Around the Nation Podcast: On the clinchers

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Sam Sura had a busy day, carrying 40 times for 119 yards for St. John’s in the Johnnies’ win vs. Bethel. (St. John’s photo by Richard Larkin McLay)

The playoff picture began to take shape this week, as 14 of the 24 automatic bids were claimed. Pat and Keith talk through the teams who are in, who has yet to clinch and who might be in line for the Pool B bids.

Meanwhile, did Wabash and St. John Fisher move onto the bubble or all the way off of it? What are Centre’s chances like if they pick up a loss next week? Keith and Pat discuss the upsets, the near-upsets and much more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

Plus they hand out their game balls, look at teams on the rise, under-the-radar highlights, key stats and more.

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Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show:

Triple Take Week 9: Season-ending seriousness is upon us

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

The time for pleasantries has passed. The everyone-across-the-nation-is-interesting window is rapidly closing. Tomorrow begins November, which means we’re focusing on conference-title chases, playoff-spot pursuit and the occasional season-defining rivalry game.

With that in mind, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I zoom in the focus from all 244 teams to the games (besides the one you’re already interested in) that most deserve your attention. Last week, teams lit up the scoreboard; we’ll tell you who won’t do it again. We’ve got insight on which top 25 teams are in danger, where conference races will tilt and which teams to keep on your radar, just in case something unexpected happens on Saturday. You’ll be able to say you saw it coming.

Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 16 UW-Platteville. The Warhawks didn’t partake in the scoring of the 70s like so many top-10 teams did last week. But they’ve been putting up silly numbers by preventing them. Since Franklin scored 13 on UW-W back in Week 2, just 17 points have been scored on that defense. Only UW-Eau Claire’s 19-play field goal drive came in the first three quarters, with the game still in reach. The Warhawks have the nation’s best scoring defense, and the Pioneers are 11th, at 11.3 points per game. UW-Whitewater’s push starts up front, where defensive linemen Mykaell Bratchett and Zach Franz are getting help from sophomores Brandon Tamsett and John Flood. Linebackers Jacob Zilbar and Andrew Belken need to have big days for the Pioneers’ defense. Offensively, QB Bryce Corrigan the UW-Platteville score 31.6 points per game, which in this era of high offense is just 73rd in the country.
Ryan’s take: Carroll at Macalester. Yup, I’m going off the top-25 grid here because at this point in the season, so much of the focus is on winning conferences and getting into the playoffs. This is one of those decisive games. Both of these teams are undefeated in the North Division of the MWC, and the winner should be able to round out the regular season with confidence and get a shot at the divisional championship game on Nov. 15 – and then a spot in the postseason.
Pat’s take: Howard Payne at Louisiana College. There have been so many entertaining games in this conference this season that I feel like I have to elevate one of them to Game of the Week status. Louisiana College has only been held under 30 points by Alcorn State and two top-five teams, while Howard Payne had a classic 54-53 win at East Texas Baptist two weeks ago. If you like defense, though, watch Keith’s Game of the Week instead.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Cowboys are surprisingly 5-1 and effectively 6-1, since they led Southwestern 28-7 in the third quarter in Week 1 before “persistent lightning” led to the game being called a no contest. The Cowboys’ only loss, however, came on their home field to Texas Lutheran the following week, 37-14, which explains why they aren’t getting any love in the poll. UMHB beat TLU 72-16 last week, so why would I pick this to be surprisingly close? Well for one, it only needs to be within 56 points to fit the definition, given the UMHB > TLU > HSU hierarchy to date. But it’s also because the Cowboys have a decent defense, and allow just 3.5 yards per carry. It’s not quite the 1.98 yards that UMHB allows, but given the history between the two Hardins, a reasonable final in the 35-14 range is possible.
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Christopher Newport. These teams are almost at opposite ends of the conference standings, but the Panthers are coming off a season-defining win against Huntingdon, so they’ll arrive in Newport News with some momentum. CNU certainly won’t let this game slide by, though, as the race for the USA South’s automatic qualifier could realistically go to any one of three teams right now. There’s a good deal at stake, and the Captains surely wouldn’t mind representing the conference in the postseason after missing it in 2013.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence at WPI. First of all, surprisingly distant for an East Region conference, where it’s nearly a six-hour drive. But also, looking for a fairly close game on the scoreboard in this one as well, especially for a game between a 3-4 team and a 6-1 team. St. Lawrence is built around defense, so I expect the score to be low, and close. Even though this game is perfectly positioned to be a trap game for St. Lawrence, right before the big showdown with Hobart, I also expect the score to be comfortably in SLU’s favor.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 Concordia-Moorhead. Having nominated St. Thomas as a potential upsetter (sure, that’s a word) of Bethel last week, I’m doubling down. But almost as much as it’s hard to believe the Tommies would pick up their third loss in a season for the first time since coach Glenn Caruso’s first there, in 2008, this is about the Cobbers. Concordia-Moorhead hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2005, but it’s been 8-2 the past two years, with an October loss to Bethel and an early-November loss to St. Thomas each time (they’ve actually lost six straight to the Tommies). The Cobbers, as you might guess, are 7-1 with a 27-17 Oct. 4 loss to Bethel the only blemish so far. It’s time for QB Griffin Neal, DE Nate Adams and the Cobbers to get the Tommie off their backs.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. As was pointed out in the ATN Podcast earlier this week, UW-Oshkosh’s record is deceiving because the first three opponents were non-D-III schools. The Titans are coming off of playing Whitewater closer than anyone else this season, and despite UW-SP’s marquee win over North Central early in the year, most of their games haven’t been blowouts. Just like with the game against Platteville, it’s possible that the talent of the WIAC will continue catch up with the Pointers this week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. I have to concur with my colleague here, rather than try to pick another one, and Ryan’s reasoning is sound. Part of the reason why Oshkosh was so “successful” against Whitewater, holding them under 100 yards in the second half, is because Jake Kumerow got banged up early in the game and they went really vanilla after that. So I think the Oshkosh score is misleading. However, UWSP simply can’t give the ball away as many times as it has and if the Pointers do that on Saturday, the Titans will make them pay for it.

