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: 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: Predicting the winners — and the scores


The Framingham-Ithaca game is one of our first-round toss-up picks.
Framingham State athletics photo

For 32 teams across the country, the regular season has built up to this weekend and, if their hopes play out, more weekends to come. They now have the chance to prove their worth on the national stage.

D3football.com’s coverage will be going strong over the next few weeks, and that began with our 32-team capsules, one of the cornerstones of our postseason reporting. They offer insight on how to tell if a team is playing well or poorly, along with how far into the bracket we think each team can make it. We also took a long-view look at who might surprise and disappoint by the time the first three rounds are in the books.

The week’s features culminate with Triple Take, which we do a little differently for the postseason. From now until the second weekend in December, Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps will not only pick the winners of games in Triple Take, but we’ll also project the scores. It’s a transparent test of our perceptions week in and week out. (And we each make our picks independently.) Continue reading