Around the Nation: A great week for D-III football

Let’s see — the No. 1 Division III team beat the NAIA’s No. 1 team, SportsCenter spent significant time on two Division III campuses and we had a great, gutsy schedule of a non-conference game turn into a fantastic contest that was worth the price of admission. We look at those stories, plus, which are the teams on the rise? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

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Triple Take, Week 2: Welcoming the fashionably late

As noted in this space last week, 195 of the 247 Division III teams kicked off in Week 1. Among those who did not were quite a few prominent teams, including third-ranked Linfield and 22nd-ranked Chapman, who open up against one another this week, plus No. 1 UW-Whitewater, No. 5 Wesley and No. 13 North Central.

Of the 195 seasons that got underway, 97 started with a loss, which makes Week 2 a chance to wipe away the disappointment of Week 1. There are some top-25 clashes, intriguing non-conference matchups and more, and we’ll get you prepared for it all.

With so many games each week, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I boil it down, independently providing our seven-point primers for games to focus on, where to watch for upsets, and other assorted predictions. Then in Monday’s podcast, we run back where we were right and where we were way off. If you’d like to play along, leave your picks in the comments below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 22 Chapman at No. 3 Linfield. It’s a toss up between this and Wartburg-Bethel. And the last game of the weekend, Pacific Lutheran at Cal Lutheran, is an equally intriguing NWC-SCIAC clash. But there’s just so much at stake when the Panthers visit the Wildcats. D-III’s West Coast and Deep South “island” teams are pretty much guaranteed to match up with one another in the first round of the playoffs, unless an odd number of them make the field of 32. (This map is out of date, but will help you visualize how concentrated D-III schools are). So Chapman and Linfield, even if one goes undefeated and the other ends up with only Saturday’s loss, are basically playing for the chance to host in the first round of the playoffs. In their opener. Which is absurd, but reality. Last season, Chapman hosted and led in the second half of a 21-14 loss to Linfield, won every other game and in Round 1 road game, lost to the emotionally charged Wildcats, 55-24.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 22 Chapman at No. 3 Linfield. It’s opening day for both of these teams. Linfield lost a lot from last year, but the Wildcats are a team that perennially reloads rather than rebuilds. With All-American Alex Hoff on the defensive line and dual-threat quarterback Sam Riddle driving the offense, McMinnville will be a hard place to win. Chapman graduated its quarterback but is replacing him with a player who is already 3-0 as a starter — dating from a stint in the middle of 2012. The Panthers, like Linfield, lost a lot, but they don’t likely have the same depth to overcome such a hit.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wartburg at No. 19 Bethel. They’re probably expecting me to take this game anyway, and since it’s practically in my backyard, that’s even better for me. But neither team looked invincible in Week 1. Wartburg needed a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter to beat Augsburg, a team which is further down the MIAC ladder than Bethel is (last year’s Week 11 result notwithstanding), while Bethel showed some weaknesses on defense at UW-Stout that, if nothing else, last year’s Wartburg team would just destroy them for. Bethel had three buses of students at Stout so you know they’ll show up at home. Should be interesting.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Ursinus at Gettysburg. At first glance, this seems like a team always knocking on the door at the top of the Centennial against one usually in the middle of the pack. After Week 1, when the Bullets put up 678 yards and 49 points on Bridgewater (a team it lost to last season), and Ursinus couldn’t score until overtime, this becomes a more intriguing matchup. The Bears beat D-II Millersville in the opener, though, and handled Gettysburg, 31-14, last season. I see it more like a one-score game this time around.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at Whittier. Should we Fear the Poet, as Whittier hopes? The SCIAC doesn’t always match up well against the NWC, but Whittier is returning most of its defense and has a lot of players competing for the right to start in key positions on offense.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Susquehanna at No. 11 Johns Hopkins. Sure, I’ll bite on the possibility that Susquehanna, which defeated Lycoming last week, has a shot to make this a good game vs. the Blue Jays, who have won 39 of their past 40 Centennial Conference games. If nothing else, just impressed with Tom Perkovich’s debut as Crusaders head coach and hoping to get more info on Susquehanna.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Muhlenberg. No. 18 Texas Lutheran has a tough challenge, but the Mules are most vulnerable, against Franklin and Marshall, which returned 17 starters and put up 501 yards and 42 points in Week 1 (while allowing 540 and 37 to Lebanon Valley). The Mules had no such problems, allowing fast-paced Wilkes to convert just 6 of 26 third and fourth downs in their 35-7 Week 1 win, but I’ve got to pick someone. The rest of the top 25 looks liable to cruise to victory, or is in a situation where a loss would hardly be an upset, so I guess I’ve earned a spot on Muhlenberg’s bulletin board/dartboard.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Muhlenberg. The Mules dropped this one at Franklin and Marshall in 2013, and the question is whether lightning will strike twice in that span. Both teams had good Week 1 wins, so this will be an exciting matchup to take in.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 18 Texas Lutheran vs. Hardin-Simmons. I actually feel pretty similarly to last week, where I expect a lot of chalk in the Top 25, but Hardin-Simmons intrigues me. (Although I got an e-mail this summer asking me, “how Hardin-Simmons continues to get mention in preseason polls despite the fact they haven’t finished in the top two in the ASC in so many years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008?”) Bottom line on that is that we still think the ASC is capable of having more than one or two good teams. One thing in TLU’s favor is that HSU will have to go from playing a bottom-25 team to playing a top-25 team in consecutive weeks and that’s not an easy transition. Nor is stopping Marquis Barrolle.

