Podcast: Finally, some upsets

Deion Jones had two of UW-Stevens Point's four interceptions in Saturday's win. (Photo by Jack McLaughlin)

Deion Jones had two of UW-Stevens Point’s four interceptions in Saturday’s win. (Photo by Jack McLaughlin)

They’re probably not too upset in Stevens Point, Wis., or Collegeville, Minn., but it’s always good to have something to analyze and talk about. The MIAC race is just getting started and the WIAC hasn’t even started yet but this week’s results already have us rethinking the expectations.

Meanwhile, game balls were handed out, and Pat and Keith look over all the crazy stats and all the scheduled games, even if they didn’t get played.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your phone or portable device.

You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. 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, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show:

Triple Take: Conference clashes underway


In 2005, Kyle Gearman shocked Concordia-Moorhead with a 74-yard touchdown catch with under 30 seconds left. SJU hosts the Cobbers this weekend.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Almost every team in an automatic-qualifying conference will have a conference game under its belt by the end of the weekend.

For those teams off to a rough start in nonconference action, now is the time to refocus and use what was learned in previous weeks to try to make a mark in conference play and reach for the AQ. For many, it is, or was, a new beginning to the season.

So which teams can turn things around, and which ones are out to prove that they’re more than just their nonconference record? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through some of the best this weekend has to offer.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Hope at Illinois Wesleyan.
I’m veering off the Top 25 pack a bit this week, but both teams are undefeated, with the Titans getting a fair number of votes in the poll. More significantly, though, is that each of these teams have been putting up some wild numbers against the competition, with neither team scoring fewer than 37 points in their five combined victories. And no opponent has been within 20 points at the end of four quarters. What does this mean? Well, each team is facing its stiffest test of the season, and this could be a breakout moment for one of them.
Keith’s take: No. 11 Wesley at Birmingham Southern. This is the first time in the history of Triple Take I’ve filled out all the below categories first, while skipping over Game of the Week to come back to it. It’s that kind of week. I nearly went with Cortland State at St. John Fisher or Pat’s game below in this slot, but it’s been a long time since the Wolverines were beaten so thoroughly in a regular season game, and the fate of the top 25 and Pool B rests on how they respond. B-SC is 3-0 and along with Huntingdon and Louisiana College is a deep south team that’s had its shot to beat the Wolverines but hasn’t been able to close the deal. All three of those teams are in the ‘can win 7-8 games and occasionally make the playoffs’ tier, and B-SC is the latest to get a chance at national recognition. The host Panthers have a shot because they can score — 143 points in three wins — but they’ve only been able to outscore in 2013 — they’ve allowed at least 32 points in each game, and Wesley brings a caliber of athlete B-SC hasn’t faced since a 26-17 loss in Delaware last season.


Hope has started off 3-0, but faces a more significant test this week in Illinois Wesleyan.
Hope College photo by Tom Renner

