Triple Take: Getting to their goals

Williams' Sam Krieg
When Williams and Trinity (Conn.) meet, usually the game has NESCAC title implications, even though it’s always the second game of their season.
Williams athletics photo

Some weeks, our perceptions are shaken; other times, they’re only slightly stirred.

This year, we’ve seen Top 10 teams fall, and many others earn just the narrowest of wins. But that’s not an indictment on the higher-polled team. Rather, it’s a testament to the underdogs’ “leave it all on the field” mentality — that which pushes them forward even when the odds are stacked against them. Isn’t that the heart of competition? Isn’t that the reason the players play and fans cheer on Saturdays? Isn’t that why we love football?

And the best part is that any team, from any conference, can bounce back the following week. Some teams play with the goal of the postseason, but many others play for pride or simply to do better than the year before. Ask undefeateds Ohio Wesleyan and Salve Regina and Whitworth if this was the kind of season they realistically saw ahead of them. Conversely, ask McDaniel, DePauw and St. Vincent if they expected to still be on the hunt for win No. 1 at this point in the year.

There is still lots of time left on the field for teams to reach their goals. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps will walk you through their own unique views of the weekend at hand.

– Ryan Tipps

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Carnegie Mellon at No. 17 Wabash.
The Little Giants experienced a fall from grace last week after a surprising loss against Allegheny. Can Wabash rebound in front of its home crowd? Carnegie, which sits undefeated, will provide a much tougher matchup than the Gators were for Wabash, which should give Wabash pause. CMU quarterback Rob Kalkstein leads the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown for more than 1,000 yards in just four games. The Little Giant secondary will have to be on its toes, and the defense will need to showcase its ability to force turnovers.
Pat’s take: No. 4 UW-Whitewater at No. 13 UW-Platteville. At least it better be, since it’s nearly a five-hour drive each way for me. The Warhawks’ struggles on offense were somewhat put behind them last week in a 34-7 win against UW-Stevens Point, putting together three long scoring drives though Lee Brekke was just 12-for-30 passing. Now, UW-Platteville, on the other hand, has averaged more than 53 points against overmatched competition, including a 49-19 win against UW-Eau Claire. If John Kelly can have anywhere near the kind of success against UW-Whitewater as he did against Eau Claire, the Whitewater I saw the first two weeks is going to have a hard time keeping up. The Warhawks may need to make some significant changes on offense.
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn). at Williams. There’s nothing on the line here but Saturday night pride, and perhaps a shot at the NESCAC title in November. And that’s what makes it so appealing — that and a couple of very good defenses. With no playoffs and little top 25 recognition because they don’t accept bids and start so long after everyone else (it’s NESCAC Week 2), there are but a few opportunities for the spotlight games that bring out the best. The Bantams allowed 120 yards in Week 1, making theirs the nation’s No. 1 defense. The Ephs weren’t far behind, with 149 yards and a No. 3 national ranking. It’s not uncommon for NESCAC teams to rank that high, espscially after one game — Amherst is fifth — but it could make points hard to come by. Williams QB Adam Marske was 22 of 27 for 277 yards in a 41-7 win over Colby. Trinity got 146 yards from RB Evan Bunker in the opener. These two teams, plus Amherst, are your main title contenders here, and someone is going to get eliminated on Saturday. Honorable mention, Elmhurst at No. 11 North Central (see below) and No. 2 UMHB at Sul Ross State.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Spingfield at Union.
Averaging nearly 375 yards a game on the ground, Springfield has rightly earned respect for its ground game. But 1-3 Union has been able to limit its opposition to less than half that per outing, and the Dutchmen’s opposition has been more consistently challenging than that of the Pride, which carries a 3-1 record into its second week of conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel at Augsburg. If you didn’t hear me on the Around the Nation podcast this past week, Augsburg quarterback Ayrton Scott intrigues me. He’s a speedy and shifty runner — my only question is whether that’s going to be enough against Bethel, which will feature a much better defense than Hamline did last week. First-year starting quarterback Erik Peterson has completed 74 percent of his passes and throws for an average of 225 yards per game, but Buena Vista and Carleton haven’t provided much competition either.
Keith’s take: Juniata at Johns Hopkins. I’m going way out on a limb in this one, but the Eagles deserve a little notice.  They’re predictably 1-3, aren’t outstanding at any one thing and have the recent history that would make Blue Jays players take them lightly. But Juniata lost by just a touchdown to Dickinson and Franklin & Marshall, and led Gettysburg early in a 28-7 loss. With the right combination of Johns Hopkins apathy and continued improved play by the Eagles, including sophomore QB Ward Udinski,who had 371 yards of total offense against Dickinson, this could be a close game into the second half.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Baldwin Wallace.
I’ve been high on the Yellow Jackets since the beginning of last year, thinking they’ve been on the cusp of some really great things. A low-scoring overtime win against Muskingum last week, though, has my faith in BW rattled. Opponent Otterbein has yet to earn a blemish this season, but the Cardinals are saddled with a litany of ifs and buts. The Yellow Jackets need to find their momentum soon if they want to be playing deep into November.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Illinois Wesleyan. Going out on a limb here because I don’t think Millikin is actually quite ready to do so this year. I might come back to this in 2013 when it makes more sense, but this is my super upset special for the week.
Keith’s take: No. 11 North Central. I might as well hop all the way on the Elmhurst bandwagon. With the nation’s No. 2 rusher (Scottie Williams, 193 yards per game), No. 2 turnover margin (plus nine) and No. 3 scoring defense (Loras and Chicago were shut out, Trine scored 13), there’s a lot to like. But the Cardinals are at home, and have played a power schedule in the first few weeks. They’ll be ready for Elmhurst. The question is whether the Bluejays redefine the CCIW narrative, or stick to the script.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Widener
. I can’t help but think to a game earlier this year, where Wartburg thumped an opponent 73-0. The following week, the Knights failed to score even once against a tougher competition. Coming off a 90-0 win, Widener reminds me of that. The Pride won’t be able to steamroll Lebanon Valley (3-1) the way they have their previous opponents, but a win should help validate Widener’s ranking.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley. Sorry, Ryan, I’m going in the opposite direction. A win would definitely validate Widener’s ranking, though, that’s true. Lebanon Valley will be a much tougher opponent than anyone Widener has faced (Widener’s first four opponents are currently 2-12). Lebanon Valley has pulled itself out of the doldrums it was in a decade ago and is now a contender for the conference crown. A win here would secure that.
Keith’s tak: Rhodes. The Lynx have more than just one of D-III’s coolest mascot names. They’ve got wins over Wash. U. and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and a very respectable 16-2 loss to nationally ranked Birmingham-Southern. Their next three games are on the road, but Macalester and Austin could be easy wins nonetheless. This week at Trinity (Texas), a team coming off consecutive humbling weeks, is the one time before late October we get to see if Rhodes is for real, or just had a fortunate first few games.

