Around the Nation podcast: Playoff picture takes place


Hardin-Simmons wasn’t a threat to Linfield, Willamette or UMHB but crushed Texas Lutheran.
Hardin-Simmons athletics photo

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So let’s see, John Carroll beat Heidelberg, handily, and Wittenberg handled Wabash. Meanwhile, Hardin-Simmons delivered a reality check to Texas Lutheran and Wesley beat a D-I FCS team. (You know, the level known as Division I-AA.) Did John Carroll play its way into the playoffs? Or perhaps we should give them more than just lip service next week vs. Mount Union. Keith talks about what he saw when he watched the John Carroll-Heidelberg game.

Keith and Pat look at the remaining 10 automatic bids and what it will take to win them. Plus a long look at Pool B and another long look at Pool C. That and Continue reading

Triple Take: Middle of the road


Thomas More has been rolling up the numbers on offense, but the Saints’ defense has shone as well.
Thomas More athletics photo

Week 6 signifies the midway point in the regular season. The bright side to that realization is that there’s still a whole lot of football left to play for the 244 teams in Division III (well, we hope that we can include Merchant Marine in that list).

For teams that are eyeing playoff runs, this could just be the beginning. With five weeks of postseason play, that means we’re only about a third of the way to the Stagg Bowl. There’s much that has happened, and much yet to come.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps talk about the here and now of this weekend:

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson.
I almost held back on this because W&J’s baffling loss last week to Bethany took some of the luster out of this matchup. But then I thought about 2012, when TMC crushed W&J but lost two other conference games to miss out on the automatic bid to the playoffs. Well, here’s W&J’s opportunity to keep itself in the hunt and not get that second, and almost surely postseason-killing, loss in PAC play. There’s a lot riding on this one for the Presidents.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.) at Hampden-Sydney. I know I’ve said before that there has been some great history in this rivalry in the past 15 or so years. Both teams have taken an unexpected loss this season and that makes it a little more desperate situation for each, but especially for Bridgewater since its loss was a conference game.
Keith’s take: Redlands at Cal Lutheran. The last game of the 107 on the D-III schedule this week by more than two hours might also be the most hyped matchup of 1-2 teams ever. But let’s be honest, if the Bulldogs (who played No. 3 UMHB and No. 15 Pacific Lutheran) and Kingsmen (PLU then No. 2 Linfield) were based out East or in the Midwest, where there are roughly three dozen potential opponents within 200 miles of each campus, then each could have been less aggressive and started 3-0. But this is the AQ system at work. Both Mike Maynard and Ben McEnroe realize it does their players no service to start that way, especially with this clash — that will likely decide the SCIAC — so early. If you’ve already faced a top-3 team, nothing you see Saturday night will intimidate. CLU is plus-5 in turnovers despite its record, and Redlands needs to generate some offense besides RBs Bobby Brown and Curtis Tanquary.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Buena Vista at Wartburg.
I think the Beavers’ 0-4 record is a little deceiving — every opponent they’ve played is undefeated, a combined record of 16-0. And against Concordia-Moorhead and Coe, the scoreboard was close deep into the game. Wartburg’s three wins, on the other hand, come against teams that are a combined 3-10. Their common opponent, Bethel, ended with fairly similar results. Buena Vista has a chance to surprise people down the stretch.
Pat’s take: No. 6 St. Thomas at Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus is certainly playing much better than it did last year, standing at 3-1 and blowing out two teams while only losing at Augsburg, by three. Last year St. Thomas didn’t have its best game but still led throughout. This year the Tommies may have a different feeling going to St. Peter, Minn., and can’t afford to sit their No. 1 quarterback, the way they did last week.
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Tufts. The Jumbos are close to a breakthrough — last week they were a yard away. It won’t happen against the Bantams, who are the class of the NESCAC, at least for the time being. But if Tufts can convert some third downs early — they’re under 30% this season against a defense that gets off the field three out of every four — they can keep it closer than most would expect.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 10 UW-Whitewater.
I was unsure what to make of Whitewater coming into this year, after missing the postseason last fall. I even said in Kickoff that I didn’t think UW-W would make the playoffs this year, at least not with Platteville and Oshkosh and the likelihood of a spoiler team in the WIAC. Enter that spoiler team. UW-Stout, which is coming off back-to-back games (albeit losses) against North Central and Oshkosh, isn’t going to be intimidated by anything Whitewater has to offer.
Pat’s take: No. 5 Bethel. I believe Bethel is the better team here but I’m resting this pick on the fact that Bethel really shouldn’t have won* that game last year anyway. Concordia-Moorhead will be very motivated to make sure they are not in position to lose if they celebrate prematurely on the field at the end of the game.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Bethel. I know, I keep on repeating, but the other possibilities, like No. 17 Wabash, get mentioned elsewhere anyway. Moorhead is the most significant road trip in the MIAC, for starters. The Cobbers are one of those teams who has been on the verge of getting it done but stays underrated because they haven’t. They also haven’t been dominant in their 4-0 start, and would need to slow the Royals’ run game (228 yds/g) to pull the  upset. Luckily, they’ve allowed only 96 rushing yards per game so far.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Maryville.
The Scots came into the season loaded with depth and hoping to shake off the injuries that have plagued them over the past two or three seasons. And to their credit, they’ve kept themselves in the conference hunt by knocking off Methodist (which beat USAC favorite Christopher Newport last week) and Averett and are currently sitting at 2-0 in conference play and 4-1 overall. On paper, they look like the best team in the USA South. Now, they have to further prove it on the field this weekend against one of the only other teams with a clean conference record, LaGrange. It’s a very winnable game for Maryville, if they can shore up their defense.
Pat’s take: Washington University-St. Louis. I even used the full name for a program that could conceivably run the table from here, go 8-2, end up with a reasonable strength of schedule and get a Pool B bid. If they do all that. This week’s game is at Hendrix and if the Warriors win, they become the Division III football state champions of Missouri, having beaten both of D-III teams from the state.
Keith’s take: Gallaudet. The Bison are a throwback, rushing for 350 yards per game — third nationally. They also stop the run and get off the field on third down (24.5 percent conversions allowed). Norwich comes down from Vermont having played three Liberty League teams prior to their ECFC-opening win over Becker last week. They’ve hung tough defensively against more talented teams, and even if Gallaudet is that, maybe they’ll have to make something happen in the passing game or on special teams to pull away.

