Triple Take: Going down the rabbit hole

From a huge rivalry game to a couple of stellar Top 25 matchups, there’s no shortage of things to keep an eye on this week among Division III’s elite.

But if you read our Around the Region columns and listen to the ATN Podcast, you already know how deep the rabbit hole goes with all the stories, teams and players that make up small-college football. There so much more going on than what will fit in this Triple Take space, but Pat Coleman (@d3football), Keith McMillan (@D3Keith) and Ryan Tipps (@NewsTipps) break down the week ahead and some of the games that are on our radars.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Two Top 5 teams. Perennial deep playoff runs. History of great clashes. New UMHB stadium. New Crusader starting quarterback. Wolverines coming off hail mary win. Saturday under the lights. Pick your reason why this game will be exciting. There’s no wrong answer.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Given that I already wrote about that here though, perhaps some fresh thoughts on No. 22 Cal Lutheran at No. 3 Linfield will suffice? Pacific Lutheran rushed for 234 yards against CLU last week, and Linfield ran for nearly 300 against Hardin-Simmons, including more than 150 from quarterbacks. The Kingsmen, tied at 24, couldn’t get off the field during PLU’s game-winning drive. Linfield might keep it on the ground at key times and eke out yet another win over its class-of-the-West-Coast rival.
Pat’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Normally we try not to repeat games but let’s be honest, this is it. Once upon a time the Tommie-Johnnie game could have measured up or Linfield-Cal Lutheran, but not this year.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Sul Ross State at Trinity.
It’s a bit hard to get a handle on the Lobos since they have yet to take the field against a D-III opponent. Their ability to get a rushing game going against the Tigers’ mid-range run defense will be the key to Sul Ross getting points on the board and staying in this one.
Keith’s take: Louisiana College at Huntingdon. If it was billed as top-level ASC team against team picked to finish middle of USAC, it might sound like it won’t be close, but this will be. The Wildcats and Hawks are each off to very good starts (Huntingdon won 35-7 at ASC member Mississippi College on Sept. 14, and LC has two wins over NAIA teams). The Wildcats dominated Webber International statistically last week, but needed to cap a 16-play drive with the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left, partially because 12 penalties for 171 yards set them back. Huntingdon had eight penalties of its own, and completed just 15 passes last week, so unless both teams clean up their acts, the game could stay close because both sides’ miscues keep the other in it.
Pat’s take: Redlands at No. 11 Pacific Lutheran. This game will not be as far apart as a game between a near-Top 10 team and a team not quite receiving votes would expect to be. Both teams have been tested early, and Redlands could well be up to the task.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Baldwin Wallace.
I could see the Yellow Jackets’ game against John Carroll coming down to which offense has the ball last. Both teams put up some wild offensive stats in their first games, and Baldwin Wallace has the most to lose as the team surely has its eyes on a conference prize if Mount Union shows any bit of vulnerability in the next few weeks.
Keith’s take: No major upsets. Wesley and Cal Lutheran won’t count as upsets if they lose to higher-ranked top-25 teams. I’m intrigued by Redlands at No. 11 Pacific Lutheran, Albright hosting No. 21 Delaware Valley and the two top-25 games involving OAC teams, but I wouldn’t pick them in writing.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. You’d have to believe that Albright is gong to come out more than a little fired up and focused after losing to Stevenson last week and putting the Mustangs … say, on the radar. Albright might not win the MAC this season, but they’re talented enough to knock off a contender, especially one coming to Reading.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Stevenson.
The Mustangs are carrying a solid opening set into this Friday night matchup against FDU-Florham. I’ll be interested to see how well they can hang onto the ball after Florham showed last week that it likes to pressure teams into making turnovers. The Devils edged out TCNJ in a low-scoring game thanks primarily to forcing five of them. Stevenson, in only its third year, could prove this week and in the next couple that it is a team ready to contend.
Keith’s take: Ohio Wesleyan. Two of last year’s surprise teams, not just in the NCAC but nationally, meet this week when Kenyon hosts the Battling Bishops. OWU would seem to have the edge, with a week off since its season-opening win over Bluffton and the Lords coming off a 25-15 loss at Earlham in which they gained only 221 yards. With both teams playing Wabash and Wittenberg this season, I’m looking for something to indicate whether QB Mason Espinosa and OWU will be a contender for a conference title. Hey, let’s keep it in the NCAC …
Pat’s take: Hiram. No, seriously. Readers of Kickoff know why I say so — they have a transfer quarterback who played at Notre Dame … even if it is the Division II school in Ohio. Rob Partridge is listed as a freshman in the Terriers’ stats, but don’t let that fool you: He’s actually a senior. And with that experience, he’s going to have Hiram in a lot more games than it would have been in last year. If he plays, that is, since he didn’t finish last week’s game at Denison.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: Kean.
While the final score last week appears to have been a thorough beating at the hands of Mary Hardin-Baylor, it belies the closeness of the matchup at halftime, when UMHB had just a 3-0 lead. The Crusaders, of course, made adjustments under center and elsewhere, and took off from there, but the fact that Kean was able to hang with such a good team for such a long time and force a couple of turnovers has to give them confidence going up against Endicott this week.
Keith’s take: Salisbury. The Gulls might take the frustration of losing to two top-25 teams by a total of 10 points out on N.C. Wesleyan. It’s a new season and all, and a fresh coaching staff for the (other) Battling Bishops, but Salisbury won 69-6 at home last year.
Pat’s take: Susqhenanna. In a matchup of 0-2 teams, I take Susquehanna over Dickinson. It’s puzzling how poorly Dickinson has been playing so far this season, while Susquehanna has at least looked decent in one game, at Merchant Marine in the season opener.

