Triple Take Week 4: A mix of wackiness and rivalries

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

By the first week of October, almost everybody is playing conference rivals weekly. Which leaves this weekend, the last in September, as the last time we see so many matchups against non-Division III teams like Bacone (mmm, Bacone) and Southwestern Assemblies of God (or as I like to refer to them, SWAG). This week is also one of the last for halfway-across-the-country non-conference games like Pacific at Chicago, or Pacific Lutheran at Trinity (Texas).

Of course, some Tommies and Johnnies will spend Saturday acting like anything but saints when they face their most disliked rival. And whether you’re celebrating your stadium’s 100th birthday or just hoping a few hundred fans are in the stands, Triple Take cares. Pat, Ryan and I look at all 244 teams and highlight the Week 4 games (besides yours, of course) worth paying attention to.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 17 Ithaca at Alfred. Assuming Pat plays the faithful Minnesooooootan, and takes Johnnies at Tommies, I find myself in New York for an Empire 8 clash. I bombed my Bombers pick last week, and at 2-0 with one dicey win and one dominant one, Ithaca hits the road for 3-0 Alfred. The Saxons have scored 34, 34 and 29, but last week, the Bombers barely allowed an inch for Hartwick’s offense to maneuver. In a conference where St. John Fisher, Salisbury, Brockport State and others plan to contend, wins are at a premium.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Johns Hopkins at Muhlenberg. The Mules have flown a bit under the radar while building toward their 3-0 record, but they’ve been anything but quiet in doing so. While I understand Muhlenberg’s opponents aren’t the year’s most notable bunch, Muhlenberg has been appropriately convincing in its victories, with the narrowest margin being 34 points in a shutout of Wilkes. This will likely be the Blue Jays’ stiffest test untilNov. 22.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at No. 10 St. Thomas. Make fun all you want but this game will have more people in attendance than the other two combined. Last year, St. Thomas was coming off a Stagg Bowl appearance and two wins by a combined 77-14 score before the rivalry reminded us that anything can happen. St. John’s took a 14-11 lead at halftime and intercepted Matt O’Connell twice in the second half, then dodged a bullet when the Tommies’ kicker missed a short field goal at the final gun. So after that … we’re back in anything-can-happen mode.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Baldwin Wallace at No. 8 John Carroll. This is a bit of a stab in the dark, since the Blue Streaks could not be coming off a more dominant performance against Heidelberg. After games like those, it’s human nature to start feeling yourself — you get really confident until you have reason not to be. John Carroll has to guard against overconfidence, and Baldwin Wallace has to get theirs back after allowing the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left in a 37-35 loss to Ohio Northern. Both teams are among the nation’s top eight in time of possession (36 minutes plus), so something has to give there. John Carroll is the national leader in getting off the field on third downs, and I think after a few quarters of even play, they turn it on for the home crowd under the lights and pull away.
Ryan’s take: Averett at LaGrange. The Cougars have been all over the place in how well they do against the pass – they gave up big against Randolph-Macon but held Maryville to small numbers (the ground game from the quarterback was a whole ‘nother story). LaGrange likes to throw the ball; with Graham Craig under center, who wouldn’t want to play that out? Yet the Panthers’ 2-1 record is deceitful since every game has been achingly close. If Averett can contain an offense that appears to be one-dimensional (much like the team did against run-heavy Washington and Lee), then this will be a close one.
Pat’s take: Chapman at Whitworth. A SCIAC contender and an unbeaten team, just like you would have pictured it in, say, 2010. Whitworth has done it against three lower-level west coast teams and now Bryan Peterson, who threw for nearly 600 yards last week after only getting the start because of injuries, has to try to do it against a team which held Linfield to 21 and is one of the SCIAC favorites.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 16 Pacific Lutheran. It’s the Lutes’ second game and Trinity’s fourth. That’s really my only reason. Well, that and the other choices stunk. The Tigers (1-2) haven’t played all that well, but they’ve played, and early in the season, that seems like a big deal. The game is in Texas, and PLU’s nice fourth quarter helped it to a 35-28 home win over Cal Lutheran in Week 2.
Ryan’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. No. 19 Ithaca. There are a lot of teams in the top-notch Empire 8 that could dethrone one of the undefeateds, but pitting two with perfect records is cause to pay attention. Alfred has been giving up a lot of points this season, and the team is going to do the most damage if it can find a way to clamp down on defense. Ithaca, in turn, will succeed if it keeps doing what it’s been doing on the field.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Heidelberg. Ohio Northern might be able to break through in this game. If not, they might be able to keep it close. If not, well, it won’t be the first time I’ve picked Ohio Northern erroneously in the past decade. I like ONU in this matchup because of the opposite directions of the teams’ momentum.