Celebrating the red …
Ryan’s take: Wabash.
The scarlet-clad Little Giants take on Ohio Wesleyan, which in the big picture of the NCAC could be viewed as an up-and-coming program with their 9-1 2012 campaign and being 3-1 so far this fall. But what’s troubling is OWU’s overtime shootout loss to Denison, which is the toughest team they’ve played so far. Still, a loss to Denison means it could be a tricky Saturday against a 4-0 Wabash team that averages more than 50 points a game and has logged two shutouts so far. And OWU knows what that’s like after being shutout last year on their home turf by the Little Giants. No one has really been able to effectively pass against Wabash (Wooster did break the 200-yard mark), and while I’m sure that Mason Espinosa will make some plays and get some yards through the air, I don’t think it’ll be enough.
Pat’s take: Cortland State. The Red Dragons, who should have little trouble holding Montclair State’s offense in check considering the Red Hawks haven’t scored more than 17 points in a single game this season. Montclair is 1-4 with its only win coming against Salve Regina.
Keith’s take: Augsburg, at St. John’s. The Auggies nearly had their breakthrough last week at Bethel. They’ve got some interesting recent history with the Johnnies, but won’t need a late-game miracle if Ayrton Scott has a balanced game. The Johnnies are the rare team that gives up almost as much rushing (173 yards/game) as it does passing (181), and that plays into Scott’s hands. He passes for 254 yards a game but averages more than 20 carries as well, at 6.2 yards a run and 126 a game. And since the Auggies are technically Maroon, if the Johnnies win, I’m still right … sort of.

