Triple Take: Predictions for a rowdy Week 2 in Division III

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Baldwin Wallace rolls out for the 2014 season this week.

Some of my Washington Post coworkers who love college football have spent the week lamenting what a lame slate Division I FBS has got going on this weekend. No such issues here in Division III, which makes it a good week to get out from in front of the TV and go to a game.

There’s one clash of ranked teams, and ten — count ‘em, ten — ranked teams taking on pretty good challenges, be they against teams on the fringe of the rankings, teams with recent playoff pedigree or teams expected to push for a conference title and finish with a winning record.

To help make sense of the 200-plus teams in action are Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan (that’s me) and Ryan Tipps:

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at Salisbury:
I’m going to burn up my quota of Wesley picks pretty soon, but with just five games against D-III teams, and any loss putting a Pool B playoff spot in jeopardy, this game has wide-ranging implications. Plus it’s top 25-caliber rivals under the lights (6 p.m. kick). The Wolverines had two defensive starters ejected last week, but safety Sean Hopkins’s suspension for targeting was overturned on appeal, and all-American linebacker Sosthene Kapepula starts this week because getting tossed for two personal fouls doesn’t come with a suspension for the following game.
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport at No. 24 Hampden-Sydney. I’ve been filling in my answers from bottom to top and already used up (beware of spoilers) the Wesley and Rowan games, so I’m looking at other matchups. But I’m also not going to be shy highlighting Hampden-Sydney’s matchup twice in two weeks. The Tigers and Captains are both coming off losses to very physical teams, and the “healing” factor might be the key to who comes away victorious this weekend. Last season, CNU surprised H-SC early and put up the points needed to win. This year, I think both teams are genuinely better than their 2013 incarnations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a matchup between the future winners of the ODAC and USAC.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Bethel at No. 15 Wartburg. I feel like the Midwest guy saying this but I do feel like this is one of the best games of the week and for me, at least, worth the six-hour round trip. After seeing how Wartburg manhandled Augsburg last week, a middle-of-the-pack team in Bethel’s conference, I’m interested to see how they stack up here. Wartburg has that advantage from this being its second game of the season and that’s big. Also, Bethel graduated a ton of receiving prowess, and that helped the program make a jump into the next tier, at least in my opinion. They have been more multi-dimensional the past couple of years. Erik Peterson’s season ended early last year as well because of injury and in his return, he will be facing a defensive front that knows how to get to the quarterback. Primed for an upset, although I don’t generally include games between ranked teams as upset picks or teams most likely to lose.

Surprisingly close game
Keith No. 5 Linfield at Chapman:
I went way out on a limb with this pick in Kickoff, and there’s some logic behind it. The Wildcats have scuffled with good SCIAC teams on the road in the past, and the Panthers are pretty good. Chapman has nine back on offense to Linfield’s three on D. It’s no short trip. And even if the Panthers don’t pull what would be a major upset, for the people across the country who know Linfield as an elite program and don’t really know Chapman, don’t be surprised if it’s close.
Ryan: Methodist at Guilford. So a close game here isn’t going to be a huge surprise aside from the fact that Guilford cleaned up a lot more heartily than Methodist did in Week 1. But there wasn’t any other category that this game fit under – and I wanted to make sure it was highlighted in Triple Take. If I picked the likely conference winners in my Game of the week, listed here are the best-bet runners-up. Scoring should be high in this one, and it very well could be a turnover or two that makes the difference.
Pat: Illinois College at Rose-Hulman. This is a game that I don’t know how to analyze and would love to just see it happen. RHIT is on a bit of an upswing of late and could compete for another (share of a) HCAC title. For IC, this is the only test on the schedule outside of the Midwest Conference opponents.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith No. 24 Hampden-Sydney:
No. 15 Wartburg is more likely to lose, facing No. 7 Bethel, but in the spirit of the category, I’ll pick a ranked team to lose to a non-ranked team. On one hand, H-SC should bounce back from its loss last weekend out at Wabash, especially with what should be a pretty high-powered offense. On the other, Christopher Newport came 47 seconds from shutting the Tigers out in a 17-7 win last season, so this isn’t too much of a stretch.
Ryan: No. 11 St. Thomas. UW-La Crosse is but a shadow of the conference-contending team it fielded a decade or so ago, but the Eagles are also good for an upset here and there, and they maintain themselves as competitive in many of their major outings.
(Editor’s reminder: We don’t consult with each other while making our picks)
Pat: No. 11 St. Thomas. I’ll probably get a phone call or a text or get pulled aside after a game to be asked about this but in the first game so far, St. Thomas had to hold on at the end to beat UW-Eau Claire, and we think UW-La Crosse is another step up the WIAC ladder. Meanwhile, UW-L had a nice first week. UST is a defensive-oriented team at the moment, at least until the offense catches up, and a low-scoring game keeps UW-L in it longer.