Which team is far topping your expectations?
Ryan’s take: Juniata.
You have to go back at least a decade to find a season in which the Eagles have started 2-0. And while coach and Juniata grad Tim Launtz showed last season, in his sophomore year at the helm, that he is serious about turning the team around, he’s following through with that goal splendidly this fall. The next couple weeks could be bumpy for Juniata, with Gettysburg this week then Franklin and Marshall and Johns Hopkins, but there’s a lot for these players to be happy about. Junior quarterback Ward Udinski has 634 passing yards in just two games, with more than 100 yards rushing. This is a team that could sneak up on some of the top teams in the conference if they let their guard down.
Keith’s take: Olivet. I listed a handful of mildly surprising 2-0 teams in Off the Beaten Path, and the Comets get more acknowledgement here not just for winning at Wilmington and then beating Wisconsin Lutheran so far. It’s that there’s no reason it should stop. This week’s opponent, Rockford, is 0-2 and 2-30 since the start of the 2010 season, and 0-2 North Park and 0-2 Alma follow.
Pat’s take: Emory and Henry. So far, at least. Not just beating Ferrum, but crushing them, and then beating Maryville as well. Even though the ODAC has generally owned the USA South in recent years, that’s a convincing butt-kicking of the Panthers. And even though E&H generally beats Ferrum soundly in Emory, it’s still a bit of a surprise to me because I was thinking E&H was on a bit of a downslide.

Color me red.
Ryan’s take: Olivet.
This is another one of those teams that could fall under “far topping my expectations,” but since their uniforms are Scarlet, I get an opportunity to talk about them in this category instead. The Comets have already notched their best season in years. And with Rockford and North Park over the next two weeks before MIAA play begins, it’s no stretch to think Olivet could be 4-0 and looking to rattle some conference cages behind Braden Black at quarterback and his go-to receiver, Dan Hugan. The weakness in their armor, though, is the pass defense (statistically 211th in Division III), which will need to improve if Olivet hopes to take this success to the next level.
Keith’s take: Bates. Hey Ryan, my bad for using Olivet, didn’t know you’d be shooting stars down here when I wrote that. (See what I did there?) Maybe I should have given 2-0 Hope some love instead. The good folks in Michigan will appreciate the Olivet nods, but anyway, Bates … So yeah, the NESCAC gets underway this week, and the Bobcats get conference favorite Trinity right off the bat. I’m responsible for a portion of the Bantams’ also receiving votes in the top 25, so I’m not picking Bates so much as I’m watching to see signs that last year’s 5-3 season was no fluke. Jeff Hetzel and Damon Hatheway were high on Bates in Kickoff, and assuming that quarterback battle is settled, we’ll get an indication of whether that 6-2 prediction could be on the money.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. After a close loss to St. John’s and a non-embarrassing loss to No. 2 St. Thomas, it’s time for UW-River Falls to hit the road. While that involves something different than the first two games at home did, I think River Falls will be just a bit on the rise this season.

