“Long” as in a long season is ahead of us, and we’re just getting started.
And we’re willing to bet that most of you have been looking forward to this moment for eight months or more. We hope that our publication, Kickoff 2011, gave you your “football fix” over the past several days. (If not, there’s still time to buy it and get an insider’s look at all 239 teams.)
From now until the Stagg Bowl, Triple Take will be a weekly forecast for the Saturday ahead. Three members of the D3football.com staff — Executive Editor Pat Coleman, Managing Editor and National Columnist Keith McMillan and Senior Editor and Mid-Atlantic Columnist Ryan Tipps — will go through a series of questions to help readers gauge what to expect on game day. We’re thinking aloud, of sorts. And in many cases, we’ll take you beyond the Top 25 teams and perhaps highlight some sleepers that weren’t otherwise on your radar.
For Week 1, here are some of the most interesting matchups nationwide:
Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 10 Coe at No. 16 Hardin-Simmons. Two of the best teams from two of the best conferences in the country. That should say a lot right there. But truth be told, Coe should be near unstoppable most of this season. Any team in the country would be envious to have the kind of returning players that the Kohawks have, and with some gaps for HSU to fill (superstars at quarterback and wideout are gone), this is Coe’s game to lose.
Pat’s take: Trinity Bible at Presentation. It’s not going to be a particularly pretty game, this we know, but it will be the first Division III home game in South Dakota and Presentation might well start its football life off 1-0.
Keith’s take: No. 4 North Central at Redlands. Remember that the Bulldogs were 8-1 last year, a record that almost always gets a team in the playoffs. There are 18 starters back from that squad, though longtime quarterback Dan Selway is not one of them. Likewise, the heart of North Central’s third-best-in-the-nation defense from last year, linebacker Matt Wenger, is gone. But 15 Cardinals starters return. So we’ve got two loaded teams, and the favorite has to travel 1,750 miles from the Chicago area to the L.A. area – flights are rare for D-III teams – for a 7 p.m. PDT kickoff under the lights at Ted Runner Stadium. Heck yeah it’s a game of the week!
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: N.C. Wesleyan at No. 14 Ohio Northern. In their short history, the Bishops have been known for taking on some of the best teams they can get their hands on in non-conference play: Wesley, Hampden-Sydney, Salisbury. The list goes on, and in an era when every loss can become a compounded postseason strike against a playoff-worthy team, the Bishops are putting risk ahead of caution. Even after losing some key starters, it’s rare when they don’t come out swinging. ONU, on its end, has long been a top-tier OAC team, but they have to replace an All-Conference quarterback, rusher and receiver. That’s a hard feat to overcome.
Pat’s take: East Texas Baptist at No. 3 Wesley. I’d like to put this in the next category down but Wesley has too many weapons and is too good defensively. The Wolverines faced a dual-threat quarterback from the ASC last season in LiDarral Bailey and bottled him up (86 yards of total offense). Sed Harris seems to be a similar threat. The only question is if Shane McSweeny, who is returning from injury, can’t connect with a new receiving corps. Justin Sottilare, who led the Wesley offense to the national semifinals last year, disappeared from the Wolverines’ roster sometime this week.
Keith’s take: No. 23 UW-Stevens Point at Willamette. The Bearcats scored 33 unanswered in last season’s 33-14 season-opening win in Wisconsin, partially because the Pointers had no answer for Willamette’s Fly offense. UW-SP lost star wide receivers Jared Jenkins and Anthony Aker, and they travel to Oregon. They’re the ranked team, but I’m not sure they should be expected to win. And yet, I doubt there’s another blowout here, because defenses tend to perform much better after players and coaches have had a look at a specialty offense.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Wittenberg. Most of the Tigers’ recent games against Capital were just plain ugly. That’s not to say such a result will happen again this time, but there are some definite kinks to be worked out before they can find success. It’s been more than a decade since Witt beat an OAC team — and working against the Tigers is that they are not the same team that ended 2010.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Rowan. My gut wants me to aim a little higher, such as the No. 14 spot or even the No. 3 spot, but I can’t pull the trigger. This was a close game last year at Rowan and although Rowan certainly got better over the course of the season, Lycoming peaked earlier. But in this battle of two proud programs, I take the team that won the 1998 semifinals in this rematch. One other note: Rowan played just one game on grass all of last year, beating 2-8 Brockport State. And yeah, Ryan, I’ve been to a Capital-Wittenberg game and it wasn’t pretty. But that was a long time ago.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Wartburg. There’s every reason to like the Knights, who were 10-1 last season with a scoring defense and takeaway margin in the top 10 nationally. They beat their Week 1 opponent, Monmouth, 27-7 last year, and the Scots’ star quarterback, Alex Tanney, played the whole game. So as both teams return 18 starters, it doesn’t seem logical to use Tanney’s return as a reason to think the Knights are in danger. And yet I’m going to do it. Tanney got hurt after throwing one pass in Game 2 against Grinnell, and there’s something that burns inside a player to excel when the game is taken away unexpectedly. All five offensive linemen from last year are back to give Tanney time to throw, and he’s as dangerous as any quarterback in Division III. Wartburg lost to St. Norbert in the 2009 opener, so an upset defeat against a top-shelf MWC team is totally foreseeable. If the Knights aren’t on their game Saturday, it’s likely.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Centre. You can bet that the Colonels want to avenge their 1-point loss to Hanover last year. And in a season where they might be the favorites to win the SCAC, it’ll be interesting whether they can start and stay strong through their nine-game schedule.
