Triple Take Week 11: This is what it’s all about

It’s Week 11. Do we even need an intro? Everyone’s got a big game this week, either playing for the final time this season or competing for the opportunity to play on.

There are rivalry games; Williams and Amherst’s game is the pair’s 130th, more than any in Division I FBS, II or III. There’s also Monon Bell, Cortaca Jug, The Game, Dutchman Shoes, Victory Bell, Regents Cup, Keystone Cup, Cranberry Bowl, Lincoln Trophy, Trinity-Wesleyan and the final CBB clash. Oh, and congrats, Lafayette and Lehigh, on meeting next week for the record 151st time, but this Saturday, we’ll be watching that other huge rivalry in the Lehigh Valley.

There are playoff bids to be clinched; Eleven of the 25 AQs are still up for grabs. Plus, there’s a four-team scrum in Texas for one Pool B bid, and then games from coast to coast that affect Pool C and the six at-large spots. Eastern teams might miss the playoffs but earn a spot in an ECAC or CC-MAC bowl game. There’s even a conference championship game, between Midwest Conference powers St. Norbert and Monmouth.

For everyone else, Week 11 is something to savor. It’s the last time players get to suit up, some until next season, some forever. It’s the last tailgate, the last road trip to cheer for a son, the Saturday spent in a press box or coaches’ booth.

Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I can’t get to every meaningful game. But with 232 of our 247 teams in action, each one facing a D-III opponent in 116 matchups, we can at least point you in the right direction on what to watch most closely, besides the game you’ll be following. We’ll do Triple Take a little differently once the playoffs begin, so thanks for hanging with us on Fridays for another season of the prescient and the way-off-base picks.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 East Texas Baptist at No. 13 Mary Hardin-Baylor. There are 11 automatic bids to be won, five in head-to-head games, three more that could go one of two ways, and three more that involve at least three teams. But nothing is quite the tangled web that the four Texas teams trying to wrangle the single Pool B bid is. The Tigers-Cru game has far-reaching implications, mostly if East Texas Baptist were to win. UMHB hasn’t lost multiple regular-season games since 2006, but ETBU’s win over Hardin-Simmons, which had beaten UMHB the week before, raised the possibility. A Tigers win means ETBU is 8-2, with wins over HSU and UMHB and a bad loss (55-27) to Texas Lutheran, which can finish 8-2 with its losses to UMHB and HSU. Each team will have played the other three, with a 1-2 or 2-1 record amongst. So who makes the playoffs in such a scenario? If it’s Hardin-Simmons, which is trying to beat Louisiana College to finish 9-1, then the other three end up in Pool C and still need to be sorted in order. The committee needs to know which South Region team to put on the board to discuss first. Anyway, UMHB, which is top six nationally in scoring offense, rush defense, third-down defense, red-zone defense, turnover margin and kickoff returns, can make a lot of this moot by winning.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Wabash at DePauw. It seems like every week recently, I’m latching onto something I wrote for Around the Nation to channel into my Game of the Week pick. Wabash and DePauw are two of the most intense rivals in college football, and their annual Monon Bell Classic is being played for the 122nd time. But more importantly, the winner of this game goes to the postseason via the NCAC’s automatic bid. The stakes couldn’t be any bigger for either team. This week, Wabash coach Erik Raeburn said, “This is going to be the best offensive line we’ve faced, and that’s going to be key because the defensive line has been one the main strengths of our team.” DePauw’s Bill Lynch noted that “turnovers will be tremendous to the outcome of the game. I don’t care what level you’re playing, that is one thing that is going to be a determining factor.” Wabash has won this game six times straight, and both teams have been known to play spoiler to the other. What’s almost guaranteed is that the lopsided matchups from a few years ago are a thing of the past; 2015 will be a competitive classic. And we get to watch it all on national television (AXS TV).
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Cortland State at Ithaca. This is typically a good shot for this space anyway, but let me count up a couple ways where this is better than your normal Cortaca Jug game. First of all, I hope you already read the link Ryan included in his rundown, but if not, it talks about how Cortland State needs a win to get into the playoffs. No chance if they lose. That’s subplot one. Subplot two is the fact that Cortland has now won this game five years in a row. Nobody in pads for Ithaca on Saturday has won the Cortaca Jug. (And by the way, the Red Dragons have won nine of the past 13.) After a fast start, it’s turned into a disappointing season for Ithaca, but a win gets the Bombers the Jug, a .500 season, and most importantly for Ithaca, it sends Cortland home.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hanover. The Panthers started the season 0-6 but won two in a row and lost last week by a field goal. So they’re both playing better and trying to salvage some pride, and doing it against a Franklin team that has already clinched its playoff spot. Hanover also has the nation’s leading tackler, in Ryan Martin, who averages 15.3 stops per game. The Grizzlies might ultimately retain the Victory Bell, but they should at least have to earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ferrum at N.C. Wesleyan. I’m intentionally trying to go off the grid a bit here, because as you’ll see below, every one of my other answers in Triple Take pertains to the playoffs. And while I love the playoffs and they are to be celebrated, there are 200 teams out there that have no shot at the postseason on Saturday, and their games are still fun and valuable. The FC/NCWC game pits a team in the upper third of the USAC with one in the lower third, yet despite the separation, there is a sense that each team had been trying to find itself at the early point of the season. The Bishops have gotten there, notching a few wins in recent weeks, but the Panthers have stumbled in some close ones in that same time frame. I think there’s a chance that this will still be tight deep in the second half.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Frostburg State at No. 21 Salisbury. It’s been mentioned a couple times recently, but Frostburg has been much more competitive this season and it looks like DeLane Fitzgerald has that program back on the right track. A win gives the Bobcats a seven win season for the first time since 1999 — seriously. Salisbury needs this win to advance, though, and that will give them enough incentive to hold off their archrival.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Case Western Reserve. No knock on the Spartans, who had a legitimate shot to prevent Thomas More from going into the clubhouse 10-0. But CWRU’s conference title and playoff hopes are gone, even though they’re 7-2 and five points from being unbeaten. It can be tough to maintain the intensity after being so close and coming up short. Meantime, Carnegie Mellon has averaged 53.2 points per game during its five-game winning streak. CMU’s Sam Benger leads the nation in rushing with 184.4 yards per game. In addition, the trip from Cleveland to Pittsburgh isn’t much, but this game is at Carnegie Mellon.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Albright. The Lions have one of the toughest games in the nation ahead of them if they want to earn the right to play in the postseason. Lebanon Valley is a 5-4 team, but that record is misleading. The games they lost have come by margins of five points, three points, 10 points and seven points. They’re in these things until the end, which means Albright will be forced to stay on the gas pedal for the full 60 minutes. It can be done — Albright has already beaten quality teams like Salisbury and Stevenson this season — but it will be a challenge.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 15 John Carroll. But in this case, I have to take the “disappointed” meaning of upset. Because losing to Mount Union won’t be an upset and I can’t see anyone other than the teams my colleagues mentioned getting upset in the intended sense of the word. John Carroll will lose on Saturday and be disappointed on Selection Sunday.

