TAG | Chicago
The rare event this week is a battle of 25′s, as Heidelberg takes on Otterbein.
Heidelberg athletics photo
The saying is that history repeats itself. And we ask ourselves whether certain teams are doomed to stare down another upset.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps dive into the past to bring you analysis of the present. We cast a wide net to predict the fall of a Top 25 team, detail the game of the week and pore over some of the unusual nicknames in D-III.
Don’t hesitate to offer your comments below.
Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Otterbein at No. 25 Heidelberg. Nope, that’s not a typo. If you’ve looked at our Top 25 this week, you’ll see these two OAC teams are tied for the 25th spot. They are both undefeated, and with the second-place OAC team often having an inside track to a Pool C playoff bid, this game holds worlds of value — and intrigue.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at No. 4 St. Thomas. This has been a good game in recent seasons already, with two teams who love to line up and smash-mouth it straight at each other. Ironically, both teams are led by talented sophomore quarterbacks, and Bethel, especially, has opened it up on offense a little more this season. The past three meetings have been decided by 19 points combined, with St. Thomas winning both of the regular season meetings. It’s likely to be another battle.
Keith’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville at No. 14 UW-Oshkosh. Wow, I pick third, and I still get two no-brainers to choose from. Much to the dismay of two of the most active Twitter followings in No. 2 UMHB and No. 21 Louisiana College, I went to Wisconsin with this one. In WIAC history, the spotlight rarely has shone on Oshkosh and Platteville — You’d have to go back to 1976 to find the last time UW-Oshkosh tied atop the conference, and 1972 to find their last outright title, an undefeated 8-0 WIAC season. For UW-Platteville, go back to 1980 for the tie, 1974 for the outright. Worse yet — before tying for second last season, the teams only had one season each in the past 30 years finishing higher than fourth in the WIAC, each finishing third once (Oshkosh in 2007, UW-P in 1990). In 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2008, the Titans and Pioneers were at the bottom of the standings. So that should put in perspective how big a game it is, with UW-P (4-1, 1-1) just a failed two-point conversion against defending national champion UW-Whitewater from being undefeated, and UW-O 5-0. A Platteville win could make the WIAC three-way tie territory, but either way, UW-Oshkosh at UW-Whitewater the following week is huge. Titans QB Nate Wara has got the name recognition, now let’s see if he delivers in a big game.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Concordia-Chicago at Concordia (Wis.). The Illinois one will pound the rock over and over and over. It’s the only way they’ll find success. The Wisconsin one, on the other hand, should be able to air out the ball, especially against a Cougars team that at 5-0 has nonetheless been prone to giving up some big yards. And both teams like to put up points: The Cougars average more than 38 on the scoreboard, while the 3-2 Falcons emerged from a week of hanging 55 on their opponent.
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Whitewater at UW-Stout. I look at a combination of a few factors that will keep this game unexpectedly close. In addition to UW-Whitewater’s struggles on offense, they’re also traveling on the day of the game. That four-hour bus ride, mandated by the WIAC office, might leave them a little slow to start. The question will be whether Stout can put enough points on the board to make it close or if it will be like the Stevens Point/Whitewater game.