Triple Take: Coming into focus

Nate Oropollo
Aaron Terrell-Byrd is the new face at running back for St. Thomas, which has had significant changes on offense from 2011.
By Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Teams — their strengths and weaknesses — are coming into shape after two weeks of play. And for many of them, they’re still in the walkup to the start of conference play, where the path to the playoffs is largely traveled.

Perhaps most captivating nationally are the battles between Top 25 teams, but that is not the end-all of Division III. Not by a long shot. And there are still dozens of teams with a shot of playing their way into the rankings and into the postseason.

Often going beyond the Top 25 are Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps in this week’s Triple Take (look for hashtag #3take on Twitter). As always, we’re happy to hear your comments.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 10 Cal Lutheran.
I see these two teams in very different lights: the visiting squad is one that I’ve had a lot of enthusiasm about entering this year and that should have a huge target on its back; the other is one that needs to prove itself as a national competitor without the benefit Jake Laudenslayer taking snaps. We’ll get a better handle on that after Saturday, and these two teams should have fresh memories and be primed to duke it out. In 2011, these teams played two very competitive games — one in the regular season and one in the postseason — with the Wildcats emerging on top both times. Lining up together, they rarely disappoint.
Pat’s take: The Tommie-Johnnie game. What it’s doing on Week 3, however, is beyond me. I know some conferences feel the need to shuffle their schedules evenly over time but there are other conferences who do that and still make sure the rivalry games get played at the end. With No. 6 St. Thomas having beaten St. John’s by a hideous score last year, expect the Johnnies to come out extra motivated, in front of a home crowd that’s likely to be at least 15,000. And how often can you say that? Both teams had to rally to beat UW-Eau Claire, both had an easier game as well. St. Thomas has had quarterbacks fold in this game before but the new Tommie quarterback, Matt O’Connell, faced some pressure in Week 1, so the only thing new will be the crowd.
Keith’s take: No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 3 Wesley. Oh, cool, I get the slam dunk. And honestly, there isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said here. The two South Region powers have played six times in seven seasons, with Wesley winning four. In the UMHB game notes, Coach Pete Fredenburg makes reference to the whole country watching, and in this case, it’s not an exaggeration. Respect for these guys scheduling this game early. A well-played loss won’t hurt in the top 25, and it will have a limited impact on playoff chances.  What would be interesting is if these teams play again in the playoffs, but with experience against each other. UMHB outgained Kean 517-180, with 313 yards rushing, 165 from Darius Wilson. Wesley has been statistically underwhelming, but has given up only 21 points in road wins. This game is as big as they get in the regular season, and might be decided along the lines, by players we’ve heretofore never heard of.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Sewanee at Maryville.
There are only three Division III football teams in Tennessee, and two of them are lining up Saturday. Why are Sewanee and Maryville not meeting every single year? This situation is primed for a rivalry, but these two teams haven’t played each other in seven years. Sewanee is playing better ball that Maryville right now, but the Scots will be fighting for some in-state pride.
Pat’s take: No. 11 Trinity (Texas) at Sul Ross State. This is a new opponent for Trinity and a bit of a trip as well. Sul Ross has been competitive with Division II programs each of the first two weeks and transfer quarterback A.J. Springer has the offensive clicking. (And Ryan, I’d say it’s for the same reason Sewanee and its SAA mates broke away from the SCAC — wanting to play so-called “like-minded institutions.” Sewanee surely sees itself as not in the same class as Maryville academically.)
Keith’s take: TCNJ at Brockport State. Behind Joseph Scibilia, the Golden Eagles are 2-0, passing for 317 yards per game, and allowing only 28.5 rushing yards per game. They’re attracting top 25 attention. But TCNJ, at 1-1, has gained 521 yards per game, just a shade better than Brockport’s 518, and there could be a bunch of points put on the board. Justin Doniloski has 244 rushing yards in two games, so the matchup against the Golden Eagles’ run defense bears watching.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Centre.
