Triple Take, Week 2: Welcoming the fashionably late

As noted in this space last week, 195 of the 247 Division III teams kicked off in Week 1. Among those who did not were quite a few prominent teams, including third-ranked Linfield and 22nd-ranked Chapman, who open up against one another this week, plus No. 1 UW-Whitewater, No. 5 Wesley and No. 13 North Central.

Of the 195 seasons that got underway, 97 started with a loss, which makes Week 2 a chance to wipe away the disappointment of Week 1. There are some top-25 clashes, intriguing non-conference matchups and more, and we’ll get you prepared for it all.

With so many games each week, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I boil it down, independently providing our seven-point primers for games to focus on, where to watch for upsets, and other assorted predictions. Then in Monday’s podcast, we run back where we were right and where we were way off. If you’d like to play along, leave your picks in the comments below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 22 Chapman at No. 3 Linfield. It’s a toss up between this and Wartburg-Bethel. And the last game of the weekend, Pacific Lutheran at Cal Lutheran, is an equally intriguing NWC-SCIAC clash. But there’s just so much at stake when the Panthers visit the Wildcats. D-III’s West Coast and Deep South “island” teams are pretty much guaranteed to match up with one another in the first round of the playoffs, unless an odd number of them make the field of 32. (This map is out of date, but will help you visualize how concentrated D-III schools are). So Chapman and Linfield, even if one goes undefeated and the other ends up with only Saturday’s loss, are basically playing for the chance to host in the first round of the playoffs. In their opener. Which is absurd, but reality. Last season, Chapman hosted and led in the second half of a 21-14 loss to Linfield, won every other game and in Round 1 road game, lost to the emotionally charged Wildcats, 55-24.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 22 Chapman at No. 3 Linfield. It’s opening day for both of these teams. Linfield lost a lot from last year, but the Wildcats are a team that perennially reloads rather than rebuilds. With All-American Alex Hoff on the defensive line and dual-threat quarterback Sam Riddle driving the offense, McMinnville will be a hard place to win. Chapman graduated its quarterback but is replacing him with a player who is already 3-0 as a starter — dating from a stint in the middle of 2012. The Panthers, like Linfield, lost a lot, but they don’t likely have the same depth to overcome such a hit.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wartburg at No. 19 Bethel. They’re probably expecting me to take this game anyway, and since it’s practically in my backyard, that’s even better for me. But neither team looked invincible in Week 1. Wartburg needed a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter to beat Augsburg, a team which is further down the MIAC ladder than Bethel is (last year’s Week 11 result notwithstanding), while Bethel showed some weaknesses on defense at UW-Stout that, if nothing else, last year’s Wartburg team would just destroy them for. Bethel had three buses of students at Stout so you know they’ll show up at home. Should be interesting.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Ursinus at Gettysburg. At first glance, this seems like a team always knocking on the door at the top of the Centennial against one usually in the middle of the pack. After Week 1, when the Bullets put up 678 yards and 49 points on Bridgewater (a team it lost to last season), and Ursinus couldn’t score until overtime, this becomes a more intriguing matchup. The Bears beat D-II Millersville in the opener, though, and handled Gettysburg, 31-14, last season. I see it more like a one-score game this time around.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at Whittier. Should we Fear the Poet, as Whittier hopes? The SCIAC doesn’t always match up well against the NWC, but Whittier is returning most of its defense and has a lot of players competing for the right to start in key positions on offense.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Susquehanna at No. 11 Johns Hopkins. Sure, I’ll bite on the possibility that Susquehanna, which defeated Lycoming last week, has a shot to make this a good game vs. the Blue Jays, who have won 39 of their past 40 Centennial Conference games. If nothing else, just impressed with Tom Perkovich’s debut as Crusaders head coach and hoping to get more info on Susquehanna.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Muhlenberg. No. 18 Texas Lutheran has a tough challenge, but the Mules are most vulnerable, against Franklin and Marshall, which returned 17 starters and put up 501 yards and 42 points in Week 1 (while allowing 540 and 37 to Lebanon Valley). The Mules had no such problems, allowing fast-paced Wilkes to convert just 6 of 26 third and fourth downs in their 35-7 Week 1 win, but I’ve got to pick someone. The rest of the top 25 looks liable to cruise to victory, or is in a situation where a loss would hardly be an upset, so I guess I’ve earned a spot on Muhlenberg’s bulletin board/dartboard.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Muhlenberg. The Mules dropped this one at Franklin and Marshall in 2013, and the question is whether lightning will strike twice in that span. Both teams had good Week 1 wins, so this will be an exciting matchup to take in.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 18 Texas Lutheran vs. Hardin-Simmons. I actually feel pretty similarly to last week, where I expect a lot of chalk in the Top 25, but Hardin-Simmons intrigues me. (Although I got an e-mail this summer asking me, “how Hardin-Simmons continues to get mention in preseason polls despite the fact they haven’t finished in the top two in the ASC in so many years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008?”) Bottom line on that is that we still think the ASC is capable of having more than one or two good teams. One thing in TLU’s favor is that HSU will have to go from playing a bottom-25 team to playing a top-25 team in consecutive weeks and that’s not an easy transition. Nor is stopping Marquis Barrolle.

