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Triple Take, Week 8: The biggest week so far

Everything that Week 7 was not, in terms of big matchups, Week 8 is. There are no fewer than five nationally significant major clashes, plus several more games that will greatly impact conference races. Here’s a quick list, in rough order of importance:

No. 24 Texas Lutheran (5-1) at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-0)
No. 8 Wheaton (6-0) at No. 16 North Central (4-2)
No. 5 UW-Oshkosh (5-1) at No. 12 UW-Platteville (5-1)
No. 21 Rowan (5-1) at No. 4 Wesley (6-0)
No. 25 Whitworth (6-0) at No. 2 Linfield (5-0)

Those are the big five. For the uninitiated, one might assume the clash of undefeated teams is the biggest, but in all these matchups, there’s some nuance. Three top-five teams are at home, where they rarely lose. Meantime, UW-Oshkosh’s loss was to non-Division-III Robert Morris-Chicago, so when it comes to playoff positioning, we can toss the 23-21 Week 1 result right out the window. North Central’s two losses are to Platteville, in overtime, and to Wesley, on a two-point conversion with seven seconds left. The Cardinals blew three-touchdown leads in both games. Rowan’s loss is by three, to No. 23 Salisbury, Texas Lutheran’s is by eight to No. 14 Hardin-Simmons, and Platteville’s is by 10, to No. 6 UW-Whitewater. Platteville also beat Dubuque, which manhandled then-No. 8 Wartburg last week, 31-7 back in September.

In essence, each one of those 10 teams is powerful. One tier below, we have:

No. 10 Johns Hopkins (6-0) at Gettysburg (5-1)
Franklin & Marshall (5-1) at Moravian (5-1)
Delaware Valley (5-1) at No. 20 Albright (6-0)
Widener (4-2) at Stevenson (5-1)
No. 23 Salisbury (4-1) at Kean (4-2)
St. Lawrence (5-1) at Springfield (4-3)
Bethel (4-2) at No. 7 St. Thomas (6-0)
Hendrix (4-2) at Chicago (5-1)
Brockport State (4-2) at Cortland State (6-1)
Wesleyan (3-1) at Amherst (4-0)

