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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.

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Triple Take: Let’s get this 2015 thing started

It’s been a long time since we last saw a Division III game that counted. The Stagg Bowl was way back on Dec. 19, a mere 258 days ago. It’s been a longer wait for the 240-odd teams whose seasons ended before Salem, and still longer for McMurry, which returns to D-III after leaving following the 2011 season. Belhaven comes over from NAIA, and has never played a D-III game; Neither has Finlandia, which plays its program’s first game Saturday against Alma.

There are six Thursday night games, 12 on Friday and 92 on Saturday. Subtract the seven non-D-III opponents, and 195 of the record 247 teams that will play D-III football this season are in action on opening weekend.

Enjoy it. Whether you’re playing, watching or involved in game day some other way, it’s a three-hour break from everything else in the world. It’s a chance to see old friends and make new ones, to watch some players dig deep and pull out something from inside that they didn’t even know they had. It’s a chance to watch student-athletes who won’t forgo the first part of that deal.

I played tackle football for 13 consecutive seasons, between Pop Warner in Somerville, Mass., high school in Runnemede, N.J. and at Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va. In that picture below, which was taken in one of my first seasons writing for D3football.com, I’m 23. Which reminds me that I’ve now not been playing football for more consecutive autumns than I played. All of which is to say, this weekend, if you’re a player, coach, parent or fan, take it all in and savor it. It goes by quickly. Teams only get eight to ten game days a season, unless they play really well and advance through the playoffs. But as those accustomed to playing 15 weeks would tell you, greatness happens one game at a time (a UW-Whitewater standard) and starts with respecting your opponent (something I’ve heard more than once at Mount Union).

Respect the game. Enjoy it. Savor it. Finally, it’s back.

— Keith McMillan

Triple Take is our weekly predictions column. Typically it appears on Friday morning, but with games kicking off on Thursday night, we’re presenting it a few hours early.

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 St. John Fisher at No. 23 Thomas More. You can’t really go wrong with a clash of ranked teams to kick things off. There’s lots to see here; The Saints (that’s Thomas More, not the school with ‘Saint’ in its name) opened with Wesley last year and stood up to the national power in a 35-21 loss. This game will be a challenge as well, and maybe one the Saints can pull off on the way to a PAC title. But TMC will have to do it without graduated All-American running back Domonique Hayden. SJFC is among the best in an expanded Empire 8, and the Cardinals will have a rough game nearly every week. They can’t afford to start 0-1.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 10 Wabash at Hampden-Sydney. As a Wabash grad, I’m coming out of the Triple Take gate playing the homer card. Wabash will probably be a better team than it was in 2014; Sydney is projected to be down a little. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of this matchup. As I talked about last year in my preseason Around the Nation column, the meeting between them is historic, as Wabash and H-SC are the only two D-III schools that abide by an all-male classroom atmosphere. And this is the first home-and-home series between them on the gridiron. I had talked with coaches and administrators at the schools as far back as 2008 about something like this taking place, and I’m excited that their enthusiasm translated into reality. Last year finished with a 34-21 Wabash win in Indiana. Kudos to both schools for putting a challenging nonconference game on their schedules. (Also, this is where I’ll be spending opening weekend.)
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 12 Widener. There are a lot of good games this week, right out of the chute. I like this one, in part because it’s now Rowan’s only non-conference game, and I wouldn’t mind at all if these teams played every year. There’s reason to have at least a couple of questions about Widener this year, based on who graduated, but I’ll also be intrigued to see how Rowan’s retooled offense works out. Goodbye spread, hello power offense. Should be interesting. Rowan would like nothing more than to slip back across the Commodore Barry Bridge with a signature win.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: MIT at WPI. The Engineers … oh wait, they’re both Engineers. MIT had a magical undefeated season last year, but they pulled out multiple close wins, and that will be difficult to replicate, especially with five of the first six games on the road. I think they do it once more in this Week 1 Friday nighter, even though Zach Grasis and WPI will grind it out and make MIT earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Augustana. I’m not ready yet to buy into this Lions team as being one of the better ones of recent years — we’ll see in a few weeks if they’re competing for the HCAC’s title. They lost a lot of starters and will have to break in a new (potentially young) quarterback. Last year, Mount St. Joseph showed no mercy against Augustana, being up 37-17 going into the fourth quarter before surging to a 58-25 win. Augustana has a new coach and is tailoring its offensive approach, giving them room to put more points on the board this time around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Alma at Finlandia. I mean, Finlandia isn’t surprisingly close to anyone in a geographic sense. Alma is the closest in-state rival and the Scots will still need to take a seven-hour bus ride to get to Finlandia. (I’m closer and I live two states away.) I’m hoping for a good game in Finlandia’s first-ever football game. A win might be too much to ask for but Alma (six wins in four seasons) hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire of late.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 12 Widener, against Rowan. Considering Thomas More over St. John Fisher would be fudging, this is the only logical option. The Profs bring back their star on offense, might find a role for a former star from Lafayette, and will take a short trip over the bridge, possibly bringing along the support a home team would have. Rowan isn’t favored against a Widener team that was in last season’s final eight, but they have a shot.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. There’s not much jumping out in the inaugural week of college football as a safe — or even likely — bet for this category. Bethel graduated its conference MVP-winning quarterback, so if there’s ever going to be rust on the wheels that a team like UW-Stout could exploit, it’s going to be in Week 1.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: None. And considering this is the first week, and the first-week poll always has the most questions, that’s saying something. I’ve mentioned Widener above and there’s another team out there who tends to struggle with its Week 1 opponent but honestly, they always win when I pick against them so it’s time to stop trying. Chalk in Week 1.