Which team that did not play in Week 1 turns in the most impressive Week 2 win?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 North Central. The sense of urgency should be there for the Cardinals, who open up this week against 1-0 Trine and play No. 25 UW-Platteville and No. 5 Wesley the next two weeks. Trine, under new head coach Troy Abbs, was a 38-14 winner in Week 1, rushing for 403 yards against Manchester. It will be Jeff Thorne’s first game as NCC head coach, and although he has a ranked team and 16 starters back to work with, holding the Thunder under 100 rushing yards in a win would be impressive.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern. Any time you can take down an Empire 8 team that finished 7-3 last season, it’s a quality win. The Polar Bears play Utica, and this will give us a good barometer for what heights ONU might be able to ultimately reach in the conference standings.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield. Cats roll. They’re on an even playing field since No. 22 Chapman didn’t play last week either. No big fancy analysis for me here — I just think Linfield is helmet and shoulder pads above Chapman, if not perhaps the best team in all of D-III football.

Which non-conference clash will have the biggest ripple effect?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 18 Texas Lutheran. In 2013, the Bulldogs’ only loss was a Week 10 73-44 shocker at Hardin-Simmons. TLU returned to the site of that beating in Week 2 of last year and won, 37-14. Finally, they get the Cowboys in Seguin. After a Week 1 win in which they were tied with Sul Ross State at 27 to start the fourth, the Bulldogs have every reason to be amped. HSU hung 77 on Southwestern in Week 1, but if they can’t hang a loss on TLU (which plays Louisiana College and No. 4 UMHB, among others, before finishing with their three SCAC opponents), it could have wide-ranging effects. ASC and SCAC are both angling for the one Pool B bid guaranteed to non-automatic bid conferences, so anyone else in Pool B is going to want to see those teams beat up on one another.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Trine at No. 13 North Central. In Kickoff 2015, I pegged Trine to surge this year, and cutting their teeth this early in the season against a power like North Central will be telling. And these two teams aren’t annual foes, so there could be surprises on both sides of the ball.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albion at Augustana. Here we have two teams who had impressive Week 1 performances. Albion put up 65 points in a win vs. UW-Stevens Point and reminds us that the Britons are one of the big dogs in the MIAA despite all the buzz about everything Olivet has returning. Augustana rolled out its new offense after taking more than a decade to painfully back away from the Wing-T that helped define the program during its heyday and beat a Mount St. Joseph team that would like to think it can win the HCAC this season. I’ll be interested to see how these two end up after Saturday.

Which matchup of in-state opponents intrigues you most, and who wins?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley at Wilkes. There are lots of better games that are mentioned elsewhere or are a state border away from fitting here (Cortland State-Framingham State; Lycoming-Stevenson; Rose-Hulman-Illinois College). I’m intrigued by this one following Del Val’s 27-24 season-opening win against Montclair State. Duke Greco led the Aggies to a win despite just two starters back on offense and nine overall, and I’m interested to see more of the new Del Val. Meantime, Wilkes can get a lot of plays off (they ran a record 113 against the Aggies last year), but it hasn’t translated into many points. I’ll pick Del Val.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Berry. We’re only in Week 2, and already a state title is about to be decided. What’s not to like? While Berry is on the road upward as its fledgling team gets older and gains more experience, I’ll give the nod to LaGrange in this matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Cornell at Coe. It’s hard to tell just from last week’s blowout at the hands of Wheaton exactly how good or bad Coe is in 2015. But one thing we do know, in addition to the 52-14 loss, is that Coe started camp with just 85 players, which is a low number for them. (I know, Cornell started with even fewer, but that’s their status quo.) Cornell last beat Coe in 1999, and that’s a long time to lose to your rival. Readers of Kickoff got Coe’s take on this rivalry game. It will be interesting to see if these teams, which were 79 spots apart in our preseason ranking, are any closer than that.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Christopher Newport. Facing what seems like a weaker-than-usual Hampden-Sydney team might not tell us much about what the Captains will look like against NJAC competition, but I’ll be watching anyway. CNU dominated the first half of a 31-21 Week 1 win at TCNJ, while H-SC played a top-10 team in Wabash. I’ll also be watching the Secretaries’ Cup and Coe-Cornell for rivalry purposes, as well as Albion-Augustana and Rose-Hulman vs. Illinois College. Those last two combined for 142 points in last year’s clash, reminding us that epic D-III games can come from anywhere, and was the subject of a Kickoff ’15 prediction question about how many they’ll combine for this time. I’ve got 67.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran. In reading Kickoff 2015, there was something about Cal Lutheran that intrigued me, something that made me feel they’ll improve significantly over last season. Maybe it’s just that their young team is older and wiser, or that there isn’t a clear front-runner in the SCIAC, or that their first opponent (Pacific Lutheran) is going through a rebuilding year. If the Kingsmen can end the day Saturday (which will be Sunday on the East Coast) with a win, be prepared to see a team making noise once again.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Coast Guard at Merchant Marine. Not sure I need to say much more — this is a great rivalry between two of our maritime academies and I’m looking forward to a couple of years from now when these teams are both in the NEWMAC and this rivalry game can be pushed back to Week 11 where it belongs. A decade ago, when Coast Guard abandoned ship on the Liberty League and set sail for the smoother waters of the NEFC, this game was sandwiched into non-conference play, which hurts the exposure of this great matchup.

