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Around the Nation Podcast: Purple ponderings

Hard to start anywhere but with UW-Whitewater and Mount Union this week, as Whitewater comes away with a key win and the Purple Raiders looked a little shaky in their win vs. Ohio Northern. Plus we talk about a couple of key injuries, including two in the MIAC, we look at the big matchups in New Jersey and Iowa, hand out our game balls and more in this week’s podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

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

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Week 10: The clock ticks down on the 2015 season

Week 10. Here’s where the fun really begins. And for four-fifths of Division III, it’s 10 days from ending.

We won’t forget about all the teams who won’t make the field of 32 or participate in an ECAC bowl game in our weekly picks below. But do understand that most of the fun of the final two Saturdays of the D-III season revolves around the chase for those playoff spots, and around great rivalry games. A few of those rivals begin slugging it out this weekend, although most of the premier D-III rivalries are played in Week 11.

We’ve got regional rankings out now, and 24 of 25 automatic bids still to be clinched. This is the most wonderful time of our season. We want to you take it all in, to enjoy it. And the best way Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I can assist in that is by highlighting the games across the country that you should be paying attention to, beyond the one you’ll be participating in or following. So without further ado, here are our seven-point primers for one of the best weeks of the D-III season.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take:
No. 7 Wheaton at No. 22 Illinois Wesleyan. There are other games this week that are huge for both teams playing, but none that will cause the ripple effect that Thunder-Titans will. Not only will No. 16 North Central be feeling for its playoff pulse either during or immediately after its game at Augustana, but Pool C hopefuls nationwide have a vested interest in Wheaton, since a win would knock IWU out of the mix. NCC is plus-10 (18-point win, eight-point loss) in the potential scores-among-tied-teams three-way tiebreaker, so a close Illinois Wesleyan victory could hand the CCIW lead to the Cardinals and push both Wheaton and IWU into the pool of teams in good shape for at-large bid consideration. A Wheaton loss might also indirectly affect, say, Wabash, which could draw better matchups in the postseason if it remains unbeaten and Wheaton picks up a loss. All that and I haven’t mentioned a single thing about the game itself. IWU is certainly smarting after bad snaps led to nine North Central points last week. Wheaton only needed seven completions from QB Andrew Bowers in the driving rain, but it got 101 rushing yards. The forecast for Saturday in Bloomington is sunny with highs of 54 degrees, so this game won’t likely resemble either of last week’s.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 25 St. Lawrence at Hobart. Even last year, when Hobart was in its prime, this matchup was a nail-biter. This season, the spotlight is on the Saints, who have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since their infamous 5-5 regular season in 2010. They are a team chock full of playmakers, not the least of which is All-American cornerback Leondre Simmon, who was featured in my Around the Nation column this week as a dual-sport athlete. Though he’s primarily a cornerback (with five interceptions this year), he plays both sides of the ball. As a wide receiver, he has seven catches in the past five games — impressive primarily because five of those catches were for touchdowns. St. Lawrence has kept most opponents comfortably at bay, and the Saints are simply playing better football than Hobart right now.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albright at Stevenson. Now that we have regional rankings and a pecking order for potential at-large teams, there are few opportunities for teams to improve their stock. Albright’s SOS needs the boost. (You know, or Stevenson’s, but Albright is the higher-ranked team.) The winner has a shot at being the first team on the board to be selected as an at-large from the East Region if Delaware Valley wins out, and that’s an important position to be in. There’s no guarantee that an East Region team would get an at-large bid, but it’s key to be first in line.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Salisbury at No. 4 Wesley and No. 13 St. John’s at Bethel. I’m definitely swayed by the historical competitiveness of these rivalries more than how the teams match up this year. And while history doesn’t always matter, familiarity between coaches does, and the staffs of Sherman Wood and Mike Drass have been going at it for as long as I can remember, just like Steve Johnson and Gary Fasching, even when the latter was part of John Gagliardi’s staff. The Sea Gulls rush for a second-best-in-the-nation 376 yards a game, and Bethel goes for 247 per. The Wolverines allow a shade more than three yards per carry, and so do the Johnnies. The game may well be won in the trenches, which gives both underdogs a chance to keep it respectable.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo at Adrian. There’s so much focus on the top of the MIAA and the potential for a three-way tie that it’s easy to overlook the teams deeper down. Adrian is at 5-3, while K-zoo is only 2-6. However, K-zoo has played two of the conference’s tougher teams in recent weeks and should be well prepared to stand strong against Adrian. The Hornets may well benefit from their balance on offense to keep the defense guessing, which differs from Adrian’s heavy run game.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Austin College at No. 20 Texas Lutheran. The Roos haven’t had a winning season since 2000. Austin College needs a win in either of the last two games, vs. Texas Lutheran or Trinity, to pull that off. That may be enough to inspire AC to give the Bulldogs a battle.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 12 Thomas More. I’ll swing for the fences yet again in this category, and perhaps incur some troll’s wrath. I don’t know that anyone would have given No. 18 Case Western Reserve much of a shot against the Saints a few weeks back, but wins over W&J and Wash. U. have been eye-openers. The Spartans, who might be undefeated if not for missing a PAT with five minutes left in a 31-30 Week 1 loss at Chicago, have had no problem scoring behind QB Rob Cuda, WR Bryan Erb and the gang. But they’re also 10th nationally against the run (73.3 yds/game) and had six interceptions last week, while Thomas More has been flip-flopping quarterbacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints won big, but it’s probably time to take CWRU seriously.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: None. I haven’t played the “none” card in Triple Take yet this season, so I’m taking the opportunity. Maybe this is a testament to thinking that the poll has it right, and the teams that are currently ranked are there deservedly so. That’s not always the case earlier in the season. While Salisbury/Wesley, Hardin-Simmons/East Texas Baptist, St. John’s/Bethel and Concordia-Moorhead/Gustavus Adolphus (and others) have the potential to be competitive, I don’t see any of the bigger dogs falling this week.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 23 Concordia-Moorhead. I mean, I have to keep picking Gustavus Adolphus until they win one of these last four games. (I mean, this week or bust — it won’t be next week vs. St. Thomas.) We picked Gustavus to go 7-3 in Kickoff and goshdarnit, that’s what’s going to happen. Only issue is that this wouldn’t be a huge upset — MIAC No. 5 over MIAC No. 3.