Team inactive in Week 1 that’s most impressive in Week 2
Keith: No. 6 North Central.
The Cardinals, with just eight starters back, were built for last season, and nearly made the Stagg Bowl. They have a huge clash with No. 8 UW-Platteville coming up next week, so opening with St. Norbert should be a decent test. They’ll pass with flying colors.
Ryan: No. 6 North Central. Opponent St. Norbert is always good for an above-.500 season (read: SOS bump), which makes a playoff hopeful like North Central happy come seeding time. And the Cardinals likely won’t be feeling behind despite the Green Knights already having a game under their belt. North Central should glide comfortably to a win. (As an aside, St. Norbert is one of those teams that impresses me by scheduling tough in nonconference play year after year, with Wartburg, St. Thomas and John Carroll as some recent opponents. It will likely be another loss for the Green Knights, but at least they’re putting themselves out there.)
Pat: Baldwin Wallace. The Yellow Jackets are one of the three OAC teams that have a Week 1 bye and play non-conference in Week 2 before moving into the conference schedule. Even though Bluffton played last week, an upper-division OAC team should not be fazed by that extra week of preparation.

Team that lost in Week 1 that’s most impressive in Week 2
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More.
The Saints play at Hanover, the second road game of a five-in-six stretch to open the season. The Panthers aren’t bad, but they aren’t Wesley either. I was impressed with Thomas More’s sure tackling and fiesty effort last week, and against normal-for-D-III team speed, the offense should look more like that 40-point-a-game group it was last season.
Ryan: Dickinson. The Red Devils found their fire in the fourth quarter last week against 12th-ranked Hobart. If that can carry over to Week 2 against a Juniata team that has surged from the Centennial depths, then Dickinson will have a lot to look forward to this season.
Pat: No. 24 Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers will be extra motivated not to start 0-2 and also exorcise the demons of last year’s meeting with Christopher Newport. I mean, I assume there are some demons associated with throwing five interceptions and not scoring in the first 59 minutes of the game. That’s a nice first couple of weeks on the schedule for H-SC and CNU and now the Tigers are going to want to make sure they are the team that comes out of it 1-1 and the Captains go 0-2.

Rivalry game that turns out most exciting
Keith: The Secretaries’ Cup.
The Chowder Bowl, won by SUNY-Maritime by one over Mass. Maritime with a late score on Thursday night, got the weekend off to a good start. And not far from Throggs Neck, N.Y., in New London, Conn., Merchant Marine and Coast Guard play in one of the most idyllic settings in college football. The Secretaries’ Cup is full of so much atmosphere (I wrote about it a few years ago) that the game being good is practically a bonus.
Ryan: No. 5 Wesley at Salisbury. Three points, 10 points, nine points, three points … You have to go back more than half a decade to find a matchup between Wesley and Salisbury that wasn’t tense and tightly fought. These two teams annually bring their best when they line up, and the fact that Salisbury moved to the E8 a couple of years ago has done nothing to lessen the intensity that patrols Route 13. Despite the close scores, the Wolverines have owned the Gulls year in and year out for the past decade, which may be the only strike against this matchup from a neutral fan’s perspective.
Pat: The Chowder Bowl. Already played by the time this gets posted (but not yet as of this writing), the two maritime schools getting together just upriver from Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 has to take precedence over everything else.