Pat’s take: UW-La Crosse. My only question is, will it be enough? The Eagles have the pieces to perform admirably against UW-Whitewater in the season opener but must play the Warhawks twice this season and Mary Hardin-Baylor. Throw in UW-Stevens Point and they could be the best 6-4 or 7-3 team in Division III.
Keith’s take: Salve Regina. If you read Kickoff, you might have noticed my unhealthy obsession with the NEFC’s Seahawks. Union comes to Rhode Island for the opener trying to erase memories of a rare bad season (2-7). There’s a bigger NEFC game in Week 1 too (Framingham State at Endicott), but I’m eager to see if in Year 2, the defensive-minded Bob Chesney begins to field a team that can score as well as it can slow others from scoring.
Which Thursday or Friday night game would you like to attend?
Ryan’s take: Baldwin-Wallace at Wooster. I’m sure that the Yellow Jackets would just like to forget that the last two games of 2010 even happened. And here’s their chance. I’ve pegged B-W to be the No. 2 team in the OAC this year, but I also think that Woo has an upset or two in them this fall. It probably won’t happen in Week 1, but down the line, they will sneak up on somebody.
Pat’s take: Dubuque at Augustana. This should be a nice shootout of passing offenses, with the Spartans and Mike Zweifel leading the way. The schools are not that far apart and it’s a Thursday night game, under the lights. If it weren’t a six-hour drive from here I’d go myself, but I’ll settle for live video.
Keith’s take: Adrian at Husson. I’m curious about McMurry, which is transitioning out of D-III, playing at Stephen F. Austin, but I still think I’d rather go see a Michigan-based D-III team play in Maine. There’s something unique when teams who move in different D-III circles get together. I’d appreciate both the travel opportunity and the chance for us D-III nerds to evaluate conferences against one another.
Which 2010 playoff team is going to end up wishing it had a Week 1 bye?
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg. Few things might be more intimidating than starting a season against the big dog of the MAC, Delaware Valley. It’s not an impossible game (the Mules do have players such as All-American linebacker Pat McDonough to prop them up), but most people would probably hitch their wagon to Del Val in this situation.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence. The Saints open with Utica after they lost every non-conference game they played last year, including a 31-13 decision to Utica later in the season, when youth is less of an excuse.
Keith’s take: St. Norbert. I guess this is a cop-out, because of course it isn’t easy to play the No. 5 team in the country out of the gate. I actually applaud the Green Knights for scheduling tough openers, and this isn’t the first time. They’ve won the non-conference game, gone 9-1 and missed the playoffs, then gone 7-3, won the MWC and gotten in. But still, if they lose the opener, they have to hope it prepared them to win the conference, because two-loss teams are always on shaky playoff ground.
Whose long losing streak is likely to end?
Ryan’s take: Guilford’s, against Greensboro. I mentioned this in my Around the Mid-Atlantic column this week, too, but I think that because the Quakers have a new coach, they also have a new reason to be excited. This week’s opponent is crosstown rival Greensboro, and Guilford’s new coach, Chris Rusiewicz, is bringing a fresh, defensive approach to a team that has lost 11 games in a row. Rusiewicz has made several changes on defense and already understands his players’ strengths and weaknesses. He’ll do a good job of playing to the strengths.
Pat’s take: Thiel’s, against Marietta. The Tomcats finally showed some signs of putting things together down the stretch after a dismal beginning to the season that also had an emotional component following the September death of freshman defensive lineman Louis Giuntini. And to those at Frostburg State and who knew and loved Derek Sheely, our condolences.
Keith’s take: Olivet’s, against Cornell. Or maybe I have that backwards. Okay, fine, someone’s long losing streak is ending here; the Comets’ 27-game streak or the Rams’s 11-game streak. Both teams have second-year coaches and most of their starters back, which isn’t always a good thing if you lost all 10 games. It’s impossible to have a read on a team before they’ve played a game. But Olivet’s at home, so I’ll give them the edge.
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