Triple Take, Week 7: Approaching a turning point

Shreve Rohle and the Hampden-Sydney defense don't get nearly as much of the spotlight as the Tigers' offense does.

Shreve Rohle and the Hampden-Sydney defense don’t get nearly as much of the spotlight as the Tigers’ offense does.

Past the season’s halfway point, many of us have seen enough to think we know something about this year’s teams. That can lead to griping with the poll results, overconfidence before this weekend’s games and the kinds of surprises that make Saturdays in the fall so much fun.

Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I try to make sense of the several dozen teams in action, as the leaves turn colors and Division III teams reach their turning points.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 St. John’s at Gustavus Adolphus. Although the setting in Collegeville, Minn. is more iconic, this is the biggest game in St. Peter in years, with the 6-0 Gusties taking on the 4-1 Johnnies. There’s history between the two, starting with the quarterback, as Pat points out below, and last season’s game, a 23-20 double-overtime Gustavus win. One has to reach back that far, however, to find the Gusties’ last victory against a pretty good team. They’re averaging 46.0 points per game (amazingly only tied for ninth nationally) but their undefeated start has come against teams that are 7-19 so far. The Johnnies game starts a run against teams that are 16-4, and if Gustavus proves it is for real, that makes five contenders in the MIAC (along with Bethel, St. Thomas and Concordia-Moorhead).
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Washington and Jefferson at Bethany. It seems like every week, whether in Triple Take or on the ATN Podcast or on the message boards, we’ve talked about the surprise undefeated teams out there. While Bethany isn’t undefeated, I have no reservations talking about the Bison as a surprise this season. At 5-1, they’ve already matched their best win total since 2001, and it’s tough to fault them for their lone loss, which came against Mount Union in Week 1. The winner of this one will be the only team that remains undefeated in conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Stevens Point at No. 14 UW-Platteville. I’ll throw out the classic term “elimination game” on this contest, because even though both are unbeaten in the conference, neither has played UW-Whitewater yet. I’ll have to caveat this by saying Stevens Point could be a candidate at 8-2 with a win vs. North Central and potential losses to UW-P and UW-W, but the committee is too unpredictable from year to year to really give a two-loss team hope as an at-large.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Heidelberg at No. 3 Mount Union. Let’s be clear. Against the Purple Raiders, who have won their first four games by an average score of 64-4, anything resembling a normal football score is “surprisingly close.” Mount Union has allowed three touchdowns this season, none with the margin tighter than 38. Heidelberg comes in scoring 51.2 points per game and will become the first team to score on Mount Union in the first half this season. It might even lead in the game. The Student Princes, who were not competitive in a 43-16 loss to John Carroll earlier this season, lost 44-34 to Mount Union last year, and 30-13 the year before. Those would be surprisingly close, grading on the UMU scale.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Wittenberg at Wooster. I think Witt has inched up a little too high in the Top 25, and last week’s seven-point win over a middling Denison squad didn’t do a lot to reaffirm faith in the Tigers. I don’t think Witt is vulnerable to all-out losing this one, but I think it’ll be closer than it should be for a 15th-ranked team. Wooster has played two tough teams already, so they shouldn’t be in for any surprises lining up against a team like Wittenberg.
Pat’s take: Occidental at Chapman. Chapman is on the verge of the Top 25, and perhaps could be ranked higher than Pacific Lutheran based on how they both played Linfield, but that’s neither here nor there. Going out on a limb because Occidental isn’t really back yet based on the results to date: edging Puget Sound and losing at Austin College outside of conference play. One wouldn’t expect a particularly close game here, so expect something a little closer.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 25 Hampden-Sydney, vs. Emory & Henry. As a Randolph-Macon grad, trust, I feel icky praising either of these teams. But it’s deserved. The Tigers should win, especially at home, where their attendance is behind only St. John’s and UW-Whitewater in D-III. But they have had a midseason stumble against a lower-rung ODAC team the past two seasons. The Wasps are 5-0 and revived under Curt Newsome, but it can be tempting to think of a team that most experienced H-SC players are used to beating handily as another lower-rung squad, and that’s when upsets happen.
Ryan’s take: None. This is perhaps the hardest question of the week, and it’s the one I’m filling out last. I think there could be a handful of teams (Wooster, Utica, Bethany, Gustavus Adolphus and Emory and Henry) that hang with their Top 25 foes early on, but I don’t see any of them following through for all four quarters to grab the win.
Pat’s take: No. 22 St. Johns, at Gustavus Adolphus. Yep, alright, gonna roll the dice here. Keith and I have been talking about Gustavus Adolphus as a potential 6-0 team since August … and then as a potential 6-4 team. But let’s see if these Gusties and their golden-boy quarterback, Mitch Hendricks, can pull off the upset. Gustavus beat St. John’s last year, and for those of you who don’t know, Hendricks is a former Johnnie, having transferred to Gustavus.