Keith’s take: Pacific at Pacific Lutheran. If you just remember the Boxers as the expansion team and the Lutes as the program with the championship pedigree, it might be time to take a closer look at the NWC. Pacific is 2-3, with a three-point loss to Whitworth (5-1) among the defeats. The Lutes’ 2-2 record might be deceiving, since all four of the teams they’ve played are solid (three were in the postseason last year, three are 4-1 or better this season). Kyle Warner is averaging 116 receiving yards per game and Kellen Westering 97, so the Lutes’ air attack will probably be too much for the Boxers, but expect Pacific to show some bite.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 St. John Fisher. At what point can we excuse an Alfred team’s opening day loss to RPI? Is it after the Saxons beat the team that toppled UW-Whitewater? Check. Is it after they beat an undefeated conference opponent? Check. Is it after they hold an opponent to just 4 rushing yards? Check. Fisher is coming off a punishing game against Salisbury, and Alfred’s hot streak coupled with SJF’s bruises make the Cardinals a target again this week.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. So many ranked teams are playing each other this week that I feel forced to take a higher-ranked team playing on the road in a game that the rankings suggest is a toss-up. And I like what Bryce Corrigan did last week against UW-La Crosse after getting a full week of reps as the No. 1 starter at quarterback. But UW-Oshkosh is in a position where it can just run it right at Platteville. If you have not seen dual-threat quarterback Nate Wara for Oshkosh, do yourself a favor and watch the live video on Saturday. Defenses are hard pressed to bottle him up.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Birmingham Southern. Eight top 25 teams are playing each other, so toss those out. Two are picked above. The pickins’ are downright slim, and Trinity (Texas) is the only team I can see really pulling a stunner. The Tigers won last season when B-SC was a conference mate, but now that the Panthers have gone and split off, another win could be satisfying. To do it, Trinity QB Nyk McKissic has to keep making good decisions; with 11 TD passes and just one interception, he’s done it so far. Trinity’s D also rebounded with a decent game against Rhodes after allowing 111 points in consecutive weeks, against Sul Ross State and I’m sure I’ll get some silly irate tweet from Alabama saying how wrong this upset pick is, but keep in mind the Panthers have never beaten Trinity. Maybe it’s B-SC who would be pulling the upset, should our rankings hold.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee. This is about the time of year when we can accurately take stock of what’s happening in the ODAC. The conference is as balanced as they come, and it’s often difficult to stick by early-season predictions. But after starting the season with a loss, W&L is looking like the playoff-caliber team of the past two seasons. Their points have increased with each game (28, 34, 42, 45), but unfortunately for them, so have their opponents’ points. Three of the last five games are probably the toughest on the schedule, starting with this weekend against Randolph-Macon, the only other ODAC team that hasn’t lost a conference game yet. These two teams, plus Bridgewater and Hampden-Sydney, will make for a jumbled race at the top.
Pat’s take: Waynesburg. This has to happen eventually, right? The lack of churn at the bottom of the Top 25 has made it difficult for teams such as Coe, Concordia-Moorhead or Waynesburg to get their due in the Top 25, but I think Waynesburg deserves one of those 20-25 spots. After consecutive 5-5 seasons, Bethany is struggling out of the gate, at 1-4.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson, Concordia-Moorhead and Allegheny. Hey, I’ve got a big radar. The Presidents host Westminster (Pa.), playing their first home game since RB Tim McNerney was killed. The Cobbers shouldn’t have much trouble with Hamline, but I’m curious if they’ll be sluggish after last week’s ending, or sharp. The Cobbers are guaranteed to see two of their MIAC competitors lose, when Bethel and St. Thomas, and Augsburg and St. Olaf play. And Allegheny, following the upset of Wabash, beat Oberlin 15-3 and lost a non-conference game to Chicago, 10-0. I thought this year’s Gators might be a great defensive team keeping scores low, but with the 219th-ranked offense in the nation, that would not seem to be the case. The Gators haven’t exactly seized the opening, but with home games against DePauw and Wittenberg in back to back weeks, the AQ and NCAC title is still there for the taking.
Which upset of the past will have a different outcome this week?
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at No. 3 Linfield. When you go four straight seasons undefeated in conference play, with a national championship sprinkled in, expectations are always high. But at some point, the bubble does burst. That happened in 2006 for Linfield, when a Whitworth team that amassed just 85 yards of total offense — but also forced five fumbles — went on to topple the 15th-ranked home team 17-13. Fast-forward to 2012, and Linfield is earning win after hard-fought win. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and the Pirates are following an aching loss to Willamette. This game may be as close as the ’06 matchup, but Linfield will keep its 20-game NWC win streak alive.
Pat’s take: No. 15 Wabash at Washington U. In 2010, Wabash came in unbeaten ranked No. 19, and Wash U came in 2-2, with its wins against Knox and Westminster (Mo.). Nonetheless, Wash U. came away the 24-20 victor. For history to repeat itself, Wabash would have to have significant breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and I don’t see that happening. Wash U has been held to 17 points or fewer by every team not named Kenyon this season in starting off 1-4.