Which team that finished strong in 2014 is going to have the biggest Week 1 letdown?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Curry. The Colonels won their final three after an 0-7 start, but it was slightly misleading, because two of the wins were against 1-9 Nichols and 3-6 Maine Maritime. To start 2015 off right, Curry must win under the lights on Friday night at Bridgewater State, which brings back seven on each side of the ball from a 5-5 team. The Colonels have about the same number of starters back, and the benefit of unfamiliarity; The schools, not far from one another in Massachusetts, south of Boston, did not play last season.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rowan. The Profs ended the last regular season with three straight wins, a share of the NJAC conference title and a trip to the playoffs. But also like last year, they’ll kickoff another season going up against Widener. The thoroughly battle-tested Pride are shaping up to be just as formidable as they proved to be in 2014, and the Profs are going to have a tough go of it right from the start.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Morrisville State (vs. St. Lawrence). This is the week we’ll get to find out how much of the Mustangs’ 2014 surge was the Lemar Johnson show. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence has legitimate reasons to think it can contend for the playoffs, and not in a 5-5, manage-to-snag-the-automatic-bid way. SLU slipped early last season but isn’t likely to let that happen again.

Which lopsided matchup would you most like to be more competitive?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No.13 Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon. In Week 1 last year, my alma mater was a seven-win team with its star quarterback back, going up to face the perennially ranked Blue Jays. They lost, 42-3. The quarterback is now a member of the coaching staff. And Johns Hopkins is still ranked 13th. Do I need more than that?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Greensboro. I’m certainly not begrudging Guilford for stepping up its game and showing on the field that it is ready and determined to make a playoff run this fall. But this crosstown rivalry represents something more than just a W or an L for the teams — it’s also charity event known as the Gate City Soup Bowl. People who come get their admission fee waived if they bring canned goods to donate. Success of the food drive means getting people to the stadium; getting them to the stadium means presenting them with an exciting game to watch. Guilford has owned most of the history of this series, capped with last year’s 52-0 victory. It would be fun to see these two teams grind out a close matchup in this 19th meeting, but I fear that may not come to pass.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethany at No. 2 Mount Union. I mean, just for variety’s sake. Let’s see the new Mount Union offense put through its paces for more than a couple of quarters. Not expecting anything outlandish, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the Machine need to disengage the cruise control?

