Triple Take Week 8: Some clashes to get excited about

Will the Texas Lutheran defense stand up to Mary Hardin-Baylor? (TLU athletics photo)

Will the Texas Lutheran defense stand up to Mary Hardin-Baylor? (TLU athletics photo)

It’s that time of year when the air gets colder, the crowds get rowdier and the games get more meaningful.

To boil the action among 244 D-III teams down to a best-of list, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I sorted through dozens of games, including three clashes between top 25 teams. It’s also not too early to start discussing playoff implications, and we highlight teams that will give themselves a boost this weekend, and those that will fall down a peg. And not to forget the teams outside the playoff chase, we highlight a few teams in the midst of rough seasons that fans can look to for a W on Saturday.

It’s late October. This season is just getting to the good part. Here are our picks for this week.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Texas Lutheran. We hear this all the time: “You guys don’t give us any respect.” “No love for my team in the top 25?” Here’s the thing: Respect is earned, not given. That’s the difference right now between the two 6-0 teams in Texas, but what a giant opportunity this is for Texas Lutheran, which was 0-10 before coach Danny Padron was hired in 2010 following a highly successful run coaching in high school. UMHB is one of the five most successful programs in D-III over the past 10 or 15 years, and this year’s squad is well worth its No. 2 ranking. Both teams come in top 5 nationally in scoring offense, averaging more than 49 points per game. Defense is where the separation is; UMHB allows 11.5 points per game, TLU 26.3. That puts the spotlight on a Bulldogs defense led by DBs Drake Dowling and Michael Wall, although seniors Adam McGuire, Joey Meza and Ethan Powell have a chance to leave a mark. The crazy thing is TLU doesn’t even have to win to earn respect, move up in the top 25 or preserve its playoff hopes. They’re in front of their home crowd, and UMHB is expected to win, and maybe win big. It’s an opportunity.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 North Central at No. 19 Wheaton. In the ATN Podcast this past week, there was some talk about how Wheaton has dispelled some of its early-season hiccups and shown that it truly is a Top 25 team. Sorry Thunder fans, but I’m not yet convinced. The conference slate so far has consisted of the bottom three CCIW teams, and two of the nonconference opponents currently have a combined record of 1-11. That means two things: 1) I don’t know that Wheaton is ready to face a North Central team that became battle-tested in nonconference play (though the Cardinals’ CCIW games have also been against a weak slate); and 2) a loss here by Wheaton, coupled with that nonconference schedule, could mean that the team lacks the strength of schedule to be a real Pool C contender. For North Central, a loss Saturday would be its second of the year, also creating a gray area on the Pool C front. Perhaps the playoffs are in the back of these players’ minds – or perhaps just the fact that it’s the Little Brass Bell rivalry game is motivation enough.
Pat’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Texas Lutheran. Sorry, I have to repeat Keith’s pick here because it’s just a game that can swing a lot of things: UMHB’s hopes at a top seed, Texas Lutheran’s playoff hopes (and perhaps the hopes of others) as well as rankings for both of them. Texas Lutheran has been through a few changes recently: leaving the ASC for the SCAC, leaving a local high school stadium for a more intimate stadium of its own on campus … oh, and it’s started winning more games. TLU has a lot of former Mary Hardin-Baylor players and coaches on its sidelines as well, in case anyone needs any extra motivation.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Berry at Birmingham Southern. A few seasons ago, B-SC started 5-0 for the second consecutive year and was a legitimate playoff contender, while Berry football didn’t exist. If you’re a fan of a conference that never crosses paths with these teams, now part of the SAA, you might be surprised to learn that they both come into Saturday’s matchup with two wins. The Vikings have won two out of three, their first wins in history, and are trending upward offensively. B-SC is 2-1 in the SAA but allows 30.4 points per game. The more established program might still win, but Berry should make it interesting.
Ryan’s take: Washington U. at Chicago. These teams are having very different kinds of seasons, but Wash U. has found its groove at times this year, even if the team’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect that fact. If the Bears can muster up one of their better games, they’ll be able to hang with Chicago.
Pat’s take: East Texas Baptist at Louisiana College. I think this is a great game waiting to happen. I already expected it to be close, but I really want to spotlight it here. I expect a classic game of the “Little 12″ type we’ve been talking about on the podcast the past couple of years. One of many exciting games as we’ve come to expect from the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 11 Bethel. The category is “most likely,” not “definitely will be.” A loss to No. 22 St. Thomas wouldn’t be a major upset either, but we’ve sort of forgotten the once-dominant Tommies since a late-September loss to St. John’s. With the Royals allowing 15 points per game and the Tommies 16.5, expect a slugfest that could go either way, have major impact on the MIAC race and possibly result in an upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Widener. It wouldn’t be an earth-shattering upset if Lycoming wins this one, but it will be telling to learn what the Warriors did with their bye week after losing to Delaware Valley on Oct. 11, a loss that knocked them out of the Top 25. A win for Widener, however, would give a lot of credibility to the Pride’s success this season.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. Again, not overly likely but I can only say “none” once or twice a season, even if this has been a season in which none’s the word. The Stout team I saw a couple weeks ago has more than a fighting chance in this game, and for Platteville, this game comes sandwiched in between contests vs. UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater.