The jury is still out on whether this Centre team is as good as last season’s. If it is, the Colonels will beat Washington and Lee. But W&L is 1-1 and has played opponents that are better than those that Centre has lined up against. That’ll be the biggest advantage the Generals have over the Kentucky competition.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Redlands. Each team has one game under its belt. Pacific Lutheran was tied with Cal Lutheran at half before falling last week, and I like the Lutes’ chances.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Hobart. The Statesmen have given up just 230 yards and seven points in two wins, but Utica’s hung 40 and 45 points on its two opponents. The Pioneers, led by Andrew Benkwitt, are ready for a breakthrough win, but they can’t expect to keep gaining yards at a 500 per game clip. Playing at home should help, and I wouldn’t expect Hobart to make it easy. If it happens, it could be a low-scoring affair where turnovers play a part. No. 13 North Central at UW-Stout was also an option here.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Gettysburg.
Statistically, the Bullets are first in the country in rushing offense and are eighth in total defense. Gaining yards and putting up points is nothing new for Gettysburg, but this is an enviable place defensively for Gettysburg to be in as it wends its way toward some of the tougher teams on the Centennial schedule. There are a handful of conference opponents that will bring a pretty good arsenal to the table.
Pat’s take: John Carroll. It’s been a little while since they’ve played, but they open their North American and Ohio Athletic Conference schedule with a home game against No. 15 Baldwin Wallace. We’ll see how good their transfer quarterback is.
Keith’s take: William Paterson. Kickoff ’12 hipped us to the possibility that it could finally be these Pioneers’ turn atop the NJAC. Running back Dawys German is supposed to be a star, but the 9-3 Week 1 win against King’s was underwhelming. The defense impressed, but so did Rowan in the Week 1 upset of Delaware Valley. But with the Profs humbled at D-II Merrimack last week, they won’t be going easy on William Paterson, so this is a big prove-it game for the Pioneers. Or else we just go back to thinking they’re a mid-pack also-ran.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Franklin.
While I understand that the Grizzlies have taken on Mount Union and Division I-FCS Butler to start the season, they’ve been blown out in both of those matchups. This team — deservedly or not — has some great cred nationally to still be in the Top 20. This week’s opponent, Manchester, which has also begun its season 0-2, will not pose a problem for Franklin, which truly is more potent than its record indicates. Expect to stop paying attention to this game by halftime.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons. I don’t need to know much about Texas College, which is 0-3 against an interesting spread of opponents, to take the D-III team here.
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley. Stevenson’s coming close, with a 10-point loss followed by an OT loss. The Aggies have a chance to salvage their high expectations for the season, but it has to start right away, and they need to generate some offense. Stevenson has allowed 419 yards per game, while Del Val has gained 382. The Aggies’ problem hasn’t been turnovers — they have four, but an even margin. They just haven’t finished drives. They have 10 punts, four turnovers and four touchdowns. The Aggies need to take advantage of Stevenson’s defense early and regain their confidence.

Which saint sparks your interest?
Ryan’s take: St. Vincent.
Over the years, the Bearcats have climbed up from the conference depths, going 1-29 in its first three seasons. But last year brought forth a much more refreshing 6-5 outing, including a visit to an ECAC bowl game. But so far, St. Vincent hasn’t turned a corner in 2012, dropping its first two games. This week, the Bearcats face Waynesburg, the PAC’s only 2-0 team. Is Waynesburg for real? Is St. Vincent really lacking? Clarity is right around the bend.
Pat’s take: St. Olaf, which gets its first real challenge of the season after pulling out a close game on a short trip to Luther and winning handily on a long trip to DePauw. Concordia-Moorhead coming to town is by far the most impressive opponent so far.
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. It’s the final Courage Bowl with Rochester. Having attended one of the cooler young rivalries in D-III, mixing charity and on-field competitiveness, I’ll be sad to see it go. Rochester, which has lost all seven Courage Bowls, is ending the series, which moves back to campus, at Fisher, after two years downtown.