Basically, it’s one big slobberknocker. And if the above intro just looks like a list of games, names and records to you, then that’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. Our job is to sort out this Battle Royale for you so you can make sense of Week 8. You’ll have your eyes on one game, more than likely, but what else should you be paying attention to? Below the radar or clearly on it, we’ll show you the way.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 Wheaton at No. 16 North Central. My initial instinct was to pick the Texas clash, because TLU and UMHB don’t have Pool A bids to fall back on if they lose. They’re essentially competing for the same Pool B spot, and there’s a Hardin-Simmons/UMHB game after this. But since Ryan has Texas covered, and a one-loss UMHB would be a Pool C (at-large) shoo-in, let’s shoot up to Chicagoland. The Little Brass Bell rivalry game is at North Central’s Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, meaning higher-ranked Wheaton will have to make the seven-mile trek. But it’s the status of Thunder QB Johnny Peltz (the Chicago Tribune says he’s “listed as the starter” after missing two games because of injury) and North Central’s desperation that makes this the game of the week. The Cardinals had both UW-Platteville and Wesley on the ropes and failed to deliver the knockout blow. NCC is clearly as talented as anyone, but a potential dream season goes up in smoke if they can’t finish a game. And even if NCC wins, 6-0 Illinois Wesleyan looms next week; IWU and Wheaton clash the week after.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Texas Lutheran at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor. It’s hard to see this matchup listed and not hark back to last year’s weather-delayed, two-day postseason game in which UMHB edged out a 27-20 victory. It was a starkly narrow outing compared with the Cru’s regular-season 72-16 win against TLU. UMHB is as threatening as ever, with one of the nation’s best scoring offenses; but not to be out-offensed (yes, I just verbed a noun), TLU is pretty skilled at putting points on the board, too. So this one will likely be which defense can step up and stop their opponent’s onslaught most effectively. UMHB, though less effective halting the pass than halting the run, still holds the upper hand on that front.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Oshkosh at No. 12 UW-Platteville. Like the game Ryan mentions, this is also a game which may carry the fate of multiple playoff hopefuls in the balance. If Platteville beats Oshkosh, and they and Whitewater each win out to finish with one D-III loss, it’s possible three WIAC teams could make the playoffs. If Oshkosh wins, Platteville is definitely still in the conversation thanks to its win against North Central and its early-season win vs. Dubuque, which now carries more weight than initially thought. But if Platteville wins, there’s a chance someone’s playoff bubble will eventually pop.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hartwick at Alfred. Maybe this is only surprising to those who have paid zero attention to the Empire 8 this season, since the conference race has been the demolition derby predicted in Kickoff ’15. In a conference where five of nine teams have four wins overall, six have exactly two conference losses and the leader (Cortland State) wins by miracle seemingly every week, the Hawks have yet to get in on the action. But even though Hartwick is 2-4, 0-4, they’re right there — Cortland and Morrisville State each won by just a field goal. So why wouldn’t Alfred (4-2, 2-2), which has played one-score Empire 8 games against Cortland and Buffalo State, play another tight one with Hartwick?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran at Chapman. Chapman has bumbled to a 1-4 record this season as it struggled to get its offense rolling and swapped out a starting quarterback midseason. It’s a far drop off of 2014, when the team’s only two losses came at the hands of Linfield. Meanwhile, Cal Lutheran at 4-1 has been a seesaw of performance this season, winning games but leaving doubt about how good they really are. This will be an interesting matchup that will do one of two things: give more credence to Cal Lutheran’s run or further muddy the SCIAC waters by letting another conference-title challenger hang around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Montclair State at TCNJ. Closer than expected for a .500 team vs. a winless team. Once upon a time this was the premier rivalry in New Jersey small college football, and while that was supplanted by Rowan-TCNJ, this is still the oldest. TCNJ has too much going for it this season to finish 0-10 (or 1-9 with a win vs. Southern Virginia). The Lions will pick off one of the next two opponents, I think, and it could be this week.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 7 St. Thomas. We’re going to have at least five top-25 teams lose this week, and in the spirit of taking a stab at a true upset, I’ll go beyond those 10 ranked squads playing other ranked teams. There’s no reason that the Tommies, a team I have higher on my ballot than their No. 7 overall ranking, should lose to this particular Bethel team. But the Tommies and Royals have such history — Bethel has won the past two, and knocked St. Thomas out of the 2010 playoffs with a 12-7 win that followed a 10-6 loss earlier in the year — that if there were a shocker in this week’s top 25, this would be it. Both teams average 237 rushing yards per game, but the Tommies’ defense only allows 62 to Bethel’s 145, so it would take a Herculean effort up front.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Albright. Opponent Delaware Valley has far exceeded my expectations this season. With as much as the Aggies had to replace because of graduations, I was expecting them to be closer to 3-3 at this point rather than 5-1. The game against Albright starts the difficult stretch of the season for DelVal, but if they really have been able to reload rather than rebuild, Albright will be the first step toward DelVal re-establishing itself at the top of the MAC.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 8 Wheaton. My concern here is the same I’ve mentioned previously, that Wheaton is nursing some injuries and will be missing its No. 1 quarterback for this game. That negates a significant advantage. No. 16 North Central is playing for its playoff life at the moment, and pride, and the Little Brass Bell, and to get the CCIW title. They’re quite battle-tested this season and a couple plays away from being in the top 10.

Pick a winner in a game that will affect a conference race later

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Loras, at Simpson. I’m going to again board the bandwagon of the high-octane Duhawks, who are standing next to Albion at the “National Leaders in Total Offense” party, next to Wesley, Mount Union, St. Thomas, Wheaton and Thomas More, like they belong there. And maybe they do. With Dubuque taking control of the IIAC race last week, and playing 1-5 Buena Vista this week, Loras needs to win at home against Simpson (both are 3-3, 2-1) to set up a crosstown showdown for a share of first place next week. I’m not saying if we did D-III Game Day that we’d come to Dubuque, Iowa next Saturday for Duhawks-Spartans, but I’m not saying we wouldn’t.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: St. Lawrence, at Springfield. The Liberty League is one of the many conference parity mashups that has been difficult to sort through this year. Hobart was king – they had been so for the past three seasons. But defeat at the hands of Springfield, as well as St. Lawrence’s rise the past two years, provides an air of uncertainty to the LL. There are many directions this conference could turn, including seeing Hobart again emerge on top. The St. Lawrence/Springfield matchup will hopefully help with some clarity and give a bit of momentum to the victor (who I’m projecting to be St. Lawrence).
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 7 St. Thomas, hosting Bethel. This game is for first place now, or a share of it, but I include it here because it definitely will affect it later as well, should Bethel win. St. Thomas has the opportunity to run the table and leave no doubt, but like the WIAC game I referenced above, there’s a chance this game could feature multiple playoff teams, or multiple playoff hopefuls.

