Either Wabash or Wittenberg will clinch the NCAC automatic bid Saturday.
Wabash athletics photo by Howard Hewitt
The long-awaited regional rankings are here, and we can expect to see at least a couple of teams clinch their conferences and their paths to the playoffs. All that on top of another week in which we see four games between Top 25 teams — dramatically narrowing the choices of Pat, Keith and Ryan for “Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.”
But there are plenty of other categories for them to spread their wings (bird reference; we’ll circle back to that later) here in the Week 10 Triple Take predictions:
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Wittenberg at No. 13 Wabash. Playing the homer card here, because as expected, this matchup is poised to determine which red-and-white-clad “W” team gets to go to the playoffs. The Little Giants have been rolling week after week, logging three shutouts this season already. But have they been tested? Not significantly. That has made their No. 3 statistical ranking in total defense and their top spot in turnover margin seem exaggerated. But, to be sure, there has to be talent and depth to get to these numbers against any collegiate competition, so while the schedule has been favorable, Wabash’s place in the poll isn’t necessarily unjustified. Wittenberg is a bit in the same boat, though the Tigers can boast having faced at least one very solid team in Butler, a nonscholarship Division I-FCS squad that beat the Tigers badly. Witt is ninth nationally in total offense, and 19th in defense. For more than a decade, this has been a marquee NCAC matchup. That doesn’t change on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Heidelberg at No. 14 John Carroll. I’m going to say this out loud right now, and this is rare for me — this is a matchup I think the AFCA poll has right and we don’t. They have John Carroll ranked higher than Heidelberg. Although this requires a leap of faith to do so, I agree with them.
Keith’s take: No. 4 North Central at No. 19 Wheaton. Guess that leaves me this game. Honestly, I’d have taken the ‘Berg at John Carroll, but it’s Week 10 and I wrote down 25 games of interest in my pre-Triple Take exercise. There’s GOTW candidates everywhere. The weird thing about this one is, in light of North Central’s 46-17 win over Illinois Wesleyan, and the Titans’ 30-19 win over Wheaton, the Thunder are 40 points down in the three-way tiebreaker formula. But with a win, they can stay in the Pool C picture — which in my opinion is currently Heidelberg/John Carroll winner, UW-Platteville/UW-Oshkosh winner, Wittenberg/Wabash loser, Pacific Lutheran, Concordia-Moorhead (which faces St. Thomas this week), Illinois Wesleyan and the fourth Pool B team. For five spots. Wheaton would need to slow down NCC QB Spencer Stanek and the nation’s fifth-best offense (527.8 yards/game). The Cardinals’ balance (NCC rushes for 251 and passes for 276.8/game) will make it next to impossible.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Washington University. Both teams have had moments of epic floundering this fall, while both have also showed signs of brilliance. As a few prominent Pool B teams picked up extra losses recently, Washington could be on the bubble of a playoff spot, especially if their only two losses remain those to undefeated UW-Whitewater and to two-loss Coe. The Bears have a lot to play for, and previous seasons have consistently shown their game against the Spartans to be a defensive struggle.
Pat’s take: Randolph-Macon at Bridgewater. The Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak, one that was pretty ugly, last week. With archrival Hampden-Sydney looming next week, perhaps Randolph-Macon is vulnerable here, and perhaps Bridgewater is going to play like the conference favorite we somehow thought they would be. (Although the conference coaches’ poll had them just three points out of first as well.)
Keith’s take: Franklin & Marshall at Johns Hopkins. This will be surprisingly close on the national scene, but those who closely follow the Centennial Conference remember that the Diplomats won this game in a similar situation last season, and Johns Hopkins still went on to win a first-round playoff game, 42-10. The Blue Jays are 8-0 and dominant offensively — No. 4 nationally at 529 yards a game, including 271 rushing. They’re also a top 25 defensive outfit in several categories, and they’re home at Homewood. So why F&M? It’s scored 35 or more four out of five weeks, it allows less than 50% of third downs to convert and knowing they’ve beaten the Blue Jays recently, they won’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ithaca. Prior to last week, the Bombers had been the only Empire 8 team to have beaten Salisbury since the Gulls entered the conference. Both teams have a playoff spot that they are struggling for — meaning everything is on the line here.
