Tyler Brown helps key a defense that has allowed just 177 yards per game.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo
We’re past the midway point in the season. Many conferences still have nearly half their teams in contention. Races are still wide open, but for the seasoned observer, conclusions are being drawn and expectations are being laid.
Less than one month from now, the final regular season game of 2011 will be played. The time has flown by, hasn’t it? But don’t look too far ahead because there are games right in your backyard that still matter, that still carry excitement and that still could buck your expectations.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you nearly two dozen games to mull over in this week’s Triple Take.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 2 Mount Union at Heidelberg. I know that it’s always a gamble highlighting a regular-season Mount Union game because they so rarely are close enough to warrant this kind of hype. But Heidelberg is having a great year, and the past two weeks’ victories over Capital and Muskingum leave no doubt that they are a team to keep your eye on. Heidelberg is a team that starts fast, playing hard-nosed football on both sides of the ball, especially through the first half. So far this year, the Student Princes have given up nothing more than a field goal in the first quarter. That’s total, folks. And they’ve got a ground man averaging nearly 125 yards a game and a passer throwing for well over 200 a game. It’s the kind of dual offense they need to bring into the Mount Union game this weekend. Couple that attack with a defense that is plus-14 in the turnover ratio, and you’ve got a game that can be competitive.
Keith’s take: No. 18 Salisbury at No. 23 Alfred. Most of the top 25 are playing teams they should beat, but the Empire 8 gauntlet takes weeks to run through. Since a bye week, the Sea Gulls have averaged 67.5 points a game. They rush for 363 yards a game, while the Saxons allow just 98. Alfred’s defense is No. 15 nationally, while Salisbury passes enough to make its offense No. 9 in the country. After Alfred’s 17-3 loss to St. John Fisher, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Salisbury run away with it; then again, this is the Saxons’ chance to dig deep and have people take notice. Otherwise, we look ahead to SJF’s Nov. 5 trip to Maryland’s Eastern shore.
Pat’s take: Centre at Birmingham-Southern. This isn’t the only game either of them needs to win to take the SCAC, but it’s the first blow, with the winner needing to also beat Trinity (Texas) to avoid a three-way split and a tiebreaker situation. Centre hasn’t gotten much credit from our poll, probably because Washington & Lee, the Colonels’ best opponent, is unranked as well, but it’s safe to say they’re in the ballpark for consideration on a few ballots.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Trine at Alma. A 4-1 team vs. a 1-5 is rarely a recipe for a close contest, but Alma this season has gone above and beyond by scheduling some of the toughest teams they could get their hands on. Of those five losses, the three nonconference games were against 4-1 Heidelberg, 5-0 Illinois Wesleyan and 5-1 Washington and Lee. And each was separated by eight points or less. The Thunder, on the other hand, have been winning this year but not by the big comfortable margins they’ve seen in the past couple of seasons. The Scots can put up a lot of yards and points. Expect them to do just that on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Thomas More at St. Vincent. Outside of PAC country, you might think of the Saints as a top-10 program and the Bearcats as the conference pushover. But no longer; St. Vincent (3-2) is six points from being unbeaten, and just knocked off Washington & Jefferson last week. Kendall Owens is the name you know for Thomas More, but they’re getting efficient passing from Rob Kues and rushing contributions from Domonique Hayden, Luke Magness and Landon Savoy. St. Vincent has the PAC’s best rush defense at 104 yards allowed a game; Thomas More (196/game) has the PAC’s top rush offense.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at Gustavus Adolphus. Since convincingly dispatching with its first two opponents, Bethel has had a few results that were puzzling late in the game — a close home game against Carleton, a loss at home to St. Olaf and a game at St. John’s that was close throughout before two late scores. The 1-4 mark for Gustavus (26-21 loss at Wartburg) is certainly deceiving and this won’t be the kind of blowout you picture for a Top 10 team against a one-win opponent.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Johns Hopkins. This is a stretch, though, as not many Top 25 games are looking good this week to call the upset. JHU is lining up against Dickinson, a team that’s coming off a win against a lost-its-luster Franklin and Marshall squad. Still, Dickinson is a team that’s certainly found itself down at times, but it’s rarely out. Turnovers are the potential game-changers here.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Delaware Valley. At 6-0 with three one-score victories, the Aggies might be one of the more fortunate teams in the top 15. They’re young on offense, but have been propped up by the nation’s No. 9 total defense (225 yards/game). Albright, which averaged more than 50 points per game the last three weeks of September to get to 4-0, has been held to 15 points per game in October losses to Lycoming and Lebanon Valley. Common opponents don’t explain much here; the Lions hung 65 on Wilkes and Delaware Valley scored 14. Lebanon Valley lost by 24 at Delaware Valley and won by seven at Albright. If the Lions can rediscover their September offense, there’s upset potential here. One would think going against the MAC’s toughest defense means struggle is ahead, but often knowing the challenge in advance makes for a more attentive, effort-filled week of practice, and teams rise to the occasion.