Pick a team with a losing record to win

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors once ruled the MAC with an iron fist, but this year, everyone else is getting its shots in, as Lycoming is 1-5. Having lost nine in a row to the Warriors, FDU-Florham (2-4) would certainly like to join in. Both teams have lost three straight since beating Wilkes, but the Devils’ losses have been by a combined 147-27, with 33 points the closest margin. Lycoming’s past two losses were by three and four points, on the road, one in overtime. Look for RB Blake Bowman and WR Ryan Umpleby to have big games.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are playing a 5-1 Frostburg State squad, but it’s worth noting that the Bobcats’ record comes with the help of wins against the bottom three teams in the NJAC. Of course, there’s a chance that 5-1 mark will improve by beating the fourth-from-the-bottom team in the conference, but CNU has been at its best this season playing the toughest teams in the conference. CNU has a knack for stepping up when it needs to, whether that’s against Wesley or Rowan or Montclair or, I’m betting, against Frostburg.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific Lutheran. The winless Lutes — have you ever said that before this season? — have George Fox coming to town. GFU is 3-3, with two wins at home and a win at Arizona Christian. I wouldn’t have thought PLU would have to hope for a win vs. a second-year D-III program, but it might be necessary. My thinking here is that a young program might need a little more experience before it can go on the road and beat an established program, even if it’s a struggling one.

Pick a team with a winning record to lose

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Springfield, against St. Lawrence. The Pride upended the usual state of things in the Liberty League with a 35-point second half to rally past Hobart. That opened the door for itself, for Rochester, for RPI, and for St. Lawrence. The Saints right now are in the drivers’ seat, and with a respectable run defense (121 yards/game, 56th nationally) that should be familiar with Springfield’s successful attack, and a Liberty-League-best scoring offense (30.3 points/game), they can stay there.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman. As much fun as the Engineers have been having on their undefeated run, that streak stops against Franklin. It should be an interesting battle to see the HCAC’s top two quarterbacks sling it out against each other, but the bottom line is that RHIT hasn’t found an answer for the Grizzlies since 2009.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethel at No. 7 St. Thomas. This game has traditionally been a slog, a pound-the-rock type of fight, and I would not expect any different in 2015. St. Thomas is even more ground game-oriented than previously, and when I saw Bethel play earlier this season, their secondary particularly impressed me. But St. Thomas is more talented and should be able to take this game based on the strength of their defense, their run game and special teams.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: The Centennial Conference. Johns Hopkins has been in control so long that it’s easy to glaze over the CC when looking at which races will be contested. But with the 6-0 Blue Jays being trailed by three 5-1 teams and 4-2 Muhlenberg, this could get interesting, both locally and nationally. Between the four leaders, only JHU and Moravian have played so far (a 45-23 Hopkins win). This week, F&M goes to Moravian and JHU goes to Gettysburg, to give us a little bit more clarity in terms of what’s ahead. If two teams begin to emerge, we could be looking at an unexpected Pool C contender. If it really gets crazy, we could be looking at a half-Empire 8 situation. Or Johns Hopkins could just be saving its best for last. So basically, that’s why it’s on the radar this week.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve. Consider the game against No. 16 Washington and Jefferson to be Case’s opportunity to show what it’s really made of, to show everyone that it has put the season-opening loss behind it and that it deserves to be positioned at the top of the PAC. Most of all, this will be a big test of whether Case has turned itself around after a couple of sub-.500 seasons. W&J quarterback Pete Coughlin and rusher Ryan Ruffing will undoubtedly make it a tough game for a team like Case.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Western New England. Once upon a time this was our predicted game of the year in the NEFC. Now the game vs. MIT is just another step for WNEU on its way to a potential 10-0 season, and maybe a first-round home game vs. Husson. (Although Husson hasn’t won the ECFC yet and … well there are some other games to be played.)

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.