Pick a color: Green or yellow

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Yes. We’ll be watching to see if Illinois Wesleyan (green) is a CCIW challenger, in its opener against usually-the-class-of-the-HCAC Franklin (yellow). Since I’m supposed to choose, give me our preseason No. 59 IWU, with its eight returning starters on offense and nine on D, in a mild upset over No. 50. Kickoff projected the Titans to go 8-2 off a 4-6 2014.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Green, of Belhaven. Good riddance to the NAIA and welcome to Division III! And, of course, welcome back to D-III Coach Mumme. It’s likely the Blazers will begin their tenure here with a win.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Green. With St. Norbert, under a new coach again, its third in three years, hosting Carthage, which has fallen so far that they’re a unanimous pick to finish behind North Park, the CCIW’s doormat of the decades.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: McMurry. Both teams in the St. Lawrence-Morrisville State game intrigue me, but since Pat touched on that one above, and Ryan mentioned Belhaven, let’s go with the War Hawks. I’m curious about what kind of team they’ll field after recruiting scholarship athletes in Texas for a few years, only to lose some of them when they moved back to a non-scholarship model.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs made some noise en route to their best performance in the MAC ever. But can they sustain having improved their record so drastically? Moreover, can they really make the surge count and compete for a title spot (or at least a Pool C bid)? The opener against N.C. Wesleyan is winnable, but it’ll be more challenging this year to put up 40 points like in 2014.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Also green, and yellow (OK, really it’s gold). And those things I said about what Widener lost over the offseason go triple for Del Val, which lost an NFL prospect wide receiver, one of its best-ever quarterbacks, and basically starts over in terms of returning starters. But Montclair doesn’t have the type of offense that will let them run away and hide from people, so I expect the Aggies to hang in this game and keep it close longer than one might otherwise expect from them this season. Should be an interesting year in Doylestown, Pa.

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.

Triple Take: Starting to click


PLU teammates look on as Connor Cummings breaks up a pass downfield at UW-Eau Claire.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

We hear it in the ATN Podcast. We read about it in regional columns or on the message boards. The elements of a team that were hazy and green early on are finally starting to click.

Offensive lines that were breaking in new members and secondaries that got burned in the opening games are now settling into their roles and learning how to work together, and most of all, to play off one another. They’ve become a team, in every sense of the word.

And there are so many of those teams in Division III. For Triple Take, Pat, Keith and Ryan bring some insight into just a sliver of those that are out there.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Pacific Lutheran at No. 2 Linfield.
Probably one of the most anticipated conference clashes of the season — and I hope that it lives up to the billing. Linfield, though, is teetering toward nearly 600 yards a game in offense and is a wildcat when it comes to putting up points. The Lutes, on the other hand, are coming off a close win against UW-Eau Claire, which, as Pat and Keith mentioned in this space last week, could be attributed to them getting caught looking ahead to this matchup. While Pacific Lutheran and Linfield aren’t all that far apart on the Top 25, I think the dropoff from that elite tier to where the Lutes are is significant enough that it would be a clear upset if PLU were to win.
Pat’s take: Augsburg at No. 5 Bethel. Although I like that game above as well, obviously. Augsburg remains a dark horse in the MIAC, not having played anyone of note on the national or regional scene as of yet. And since the season started, that dark horse status has been usurped by St. John’s, then Concordia-Moorhead. But the Auggies have a pretty special quarterback in sophomore Ayrton Scott, a significant dual threat. Bethel, however, has grass, and a lot of rain in the Twin Cities leading up to this weekend. It could get messy.
Keith’s take: No. 11 Pacific Lutheran at No. 2 Linfield. I know we try to mix it up, and I pick third by virtue of waiting the longest to put my games into the blog post, but to me there’s not another choice in Week 5. A large part of why I believe that is because PLU played Linfield twice last year, losing 31-24 at home in Tacoma and 27-24 in McMinnville in the playoffs. So while Linfield has outscored its three opponents 168-35 and looks like it might have a team for the ages, the Lutes aren’t intimidated. Both teams frontloaded their schedules, perhaps to get ready for this game. It could be clear sailing for each after this — no disrespect to Willamette, Pacific and the rest of the NWC bunch. QB Dalton Ritchey and the Lutes are rarely penalized and have seven turnovers in three games, but it would help against Linfield if they generate some. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are fifth nationally in total offense and No. 15 in defense. In the playoff game, Linfield sacked Ritchey six times and had a key interception return for a TD, and they’d like to get after him again.