Best New England performance against a big-conference team
Keith: Bridgewater State.
First off, kudos props to Endicott for stepping up their game and scheduling Hobart, following Framingham State’s date with Rowan and Salve Regina’s with Montclair State. More respect for football in a particular region is earned by winning. And it helps to win on the weeks when folks across the nation are paying attention. I think all three New England teams mentioned have a chance to win, but the best chance is the Bears, at the NJAC’s William Paterson.
Ryan: Rowan at Framingham State. I still have Rowan on my Top 25 ballot, though squeaked in just under the wire. I also picked Framingham State as a near-miss Pool B candidate in Kickoff. Whether it’s the best or not, it’s certainly the one I’m most interested in and the one that will be the most telling in the long run.
Pat: Endicott. Nearly picked for a category before I saw the rest of the questions, I like the Gulls’ chances of keeping it close. You know, in a Western New England-Union kind of way, but probably without the upset. I think Salve has the best chance of a win, but that Endicott might give the best performance.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: Puget Sound.
The Loggers have one win the past three seasons (2011-13). But after an opening-week home victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, they can make it two wins this season Saturday at Occidental. The Tigers didn’t play last week, but have 17 starters back from a 5-4 team, so it might be a lot to ask.
Ryan: Augsburg. I don’t believe that the 40-3 loss that they were dealt in Week 1 represents the kind of team Augsburg really is. I expect the Auggies to bounce back this week against Concordia (Wis.). And if they don’t, well, the MIAC is right around the corner and it isn’t a forgiving place.
Pat: Central. A win vs. Monmouth would virtually assure Central of a 3-0 start heading into the Week 5 game vs. Wartburg (the intervening weeks are a home game vs. Maranatha and a bye). Also, kudos to Monmouth for going out and playing its non-conference games against actual non-Midwest Conference teams (looking at you, Grinnell, Beloit, Cornell).

Triple Take: We welcome many more

Linfield, North Central, Bethel, Pacific Lutheran, Cal Lutheran, Wabash, Baldwin Wallace. Those Top 25 teams and so many other squads around the nation haven’t had the chance to take their first regulation snap this fall.

That ends this weekend.

Only a small handful of teams won’t have at least one game under their belt by the close of Saturday. So which of this weekend’s openers are you most curious about? D3football.com’s Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps reveal their picks below in the weekly Triple Take feature.