Which team plays its way into the playoff field in Week 11?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. The Empire 8 has been unpredictable all season, so why would the obvious (Cortland State winning and clinching the AQ) happen now? It’d be a remarkable finish for a group of Cardinals who lost their opener 48-0 and by late October, outscored opponents in back-to-back games, 90-0. One of those opponents is Ithaca, which has lost four straight since a 4-1 start. Cortland is 4-1 in one-score games, and has beaten Ithaca five straight. It’s time for the Bombers to catch a break. If that happens, SJFC still needs to beat Alfred, which is 7-2 with losses to both Cortaca Jug teams. But it would be a fitting finish for 2015’s most topsy-turvy conference.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Lakeland. I waffled back and forth between the Muskies and their opponent, Benedictine. There are a lot of comparable scores here, and both are undefeated in NACC play. I usually lean toward the team with the stouter run game (read: Benedictine), but I like that Lakeland has the potential to be a more dynamic team, with several targets for quarterback Michael Whitley to choose from. I give the nod to Lakeland.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Monmouth. I’ve agonized over this pick for a while but I’m going to go with the road team. I don’t believe Monmouth is flying to St. Norbert for this game the way Macalester flew to Illinois College for last year’s MWC title game, but as long as Monmouth can shake off its bus legs, it should be in good shape to compete in this game. St. Norbert is unbeaten but Monmouth’s loss was to Central, which is probably a slightly better team than the North Park-Carthage pairing that the Green Knights put together.

