If healthy, Nate Wara can hurt teams with his arm and legs.
By Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
Three crucial games between Top 25 teams take place this weekend. Each and every Saturday, players line up to help sort out conference races and hopefully take down rivals, but these national games have an even broader audience because of their implications toward the NCAA postseason. Many eyes should be watching.
Giving you insight into some of the Top 25 as well as pieces of the rest of the 214 teams out there are Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 6 North Central at No. 15 Illinois Wesleyan. Truth be told, both of these teams are in the Top 10 on my ballot and are separated by just two spots. Both teams are coming off of games against mid-pack CCIW squads, so be ready to see them hit the ground running. If the Titans hope to pull the upset, they need to be mistake-free through the air and able to create some big plays. Take too long in the pocket? North Central will get you. Hiccup into too many third-down situations? North Central will force the punt. But Illinois Wesleyan should be able to stop the Cardinals’ multi-pronged run game better than any team so far this season, so weight will be on North Central not to let momentum falter amid a few stuffed plays.
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 20 UW-Oshkosh. That CCIW game might end up being the GOTW, but if Titans QB Nate Wara and Warhawks LB Greg Arnold both play, the WIAC could hog the spotlight. It’s rare that the Warhawks get a challenge, but UW-Oshkosh is loose — coach Pat Cerroni told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the pressure is on Whitewater — and has legitimate credentials. The Warhawks and Titans are 1-2 in the WIAC in total offense and defense. In four wins against WIAC teams (though only three count in the conference standings), UW-Oshkosh has outscored the opposition, 145-36. That’s less than 10 points allowed per game, and while they’re unlikely to match that against Whitewater, they might not have to stay in the playoff hunt. Aside from a one-point loss to UW-Stevens Point in 2008, Whitewater hasn’t lost a WIAC game since 2004. They’re 44-1, and even if Oshkosh can’t make it a 2, a good showing would keep them in the mix, in my opinion. Playing both Whitewater and Mount Union makes the Titans an exception to any rule.
Pat’s take: No. 3 St. Thomas at No. 10 Bethel. I’m not sure I need to say anything more here so I won’t, except to say that St. Thomas players and coaches have talked about enjoying playing Bethel because they just line up and bring it with hard-nosed smash-mouth football.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Mount Ida at SUNY-Maritime. Maritime is at the top of the ECFC, is undefeated in conference play and is the reigning conference champion. But what 3-3 Mount Ida has is a competitive team that can move the ball — a lot. To the tune of nearly 500 yards a game in conference play, in fact. The Privateers will be in trouble if they can’t slow running back Johrone Bunch or can’t keep their penalties in check.
Keith’s take: Mount Ida at SUNY-Maritime. Usually we aim not to repeat games, but I went through my usual routine without seeing Ryan’s pick, and this game stood out. Here’s why: Of the top 22 defenses in the country by yardage, 13 belong to undefeated teams and five more are one-loss squads. Then there’s Mount Ida. It allows just 233 yards per game, and 106 rushing. Although the Mustangs have faced some teams that struggle to move the ball, they’ve also taken teams out of what they do well. That’s what it takes against the triple-option attack of the Privateers. The Mustangs might fall to 3-4, but they should make Maritime work to make it happen.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Salisbury at Hartwick. How close does it have to be to surprise? Closer than 42 points? Closer than 69? At some point the back-to-back trips to upstate New York will slow the Sea Gulls down, just not enough to put this game in serious doubt.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 17 Redlands. Though Occidental is certainly having a down year, the Tigers match up fairly well against the Bulldogs. Occidental is almost an all-pass offense, and Redlands’ strength isn’t stopping the pass, it’s stopping the run. So if Oxy can find a way to move the ball and stay on the plus side of turnovers as they have over the whole of the season, then they may be able to make some noise in this game.
Keith’s take: No. 24 St. Olaf. Ninth-ranked Montclair State could be in trouble without quarterback Tom Fischer against TCNJ, but the Oles’ game at Augsburg is worth focusing on. St. Olaf might feel the pressure of being ranked for the first time this season, although it’s deserved. A road win against the Auggies (4-2) would go a long way toward proving the comeback against Bethel was not a fluke. Last week’s win against Carleton was the first time the Oles held a team below 22 points, and Augsburg is averaging 26 a game even after a shutout against St. Thomas two weeks ago. The Auggies have lost two in a row and should play with a season-saving sense of urgency.
Pat’s take: No. 6 North Central. Illinois Wesleyan plays the top CCIW teams better at home, there’s no two ways about it. In 2008 and 2010, having to travel to North Central and Wheaton, IWU finished a combined 7-7 in the league. In 2009 and so far in 2011, the Titans are 9-1, having already beaten Wheaton.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Wabash. How’s my 11th-ranked alma mater just now on my radar, you ask? Well, I’ve certainly kept the Little Giants close at heart all season, but this week, they may be defined by how well they respond after seeing some weaknesses in their armor after last Saturday’s Oberlin game. The Yeomen were down 30-3 at one point and battled back against a nationally ranked team to within one score. Wabash needs to make sure it has confidence down the stretch and, possibly, into the postseason. Right now, the Little Giants’ opponents are just 12-24, a record that hasn’t given the team much chance to really prove themselves. This week’s Denison is 3-4, and the next two teams, Allegheny and Wittenberg, are both above .500. Wabash will need to sign, stamp and seal its show of force in these next three matchups.