Keith’s take: Trine at Adrian. The Thunder had won 18 MIAA games in a row, won in the playoffs, given UW-Whitewater a challenge and developed a Gagliardi Trophy winner. Then Trine lost, 26-7, at Adrian in last year’s MIAA, and nationally, we kind of stopped paying attention. Trine (4-2) and the Bulldogs (4-1) face off again Saturday, and the stats say Adrian (No. 7 defense in the country) is the favorite this time around. Before you get confused, let’s review: The upset of the past was Adrian over Trine. So this time around, Trine gets some payback. The Thunder hasn’t been a great offense overall, but quarterback Ryan Hargraves has been heating up over the past three games, and Myron Puryear, who had a touchdown on defense last week, is a threat in the return game.
Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Red of Wittenberg. Timed at any other point in the season, and we’re looking at a Chicago team that would be competitive with Wittenberg. But following Witt’s loss at home to Wabash, the Tigers have to know that they need to be perfect from here on out to have any shot at the postseason. Witt will be on a mission and more than ready to put these pesky one-score margins behind them.
Pat’s take: Blueboys, of Illinois College. They’ll get right back on the winning side this week after a loss to Lake Forest in Week 6. Beloit, the Blueboys’ opponent, has been a surprise winless team this season. Not that we expected huge things out of the Buccaneers, considering we ranked them No. 192 in the preseason, but even that was ahead of Lawrence, Cornell and Knox, each of whom have beaten Beloit head-to-head this season.
Keith’s take: Green of … Nope, sorry. Red of Muhlenberg. Hey I looked for some Green Knights I could get excited about, to keep it balanced. I even considered the all-green Plymouth State-Endicott game. But I’d rather give you one extra upset pick, just outside the top 25, and a test of whether it’s important to have the human element in game insight. The computer ratings love Gettysburg. I like the Bullets, but see three of their wins (over start-up Misericordia, hapless Juniata and 0-5 McDaniel) as no great shakes. You’re supposed to beat those teams, and they did, so there’s that. But Muhlenberg brings a lot more defense to the table than most of the Bullets’ opponents so far. The Mules are coming off a loss to Susquehanna, which Gettysburg beat, which makes this pick slightly illogical. But, hey, at least there’s not much riding on it. Just a potential showdown of CC unbeatens next week, oh, and the future of man vs. computer. No pressure, Mules.
An unusual nickname you like.
Ryan’s take: Moravian Greyhounds. Moravian has been a Centennial seesaw team the past few seasons, with records of 8-3, followed by 2-8, then 7-4, and back to 2-8. This season, they’ve already tied last year’s win total, and there is clear potential yet to notch two or three more wins in the books. And that means doing what it can to keep forcing turnovers and pressuring quarterbacks. As of late, Susquehanna has been finding its groove on both sides of the ball, which means Moravian will need to channel the quickness of its namesake in order to come away with a victory. (Want more of the unusual? Check out Moravian’s ambidextrous rugby-style punter in Around the Mid-Atlantic.)
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire Blugolds. But do you need me to say something about the game as well? I’m confused. They host UW-La Crosse this week in sore need of a win. In fact, both teams need a win badly, as La Crosse hasn’t lived up to the credit some gave it in the WIAC after it knocked off North Central in Week 1.
Keith’s take: Los Lobos, of Sul Ross State. Mostly I just wanted to name-check the ‘La Bamba’ band. But also we have what could be an epic shootout on deck. Sul Ross State is fourth in the country in total and scoring offense, with 545 yards and almost 49 points a game. Texas Lutheran is 50th in the nation, with a mere (!) 416 and 30. But here’s the real eye-opener. The Lobos are 233rd in D-III in pass defense, and the Bulldogs are 226th. Buckle up.
Coach Eric Hamilton, left, always seems to have his team up for archrival Rowan.
They always say that the records go out the window during a rivalry game. Players and coaches handle the emotions — and the pressures — of a rivalry differently. The teams aren’t the same as in other games; they have a unique fire inside them. They’re not always playing to go on to next week; more than ever, they’re playing for now.
The last weekend of the regular season plays host to rivalries across the country. Most people know the biggest ones: Williams/Amherst, Wabash/DePauw, Cortland State/Ithaca, Hampden-Sydney/Randolph-Macon. But there are many that are laced with history and excitement that deserve pomp as well: Muhlenberg/Moravian, Thomas More/Mount St. Joseph, Salisbury/Frostburg State, among others.