… white …
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman.
This perennial middle-of-the-pack HCAC team gets overlooked often in the discussions that veer toward Franklin and, to a lesser extent, Mount St. Joseph. That’s because the nation’s top teams (Mount Union, Linfield, etc.) and the bottom teams (North Park, Husson, etc.) get talked about often, and those in the middle don’t always get their voices heard. (Insert any government-shutdown political metaphor you want there.) What RHIT has done is be consistent and beat who it’s supposed to beat and be competitive against who it’s supposed to be competitive against. Rose should be able to handle its 1-4 Bluffton opponent this week, but with FC and MSJ to follow, keeping focused and not getting caught looking ahead is critical.
Pat’s take: Bowdoin. This has to be Bowdoin. Bowdoin’s only school color is white. And with a name like Polar Bears, it’s really difficult to justify another color. In addition to that, Bowdoin has already exceeded last year’s win total and has winless Hamilton taking the long trip to Brunswick, Maine.
Keith’s take: Shenandoah and Guilford. It was just a game last week, but after the upsets of Bridgewater and Washington & Lee, the Hornets’ trip to Greensboro is suddenly a big ODAC game. I’ve seen photos of Shenandoah wearing white at home, and Guilford wearing it on the road, so I don’t know which white I’m celebrating. Luckily, I really have no sense of which team should win here. The 2-2 Quakers have played four close games, and haven’t stood out in any particular area. Even their 24th-in-the-nation numbers defending the pass were helped by the fact W&L didn’t bother to try last week. Shenandoah is also 2-2 and all over the board, and was helped against Bridgewater by four turnovers.

… and blue.
Ryan’s take: Hartwick.
I’m eager to see if the Hawks can build upon their win over a good Ithaca team last week and upend St. John Fisher on Saturday. The Cardinals played a scary-close matchup against Frostburg State in Week 5, raising more than a few eyebrows. Both Hartwick and SJF are undefeated right now, and I think Hartwick is carrying the momentum. But this game isn’t do or die. The E8 is a regular contributor to Pool C playoff bids, and a loss here (especially a close one) won’t put either team out of the running.
Pat’s take: Merchant Marine. Plenty of reasons to be blue at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Yeah, no, not letting this go.
Keith’s take: Rochester. We’ll celebrate the Yellowjackets’ savvy move of dodging the shutdown, and by extension Merchant Marine, and lining up a game against Alfred State. It’s probably not the best matchup involving an Alfred — the Saxons’ clash with Ithaca could be a lot more exciting. But for both sides, who wear different shades of blue, a game is a game. Any one against a legitimate opponent should be celebrated. Would be nice if the Mariners’ careers weren’t being ruined, but least the Yellowjackets don’t have to go down on that sinking ship.

Triple Take: All systems are a go

St. John Fisher Mike Benderski
Mike Benderski made the D3football.com Team of the Week for his performance on special teams against Rochester. Will St. John Fisher need similar heroics this week?
St. John Fisher athletics photo

By the end of Saturday, every one of the 239 teams in Division III will have lined up to take a snap this season.

This weekend marks the debut of the NESCAC teams, which don’t play any teams outside the conference, either in the regular season or the postseason. The teams in the NESCAC should have some familiarity across the football landscape, though. Few folks haven’t heard of the storied Amherst-Williams rivalry, dubbed the “Biggest Little Game in America.” Or of the “other Trinity,” the Connecticut-based team that regularly notches 7-1 or 8-0 seasons.

And the, of course for us, there’s the other 200-plus teams worth talking about, from the ones who are still hunting for their first win here in Week 4 to the ones who are hanging onto undefeated seasons – and hope to keep it that way!

Pat Coleman (@d3football), Keith McMillan (@D3Keith) and Ryan Tipps (@D3MidAtlantic) give you a taste of the NESCAC and a full helping from the other 28 conferences in Division III in this week’s Triple Take.