Pinpoint a game that will change a conference-title chase.
Keith’s take: MIT at Endicott. The Gulls get 6-0 MIT at home this week, and face Western New England (6-1 after last week’s 35-34 loss at MIT) next week. One of these three teams is representing the NEFC in the playoffs, and fans of other Eastern teams should get behind Endicott. While the Gulls challenged themselves and lost to MASCAC leader Framingham State and LL leader Hobart in their first two games, a 9-0 MIT team would have to be a candidate to host in Round 1, provided it is eligible. Endicott leads the conference in scoring defense at 19.9 points allowed, and the Engineers lead it in scoring at 41.7 points per game, so there’s your matchup to watch.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton at Elmhurst. There will be no letdown for the Thunder after last weekend’s thrilling Little Brass Bell victory. Elmhurst has hung in the conference race – barely at times – and has gone 4-0 so far, but a future as a 5-2 CCIW team seems likely for the Bluejays. After Saturday, Wheaton should be all alone at the top.
Pat’s take: Centre at Hendrix. We had lots of talk about Hendrix in the first few weeks and then they dropped off the radar for a little while. But No. 1 quarterback Seth Peters is back after he missed the Wash. U. and Berry games (both losses) because of injury. Top running back Dayton Winn is back after missing the Berry game as well. Hendrix is very much in the SAA race and controls its own destiny.