Richard Gunn’s Trine team could be the near-victim of a surprisingly close game, or the Thunder could be on your radar at the end of the weekend.
Photo by Eric Kelley, d3photography.com

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo at Trine.
These two team pretty regularly go in opposite directions in the standings, but K-zoo has been playing well enough at the line (on both sides of the ball) this season that they could keep this one close. What’s been killing them most this year is the turnovers — and they’re one of the worst offenders in the country in that category. Guard the ball and air it out a bit to put the linebackers on their heels and this game will be within a score.
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire at No. 9 UW-Platteville. I feel like I could be going out on a limb here a bit but on paper, when you think about Platteville struggling early with Lewis and Clark and Pacific Lutheran not being able to finish off Eau Claire until the end, there’s a case to be made. The question will be whether Joel Sweeney and the Eau Claire offense can wear down the Platteville defense and whether the Eau Claire defense can even begin to slow down the Pioneers’ passing game.
Keith’s take: Olivet at Alma. The Comets are 4-0, and the Scots 0-4 with just 33 points scored. Easy pickins, right? Well, if Alma isn’t demoralized by the unfortunately powerful part of their schedule — Heidelberg and UW-Oshkosh are former doormats now in the top 25, and Illnois Wesleyan is knocking on the door as well — maybe not. The Comets were the only team Alma beat last year, and that came after getting similiarly pummeled in their first four games. The Scots also had a 20-0 lead against Lakeland but gave up the winning score with 24 seconds left, so they’re not hopeless when matched against someone of their caliber. Alma’s numbers are bad across the board, and Olivet has beaten Wilmington, Rockford, Wisconsin Lutheran and North Park by starting with good run defense — just 74.3 yards per game allowed. They’ve generated turnovers as well.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Bethel.
Both Bethel and opponent Augsburg have played decent schedules — at least enough so to prepare them to face each other. I have Augsburg on my Top 25 ballot, so I certainly think there’s something there to like. There are similarities in the two teams’ offensive capabilities, and both are ahead of the curve in terms of forcing turnovers. It would surprise me little if a big play or two were the deciding factor in this one.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. Although this would only be an upset on paper. Delaware Valley and Lycoming are closer together than a No. 21 ranking and zero votes would suggest. The top teams in the MAC … and of course, the number of top teams is up for debate … are all really close together. The thing keeping Lycoming from having Top 25 votes is the inability of the offense to even score against Brockport State.
Keith’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. Not to dump on the Aggies, who could very well go on the road and beat Lycoming, I just don’t see a lot of top 25 upsets this week. There are some top 25 teams I wonder about — We’ve yet to see No. 15 Wheaton against a strong opponent, for example, but visiting Augustana might not fit that bill, even at 2-1; I’m curious if No. 22 Christopher Newport can be consistent through 10 games — but not many I’d pick to lose.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 UW-Oshkosh.
OK, so there’s no team ranked in the Top 10 that isn’t already on my radar. But they are higher in the overall poll than they are on my ballot, because clobbering an 0-4 Alma team and beating a non-Division III opponent don’t give me a lot of great data to go on. So let’s not say that they’re just coming on my radar, rather let’s say I’m hoping to use Saturday’s game against UW-Stout to help calibrate that radar a bit.
Pat’s take: Misericordia. I’m calling it here — first win in program history on Saturday. That’s because if they don’t win at home vs. King’s, it’s a long wait until the next chance. They play Widener, Lebanon Valley, Stevenson and Albright before ending the 2013 season at FDU-Florham. You need to do it here, Cougars.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. The Golden Eagles beat Lycoming, 30-2, then lost close games at Buffalo State and against Alfred in overtime. Rowan makes the longest remaining road trip in the NJAC, six hours from South Jersey to the village northwest of Rochester and not far from the banks of Lake Ontario. The Profs aren’t the easiest team to figure out either, so this game could go in an unexpected direction. What we do know is that the Golden Eagles, behind their dual Tys, QB Ty Stoldt and RB Tyrone Nichols, can put up offense. The bad news is that even after holding Lycoming to 2 points, Brockport still has the country’s 223rd-ranked defense.

