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: Enter Rivalry Week

Widener's Joe Wojceichowski
Joe Wojceichowski and the Widener defense will try to shut down Delaware Valley.
Widener athletics photo

The intensity of rivalries is virtually unmatched. The players become more focused, the crowd more vibrant. Alumni flood to stadiums, and memories are dredged up. A win against a rival opponent can rescue an otherwise sour season. And it makes Saturday night celebrations so much sweeter.

Across the country, rivalries will be taking place Saturday as the regular season comes to a close and the playoff prowess in a few remaining conferences shakes out.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through the action, with Selection Sunday right on the horizon.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon at No. 7 Wesley.
It’s been a couple of years now since the Wolverines were in a position in which losing the regular season finale would likely mean no playoff performance. But there are question marks for Saturday. Wesley’s loss to Kean earlier in the year made perfection necessary for the final eight games of the season. And Huntingdon won’t be a pushover. The Hawks have already dealt losses to teams that currently stand at 8-1 and 7-2. Could a team like Wesley, which has been to the national semifinals each of the past two seasons, get left out in the cold entirely? Their performance Saturday will be telling.
Keith’s take: Wherever you’re headed. The other guys nail the games with the farthest-rippling playoff implications. So I’ll go ahead and cop out, under the premise that there’s no need to single out a game when we have five conference championships decided (NEFC, NJAC, MAC, LL and NWC), rivalry games from Indiana to Massachusetts to Virginia — and Iowa and Pennsylvania — that make or break seasons. And beyond that, it’s Week 11 — the last game of the season for all but 32 playoff teams and 14 ECAC bowl-bound squads. Hundreds of seniors will hang it up after this. Parents will see their son play one last time, and tailgate grills will make a final appearance before heading into the garage for offseason storage. So I’ll play the Jon Gruden “everything’s awesome” role. Because, you know, it is.
Pat’s take: Widener at No. 11 Delaware Valley. Literally, you can’t do a playoff projection without the result of this game, and there are a lot of factors. Let’s see, Delaware Valley has this tremendously backloaded schedule, with Lycoming and Widener at the end. The Aggies haven’t looked very much like the young team that they are this season. Widener surprised Delaware Valley last year and sent them on a course for Mount Union in the second round, so the rivalry got amped up a little higher and Delaware Valley has even more motivation. But what could be more motivating than the only chance Widener has to get a playoff bid?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Johns Hopkins at McDaniel.
Part of the motivation here is seeing JHU almost drop their matchup against Franklin and Marshall last week, a team that should have been handled easily by the high-powered Blue Jays. However, what makes McDaniel a thinker in this situation is its track record this year: of the Green Terror’s seven losses, five were by eight points or less. McDaniel hasn’t really been able to bring all the pieces together to get wins, but the team has been able to hang around long enough to make it interesting. This Saturday’s game will be interesting, too.
Keith’s take: Trine at Albion. Maybe surprising only in the sense that the Britons are playoff-bound no matter the outcome, and Trine — the dominant MIAA program of the past few seasons picked up two conferences losses by mid-October. But I’m not sure I expect Albion to win, observing from afar. After an impressive five-game stretch, the Britons outgained DePauw 380-126 last week but managed just three points. Trine is the MIAA’s top rush offense (179 yards/game) and Albion is the top rush defense (96 yards). Should be a fun one.
Pat’s take: UW-La Crosse at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. UW-La Crosse gave UW-Whitewater a decent game in the season opener. It’s not likely to be the same close game it was in September, but it will be interesting to see how the teams have grown since Week 1 … not to mention how Whitewater might do if it needed to use Levell Coppage in the fourth quarter.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Franklin.
Over the past four weeks, the Grizzlies have progressively played their way through the bottom four teams in the HCAC, starting with 4-5 Rose-Hulman and ending with 0-9 Earlham. So how will they react to all of sudden having to play a more competitive team again? Franklin is unquestionably the better team in this matchup, but Hanover’s advantage is being able to push Franklin enough to throw the Grizzlies off their game. This is a rivalry game, too, played for the Victory Bell. Hanover will be well aware of the fact that this is the last game of their season, win or lose. The Panthers will surely want to win.
Keith’s take: No. 9 Wabash. Just kidding Little Giants fans. Admit it, you got mad there for a second. No. 22 Bethel is my real pick. And with the 10th best rushing offense in the country at 279 yards a game, and with the No. 14 total defense, the Royals probably are just an unfortunate version of the team that played in a national semifinal last season. That said, it’s not easy to force yourself to play just for pride, and that appears to be all the Royals have left when they face 6-3 Augsburg in the Metrodome. Bethel and Augsburg had similar results against St. Thomas and St. Olaf, but only the Royals have to realize there’s no long playoff run ahead this year, just a long football-free December like most of are used to, and turning that into positive motivation.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Redlands. Last year, Redlands barely beat Chapman, finishing 8-1. The previous two years, Redlands lost in Week 11 to finish 7-2 each season and miss out on any shot at the playoffs. Not going to say any more.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg.
A win in the Mules’ crosstown rivalry game against Moravian would position them well for an ECAC postseason game. Muhlenberg stumbled a couple of times during the season but showed they could compete with the likes of Delaware Valley and Johns Hopkins. The team’s seniors certainly remember the special run the Mules had during their freshman year, and they’ll certainly be eager to channel that energy again.
Keith’s take: UW-Platteville. If the Pioneers can beat UW-Stevens Point for a second time, they’ll finish 7-3 and go down as the best team not to beat anybody great, but to only lose to really good teams. The three losses are to Wheaton, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh, which are 22-5 combined. A seventh win would also eclipse the best record of the D3football.com era, a 6-4 mark in 2004.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons started the season 0-8, but had two close losses at home, then won at UW-La Crosse last week to snap the losing streak. River Falls returns home this week to face UW-Eau Claire.

Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Amherst at Williams.
No matter what, this is the end of the road for both of these teams, which opt not to compete in the playoffs. So at stake is pride: the Ephs’ pride in keeping Amherst from an undefeated 2011 season; the Lord Jeffs’ pride in avenging last year’s loss. If you don’t know the history between these two schools, look it up. It’s unlikely that any two institutions have claim to a more natural rivalry than these two. And it’s rare for them to produce anything but a captivating game.
Keith’s take: Coe at Cornell. Okay, you can get Curt Menefee to pose in a “beat Cornell” shirt. Probably could get Fred Jackson too. But as long as I’ve been writing rivalry stories, I’ve never been able to say anything about this game but that they’ve played it for a long time (121 and counting). Am I just not talking to the right people? The two teams have followed each other from the MWC to the IIAC and are going their separate ways as Cornell heads back to the MWC, but I’m interested in whether fans in Iowa really care about this rivalry.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Kean at No. 15 Montclair State. Okay, so it won’t appear on too many lists of great rivalries but I’m going to go ahead and pick it here because there should be plenty of bad blood … or blood, anyway … to go with what’s on the line in this game, for the NJAC title. Kean coach Dan Garrett and both of his coordinators played at Montclair, which is just 18 miles from Kean, in northern New Jersey.

Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: Albion.
The Britons have to be scratching their heads after last weekend’s loss to DePauw and should have spent this week learning how to once again become in tune with their offensive mojo. Even though Trine doesn’t have the luster of the last couple of seasons, the team still knows how to force turnovers and run the ball down its opponent’s throat. Albion knows how to handle the run — usually — and the ability to stop that will help them with their confidence going into the playoffs. However, it won’t be a surprise if Albion is an eighth seed in the region, which wouldn’t be doing them any favors. The mental hurdle will be as tough as the physical one.
Keith’s take: St. Thomas. They’re 10-0, sure. But they don’t have a game this Saturday. So I guess it depends how you define momentum.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. Regardless of whether Thomas More wins this week or not, the Saints are already back on their heels after the loss to Waynesburg. Thomas More went solely from being a heavy favorite to being a favorite against Mount St. Joseph in their local rivalry game, but either way, the damage has been done.

Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: Lewis and Clark.
The question isn’t which team “will,” but rather which team “can.” And the Pioneers certainly can. A win at Linfield puts L&C — a team just three seasons removed from a long string of 0- and 1-win seasons — in the playoffs. On the flip side, a loss for the Pioneers means they’ll be sitting at home next week.
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney. Besides Widener and the other teams that can play their way into the playoffs with wins, H-SC could change course the most on Saturday. A win over 7-2 Randolph-Macon continues the Tigers’ dominance in the series and gives them an advantage in recruiting. A loss could mean the difference between a home playoff game against somebody like Christopher Newport, Centre or Thomas More, or a road game at Salisbury, Wesley or Johns Hopkins.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). Not sure it’s in a positive way, however. Austin has to be motivated to not finish the season 0-10. The Kangaroos have been fairly decent at home while the Tigers have struggled a little bit on the road.

ATN Podcast: Looking at playoffs

Trinity (Texas)
Trinity (Texas) answered Huntingdon’s statement with one of its own.
Trinity athletics file photo

It was an interesting week down south, with Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon taking losses and Centre and Trinity (Texas) getting a leg up in the SCAC race. Salisbury rolled up an amazing point total and continues to dominate against Empire 8 foes. Wartburg fell and Redlands rose in crazy fourth quarters. (Here’s a link to that video.) Plus Kean picked up its first loss after flirting with it in previous weeks.

Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman discuss that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. See the list of tags at the bottom of this post to see who else is discussed.

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

Plus, here’s the first look at this week’s D3reports, as well as Division III football highlight reels. These will also appear on the front page on Monday afternoon.