Which team that did not play in Week 1 turns in the most impressive Week 2 win?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 North Central. The sense of urgency should be there for the Cardinals, who open up this week against 1-0 Trine and play No. 25 UW-Platteville and No. 5 Wesley the next two weeks. Trine, under new head coach Troy Abbs, was a 38-14 winner in Week 1, rushing for 403 yards against Manchester. It will be Jeff Thorne’s first game as NCC head coach, and although he has a ranked team and 16 starters back to work with, holding the Thunder under 100 rushing yards in a win would be impressive.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern. Any time you can take down an Empire 8 team that finished 7-3 last season, it’s a quality win. The Polar Bears play Utica, and this will give us a good barometer for what heights ONU might be able to ultimately reach in the conference standings.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield. Cats roll. They’re on an even playing field since No. 22 Chapman didn’t play last week either. No big fancy analysis for me here — I just think Linfield is helmet and shoulder pads above Chapman, if not perhaps the best team in all of D-III football.

Which non-conference clash will have the biggest ripple effect?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 18 Texas Lutheran. In 2013, the Bulldogs’ only loss was a Week 10 73-44 shocker at Hardin-Simmons. TLU returned to the site of that beating in Week 2 of last year and won, 37-14. Finally, they get the Cowboys in Seguin. After a Week 1 win in which they were tied with Sul Ross State at 27 to start the fourth, the Bulldogs have every reason to be amped. HSU hung 77 on Southwestern in Week 1, but if they can’t hang a loss on TLU (which plays Louisiana College and No. 4 UMHB, among others, before finishing with their three SCAC opponents), it could have wide-ranging effects. ASC and SCAC are both angling for the one Pool B bid guaranteed to non-automatic bid conferences, so anyone else in Pool B is going to want to see those teams beat up on one another.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Trine at No. 13 North Central. In Kickoff 2015, I pegged Trine to surge this year, and cutting their teeth this early in the season against a power like North Central will be telling. And these two teams aren’t annual foes, so there could be surprises on both sides of the ball.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albion at Augustana. Here we have two teams who had impressive Week 1 performances. Albion put up 65 points in a win vs. UW-Stevens Point and reminds us that the Britons are one of the big dogs in the MIAA despite all the buzz about everything Olivet has returning. Augustana rolled out its new offense after taking more than a decade to painfully back away from the Wing-T that helped define the program during its heyday and beat a Mount St. Joseph team that would like to think it can win the HCAC this season. I’ll be interested to see how these two end up after Saturday.

Which matchup of in-state opponents intrigues you most, and who wins?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley at Wilkes. There are lots of better games that are mentioned elsewhere or are a state border away from fitting here (Cortland State-Framingham State; Lycoming-Stevenson; Rose-Hulman-Illinois College). I’m intrigued by this one following Del Val’s 27-24 season-opening win against Montclair State. Duke Greco led the Aggies to a win despite just two starters back on offense and nine overall, and I’m interested to see more of the new Del Val. Meantime, Wilkes can get a lot of plays off (they ran a record 113 against the Aggies last year), but it hasn’t translated into many points. I’ll pick Del Val.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Berry. We’re only in Week 2, and already a state title is about to be decided. What’s not to like? While Berry is on the road upward as its fledgling team gets older and gains more experience, I’ll give the nod to LaGrange in this matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Cornell at Coe. It’s hard to tell just from last week’s blowout at the hands of Wheaton exactly how good or bad Coe is in 2015. But one thing we do know, in addition to the 52-14 loss, is that Coe started camp with just 85 players, which is a low number for them. (I know, Cornell started with even fewer, but that’s their status quo.) Cornell last beat Coe in 1999, and that’s a long time to lose to your rival. Readers of Kickoff got Coe’s take on this rivalry game. It will be interesting to see if these teams, which were 79 spots apart in our preseason ranking, are any closer than that.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Christopher Newport. Facing what seems like a weaker-than-usual Hampden-Sydney team might not tell us much about what the Captains will look like against NJAC competition, but I’ll be watching anyway. CNU dominated the first half of a 31-21 Week 1 win at TCNJ, while H-SC played a top-10 team in Wabash. I’ll also be watching the Secretaries’ Cup and Coe-Cornell for rivalry purposes, as well as Albion-Augustana and Rose-Hulman vs. Illinois College. Those last two combined for 142 points in last year’s clash, reminding us that epic D-III games can come from anywhere, and was the subject of a Kickoff ’15 prediction question about how many they’ll combine for this time. I’ve got 67.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran. In reading Kickoff 2015, there was something about Cal Lutheran that intrigued me, something that made me feel they’ll improve significantly over last season. Maybe it’s just that their young team is older and wiser, or that there isn’t a clear front-runner in the SCIAC, or that their first opponent (Pacific Lutheran) is going through a rebuilding year. If the Kingsmen can end the day Saturday (which will be Sunday on the East Coast) with a win, be prepared to see a team making noise once again.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Coast Guard at Merchant Marine. Not sure I need to say much more — this is a great rivalry between two of our maritime academies and I’m looking forward to a couple of years from now when these teams are both in the NEWMAC and this rivalry game can be pushed back to Week 11 where it belongs. A decade ago, when Coast Guard abandoned ship on the Liberty League and set sail for the smoother waters of the NEFC, this game was sandwiched into non-conference play, which hurts the exposure of this great matchup.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient, and those that were terribly off base.


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


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).