One of the big topics of discussion right now in Division III football, and in college football as a whole, is preseason practice time, including what seems to be likely — the end to two-a-day practices in camp. It’s certainly important to coaches, who have already planned their August camp, especially in Division III, where spring ball is not the same as at the other levels.
With us to talk about that and other issues are Muhlenberg coach Mike Donnelly, UW-Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis and Hope coach Peter Stuursma. In addition, Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan discuss the implications of the pending move of Buffalo State to the Liberty League, how that affects the playoff bids and schedules going forward. Plus. who bid to host the Stagg Bowl? We’ll talk about the possibilities.
The D3football.com Around the Nation Podcast is a regular conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan and guests covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops monthly in the offseason and during the season, weekly on Monday morning.
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There are lots of teams looking for at-large bids to the playoffs. Problem is, there’s only six of them. If you are new to Division III, or new to playoff contention and don’t know how the D-III playoffs work, this is the week where Keith and Pat will walk you through it. Who are the best candidates for at-large bids? What is this whole pool thing about? We’ll talk it all through for you. Plus, which are the teams on the rise? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.
The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.
Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile device.
When Bridgewater State and Mass-Dartmouth kick off on Friday night, it will mark the beginning of Week 6 in Division III, the first of 106 games. In our traditional 11-week season, it also means we’ll be crossing the halfway point, and by now should have a fair idea of what teams are and are going to be this season. Most teams are playing their fifth game of ten this week, and a handful are playing game six.
But half a season remaining means there’s plenty of time to write the final chapters of these various stories, and for us to observe how they unfold. For some teams, it starts on Saturday, and that’s why one of the seven Triple Take questions this week asks whether a team will begin to change its fortunes, for better or worse, with this weekend’s result.
As always, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I provide primers on the week ahead. Add your picks in the comment section below.
— Keith McMillan
Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 14 Rowan at Salisbury. The host Sea Gulls are the nation’s second-most-successful rushing offense, at more than 391 yards per game. The Profs are top 20 against the run, allowing fewer than 77 yards per game. Classic ‘something’s got to give’ matchup. But it’s game-of-the-week quality for another reason: As members of the newfangled NJAC, both have No. 5 Wesley still ahead on the schedule and can’t afford the conference loss here. The Sea Gulls, whose Week 1 blown lead against Albright looks less bad with each passing week, won’t be in a good place for an at-large bid with another defeat either. Salisbury’s game at TCNJ last week was cancelled, so they’re surely itching to get back on the field.
Ryan’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 15 UW-Oshkosh. I had originally done a writeup on the Rowan/Salisbury game for this spot, but the more I thought of it, the more it seemed like that game was the lone possibility of an upset. So I moved that one to my upset game and figured it best to point to the one matchup between top-25 teams. The thing is, Oshkosh isn’t on my ballot yet because I haven’t seen what they’re capable of in a challenging situation. A win or a close loss could really win me over for the Titans. Whitewater has had two very difficult weeks back to back, and Oshkosh will make it a third. The question may be whether the Warhawks are thoroughly battle tested because of these games or whether they’re getting worn down by their constant intensity.
Pat’s take: Washington and Lee at Hampden-Sydney. After Matt Pawlowski’s injury last week threw the Old Dominion Athletic Conference race even further open, this game follows right on its heels. It’s still early in the ODAC season and both teams are 1-0 in conference games, but W&L has taken down one of the contenders already. Like many option attacks, the Generals offense has had varied success over the years, but is on an upswing this year behind trigger man Charlie Nelson. The defense has given up a lot of yards on the ground this season, but it’s unclear what kind of rushing game the Tigers have to throw at them — H-SC did run a lot last week, but it was in the rain and in a run-out-the-clock type of game. It might not be a four-overtime game like it was in 2012, but I look for an entertaining battle.
Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Berry at No. 24 Chicago. The Maroons have cracked the D3football.com top 25 for the first time, a big accomplishment for the alma mater of the first Heisman Trophy winner and former Big Ten school coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Sparked by two huge Chandler Carroll rushing days, Chicago is averaging nearly 35 points per game and is 4-0. Berry has quietly won four straight since a Week 1 loss to Maryville, and allowed just 29 points in the process (7.5 per game). The Vikings probably aren’t stout enough defensively to hold Chicago down for a full game, but it could be low-scoring and close for a while.