Which team will play its way out of the playoff field in Week 11?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Olivet. At 8-1, the Comets should be virtually guaranteed a postseason game. But instead, they’re pretty much locked out. A win over Alma hands the MIAA title to Albion. A loss hands it to Trine. At 9-1, their Pool C credentials won’t be outstanding, with a Strength of Schedule figure around .500 and an 0-1 record against regionally ranked opponents. The Comets need to win their game, and root for carnage among Pool C contenders.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist. Big kudos for this team in beating Hardin-Simmons last week, but I think that it was a bit of lightning in a (very sloppy) bottle for the Tigers to have done so. I don’t think they can repeat the feat by beating Mary Hardin-Baylor this weekend and keeping themselves in the playoff discussion. What they will do, however, is give the playoff committee more of a reason to nab UMHB as a Pool C selection.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Trine. I mean, no doubt about it, Trine needs help to even get into the playoff picture but Adrian is waiting to make sure it doesn’t even come down to that. Just for the record, Trine’s path in is by beating Adrian and hoping Alma beats Olivet.

Which rival will dance into the offseason most happily?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: RPI. The Engineers are still alive for a playoff spot, but it’s likely that 7-2 St. Lawrence beats 3-5 Merchant Marine and clinches the Liberty League’s bid. Still, RPI should enjoy a chance to face its rival when it’s 0-9. Speaking from experience, it’s not as fun as playing them when they’re good, but kicking your rivals when they’re down isn’t unenjoyable. The playoff scenarios mean 7-2 RPI isn’t loafing through practice this week or taking Union lightly. So even if this is RPI’s last game, or an ECAC bowl precursor, the Engineers have a chance to go hang on to the Shoes all offseason.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Salisbury. A win here guarantees the Gulls a chance in the dance, so the offseason in this case might still be a couple of weeks away. Salisbury has bounced back from two big disappointments this season, and the team has done a lot with a varied mix of younger and older players. Frostburg has had a great season and climbed up from several years of sub .500 seasons to a 6-3 record currently. But next year is really their year to take off. If this were 2016, I might be choosing the Bobcats here, but for 2015, I think this is the Gulls’ launch pad into the postseason.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Amherst. The Williams football program has become a shadow of the shadow of its former self. The Ephs are about to put the finishing touches on a third consecutive 2-6 season. Meanwhile, Amherst is looking to run the table for the second year in a row and increase its win streak to 19 consecutive games. No contest here, even in Williamstown.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon. I won’t go so far as to make my alma mater’s rivalry game of the week, since it’s got no influence on the conference title or playoff picture, a rarity in recent years. But it’s my radar, and The Game is where I’ll be on Saturday. Frankly, I hated the tailgate as a player, because people would stand over there and stuff their faces while we were sweating, blocking and tackling. But I’ve learned to appreciate the creative displays of Lemon and Black, the Virginian food specialties and the off-field camaraderie. And for the second season in a row, the Yellow Jackets can soothe the hurt of a disappointing season by going out with a bang. I know not everybody cares about this particular rivalry game on Saturday, but everyone who’s involved in one knows exactly what I’m talking about. From Dutchman Shoes to Monon Bell to Cortaca Jug, homecoming is nothing compared to this. A playoff game wouldn’t draw as big a crowd. These are the days players make memories that they’ll embellish and recount in the tailgate 20 years from now. So that’s what’s on my radar, this rivalry game and all of them, really.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Moravian. The Greyhounds are a borderline Pool C team, and this weekend’s game against Muhlenberg will help them by raising their Strength of Schedule numbers. For this category, though, it isn’t that Moravian is specifically on my radar because of this game, what’s on my radar is every team that has the potential to affect Moravian’s postseason chances.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks are going to be looking to leave no doubt and finish off a 9-1 regular season at home vs. UW-Stout. In 2012, the Warhawks still had a shot late in the season at getting into the playoffs and lost to UW-Stevens Point. This Warhawks group won’t let that happen, keeping the national title defense alive heading into the playoffs.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient, and those that were terribly off base.


Around the Nation Podcast: Wrapping it up

Kevin Burke and the Mount Union offense hangs its heads while leaving the field. (Photo by Steve Frommell,

Kevin Burke and the Mount Union offense hangs its heads while leaving the field. (Photo by Steve Frommell,

Another classic Stagg Bowl, which ends like the previous four Whitewater-Mount Union meetings — with a UW-Whitewater national championship. Pat and Keith talk through the biggest game of the year, the things that plagued the Mount Union offense (or things UW-Whitewater did well on defense), hand out their game balls and wrap up the 2014 season.