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Triple Take, Week 6: Crossing the halfway point

When Bridgewater State and Mass-Dartmouth kick off on Friday night, it will mark the beginning of Week 6 in Division III, the first of 106 games. In our traditional 11-week season, it also means we’ll be crossing the halfway point, and by now should have a fair idea of what teams are and are going to be this season. Most teams are playing their fifth game of ten this week, and a handful are playing game six.

But half a season remaining means there’s plenty of time to write the final chapters of these various stories, and for us to observe how they unfold. For some teams, it starts on Saturday, and that’s why one of the seven Triple Take questions this week asks whether a team will begin to change its fortunes, for better or worse, with this weekend’s result.

As always, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I provide primers on the week ahead. Add your picks in the comment section below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 14 Rowan at Salisbury. The host Sea Gulls are the nation’s second-most-successful rushing offense, at more than 391 yards per game. The Profs are top 20 against the run, allowing fewer than 77 yards per game. Classic ‘something’s got to give’ matchup. But it’s game-of-the-week quality for another reason: As members of the newfangled NJAC, both have No. 5 Wesley still ahead on the schedule and can’t afford the conference loss here. The Sea Gulls, whose Week 1 blown lead against Albright looks less bad with each passing week, won’t be in a good place for an at-large bid with another defeat either. Salisbury’s game at TCNJ last week was cancelled, so they’re surely itching to get back on the field.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 15 UW-Oshkosh. I had originally done a writeup on the Rowan/Salisbury game for this spot, but the more I thought of it, the more it seemed like that game was the lone possibility of an upset. So I moved that one to my upset game and figured it best to point to the one matchup between top-25 teams. The thing is, Oshkosh isn’t on my ballot yet because I haven’t seen what they’re capable of in a challenging situation. A win or a close loss could really win me over for the Titans. Whitewater has had two very difficult weeks back to back, and Oshkosh will make it a third. The question may be whether the Warhawks are thoroughly battle tested because of these games or whether they’re getting worn down by their constant intensity.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Washington and Lee at Hampden-Sydney. After Matt Pawlowski’s injury last week threw the Old Dominion Athletic Conference race even further open, this game follows right on its heels. It’s still early in the ODAC season and both teams are 1-0 in conference games, but W&L has taken down one of the contenders already. Like many option attacks, the Generals offense has had varied success over the years, but is on an upswing this year behind trigger man Charlie Nelson. The defense has given up a lot of yards on the ground this season, but it’s unclear what kind of rushing game the Tigers have to throw at them — H-SC did run a lot last week, but it was in the rain and in a run-out-the-clock type of game. It might not be a four-overtime game like it was in 2012, but I look for an entertaining battle.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Berry at No. 24 Chicago. The Maroons have cracked the D3football.com top 25 for the first time, a big accomplishment for the alma mater of the first Heisman Trophy winner and former Big Ten school coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Sparked by two huge Chandler Carroll rushing days, Chicago is averaging nearly 35 points per game and is 4-0. Berry has quietly won four straight since a Week 1 loss to Maryville, and allowed just 29 points in the process (7.5 per game). The Vikings probably aren’t stout enough defensively to hold Chicago down for a full game, but it could be low-scoring and close for a while.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Redlands at Cal Lutheran. At 1-2, the Bulldogs appear on paper to have had a slow start to their season, but when one of the early opponents is Linfield, that’s just how things are going to look. Previous years have started with losses, too, when the likes of Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Pacific Lutheran in its prime were on the schedule. Undefeated Cal Lutheran has been winning, but they’ve been doing it in an up-and-down fashion, having to mount a big comeback in one game and fend off a late surge in another. Knee-deep in conference play, these two teams now have a lot riding on this matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Stevens Point at No. 12 UW-Platteville. If nothing else, we’ll find out exactly how good the Pointers are and if they’ll be a threat to the Warhawks later, or to the Pioneers this week. Losing at Albion in Week 1 knocked Stevens Point off the radar and the Pointers haven’t played anyone since then to get themselves back on it, but they could do so on Saturday.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 18 Cortland State. The Red Dragons have won in overtime in back-to-back weeks and have been on an amazing run of last-minute finishes since last season’s Cortaca Jug game. Buffalo State is coming off a 30-7 win against St. John Fisher behind backup quarterback Aaron Ertel’s three-touchdown-pass, no-interception day. Jon Mannix, Jake Smith and Steven Ferreira have all scored game-winners for Cortland State, and against Framingham State, the punt coverage team preserved the victory while leading by five in the final seconds. One has to wonder how long Cortland’s heroics can go on.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Rowan. If not for a miniscule Week 1 stumble against Albright, Salisbury would be on a lot more people’s radars (and the fact that Albright is borderline top 25 makes that loss all the more forgivable). Rowan’s weakness is that it hasn’t been able to put up many points this season, especially in the past two weeks. The team relies too much on its defense (to its credit, a stout one). These two teams haven’t played each other since 2012, and it’s difficult to slow a triple-option team like Salisbury if you’re not used to playing against that kind of offense. If the Profs win, their No. 14 spot in the poll will be more than justified. If Salisbury wins, we will almost certainly see them back in the national discussion and will start analyzing their conference showdown with Wesley in November.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 14 Rowan. I have to go here, as well, to back up my take from the Around the Nation podcast. The question in my mind is how much Salisbury will have the ball — the Profs not only have the defense that Ryan notes, but they also have Wit Marcelin, who can help them control the clock and pound out long drives. The Profs won’t control the ball for the 41 minutes like they did against William Paterson, but if they can get close, they have a shot to control this game. But you can also bet that Rowan has scoured the video of that Salisbury-Albright game for what secrets it holds to beating the Sea Gulls. (And completely ignored the Salisbury-Southern Virginia video.)