Which team put up huge numbers last week that it won’t duplicate this week?
Keith’s take: Stevenson. I’m kind of mad at myself for writing this question. Because the longer I looked, the more I found teams that are probably going to put up big numbers again. I can’t trust Buena Vista’s defense to slow No. 6 Wartburg, or Wooster to stifle DePauw after a 59-point week, or Salve Regina to stop Maine Maritime’s running game. Stevenson, however, whitewashed FDU-Florham, 57-0, last week. Trey Lee scored three of his four touchdowns by halftime, when the Mustangs led by 37. This week the opponent is No. 12 Widener, which is also No. 12 nationally in total defense. The Mustangs scored eight touchdowns last week. The Pride has only allowed eight touchdowns all season.
Ryan’s take: Linfield. The Wildcats didn’t reach the 70-plus mark that other top-10 teams did in Week 8, but that’s certainly not an indictment on the talent the team has. This week pick isn’t an indictment, either. Willamette is more than five-scores better than Linfield’s opponent from last week, and I don’t expect the Linfield to play into a particularly drastic margin this week. Still, Linfield can probably hang 40-something on the Bearcats and win comfortably.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. The Saints have been back on cruise control the past three weeks after W&J caused them to downshift out of the tie for first in the PAC and the Top 25. They will not be putting up a 42-3/49.7/64-7 score against Waynesburg, to be sure, and they might not even put up a winning score.

The Empire 8 and ODAC are the toughest conferences to predict, but pick a winner from one anyway.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. Trying to figure out who’ll win when the Golden Eagles get a visit from Ithaca using past occurrences is an exercise in mental torture. (Hey, it is Halloween). Both teams are 5-2 and hoping to catch St. John Fisher in the Empire 8 race. One of the Bombers’ losses is to Frostburg State, which Brockport beat 46-0. But the Golden Eagles lost to Utica, which Ithaca handled, 27-10. The Bombers defense limited Salisbury’s often-outstanding triple-option rushing attack to just 74 yards in a 32-7 win last week. If we were going by just that, I’d say Bombers win easily. But Brockport counters with an offense that’s had 42 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, 11 in the past two games (h/t Brockport Sports Information). But even with those, three of the Golden Eagles’ wins are by five points or fewer. And in the nothing-makes-sense world of the E8 this season, one can only assume the result that seems more likely — Ithaca riding its dominant win over Salisbury to another win — is the opposite of what will happen.
Ryan’s take: St. John Fisher. The Cardinals will be going up against Buffalo State in what should be a competitive game between teams that have shown flashes of greatness this season. Fisher is four points away from being an undefeated team, and if I had to make a pick, I’d get behind Fisher to snag the E8’s automatic qualifier. But the Bengals will certainly have some fire in them, and pulling out the upset against the No. 15 team in the nation would put them right back in the mix for the postseason.
Pat’s take: Guilford. Thanks for leaving me an easy one. My alma mater has a really young team this year and just isn’t that good right now, and just in case one might be tempted to think they could still knock off Guilford, I’ll point out that it’s homecoming in Greensboro and that Catholic beat the Quakers last season, so it’s unlikely they’ll get taken lightly. Only question is if it will be close to the 62-14 win that Hampden-Sydney got at Catholic? Will Guilford go for style points to try to get itself more Top 25 votes?

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Ursinus. We’d be talking about the big showdown of undefeated teams with Johns Hopkins if not for the Bears’ 38-10 puzzler against Juniata a few weeks back. They had a momentum-killing turnover right before the half in the game, and settled for a field goal coming out of the half on a 12-play drive. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, and the Bears can forget about theirs if they play their best game against the No. 9-ranked Blue Jays.
Ryan’s take: Franklin. With a win this weekend, the Griz would be guaranteed to finish no worse than 7-1 in conference play, and they own the head-to-head victories over other potential one-loss teams. That means Franklin is poised to be the first team in 2014 to land a spot in the playoffs. [Ryan’s edit: I messed up my dates and realize that Franklin’s potential clinching game isn’t until Nov. 8.]
Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are still one of the one-loss teams afloat at the top of the USA South standings, while LaGrange and Air Raid Junior have struggled on offense the past four weeks (and on defense for three of those). The Panthers offense, expected to be prolific, has been ordinary, averaging 22 points the past four weeks. CNU has two games left and has its destiny in its own hands.

Triple Take: Kicking off 2014 with ten predictions for Week 1

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

After a 36-week layoff, Division III football is back this weekend. To help pass the time leading up to the opening kick, we’ve provided you Kickoff, the comprehensive season preview, and a slate of fresh columns.