Which team revives its conference title and/or playoff hopes?
Keith’s take: Endicott. Because the Gulls opened up with non-conference losses to 2013 playoff teams Framingham State (20-17) and Hobart (28-18), it’s been easy to view the NEFC race as Western New England vs. MIT. But after winning at Coast Guard on Saturday, Endicott players on the bus ride back from Connecticut can refresh the scoreboard for updates on the the Golden Bears-Engineers 5 p.m. Saturday clash in Cambridge. When one loses, the Gulls will know whether to circle next week’s home MIT game or the one at WNEU in two weeks as their chance to take control of the NEFC.
Ryan’s take: Albion. Lycoming, which I talked about in my answer to the previous question, would definitely fit this category, but Triple Take is best when it uses the spread. In the MIAA, Albion is traveling to current conference leader Trine. Both teams are coming off of losses from last Saturday, but only Albion’s was to another MIAA team. A win here won’t put the Britons in the driver’s seat for the conference title, but it will give them a big lift toward that goal. The game should be competitive, but I like that Albion has cut its teeth against some solid competition without getting blown out (the most notable of which is the 42-31 outing against UW-Stevens Point). That should translate well on the field against Trine on Saturday.
Pat’s take: Ithaca. The Bombers are going to need more than a little help, but if they beat Salisbury on Saturday they’ll have knocked off one of the one-loss teams ahead of them. They have yet to play St. John Fisher and they’ll need help from someone remaining on Buffalo State’s schedule to take down the Bengals. But as I alluded to in the podcast earlier this week, Butterfield Stadium is the place where the triple-option goes to die. Never get turf, Ithaca.

Which team can forget about the playoffs after Saturday?
Keith’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors need a home win against Widener or they might be looking at an ECAC bowl invite while the Pride and Aggies play for an NCAA spot in Week 11. A win puts them right back in the MAC race, which as a 5-0 team before a 52-42 loss to Del Val two weeks ago, is probably where they feel they belong. The Warriors had only allowed 50 points total before their last game, but Widener, in a strange twist, is a also a defensive juggernaut (No. 4 nationally in scoring defense) under new coach Mike Kelly. Widener also has one turnover all season. The Pride has four road wins already, which should reduce the effect of having to travel to Williamsport, and Lycoming is the team that can’t afford to stumble again.
Ryan’s take: Castleton State. The Spartans are going up against Husson, the only team who has a perfect record in conference play so far. I expect Husson to keep it that way. Week after week, the Eagles, who are 4-1 overall, have been more convincing than are the Spartans. Castleton State could have position itself for a postseason opportunity with a win here, but the teams just appear to be going in different directions.
Pat’s take: The University of Chicago. Chicago has the better record, by a significant margin, but Washington U. has played a much tougher schedule and will definitely come in prepared. This is a rivalry game, to boot, and kicks off the University Athletic Association portion of the teams’s schedules. But the Maroons cannot afford to take another loss.

Which team won’t be playing for any titles this season, but will win by 10 points or more?
Keith’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons have shot themselves in the foot more than any team in the country this season, with a national-worst 25 turnovers (12 fumbles, 13 interceptions). But they face the least-prolific offense in the nation in UW-Eau Claire (three touchdowns and three field goals in six games). Considering the UW-RF defense has held St. John’s, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Platteville below 30, it shouldn’t take a career day to outscore the Blugolds. But it would help if they hang on to the darn ball.
Ryan’s take: DePauw. The Tigers picked up conference loss No. 2 last weekend, effectively knocking them out of any playoff or title discussions. But as any fan of rivalries knows, seasons can be salvaged by that Week 11 game. But before then, there’s still a lot of football to play, and I see nothing slowing a DePauw team when it lines up against floundering Allegheny this weekend. The Gators have lost by more than 10 in each of their defeats this season, so it seems likely that DePauw will be able to use Allegheny as a way to take out some frustrations.
Pat’s take: Heidelberg. Perhaps an obvious choice, but a week after the Berg pulled Cartel Brooks from the game after eight carries vs. Mount Union, they’ll be looking to get him as many carries and yards as possible against Marietta. 10 points or much much more.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Centre. Neck and neck with Carroll, also 6-0, for least-talked-about undefeated team, the Kentucky Colonels get a visit from 5-1 Rhodes this week. Two of the more alliterative and efficient quarterbacks in D-III face off in Centre’s Heath Haden and Rhodes’ Blake Box. But the big-picture interest here is how each team needs to beat the other for a notch on its playoff resume, and how Centre’s continued success could affect Pool B, which also features unbeaten Wesley and Texas Lutheran and 5-1 Framingham State, whose only loss is to Rowan.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury. The E8 is notoriously hard to get a handle on, and Salisbury’s performances have a big role to play in that. Mix a big loss to Wesley and a close loss to Buffalo State with wins over St. John Fisher and Utica, and we now have a team that might be climbing out of the hole it dug for itself early in the season. No team is spotless in the conference, meaning Salisbury has a real shot to claw into the postseason if it can extend its three-game win streak.
Pat’s take: Macalester. The Scots are likely to improve to 6-1 this week as they host Lawrence. They aren’t going to win by 60-plus points like Carroll did last week because Mac isn’t trying to impress anyone, but they should win and set up the showdown next week with Carroll for the lead in the Midwest Conference North Division.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient, and those that were terribly off base.

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.

Around the Nation Podcast: Shootout weekend

Marquis Barolle has already gone for 1,152 yards on the ground this season. (Texas Lutheran photo by Bailee Bauman)

Marquis Barolle has already gone for 1,152 yards on the ground this season. (Texas Lutheran photo by Bailee Bauman)

No offense, but if you like defense, there wasn’t a lot to like about Week 6. But if you like big totals on the scoreboard, then this was the week for you. From Texas Lutheran-East Texas Baptist to Delaware Valley-Lycoming and about 30 monkeystomps, Pat and Keith talk about it all in the Around the Nation podcast.

Meanwhile, why is offense seemingly so far ahead of defense in Division III football these days? Keith, the former Division III safety, gives us his two cents. And keeps it under two minutes, as the podcast rules require. 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: