Triple Take: Blemished and battling

Trevor Manuel
Trevor Manuel leads Huntingdon with 177 all-purpose yards per game.
Huntingdon athletics photo

By the time Week 5 rolls past, the Division III landscape usually still has many unbeatens fighting toward the postseason. At this point in 2008, ’09 and ’10, a total of only two teams made the D3football.com Top 10 with a blemish on their records.

This year alone, we have three.

It suggests an anything-can-happen season, but there’s potentially deeper insight into it for those willing to explore on a national scale.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps are here to help you analyze. Saturday is closing in fast, and that means more upsets may be in the making.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Wittenberg at Huntingdon.
The Hawks come in as a one-loss team averaging more than 37 points a game in very consistent offensive performances. And, they’ve already taken down a team that’s been in the Top 25 this season, Hampden-Sydney. Statistically, Huntingdon doesn’t stack up well against the pass, and Witt has a signal-caller who’s thrown for 1,500 yards and has a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio. But these stats were familiar in the H-SC game, too, and Huntingdon found a way through turnovers to overcome their shortcomings and win. (Is it an omen that both Witt and -Sydney are nicknamed the Tigers?) With has an opening-week win against Capital, a team that’s shown glimmers of skill, Witt proved it can win when it counts. It’ll be a long ride from Montgomery back to Springfield if they don’t.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Cortland State at No. 11 Montclair State. Truthfully, I probably would’ve picked Ryan’s game, but his reward for working up the post each week is first choice. This NJAC clash will do, however, because it will provide needed clarity in what is right now potentially a five-team race. Or maybe it won’t, since last season finished in a three-way tie. In any case, I watched Dan Pitcher carve up Rowan a couple weeks ago to the tune of 315 passing yards, and the statistics say Montclair’s been vulnerable to the pass (151st nationally). But the Red Hawks are usually stout on defense, and last season Cortland needed to score 10 points in the final 11 minutes of a 10-9 win. Already this year the Red Dragons and Red Hawks have two common opponents (Buffalo State and Morrisville State), with each winning one by blowout. Cortland’s played the tougher schedule so far, and comes in with a loss to Kean. The lack of any real idea what’s going to happen, though I’d lean Cortland right now if forced to choose, makes it a classic Game of the Week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Wartburg at Dubuque. I don’t think I can consider this as a team likely to be upset, since the teams are so close together in the voting … and not even in the same order on my ballot. My thinking is that if Coe’s Jared Kuehner caught nine passes for 115 against Wartburg a couple weeks ago, what will Mike Zweifel and Demacus Fleming do through the air for Dubuque?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Franklin at Rose-Hulman.
While the Grizzlies are a one-loss team, they can be excused for their blemish, having come at the hands of defending national champion UW-Whitewater. This week’s opponent, Rose-Hulman, stands at just 2-2, but the Engineers have been able to find success if they balance their offense and not slough off when getting to the ball on defense. Perhaps most critical for Rose to pull an upset will be to stop Franklin on third down. The Grizzlies have a knack for converting the down and keeping drives alive.
Keith’s take: Mount Ida at Anna Maria. It stands to reason that any team that’s lost the first 23 games in its history might be a pushover, even for a 1-3 team like Mount Ida. But the AmCats are on the cusp, coming off a 56-52 loss to rival Castleton State and a 48-40 four-overtime loss to Gallaudet in which they led 34-13. Perhaps, since the Mustangs have played four close games a fifth wouldn’t be a surprise, but it should be close. And Anna Maria might finally win.
Pat’s take: Hobart at Union. I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here, as Union has been on the wrong side of a couple of surprisingly close games. But the Dutchmen have turned their close losses into close wins the past two weeks, which gives me a reason to make this pick. Union lost in a close one on the road at Hobart last year, starting their season-ending tailspin. With the home field, Union could turn that around.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Delaware Valley.
After a slow start to the season, Wilkes has scooped up victories against Widener and FDU-Florham, the former of which stands at 4-1 this season. Wilkes has seen improving play from quarterback Alex George, and the team is coming off a week in which two of its players earned MAC weekly honors. The Aggies, on the other hand, may have the defense to at least slow Wilkes’ nearly 500-yard-a-game average. Swallowing up Zach Tivald along with George should be a priority. If that happens, DelVal may be lucky enough to earn a repeat of its first two games.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Kean. We finally gave them some Around the Region love; that’s the kiss of death. In all seriousness, I could be reading the TCNJ and Western Connecticut results wrong, but the Cougars don’t seem all the way dialed in every week, and eventually that bites a team. I don’t know that I’d expect Buffalo State to pull the upset, but Kean could use a convincing win to keep from finding itself in this space again.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Salisbury. A lot of the talk around the game centers around the two triple-option offenses of Salisbury and Springfield but considering these defenses see the triple-option on a regular basis, I think we could see more of a defensive battle than initially pondered.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Pacific Lutheran.
The Lutes came into 2011 with some seriously depleted ranks and real uncertainty about whether they’d come close to a repeat of last year’s 8-1 season. So far, they stand at 2-1, which looks good on the surface. Yet those two wins come against teams that are a combined 0-8 this year. The Lutes’ only challenge was their failed comeback attempt in a 28-17 road loss to Cal Lutheran. Pacific Lutheran may not repeat last year’s success, but a win this week against Whitworth means they won’t have slipped to the NWC’s basement.
Keith’s take: Augsburg. The Auggies have been consistent on the scoreboard, averaging 32 points per game without scoring fewer than 28, and defensive linemen Edmond Smith and Aaron Perry have them among the nation’s leaders in sacks and tackles for losses. I don’t expect them to beat No. 3 St. Thomas, but I would like to find out if we can expect them to be competitive the next two weekends, at Concordia-Moorhead and against St. Olaf. Or will a promising 4-0 start morph into 4-3 in a few weeks?
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints have a chance to go unbeaten and need to win every week in order to avoid a first-round playoff road trip to a top seed. Northwestern has certainly seen more success in past years, but is 3-1 in the league and certainly not out of the hunt yet.