But opening week isn’t complete until Pat Coleman, the executive editor, Ryan Tipps, the senior editor-turned-Around the Nation columnist, and I (Keith McMillan, staff has-been) stick our necks out with predictions for Week 1’s games. We’ll tackle the Top 25 and the games on the fringes; If you have no idea what to pay attention to as the first week gets underway, we’ve got you covered.

Tipps has moved into the penthouse, which means I get to stop by his old digs, cooking up the Triple Take categories and having first dibs on answering. Since I’m drunk with power and ready to celebrate the 244-team race to Salem, let’s make it a 10-pack to kick things off. Have fun with the picks, and if you’re bold enough, leave yours in the comments section below.

Game of the week
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More at No. 5 Wesley. It’s possible I’m shilling for this game because I’m on the call alongside Sean Greene as a special guest fill-in, but I’d probably pick it anyway. It’s a chance to see one of the nation’s most-decorated offensive players in Saints RB Domonique Hayden (2,234 total yards last season) against one of the most decorated programs … whose quarterback happened to pass for 633 yards in a playoff loss last time we saw him. Wesley’s been known to test itself with a crazy schedule and lose an early season game, even in Dover, so why wouldn’t all eyes be on this one?
Pat: Widener at No. 15 Rowan. I mean, that other game above is really the game of the week but this game is on Friday night so you can see both of them! Once upon a time we would have killed to see these two teams play each other and even though Jim Jones and Michael Coleman are no longer on the Pioneer…. err, Pride’s side, this should still be a great way to help kick off the season.
Ryan: No. 21 Hampden-Sydney at No. 16 Wabash. I can’t do a whole Around the Nation column hyping the uniqueness of this game and the impressiveness of this matchup and not pick it as my game of the week. Check out my inaugural ATN for the many reasons I’m excited about this game.

Surprisingly close game
Keith: Union at No. 23 Ithaca. This was tough for me. I see a lot of matchups that should be not close, and some that will be, but won’t be surprising. I was intrigued by second-year Southwestern (vs. Hardin-Simmons), Buena Vista (hosting No. 8 UW-Platteville) and Millsaps (hosting No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor), but not bold enough to pick them. Twenty-one returning starters emboldened me to take the Dutchmen, who are a 3-7 team going on the road to open up against a second-round playoff participant. Union returns every offensive starter but the tight end, while the Bombers only have three defensive starters back.
Pat: McDaniel at Catholic. It doesn’t read like it should be close on paper, because Catholic won 48-16 at McDaniel last fall, but the Cardinals have been very up and down of late. While that beats the heck out of just being down, Catholic has a lot of holes to fill this season and McDaniel could very well be bouncing back.
Ryan: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster. Their records may not have ended all that far apart in 2013, but the 58-21 pounding W&J handed out last season painted a frightening picture for the Scots. But Wooster has now matured and improved across the board, so don’t expect the Presidents to be rolling into the half up 42-14 again.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith: No. 25 Franklin. Mike Leonard is one of my favorite D-III coaches. His team is going on the road to open up against Illinois Wesleyan, a nine-win program from one of the nation’s best conferences. We ranked the Titans No. 52 in Kickoff, largely because they have only nine starting position players back, but the Grizzlies, who are breaking in new quarterback Grant Welp, only have 11. This is a solid first-week challenge for both teams.
Pat: No. 17 Wartburg. These guys and Augsburg actually have a much bigger rivalry in wrestling, where the two have won like all the national titles in the past 20 years, and Wartburg the past three. But these teams have played some pretty tight games even when the rankings suggest they shouldn’t. Nice to see this game back on the schedule for the first time since 2009 — Augsburg won the Battle of the Burgs in 2008 in a year in which the Auggies went 5-5 and the Warties (yeah, let’s go with that) went to the national quarterfinals.
Ryan: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I feel like there have been a couple of times in the past three or so years in which Hopkins has lost several starters or maybe a key skill player, and I think this is the season we’ll see the team backslide a bit. Hopkins, in turn, has shown how deep it is each and every time. I admittedly don’t have them in the lofty position of No. 14 on my ballot at this point, not with only three starters back on offense. Randolph-Macon doesn’t have a particularly good track record against Hopkins the past two seasons, but this year is ripe for that to change.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: George Fox and Pacific. The Bruins, who last played a game in 1968, restart football on Saturday, with a Linfield man (Chris Casey) at the helm. The NWC rival Boxers, meanwhile, were a re-startup in 2010 and enter Year 5 after winning zero, one, three and seven games. Was their Year 4 spike just a group of experienced seniors that had started for several years, or will Pacific be a year-in, year-out threat? I have no idea what to make of either non-D-III team they’re playing, Arizona Christian or College of Idaho, but I’ll have an eye on the D-III squads.
Pat: Stevenson. This is a Year 4 team and it’s time for that breakout that new programs often have in their fourth year. With a struggling program in North Carolina Wesleyan on the schedule to open the season, the first challenge is the length of the trip.
Ryan: Millsaps. I have no expectations that the Majors will actually pull off the upset here, but if you read Kickoff, you might have noticed that I have Millsaps chosen as one of my Pool B predictions. With a solid group of starters back from a team that was one game from likely making the playoffs last year, there’s a lot to look forward to with what this team can accomplish. We’ll see right away how they stack up against one of D-III’s elite.

Who can quiet your doubts with a solid performance Saturday?
Keith: No. 13 Wittenberg. The Tigers won 10 games and had the nation’s fifth-most-prolific offense last season. I didn’t put them in my preseason top 25, largely because only nine starters were back on the offense and defense combined. None of them is star QB Reed Florence. So while you can’t always read much into a D-III playing an FCS team, Wittenberg lost, 49-24, at Butler last year, and didn’t lose again until playing Mount Union in the playoffs. If they look good at home this Saturday, maybe they’ll be fine.
Pat: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I have some doubts, definitely. Reference Kickoff to find out why. But JHU has handled Randolph-Macon fairly easily the past two years, so if the game is a battle, it could bode well for the rest of the teams in the Centennial Conference. And since I’m the one who wrote that line in Kickoff, it’s not stealing. (credit: Pat Coleman)
Ryan: Huntingdon. With about half of the Hawks’ starting lineup lost to graduation, they were a tough bunch to slot into place during the preseason. Huntingdon isn’t a team that’s been built around one person, so a wide crop of receivers and rushers saw action last year even if they didn’t start. And the team’s two-quarterback system is no more now that one of those guys has graduated. Louisiana College will be a very tough game, but even a close game without a win will help put this Huntingdon team’s abilities in perspective.

Who looks back in November on a loss this Saturday with great regret?
Keith: The Rowan/Widener loser. I love that these two mid-Atlantic powers, each with 17 starters back, and barely separated by more than the Commodore Barry Bridge, open up with each other. But in conferences as competitive and jumbled as the NJAC and MAC, one might find itself wishing it hadn’t, when at-large bids for the 32-team playoff field are distributed.
Pat: St. Scholastica. With a win vs. Ripon on Saturday, just maybe beyond maybes St. Scholastica avoids Whitewater in the first round. But if the Saints manage to go 9-1, winning the UMAC, it’ll be a trip to a top seed. Again.
Ryan: Mount St. Joseph. The Lions have been playing second fiddle to Franklin often in recent years, and the possibility of getting over the hump this season should be cause for celebration. But a loss to Augustana this Saturday would start a likely two-week slide that goes through Millsaps the following weekend. So even if Mount St. Joseph earns an HCAC title, the result will be a team facing a very tough playoff draw.