Ryan’s take: Redlands at Cal Lutheran. At 1-2, the Bulldogs appear on paper to have had a slow start to their season, but when one of the early opponents is Linfield, that’s just how things are going to look. Previous years have started with losses, too, when the likes of Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Pacific Lutheran in its prime were on the schedule. Undefeated Cal Lutheran has been winning, but they’ve been doing it in an up-and-down fashion, having to mount a big comeback in one game and fend off a late surge in another. Knee-deep in conference play, these two teams now have a lot riding on this matchup.
Pat’s take: UW-Stevens Point at No. 12 UW-Platteville. If nothing else, we’ll find out exactly how good the Pointers are and if they’ll be a threat to the Warhawks later, or to the Pioneers this week. Losing at Albion in Week 1 knocked Stevens Point off the radar and the Pointers haven’t played anyone since then to get themselves back on it, but they could do so on Saturday.
Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 Cortland State. The Red Dragons have won in overtime in back-to-back weeks and have been on an amazing run of last-minute finishes since last season’s Cortaca Jug game. Buffalo State is coming off a 30-7 win against St. John Fisher behind backup quarterback Aaron Ertel’s three-touchdown-pass, no-interception day. Jon Mannix, Jake Smith and Steven Ferreira have all scored game-winners for Cortland State, and against Framingham State, the punt coverage team preserved the victory while leading by five in the final seconds. One has to wonder how long Cortland’s heroics can go on.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Rowan. If not for a miniscule Week 1 stumble against Albright, Salisbury would be on a lot more people’s radars (and the fact that Albright is borderline top 25 makes that loss all the more forgivable). Rowan’s weakness is that it hasn’t been able to put up many points this season, especially in the past two weeks. The team relies too much on its defense (to its credit, a stout one). These two teams haven’t played each other since 2012, and it’s difficult to slow a triple-option team like Salisbury if you’re not used to playing against that kind of offense. If the Profs win, their No. 14 spot in the poll will be more than justified. If Salisbury wins, we will almost certainly see them back in the national discussion and will start analyzing their conference showdown with Wesley in November.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Rowan. I have to go here, as well, to back up my take from the Around the Nation podcast. The question in my mind is how much Salisbury will have the ball — the Profs not only have the defense that Ryan notes, but they also have Wit Marcelin, who can help them control the clock and pound out long drives. The Profs won’t control the ball for the 41 minutes like they did against William Paterson, but if they can get close, they have a shot to control this game. But you can also bet that Rowan has scoured the video of that Salisbury-Albright game for what secrets it holds to beating the Sea Gulls. (And completely ignored the Salisbury-Southern Virginia video.)
Which team went into overtime last week but will be able to breathe easily late in this week’s game?
Keith’s take: Lebanon Valley. Going from playing Lycoming one week to FDU-Florham the next isn’t the contrast is once was, but the Devils’ 40-7 loss to Delaware Valley looked like the FDU of old. The Flying Dutchmen are 2-3, but have played Franklin & Marshall, Stevenson and Widener closely. Lebanon Valley is also one of the five least-penalized teams in the country, one of the 25 best at third-down defense, and they rush for 251 yards per game. FDU-Florham (2-2) is getting an eye-opening season from wide receiver Malik Pressley, but he won’t be any help to a rush defense that is ranked 231st in D-III, allowing 259 yards per game.
Ryan’s take: Ripon. Part of why I’m zeroing in on the Hawks is because it’s probably been a couple of seasons since I mentioned them in Triple Take. Ripon has just one blemish this season, and week to week, they’ve been getting better at scoring points. Opponent Macalester doesn’t rate too highly statistically on stopping the run game, which is where Ripon’s strength lies.