Pat’s take: No. 18 St. Thomas. This is just a bookkeeping upset, really. I think there are some voters who have St. Thomas still ranked highly anticipating this game and thinking the Tommies can beat the Cobbers and justify where they’re listed. As down as the Tommies have appeared this season, though, they are still just a missed kick from being 9-1 and shoot, they were in the game at Bethel a heck of a lot longer than I would have thought. I went right picking St. John’s in this spot last week and now I’m giving the other side of that rivalry the business as well, I suppose.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Millsaps. The unbeaten Majors are at home against 6-2 Centre, a team that has had wild swings of effectiveness this season. When the Colonels are on, they can put up numbers; they average 462 yards of offense a game, including 190 on the ground. RB Harry Meisner will have quite a task in upstaging Millsaps RB Mike Barthelmy. An upset, however, would set off a race between the Colonels team bus or flight back to Kentucky, and all the thank-you letters coming in from Framingham, Mass., Dover, Del. and other hometowns of teams on the Pool B fringe.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Moravian. In case you missed Around the Mid-Atlantic this week, Moravian has sloughed off a 12-game slide and now has won two in a row, with Juniata (also the subject of an ATMA column earlier this season) on tap. A win here for the Greyhounds could breathe new life and momentum into their Week 11 rivalry game at Muhlenberg.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. That’s if they can deal with the 10-hour bus ride to Greenville, that is. This is a winner-take-all game for the UMAC and while it would be further off most people’s radar to take Greenville, I like the Saints here.
Keith’s take: Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs, on the heels of their win over Lousiana College, are a lock for a Pool B playoff spot if they finish the season with wins over Hardin-Simmons and Howard Payne. Saturday’s game against the Cowboys is a lock for 900 yards and 90 points between the teams. QB Brent Peavy going against the HSU defense (235th-best in scoring, allowing 45.5 points/game) could mean those are distributed 60-30, and 600 yards to 300. But I’ll have it on my radar in case it gets in 47-43, 470-yards to 430 territory. The Cowboys average 445 yards and 39 points themselves, but could be demoralized after a 63-7 loss to No. 3 UMHB was followed by a loss to previously winless Sul Ross State.
Which team will clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Gallaudet. The 8-0 team has already beaten the second- and third-best teams in the ECFC. For a school that dropped its team to club in the ’90s and slowly returned it to collegiate form, history will be made when the Bison clinch Saturday afternoon.
Pat’s take: Franklin. Such are the days of the Grizzlies’ lives. It’s only because Rose-Hulman hasn’t lost any other conference games since losing to Franklin. The Grizzlies are an immovable force, at least within the HCAC.
Keith’s take: UW-Whitewater. Too bad Ryan mentions St. Lawrence-Hobart below, I wanted to make reference to the ‘bart stars here. I’ll go with the sixth-ranked Warhawks, who will be able to pound the rock against a game UW-Stevens Point team that has already faced No. 4 North Central, No. 8 UW-Oshkosh and No. 11 UW-Platteville, which it only lost to by one point. The UW-W title was no forgone conclusion as the season kicked off, but as it stands, the WIAC title might not be the last it wins.
Which regionally ranked team will see its fortunes change?
Ryan’s take: St. Lawrence, No. 10 in the East. Only because the Saints will be getting bounced out of the regional rankings after this week’s game against Hobart. A close game won’t help them. A loss, and they’re gone.
Pat’s take: Washington U., No. 8 in the South. The Bears have been banged up at running back and have been just squeaking by. Nearly losing to Macalester makes it difficult for me to like their chances vs. Case.
Keith’s take: Hope, No. 10 in the North. There’s more than regional rankings to worry about in Holland, Mich., but Flying Dutchmen can gain a lot of ground during their Week 10 bye. For starters, MIAA leader Albion (4-0, 6-2) travels to Adrian (3-2, 6-3), and a not-that-unlikely-upset won’t change the status of the Week 11 Hope-Albion clash — but it could soften the Britons up before the Flying Dutchmen get their crack. Also, in the North, regionally ranked teams face off in the NCAC, OAC and CCIW, so a slide up the NCAA’s rankings by next Wednesday is possible as well.
This one’s for the birds.
Ryan’s take: The Hawks of Huntingdon. The Hawks finish out their season with two of their toughest conference matchups — Methodist and Maryville. Win out, and Huntingdon will be in the playoffs in just its first year in the USA South. But I’m not sure Huntingdon can pull it off. A win this weekend is a sound bet; a win in Week 11 isn’t something I’d put my money on.
Pat’s take: The Blue Jays of Johns Hopkins. That’s where they’ll be clinching the Centennial Conference automatic bid to the playoffs for the fourth time in five season.
Keith’s take: The Cardinals of Wesleyan. Amherst-Williams is known as the littlest big game in America, but it’s not even the biggest in the NESCAC this week. The Cardinals, a one-win team as recently as 2008, aim to finish off their first 8-0 season since 1969. Wesleyan is already Little Three champs, having beaten Amherst and Williams, but their rival a half-hour down I-91 (or the Connecticut River, for those inclined) is the thing that stands in the way of perfection. And to make it better, Trinity has been the NESCAC power for a decade. It hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2001, but after a 5-0 start lost close ones to Middlebury and Amherst. The game is in Hartford, and Wesleyan allows 239 yards a game, with nobody scoring more than 14 on them this season. The chance is there to cap perfection by smothering a geographic rival and conference powerhouse on its own field.