Which winless team gets its first victory?
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Nobody in D-III has been harder-luck losers in their first two games, when the Red Dragons, trying to run out the clock in Week 1, ran backwards and put Buffalo State in range for the tying field goal with 1 second left. In Week 2, down three and on the 1-yard line vs. Brockport, the game ended with a false-start penalty and 10-second runoff. With a week off to forget about that, the Red Dragons head to Morrisville State, which scored two TDs in last week’s opening 16 minutes against St. Lawrence, then was blanked the rest of the way.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles competition have been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: Alfred State. And for Alfred State, this would be its first win against a Division III school, as the Pioneers host Castleton State on their homecoming weekend. Alfred State won one game that counts last year, vs. Apprentice School.
Who it won’t be: Concordia-Chicago. The Cougars were scheduled to play Maranatha Baptist this week, but the Sabercats were unable to keep the contract because of injuries. And by NCAA rules, this is a no-contest, not a forfeit, so CUC remains winless.

Which team plays like animals this weekend?
Keith’s take: The Bantams of Trinity (Conn). You might have to be smart enough to get into a NESCAC school to know that bantams are a small variety of chicken. Williams’s Eph mascot is a purple and yellow cow, so an animal wins either way. In this year’s installment of a game that used to be the non-rivalry highlight of the NESCAC schedule, Trinity’s rushing attack — 289 yards in the opener, including a 25-134-3 line from Chudi Iregbulem — scores the first points on Williams this season, and then some.
Ryan’s take: The Panthers of Middlebury. No way Middlebury isn’t going to slough off the turnovers of its debut last weekend, get its claws out and start down the path toward a 7-1 season. Colby’s offensive line better be ready to protect against a big rush.
Pat’s take: The Muskies of Muskingum. Problem is, fish aren’t particularly well-suited to play football, and I think the Crusaders of Capital are in best position to take this game.