We welcome your comments here or on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Pacific Lutheran at No. 18 Cal Lutheran.
You have to go back a couple of years to find a game when this wasn’t a good matchup. Starting in 2010, the Lutes have played their way into the national discussion, even if their best has been left on the playoff fringe looking in. It’s the opener for both teams, and it’s scheduled at a time where even East Coasters don’t have an excuse not to pay attention.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson at No. 19 St. John Fisher. I’m adamant about tipping the cap to teams who schedule strong opponents when they don’t have to, so respect is due here. And just our luck, this game matches up Presidents who gained 551 yards and hung 58 points on Wooster in the opener against Cardinals who allowed 145 and 0 against Otterbein. There’s poll position, potential Pool C slotting and pride on the line. The Cardinals are dead serious about testing themselves early this year — Otterbein won eight games last season, and W&J and Cortland State, next week’s opponent, were playoff teams. And that’s pre-Empire 8. Keep an eye on SJFC’s Dalton Donk and Mason Judd, who each had 10 tackles last week.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield at Hardin-Simmons. Game of the week if you like offense, and honestly, who doesn’t? Hardin-Simmons might have a fighting chance if it doesn’t give up 29 points in the first quarter, as it did on the trip to Willamette last week, but defense has never really been the Cowboys’ strong suit.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hanover at No. 20 Wabash.
I know I always open the door to criticism when I say that my alma mater is anything short of perfect, but the Little Giants have some pieces to replace this year, including dual-threat quarterback Chase Belton. Hanover isn’t as bad as last week’s score showed, which could make this recently renewed rivalry a good one on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at Marian. Speaking of teams testing themselves early, this qualifies there too. Marian, the defending NAIA champ coming off an overtime loss to fourth-ranked St. Xavier, hosts the Titans, who needed a second-half rally to beat IIAC favorite Central last week. The jury is still out on whether Nick Olla and Oshkosh belong at No. 10, but we’re going to find out quickly. Marian running back Tevin Lake rushed for 180 yards against St. Xavier and has four touchdowns already this season. Cory Wipperfurth had a 56-yard and a 67-yard catch for Oshkosh against Central. For me, the biggest question is for it to be surprisingly close, which way is the surprise? WIAC followers might think a top team from their conference should dominate an NAIA team. NAIA followers might think their defending champ should manhandle a non-powerhouse from D-III.
Pat’s take: Butler at No. 13 Franklin. I mean, I have to stick up for the D-III team here and believe, right? Would be nice if Franklin won so we could “prove” Butler is not better than Mount Union.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 6 North Central.
If for no other reason than it happened last year, but that’s all the more reason the Cardinals won’t get caught sleeping. However, UW-La Crosse has that all-too-precious first game in its pocket already, which improves the team’s chances.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley. The phrase “take it one week at a time” works in reverse too. Salisbury hasn’t won in the Route 13 rivalry since 2004, but four of the past six games have been low-scoring and decided by single digits, including 23-14 last year and 17-14 the year before. On talent, the Wolverines should win. But it’s funny, the difference between “on paper” and “in real life,” and players’ psyches affect that. I can absolutely remember as a player thinking “we’re going to kill these guys on Saturday” and not practicing as hard as for the games where you know you had a challenge ahead. If Wesley is feeling itself from its 644-yard, eight-sack opener against Widener, and is looking at Salisbury like a rollover because it lost in Week 1 … well, that’s when a rival bites unexpectedly.
Pat’s take: None. I was really tempted to take Elmhurst on the road at Trine but I think Elmhurst can handle it. Last week’s game vs. Loras was close at the half because of some sloppy penalties and turnovers in the red zone. With an extra two days of practice, I expect Elmhurst to come out much better than last week. (Trine has had the same extra practice as well, as both opened on Thursday last week.)

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Misericordia.
Credit goes to Keith for talking this team up in the Around the Nation Podcast earlier this week. He piqued my interest in the Cougars, even though they are barreling into a matchup with powerhouse Delaware Valley. More specifically, he turned me on to Misericordia quarterback Jeff Puckett, who complemented a lackluster 53-yard passing outing with a 301-yard rushing effort, contributing a total of six touchdowns. He has my attention. What’s more, the Cougar’s 40 points they scored in the opener is just shy of their point total for all of 2012. The MAC is a tough, tough conference, but Misericordia isn’t a team that’s going to stay winless for long.
Keith’s take: Framingham State and Salve Regina. Facing the NJAC’s Rowan and Montclair State respectively, it’s a chance for New England teams — their schedules opened up by the NEFC/MASCAC split — to gain some notice nationally. Both teams are coming off big first-week wins. Melikke van Alstyne and the Rams beat Endicott, 35-23, and Salve Regina walloped Bridgewater State, 36-7.
Pat’s take: Brockport State. Rolling over Lycoming for a second consecutive year didn’t garner much pub (no box score, no game story uploaded) but a game against Buffalo State gives the Eagles another shot at getting themselves on the Division III radar.