Which team went into overtime last week but will be able to breathe easily late in this week’s game?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Lebanon Valley. Going from playing Lycoming one week to FDU-Florham the next isn’t the contrast is once was, but the Devils’ 40-7 loss to Delaware Valley looked like the FDU of old. The Flying Dutchmen are 2-3, but have played Franklin & Marshall, Stevenson and Widener closely. Lebanon Valley is also one of the five least-penalized teams in the country, one of the 25 best at third-down defense, and they rush for 251 yards per game. FDU-Florham (2-2) is getting an eye-opening season from wide receiver Malik Pressley, but he won’t be any help to a rush defense that is ranked 231st in D-III, allowing 259 yards per game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ripon. Part of why I’m zeroing in on the Hawks is because it’s probably been a couple of seasons since I mentioned them in Triple Take. Ripon has just one blemish this season, and week to week, they’ve been getting better at scoring points. Opponent Macalester doesn’t rate too highly statistically on stopping the run game, which is where Ripon’s strength lies.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Chapman. At 0-3, the Panthers already have lost more games than they did the previous two seasons combined. It shouldn’t take until October for a playoff team to get its first win the following season, but that’s one of the dangers of the nine-game schedule. Chapman should find Pomona-Pitzer an easier opponent than Linfield, Whitworth and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Pick a team that will benefit from playing at home in Week 6

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Amherst. Although Middlebury is way up in Northern Vermont, it’s still only a three-hour drive from Amherst. The Lord Jeffs’ crowd probably won’t rival one for a season-ending Williams game, but this might turn out to be the clash that decides the NESCAC, so some fans should show. I’m not sure if the Lord Jeffs’ offense under Matt Ballard still resembles a blur (please read this 2011 Chuck Klostermann piece about the offense under now-AD Don Faulstick if you never have), but Amherst has run 166 plays in two games (83 per) so it probably does. Its defense is also stout, as one would expect after opening with Bates and Bowdoin. But since the Lord Jeffs’ D has to deal with Middlebury QB Matt Milano (and perhaps Jared Leibowitz) in a big early-season game, it can’t hurt to have the home crowd on its side. (Our friends at Nothing but NESCAC preview the showdown here.)
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Emory and Henry. The Wasps’ game against Bridgewater is shaping up to be a good one, with both teams entering 3-1 — the lone loss for each of them comes against teams that are undefeated. Most interesting is that this year’s ODAC is similar to the untemplated ODACs we’ve seen in recent years, where teams at the bottom still compete hard and there is vulnerability at all stages. Hampden-Sydney wasn’t a clear favorite going into the season but is doing well, Washington and Lee is riding an undefeated streak, and Guilford isn’t going to slide much after just one loss — all of that in addition to E&H and BH2O both poised to challenge. If I were in this game, I’d want to be at home in front of my own fans. It’s a big one.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Although the Aggies were largely written off before the season started thanks to its graduation losses, then even more so after a Week 2 loss at Wilkes, Delaware Valley is still here and still in contention for the MAC title. The Aggies also control their destiny, with all the teams ahead of them in the standings still to come on their schedule. In this case, with Stevenson coming to Doylestown, Delaware Valley can get itself one step closer to returning to the top of the conference.

