Rivalry week is arguably one of the most exciting times of the regular season. Not unlike years past, matchups such as The Game (Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon) and the Monon Bell game (DePauw and Wabash) have postseason implications in 2009, while the cross-town feud of the Bridge Bowl (Mount St. Joseph and Thomas More) will shape the playoff brackets as well. Others are more for bragging rights, such as the decades-old battle in the NESCAC (Williams and Amherst) or in east-central Pennsylvania (Moravian and Muhlenberg). All carry that little extra oomph for seniors and fans and alumni. Follow along with Keith McMillan, Pat Coleman and I to see what could happen.
— Ryan Tipps
Game of the Week
Ryan’s take: Amherst at Williams. Looking at the key games around the country, it’s going to be hard not to touch on rivalry games several times in this Triple Take. But I feel I have to highlight this off-the-grid matchup, of sorts. I say â€œoff the gridâ€ because while many teams are playing for the chance to continue into Week 12, the Lord Jeffs and Ephs will play for pride and the NESCAC title, the latter being something that hasn’t happened since 2002. The teams are a combined 13-1, with Amherst undefeated after having taken down perennial powerhouse Trinity (Conn.). Williams, however, is on a powerful run over its last five games, and if my wallet weren’t empty, I’d put my money in that camp come Saturday.
Keith’s take: Wabash at DePauw. There are SO many huge games and rivalry clashes to choose from, literally from coast (Colby at Bowdoin) to coast (Pomona-Pitzer vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps). If it’s the last game of the season, or a senior’s career, then it’s somebody’s game of the week. The careful observer knows where my GOTW is, but for national impact, this Monon Bell game has it all. Forget about the rivalry, the trophy, the pomp and circumstance — okay, don’t forget — and consider: A DePauw (7-1) victory cripples the Little Giants’ playoff potential and draws cheers from Pennsylvania to Texas to Wisconsin, where other at-large hopefuls will sit on pins and needles Sunday. A Wabash (8-1) win sends a ripple through the potential playoff bracket, likely putting the Little Giants in the field.
Pat’s take: No. 24 Kean at Montclair State. This has to be considered a winner-take-all game. But in addition to the NJAC title and playoff implications, there’s an extra layer or two. The schools overlap each other in northern New Jersey. The Kean coaching staff is part of the Montclair State coaching tree, with Dan Garrett having first played at Montclair State and then coached under Rick Giancola before moving to Kean. Last year, Kean may well have kept Montclair out of the playoffs with a 21-17 win at Kean in Week 11.
Surprisingly close game
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins at McDaniel. Never mind the fact that the Green Terror are in the midst of their best season since 2005. They also tend to sneak up on a lot of opponents. With a playoff bid in the balance, JHU can’t afford to take any part of this game for granted. On most days, I’m not certain that McDaniel could keep a player like Andrew Kase in check while also guarding against the long ball, but as I said, McDaniel does have its sly moments.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Delaware Valley at Widener. Assuming the 3-6 Pride have any, I could see them pushing the Aggies,Â who are already in the playoffs and should be most concerned with staying healthy and taking any kind of victory they can. Against a tough schedule, Widener is scoring 22 points a game and allowing 26. After a 3-1 start and a five-game slide, they could put up a spirited effort in an attempt to finish on a high note.
Pat’s take: Kalamazoo at Hope. These teams also play for a pair of shoes. Wooden ones, in fact. Kalamazoo hasn’t been within two touchdowns of Hope since 2004, losing the past four by an average of 36 points.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Otterbein, by John Carroll. I wouldn’t put it past John Carroll to keep this game within reach throughout the entire 60 minutes. They’re just middle-of-the-pack enough to be able to upset some good opponents. And both teams are in jeopardy of seeing their season sputter out, and it could come down to which is less willing to let that happen.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Washington & Jefferson, by Waynesburg. All the playoff projecting has made very little mention of the 8-1 Presidents, partially because a win against this week’s opponent, the 5-4 Yellowjackets, would leave W&J with nine wins over zero teams with better-than-.500 records. If the Presidents have caught wind of how bleak their playoff hopes are, they could lose focus and stumble.
Pat’s take: No. 15 Wabash, by DePauw. Is it cheating to look for the upset in a rivalry game where we are apparently required to throw out the records?
They’ll be on your radar
Ryan’s take: Greensboro. In their short lifetime since 1997, the Pride have never put together a season better than .500. Now, the team stands at 5-4, squaring off against a Shenandoah team that’s better than its 1-8 record, but vulnerable nonetheless. Greensboro’s first-year coach seems to have lit a fire under this team, and if this turning of the corner is permanent, it will add a new dynamic to the USA South in the years to come.