If you’re picking a winning team based on faith, which would it be?
Ryan’s take: Albright, affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
The Lions have come out of the gate with two wins, including one that knocked Kean off its preseason perch. But Albright needed overtime to beat conference-mate Stevenson, and the slate only gets harder, starting with this Saturday against Wilkes. Remember this matchup last year? Sixty-five points for the winning Albright, 575 passing yards, school records broken. There’s little doubt there’ll be some excitement going into this year’s game.
Pat’s take: Salve Regina, which is a Catholic school. The Seahawks face Fitchburg State. When I was working at my alma mater, Catholic U., the head coach wanted to put together a “conference” like the ECAC in style, with all of the Catholic schools playing Division III football. It was a great idea but I wasn’t going to run it. However, picture a postseason bowl game featuring the top team from eastern Catholic schools against the top available western Catholic school. Because so many Catholic schools made the playoffs last year (St. Thomas, St. John Fisher, Thomas More, Benedictine) you might end up with Salve Regina or St. Vincent against St. John’s or St. Norbert. Just food for thought.
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist. Willamette gained 727 yards in its opener, and has had two weeks to prepare. And they’re at home. But the choices among the Baptists were limited, so I’ll have to lean on ETBU’s experience in the opener against Wesley for my pick.

Triple Take: And here’s the kick!


St. John Fisher ended last season on a roll to the Elite 8. The Cardinals start with a Top 25 opponent in Thomas More.

Are you ready to take in more than 1,200 college football games this season? We sure are!

The Division III community is embarking on a fall during which 239 teams will take the field, most playing nine or 10 games in the regular season. D-III is the largest division in college, and D3football.com will give you insight across the board into the good, the bad, and the potential breakouts.

That all started with Kickoff 2012, our preseason publication, which has a slew of feature stories as well as rankings and interviews with coaches from every team in the nation. (There’s still lots of valuable info there if you haven’t purchased yet.)

D3football.com also brings you regional and national columns throughout the season, and every Friday morning, you’ll be able to dive into the column you’re reading right now, called Triple Take.

In Triple Take, Executive Editor and Publisher Pat Coleman, Managing Editor and National Columnist Keith McMillan and Senior Editor and longtime Mid-Atlantic Columnist Ryan Tipps break down some of the week’s biggest games, sleeper teams and those who we’re keeping an especially close eye on. From now until the Stagg Bowl, we’ll take you well beyond the Top 25.

We open up Triple Take to comments in the section below, or feel free to take the conversation to Twitter using the hashtag #3take. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: Pat (@d3football), Keith (@D3Keith) and Ryan (@D3MidAtlantic).