Which conference game has the potential to change the race or throw us for a loop?
Ryan’s take: Heidelberg at Muskingum. Raise your hand if you saw these two teams being a combined 7-1 and vying for the upper-echelon of the OAC. There might be a hand raised way in the back of the room, but that’s about it. These standings are nothing to scoff at. Together, the Student Princes and the Muskies have taken down Ohio Northern, Otterbein and Capital — you know, the kinds of teams we’ve gotten used to hearing about even into the postseason. Often, the No. 2 team in the OAC gets a playoff bid, and if these teams hope to be in the discussion at the end of the season, they need to keep winning. The victor on Saturday will have earned itself a boost.
Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh at UW-Eau Claire and Ripon at Monmouth. Double bonus for faithful TT readers! The Blugolds (that’s UW-EC) have beaten both UW-Stout and UW-River Falls by multiple touchdowns in their 3-1 start, but the Titans whomped those teams even worse. With a win against Central and a loss to No. 2 Mount Union, Oshkosh seems made to contend, but we need to see it against a respectable WIAC team. Meanwhile, in the MWC, four teams are 4-1, 3-1, and two face off on Saturday. Ripon bring the nation’s No. 4 rushing offense (349 yards per game) to Illinois to try to outscore Monmouth’s No. 6 passing offense (332.6/game). The Scots have played better defense (17 points allowed the past three games) and have put up the more convincing conference results, so a Ripon win would be a major upset.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley at Albright. We need the result of this game in order to see if Albright will be in position to challenge Delaware Valley for the conference lead next week. The Lions stubbed their toe last week at Lycoming and another loss likely eliminate them from the conference race. If not Albright, Wilkes (this week), Widener and Lycoming have a shot left.