Which young rivalry game is closer, the Soup Bowl or the Pynchon SAW Game?
Keith: Soup Bowl. Kickoff predicts big things for Guilford, but Greensboro’s got QB Ryan Throndset back for a fourth year starting, and 16 other returners, so we should see a thriller.
Pat: Soup Bowl. When you hold a contest to pick a rivalry name, you get what you get. I have to pick the Soup Bowl just on marketing principle here.
Ryan: Soup Bowl. I’m not sure that the Soup Bowl still counts as a young rivalry, but as it is, I like it as a competitive matchup. Guilford is surely going to be good this season, and while the Quakers are favored to take the win, Greensboro has a dynamic veteran quarterback in Throndset who will help keep the Pride on Guilford’s tail.

Editor’s note: Pynchon SAW is the new name for the Springfield-Western New England game.

Aside from No. 1 UW-Whitewater against Waldorf, which team has the most impressive win?
Keith: No. 10 John Carroll. No. 3 Mount Union has been waiting to bounce back from its Stagg Bowl embarrassment for months, and plays Bethany. But the Blue Streaks, bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs, have been waiting even longer, and face St. Vincent in new coach Ron Dolciato’s first game. This will be the Bearcats’ 22nd straight loss, and QB Mark Myers and Co. are pretty enough to make it ugly.
Pat: UW-La Crosse. I mean, define impressive. Am I impressed by beating Waldorf 66-3 or Bethany 49-7? Not really. For UW-L, even beating Dubuque at all would be a nice start to the season and we seem to expect the Eagles to be a little higher in the WIAC standings in 2014.
Ryan: No. 15 Rowan. Opponent Widener will finish the season at or near the top of the MAC. “Impressive” isn’t about a thrashing; “impressive” is about standing up to real adversity and walking away with control, confidence and victory. This game will raise the Profs’ profile a notch.

Pick a team ranked 150-244 in Kickoff that wins:
Keith: No. 159 St. Scholastica. Winning is nothing new to the Saints, and this wouldn’t be going very far out on a limb if they weren’t playing No. 99 Ripon. I’ll take the upset — long trip to Duluth, and new coach Kurt Ramler leading what could be a high-powered attack against the Red Hawks’ “slot bone.”
Pat: No. 195 Ferrum. I could have lost a lot of money the last few years picking USA South teams to beat ODAC teams (since it didn’t happen very often). But that would involve betting. Which is wrongDon’t do it. But even though Ferrum is pretty universally expected to be down this year, I like them at home over the school with first-year head coach and the offseason silliness.
Ryan: No. 203 Misericordia. As I highlighted in Kickoff, I think the Cougars are a team set to ride last year’s season-ending victory into a few more for the win column this fall. Utica is far from a sure thing for Misericordia, but a win also isn’t unattainable in this matchup, especially if the Cougars’ defense can show their worth.

Which manly men win the Stag Bowl and keep alive their Stagg Bowl hopes?
Keith: Hampden-Sydney. Oh Jeez. Who wrote this question? I don’t see what’s so great about going to college without women, but I guess it leaves more time for football practice, which could explain how the Tigers held my beloved Randolph-Macon out of the postseason by a yard last year. Admittedly, Nash Nance’s gang nearly pulled off the surprise of the playoffs out at Linfield and look poised to pick up where they left off. With only one offensive line starter back, Nance may be running for his life on Saturday, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Pat is picking the Little Giants and Ryan is abstaining, so I’ll hold my nose and select the southern gentlemen. For football reasons, of course.
Pat: Wabash. They’re playing at home. Wish I could be there but the man listed below will already be there so it didn’t make sense for me to try to get there as well. I expect to watch it online and then see my upset pick game Saturday night. I just expect this to be a good game. Keith’s right about Nance being on the run a bit on Saturday. I’m just glad this game is finally here because the fan bravado on the message board is getting to be a bit much.
Ryan: Pass. So often we ask questions on this site with a qualifier that says “alma maters excluded.” As a Wabash grad, I really should follow that rule with the first part of this question, despite the split decision from the two fellows picking before me (I do think I said all I needed to say in ATN this week). But realistically, both of these teams are ranked and have the possibility of conference AQs to look forward to, so a loss for either won’t knock them out of playoff contention. They both will have kept their Stagg Bowl hopes alive going into Week 2.