Around the Nation Podcast: Still many unbeatens

Chicago had its hands full at Bethel on Saturday. (Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com)

Chicago had its hands full at Bethel on Saturday. (Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com)

A few unbeaten but unranked teams had the opportunity to prove themselves against opponents with a little more prestige on Saturday. But in the end, Chicago, Gustavus and Emory & Henry couldn’t get over the hump.

Of course, those losses, and others by UW-Stevens Point and Wesleyan, still leave Division III with nearly two dozen unbeaten teams. That seems like a lot for this time of year, but that’s not too unusual.

We remember what an unpopular decision it was to hire the guy who has won 100 of his first 106 career games as a head coach and talk about who to re-evaluate in the Top 25. Plus, Pat and Keith each give out their game balls, look beyond the obvious games to some underappreciated highlights and much more.

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Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show:

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

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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).

Triple Take: A lot of running room left

Tyler Brown
Tyler Brown helps key a defense that has allowed just 177 yards per game.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo

We’re past the midway point in the season. Many conferences still have nearly half their teams in contention. Races are still wide open, but for the seasoned observer, conclusions are being drawn and expectations are being laid.

Less than one month from now, the final regular season game of 2011 will be played. The time has flown by, hasn’t it? But don’t look too far ahead because there are games right in your backyard that still matter, that still carry excitement and that still could buck your expectations.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you nearly two dozen games to mull over in this week’s Triple Take.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 2 Mount Union at Heidelberg.
I know that it’s always a gamble highlighting a regular-season Mount Union game because they so rarely are close enough to warrant this kind of hype. But Heidelberg is having a great year, and the past two weeks’ victories over Capital and Muskingum leave no doubt that they are a team to keep your eye on. Heidelberg is a team that starts fast, playing hard-nosed football on both sides of the ball, especially through the first half. So far this year, the Student Princes have given up nothing more than a field goal in the first quarter. That’s total, folks. And they’ve got a ground man averaging nearly 125 yards a game and a passer throwing for well over 200 a game. It’s the kind of dual offense they need to bring into the Mount Union game this weekend. Couple that attack with a defense that is plus-14 in the turnover ratio, and you’ve got a game that can be competitive.
Keith’s take: No. 18 Salisbury at No. 23 Alfred. Most of the top 25 are playing teams they should beat, but the Empire 8 gauntlet takes weeks to run through. Since a bye week, the Sea Gulls have averaged 67.5 points a game. They rush for 363 yards a game, while the Saxons allow just 98. Alfred’s defense is No. 15 nationally, while Salisbury passes enough to make its offense No. 9 in the country. After Alfred’s 17-3 loss to St. John Fisher, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Salisbury run away with it; then again, this is the Saxons’ chance to dig deep and have people take notice. Otherwise, we look ahead to SJF’s Nov. 5 trip to Maryland’s Eastern shore.
Pat’s take: Centre at Birmingham-Southern. This isn’t the only game either of them needs to win to take the SCAC, but it’s the first blow, with the winner needing to also beat Trinity (Texas) to avoid a three-way split and a tiebreaker situation. Centre hasn’t gotten much credit from our poll, probably because Washington & Lee, the Colonels’ best opponent, is unranked as well, but it’s safe to say they’re in the ballpark for consideration on a few ballots.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Trine at Alma.
A 4-1 team vs. a 1-5 is rarely a recipe for a close contest, but Alma this season has gone above and beyond by scheduling some of the toughest teams they could get their hands on. Of those five losses, the three nonconference games were against 4-1 Heidelberg, 5-0 Illinois Wesleyan and 5-1 Washington and Lee. And each was separated by eight points or less. The Thunder, on the other hand, have been winning this year but not by the big comfortable margins they’ve seen in the past couple of seasons. The Scots can put up a lot of yards and points. Expect them to do just that on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Thomas More at St. Vincent. Outside of PAC country, you might think of the Saints as a top-10 program and the Bearcats as the conference pushover. But no longer; St. Vincent (3-2) is six points from being unbeaten, and just knocked off Washington & Jefferson last week. Kendall Owens is the name you know for Thomas More, but they’re getting efficient passing from Rob Kues and rushing contributions from Domonique Hayden, Luke Magness and Landon Savoy. St. Vincent has the PAC’s best rush defense at 104 yards allowed a game; Thomas More (196/game) has the PAC’s top rush offense.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at Gustavus Adolphus. Since convincingly dispatching with its first two opponents, Bethel has had a few results that were puzzling late in the game — a close home game against Carleton, a loss at home to St. Olaf and a game at St. John’s that was close throughout before two late scores. The 1-4 mark for Gustavus (26-21 loss at Wartburg) is certainly deceiving and this won’t be the kind of blowout you picture for a Top 10 team against a one-win opponent.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Johns Hopkins.
This is a stretch, though, as not many Top 25 games are looking good this week to call the upset. JHU is lining up against Dickinson, a team that’s coming off a win against a lost-its-luster Franklin and Marshall squad. Still, Dickinson is a team that’s certainly found itself down at times, but it’s rarely out. Turnovers are the potential game-changers here.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Delaware Valley. At 6-0 with three one-score victories, the Aggies might be one of the more fortunate teams in the top 15. They’re young on offense, but have been propped up by the nation’s No. 9 total defense (225 yards/game). Albright, which averaged more than 50 points per game the last three weeks of September to get to 4-0, has been held to 15 points per game in October losses to Lycoming and Lebanon Valley. Common opponents don’t explain much here; the Lions hung 65 on Wilkes and Delaware Valley scored 14. Lebanon Valley lost by 24 at Delaware Valley and won by seven at Albright. If the Lions can rediscover their September offense, there’s upset potential here. One would think going against the MAC’s toughest defense means struggle is ahead, but often knowing the challenge in advance makes for a more attentive, effort-filled week of practice, and teams rise to the occasion.
Pat’s take: No. 25 UW-Oshkosh. The Karner Rules (these are the ones that say a conference opponent can’t take an overnight trip, as opposed to the ones that say two conference teams must play one non-conference game against each other) prohibit a WIAC team from staying overnight for this trip, hence the 2 p.m. local kickoff time. Platteville is no slouch and if healthy, the Pioneers won’t necessarily go all Bo Ryan swing offense on the Titans, but should give them a heck of a game with the upset a distinct possibility. Hey, Saturday is the start of basketball practice. It has to make some sense somewhere.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Baldwin-Wallace.
This is a team I had pegged in Kickoff as being the OAC’s No. 2, and that claim will be tested against Ohio Northern. Aside from a somewhat surprising loss against Capital earlier in the year, the Yellow Jackets have been winning — though not by dominating margins. While there are a handful of teams above ONU in the conference standings, toppling the Polar Bears would be as symbolic as it is significant.
Keith’s take: Framingham State. They’ve won three in a row since a 1-2 start to get to 4-2, but they need to win at Maine Maritime to stay on track in the NEFC Bogan division. They’ve got the perfect inspiration: The Mariners rushed for 523 yards on the Rams last year and handed them one of their two losses.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). And I guess this is going to put me at odds with the pick by Ryan Tipps below me but here’s why I make this a split decision: Huntingdon has won two pretty impressive games at home, but going to Trinity is still a different story and has been since 1996. Last year the Tigers lost three games at home and it’s hard to see that happening again, although Trinity ends with Huntingdon, Centre and Birmingham-Southern at home, so it’s not at all unreasonable.