Plus, Keith makes a great case for an unexpected name as the Coach of the Year. Hear who, and why. And they also came to a consensus on the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year as well. Also, they discuss the Leipold Legacy and more. Thanks for listening to the eighth season of the Around the Nation Podcast!

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile device. 

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Triple Take: Stagg Bowl XLII predictions

We can recycle last year's trophy, uniforms and helmet photo, but not last year's predictions. (City of Salem photo)

We can recycle last year’s trophy, uniforms and helmet photo, but not last year’s predictions. (City of Salem photo)

Over the past 10 years, every time Mount Union and UW-Whitewater have been in the 32-team field, they’ve met in the Stagg Bowl. For the teams’ ninth clash in Salem, we rounded up an expanded group of prognosticators for Triple Take.

Once we get past the novelty and hype, there’s a game to be played. And no two matchups are the same — casts change, strategies change, weather changes. Last year’s lucky bounces may go another way this year. To break it all down, and give you an idea of what to expect tonight, is our seven-man panel.

We predicted last season (everyone was way off) and every Stagg Bowl since 1999. Don’t like any of the picks you see here? Make your own in the comments below; your insight is welcomed.

— Keith McMillan

Pat Coleman, publisher and executive editor
I’ve heard a lot of people compare this game to last year, saying, “how can Mount Union make up 38 points?” The point is, this isn’t 2013 and these are not the 2013 teams. Mount Union just has to score more than UW-Whitewater this time around. What Friday night will show is whether Mount Union has improved enough on defense to hold UWW down. Or whether the 2014 UWW defense can keep Kevin Burke contained, or account for Taurice Scott and Roman Namdar, whom they have never had to deal with before. Because of some of those things, I don’t expect this to be a defensive battle. I expect there will be points scored. This game could come down to a special teams play, and Mount Union has the edge there. But not enough to turn the tide. I look for UW-Whitewater, which has been tested more regularly, to show that here in Salem. UW-Whitewater 34, Mount Union 31.

Keith McMillan, national columnist and managing editor emeritus
Mount Union hung 70 on an elite D-III team last week. Two-time Gagliardi Trophy winner Kevin Burke, who will go down as one of the best in D-III history, is playing like a man on a mission. Wesley coach Mike Drass, after his own team had its butt whooped, said the Stagg Bowl might feature another butt whooping.
UW-Whitewater, meantime, has a hobbled cornerback in Marcus McLin and has had up-and-down safety play. They’ve won their past two games by 4 and 6, and last year’s 52-14 Stagg Bowl win over the Purple Raiders is a distant memory. Shoot, it’s probably what’s fueled Mount Union’s ridiculous run back to Salem.
Realistically, I see three potential outcomes. 1. Burke has a game for the ages and lights up the UW-W defense, even if no passes go near Brady Grayvold. 2. Mykael Bratchett, John Flood IV and the Whitewater defensive line dominate the line of scrimmage, not letting Burke keep on read-option runs and not allowing him time to throw. 3. Tony Koepnick, Johnny Wiederholt and the UW-W offensive line dominate like they did last year (201 rushing yards at 4.9 per carry, no sacks of Matt Behrendt allowed or interceptions thrown); Whitewater keeps the ball out of Burke’s hands and in Dennis Moore’s while the Warhawks win ugly, like the 13-10 game in 2011.
All common sense says take Mount Union. But I’ve watched every one of the Purple Power Stagg Bowls, and what these teams do against everyone else often is little indication of how the game in Salem goes. Backing Burke and his team is perfectly reasonable. But Koepnick, Wiederholt, Spencer Shier, Eli Slonaker and Connor Peters make the difference for me. UW-Whitewater 31, Mount Union 28.

Ryan Tipps, Around the Nation columnist
Some things in life you just can’t unsee – and the total dominance that Mount Union dealt Wesley last Saturday is one of those things. The Purple Raiders are so fast on both sides of the ball, and their special teams are able to ruin an opponent’s drive almost before it starts. Several times on Saturday, Wesley was pinned at or inside its own 10-yard line. Cases like that, it’s possible to have a 60- or 70- yard drive and come away empty-handed. It requires more than momentum to overcome the kind of long field that Mount leaves its opponents.  And then there’s the defense. The Purple Raiders can get so much pressure up front, and they have linebackers and a secondary that flock to the ball so that it’s tough for offenses to stretch their legs in the least. That side of the team is so much improved from a year ago that it should completely change the dynamic of the Stagg Bowl. Hanging in the back of my mind, too, is the fact that UW-Whitewater has needed some extra magic toward the end of the season to win some of its games. Does that sound familiar? It should — it reads like the Mount Union of 2013, the one that ultimately got throttled in the Stagg. I give credit to Whitewater for having the will to win and the poise to regain the upper hand in these games, but this kind of thing will catch up to a team in the end. And the end is Salem: Mount Union 41, UW-Whitewater 24

