Linfield, North Central, Bethel, Pacific Lutheran, Cal Lutheran, Wabash, Baldwin Wallace. Those Top 25 teams and so many other squads around the nation haven’t had the chance to take their first regulation snap this fall.
That ends this weekend.
Only a small handful of teams won’t have at least one game under their belt by the close of Saturday. So which of this weekend’s openers are you most curious about? D3football.com’s Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps reveal their picks below in the weekly Triple Take feature.
We welcome your comments here or on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.
Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Pacific Lutheran at No. 18 Cal Lutheran. You have to go back a couple of years to find a game when this wasn’t a good matchup. Starting in 2010, the Lutes have played their way into the national discussion, even if their best has been left on the playoff fringe looking in. It’s the opener for both teams, and it’s scheduled at a time where even East Coasters don’t have an excuse not to pay attention.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson at No. 19 St. John Fisher. I’m adamant about tipping the cap to teams who schedule strong opponents when they don’t have to, so respect is due here. And just our luck, this game matches up Presidents who gained 551 yards and hung 58 points on Wooster in the opener against Cardinals who allowed 145 and 0 against Otterbein. There’s poll position, potential Pool C slotting and pride on the line. The Cardinals are dead serious about testing themselves early this year — Otterbein won eight games last season, and W&J and Cortland State, next week’s opponent, were playoff teams. And that’s pre-Empire 8. Keep an eye on SJFC’s Dalton Donk and Mason Judd, who each had 10 tackles last week.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield at Hardin-Simmons. Game of the week if you like offense, and honestly, who doesn’t? Hardin-Simmons might have a fighting chance if it doesn’t give up 29 points in the first quarter, as it did on the trip to Willamette last week, but defense has never really been the Cowboys’ strong suit.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hanover at No. 20 Wabash. I know I always open the door to criticism when I say that my alma mater is anything short of perfect, but the Little Giants have some pieces to replace this year, including dual-threat quarterback Chase Belton. Hanover isn’t as bad as last week’s score showed, which could make this recently renewed rivalry a good one on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at Marian. Speaking of teams testing themselves early, this qualifies there too. Marian, the defending NAIA champ coming off an overtime loss to fourth-ranked St. Xavier, hosts the Titans, who needed a second-half rally to beat IIAC favorite Central last week. The jury is still out on whether Nick Olla and Oshkosh belong at No. 10, but we’re going to find out quickly. Marian running back Tevin Lake rushed for 180 yards against St. Xavier and has four touchdowns already this season. Cory Wipperfurth had a 56-yard and a 67-yard catch for Oshkosh against Central. For me, the biggest question is for it to be surprisingly close, which way is the surprise? WIAC followers might think a top team from their conference should dominate an NAIA team. NAIA followers might think their defending champ should manhandle a non-powerhouse from D-III.
Pat’s take: Butler at No. 13 Franklin. I mean, I have to stick up for the D-III team here and believe, right? Would be nice if Franklin won so we could “prove” Butler is not better than Mount Union.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 6 North Central. If for no other reason than it happened last year, but that’s all the more reason the Cardinals won’t get caught sleeping. However, UW-La Crosse has that all-too-precious first game in its pocket already, which improves the team’s chances.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley. The phrase “take it one week at a time” works in reverse too. Salisbury hasn’t won in the Route 13 rivalry since 2004, but four of the past six games have been low-scoring and decided by single digits, including 23-14 last year and 17-14 the year before. On talent, the Wolverines should win. But it’s funny, the difference between “on paper” and “in real life,” and players’ psyches affect that. I can absolutely remember as a player thinking “we’re going to kill these guys on Saturday” and not practicing as hard as for the games where you know you had a challenge ahead. If Wesley is feeling itself from its 644-yard, eight-sack opener against Widener, and is looking at Salisbury like a rollover because it lost in Week 1 … well, that’s when a rival bites unexpectedly.
Pat’s take: None. I was really tempted to take Elmhurst on the road at Trine but I think Elmhurst can handle it. Last week’s game vs. Loras was close at the half because of some sloppy penalties and turnovers in the red zone. With an extra two days of practice, I expect Elmhurst to come out much better than last week. (Trine has had the same extra practice as well, as both opened on Thursday last week.)
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Misericordia. Credit goes to Keith for talking this team up in the Around the Nation Podcast earlier this week. He piqued my interest in the Cougars, even though they are barreling into a matchup with powerhouse Delaware Valley. More specifically, he turned me on to Misericordia quarterback Jeff Puckett, who complemented a lackluster 53-yard passing outing with a 301-yard rushing effort, contributing a total of six touchdowns. He has my attention. What’s more, the Cougar’s 40 points they scored in the opener is just shy of their point total for all of 2012. The MAC is a tough, tough conference, but Misericordia isn’t a team that’s going to stay winless for long.