Keith’s take: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. My radar. I love this category because it’s the only pick I can’t get wrong. And what would be wrong about wanting to see how the Stags bounce back from being on the wrong end of the D3football.com play of the week, a hail mary that kept Redlands from having to play overtime? The 2-3 Stags are at Whittier this week, then play Cal Lutheran the following Saturday. In Kyle Sweeney’s first season at the helm, CMS seems like it’s on the path to someday being a legitimate SCIAC contender, but first I want to see how it performs after last week’s devastation. If so, perhaps it plays spoiler.
Pat’s take: The College of New Jersey. With Montclair State facing an immediate future without starting quarterback Tom Fischer, TCNJ has a chance to throw a monkey wrench into the NJAC and open the door wider for Mount Union to be the “East” bracket’s top seed. The oldest college football rivalry in New Jersey isn’t the biggest rivalry for either of these two schools, but surely someone in the Trenton area will mention it. If they’re not too busy talking about it being homecoming.
Which unlikely conference leader is most likely to pick up a loss?
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport, to N.C. Wesleyan. As a regular visitor to the playoffs, CNU isn’t in the unlikeliest of spots, but in the preseason, I had expected N.C. Wesleyan and Ferrum to be the two teams atop the USA South, so CNU’s positioning is a little surprising. However, they will certainly be put to the test when they face off against NCWC this weekend. The Bishops are a good team year in and year out, and the Captains have had so many games this fall that were decided by the narrowest of margins. Two of the close ones ended in losses, while two others were wins. I’m not sure CNU will succeed against NCWC if they can’t establish a good-size lead early on.
Keith’s take: Lewis & Clark, to Puget Sound. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see the Pioneers’ program revived. And the Loggers are struggling at 0-6. But there aren’t many candidates for this category (technically Linfield, at 3-0 in the NWC, outpaces L&C at 2-0). I’m just playing the odds. (Can the Pios really be that much improved? Beating Whitworth last week seemed to suggest so.) Last season these two teams played an instant classic, 68-64 game that the Pioneers won on a TD pass with one second left. If UPS can’t muster an upset to get revenge for that, I don’t know what would inspire them.
Pat’s take: Lakeland, to Concordia (Ill.). I’m not sure how many unlikely conference leaders there actually are. UW-Oshkosh is an easy choice as WIAC co-leader to lose to UW-Whitewater but that seems like cheating and there are a couple of other unlikely leaders that I don’t see losing this week. Although Concordia lost a lot of seniors from last year’s squad, they’ve still performed admirably so far and could knock Lakeland out of its first-place tie with Benedictine.
Which team with two or more losses is worth watching?
Ryan’s take: Emory & Henry. Having seen the Wasps play in their opener this season, I’m confident in saying they are a much better team than their 4-3 record would indicate. One of their losses came against a non-Division III institution, while the other two losses came against 6-1 squads, Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee. What’s more, no loss this year was by more than three points. I can’t imagine the frustration this team is feeling. There’s no shortage of talent: Sophomore quarterback Kyle Boden broke an ODAC record en route to a 390-yard passing performance last week, while players like Daniel Preston, Devan Sproles and Tyler Houk have revived the defense. The level of the talent will be on display against Catholic this week.
Keith’s take: Gettysburg. Its 525-yard-per-game offense outpaces Mount Union (No. 3 nationally, a spot behind the Bullets) and UW-Whitewater (No. 9), and it does it with almost perfect balance (254 rushing, 271 passing per game). Plus they host 6-0 Johns Hopkins (No. 6 offense in the nation) Saturday; I’m sure they’re going to be jacked up. This could’ve been my upset pick, but the Bullets seem to run out of them when the defense takes the field. They’re 174th in total defense (389 yards/game and 212th in scoring D, and not just because they’ve given up 56 and 57 in losses. A 14-10 win last week against Muhleberg was the defense’s first step in the right direction.
Pat’s take: McDaniel. The Green Terror made their displeasure known with a preseason conference poll that had McDaniel picked to tie for eighth, but at 1-5, they haven’t put that possibility behind them at all. Trying to muster another couple of wins to salvage some pride starts at Dickinson on Friday night.
What team will turn the biggest 180 from last week?
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph. Because after a three-week skid, the Lions have nowhere to go but up. They will again be above .500 after lining up against Earlham, which hasn’t won since the 2009 season. MSJ might not be able to compete for a playoff spot anymore this season, but like all teams with great rivalries, they have something to keep them going till the end. Look for them to begin to work out their kinks ahead of the Bridge Bowl Trophy game against Thomas More on Nov. 12.
Keith’s take: Heidelberg. It’s cherry-picking, sure, but playing Mount Union midseason is like a one-week suspension of reality. Before the 56-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, the Student Princes had won four of five and were averaging 451 yards per game of total 0ffense. Throw out last week’s 195 yards of offense, and expect the Germany Woods-led ground attack to pick up where it was two weeks ago in a trip to Marietta. The Pioneers’ two wins are against 0-6 teams, Thiel and Wilmington.
Pat’s take: Anna Maria. The annual other game between third-year programs Anna Maria and Castleton State is this weekend, with Castleton having won the first, 56-52. Anna Maria is 0-25 in its football career and could get off the schneid this weekend.