Provide an underranked team and predict how they’ll perform in Week 7.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Washington & Jefferson. The two most underranked teams, Texas Lutheran and Buffalo State, are off this week. The only other ones I have much lower than their ranking are Pacific Lutheran and the Presidents, who travel to Bethany. It’s a huge game for the Bison, who opened up with Mount Union and have seen top talent before. But even in Bethany’s five consecutive wins, they haven’t been so suffocating defensively that I can envision them stopping W&J’s 52.2-point per game offense, so I see the Presidents taking control of the PAC race.
Ryan’s take: Ithaca. It’s hard to figure out who’s underrated enough to register significantly (the only team in which there’s a big gap between my ballot and the actual Top 25 is Buffalo State, which has a bye week). But in keeping with the Empire 8, I think it was a bit drastic to drop Ithaca completely out of the poll after losing to Buff State. Ithaca was ranked No. 13 the week prior, so a lot of other one-loss teams leapfrogged them in the top 25. Ithaca is still on my ballot, and I think this week against Frostburg State will be a relatively easy one, especially considering the poundings the Bobcats have been taking so far in conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Widener. It is so much easier for me to think in terms of overrated teams, but of course, for every overrated team there has to be an underrated team, right? So let’s go with Widener beating Wilkes. It won’t be 90-0, but if you get 90, think about taking the over.

Pick a team that put up big numbers last week and tell us if they’ll do it again.
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley, at Stevenson. The 52 points Lycoming “held” the Aggies to last week was their lowest point total since 30 in Week 1 against Montclair State. Stevenson brings a pretty legit defense into the game, as they allow just 14 points a game and are 31st nationally in total defense. They’re even better against the run (22nd, 95 ypg), and are coming off a bye week. I’m not sure it’ll matter much against the high-powered Aggies, especially since Stevenson’s 230th-ranked offense won’t be able to keep up with QB Aaron Wilmer and Del Val’s 50.2-point per game unit. Stevenson’s last time out, a 31-10 loss to Lycoming, showed us that the Mustangs aren’t quite ready to gallop with the MAC’s big horses yet.
Ryan’s take: Concordia (Wis.), at Trine. Once Concordia got rolling in the second half last week against Aurora, there was no stopping them. The end result was 62 points on the scoreboard, 754 offensive yards and a quarterback, Austin Damaschke, getting four touchdowns. Trine, which is 4-1 and has a solid red-zone defense, isn’t going to give up that kind of yardage or that kind of score. At the very least, we can expect Trine’s offense to stay on the field longer, severely limiting the damage Concordia can do with its own O. To answer the original question: No, Concordia won’t do it again.
Pat’s take: Castleton State, at Mount Ida. Would have said Washington U. here, but instead of playing Maranatha Baptist, Wash U. has an unexpected bye. Apparently the Sabercats have just 22 healthy players. Guess I’m not sure why Maranatha couldn’t have given a little more warning on pulling out of games. Instead I’ll take the Spartans, who have turned it around after last year’s lost season.