Pat’s take: No. 25 UW-Oshkosh. The Karner Rules (these are the ones that say a conference opponent can’t take an overnight trip, as opposed to the ones that say two conference teams must play one non-conference game against each other) prohibit a WIAC team from staying overnight for this trip, hence the 2 p.m. local kickoff time. Platteville is no slouch and if healthy, the Pioneers won’t necessarily go all Bo Ryan swing offense on the Titans, but should give them a heck of a game with the upset a distinct possibility. Hey, Saturday is the start of basketball practice. It has to make some sense somewhere.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Baldwin-Wallace. This is a team I had pegged in Kickoff as being the OAC’s No. 2, and that claim will be tested against Ohio Northern. Aside from a somewhat surprising loss against Capital earlier in the year, the Yellow Jackets have been winning — though not by dominating margins. While there are a handful of teams above ONU in the conference standings, toppling the Polar Bears would be as symbolic as it is significant.
Keith’s take: Framingham State. They’ve won three in a row since a 1-2 start to get to 4-2, but they need to win at Maine Maritime to stay on track in the NEFC Bogan division. They’ve got the perfect inspiration: The Mariners rushed for 523 yards on the Rams last year and handed them one of their two losses.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). And I guess this is going to put me at odds with the pick by Ryan Tipps below me but here’s why I make this a split decision: Huntingdon has won two pretty impressive games at home, but going to Trinity is still a different story and has been since 1996. Last year the Tigers lost three games at home and it’s hard to see that happening again, although Trinity ends with Huntingdon, Centre and Birmingham-Southern at home, so it’s not at all unreasonable.
Of the Nos. 26-30 teams, which is most likely to win its way into the Top 25?
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon. The Hawks are already in my Top 25, something I believe they’ve earned after wins over Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg. This week’s opponent is undefeated Trinity (Texas), which has also flirted at times with being on my ballot. A win here will be a huge boost and will be the third time this season that they’ll have dealt a one-loss team that lone blemish.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. It can only be the Hawks making a move this week; handing Trinity its first loss would be a third impressive win (along with Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg). If Birmingham-Southern, the only team to beat the Hawks this season, also lodges a win against unbeaten Centre, there’ll be enough ammo for voters to feel comfortable bumping them up. With Cortland State playing Western Connecticut, Wittenberg facing Kenyon, St. Olaf battling rival Carleton and Hobart sitting idle, it’s the only choice.
Pat’s take: Anyone but Hobart. It’s hard to figure on what keeps Hobart so down in the coaches’ poll, with just nine votes out of 42 voters (.2 average), making the Statesmen’s 1.4-point average in the D3football.com Top 25 seem laudatory. Are the coaches reacting to Hobart’s offseason sanctions, where they were placed on three years’ probation? But one thing which probably hurts Hobart’s reputation is after this week, some teams will have played seven games, most conferences serious about football will have played six … and Hobart will have played four. That’s what an eight-game non-NESCAC schedule looks like. Actually, also what a NESCAC schedule looks like.
Which team will be affected the most by injury?
Ryan’s take: Guilford. The Quakers came into Week 1 with a new coach, a new strategy and new energy. But an injury here, and an injury there can create holes in that excitement. Starting quarterback Zac Halbert played sparingly in last week’s loss, and his health and ability to return to the field will be an important factor. But the field is littered with more spots where the depth chart is being raided. Prior to the season, Guilford should have expected to be sitting at 3-2 and going into a winnable game against Bridgewater. Now, they’re at 1-4, and a win on Saturday would be considered an upset.
Keith’s take: Uncertain. I’m afraid I’m going to have to forfeit my expert badge for this one. The injury that might most affect Saturday’s games might not have even happened yet. But I also don’t have a great feel for teams this season that have lost key guys, or a bunch of them. School me in the comments section below.
Pat’s take: Colby. Everyone is dealing with injuries seven weeks into the season, so it’s hard to see it as a valid excuse here. But even if maybe you don’t give Colby much of a chance at home against Amherst, linebacker Mike Hyatt’s injury has to affect more than the White Mules’ on-the-field play. This young man suffered his fourth concussion recently, his second in college football, and is not expected to play football again. In his final game two weeks ago against Middlebury, Hyatt recorded 18 tackles, nine solo, and recovered a fumble, but his absence will leave the White Mules’ linebacking corps pretty young.
Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Blue (and gold) of Ithaca. The Bombers are going to line up against Springfield on Saturday, at a spot in the season where they’re playing for pride more than they are for the Empire 8’s automatic qualifier. The two teams match up well against each other, and it’ll be interesting to see which offense (Springfield’s 379-yard-a-game rushing efforts or Ithaca’s mostly blended attack) will be able to put a chink in the opponent’s armor. Ithaca’s offense is pretty woeful in the red zone, where not converting means more than loss of points, it means loss of momentum.
Keith’s take: Blue of Concordia (Wis). The Falcons started 0-3, but have dominated the two Northern Athletics Conference teams its played. The game against Benedictine is to hang on to at least a share of first place in a conference where everyone has multiple overall losses, but gets an automatic bid just like anyone else. The Falcons, who have outscored Rockford and Maranatha Baptist 105-21, takes its conference-best defense and puts it up against Benedictine’s conference-best offense.
Pat’s take: Green (and gold) of Presentation. In Kickoff 2011, we predicted the first-year Saints would go 2-8, 1-8 in the UMAC. But we figured that win would be at MacMurray. The Saints surprised even our generous prediction by winning last week against Crown. A win at MacMurray, which has lost 17 in a row and (yikes!) 44 of 45 games, would give them three wins in their first season of football and be pretty impressive by any standard.