Which team will bounce back from a Week 1 loss?
Ryan’s take: North Park.
The perennial bottom of the CCIW (the Vikings haven’t won a conference game since 2000) melted down last week in the third quarter against Hope, costing them the game. But they’ll bounce back because the only success the Vikings ever have is in nonconference play, meaning this week against Benedictine and next week against Olivet will be some of the biggest prizes to play for all season.
Keith’s take: Central. The Dutch’s clash with Augustana isn’t the monster game it was or would have been years ago, but I thought Central took it to UW-Oshkosh for the portion of the game I watched last week. Perhaps it wasn’t the right portion, but assuming Central’s luck isn’t so poor this time around — quarterback Aaron Eisler left the game because of the triple-digit heat, a 65-yard Jacob Edelman interception return was called back and Wipperfurth hit the two big plays — they might be able to play two outstanding halves this week instead of just one. Augustana, a Week 1 winner over  Mt. St. Joseph, won’t make it easy though.
Pat’s take: Benedictine. That’s funny, or ironic, or something. I actually think it’s Benedictine who will bounce back from its loss to Wheaton and beat North Park. Benedictine played Wheaton pretty well and has a good slate of transfers complementing the returning starters.  Last year, Cyle Schultz had less than a full training camp of practice before taking over the starting quarterback job. Now he’s got a full year under his belt and the offense will be better. North Park, switching from the triple option to the spread, moves from a time-chewing offense to one that could get them off the field fast, putting a lot of pressure on the defense as the game wears on.

Opener you’re more curious about.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Linfield.
Last year, I went into the season very high on the Wildcats, with their senior quarterback, stud running back and several All-Region-caliber defenders. I picked them to win it all. At the time, injury took a little bit of the talent from those ranks, but Linfield still put together a season to be very proud of, including a deep playoff run. This year, I held back on my expectations — at least a little. Yes, running back Josh Hill and defensive lineman Tyler Steele have healed their wounds. Yes, All-West Defensive Player of the Year Dom Forrest returns at linebacker. But, as I said, I held back. Other voters in the Top 25 haven’t felt the same as I have, giving the Wildcats six first-place votes. This weekend, the most telling point could be how well Linfield reins in the explosive Hardin-Simmons offense. Can this defense be the kind that wins championships? We will very soon find out.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut. I was going to say No. 6 North Central at UW-LaCrosse, but I think with the Colonials coming over from the NJAC and facing a Nichols team that actually won last week, I’m interested in how they’ll do. Joe Loth, who coached previously at Kean and turned Otterbein into a playoff teams, enters his second season at Western Connecticut. The game is Friday night under the lights in Dudley, not Danbury, though.
Pat’s take: No. 8 Bethel. This is a heady spot for the Royals to be in. They did bow out in the second round last year but that was at Oshkosh, where they were underdogs. They’ll continue to share carries, presumably, but remember they have a quarterback who can throw for 250 yards in a game in Erik Peterson. They should be better than last year, but whether that’s enough to get them into the Top 10 is another story.

Know your As, Bs and Cs.
Ryan’s take: Albion.
This time last year, the Britons were turning heads after a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive led to an upset win against Wheaton. What happened the rest of the season wasn’t pretty. The following week saw a loss to middling Benedictine, with a .500 conference record after that. Albion’s flirt with the edges of the Top 25 was gone in a breath. This year, though, will be far from a repeat of 2012. Unlike last fall, Wheaton has a game under its belt going into the Albion game, and Albion isn’t riding the wave of confidence it had after a trouncing of an opener last year. Wheaton is out to settle a score, and will do so swiftly under the lights.
Keith’s take: Birmingham Southern. Pretty sure, after leading 52-10 at one point in a 59-38 win against LaGrange last week, that Hendrix is due for an introduction to what an established, highly competitive D-III program looks like. And maybe the young SAA program should take notes. B-SC was a startup (or more accurately, a restart) itself in 2007. This is what the Warriors will look like in a few years if progress matches ambition.
Pat’s take: Coe. Over Cornell. Former Midwest Conference rivals, then Iowa Conference rivals, now non-conference rivals. Maybe growing a little closer together. Cornell was certainly better in the win-loss column last year, but is going 4-5 in the Midwest Conference better than going 1-7 in the Iowa Conference? Coe struggled last week at Monmouth, but at least the Coe bus won’t break down on the way to the game this week, since it’s the home opener. Will Cornell be more competitive this week? Perhaps not. But it could get better.

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.