheaton. Carthage has lost two games, both to CCIW opponents, by the score of 43-8 and 43-16. Counting on a little better performance and some learning curve for the Red Men.
Keith’s take: Rochester at WPI. The nation’s top 15 defenses read like a who’s who of the top 25, with 10th-best defense William Paterson (4-2), No. 13 WPI (3-3) and No. 14 Aurora (4-2) not fitting the group. Rochester, while strangely giving up nearly the same number of points (48) to Merchant Marine as it did to St. John Fisher (49), allowed an average of 15.6 to Case Western Reserve, Union and RPI. And that’s good because the Yellowjackets are 216th in scoring at 12.8 points per game. Against WPI’s defense, that number might not improve, but the Engineers’ offense (185th nationally at 281.5 yards per game) isn’t a juggernaut either. Short story long, this could be surprisingly close by being unsurprisingly low scoring.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 6 North Central. The Cardinals have a ton of offensive weapons at their disposal, so a win here for Illinois Wesleyan wouldn’t be easy. But the Titans are coming off a victory against a solid Elmhurst team and should be carrying some momentum into this game. IWU will need to ask for more from its defense — more from Ryan Gresko and the rest of the linebackers and more from the secondary to stop any big plays from happening. With just one in-conference loss, IWU is still in the playoff hunt. But North Central has plenty on its mind, too: A No. 1 seed in the postseason isn’t out of the question.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Thomas More. Alright, it seems unlikely on the face of it, no doubt. Bethany has scored 40 points in each of the past two games and is playing at home. Who knows, perhaps freshman quarterback Matt Grimard won’t know enough to be intimidated, or will simply play the game of his life.
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wittenberg. I don’t know that any of the big clashes, in the CCIW, MAC, MIAC or NWC, will end in upsets. Carnegie Mellon (4-2) is an interesting opponent for the the 7-0 Tigers, though, because it’s had two weeks to prepare, when it’s really Wittenberg that could use the extra week to work on stopping the Wing-T. The Tartans (261 yards/game) are the nation’s No. 12 rush offense, but the Tigers are the No. 8 rush defense (59 yards/game). The UAA-NCAC scheduling agreement gives these two teams as many common opponents as conference rivals would have, and while the comparative scores are inconclusive, it could mean the CMU coaching staff is able to glean some insight from one of them.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: DePauw. The undefeated Tigers are a team I’ve been watching closely all season. But this week, they merit special mention in this category because, with a win against Trinity, DePauw would become the first team in the country to clinch an automatic bid to the playoffs. DPU is the only SCAC team undefeated in conference play. And after the Trinity game, the only conference opponent left that counts toward the AQ is Austin, which already has two losses. Until last season, DPU had never beaten Trinity. Raising the stakes on Saturday is that DPU will have to play their SCAC rival on the road.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Pacific Lutheran. And that’s because win or lose, the Lutes are playoff contenders. Win, of course, and Pacific Lutheran puts Linfield out of control of its own destiny, having to hope for a three-way tie in the NWC (wherein Willamette beats Pacific Lutheran in Week 11) or an upset.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Bethel. If you aren’t in MIAC country, chances are you can’t name two Royals players, because St. Thomas and St. John’s have absorbed all the spotlight. Bethel’s got a suffocating defense that is No. 1 in the nation against the run (33.5 yards per game) and No. 9 overall, and hasn’t given up more than 20 points in a game. The Royals, behind the one player you would have heard of if you’ve been following for long enough, in Logan Flannery (125.8 yards/game), has a potent rushing attack. St. Thomas is similarly dominating, and that’s been well documented. If Bethel performs on Saturday, they’ll be able to sign their names to the nationally recognized register as well.
Which unlikely conference leader is most likely to pick up a loss?
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg. The Mules have been an impressive surprise this year despite starting with a loss to Delaware Valley. Sophomore Terrence Dandridge has really stepped into the spotlight and made the Mules one of the best rushing teams in the Centennial. But this week, they face a potent passing attack from John Harrison and Franklin and Marshall. Muhlenberg did reasonably well earlier in the season against the strong passing game Johns Hopkins offered, but F&M’s attach can really sizzle when it gets going. Perhaps the question is whether we’ll see the solid F&M offense that showed up against Dickinson or the one that showed up last week against Moravian, where balance was lacking.
Pat’s take: Plymouth State. The Plymouth State game is the first of two games in a row that Western New England will have to win to clinch itself a bid in the NEFC title game. Western New England lost its opening game to Norwich but has been on a roll since, while Plymouth State has been winning with defense.
Keith’s take: Shenandoah. The trip to Ferrum is nothing easy for the Hornets, and trips to the end zone have not been either. At No. 213 in total offense and 190th in scoring offense (16.5 points per game), Shenandoah — like the other 2-4 teams tied with Averett and N.C. Wesleyan atop the USAC — doesn’t fit the profile of a conference co-leader. (Speaking of leaders, as far as unlikely ones, there aren’t many; St. Lawrence [vs. RPI], maybe Benedictine [vs. Maranatha Baptist], but nationally it’s mostly the usual suspects at the top of conferences)
Which team this week will least resemble last week’s performance?
Ryan’s take: RPI. RPI had the best quarter of its year last week, racking up 24 points against Alfred in the first 15 minutes of play. The other 45 minutes resembled the RPI most probably expected to play in that game. I think that’s where they will pick up against Liberty League leader St. Lawrence this week.
Pat’s take: Westminster (Pa.). The Titans will be hosting their first-ever on-campus night game on Saturday, and are playing Thiel to do so. Now, Thiel’s president this week curiously threw down the gantlet and said the following in an e-mail to the student body: “Many of you don’t know this, but Westminster had the nerve to schedule Thiel College for their first ever night game under the new lights at their home football stadium. As you know I am a very competitive person. I don’t want teams scheduling us for their first competitions under new lights, on a new field or court, or anything else like that. Those games are supposed to be scheduled against teams you can beat.” In calling out his school’s PAC rival, he cast a very interesting spotlight on his team, which hasn’t scored more than seven points in a game all year, while allowing an average of just under 30. Westminster lost at Waynesburg last week, 24-23. This will not resemble that. This is a team Westminster can beat.
Keith’s take: Randolph-Macon. It’s back to the life of unranked and off the radar for the Yellow Jackets after a flirtation with the top 20. They’ve got a get-right game against 0-6 Guilford, which has allowed 55.5 points per ODAC game so far, but R-MC also won’t resemble the team that started 6-0 if quarterback Austin Faulkner isn’t back at full strength.
What team with two or more losses is worth watching?
Ryan’s take: Carnegie Mellon. The Tartans have a chance to break out of the .500 streak they’ve been trapped in each of the past two seasons. And this week they’ll line up against Wittenberg, which will test the CMU run game unlike any game to date. The Tartans have a lot of rushers at their disposal, so being able to rotate carries could keep the players fresh against that stout Tigers defense.
Pat’s take: Lewis and Clark. Worth watching in the first place because the team has been putting up points like crazy the past two seasons. On Saturday the Pioneers have a good chance to win a second Northwest Conference game for the first time since 1997. And lest you say that the only reason L&C is in this position is because Pacific added football, I would point out that L&C also beat Menlo in Week 6, and that would have counted last year.
Keith’s take: McMurry. Hal Mumme is working his magic, and the 5-2 _______s (7-letter mascot, not starting with I- or ending with -ndians) are the nation’s most prolific passing offense, behind Jake Mullin and his 34-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. With at least four TD passes and at least 31 points all but once, “worth watching” does not seem to be a problem.