Which undefeated team is going to pick up its first loss?
Ryan’s take: Millikin.
It’s very possible that the CCIW, which currently has three undefeated teams, will have just one left after the weekend is over. Millikin lines up against Illinois Wesleyan, neither of which have a blemish on their 2012 record. But I like the Titans for this because I like what they bring to the table defensively: seventh in the nation in total defense, allowing just 65 and 135 yards from rushing and passing, respectively. Illinois Wesleyan should be riding high going into the second half of its season, and that moment starts with Millikin.
Pat’s take: Millsaps. I like what Millsaps has done so far this season, don’t get me wrong. But I think the top of this five-team SAA is going to be pretty competitive and all three will take a loss at some point, perhaps two.
Keith’s take: Ithaca. The Bombers put their 229-yard a game defense against Utica’s 459-yard-per-game attack. Andrew Benkwitt is completing six passes per game to Jeremy Meier, and more than three each to Paul Smith, Matt Dunn and Jamie Murphy. As good as the Bombers have been statistically, not many teams have the personnel the Pioneers land.

Team most likely to salvage a bad season.
Ryan’s take: LaGrange.
An 0-3 start is not what the Panthers were hoping for, but the USA South slate should be much more favorable than the nonconference opposition, which has combined to go 10-1 this year. Don’t count LaGrange out for a .500 season just yet, and this week against N.C. Wesleyan will be a good tell as to where they could end up.
Pat’s take: DePauw. And there is a lot of salvaging to do for this reeling program. But scoring 28 against Carnegie Mellon is a nice start, and Wash U, which travels to Greencastle, Ind., doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of the Tartans.
Keith’s take: Redlands. As a playoff team last season, the Bulldogs didn’t expect an 0-2 start. But what’s done is done. The SCIAC slate opens against an Occidental program that’s fallen on hard times, with the 233rd-ranked turnover margin and just 12 points scored. Time for QB Will King, who didn’t start in the opener, to impress.