Throw down the gauntlet and pick up your spirits. Rivalry week is here. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you the forecast to those types of games and more in the culmination of the regular season.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Willamette at No. 19 Pacific Lutheran. Going into this weekend, the national landscape is still dotted with several one-loss teams (PLU included). Willamette’s chances for a Pool C bid are remote with two losses under its belt, but stranger things have happened when the NCAA gets its mitts on the criteria. And who knows how many teams will be in contention after Saturday afternoon. That leaves us with two teams, coming from the ultra-competitive Northwest Conference, having a lot at stake. Plus, it should be fun to see the collision between PLU and WU, which have scored 265 and 350 points, respectively, this season.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Wittenberg at Wooster. Wittenberg has played quite well at home, rather poorly on the road. Wittenberg’s home slate was relatively soft until this past week: Olivet, Ohio Wesleyan, the Wash U team which had lost at Rhodes the week before, Hiram and Kenyon. Then there was Wabash. Is that a new trend? Good year for the Tigers to have six games at home and four on the road, but Wittenberg will need this particular road victory in order to clinch the NCAC title.
Keith’s take: Wash. U. at Chicago. Though having in the neighborhood of a dozen teams still in pursuit of a bid in Pool C bid in Week 11 isn’t all that abnormal, having so many Pool B teams alive for a playoff spot is. Usually the three spots are all but wrapped up by now. The winner of the game between the Bears and Maroons will be put side-by-side with Salisbury for the third Pool B spot, making this the week’s best matchup of even teams with playoff implications.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 9 Wittenberg at Wooster. Against decent teams this year, the Scots really haven’t won big nor have they lost big. And with a chance to force a three-way tie in the NCAC, Wooster has a lot to be playing for. What needs to happen? Wooster needs to improve its defense, especially its secondary, if it hopes to have a slice of the NCAC title pie. Big games can do crazy things to teams, and if Witt wants its ticket punched, it will have to earn it.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Montclair State at William Paterson. Based this off of last week’s closer-than-expected Montclair State-Brockport State. The Pioneers have had a bit of a bad stretch of late, but they’re at home, and needing a win to finish the season at .500.
Keith’s take: No. 13 Wartburg at Simpson. Teams with their playoff spots clinched already worry me. It’s important to remember even if you’re in the field of 32, you’re still playing for a potential home game and a better matchup. But unless it’s stressed to them, college kids aren’t always tuned in to such minute details. And every year some team plays its way out of a good situation in Week 11 and gets sent on the road to a powerhouse instead. With one of the nation’s best scoring defenses (No. 11, 11.11 points per game) against one of the worst scoring offenses (No. 218, 13.67), there’s no reason Wartburg, which plowed through its six of its first seven opponents but has beaten the past two by single digits, should lose. But human nature might make it a more difficult win than it would seem.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 17 Cal Lutheran. In recent years, Cal Lutheran and Occidental have traded wins when they’ve played each other. Not that that’s any real indicator of 2010, when the Kingsmen have a huge win on their resume, but it’s just something to keep in mind. If Cal Lutheran’s secondary doesn’t stay on its toes, it will get shredded by Luke Collis and his receivers. A win is crucial for the Kingsmen because they certainly want to soak up some momentum going into the postseason — especially if they’re going to be forced into a rematch with Linfield.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Pacific Lutheran. Both teams are motivated, we get that. PLU needs the win to stay in the playoff hunt, while Willamette … well, the Bearcats could be in the discussion if enough teams lose, I suppose. But I am looking at this game because I think Willamette has been pushed back under the radar a little unfairly considering their resume this season: two “good” losses and a pretty good road win as well.
Keith’s take: No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys are very deserving of a Pool C bid, especially if they take care of business against 6-3 Louisiana College, a team I thought might have a chance to play its way in in Week 11 way back in Kickoff. HSU is 26th in the country in pass efficiency defense, and it should be able to match up against the nation’s most prolific passing attack and No. 3 scoring offense (LC throws for 387 yards per game and scores about 46 points). But even with the Cowboys being able to match that (304 and 45) and playing to keep postseason hopes alive, the potential here for a shootout makes it a more likely place for an upset than most.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Louisiana College. Starting the season 1-3, the Wildcats fell from the broader public discourse early in the season. But at 6-1 in the ASC, they are clearly in the conference’s top tier this season. And they’re coming off a dramatic late-game win against McMurry before hosting Hardin-Simmons this Saturday. HSU is looking to pick up a playoff spot, but LC is ready to spoil that effort and have sole control of No. 2 in the conference. Averaging 385 yards a game, LC’s Ben McLaughlin is the ASC’s most prolific passer. He has just 12 interceptions in over 400 attempts and has connected for scores 37 times.
Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. With the Captains hosting Methodist and already holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Carolina Wesleyan, it seems like a foregone conclusion that CNU will be returning to the playoffs. And although they’ll be 6-4, they’ll have cover from St. Lawrence, which will be 5-5 at best, possibly 4-6. Frostburg State is a bad loss back on Week 3, but there haven’t been any other bad losses and four consecutive wins on top of it.
Keith’s take: St. Lawrence. They’re going to make the playoffs yet finish with a losing record. I’d be willing to bet the just-less-than-500-miles-to-Alliance Saints are going to Mount Union next Saturday for a first-round exposure to what a serious D-III playoff team looks like. So the least St. Lawrence can do is beat WPI on Saturday and go in at 5-5 with its heads held high and its confidence up so that it can at least buy into the dream in Ohio, even if it will be hard for the rest of us to do so.
Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Randolph-Macon at Hampden-Sydney. For the first time since 2006, both of the teams in The Game don’t have a shot at going to the postseason. One of them does, however: H-SC. The Tigers can’t win the Old Dominion’s automatic qualifier, but they have some quality wins that will put them in good shape for Pool C contention. While H-SC averages over 420 yards of offense a game, turnovers have been a dangerous Achilles heel for the team. And what’s the story with R-MC? The Yellow Jackets saw their star fade when they lost their fifth-year starting quarterback midway through October. At this point, pride is the biggest thing on the table for them. A worthy goal, to be sure.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Rowan at TCNJ. TCNJ put up a surprise against Kean last week, winning 7-0, holding Jason Gwaltney under 100 yards rushing. Eric Hamilton didn’t win 200-plus games for nothing and don’t expect TCNJ to come out with anything less than everything it’s got against its archrival. This game was good when played on a Friday night, but it belongs in Week 11 and the NJAC should do everything it can to keep it there.
Keith’s take: Hanover at No. 24 Franklin. Victory Bell rivalry game makes it worth watching alone. But put the HCAC title and automatic bid on the line, and ratchet up the excitement to fever pitch. It’s simple, some are going to respond to the pressure, some might wilt under it, and perhaps if most on both teams rise to the challenge, you get a game for the ages, and the winner gets at least one more week of season.
Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Lack of momentum won’t necessarily be a reason to pick against them when they (presumably) rematch Hardin-Simmons next weekend, but the Crusaders have played their last two games against teams that combine to be 3-15. And UMHB hasn’t been challenged in the least. Saturday, they face off against Texas Lutheran, whose 4-5 wouldn’t be so bad until you realize that they’ve lost three of their last four games, getting crushed in those losses. UMHB had better be ready to step up its game once Round 1 rolls around if it hopes to make it to Round 2.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence. Regardless of what happens Saturday.
Keith’s take: Coe. There are the games competitors look forward to because they know their best effort will be required, and then there are the ones against 0-9 teams. Cornell might give a better than ‘just playing out the string’ effort for its longtime rival, but Coe should be pulling its starters out early in the second half. And while it’s good to get out and stretch your legs, the Kohawks are going to have to play someone like St. Thomas or Bethel next week. Saturday probably won’t much resemble that.
Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: Centre. The fortunes in question may be long-term. There were high expectations of the Colonels at the beginning of the season, but hiccups from the outset cast a lot of shadows over this team. The offense has just a few seniors in its ranks; the defense, though, is another story. Lots of starters will be graduating. Going up against 3-6 LaGrange, one of the best things Centre can do is make sure that younger defenders see some time on the field. Next year doesn’t have to be another middle-of-the-pack season.