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at No. 11 St. John Fisher.
Fisher blasted through the first two rounds of the 2011 playoffs, proving to the selection committee and the D-III community that 8-2 teams deserve at-large bids. Their Empire 8 conference is one of the absolute toughest in the land, and getting the ball rolling against the PAC’s standard-bearer will be an exciting test. Both teams return the bulk of their starters and match up amazingly well on the field. A win for momentum’s sake could be crucial, too, as each team faces its top conference opponent the first week of October.
Pat’s take: St. Norbert vs. John Carroll. It’s in Ireland, for goodness sakes. I’m not sure I need to write anything else.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at No. 11 St. John Fisher. Usually we try not to duplicate picks, but this was my standout game before I saw Ryan’s, and I’m sticking with it. There’s some other intrigue, like Willamette at Hardin-Simmons and Monmouth at Coe, but this is the biggest toss-up involving at least one top 25 team. Luke Magness became Thomas More’s starting quarterback right at the end of the season last year; We’ll be watching to see how much better he is with an offseason to prepare for the job. Likewise, St. John Fisher’s Ryan Kramer was a running back-turned-QB in a pinch last season; He’s had a full go-round to train as a signal-caller.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Marietta.
Case has ushered in some teams with top-notch records recently, not losing more than two games a season over the past five years. But the Spartans are rarely dynamic out of the gate. Chalk that up to reasons we may never know. But with some changes happening up front for Case, an OAC team (even a lower-tier one) isn’t how I’d prefer to start my season.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Delaware Valley at Rowan. The Profs look to be coming into this season undermanned when compared to their cross-river rivals. And even though Rowan is far removed from the program which beat Delaware Valley in back-to-back years for the East Region title in 2004 and 2005, there’s still a little pride in Glassboro. Enough to give them a fighting chance.
Keith’s take: Augustana at Dubuque. On the surface, it’s a 2-8 team vs. a playoff team. Beneath it, though, the Vikings have usually been good for about seven wins a season, and come from the always-tough CCIW. Last season, the Spartans won, 18-13, on the road. They’re a more confident team now, coming off an IIAC championship, but they’re also without Gagliardi Trophy winner Michael Zweifel, who accounted for an enormous amount of their offense last season. Even if Dubuque wins again, it’ll be by a not-pretty score like last season.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 St. Thomas.
Can a team really lose its best players at its three prime skill positions — the quarterback and All-Americans at running back and wide receiver — and still deserve a spot in the Top 10? Not unless your name is Mount Union or UW-Whitewater. The Tommies’ opening opponent, UW-Eau Claire, is a solid mid-pack WIAC team, which stands for a lot coming from that conference. St. Thomas might make the playoffs again (they might even go 10-0), but there’s a lot more trepidation about the team’s potency now than there was at this time in 2011.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. St. John Fisher performed better in the playoffs last season without Ryan Kramer than it did with him. But it’s good to remember that Kramer was not expected to be the quarterback in 2011 when the season started, and worked out in the offseason and preseason as a running back before the presumed starter got hurt. With a full offseason to prepare, Kramer should be much more polished under center.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Kean. I don’t think any of the ranked teams are really likely to be upset; If I thought so, I wouldn’t have put these teams in the preseason top 25.  And I mean actual upsets (*glares at Pat*). Kean though, is replacing nearly its entire offense (four starters back; 13 overall) while its opponent, Albright, brings back the group almost intact (nine offensive starters, 16 overall). The game is under the lights in Union, N.J. though, which means this is about as weak an upset pick as I could possibly make. Other viable choices were No. 6 North Central, hosting UW-LaCrosse or No. 7 Salisbury, at Christopher Newport.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 24. Birmingham-Southern.
Any team that has a rusher like Shawn Morris has one less position it needs to worry about come Saturday. As the No. 2 rusher in country last fall, Morris was instrumental in helping B-SC reach further for its gold ring than ever before. The Panthers have turned things around in recent years, and barring any major stumbles, they should be on everyone’s radar for the next several weeks, starting with their game against LaGrange.
Pat’s take: Buffalo State. The Empire 8 coaches’ poll snubbed the Bengals and despite my best efforts, I think Kickoff did too. I agree with what Ryan said above, about the Empire 8 being among the toughest conferences in Division III football, but Buffalo State will be able to hold its own. Whether that translates into a win against Cortland State remains to be seen but the Bengals should be on your radar, for sure.
Keith’s take: William Paterson and Wisconsin Lutheran.
Yeah I’m not sure I understood Pat’s obssession with Buffalo State during our Kickoff meetings, but then he could probably say the same about my Wisconsin Lutheran pick in the Beyond the Top 25 piece. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, buy Kickoff. … It won’t affect the Northern Athletics Conference race, but Wisconsin Lutheran’s opener at Ripon is a chance for them to take a step toward the postseason. Meanwhile, the real intrigue is in the NJAC, a race that could be up for grabs, especially if my upset pick is correct. That means William Paterson needs to start the season with an attention-grabbing victory against King’s. Other potential picks here included North Park at Hope and Illinois College, hosting Hanover.