State your case for a state school, or one with a state in its name
Keith’s take: Illinois College. St. Norbert may well win this MWC clash, but since Norbachusetts isn’t a state, and I already burned up “Cortland State,” allow me to use the Blueboys to highlight this matchup. Simply, IC scored 42 points after halftime of its last game. SNC allowed 45 unanswered last time out, including 42 in the middle quarters. Neither team won, or played last week. So they’ve had plenty of time to get their defenses right. The Blueboys bring in the nation’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Michael Bates, at 682 yards a game, but stats are easily skewed this time of year. St. Norbert DL Austin Prusha has seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks already, but almost all of that came against Carthage, not North Central.
Ryan’s take: Brockport State. The first half wasn’t pretty last week for the Golden Eagles, but adjustments after the break proved somewhat successful against St. John Fisher. It’s something to build one after being stacked against a Top 10 team. This week, Utica is riding an undefeated streak and will be stiff competition. But I don’t see Brockport giving as much ground to the Pioneers and should come away with the win.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. As our former USA Today colleague, Devin Clancy, would say, “Alfred isn’t a state!” So I can’t use that team here. That being said, I like Del Val’s chances in this game that I basically see as a toss-up. Definitely not your average unbeaten vs. winless matchup. Del Val has enough diversity on offense to get it done, but the question will be whether it can stop Leb Val.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Chicago. The best defense in Chicago isn’t the Bears. Relatively speaking, anyway. The Maroons are 3-0 and allowing 160 yards per game, best in D-III. Pacific, 0-2 by a total of seven points, was pretty solid itself defensively last week at Dubuque, allowing just 321 yards and 16 points. Before we start crowning these descendants of Stagg worthy of making the playoffs, let’s see how they fare in this midseason stretch. After Pacific and before their three UAA rivals, they face Rhodes, Trinity (Texas) and Bethel. With a good performance in that stretch, and a Pool B playoff spot awaits.
Ryan’s take: Centre. I thought last year was going to be the Colonels’ season to make the playoffs. Though they finished a respectable 7-3, it wasn’t playoff-worthy. They lost some skill players and a good chunk of their defense, but they are off to a 3-0 start nonetheless. Like last year, Washington U. is Game 4 and threatening to derail the perfection they’ve had so far. Getting over this hump will go a long ways toward potentially rolling in to November undefeated and making a case for a Pool B spot.
Pat’s take: Carroll. Sticking with the C’s here for a very much under-the-radar 3-0 team in the Midwest Conference that defeated Lake Forest last week, facing 2-0 Monmouth. The secret? The return of is-he-playing-or-isn’t-he Lamont Williams, who has alternately been in and out of the Pioneers’ preseason roster over the past couple of years. He scored three second-half touchdowns in last week’s victory.

Triple Take: Watchlist for records

Case Western Reserve
Manny Sicre got nearly half of his rushing yards in Case’s season opener. The Spartans need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs.
Case Western Reserve athletics photo

The season is getting down to the wire, and conference matchups will be decided with each week that goes by. But individual achievements are on the watchlist as well for Saturday. Career records set at Westminster (Mo.) are threatened by players from Dubuque (wide receiver Michael Zweifel) and Monmouth (quarterback Alex Tanney).