Tigers, Lions or Bears?
Ryan’s take: Tigers.
But this is almost cheating because the Tigers of Sewanee are playing at the Tigers of Trinity (Texas). This game should belong to Trinity, but the best part is that each of these teams are rebounding. Last year, Trinity had its first losing season in roughly two decades; now, they’re sitting tied atop the SCAC with an undefeated record. Sewanee on the other hand, has hobbled through a zero-win season and a couple of one-win seasons in recent years. But here, they’re not just sitting at 2-3, but they’re playing teams competitively. The worst loss was against Washington and Lee, which is coming off a conference-title season. But losses to 5-0 Birmingham-Southern and 2-3 Millsaps have been much closer. Compared with last season, fortunes have smiled on both of these schools.
Keith’s take: Tigers. I took a look at some Bears — Bridgewater State has played three close games in a row. I checked out some Lions, but Pat already mentioned Albright. Truth is, Tigers are playing this week’s most interesting games, from East Texas Baptist trying to catch No. 19 Louisiana College hung over from its loss at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, to Hampden-Sydney facing one-time ODAC power Bridgewater and Wittenberg making its trip to Alabama.
Pat’s take: Tigers. Bengals, to be specific. Buffalo State has a shot at Kean this week, which is coming off back-to-back weeks of unimpressive performances, at least by Top 25 standards. After struggling the first two weeks offensively, Buffalo State has put it together, thanks in large part to the emergence of running back Rich Pete, who has averaged 104.3 yards rushing the past three games. Recommend punt protection if they’re going to upset the Cougars.

Which team needs a win for morale purposes?
Ryan’s take: Greensboro.
Or, for that matter, their opponent Averett. The two teams have a total record of 1-7, an indicator of the overall struggles that the USA South has encountered this season. But the Pride need this win more because they haven’t played any Division III teams close this season. Even being within striking distance of a win will be a morale boost.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut at Morrisville State. Apparently I’m trying to make sure the NJAC is mentioned in response to *every* question … but both of these teams could use a life. The Colonels are in the midst of a fairly inexplicable 15-game losing streak; they’ve lost three games by 37 or more, yet were 10 points behind 10th-ranked Kean in the fourth quarter. Morrisville lost its first two games, to Hartwick and Montclair State, by a total of four points, but is 0-4 because it doesn’t do anything particularly well. The offense is a big culprit, putting up just 14 points per game (210th nationally). Somebody’s going to win here, and it’s going to be a big lift for some kids who have to be struggling to believe right now.
Pat’s take: Aurora. This week’s midseason battle with Benedictine for what could be supremacy in the NATHC took a wrong turn for the Spartans with last week’s loss to Lakeland. Aurora is still looking for a conference win and is 1-3 overall, where Benedictine at least picked up a win against Concordia (Ill.) after losses to North Park and Kalamazoo, traditionally bottom feeders in the CCIW and MIAA.

Where we’ve been, who we’ve seen

Keith McMillan talks at length about some of the trips he has taken since starting the Around the Nation column back in 2001. Some of those trips he and I have taken together, sometimes he’s been on his own, but the goal, at least unofficially, is to see every Division III team play someday, and see a game in every home stadium.

Now, to be honest, that isn’t very realistic. The fact remains that it’s very difficult to see more than one game in a weekend, which limits the number of teams either of us can see in a season. And I recently moved away from the east coast, where I had a much better chance of knocking teams off the list. But I’ll continue to give it a try.

I’m only counting the teams I’ve seen play (must have seen at least half of a game to qualify) and stadiums I’ve been in for a D-III game. I’ve also visited a bunch of campuses and walked through, or around a bunch of stadiums: Aurora, Beloit, Concordia (Ill.), Delaware Valley, Hamline, Huntingdon, Illinois Wesleyan, LaGrange, Lake Forest, Lebanon Valley, Lewis and Clark, Millsaps, Mississippi College, North Park, Northwestern, Oberlin, St. Thomas, Susquehanna, Trinity (Conn.), Wittenberg, Wooster, WPI. But I’ve seen 108 teams play, by my count, and seen games in 61 stadiums.

This doesn’t count Swarthmore, which I saw play back in the ’90s. Unfortunately, it seems that was a one-time occurrence.