Pat’s take: Concordia-Moorhead at No. 21 St. John’s. This series has had a recent history of tight games and dramatic finishes. And St. John’s has had a particularly recent history of both, having won its three games this year by a TOTAL of eight points. All the signs point to a great game. Will it be a letdown for the Johnnies after the big win last week?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Washington at Centre.
The Colonels are riding a three-game win streak, while the Bears are just 1-2. However, WashU hasn’t let opponents get out of reach (and that includes UW-Whitewater), and that striking distance could work out to their benefit. Centre has a defense that can be taken advantage of at times, and WashU can be in the game if they spot those times.
Keith’s take: Olivet at North Park. The more I looked at the slate, the more I found games I want to be tight but I think are going to be surprisingly not close (like Illinois College at Ripon, Montclair State at Rowan, or Williams at Trinity, Conn.). The Comets are 3-0, the Vikings 0-2. But Olivet is new money — at 1-39 the previous four seasons, they aren’t used to going on the road and winning. North Park (7-31 from 2009 to 2012) earned its only win last season, 46-21 in Michigan. This time around Olivet is making the three-hour bus ride to Chicago, and North Park is coming off a bye week.
Pat’s take: Stevenson at No. 22 Delaware Valley. Pretty sure Stevenson has never started a season 4-0. Stevenson had only won four games in the entire history of the program before the season started. I could consider picking this game in the next category down, as well. If you haven’t paid that close attention the first couple of weeks this year, you might get caught unaware of where the Mustangs have come, and there are enough questions about the Aggies to give one pause, that’s all.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None.
On paper, this appears to be an easy week for the Top 25, as long as one of the teams at the top doesn’t get caught sleeping….
Keith’s take: No. 16 Johns Hopkins. Since it wouldn’t be much of an upset if Concordia-Moorhead beat No. 21 St. John’s or Lycoming beat No. 24 Widener, I’ll ride the Mules. The Blue Jays are still favorites, and for the upset to happen, Muhlenberg would have to figure out how to score on Johns Hopkins, which has given up no more than 14 points in each of its three games. The Mules have hung a 59 and a 58 on the score board this season, but against its only quality opponent, they scored 21 (in a loss to Franklin & Marshall).
Pat’s take: No. 11 Wesley. This probably comes from seeing the Wolverines dismantled by Mary Hardin-Baylor last week, but I’m a little concerned about Wesley in this key Pool B clash. Without the diversity on offense … or even a lot of success last week, Wesley looked a little ordinary and could be in trouble this week.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist.
If you read this week’s Around the South column, you know that ETBU has been lighting things up through the air, with a nation-leading 435.5 yards per game passing. However, the opponents from the Tigers’ first two games are currently winless. Not so with Saturday’s opponent, Willamette. The Bearcats gave up a lot of points in their wins, so ETBU (which posted 50-plus in its two outings) might be able to run away with this one. Let’s just see which quarterback they use most.
Keith’s take: The Cleveland area. My friends Lacy and Kipp are heading to Cleveland for other sporting events this weekend, and asked me a few weeks ago how good the Otterbein at John Carroll game would be, since they were going to go. That, plus a tweet that noted that No. 1 Mount Union and No. 2 Linfield will be playing on miles apart on Saturday, got me intrigued. Someone interested in seeing a bunch of competitive D-III teams on one day — a WesleyDad of the Midwest, as it were — could catch six without leaving the Cleveland area. Linfield is at Case Western Reserve at noon, Muskingum is at Baldwin-Wallace at 2 p.m., and then the aforementioned Cardinals face the Blue Streaks at 7 p.m., which leaves just enough time for dinner in between Games 2 and 3.
Pat’s take: Huntingdon. Yeah. I’m a week late to this party. Keith was all over this last week. Struggling Ferrum makes the trip to Alabama for the first time to see the Hawks and I don’t expect the southern hospitality to extend between the lines.

Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Wooster.
Hiram is coming off its first shutout win in nearly two decades, and Wooster has Wabash on the horizon in Week 5. The Scots would do themselves a favor to make sure they focus on the task at hand rather than the beast that lies beyond.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes’ game at Linfield is by far the most compelling matchup of Week 5, and of the other teams that have big games next week, most don’t have games they could possibly lose this week. There’s Wesley, which plays Birmingham Southern and then Huntingdon, but after being humbled more or less in consecutive weeks, there’s no way they look ahead. I don’t expect PLU to lose, but it’s all I got.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes travel to UW-Eau Claire, a team St. Thomas beat 52-7. Pacific Lutheran has Linfield next week. That, plus the trip a little over halfway across the continent could spell trouble for Pacific Lutheran if not handled well.