Of the Nos. 26-30 teams, which is most likely to win its way into the Top 25?
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon.
The Hawks are already in my Top 25, something I believe they’ve earned after wins over Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg. This week’s opponent is undefeated Trinity (Texas), which has also flirted at times with being on my ballot. A win here will be a huge boost and will be the third time this season that they’ll have dealt a one-loss team that lone blemish.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. It can only be the Hawks making a move this week; handing Trinity its first loss would be a third impressive win (along with Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg). If Birmingham-Southern, the only team to beat the Hawks this season, also lodges a win against unbeaten Centre, there’ll be enough ammo for voters to feel comfortable bumping them up. With Cortland State playing Western Connecticut, Wittenberg facing Kenyon, St. Olaf battling rival Carleton and Hobart sitting idle, it’s the only choice.
Pat’s take: Anyone but Hobart. It’s hard to figure on what keeps Hobart so down in the coaches’ poll, with just nine votes out of 42 voters (.2 average), making the Statesmen’s 1.4-point average in the D3football.com Top 25 seem laudatory. Are the coaches reacting to Hobart’s offseason sanctions, where they were placed on three years’ probation? But one thing which probably hurts Hobart’s reputation is after this week, some teams will have played seven games, most conferences serious about football will have played six … and Hobart will have played four. That’s what an eight-game non-NESCAC schedule looks like. Actually, also what a NESCAC schedule looks like.

Which team will be affected the most by injury?
Ryan’s take: Guilford.
The Quakers came into Week 1 with a new coach, a new strategy and new energy. But an injury here, and an injury there can create holes in that excitement. Starting quarterback Zac Halbert played sparingly in last week’s loss, and his health and ability to return to the field will be an important factor. But the field is littered with more spots where the depth chart is being raided. Prior to the season, Guilford should have expected to be sitting at 3-2 and going into a winnable game against Bridgewater. Now, they’re at 1-4, and a win on Saturday would be considered an upset.
Keith’s take: Uncertain. I’m afraid I’m going to have to forfeit my expert badge for this one. The injury that might most affect Saturday’s games might not have even happened yet. But I also don’t have a great feel for teams this season that have lost key guys, or a bunch of them. School me in the comments section below.
Pat’s take: Colby. Everyone is dealing with injuries seven weeks into the season, so it’s hard to see it as a valid excuse here. But even if maybe you don’t give Colby much of a chance at home against Amherst, linebacker Mike Hyatt’s injury has to affect more than the White Mules’ on-the-field play. This young man suffered his fourth concussion recently, his second in college football, and is not expected to play football again. In his final game two weeks ago against Middlebury, Hyatt recorded 18 tackles, nine solo, and recovered a fumble, but his absence will leave the White Mules’ linebacking corps pretty young.

Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Blue (and gold) of Ithaca.
The Bombers are going to line up against Springfield on Saturday, at a spot in the season where they’re playing for pride more than they are for the Empire 8’s automatic qualifier. The two teams match up well against each other, and it’ll be interesting to see which offense (Springfield’s 379-yard-a-game rushing efforts or Ithaca’s mostly blended attack) will be able to put a chink in the opponent’s armor. Ithaca’s offense is pretty woeful in the red zone, where not converting means more than loss of points, it means loss of momentum.
Keith’s take: Blue of Concordia (Wis). The Falcons started 0-3, but have dominated the two Northern Athletics Conference teams its played. The game against Benedictine is to hang on to at least a share of first place in a conference where everyone has multiple overall losses, but gets an automatic bid just like anyone else. The Falcons, who have outscored Rockford and Maranatha Baptist 105-21, takes its conference-best defense and puts it up against Benedictine’s conference-best offense.
Pat’s take: Green (and gold) of Presentation. In Kickoff 2011, we predicted the first-year Saints would go 2-8, 1-8 in the UMAC. But we figured that win would be at MacMurray. The Saints surprised even our generous prediction by winning last week against Crown. A win at MacMurray, which has lost 17 in a row and (yikes!) 44 of 45 games, would give them three wins in their first season of football and be pretty impressive by any standard.