Which muddled conference race gets less muddled this week?
Keith’s take: NWC. Linfield, the perennial favorite, is already in control here, with a win over perennial challenger Pacific Lutheran and as one of only two NWC teams without a conference loss. But with Whitworth coming off a 61-45 win at Willamette, their game with Linfield might show us if there’s a second challenger in the NWC or if the Wildcats will run away with it. Pacific Lutheran goes to Pacific as well, and at the bottom end, restartup George Fox gets one of its two chances for a win this season against an improved Puget Sound. Even if all the results play out as expected, folks far from NWC country pay attention, because the presence (or not) of a second NWC team in the postseason picture has trickle-down implications for the entire 32-team bracket. (Because of geography, and playoff travel cost restrictions, for the uninitiated)
Ryan’s take: ODAC. I’ll play the Virginia card and pick the game that involves a school two hours to the east of me (Hampden-Sydney) and another about two hours to the southwest (Emory and Henry). E&H has certainly elbowed its way into the ODAC discussion with an unblemished record, and Hampden-Sydney, despite a nonconference loss, is showing itself to be every bit the conference threat of recent years. Behind Nash Nance, Hampden-Sydney likes to throw the ball — and it does so well. The Wasps, however, have the best pass defense in the conference. The way these opponents balance each other out makes this particularly interesting.
Pat’s take: MIAC. I mean, I’m contractually required to pick this, right? Assume one of the two guys ahead of me who still lives in Virginia will take the ODAC, but we also start unraveling the knot at the top of the MIAC this week with Gustavus hosting St. John’s. Of the five teams with zero or one MIAC losses at the top of the conference standings, Gustavus has yet to play any of them, while St. Thomas has only played St. John’s. Concordia-Moorhead has beaten SJU and lost to Bethel. St. John’s has played two of the four. So in short, a lot of key games left to be played.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Morrisville State. Rowan is receiving only one vote in the poll, but one might not even be the number of teams who are going to challenge the Profs for the NJAC title. Montclair State has won four straight since a 10-point loss to Del Val, but it’s the Mustangs who are most intriguing. Quarterback Lemar Johnson is rushing for more than 130 yards per game over his past four, and is coming off a 302-yard passing, one-big-highlight day against Kean. If they can get enough from the defense, after allowing 31 points three times and 40 once in its 5-1 start, we could have a conference race to watch.
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist. A week after losing to Texas Lutheran, I’m eager to see if there will be a hangover at ETBU when the team lines up against Howard Payne. Fun fact: Howard Payne’s last game was also against Texas Lutheran.
Pat’s take: Tufts. Again. This week the 2-2 Jumbos have a legitimate shot of knocking off Williams. And six weeks ago, let alone three years ago, that would have seemed like fantasy.

Triple Take Week 4: A mix of wackiness and rivalries

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

By the first week of October, almost everybody is playing conference rivals weekly. Which leaves this weekend, the last in September, as the last time we see so many matchups against non-Division III teams like Bacone (mmm, Bacone) and Southwestern Assemblies of God (or as I like to refer to them, SWAG). This week is also one of the last for halfway-across-the-country non-conference games like Pacific at Chicago, or Pacific Lutheran at Trinity (Texas).