Some of the places I’ve seen games have changed quite a bit. I mean, I was at St. John Fisher in 1994 but I know the stadium isn’t a bit like that was. I saw FDU-Madis… excuse me, FDU-Florham in a different era. Soon my view on RPI will be outdated. But they all count. And maybe I’ll get back there again.

Here’s who I’ve seen play, starting in 1991: Albright, Alfred, Augsburg, Augustana, Aurora, Benedictine, Bethel, Blackburn, Bridgewater (Va.), Brockport State, Cal Lutheran, Capital, Carleton, Carnegie Mellon, Catholic, Central, Chicago, Christopher Newport, Coast Guard, Coe, Cortland State, Crown, Curry, Delaware Valley, Dickinson, East Texas Baptist, Elmhurst, Emory & Henry, FDU-Florham, Franklin & Marshall, Frostburg State, Gallaudet, Gettysburg, Greensboro, Grove City, Guilford, Gustavus Adolphus, Hampden-Sydney, Hanover, Hardin-Simmons, Hobart, Howard Payne, Huntingdon, Ithaca, John Carroll, Johns Hopkins, Kean, King’s, Linfield, Louisiana College, Lycoming, Macalester, Maranatha Baptist, Mary Hardin-Baylor, McDaniel, McMurry, Merchant Marine, Methodist, Millsaps, Mississippi College, Minnesota-Morris, Montclair State, Mount Union, Muhlenberg, North Carolina Wesleyan, New Jersey, Newport News, Nichols, North Central, Northwestern (Minn.), Pacific Lutheran, Principia, Randolph-Macon, Rockford, Rowan, RPI, Salisbury, Shenandoah, Springfield, St. John Fisher, St. Olaf, St. John’s, St. Scholastica, St. Thomas, Susquehanna, Thiel, Thomas More, Trinity (Conn.), Trinity (Texas), Union, Ursinus, UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout, UW-Whitewater, Washington and Jefferson, Washington and Lee, Washington U., Waynesburg, Wesley, Western Connecticut, Wheaton, Widener, Wilkes, William Paterson, Williams, Wittenberg, Worcester State.

Key gets: I went out of my way to see Cal Lutheran when they came to Muhlenberg in 2002. Saw a bunch of teams last year at the UMAC’s Dome Day. Picked off both Macalester and St. Scholastica just this past weekend. Saw both Susquehanna and Grove City play at Dickinson, in 1999 and 2000, and never since. Traveled with Catholic when I was a student to a game at the University of Chicago.

And the schools at which I’ve seen games: Albright, Augsburg, Benedictine, Bridgewater (Va.), Capital, Carnegie Mellon, Catholic, Central, Chicago, Coast Guard, Cortland State, Dickinson, Elmhurst, FDU-Florham, Franklin & Marshall, Frostburg State, Gallaudet, Gettysburg, Hampden-Sydney, Hardin-Simmons, Johns Hopkins, Kean, King’s, Linfield, Lycoming, Macalester, Mary Hardin-Baylor, McDaniel, McMurry, Merchant Marine, Montclair State, Mount Union, Muhlenberg, New Jersey, North Central, Randolph-Macon, Rowan, RPI, Salisbury, Shenandoah, Springfield, St. John Fisher, St. Olaf, St. John’s, Thiel, Trinity (Texas), Union, Ursinus, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW-Whitewater, Washington and Jefferson, Washington U., Wesley, Western Connecticut, Wheaton, Widener, Wilkes, William Paterson, Williams, Worcester State.

New this year: East Texas Baptist, Macalester, St. Scholastica, Wartburg,

There are certainly some holes in this list. Never seen Wabash (or DePauw, take it easy, people!). I’ve never been to a SCIAC school or seen anyone from the Midwest Conference. Didn’t take nearly enough advantage of my year in Connecticut. But I’ll get the list down, slowly but surely.

Not sure if Keith will chime in with his list, but anyone else is welcome, of course.

ATN Podcast: Surprise teams

There were surprise games and surprise teams in Week 2, from Delaware Valley to the Mississippi and points west. Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman attempt to cover them all in this week’s Around the Nation podcast.

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