Pat’s take: Chapman. At 0-3, the Panthers already have lost more games than they did the previous two seasons combined. It shouldn’t take until October for a playoff team to get its first win the following season, but that’s one of the dangers of the nine-game schedule. Chapman should find Pomona-Pitzer an easier opponent than Linfield, Whitworth and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Pick a team that will benefit from playing at home in Week 6
Keith’s take: Amherst. Although Middlebury is way up in Northern Vermont, it’s still only a three-hour drive from Amherst. The Lord Jeffs’ crowd probably won’t rival one for a season-ending Williams game, but this might turn out to be the clash that decides the NESCAC, so some fans should show. I’m not sure if the Lord Jeffs’ offense under Matt Ballard still resembles a blur (please read this 2011 Chuck Klostermann piece about the offense under now-AD Don Faulstick if you never have), but Amherst has run 166 plays in two games (83 per) so it probably does. Its defense is also stout, as one would expect after opening with Bates and Bowdoin. But since the Lord Jeffs’ D has to deal with Middlebury QB Matt Milano (and perhaps Jared Leibowitz) in a big early-season game, it can’t hurt to have the home crowd on its side. (Our friends at Nothing but NESCAC preview the showdown here.)
Ryan’s take: Emory and Henry. The Wasps’ game against Bridgewater is shaping up to be a good one, with both teams entering 3-1 — the lone loss for each of them comes against teams that are undefeated. Most interesting is that this year’s ODAC is similar to the untemplated ODACs we’ve seen in recent years, where teams at the bottom still compete hard and there is vulnerability at all stages. Hampden-Sydney wasn’t a clear favorite going into the season but is doing well, Washington and Lee is riding an undefeated streak, and Guilford isn’t going to slide much after just one loss — all of that in addition to E&H and BH2O both poised to challenge. If I were in this game, I’d want to be at home in front of my own fans. It’s a big one.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Although the Aggies were largely written off before the season started thanks to its graduation losses, then even more so after a Week 2 loss at Wilkes, Delaware Valley is still here and still in contention for the MAC title. The Aggies also control their destiny, with all the teams ahead of them in the standings still to come on their schedule. In this case, with Stevenson coming to Doylestown, Delaware Valley can get itself one step closer to returning to the top of the conference.
Pick a team whose result will change its fortunes to date
Keith’s take: Puget Sound. It’s been good to see the Loggers finally taste a bit of success, and with Whitworth good again, I can’t believe I’m highlighting this game. But the feel-good nature of the UPS’s start might take a hit when the Pirates cross Washington state for this one. The Loggers have managed to start 2-1 with a defense that’s 189th overall (435 yards/game) and 212th against the pass. The Loggers’ offense is almost all pass, and it’s worked so far. But Whitworth is 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense, with eight interceptions, while facing teams trying to come back from big deficits. The Pirates have also scored between 37 and 47 points in all of their wins.
Ryan’s take: DePauw. DPU’s win streak likely ends here against No. 20 Wittenberg. But kudos to DePauw for even being a team in this position, a far cry from where they were just a couple of seasons ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the only loss they carry into their rivalry showdown with Wabash in Week 11.
Pat’s take: Finlandia. Can’t go more than a few days without mentioning the first-year program and the Lions have a shot at the program’s first winning streak with Presentation coming to town. The Saints, whom you might remember once lived in Division III and the UMAC, are a more-established program, but not a strong one, and they have a 10-hour bus ride to get to Hancock, Mich. But even if Finlandia doesn’t win this game, I expect the Lions to be competitive for the second week in a row and that’s an important milestone for the program as well.
They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: No. 15 UW-Oshkosh. Since a season-opening, non-division 23-21 loss to Robert Morris-Chicago, the Titans have outscored opponents, 190-14. The Titans are currently top 10 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense. Their competition (Finlandia, North Park and UW-Stout) has been so overmatched, it’s been hard to get a read on how the Titans would stack up against top D-III teams. UW-Whitewater is No. 1 because of reputation, as well as solid wins at Morningside and against UW-Platteville, so I’ll be watching both teams to see how they compare, how they affect the playoff picture and whether Saturday’s loser is an at-large bid candidate.
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern. Very few teams come away from Alliance looking good, but the Polar Bears have several reasons to be happy with how this season is playing out. A win against Mount isn’t what I’m expecting, but if ONU can hold their own with no more than a two-score margin, they will be worth paying attention to.
Pat’s take: Pacific and No. 3 Linfield. Actually, rather than relying on radar, I’ll have them on visual, as I’ll be seeing the Boxers and Wildcats live Saturday afternoon in McMinnville, Ore. I’ll primarily be looking for something to make me feel confident in voting Linfield No. 1, but also looking to see Pacific for the first time.
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.