Pick a team that will help its postseason chances this weekend

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Albion. The dream for the Britons, as laid out in a Kickoff ’15 Q&A, was to win the MIAA and dodge the first-round fate of weaker-conference champions: Getting sent to Mount Union or Wheaton or some such place in Round 1. The Britons’ strength of schedule might have earned them a home game if 10-0. That ship sailed with 55-51 loss to Trine, but the conference championship and automatic playoff bid are still Albion’s for the taking, because virtually every scenario breaks its way. All it has to do is take care of Alma on Saturday. The bad news? The Scots, after six wins in the previous four seasons, are looking for win No. 6.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Berry. I gotta hand it to this young team, it’s been exciting to see how they have rebounded from an opening-week nonconference loss to sweep through the SAA thus far. A win at Birmingham-Southern means the Vikings are in the playoffs in just their third season as a team. The Panthers have a sub-.500 record and have struggled in conference play, so Berry should be able to secure their postseason spot by the close of business on Saturday.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 2 Linfield. The Wildcats need one win to wrap up the Northwest Conference automatic bid and they’ll get it this week vs. Puget Sound. Not sure exactly what went into last week’s game vs. George Fox, which was the poster child for “surprisingly close,” but if Linfield needed a wake-up call in any way, that was certainly a candidate. That, and being ranked third in the regional rankings.