Which predator is ready to feast on the opposition?
Ryan’s take: The Panthers of Chapman.
Chapman will be squaring off against Whittier, and both carry a 1-1 record into the matchup. On the surface, they pair quite well: Both have had high scoring wins against Puget Sound, both had narrow losses to Whitworth and both have pretty impressive statistical rankings because of these games. But Chapman brings a run game that is going to grind the ball and be too much for the Poets to contain.
Pat’s take: The Pirates of Whitworth. I was taught in my high school bio class that humans were the top predator on the planet. Who’s with me? Whitworth has gone 4-0 so far without facing a program really capable of putting up a challenge, and unfortunately, I don’t think Pacific is there either.
Keith’s take: The Lobos of Sul Ross State. They might not beat the No. 2 team in the country, but you can bet A.J. Springer’s gang is going to sling it around, making UMHB’s defense work for its stops. Springer is fifth nationally in passing efficiency and has already thrown 14 touchdown passes

ATN Podcast: Past performance not indicative

Huntingdon's Tyler Robinson
Tyler Robinson caught two TD passes for Huntingdon in a win at Hampden-Sydney.
Huntingdon athletics file photo

As much as the Division III landscape was turned upside down last week, it reset this weekend, with Buffalo State losing big to Alfred, Brockport State losing at Kean and UW-Whitewater winning big. But the struggles by Wesley to win at Louisiana College and the occasional offensive woes from Whitewater make us reconsider what we believed about their preseason quarterback situation. Why do we like Justin Sottilare and Lee Brekke so much in 2012 based on what they did in 2010? And then contrast that with Mount Union, which isn’t going with its 2010 quarterback at all.

Plus we talk about Wabash’s surprise loss, Huntingdon jumping into the Top 25, Mary Hardin-Baylor’s season, Widener’s 90-point drubbing of Wilkes, Western Connecticut’s near upset and much more.

You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast

Plus, here’s this week’s D3football.com reports and highlight packages.

Triple Take: All systems are a go

St. John Fisher Mike Benderski
Mike Benderski made the D3football.com Team of the Week for his performance on special teams against Rochester. Will St. John Fisher need similar heroics this week?
St. John Fisher athletics photo

By the end of Saturday, every one of the 239 teams in Division III will have lined up to take a snap this season.

This weekend marks the debut of the NESCAC teams, which don’t play any teams outside the conference, either in the regular season or the postseason. The teams in the NESCAC should have some familiarity across the football landscape, though. Few folks haven’t heard of the storied Amherst-Williams rivalry, dubbed the “Biggest Little Game in America.” Or of the “other Trinity,” the Connecticut-based team that regularly notches 7-1 or 8-0 seasons.

And the, of course for us, there’s the other 200-plus teams worth talking about, from the ones who are still hunting for their first win here in Week 4 to the ones who are hanging onto undefeated seasons – and hope to keep it that way!

Pat Coleman (@d3football), Keith McMillan (@D3Keith) and Ryan Tipps (@D3MidAtlantic) give you a taste of the NESCAC and a full helping from the other 28 conferences in Division III in this week’s Triple Take.