Pick a team whose result will change its fortunes to date

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Puget Sound. It’s been good to see the Loggers finally taste a bit of success, and with Whitworth good again, I can’t believe I’m highlighting this game. But the feel-good nature of the UPS’s start might take a hit when the Pirates cross Washington state for this one. The Loggers have managed to start 2-1 with a defense that’s 189th overall (435 yards/game) and 212th against the pass. The Loggers’ offense is almost all pass, and it’s worked so far. But Whitworth is 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense, with eight interceptions, while facing teams trying to come back from big deficits. The Pirates have also scored between 37 and 47 points in all of their wins.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: DePauw. DPU’s win streak likely ends here against No. 20 Wittenberg. But kudos to DePauw for even being a team in this position, a far cry from where they were just a couple of seasons ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the only loss they carry into their rivalry showdown with Wabash in Week 11.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Finlandia. Can’t go more than a few days without mentioning the first-year program and the Lions have a shot at the program’s first winning streak with Presentation coming to town. The Saints, whom you might remember once lived in Division III and the UMAC, are a more-established program, but not a strong one, and they have a 10-hour bus ride to get to Hancock, Mich. But even if Finlandia doesn’t win this game, I expect the Lions to be competitive for the second week in a row and that’s an important milestone for the program as well.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 15 UW-Oshkosh. Since a season-opening, non-division 23-21 loss to Robert Morris-Chicago, the Titans have outscored opponents, 190-14. The Titans are currently top 10 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense. Their competition (Finlandia, North Park and UW-Stout) has been so overmatched, it’s been hard to get a read on how the Titans would stack up against top D-III teams. UW-Whitewater is No. 1 because of reputation, as well as solid wins at Morningside and against UW-Platteville, so I’ll be watching both teams to see how they compare, how they affect the playoff picture and whether Saturday’s loser is an at-large bid candidate.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern. Very few teams come away from Alliance looking good, but the Polar Bears have several reasons to be happy with how this season is playing out. A win against Mount isn’t what I’m expecting, but if ONU can hold their own with no more than a two-score margin, they will be worth paying attention to.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific and No. 3 Linfield. Actually, rather than relying on radar, I’ll have them on visual, as I’ll be seeing the Boxers and Wildcats live Saturday afternoon in McMinnville, Ore. I’ll primarily be looking for something to make me feel confident in voting Linfield No. 1, but also looking to see Pacific for the first time.

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.

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Triple Take, Week 3: The competition gets rougher

In quite a few places from coast to coast this weekend, the time for mismatches is over. Whether conference play is getting underway like it is in the Empire 8 and OAC, or teams are looking for one more good non-conference test, like our games of the week below, teams are getting on their levels.

By that I mean they’re beginning to play the contests that will define them this season, the ones they’ll look back on with pride if they emerge victorious. Players don’t care about rivalries nearly as much as the alumni. They love the games that push them until the fourth quarter, until sweat drips down between their helmets and faces, and they can put their hands on their knees or hips and exhale, knowing that was tough. We’ve got a bevy of those in Week 3.