Keith’s take: Spud Dick, Matt Hudson, Corey Sedlar, et. al. I’ll be very interested in the performance of quarterbacks of potentially playoff-bound teams in rivalry games. Especially one like Hudson, who missed Wabash’s only loss with a cracked rib, or one like Sedlar, who has led Hampden-Sydney to nine mostly easy wins but needs to lead them to a 10th to guarantee a playoff bid. For Dick, there’s this dilemma: The Tigers already are one of the 32 teams who will have a shot at the Stagg Bowl. If they have designs on advancing, their best players need to remain healthy. Will there be even a sliver of temptation to play it safe, to run out of bounds instead of fighting for extra yardage, when the spectre of winning the rivalry game (again) in front of the season’s biggest crowd looms so large?
Pat’s take: North Carolina Wesleyan. Plus, if they beat Averett to win the USAC, it will mean the USA South can’t play Mount Union in the first round. NCWC is too far from Alliance. The Battling Bishops probably haven’t been on the radar since a Week 3 loss at Emory and Henry.
Which conference front-runner is most likely to play itself out of the postseason?
Ryan’s take: Concordia (Ill). While the Cougars have proved they can dominate the teams at the bottom of the NATHC, they’ve consistently struggled on the scoreboard against those middle-of-the pack squads, which include the team’s only loss this season. And this week’s opponent, Benedictine, has a tough enough defense, especially against the pass, that it could rattle Concordia.
Keith’s take: Alfred. Pat and Ryan called dibs on the easy ones, so I had to reach a little. The Saxons, riding high at 7-0 before last Saturday, face 4-5 Utica with the cruelest fate on the line. After averaging eight wins over the past five seasons without making the playoffs, it would be heartbreaking to see Alfred let it slip a sixth time.
Pat’s take: Johns Hopkins. There aren’t a lot of possibilities here, but who knows with Johns Hopkins at McDaniel. Once upon a time, McDaniel was a tough place to play, and the Green Terror are looking for their first winning season since 2004. A win seals that and maybe brings some respect back to a once-proud program.
Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded)
Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon. Since Keith can’t pick this one, I’ll nab it. For the third time in a row, this game will decide which team gets the ODAC’s automatic bid to the playoffs. Both teams have followed similar arcs offensively, having solid pass games but facing questions during the preseason about their rushing attack. Those have been answered, yet one big edge goes to H-SC. The Tigers have been consistently more dominant on the defensive side of the ball this season.
Keith’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Thomas More. There are so many classic rivalries not getting much attention this week, including Cortland State-Ithaca, Coe-Cornell, Trinity (Conn.)-Wesleyan, Occidental-Whittier, Franklin-Hanover, Moravian-Muhlenberg, Frostburg State-Salisbury, Pacific Lutheran-Linfield and UW-Whitewater/UW-La Crosse. Forced to choose, I’m partial to the Bridge Bowl because it pits a pair of 9-0 teams playing for a likely first-round home game. The loser ends up with a tougher playoff draw that could lead to another loss next week.
Pat’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Thomas More. My alma mater isn’t playing in a rivalry game, so I’m free to pick the one I’m truly interested in. I am not sure what Mount St. Joseph has shown this season, with a schedule that’s not particularly strong. Thomas More is the best opponent the Lions have played, by far.
Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: Mississippi College. I have no doubt that the Choctaws will get the ASC’s automatic bid, but going into Saturday, they’ve played three teams that are a combined 8-19 — and one of these games wound up being a loss. Also, Saturday’s opponent is just 0-9. Playing this kind of competition can make a team complacent, and especially if there’s a chance of again lining up against Mary Hardin-Baylor, the postseason result may not be as favorable for Mississippi College as the regular season one.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. Anybody who loses Saturday but still gets in — DePauw is a candidate, as is the MSJ/Thomas More loser — fits the bill, but I doubt they’ll be coming off a 35-point whitewashing. The Hawks’ Thursday night loss to Division I South Alabama, which finished its inaugural season 7-0, is likely humbling, but shouldn’t affect the Hawks’ chances at a Pool B bid.
Pat’s take: Alfred. Based on Ryan’s theory, I actually would go with Case Western Reserve, which hasn’t played much of anyone all season. But I am thinking of Alfred, coming off a loss — and a big one — last week, followed by a game against Utica, a team they should be able to handle. That doesn’t exactly provide the opportunity to erase self-doubts. By the way, the exact opposite answer? Mount Union. Man, are the Purple Raiders on a roll or what?