Don’t hesitate to comment below or join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Hartwick at No. 10 St. John Fisher.
I know we hit on this two weeks ago, but the Empire 8 is truly one wickedly scary conference to play in. Hartwick and SJF are the only 3-0 teams currently in the pack, which makes this the first of many conference matchups where teams will be able to separate themselves from the ravenous bunch. (Sidebar: Don’t be surprised to see next week’s Salisbury/Buffalo State E8 clash as a Game of the Week pick, too.) Fisher has lined up against quality opponents, dealing its first three opponents their only losses of the season. The Hawks, on the other hand, have blown out most of their competition by a margin of 144-62. But those opponents were much weaker than the fare Fisher has lined up against, and that makes me wonder if Hartwick is really prepared for what’s going to come at it on Saturday. Come to think of it, this situation is a good argument for playing tough nonconference games.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Thomas More at Waynesburg. Thomas More was ranked No. 8 last time these teams met, and has gone 2-3 since. The Saints come in at a more realistic ranking this time and have undefeated Waynesburg waiting for them. Both teams have been slow starters so far this season on offense, so look for at least one of these teams to make a bold move early.
Keith’s take: No. 6 Wesley at Louisiana College. It’s almost a defacto playoff game, in Week 4. That alone makes it worth of G.O.T.W. status — Wesley’s loss to No. 2 UMHB means it can’t afford to lose again and expect its usual spot in the playoffs. LC, meanwhile, has to go through UMHB to win its conference, and if it loses, one loss to a team like Wesley is all it can afford. The Wolverines have already played two road games, and two of the top 10 teams in the country, so their stats are skewed toward unimpressive. But if ever Justin Sotillare, Askia Jahad and the offense needs to guide an inspired effort, it’s on a trip to unfamiliar territory, coming off a loss. The Wildcats are known for their passing offense, but it’s actually their pass defense, and overall prowess on that side of the ball — just 400 yards allowed in a 2-0 start — that’s been key so far.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: St. Scholastica at Martin Luther.
The Saints are best when they’re able to move the ball with ease via their run game, particularly in last week’s lopsided win over Greenville. But Martin Luther, after three games, has limited opponents to an average of 73 yards a game. If the Knights can neutralize the Saints’ best attack, they might be able to keep this one close.
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wesley at Louisiana College. Every game from here on out, Wesley is fighting for its playoff life, as the NCAA doesn’t take our poll into account when selecting or seeding playoff teams. While Wesley is the superior team on paper, the trip might take a few points out of them. What the Wolverines need is to find their running game and when Louisiana College allows just 100.5 yards per game on the ground, it might not be easy. But neither Webber International nor Belhaven is on the level of a highly ranked Division III team.
Keith’s take: Kalamazoo at Centre. With its first foray into the playoffs last season, Centre has become a nationally known name. Kalamazoo is anything but, but they’ve pulled out three close wins this September, with one in four overtimes. The Hornets’ running game, behind Dimeko Price (105.33 yards per game) and Aaron McGuire (86.67) is humming and confidence is as high as its been. The Colonels have given up 559 rushing yards in the past two games, including 338 in a 34-16 loss at Washington & Lee. Centre definitely needs to get back on track, but if they allow the Hornets to get the run game going, it could be quite the tussle.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 UW-Whitewater.
I’m not going to lie, I feel like I’m stirring the pot with this one, even though that’s not my intent. Any team lining up against UW-Stevens Point would have its hands full this week — Whitewater just happened to draw that short straw. The Pointers are 1-1, coming off a week of drubbing Dubuque. Their only loss is an eight-point decision to St. Francis, one of the nation’s best NAIA programs. UW-SP has put up some wild numbers on offense, but the key to beating Whitewater will be defense, as Buffalo State showed. The Warhawk throne has been rattled. I’m sure most of you are like me and eager to see how the defending national champions respond tomorrow and through the rest of the season.
Pat’s take: No. 24 Johns Hopkins. Muhlenberg has been quietly dominant in going 3-0, and has outscored opponents 81-7 in the process. The Centennial so rarely has a team run the table the way it did last year. One of these two is likely to win the conference anyway, and I think the Mules are the ones.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Brockport State. Three weeks ago Kean was a top 25 team and Brockport wasn’t yet on the top 25 radar. But the Golden Eagles have started 3-0, and the Cougars 0-2, and here we are. Kean is ranked 210th in the country in total offense, with Brockport 10th, but defensively the Golden Eagles should be more generous than UMHB, which Kean lost to, 34-7, in its last game, two weeks ago. The Cougars have had that time to stew, and to heal up, from their visit to Texas. They led Albright 26-7 in their opener before allowing the Lions to score the final 22 points of the game.  Brockport State’s offense might continue to hum, but Kean has far too much talent to sputter as it has for the past six quarters. Plus, as a playoff team last season, the Cougars are at a point where their pride is being tested. Win now, in front of the home crowd, or there’s a miserable season ahead.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Central.
The Dutch have to be wondering what to make of this Albion squad, which knocked off Wheaton only to fall to the NATHC’s Benedictine. Central’s been interesting so far this year, having not scored even one first-half touchdown but then having posted 35 points in fourth quarters alone. And we have yet to see any breakout performances — though punter Blaine Forsythe has been doing quite well with ample opportunity. Maybe Central is on my radar for the wrong reasons, but maybe that’s just the nature of the buildup to this year’s IIAC matchups.
Pat’s take: Carnegie Mellon. Or Waynesburg or Muhlenberg, whom I’ve mentioned in previous categories. But Carnegie Mellon is facing DePauw, and while I might pick the Tigers to rally around their new coach and win, I’m not sure I’ll do so against an unbeaten team on a long road trip.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. I’m curious about how Buffalo State handles success and how St. John’s bounces back from defeat. Endicott, Muhlenberg and Otterbein all interested me this week. But the Hawks bring a 545-yard and 49-point-per-game offense to Hampden-Sydney, which is off to a slow start by its offensive standards, which are similar to Huntingdon’s. But the Hawks have played almost no defense to date (450 yards and 32 points per game allowed) while the Tigers seem to have figured out that being one-dimensional isn’t too productive. The Tigers have a solid pass rush and a decent defense overall. Against Huntingdon, we’ll find out if they’re “good.” Quarterbacks Neal Posey (Huntingdon) and Nash Nance could get to slinging it around the field on Saturday.