Don’t hesitate to comment below or join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Hartwick at No. 10 St. John Fisher.
I know we hit on this two weeks ago, but the Empire 8 is truly one wickedly scary conference to play in. Hartwick and SJF are the only 3-0 teams currently in the pack, which makes this the first of many conference matchups where teams will be able to separate themselves from the ravenous bunch. (Sidebar: Don’t be surprised to see next week’s Salisbury/Buffalo State E8 clash as a Game of the Week pick, too.) Fisher has lined up against quality opponents, dealing its first three opponents their only losses of the season. The Hawks, on the other hand, have blown out most of their competition by a margin of 144-62. But those opponents were much weaker than the fare Fisher has lined up against, and that makes me wonder if Hartwick is really prepared for what’s going to come at it on Saturday. Come to think of it, this situation is a good argument for playing tough nonconference games.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Thomas More at Waynesburg. Thomas More was ranked No. 8 last time these teams met, and has gone 2-3 since. The Saints come in at a more realistic ranking this time and have undefeated Waynesburg waiting for them. Both teams have been slow starters so far this season on offense, so look for at least one of these teams to make a bold move early.
Keith’s take: No. 6 Wesley at Louisiana College. It’s almost a defacto playoff game, in Week 4. That alone makes it worth of G.O.T.W. status — Wesley’s loss to No. 2 UMHB means it can’t afford to lose again and expect its usual spot in the playoffs. LC, meanwhile, has to go through UMHB to win its conference, and if it loses, one loss to a team like Wesley is all it can afford. The Wolverines have already played two road games, and two of the top 10 teams in the country, so their stats are skewed toward unimpressive. But if ever Justin Sotillare, Askia Jahad and the offense needs to guide an inspired effort, it’s on a trip to unfamiliar territory, coming off a loss. The Wildcats are known for their passing offense, but it’s actually their pass defense, and overall prowess on that side of the ball — just 400 yards allowed in a 2-0 start — that’s been key so far.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: St. Scholastica at Martin Luther.
The Saints are best when they’re able to move the ball with ease via their run game, particularly in last week’s lopsided win over Greenville. But Martin Luther, after three games, has limited opponents to an average of 73 yards a game. If the Knights can neutralize the Saints’ best attack, they might be able to keep this one close.
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wesley at Louisiana College. Every game from here on out, Wesley is fighting for its playoff life, as the NCAA doesn’t take our poll into account when selecting or seeding playoff teams. While Wesley is the superior team on paper, the trip might take a few points out of them. What the Wolverines need is to find their running game and when Louisiana College allows just 100.5 yards per game on the ground, it might not be easy. But neither Webber International nor Belhaven is on the level of a highly ranked Division III team.
Keith’s take: Kalamazoo at Centre. With its first foray into the playoffs last season, Centre has become a nationally known name. Kalamazoo is anything but, but they’ve pulled out three close wins this September, with one in four overtimes. The Hornets’ running game, behind Dimeko Price (105.33 yards per game) and Aaron McGuire (86.67) is humming and confidence is as high as its been. The Colonels have given up 559 rushing yards in the past two games, including 338 in a 34-16 loss at Washington & Lee. Centre definitely needs to get back on track, but if they allow the Hornets to get the run game going, it could be quite the tussle.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 UW-Whitewater.
I’m not going to lie, I feel like I’m stirring the pot with this one, even though that’s not my intent. Any team lining up against UW-Stevens Point would have its hands full this week — Whitewater just happened to draw that short straw. The Pointers are 1-1, coming off a week of drubbing Dubuque. Their only loss is an eight-point decision to St. Francis, one of the nation’s best NAIA programs. UW-SP has put up some wild numbers on offense, but the key to beating Whitewater will be defense, as Buffalo State showed. The Warhawk throne has been rattled. I’m sure most of you are like me and eager to see how the defending national champions respond tomorrow and through the rest of the season.
Pat’s take: No. 24 Johns Hopkins. Muhlenberg has been quietly dominant in going 3-0, and has outscored opponents 81-7 in the process. The Centennial so rarely has a team run the table the way it did last year. One of these two is likely to win the conference anyway, and I think the Mules are the ones.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Brockport State. Three weeks ago Kean was a top 25 team and Brockport wasn’t yet on the top 25 radar. But the Golden Eagles have started 3-0, and the Cougars 0-2, and here we are. Kean is ranked 210th in the country in total offense, with Brockport 10th, but defensively the Golden Eagles should be more generous than UMHB, which Kean lost to, 34-7, in its last game, two weeks ago. The Cougars have had that time to stew, and to heal up, from their visit to Texas. They led Albright 26-7 in their opener before allowing the Lions to score the final 22 points of the game.  Brockport State’s offense might continue to hum, but Kean has far too much talent to sputter as it has for the past six quarters. Plus, as a playoff team last season, the Cougars are at a point where their pride is being tested. Win now, in front of the home crowd, or there’s a miserable season ahead.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Central.
The Dutch have to be wondering what to make of this Albion squad, which knocked off Wheaton only to fall to the NATHC’s Benedictine. Central’s been interesting so far this year, having not scored even one first-half touchdown but then having posted 35 points in fourth quarters alone. And we have yet to see any breakout performances — though punter Blaine Forsythe has been doing quite well with ample opportunity. Maybe Central is on my radar for the wrong reasons, but maybe that’s just the nature of the buildup to this year’s IIAC matchups.
Pat’s take: Carnegie Mellon. Or Waynesburg or Muhlenberg, whom I’ve mentioned in previous categories. But Carnegie Mellon is facing DePauw, and while I might pick the Tigers to rally around their new coach and win, I’m not sure I’ll do so against an unbeaten team on a long road trip.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. I’m curious about how Buffalo State handles success and how St. John’s bounces back from defeat. Endicott, Muhlenberg and Otterbein all interested me this week. But the Hawks bring a 545-yard and 49-point-per-game offense to Hampden-Sydney, which is off to a slow start by its offensive standards, which are similar to Huntingdon’s. But the Hawks have played almost no defense to date (450 yards and 32 points per game allowed) while the Tigers seem to have figured out that being one-dimensional isn’t too productive. The Tigers have a solid pass rush and a decent defense overall. Against Huntingdon, we’ll find out if they’re “good.” Quarterbacks Neal Posey (Huntingdon) and Nash Nance could get to slinging it around the field on Saturday.