Which undefeated team is going to pick up its first loss?
Ryan’s take: Merchant Marine.
While the Mariners are an impressive 3-0, they’ve hardly been getting in the victory column in convincing fashion. And that bodes poorly when lining up against a Top 10 team like Hobart.
Keith’s take: Juniata. So far the Eagles are one of my favorite stories of the season, so if they win at Franklin & Marshall, I will eat crow for all the long-suffering Juniata fans. The Diplomats — I couldn’t decide if they were historical peoples, a joke you’ll understand in a few paragraphs — are 1-2, but nearly won the opener at defending ODAC champion Washington & Lee, and beat Muhlenberg before losing at Ursinus. So the slate is a little tougher than what Juniata has faced so far — Thiel, Dickinson and Gettysburg are 2-7, and the records coming in could be misleading. It’s about to get real for Ward Udinski and the Eagles anyway; If they win at F&M, they should enjoy it. Johns Hopkins, Ursinus and Muhlenberg are the next three opponents.
Pat’s take: UW-Stevens Point. A trip to North Central isn’t really a good sign the way things are clicking for the Cardinals right now. North Central has run through the middle-to-bottom of the WIAC the past couple of weeks and there isn’t much reason to think this will be different.

Which historical peoples is most intriguing?
Ryan’s take: The Pioneers of Grinnell.
Grinnell is hunting for its first win and is clearly not the same kind of team offensively in the wake of injured quarterback Sam Poulos. Last week, especially, the defense was tasked with keeping the team in its game against MWC leader Lake Forest, and the unit was largely successful – evidence of how senior-laden the team is on that side of the ball. If the Pioneers can manage a game when both sides are clicking, they can log wins this weekend against Beloit and onward through the season.
Keith’s take: The Saints of Thomas More. One of my favorite parts of Triple Take each week is scrolling down to see what Ryan has picked as the last question. Waynesburg’s visit to Kentucky is intriguing because the Yellow Jackets, 3-0 this season, have won 14 of their past 15 games. But during that stretch, they haven’t had to win a big game on the road. Muskingum, Bethany, Geneva and Thiel were all three-win teams last season, St. Vincent was 0-10 and the Yellow Jackets’ road win this year was at 1-2 Frostburg State. Thomas More is 2-0, back in the top 25 and hasn’t surrendered a point. So for both sides it’s the first test of how legitimate a contender each will be, and the winner gets a leg up in the PAC title race.
Pat’s take: The Colonials of Western Connecticut. I’m very interested to see how the Colonials do against Framingham State. Western Connecticut has started the season 2-0, but has done so against teams that were a combined 3-17 last season. Here they’ll take on the MASCAC favorite and we’ll find out how close Western is to actually contending for the MASCAC title. We already knew they would be competitive in the new league, where they were not competitive in the NJAC. But while Rowan held Melikke Van Alstyne to 63 yards, Western Connecticut may not be so lucky.

Offseason huddle up: What’s happened in January

The Division III football season starts in August and wraps up nicely by the end of December. While the intensity is scaled back during the offseason months, there are always things happening. Here’s an attempt to chronicle, and start a centralized conversation (there’s always activity on D3boards.com, of course) about some of them.

Mount Union wide receiver Jasper Collins played in the East-West Shrine Game, the only D-III player to do so. Although he didn’t come out of the regular season with the biggest buzz as the next pro from D-III, at the moment he’s looking like the player most likely to be drafted.

In Josh Buchanan’s Jan. 24 Top 100 small-school prospects, Texas Lutheran kicker Allen Cain is the highest-ranked D-III player at No. 35, and is a name D3football.com had been hearing as someone with an NFL future since his junior season. But kickers tend not to get drafted. Collins is at No. 41, and on Jan. 25, Buchanan tweeted that Collins was the highest-rated small-school player on his board yet to be invited to the NFL combine. (Here’s his list of players who have been invited)

RPI QB Mike Hermann (No. 59) and Cal Lutheran WR Eric Rogers (No. 79) are the other D-III players on Buchanan’s list, which is consistent with what we’d heard when we’d done our own reporting on it. During the playoffs, we featured Collins, and in Kickoff ’12, we spoke with Cain, Hermann and Rogers.

