Welcome back to Triple Take, where Keith McMillan and I lead a virtual roundtable discussion of the top upcoming games in each of a handful of categories. Sometimes a third member of our “staff” of part-time D-III football journalists gives the third take and sometimes we invite a guest analyst to join us. This week the third chair is occupied by our newly minted Senior Editor, Ryan Tipps.
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Game of the Week
Ryan’s take: Olivet at Wittenberg. Though Wittenberg nabbed a few Top 25 votes, neither team typically registers as one to watch. In fact, even in their recent playoff years, these teams haven’t finish the season ranked. Why do we care? Because these teams have more riding on Week 1 than most other teams, and it should prove to be one of the most evenly matched games of the week. Each team is the other’s own worst nonconference enemy. Coming from relatively weak conferences, losing here means it’s the AQ or nothing.
Pat’s take: Mississippi College at Millsaps. Let’s see, we’ve got the rivalry, two teams that are both in the top three of their conferences … oh, and the way last year’s game came out. If you’re new to Division III, remember that Millsaps somehow treated it like an NFL exhibition game, pulling the starters with a second-half lead. Except, of course, that exhibition games don’t count. And on Selection Sunday, Millsaps, at 8-2 with a 27-26 loss to Mississippi College, was left out. So yeah, let’s not let that happen again.
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at UW-La Crosse. There are (according to my preseason ballot) three clashes between top 25 teams plus UW-Whitewater facing off against NAIA quarterfinalist St. Xavier, but I like this game because it’s got the most riding on it. Think about it. St. John Fisher can recover from a loss at Mount Union to win the Empire 8, Christopher Newport could do the same in the USAC if it loses to Wesley. But the Cowboys and Eagles, each at least second fiddle in its own conference, could really use the non-conference victory to boost a potential Pool C resume — that’s if they get that far. Both teams have tons of talent but struggled to disappoint four-loss seasons last year. One is going to build confidence tomorrow, the other is going to have doubt creep back into its mind.
Ryan’s take: Washington & Lee at Franklin & Marshall. Last year, the Generals dealt a shutout thumping to the Diplomats. Not this time. F&M is a sleeper team in the Centennial, still a little shaky in some areas, but poised to take advantage of W&L losing its best offensive and defensive weapons.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.) at Averett. That’s if the game gets played, since we don’t know what the weather will be like. But even without the rain I think Averett is better than last year and Bridgewater has a lot of work to do.
Keith’s take: Lakeland at No. 9 Central. With just nine starters back, including two on defense, the Dutch might struggle to hold on to their lofty ranking. The Muskies haven’t fared well in non-conference play — they were outscored 138-30 in three losses last year. But they have surviving in the AQ age figured out. Play tough teams that prepare you for your conference slate. Lakeland has eight defensive starters back in the fold, but Central rarely loses, let alone at home. Since this a more or less a new era for the Dutch, close games can qualify as surprises.
Most likely top 25 team to get upset
Ryan’s take: No. 6 St. John’s. The Johnnies could very well struggle right out of the gate as they try to find the right man to replace four-year starting quarterback Alex Kofoed. If East Texas Baptist gets its engines rolling early, St. John’s might not have the offense to bring the team back into the game. That sixth-place ranking could turn into a not-so-sweet 16 real fast.
Pat’s take: No. 12 Salisbury. The Sea Gulls are replacing a good portion of their running game and making the trip to face Albright. I’ll spare the usual ‘revenge on their minds’ cliche and just mention that Salisbury won at home 42-12 last year. But that was when Albright was young and expected to go 3-7, not maturing and on its way to a 7-4 season.
Keith’s take: No. 21 Franklin. There’s a lot to like about the Grizzlies, with 17 starters back, including eight on offense. But there’s also traditionally been a big gap in the quality of play in the OAC and HCAC, so even if Baldwin-Wallace ends up in the lower half of its conference this year, it isn’t an easy non-conference win. Kickoff ’08 had Franklin pegged for 10-0, but Grizzlies players know they’d better worry about 1-0 first.
They’ll be on your radar
Ryan’s take: Albright. The Lions took a nose-dive at the end of last season, but not for a lack of talent. With 18 starters back, including stars Tanner Kelly and Matt Christ, the Albright coaching staff has to have a warm-fuzzy feeling in their stomachs — and opponents should have a pit in the bottom of theirs.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons. At the very least, it should be an entertaining game between contenders from two of the strongest conferences in Division III. That is, I’m hoping it’s entertaining, because it will be my third game in 28 hours and staying awake is an issue.
Keith’s take: Augustana. It’s hard enough to debut a new offense, but with the switch as drastic as going from the Wing-T to the spread, and the opponent being Coe, which by having a new coach possibly means film from last year is halfway useless, I’m curious to see how both teams do in this opener.
Team that will get its only 2008 win
Ryan’s take: Hiram. This should be the week that the Terriers snap their 26-game losing streak, but even this won’t be a cake-walk at Gallaudet. Were this the end of ’07 rather than the start of ’08, I’d give the edge to the Bison.
Pat’s take: Lewis and Clark. And that’s a bad sign for Principia.
Keith’s take: Beloit.: With 20 starters back, the Buccaneers could have more than one win on tap, but a visit from No. 237 MacMurray is the best shot they’ll get. Also watch Eureka at Knox, Denison at Kalamazoo and Grinnell at Cornell.
Team with a long trip home
Ryan’s take: Concordia (Wis.). It’s tough to get blown out by the same team twice in a row. It’s even harder when it’s the last thing you remember from the past season and it becomes the first thing you know in the current season. Bethel is the Falcons’ first in a trio of tough nonconference games, and the trick for Concordia’s first-time coach will be to not get himself buried too deep.
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire. It’s a shame nobody will play UW-Eau Claire or UW-Whitewater and they not only have to play each other twice, but each have to play 2007 NAIA playoff teams this week as well.
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist. I was pleasantly surprised to see a trip to St. John’s as the opener after hearing some of coach Mark Sartain’s ideas for non-conference opponents midway through last season. With 16 starters back from a 5-5 team, I wouldn’t rule out a Tigers upset completely, but it’s more likely this trip will function as an experience — first, to play a game in one of Division III’s best home atmospheres and most idyllic settings, and second, a lesson on how a national power handles business.