Keith’s take: Framingham State and Salve Regina. Facing the NJAC’s Rowan and Montclair State respectively, it’s a chance for New England teams — their schedules opened up by the NEFC/MASCAC split — to gain some notice nationally. Both teams are coming off big first-week wins. Melikke van Alstyne and the Rams beat Endicott, 35-23, and Salve Regina walloped Bridgewater State, 36-7.
Pat’s take: Brockport State. Rolling over Lycoming for a second consecutive year didn’t garner much pub (no box score, no game story uploaded) but a game against Buffalo State gives the Eagles another shot at getting themselves on the Division III radar.
Which team will bounce back from a Week 1 loss?
Ryan’s take: North Park. The perennial bottom of the CCIW (the Vikings haven’t won a conference game since 2000) melted down last week in the third quarter against Hope, costing them the game. But they’ll bounce back because the only success the Vikings ever have is in nonconference play, meaning this week against Benedictine and next week against Olivet will be some of the biggest prizes to play for all season.
Keith’s take: Central. The Dutch’s clash with Augustana isn’t the monster game it was or would have been years ago, but I thought Central took it to UW-Oshkosh for the portion of the game I watched last week. Perhaps it wasn’t the right portion, but assuming Central’s luck isn’t so poor this time around — quarterback Aaron Eisler left the game because of the triple-digit heat, a 65-yard Jacob Edelman interception return was called back and Wipperfurth hit the two big plays — they might be able to play two outstanding halves this week instead of just one. Augustana, a Week 1 winner over Mt. St. Joseph, won’t make it easy though.
Pat’s take: Benedictine. That’s funny, or ironic, or something. I actually think it’s Benedictine who will bounce back from its loss to Wheaton and beat North Park. Benedictine played Wheaton pretty well and has a good slate of transfers complementing the returning starters. Last year, Cyle Schultz had less than a full training camp of practice before taking over the starting quarterback job. Now he’s got a full year under his belt and the offense will be better. North Park, switching from the triple option to the spread, moves from a time-chewing offense to one that could get them off the field fast, putting a lot of pressure on the defense as the game wears on.
Opener you’re more curious about.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Linfield. Last year, I went into the season very high on the Wildcats, with their senior quarterback, stud running back and several All-Region-caliber defenders. I picked them to win it all. At the time, injury took a little bit of the talent from those ranks, but Linfield still put together a season to be very proud of, including a deep playoff run. This year, I held back on my expectations — at least a little. Yes, running back Josh Hill and defensive lineman Tyler Steele have healed their wounds. Yes, All-West Defensive Player of the Year Dom Forrest returns at linebacker. But, as I said, I held back. Other voters in the Top 25 haven’t felt the same as I have, giving the Wildcats six first-place votes. This weekend, the most telling point could be how well Linfield reins in the explosive Hardin-Simmons offense. Can this defense be the kind that wins championships? We will very soon find out.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut. I was going to say No. 6 North Central at UW-LaCrosse, but I think with the Colonials coming over from the NJAC and facing a Nichols team that actually won last week, I’m interested in how they’ll do. Joe Loth, who coached previously at Kean and turned Otterbein into a playoff teams, enters his second season at Western Connecticut. The game is Friday night under the lights in Dudley, not Danbury, though.
Pat’s take: No. 8 Bethel. This is a heady spot for the Royals to be in. They did bow out in the second round last year but that was at Oshkosh, where they were underdogs. They’ll continue to share carries, presumably, but remember they have a quarterback who can throw for 250 yards in a game in Erik Peterson. They should be better than last year, but whether that’s enough to get them into the Top 10 is another story.
Know your As, Bs and Cs.
Ryan’s take: Albion. This time last year, the Britons were turning heads after a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive led to an upset win against Wheaton. What happened the rest of the season wasn’t pretty. The following week saw a loss to middling Benedictine, with a .500 conference record after that. Albion’s flirt with the edges of the Top 25 was gone in a breath. This year, though, will be far from a repeat of 2012. Unlike last fall, Wheaton has a game under its belt going into the Albion game, and Albion isn’t riding the wave of confidence it had after a trouncing of an opener last year. Wheaton is out to settle a score, and will do so swiftly under the lights.
Keith’s take: Birmingham Southern. Pretty sure, after leading 52-10 at one point in a 59-38 win against LaGrange last week, that Hendrix is due for an introduction to what an established, highly competitive D-III program looks like. And maybe the young SAA program should take notes. B-SC was a startup (or more accurately, a restart) itself in 2007. This is what the Warriors will look like in a few years if progress matches ambition.
Pat’s take: Coe. Over Cornell. Former Midwest Conference rivals, then Iowa Conference rivals, now non-conference rivals. Maybe growing a little closer together. Cornell was certainly better in the win-loss column last year, but is going 4-5 in the Midwest Conference better than going 1-7 in the Iowa Conference? Coe struggled last week at Monmouth, but at least the Coe bus won’t break down on the way to the game this week, since it’s the home opener. Will Cornell be more competitive this week? Perhaps not. But it could get better.