From which “direction” do you see bigger things?
Ryan’s take: North Park.
OK, we all know that the Vikings don’t fare well against their CCIW brethren. But it’s been several seasons since North Park has started the year 0-2. And last year, they even swept their nonconference slate. This week, they line up against another winless team, Olivet. North Park may not be great, but they’re better than the 0-2 record they bring to the table. Of course, when you give up six turnovers in one game as they did last week, there’s not a lot of wiggle room to succeed.
Pat’s take: Uhh … Birmingham-Southern. But this shouldn’t be a surprise and I’m probably not enlightening too many people with this pick. The most interesting thing here is that this will be the first time that the Panthers have had to leave the state this season.
Keith’s take: Western New England. The Golden Bears lost their opener at Norwich, then responded by outscoring its next two oppoents, 85-24. Nichols is up next, and they’re 0-3 with each loss by at least 23 points. There’s a bad statistical mismatch ahead too. WNEU is the nation’s second-best team in turnover margin, averaging 3.67 more per game than they give to their opponents. The Bison are 229th, turning it over 3.67 times a game more than they generate. 

 Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
Opponent Ohio Wesleyan hasn’t put together a highly commendable season since a 7-3 outing in 2005. But this year, the team has a new coach and, with him, a new offense and new excitement surrounding the program. The last two times these teams played, Case held OWU to just 7 points each outing while piling on 55 and 35 points of their own. That won’t happen this time. OWU is 2-0 so far, and if Case gets too focused on next week’s game against Wittenberg, they just might see themselves with another game in the loss column.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley, perhaps. Stevenson might have enough firepower to take the Dutchmen down a peg or two a week before Leb Val hosts Widener. However, after Leb Val’s loss to Lyco last week they might be better focused than to fall into a trap game.
Keith’s take: Wittenberg. Wooster tends not to be an easy win, but the Tigers have two of those so far, and know their season can be defined by games against Case Western Reserve and Wabash the next two weeks. Wooster is good enough to force the Tigers to snap into focus. Wittenberg has been lighting up the skies, passing for 342 yards per game of its 492 offensively. Meanwhile, the Scots have seven sacks in their 1-1 start, and have been solid defensively (36th, at 259 yards allowed per game).

Which NESCAC game are you most looking forward to?
Ryan’s take: Bates at Trinity (Conn.).
It’s hard being in someone’s shadow. And while Trinity running back Evan Bunker hasn’t exactly floundered, it will be good for him to have a season all to himself without older brother Eric (from Amherst) competing for accolades. The pair were the conference’s two first-team rushers, tying with 853 yards each last season, and Eric earned the NESCAC’s Offensive Player of the Year honor. You can be sure Evan will want that nod this season, and it all starts in the battle against Bates this weekend.
Pat’s take: Bowdoin at Middlebury. Middlebury should be putting some points on the board this year and I’m interested to see how they start out. McCallum Foote won’t surprise opponents this year but he should be no less effective in his second year, with an extra year of experience reading defenses and understanding the playbook.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. Hear me out here. We already know Amherst, which hosts Hamilton, and Williams, which hosts Colby, are going to be pretty good, as usual. But you never know which NESCAC team is suddenly going to go 6-2. Wesleyan, 4-4 last season, might be a candidate, but has only 11 starters back. Tufts (1-7) has 15. This is the NESCAC game with the most drama potential in the outcome, though conference championship potential is low.