Will they fall? Will the weather wreak havoc? Snow? And what races will get clarity? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps offer up their thoughts.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Salisbury at No. 7 Wesley.
In their first year in the Empire 8, the Gulls have certainly approached things with a take-no-prisoners attitude. How else would you describe posting 65, 69 and 70 points on some of the conference’s best teams? Better than ever, quarterback Dan Griffin is getting the job done both through the air and on the ground, totaling 22 touchdowns this season. And the team is plus-11 in turnovers. But Salisbury hasn’t won the annual matchup against Wesley, the Route 13 Rivalry, since 2004. For all the good that Wesley brings to the table year in and year out, they feel somewhat vulnerable this year. Maybe it’s just hard to get a handle on them since three of their seven games have been against non-D-III schools. Nonetheless, if there’s ever been a time for Salisbury to break its losing streak against Wesley, this year is it.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at No. 23 Trinity (Texas). Aside from Ryan’s pick, the only meeting of top 25 teams this week, the Panthers-Tigers matchup probably has the furthest-reaching consequences. Not only are both teams in the mix for the SCAC title and automatic bid, but their location and previous results give other teams in the playoff hunt a rooting interest in how they do.
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 18 Kean. The loss by Montclair State on the scoreboard and the other one under center have opened the NJAC race up even further. It’s going to get nuts from here. So far, it’s hard to say whether Kean’s football program has gotten distracted by the winds swirling around other Kean athletic teams, but even if not, it’s a key game. Both teams need this.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Widener at Albright.
With a lot to gain and the potential to still win the conference, Widener could pour it on and run away with this game. But if the Pride get caught thinking too much about the conference showdown against Delaware Valley, Albright may be able to catch them sleeping. Aside from one game this season, Albright plays its opponents competitively, so a one-score game isn’t out of the question.
Keith’s take: Wooster at Hiram. Traditionally a pretty good NCAC program, Wooster might seem from an outsider’s view as the team with a chance to get right against the 1-6 Terriers. But look for a tight finish, mostly because both teams struggle mightily at putting points on the board. Hiram is the 229th-ranked scoring offense in the country at a shade more than 10 points per game and No. 225 Wooster isn’t much better at a little more than 12.
Pat’s take: Carthage at North Park. There’s nothing to be gained by picking North Park to win a CCIW game when it hasn’t since time immemorial (actually 2000). But the Vikings have been competitive more often than not, including a 27-24 loss at Augustana last week. Keith keeps talking about the North Park-at-Carthage game from last year where North Park was competitive. A loss would make it 80 consecutive conference games, by my count.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Kean.
It seems a little like Kean’s opponent, Rowan, has flown under the radar this season. Remember last year they were a one-loss team that got snubbed from the postseason while conference-mates Cortland State and Montclair State got to keep playing? This year’s Profs have a lot to be motivated about, and they’re just balanced enough in all facets of the game to keep the opposition guessing. And Kean hasn’t exactly been steamrolling teams this season.
Keith’s take: No. 24 Illinois Wesleyan. This might a week without an upset in the top 25, and this could be a little bit of a reach. But the Titans have to be careful to avoid the hangover that comes from gearing up for a game as big as last week’s clash with North Central, and then the deflating feeling that goes with getting shutout. Millkin hasn’t won since Oct. 1, and if it begins to sniff a chance at victory, IWU’s job is going to get tougher. The Big Blue scores more than 30 points a game, but the Titans are a powerhouse defensively, allowing less than 10.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Wesley. I don’t usually pick ranked games for this, even the home team when higher ranked, but Salisbury is in a good position here to reclaim U.S. 13 for its own and put Wesley deep on the playoff bubble. Salisbury hasn’t been tested in a while but one of the side benefits to the recent blowouts is that they came on the road, where the Sea Gulls couldn’t completely empty the bench because it was left at home. The key players on the two-deep still had a fair amount of playing time. Plus, Salisbury is throwing the ball better than in previous years and that has appeared to be where Wesley struggles defensively.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
The Spartans line up against their stiffest UAA competition, Chicago, this weekend. For my part, Case hasn’t really been on my radar yet. Their games have been close, and Pool B entry to the postseason is scarcer than ever. But, as noted above, Wesley could pick up loss No. 2 this weekend, which means Case should be determined to finish out 9-1 if they hope to make the playoffs. With the selection committee now able to factor in previous playoff performance, Case is in trouble with its few one-and-dones under their belt. So the Spartans shouldn’t simply be looking to win but rather to win convincingly.
Keith’s take: Wartburg. The up-and-down IIAC needs the annual Knights-Dutch clash to help sort the conference title race out. Central has been hot offensively, scoring 119 points in its past two games, and the Wartburg defense — traditionally a strength — has given up 39 and 38. I don’t know quite what to make of this Wartburg team, even this deep into the season, but I hope Saturday provides the most definitive clue yet.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints can’t clinch the automatic bid this weekend at the Metrodome unless they win and Eureka also loses to Northwestern, but they are going to be all but assured of winning the automatic bid from the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference with a win against first-year program Presentation.

Which team with a losing record has the most left to play for?
Ryan’s take: DePauw.
Any season — no matter humbling or below expectations it is — can be salvaged with a win against a bitter rival, in this case Wabash. That’s three weeks away, which means two more games for DPU to fix what may be broke. The Tigers have not been impressive on offense this year, but last week against Ohio Wesleyan, Drew Seaman strung together a 166-yard, three-touchdown performance. That, folks, amounts to a glimmer of hope for a team that’s 2-4 only one season removed from a SCAC title and a playoff run. A chance to find itself, as well as battle for the Monon Bell trophy, gives DePauw plenty to fight for.
Keith’s take: Pacific. Still looking for the first win since reviving the program, the Boxers are 0-7 and coming off of demoralizing losses of 49-6, 49-7 and 48-6, at Willamette, against Linfield, and at Whitworth. Pacific’s best chance to get over that is by beating another potentially demoralized team, in 0-7 conference foe Puget Sound. The Loggers, whose two wins last season were against Pacific, have given up 450 points and 43 points per game. That’s an opportunity for the Boxers offense to get on track.
Pat’s take: Ithaca. At 3-4, and with Frostburg State, Alfred and Cortland State still to come, the Bombers are in danger of seeing their streak of consecutive winning seasons end at 40. It’s not the longest such streak, obviously, but Ithaca is among the historic Division III football programs for a reason. They need to win all three to keep that streak alive. Central’s streak, formerly the second-longest, ended with a 5-5 season in 2003.