All of us who aren’t putting on pads this weekend get the benefit of watching. Since many of our 247 teams are in action, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I provide a seven-point primer on where to look for this weekend’s highlights. Enjoy.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 North Central at No. 22 Platteville. Here’s where we find out if these Cardinals and Pioneers are living off the reputations their predecessors built, or if they deserve their spots in the top 25. UW-Platteville outscored Buena Vista and Dubuque 80-20, and has the North Central game as a rugged warmup for a conference opener with No. 1 UW-Whitewater next week. QB Tom Kelly is completing 78 percent of his passes so far. North Central, meantime, rushed for 269 yards in its opener at 5.6 per carry, and hosts No. 5 Wesley next week. The road gets easier for neither, and a win here would be one to savor (and file away in case it is needed to convince the selection committee of at-large playoff spot worthiness).
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Hobart at No. 24 Ithaca. Despite going through a realignment and seeing traditional power St. John Fisher manhandled in Week 1, the Empire 8 looks to have maintained much of the top-to-bottom power it has shown in recent seasons. What hasn’t truly emerged, in my mind, is a front-runner. Ithaca has broken into the top 25, but Cortland State, Morrisville State, Alfred and Fisher are all getting votes. I think voters are uncertain which of them will break into the top of the pack. Ithaca, with a winning performance against Hobart, could set itself apart. Hobart, on the other hand, hasn’t moved much so far this year, but that could change (for better or for worse) based on the outcome of this game.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Maryville at Emory and Henry. These teams have played a string of good to great games each of the past three seasons, even as the relative fortunes of the two programs have shifted a couple of times. Last year this was an early-season low-scoring game, but it ended up being the only time E&H was held under 27 points. These are both teams who we expect to contend for their respective conference titles, and a good non-conference test for each.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Fitchburg State at Framingham State. If you follow the national scene, you’ll know that the hosts have been knocking on the top 25/could-win-a-playoff-game-or-two door for three years. The visitors are the team you probably mistake for Framingham, unless  you’re familiar with Massachusetts. The Falcons surged from 2-8 in 2013 to 6-4 last year by winning close games, although they trailed 35-6 during a 42-21 loss to Framingham last season. Fitchburg is 2-0 but hasn’t played nearly the level of competition that Framingham has, so I might have talked myself out of this being surprisingly close. I probably should have picked Endicott at St. Lawrence, based solely on the Gulls staying close to Hobart last week and their new head man knowing the Saints from having coached previously with the rival Statesmen.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Wesleyan at No. 17 Wittenberg. I almost picked this as my top 25 upset game but I couldn’t justify to myself that an upset would actually happen. After all, Witt’s margin of victory was 36 points last year and 38 points two years ago, and the Tigers are darn good again this season. I do feel that Witt will win, but I don’t think it will be as egregiously lopsided.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Widener at Albright. In fact, this is another candidate for me for game of the week. Albright is 1-0 after its comeback win vs. Salisbury on Opening Friday and Widener lost to Rowan, then pulled away from King’s with a big third quarter last week. I suspect Widener would be a slight favorite on the road here but I’m making this pick primarily to tell people not to rule Albright out.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 St. John’s, at Concordia-Moorhead. Because it’s his home base, Minnesota games are usually Pat’s department. But I’m taking this because it’s the right pick, and because I get to pontificate. D-III isn’t always fair. Certain teams just get a raw deal. Four straight seasons, Louisiana College went 7-3 and missed the playoffs by a hair. When they finally went 8-2, with losses only to Wesley and UMHB, their reward was a first-round exit at UMHB. The Wildcats and Concordia-Moorhead are my ‘best teams with the least to show for it’ over the past 10 years. The Cobbers have gone 8-2 with a win against St. John’s each of the past three seasons, and haven’t made the playoffs. With the Johnnies back in the top 10, and St. Thomas and Bethel also ranked, the MIAC is as brutal as ever. The Cobbers won their first two games 41-17 and 41-7, while St. John’s won by 36 and 49. This is the first stiff test for both, so I don’t know that the first two games give any indication about which way this will go.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 10 John Carroll. I’ve mentioned in an Around the Nation column that I’m more skeptical of JCU than it seems other top 25 voters are. Heidelberg (along with Ohio Northern in two weeks) poses one of the few hurdles to the Blue Streaks until they play Mount Union in Week 11. I would be okay being proven wrong by a strong John Carroll performance, but I’m not seeing it play out that way.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 18 Centre. I think this is another week that is relatively devoid of upsets but the Colonels had a lot of things go right last year on the way to going 10-0. Wash. U., on the other hand, is an opponent that Centre could be convinced to take lightly based on the fact that the Colonels won 50-20 last year. I’m not super convinced, but I didn’t think I could get away with saying “nobody” for all 11 weeks of the season. (By the way, Keith, pontificate all you want. I think the Cobbers’ streak ends here.)