Which 2011 playoff team is going to end up wishing it had a Week 1 bye?
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins.
The Blue Jays have said more than once in recent seasons that quarterback Hewitt Tomlin was the face of the franchise, the player on whom success and defeat often rested. Tomlin has graduated, and with him the more than 2,600 yards he threw for last year. That doesn’t leave a settling thought for a team that has to go up against Randolph-Macon, with its penchant for replacing top-notch running backs with even more top-notch backs. Macon is stingy with points, too. A team might be able to air the ball out and make some big plays to put up points, but most opponents won’t win the war in the trenches with Macon. JHU won’t have the leverage going into Saturday to outlift R-MC.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. It isn’t a rebuilding season for the Saints, to be sure, but they won’t be 10-0 dominant like they were last year. And you can consult the Kickoff rankings to see the difference between last year’s non-conference opener (Lawrence) and this year’s (Whitworth).
Keith’s take: Franklin. Look, we salute the Grizzlies for playing Mount Union. It’ll be a meeting of some of D-III’s best fans, at least in the pre-game tailgate. For years we’ve seen teams take this Week 1 game to get a taste of the Purple Raiders, and they end up with a mouthful. Franklin, which has designs on being a perennial contender, took a game with UW-Whitewater last season and lost 45-0. The playoff rematch was 41-14. I know Franklin doesn’t really wish it had a bye, because they’re playing these games to figure out what it takes to get to the purple powers’ level, but the final score may leave a bit to be desired. Mount Union has been vulnerable in recent seasons, but we’re talking December vulnerable, not beginning of September. Other candidates: Bendictine at No. 15 Wheaton, Monmouth at Coe.

Which conference will have the most impressive non-conference win?
Ryan’s take: The MIAA.
It’s not every day that a team from Michigan can get a leg up on the CCIW, but that’s exactly what could happen when Adrian hosts Carthage. The Bulldogs are a team on the rise, and they’re certainly hoping to bite into a piece of the playoff pie. Should they lose a conference game, wins against teams like Carthage could factor in nicely for at-large consideration.
Pat’s take: The MAC. There are a couple of possible matchups here that could give me that result, but the one I’m thinking of is Lebanon Valley at Montclair State. Montclair State just lost too much on offense and defense … and special teams … and while Lebanon Valley doesn’t exactly return intact either, it should have the upper hand.
Keith’s take: The ECFC.
A few teams scheduled aggressively, opening up opportunities for upsets. Gallaudet at Otterbein, Norwich against Western New England and Husson at Hartwick are the three games that would catch my attention, should the ECFC team prevail.

Which long losing streak is likely to end?
Ryan’s take: Greensboro, at Guilford.
If you’re going to end a losing streak, nothing’s sweeter than doing it against a cross-town rival. The Pride has a new coach, one who is familiar with the inner workings of the team. That means there’s new perspectives but without the learning curve. To most teams, Guilford wouldn’t be a chest-thumping win, but Greensboro has won just one game since September 2010. And last year’s matchup against Guilford was a lopsided affair. A win by Greensboro isn’t going to be a sign of a great resurgence afoot, but it will be a step in the right direction for a program looking to rebuild.
Pat’s take: Knox, vs. Eureka. The Prairie Fire have been put out 14 consecutive times, but it’s better to open against Eureka than against Wash U. Knox is playing at home and should have 18 starters back. Eureka has some pretty good talent as well, but if the win doesn’t come here for Knox, in the inaugural Lincoln Bowl, it will be more than a month before there’s another similar opportunity.
Keith’s take: Thiel, vs. Juniata.
The Tomcats won 11 games in 2005, but now are coming off consecutive 0-10 seasons and 22 consecutive losses. Juniata, meanwhile, is 6-54 since that 2005 season, so if there was ever an opportunity for Theil to break the streak, now is the time. Hamline (16 consecutive losses) at Minnesota-Morris is another candidate.