If there were no obstacles, and excluding your game of the week pick, where would you like to be this Saturday?
Ryan’s take: Ursinus at No. 14 Johns Hopkins.
I feel like I’m talking about one or the other of these teams almost every week, but if I want to answer honestly, this is the game I want to see. I want to see if JHU is for real this year — as in 2009 playoff-run real. I think they are. JHU can clinch a playoff berth with a win, so there’s plenty at stake for them. Ursinus isn’t the kind of Bears you play dead with though or they’ll eat your team up.
Keith’s take: At Castleton State or Middlebury. I have no qualms going to see the Route 13 rivalry, but if I could be anywhere, Vermont during fall foliage season sounds nice. The Spartans and Panthers are just a 45-minute drive from one another, and the start times are staggered. Castleton plays Gallaudet, and Middlebury faces off with Trinity (Conn.).
Pat’s take: Actually, the game I’ll be at. I feel good about having a chance to be there for history when Dubuque hosts Luther. But more about that in a second.

Do one, both or neither of the Westminster (Mo.) records fall this weekend?
Ryan’s take: One.
I think Monmouth’s Alex Tanney will get the two touchdown passes he needs to break the career mark in that category. His team should be able to make short work of Carroll. However, I don’t think Dubuque’s Michael Zweifel gets the 12 catches he needs to set the career catches record. He’ll probably fall three or four catches short of that mark. But look for him to break it in the Spartans’ last game of the regular season on Nov. 5.
Keith’s take: Both. With 123 career TD passes and five in each of the past two games, Tanney seems a sure bet to break through. The Pioneers have the best defense in the MWC though. Meanwhile, Zwiefel has had 17 or more catches for more than 200 yards twice in his past three games, so whopping numbers are normal for him.
Pat’s take: Both. There’s no way Michael Zweifel doesn’t get those receptions this weekend, in the team’s final home game. Remember who the offensive coordinator reports to. He caught 17 passes last week. Twelve catches is merely right at his average.

Game day: Welcome, the rest of you

After today the only teams that won’t have played are in the NESCAC, so the Division III football season will be in full swing.

I’ll be at St. John’s, where the No. 11 Johnnies host UW-Eau Claire. Keith McMillan is in Massachusetts, where Curry will play host to Widener. And you’ll be wherever you are, of course, so keep us up to date, even if it’s in front of your computer surfing through games. (That’s also one of my favorite places from which to track Division III football.)

We went through the other big games yesterday in the Triple Take, so I won’t repeat. But there are intriguing games in the Liberty League, especially, with Hobart traveling to Dickinson, Union hosting No. 8 Ithaca, and RPI opening its brand-new Division III football palace.

Elsewhere, I’ll be interested to see the results of “Air Raid vs. Wishbone” as McMurry hosts Austin College. DePauw’s tumultuous offseason finally comes to an end when the Tigers travel to Anderson. Could this year’s Augsburg/Wartburg game live up to the last two years? That seems hard to imagine, but it’s one of a handful of intriguing night games, along with McMurry/Austin, East Texas Baptist/Redlands, UW-Platteville/Dubuque, Buffalo State/St. John Fisher and even Carroll/Beloit.

Chime in with what you know, plus follow us on Twitter, since we’ll be following everyone else and passing along the most interesting tidbits that way.