Pat’s take: Hanover. There are a couple of good answers but I think the best ones in terms of playoff hopes come from the teams that could basically snipe a conference title here at the end of the season. Or snooker, as Keith referred to it on the podcast this week. We can’t say Hanover hasn’t been on the radar this season, because we did think they would take an incremental step forward this season, but this is a team that’s one step away. A win Saturday takes them from last year’s 3-7 to the playoffs.
Keith’s take: Trine. The Thunder could wrap up a 10-0 season and a likely first-round home game with a win over MIAA foe Albion. A loss to the Britons gives them the automatic bid, then sends Trine into the muck: The group of 10 or so one-loss teams who will be hoping their combination of strength of schedule and wins over regionally ranked opponents gets them an at-large bid. Trine has very little to go on there, so they either win and get in and maybe host the Hanover/Franklin winner, or finish an otherwise great season with a thud.
8 Comments · Posted by d3football in Uncategorized
Kentel Noel and Christopher Newport still control their own destiny.
CNU photo by Heidi Naylor
So much to talk about this week and we didn’t even get to it all — we try to keep the podcast under an hour and almost did so this week. But not quite.
Let’s run it down for you.
- Six conferences yet to be decided
- Three could end up in three-way tiebreakers
- Pool B took another blow. Who gets those bids?
- Are those new faces or just bad teams in the playoffs?
- How did W&L and Muhlenberg sneak up on everyone?
- Pat and Keith talk about their trips to Wittenberg and Muhlenberg
- Rivalry games still have a lot to play for
That just about covers it. All that and yes, more, in the Around the Nation podcast.
Click the play button below to listen.
You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast
We’ve had some trouble with the iTunes situation and we keep trying to resolve it. Thanks for your patience.
UW-Whitewater cornerback Matt McCulloch knocks a pass away from UW-Stevens Point receiver Jared Jenkins.
Photo by Darryl Tessman, d3photography.com
So, yes, the East’s last best chance at a No. 1 seed went by the wayside this weekend when Cortland rallied to beat Montclair State. And yes, Mount Union wasn’t ranked No. 1 in the North in the last poll, but that doesn’t mean the Purple Raiders can’t still make the move.
Pool B got a shakeup Saturday when Case Western Reserve took its first loss after 38 consecutive regular-season victories. How far does this open the door for other Pool B contenders?
Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan discuss the possibilities in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. But there’s more — Keith visited UW-Whitewater on Saturday for the first time since 2005 and came away impressed by all that has changed at Perkins Stadium in the past five years. Plus, there’s a bunch of big games coming up next week as teams try to wrap up automatic bids.
Click the play button below to listen.
You can load the podcast page in iTunes or can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast
We’ve had some trouble with the iTunes situation and we keep trying to resolve it. Thanks for your patience.
Dan Griffin has rushed for 1,016 yards and 13 scores from his quarterback position for Salisbury. Will Wesley be able to contain the Sea Gulls’ rushing attack?
A one-loss record isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be — at least in the eyes of the NCAA. We’ve seen this week what teams in that category matter most, thanks to the release of the NCAA’s Regional Rankings. And in the ATN Podcast, we’ve heard Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan break down the strength of schedule numbers for a lot of the pack that is hoping to swim in the Pool C waters.
Less than a month before the end of regular-season play, D3football.com has also been able to touch on which four teams the NCAA could build its four brackets around. We’re no longer living in a North/South/East/West mentality. With the shifting of Mount Union and some other changes in recent years, the NCAA has done a much improved job of picking the four top teams (according to their standards) and creating the regions around them.
As was stated in the Podcast, it’s amazing how different the playoff picture can wind up in just these last couple of weeks. Most teams have just three games left to make or break their season.
Pat, Keith and Ryan Tipps have a few things to look out for on Saturday:
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 3 Wesley at Salisbury. These longtime foes will clash for the last time this year in conference play, and, like often, the drama is swirling. Wesley is riding an undefeated streak that includes a win over Delaware Valley as well as over Christopher Newport and Capital, the latter two of which lost some of their luster this season. Salisbury, in turn, has often steamrolled teams this year on the ground (500- and 600-yards rushing hasn’t been uncommon). But have the Gulls been tested? They’ve played just two teams all season that have a winning record, one of those matchups ending in a close loss to Hampden-Sydney. Salisbury needs to perform well on Saturday to show they’re a playoff-worthy team, especially in an environment that has been skeptical of two-loss Pool C teams. And for Wesley? An undefeated season, one notably built around their successful backup quarterback, would go far in seeding consideration.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Montclair State at Cortland State. For Cortland, the big challenges come late in the season, and the Red Dragons have already failed one of them, losing to Rowan. I don’t think it informs us much to compare their games against Rowan — Kenny Brock played quarterback for Rowan against Montclair (and was 7-for-28) while Tim Hagerty took over the starting job after that. Both have had some great defensive performances this season, however. So expect a high-scoring game. That’s how it works, right?