Adam Turer, Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist
Last year, Mount Union’s defense gave up 140 points on its path to Salem. This year, that number is 52. The Purple Raiders defense entered this season with something to prove, and the unit has shown much improvement from a year ago. UW-Whitewater quarterback Matt Behrendt has thrown four interceptions in the past three games, after tossing just three in his previous 26 starts. This year, it was the Warhawks who eked out quarterfinal and semifinal wins which were not decided until the final minutes. As Mount Union showed in last year’s Stagg Bowl, a team can only bend so many times before it breaks. With several emotional subplots on both sides, I think Kevin Burke finally gets his first win over UW-Whitewater and sends Lance Leipold off to Division I with his first Stagg Bowl loss. Mount Union 42, UW-Whitewater 34

Josh Smith, Around the West columnist
I can’t wait to see if Mount Union continues its dominant playoff run or if UW-Whitewater’s resiliency comes through one more time. Both teams have star players on both sides of the ball and top-notch coaching, so I expect a close game. I think it’s special teams – either a big play or a crucial mistake – that swings this game. It could be as simple as controlling field position. Maybe a punt return by Tim Kennedy or Justin Howard tips the game one way or another. Or perhaps it comes down to Edward Ruhnke or Will Meyer splitting the uprights when it matters most. The Warhawks have managed to gut out close games the past two weeks. I think they find a way to do it again and send Lance Leipold off with as many championships as career losses. UW-Whitewater 31, Mount Union 28

Gary Douglas Lundberg, play-by-play for KOOL 106.5 Whitewater
Every year there seems to be a new story line.  In 2006, it was Bob Berezowitz’s final game.  In ’07 it’s a new head coach and quarterback.  The final game for Larry Kehres in 2012. And now in 2014, it’s Lance Liepold’s (and most of his staff’s) final game. I’m not sure anyone saw last year’s result coming and this year is equally intriguing. Mount looks to be much improved, especially on the defensive side. Whitewater has “bent” on defense particulary in the last half of the season. With Jake Kumerow back, the offense has found its stride again. And for the Purple Raiders, Kevin Burke is … Kevin Burke. I’ve always been an “intangible” guy and the two that I see the most are: Mount looking to payback after last year’s humbling defeat and Whitewater winning one more for their departing head coach and longtime defensive coordinator Brian Borland. It could be a wild one. UW-Whitewater 35, Mount Union 31

Frank Rossi, Stagg Bowl sideline reporter
I originally chose UW-Whitewater to win when I co-hosted the final “In the HuddLLe” show of the season, but that was before Mount Union beat Wesley by 49. So, I decided to take a different approach this year in making my prediction, as I have tended to perform badly in the six prior tries I’ve had. We know that in 2013, UW-Whitewater beat Mount Union by 38 points. I wanted to compare the teams through the first 14 games in each year to see what I could learn statistically:

Mount Union:
2014: Scoring — 844-130 (+714, avg. 51.0) — +20 TO Ratio
2013: Scoring — 686-266 (+420, avg. 30.0) — +10 TO Ratio

2014: Scoring — 558-149 (+409, avg. 29.2) — +25 TO Ratio
2013: Scoring — 501-122 (+379, avg. 27.1) — +31 TO Ratio

Both teams had a better average margin of victory, but Mount Union’s jumped by nearly 22 points. This was likely aided by the improved turnover ratio Mount Union experienced. The question becomes: is this enough to account for more than a 38-point swing Friday night? It seems like the Mount Union defense has leveled the playing field — this didn’t exist in the 2013 stomping and led to the Whitewater dominance in that game.  Add the improvement in offensive efficiency, and I believe Mount Union will win going away. Mount Union 38, UW-Whitewater 27

Listen to our annual Stagg Bowl Webcast on Friday night, beginning at 5 p.m. and featuring the first reveal of the All-America team. Download the Around the Nation podcast and keep an eye out for the final top 25 after the game, where Pat, Keith and a band of guests wrap up the season.