Pick a team that will not help its playoff chances this weekend

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Pat used my first idea, so I landed on a team that doesn’t even have a game. The Red Dragons (7-2, 5-2) get a break from the 11-week whirlwind that is the Empire 8 while Alfred (6-2, 4-2) and St. John Fisher (5-3, 4-2) attempt to keep pace, facing Utica (4-4, 3-3) and Hartwick (3-5, 1-5). Cortland State’s season will again come down to the Cortaca Jug game, and struggling Ithaca should have no problem getting amped up to spoil it for their rival and send good fortune either the Cardinals’ or Saxons’ way. But those teams have to play, and since this is the E8, risk defeat this week. Cortland can kick back and watching knowing that it’ll still be in the conference-title hunt in Week 11.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs line up against Albright, and the pair make up two-thirds of the one-loss teams in the MAC. This weekend, we’ll get to see some separation in the pack. Though both of these teams lost to Delaware Valley, the Aggies have a loss to a bottom-rung MAC team, which means the playoff chances for both Stevenson and Albright are alive if they can win out and DelVal stumbles yet again. But first and foremost, Stevenson and Albright, as I said, must win out to stay alive, and that’s an impossibility after this weekend. Albright has been the overall more impressive team this season and will stay in the hunt, which effectively means Stevenson’s hopes will vanish.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Monmouth. There’s nothing Monmouth can do this weekend to help its playoff chances. All the Scots can do is go out and beat Knox and retain the Bronze Turkey for the 17th consecutive season. It has no impact on their position in the Midwest Conference title game and Monmouth doesn’t have a real shot at an at-large bid, so this game is essentially meaningless for playoff purposes. It’s just their biggest rivalry, that’s all.

In a game outside the playoff chase, pick a winner

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Amherst. There’s a clash of unbeaten teams in Massachusetts on Saturday, with one of the most fun-to-watch offenses in D-III taking on a traditionally great defensive team. (Trinity, Conn. has allowed six touchdowns all season, the same number as Linfield in one fewer game.) Does anyone outside the NESCAC’s circle care? The NESCAC is fine playing in its own sandbox (or in the house with its own robotic erector set, as it were) and we’re fine with it too. But if the conference was in Week 10 instead of Week 7 and played non-conference foes, this would be a matchup of top-25 teams with an automatic bid on the line. As it is, voters are just guessing at where or whether to place these teams, and fans from outside the circle are indifferent. And given that Johns Hopkins, Washington & Lee and Case Western Reserve are all currently proving that it’s possible to be in the top 20 of U.S. News & World Report and D3football.com at the same time, and it’s disappointing that there’s no framework to appreciate this game within the overall fabric of D-III.

[For a preview of the game, check out our friends at NothingButNESCAC.com]

Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Trinity (Texas). In Kickoff 2015, I picked Trinity as the team to most improve its record over 2014. While the Tigers are two games ahead of last year’s record already, I expect them to be able to run the table in these final weeks (Saturday vs. Southwestern and then at Austin) and officially double last fall’s win total. Of course, that probably won’t put them as the nation’s most improved team overall; that honor (I believe) will go to Washington and Lee, which was 2-8 last year and is 8-0 so far this year. (Kudos to Adam Turer on picking W&L in Kickoff!)
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Misericordia. I’m going to pick the Cougars here on Saturday vs. Wilkes. Miseri and Wilkes have played everyone pretty similarly all season, and after last week’s narrow loss to FDU-Florham, here’s a chance for the Cougars to get their first win of the season. The build has been slow for Miseri, and they haven’t had the Year Four surge that many new programs have had.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 Hardin-Simmons. So you’ve finally vanquished the UMHB demon. You know who doesn’t care? East Texas Baptist, which is surprisingly 6-2, gains 491 yards per game and is within sniffing distance of its first ASC title since 2003. So if the Cowboys are worthy of their ranking and a team we should expect to play a playoff game outside the Texas border, they must handle business on Saturday. I’ll be watching (from afar).
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: The Maryville at Huntingdon game. I didn’t have any other available spot in this list game, and this game is too big for USA South playoff implications not to mention. Huntingdon can secure its spot in the postseason, and Maryville can get there by winning both this week and next week. Both teams are having very solid seasons that would be even more impressive without each having a somewhat-surprising slipup (read: both teams should be undefeated right now). More notably, these are the only two teams in the conference that have records above .500, and there will be a lot of eyes on them to see how well they can represent the USAC now as well as in 15 days.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Berry at Birmingham-Southern. Once again, this will be on visual, not on radar. This is the game I’ll be at on Saturday, to see if Berry can clinch the Southern Athletic Association’s automatic bid. When I saw the Vikings slog through a losing battle with Millsaps last year, I would never have envisioned they could be in this position a year later. Also, let’s keep the rain away. Thanks.

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.