Which team gets its first win this weekend?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Pacific Lutheran. After the Lutes more or less gave one away, albeit kindly to their Lutheran brethren from California, they have to face 2-0 Trinity (Texas). The Tigers’ struggles last season included a 38-14 home loss to PLU, but their 2-0 start this year includes a convincing 35-6 win against Willamette, the Lutes’ conference rival. But if Pacific Lutheran plays more like the team that built the 26-10 halftime lead at Cal Lutheran and less like the one that blew it, they’ll get their first win.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Capital. This pick is more a testament to a solid showing the Crusaders had in Week 1 against Wittenberg than it is to the fact that they’re playing Wilmington this week. Against Witt, Capital had a furious never-give-up type of rally in the fourth quarter, and that kind of determination will lead them to a solid season. Wilmington is 1-0 for the first time since 2002, a win that helped them snap a 23-game losing streak. While the Quakers should be feeling good about themselves because of it, they likely won’t be able to hang with Capital.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Lewis and Clark. One of the fun things about some of these games between teams elsewhere in the rankings is they can be wide-open, high-scoring, entertaining affairs, and that’s why I picked this game out. Roger Caron is hanging on in his tenure at Pomona-Pitzer, while Lewis and Clark hired former Linfield national champion coach Jay Locey. This game might not remain competitive in future years but right now, a game between two teams that have lost 27 of their past 28 games still has promise to be exciting. I attended this game six short years ago and it was fantastically entertaining.

Which team bounces back from a tough loss?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Augustana. I could have picked Salisbury at Montclair State and automatically have been correct, since both were hard-luck losers to MAC teams in their openers two weeks ago but one is bound to win. Yet the Vikings, who led Albion twice in the fourth quarter and scored 49 points, were even harder-luck losers. They have a chance to rebound against Loras, which scored 42 in a 10-point loss to UW-Stout and is facing a CCIW team for the second time in three weeks.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg. Yes, last week I picked the Mules to be one of the top 25 upsets, and they were. But I also see potential in this team, and I think they will use this week against McDaniel to regain their confidence and iron out their kinks ahead of the Johns Hopkins game on Sept. 26.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: St. John Fisher at Cortland State. I just have to envision that St. John Fisher used its bye week to correct some of the many things that apparently went wrong two weeks ago in that dismal loss at Thomas More. Now, unfortunately for the Cardinals, Cortland has spent the past two weeks winning games against teams in the top quarter of Division III, and doing it with either of their quarterbacks, so St. John Fisher has its work cut out for it. I just can’t imagine Fisher laying another egg.

Pick a team with a funny name but serious game this weekend.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Alfred.  The school with a name that sounds like your grandfather hosts an Empire 8 clash with Buffalo State. I originally wrote the question intending “serious game” to mean a team that’s going to play well, but every Empire 8 matchup this week looks serious, from a competitive perspective. Alfred has beaten Husson and RPI, while the Bengals have been off since shutting out Otterbein in the opener. Unrelated, I’m amused by four of the five water schools (the three Maritimes, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard) matching up this weekend.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers. The school’s Web site quotes ESPN saying, “How fierce can a corncob be? But that’s what makes the Cobber special — it symbolizes not only Concordia’s athletic spirit, but its overall good sense of humor.” We will see how fierce indeed as the team takes on No. 8 St. John’s on Saturday. The Johnnies have lost this matchup three years running.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: FDU-Florham. More about the school name than the rather pedestrian “Devils” nickname, but this is because the school used to refer to itself as FDU-Madison and it’s actually in Madison, N.J. But I guess “Florham” sounds better. If you can’t beat ’em, Florham. One more pun — that’s what the Devils’ passing offense has been doing the past two games, flooring ’em with lots of passes to Malik Pressley. We’ll see how King’s chooses to defend against him.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Becker and Nichols. Becker, which played its first game in 2005, has never won more than three games in a season and has only twice has had back-to-back wins. Nichols has won four games in the past five seasons. Both won convincingly last week, and by late Friday night, either the Hawks or Bison will be 2-1 and on a winning streak where fans have seen few.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Montclair State. I had the Red Hawks on my top 25 ballot at the beginning of the season, before they lost to Delaware Valley. They’re no longer there, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. I’m most curious to see how they fare against the triple-option from NJAC newcomer Salisbury. That offense is a beast unlike anything Montclair State is used to.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albion. Mostly I’m keeping my eye on this game to see if Albion, which hosts Lakeland, can significantly cut into that 50.5 points allowed per game. If the Britons can’t keep the Muskies down, then there might not be any hope for them defensively and they will have to rely on winning a shootout every week.

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.