Of course, some Tommies and Johnnies will spend Saturday acting like anything but saints when they face their most disliked rival. And whether you’re celebrating your stadium’s 100th birthday or just hoping a few hundred fans are in the stands, Triple Take cares. Pat, Ryan and I look at all 244 teams and highlight the Week 4 games (besides yours, of course) worth paying attention to.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 17 Ithaca at Alfred. Assuming Pat plays the faithful Minnesooooootan, and takes Johnnies at Tommies, I find myself in New York for an Empire 8 clash. I bombed my Bombers pick last week, and at 2-0 with one dicey win and one dominant one, Ithaca hits the road for 3-0 Alfred. The Saxons have scored 34, 34 and 29, but last week, the Bombers barely allowed an inch for Hartwick’s offense to maneuver. In a conference where St. John Fisher, Salisbury, Brockport State and others plan to contend, wins are at a premium.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Johns Hopkins at Muhlenberg. The Mules have flown a bit under the radar while building toward their 3-0 record, but they’ve been anything but quiet in doing so. While I understand Muhlenberg’s opponents aren’t the year’s most notable bunch, Muhlenberg has been appropriately convincing in its victories, with the narrowest margin being 34 points in a shutout of Wilkes. This will likely be the Blue Jays’ stiffest test untilNov. 22.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at No. 10 St. Thomas. Make fun all you want but this game will have more people in attendance than the other two combined. Last year, St. Thomas was coming off a Stagg Bowl appearance and two wins by a combined 77-14 score before the rivalry reminded us that anything can happen. St. John’s took a 14-11 lead at halftime and intercepted Matt O’Connell twice in the second half, then dodged a bullet when the Tommies’ kicker missed a short field goal at the final gun. So after that … we’re back in anything-can-happen mode.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Baldwin Wallace at No. 8 John Carroll. This is a bit of a stab in the dark, since the Blue Streaks could not be coming off a more dominant performance against Heidelberg. After games like those, it’s human nature to start feeling yourself — you get really confident until you have reason not to be. John Carroll has to guard against overconfidence, and Baldwin Wallace has to get theirs back after allowing the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left in a 37-35 loss to Ohio Northern. Both teams are among the nation’s top eight in time of possession (36 minutes plus), so something has to give there. John Carroll is the national leader in getting off the field on third downs, and I think after a few quarters of even play, they turn it on for the home crowd under the lights and pull away.
Ryan’s take: Averett at LaGrange. The Cougars have been all over the place in how well they do against the pass – they gave up big against Randolph-Macon but held Maryville to small numbers (the ground game from the quarterback was a whole ‘nother story). LaGrange likes to throw the ball; with Graham Craig under center, who wouldn’t want to play that out? Yet the Panthers’ 2-1 record is deceitful since every game has been achingly close. If Averett can contain an offense that appears to be one-dimensional (much like the team did against run-heavy Washington and Lee), then this will be a close one.
Pat’s take: Chapman at Whitworth. A SCIAC contender and an unbeaten team, just like you would have pictured it in, say, 2010. Whitworth has done it against three lower-level west coast teams and now Bryan Peterson, who threw for nearly 600 yards last week after only getting the start because of injuries, has to try to do it against a team which held Linfield to 21 and is one of the SCIAC favorites.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 16 Pacific Lutheran. It’s the Lutes’ second game and Trinity’s fourth. That’s really my only reason. Well, that and the other choices stunk. The Tigers (1-2) haven’t played all that well, but they’ve played, and early in the season, that seems like a big deal. The game is in Texas, and PLU’s nice fourth quarter helped it to a 35-28 home win over Cal Lutheran in Week 2.
Ryan’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. No. 19 Ithaca. There are a lot of teams in the top-notch Empire 8 that could dethrone one of the undefeateds, but pitting two with perfect records is cause to pay attention. Alfred has been giving up a lot of points this season, and the team is going to do the most damage if it can find a way to clamp down on defense. Ithaca, in turn, will succeed if it keeps doing what it’s been doing on the field.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Heidelberg. Ohio Northern might be able to break through in this game. If not, they might be able to keep it close. If not, well, it won’t be the first time I’ve picked Ohio Northern erroneously in the past decade. I like ONU in this matchup because of the opposite directions of the teams’ momentum.

Which winless team gets its first victory?
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Nobody in D-III has been harder-luck losers in their first two games, when the Red Dragons, trying to run out the clock in Week 1, ran backwards and put Buffalo State in range for the tying field goal with 1 second left. In Week 2, down three and on the 1-yard line vs. Brockport, the game ended with a false-start penalty and 10-second runoff. With a week off to forget about that, the Red Dragons head to Morrisville State, which scored two TDs in last week’s opening 16 minutes against St. Lawrence, then was blanked the rest of the way.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles competition have been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: Alfred State. And for Alfred State, this would be its first win against a Division III school, as the Pioneers host Castleton State on their homecoming weekend. Alfred State won one game that counts last year, vs. Apprentice School.
Who it won’t be: Concordia-Chicago. The Cougars were scheduled to play Maranatha Baptist this week, but the Sabercats were unable to keep the contract because of injuries. And by NCAA rules, this is a no-contest, not a forfeit, so CUC remains winless.

Which team plays like animals this weekend?
Keith’s take: The Bantams of Trinity (Conn). You might have to be smart enough to get into a NESCAC school to know that bantams are a small variety of chicken. Williams’s Eph mascot is a purple and yellow cow, so an animal wins either way. In this year’s installment of a game that used to be the non-rivalry highlight of the NESCAC schedule, Trinity’s rushing attack — 289 yards in the opener, including a 25-134-3 line from Chudi Iregbulem — scores the first points on Williams this season, and then some.
Ryan’s take: The Panthers of Middlebury. No way Middlebury isn’t going to slough off the turnovers of its debut last weekend, get its claws out and start down the path toward a 7-1 season. Colby’s offensive line better be ready to protect against a big rush.
Pat’s take: The Muskies of Muskingum. Problem is, fish aren’t particularly well-suited to play football, and I think the Crusaders of Capital are in best position to take this game.