Keith’s take: Montclair State at Cortland State. I could have gone with the other Pool B clash, Norwich at SUNY-Maritime, for variety. And that is probably the third biggest game of the week. But while Wolverines-Gulls and Cadets-Privateers will impact the playoff fortunes of the teams involved, and maybe each other, the NJAC battle has far-reaching consequences. A Montclair State win keeps the Red Hawks on track to be the first East Region team to go unbeaten and earn a No. 1 seed in the playoffs since Wilkes in 2006. A loss opens the door to another team, either Mount Union or Wesley, likely being the center of the easternmost bracket. Plus, Red Hawks-Red Dragons is a matchup of silly-good defenses: Cortland is the national leader in scoring defense (6.43 points per game) and is fifth in yardage (210.86), while Montclair is fourth (8.14) and third (205.57).
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Luther at No. 13 Wartburg. Once Wartburg beat Coe, the Knights were seen as having clear control of the IIAC. I agree with that notion. But Luther is not far behind at 4-3, and could put a kink in this conference race. Wartburg’s defense is stout, but Luther’s offense is balanced just enough that they should be able to move the ball. And perhaps most of all, Wartburg will showdown with Central a week from now and could be in jeopardy of getting caught looking ahead to that game.
Pat’s take: McMurry at No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. I certainly expect a lot of offense in this game. Is 62-45 close? McMurry hasn’t beaten Hardin-Simmons since HSU restarted football — and picture that, by the way, the first-year Cowboys beating the Indians back in the 1990′s.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at DePauw. Because the Panthers are in their fourth season in the transition from Division I, and are yet ineligible for the playoffs or the SCAC title, their 5-2 record has gone largely unrecognized nationally. They rush for 285 yards per game, with a low of 149 against Trinity, and 5.6 per carry. Across the white lines, DePauw may well relax after clinching a playoff spot and find itself in a familiar spot. The Tigers have pulled out wins of five points or fewer against Centre (4-3), Adrian (3-4) and Trinity (3-4), but it’s dangerous living on the edge.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ursinus. Opponent Moravian is one of those teams that has flashes of greatness — but when things on the field start to snowball, they really snowball. The Greyhounds have improved in recent weeks, using a varied ground attack enhanced and complemented by Matt Johnson taking the reins under center. As quarterback, he has put up 788 passing yards in the past four games and will help his team become a real threat to the Bears’ perfect season.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Wesley. No disrespect intended, as always, but the rivalry aspect of this game plays large, plus Salisbury fighting for its playoff life. Salisbury has certainly been on a roll lately, at least, rushing for 420 or more yards in every game since opening day.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Wheaton. It’s not so much a slap at the Thunder, who we’ve already disrespected by including them in Pool C talk before actually losing a game. It’s more a recognition that the CCIW is a week-in, week-out test. Augustana has the nation’s toughest schedule (opponents are 46-19, or .707) by a shade over Ithaca, according to NCAA data. After playing Central and North Central, the teams that handed the 5-2 Vikings their losses, nothing about Wheaton should overwhelm Augustana.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: The first-year starting quarterbacks. Three of the top four most efficient passers in the country are in their first year as starters for their teams. Wittenberg’s Ben Zoeller, UW-Whitewater’s Matt Blanchard and Welsey’s Justin Sottilare are all leading teams that are gunning for playoff runs — and if they repeat last year’s performances, deep playoff runs. Each quarterback has a passer rating of at least 182, and it’s easy to forget how hard it is to lead a team in the spotlight. Witt is on a bye week, but UW-W and Wesley each have arguably their biggest games of the regular season this week. All eyes, including mine, will be on them.