Team most likely to salvage a bad season.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury.
The Gulls have had two weeks to put the past behind them and give into E8 play, which starts this week at Utica. In fact, Salisbury carries with it a 13-1 conference record over two seasons, winning the automatic qualifier both times. Maybe chalk this up to the quarterbacking tandem of John Dunbar and Joey Jones feeling like they’ve gotten their feet wet — “clicking” if I want to play off the Triple Take intro. Maybe their near win against Wesley still resonates. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll still finish the season 8-2.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. And it hasn’t been a particularly bad season, but it was definitely a bad September in the W-L column. If I continue to feel like the Falcons are going to be better than the two wins they had last year, this is a game (at UW-Stevens Point) they should think about winning. I feel like I’ve written almost these exact same words in #3take in the past, too.
Keith’s take: Monmouth. It wasn’t that long ago when the Scots’ game with St. Norbert was the defacto MWC title game. Now Monmouth is 1-2 and the Green Knights 3-1. The Scots go on the road for the first time this season, and after a 1-point and a 3-point loss at home, the trip to DePere, Wis. might be welcome. There’s no pressure, but plenty of inspiration in this old-fashioned conference rivalry. If the Scots can get RB Trey Yocum, the nation’s fourth-leading rusher (160.7 yards/game) going against St. Norbert’s defense, which has given up yards but no more than seven points the past three games, they could score a mild upset.

A conference opener you like.
Ryan’s take: Emory and Henry at Randolph-Macon.
There have been more than a few times in recent years in which the Wasps torched the opposition in nonconference play and then slid a bit once the ODAC docket began. Against the 2-1 Yellow Jackets, we’ll get a good idea of just what kind of team E&H is this season and whether star passer Kyle Boden and his top-notch receiving corps can keep the offensive sparks flying. R-MC is certainly no pushover and, as always, is expected to also be in the conference hunt.
Pat’s take: Loras at Luther. I like this game because these two teams had such poor seasons last year and Loras’ only conference win was against Luther. It’s a chance for Luther to return the favor, and the Norse already have a surprise win under their belt with the victory against rival St. Olaf earlier in the season.
Keith’s take: Simpson at Wartburg and Adrian at Hope. The IIAC and MIAA have both been mentioned plenty already, so I’ll keep it brief. Storm QB Taylor Nelson is completing 68% of his passes, 20 of which have gone to Brad Vogel in a 2-1 start. The Knights are 2-1 as well, and LB Ryan Billings and the defense could make a statement. I don’t know that there’s a clear IIAC favorite yet, but this game will help us determine one; Same goes for the MIAA, where Flying Dutchmen QB Michael Atwell is third in the country with 1,306 passing yards, while a team traditionally known for good defense tries to stop him. LB Deontae Bridgeman leads the Bulldogs’ defense.

Which “fighters” will win their battle this week?
Ryan’s take: The Spartans of Dubuque.
I have to believe that a nonconference slate of WIAC teams prepares someone as well as possible for their run toward the AQ. While it’s tough to say that the Spartans hung with their opponents each time, some late scores tell me that they’re not ones to throw in the towel. With a visit from Central on deck, Dubuque can bring themselves back into the Iowa discussion, a year after a deflating .500 season. And they’d do themselves some favors, too, if they’d find a darned ground game.
Pat’s take: The Privateers of SUNY-Maritime. I just know it won’t be the Mariners of the Merchant Marine Academy, and that’s a shame. I just don’t want to see something like “Fightin’ Engineers” in this category because you could put “Fighting” in front of anything. Except Quakers, perhaps. No Fighting Quakers. Or Diplomats.
Keith’s take: The Majors of Millsaps. Could you do Fighting Flying Dutchmen? Because that seems like one modifier too many. And while we’re on fighters, how lucky is Coast Guard to be under the Department of Defense instead of Transportation? The Bears’ game with Western New England will go on. But anyway, Millsaps hosts Hendrix. And after one week — mostly one giant SB Nation article — turned Hendrix from ‘the first-year program that could’ to ‘okay, enough about these noobs,’ I’m sure the Majors (3-0) would like to give the Warriors (2-1) a proper Welcome-to-D-III humbling.