HIRING: The coaching carousel keeps spinning, although I guess at this point it’s slowed down some. Even D-III die-hards are often unfamiliar with the names of rising assistant coaches. When Isaac Collins left national quarterfinalist Widener for the job at D-II Seton Hill (Pa.), he left behind a team that’s playoff-ready if it can find a quarterback to replace Chris Haupt.

TCNJ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta got the job. I know next to nothing about him and don’t have an opinion on the hire. But what was interesting were two names tweeted out by Widener broadcaster @b34curran as finalists for the job: Case Western Reserve coach Greg Debeljak and UW-Whitewater defensive coordinator Brian Borland.

Borland was a holdover at UW-W from the Bob Berezowitz era and masterminded the defenses of all four Warhawks national champions. I’d never realized he was looking for head coaching jobs, but it tends to be a natural progression for successful coaches. Sometimes particular jobs open up that are appealing, or life circumstances or behind-the-scenes conditions at work make a job switch appealing to a coach the same way it would to those of us in regular employment. Passing on a man who played a large role in winning four D-III titles and seven straight Stagg Bowl trips puts a lot of pressure on Acosta and Widener.

Debeljak, the head coach at CWRU, went 48-6 with the Spartans from 2007-11 before going 6-4 this season and has had a successful nine-season run in Cleveland. Also a pretty accomplished coach for Widener to pass on.

I understand as well as anyone that D-III ADs hire leaders of men first, and winners second. Acosta must be an impressive guy, moreso than just having ties to the region and having had some success at TCNJ. I’ll be interested to see how quickly Widener starts next season. Several of their stud players return, and if they adapt to the new coach quickly, they could again be a force.

Elmhurst also made a coaching switch when Tim Lester, who lifted the program from mediocre to the playoffs, left to become quarterbacks coach at Syracuse. There are Western Michigan ties there, and it made sense for him to go. It also made sense for Elmhurst to stay in-house and hire Joe Adam. Players almost always want the new coach to come from within, so that move I imagine is well received. It’ll also keep the Elmhurst recruiting pipeline going — Adam ran both the defense and coordinated recruiting. One interesting player is already in the Elmhurst program though — Josh Williams, Gagliardi Trophy winner Scottie Williams’s younger brother, started out at UW-Whitewater before joining his brother in the backfield. Scottie is graduating, so Joe Adam will have to move the program forward without with the 2,000-yard rusher.

QUICK HITS: According to the East Texas Baptist website, wide receiver Kwame Spikes played in three D-III-friendly all-star games: The National Bowl, all-American Bowl and the Dream Bowl. That might not be unprecedented — and who’s to say he didn’t play in the D-III Senior Classic as well — but it’s the first time I’ve heard of a player participating in that many. I always thought two was the limit. …

St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso picked up his third Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award back at the beginning of the month (Here’s his acceptance speech). Perhaps since the Tommies made the Stagg Bowl this was his best work, but he’s been a coach on the rise for several years now. It would be nice if the award acknowledged the next coach on the rise, or someone who did a lot with less talent this year. The other finalists, UW-Oshkosh’s Pat Cerroni, Lake Forest’s Jim Catanzaro, Concordia-Chicago’s Lonnie Pries and Coe’s Steve Staker, each had strong resumes as well. I’m a voter for the award, and I enjoy Coach Caruso. But I would also like the award to show the full spectrum of coaching excellence in D-III. …

It can be tough to keep track of the D-III postseason events, with limited publicity and history. But the inaugural Dream Bowl took place in Salem this year, giving D-III players at least five postseason opportunities now (including Tazon de Estrellas, D3 Senior Classic and the others mentioned above). I don’t know much about how it went, but here’s SUNY-Maritime cornerback Jeremy Garcia’s take on the experience.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Around the Nation’s Year in Review went up earlier this month. What did you see that you like, or that I missed? Comment here.

YOUR FEEDBACK: What else has attracted your attention so far this offseason? Leave in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail for the next blog post.