Pat’s take: Chicago. Am I just projecting a Pool B blowup this week? Maybe, but Chicago has had a fine season to date, heading or its best season since 2000. A 17-point loss against comparable opponent Wabash was on the road, at least. Perhaps the magic of Stagg Field will give the Maroons a boost against Case Western Reserve.
Keith’s take: Otterbein. I’m curious, as Pat is, about the UAA. WNEC-Endicott interests me. But I’ll be looking for the Cardinals to show us something against Mount Union; specifically, if reports of the Purple Raiders’ demise are exaggerated. Mount Union has shut out three teams and held two others to single digits. They’ve given up only 7 points at home, but UW-Oshkosh (28) and Marietta (14) earned their totals as hosts. Otterbein is averaging more than 35 points per game.
What team in the NCAA regional rankings is going to make a statement this week?
Ryan’s take: Western New England. In a conference that has long been dominated by the likes of Curry and Plymouth State, the Golden Bears are coming off a week of taking down the second of those two foes. This week, they line up against Endicott, which has just one conference loss and isn’t out of the NEFC Boyd race. Western New England has a shot to improve its strength of schedule and further showcase a defense that has given up more than 10 points only once all season.
Pat’s take: Wartburg. Sorry — with all due respect to my Virginia colleague, I don’t see Luther making it close against Wartburg. Not many teams have been able to score on Wartburg and while I don’t see Luther getting enough to make it close. A big win isn’t going to change this regional ranking but it seems inevitable to me.
Keith’s take: Norwich. At No. 8 in the East Region playing No. 6, there’ll be an opportunity to move up.
Which Pool B contender will need the most help getting into the postseason after this week?
Ryan’s take: SUNY-Maritime. Because of the perceived strength of the ECFC, it’s easy for even the good teams from that conference to slip under the radar for a few weeks. But on Saturday will be the challenge for the top spot when one-loss Norwich takes on undefeated SUNY-Maritime. The winner has a good shot at getting a Pool B bid. However, if the Privateers lose, there will have to be a lot of shake-ups elsewhere (Case Western Reserve dropping a game, Norwich losing in the final two weeks, Wesley falling to Salisbury) for them to appear viable at the table. A loss to Norwich isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. The Cadets are regionally ranked and have some solid wins on their resume: notching itself as Western New England’s only loss or the year and beating St. Lawrence, which is now at the top of the Liberty League. Norwich should have the firmer handle on this game, which means SUNY-Maritime could need to be paying attention to the wider D-III landscape.
Pat’s take: Salisbury. Which is unfortunate, because the Sea Gulls are better than either of the ECFC teams. Even with a win, Salisbury isn’t a lock for the playoffs, but with a loss, Salisbury is definitely hoping for some of those things Ryan mentioned above.
Keith’s take: Salisbury. Taking a second loss could devastate the Gulls in their last non-AQ run before moving to the Empire 8. Their playoff hopes would be virtually none this season with another defeat.
What game slipped under the radar in the East?
Ryan’s take: Middlebury at Trinity (Conn.). Both NESCAC teams have been putting up solid points this year: The Panthers average 24 per game while the Bantams bring home almost 31 a game. Middlebury benefits from its star signal-caller, Donald McKillop, who throws for 331 yards a game. Trinity, on the other hand, creates discord for defenders on the ground, tallying 240 rushing yards a game while holding opponents to just 41 such yards per outing. Expect high scoring and a lot of yardage in Hartford, Conn.
Pat’s take: Widener at Lebanon Valley. Widener’s first-year coach, Isaac Collins, can’t be hearing good things from higher-ups about this season. The Pride have (has?) played a tough schedule but lost all three of those games, 37-0, 31-7 and 31-7. That’s one thing, but last week’s home loss to Albright can’t inspire confidence. Lebanon Valley can’t be very happy with its season either, coming off a near-playoff trip in 2009, but Jim Monos has been through thick and thin with the Flying Dutchmen.
Keith’s take: Union at RPI. Can you believe we got this deep into Triple Take without mentioning The Shoes rivalry? Hard to know what to make of the two teams being down along with the rest of the Liberty League, but I think it enhances the game. There are no second chances this season. No playoffs to alleviate the sting for the loser. Beating a rival might be all either side has to play for.