From which “direction” do you see bigger things?
Ryan’s take: North Park.
OK, we all know that the Vikings don’t fare well against their CCIW brethren. But it’s been several seasons since North Park has started the year 0-2. And last year, they even swept their nonconference slate. This week, they line up against another winless team, Olivet. North Park may not be great, but they’re better than the 0-2 record they bring to the table. Of course, when you give up six turnovers in one game as they did last week, there’s not a lot of wiggle room to succeed.
Pat’s take: Uhh … Birmingham-Southern. But this shouldn’t be a surprise and I’m probably not enlightening too many people with this pick. The most interesting thing here is that this will be the first time that the Panthers have had to leave the state this season.
Keith’s take: Western New England. The Golden Bears lost their opener at Norwich, then responded by outscoring its next two oppoents, 85-24. Nichols is up next, and they’re 0-3 with each loss by at least 23 points. There’s a bad statistical mismatch ahead too. WNEU is the nation’s second-best team in turnover margin, averaging 3.67 more per game than they give to their opponents. The Bison are 229th, turning it over 3.67 times a game more than they generate. 

 Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
Opponent Ohio Wesleyan hasn’t put together a highly commendable season since a 7-3 outing in 2005. But this year, the team has a new coach and, with him, a new offense and new excitement surrounding the program. The last two times these teams played, Case held OWU to just 7 points each outing while piling on 55 and 35 points of their own. That won’t happen this time. OWU is 2-0 so far, and if Case gets too focused on next week’s game against Wittenberg, they just might see themselves with another game in the loss column.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley, perhaps. Stevenson might have enough firepower to take the Dutchmen down a peg or two a week before Leb Val hosts Widener. However, after Leb Val’s loss to Lyco last week they might be better focused than to fall into a trap game.
Keith’s take: Wittenberg. Wooster tends not to be an easy win, but the Tigers have two of those so far, and know their season can be defined by games against Case Western Reserve and Wabash the next two weeks. Wooster is good enough to force the Tigers to snap into focus. Wittenberg has been lighting up the skies, passing for 342 yards per game of its 492 offensively. Meanwhile, the Scots have seven sacks in their 1-1 start, and have been solid defensively (36th, at 259 yards allowed per game).

Which NESCAC game are you most looking forward to?
Ryan’s take: Bates at Trinity (Conn.).
It’s hard being in someone’s shadow. And while Trinity running back Evan Bunker hasn’t exactly floundered, it will be good for him to have a season all to himself without older brother Eric (from Amherst) competing for accolades. The pair were the conference’s two first-team rushers, tying with 853 yards each last season, and Eric earned the NESCAC’s Offensive Player of the Year honor. You can be sure Evan will want that nod this season, and it all starts in the battle against Bates this weekend.
Pat’s take: Bowdoin at Middlebury. Middlebury should be putting some points on the board this year and I’m interested to see how they start out. McCallum Foote won’t surprise opponents this year but he should be no less effective in his second year, with an extra year of experience reading defenses and understanding the playbook.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. Hear me out here. We already know Amherst, which hosts Hamilton, and Williams, which hosts Colby, are going to be pretty good, as usual. But you never know which NESCAC team is suddenly going to go 6-2. Wesleyan, 4-4 last season, might be a candidate, but has only 11 starters back. Tufts (1-7) has 15. This is the NESCAC game with the most drama potential in the outcome, though conference championship potential is low.