State your case for a state school, or one with a state in its name
Keith’s take: Illinois College. St. Norbert may well win this MWC clash, but since Norbachusetts isn’t a state, and I already burned up “Cortland State,” allow me to use the Blueboys to highlight this matchup. Simply, IC scored 42 points after halftime of its last game. SNC allowed 45 unanswered last time out, including 42 in the middle quarters. Neither team won, or played last week. So they’ve had plenty of time to get their defenses right. The Blueboys bring in the nation’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Michael Bates, at 682 yards a game, but stats are easily skewed this time of year. St. Norbert DL Austin Prusha has seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks already, but almost all of that came against Carthage, not North Central.
Ryan’s take: Brockport State. The first half wasn’t pretty last week for the Golden Eagles, but adjustments after the break proved somewhat successful against St. John Fisher. It’s something to build one after being stacked against a Top 10 team. This week, Utica is riding an undefeated streak and will be stiff competition. But I don’t see Brockport giving as much ground to the Pioneers and should come away with the win.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. As our former USA Today colleague, Devin Clancy, would say, “Alfred isn’t a state!” So I can’t use that team here. That being said, I like Del Val’s chances in this game that I basically see as a toss-up. Definitely not your average unbeaten vs. winless matchup. Del Val has enough diversity on offense to get it done, but the question will be whether it can stop Leb Val.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Chicago. The best defense in Chicago isn’t the Bears. Relatively speaking, anyway. The Maroons are 3-0 and allowing 160 yards per game, best in D-III. Pacific, 0-2 by a total of seven points, was pretty solid itself defensively last week at Dubuque, allowing just 321 yards and 16 points. Before we start crowning these descendants of Stagg worthy of making the playoffs, let’s see how they fare in this midseason stretch. After Pacific and before their three UAA rivals, they face Rhodes, Trinity (Texas) and Bethel. With a good performance in that stretch, and a Pool B playoff spot awaits.
Ryan’s take: Centre. I thought last year was going to be the Colonels’ season to make the playoffs. Though they finished a respectable 7-3, it wasn’t playoff-worthy. They lost some skill players and a good chunk of their defense, but they are off to a 3-0 start nonetheless. Like last year, Washington U. is Game 4 and threatening to derail the perfection they’ve had so far. Getting over this hump will go a long ways toward potentially rolling in to November undefeated and making a case for a Pool B spot.
Pat’s take: Carroll. Sticking with the C’s here for a very much under-the-radar 3-0 team in the Midwest Conference that defeated Lake Forest last week, facing 2-0 Monmouth. The secret? The return of is-he-playing-or-isn’t-he Lamont Williams, who has alternately been in and out of the Pioneers’ preseason roster over the past couple of years. He scored three second-half touchdowns in last week’s victory.

Did you hear about that Rose-Hulman game?

Greg Lee celebrates scoring the winning touchdown in a game that went into three overtimes and tied the record for most points in a game in D-III history. (Rose-Hulman athletics photo)

Greg Lee celebrates scoring the winning touchdown in a game that went into three overtimes and tied the record for most points in a game in D-III history.
(Rose-Hulman athletics photo)

On Saturday afternoon the buzz was about the way Wartburg defeated Bethel and kept its early-season surge going at 2-0.

Long after the sun had set, however, Rose-Hulman and Illinois College were still playing, attracting the attention of college football fans across the country and ending up on a little program called SportsCenter. Hard to say that was the most important game of the week, but it certainly was the most intriguing, and suffice it to say that Pat and Keith found a few ways to talk about it.

It’s game that Rose-Hulman and Illinois College players and fans will be talking about for a lifetime.

Meanwhile, game balls were handed out, and more. It’s Week 2 of the retooled Around the Nation Podcast, so listen in.

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