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.

ATN Podcast: Who’s still in contention?

Cody Pohren
Cody Pohren and Pacific Lutheran benefited from the double losses in the MIAC. How?
PLU athletics file photo by John Froschauer

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We’re down to a final week, with a number of teams left in contention unlike any we can remember. This week’s losses change how some of the teams line up in the pecking order for the seven at-large bids, and if you are new to this process in Division III football, this is your primer, your instruction manual, perhaps your Selection Sunday master class.

Keith and Pat talk about that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast, sponsored by the City of Salem, hosts of Stagg Bowl XL. Tickets on sale now!

Plus there are a bunch of automatic bids left to be handed out, and some were handed out Saturday in interesting ways. We talk about what’s left to be decided as well, including the indecipherable mess that is the North Coast Athletic Conference. Pat and Keith talk about a lot of teams this week — check the tags at the bottom of this page to find out who is on the topics list.

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Postgame show

Here’s this week’s reports and highlight packages.

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Triple take: Surges and upsets

Pacific Lutheran
Brandon James ran for 77 yards in Pacific Lutheran’s opener. Are the Lutes ready to pick up where they left off in 2010?
Pacific Lutheran athletics photo

We’ve seen what teams can do, and some may already be grinding their way into conference play. And, perhaps most exciting of all, upsets happening around the nation have been forcing us to reshape our notions of who will compete and who will get left behind as we inch toward the playoffs.

In each of the first two weeks, a national Top 4 team has been knocked off. Is being that high in the rankings is a curse? If so, that means Mary Hardin-Baylor and St. Thomas, as well as Division III’s reining purple powers, will be fending off the ghosts this week.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you an inside look at some of the captivating games taking place tonight and Saturday.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Lebanon Valley at No. 25 Delaware Valley.
Recent matchups between these two have been far more lopsided than they should have been, but the Aggies no longer have big-gun quarterback piling up the stats. DelVal is 2-0, but the team’s total margin of victory is 2 points. Lebanon Valley, meanwhile, has been finding the end zone fast and frequently so far in their undefeated debut weeks. The X-factor? It could be penalties. Both teams have lacked some discipline in that category so far this year, with the Dutchmen at six per game and the Aggies at eight per game.
Keith’s take: No. 18 Kean at No. 11 Cortland State. We’ll find out quickly if last week’s big upset was due to Kean being top 25-worthy this season, or Wesley being weaker than normal. Cortland State has played Kean every year since 1996, according to the game notes, but has only lost to the Cougars once, at home in ’09. For Kean, this is as long a road trip as it’ll have in the NJAC, and it’s an opportunity to set up a great season; its next five games are against teams it should beat. Defense will be the key on Saturday; both are opportunistic teams in the turnover battle.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at Concordia-Moorhead. It’s probably been a pretty interesting week for the Johnnies after getting blown out at home by UW-Eau Claire last week. The Johnnies have won five of six in this series and 15 of 18 and coach Terry Horan was a wide receiver for the Cobbers the last time they won at home against St. John’s (1986). Last year’s meeting resulted in 70 combined points (42-28 St. John’s) and 950 yards of total offense.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Anderson.
Despite being a lower-tier HCAC team, Anderson has had a knack for being able to put up some significant points against the Lions. And Anderson has many of its core skill players back to make even more dents in the MSJ defense.
Keith’s take: Pacific Lutheran at No. 19 Cal Lutheran. When those Lutherans get together, things can get out of hand! In all seriousness, PLU doesn’t come in ranked, but it does come in having held Hamline to 144 yards in an opening-game shutout. Cal Lutheran, and particularly Eric Rogers, who scored one touchdown rushing and had another receiving against Linfield in the opener, is more of a threat than anyone the Lutes saw in Week 1. Yet it appears PLU picked up right where it left off after an 8-1 season. Although CLU should be hungry for its first victory, its home crowd might be a little more sparse than usual with the game moved to Moorpark College because construction at the on-campus stadium is incomplete.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Wittenberg at Washington U. It’s a big test for the 2-0 Bears, who have beaten Knox and Rhodes but now face a team that has won 22 consecutive regular season games. If there’s a time for Wash U to knock the Tigers off, it’s this year, with 12 senior starters and seven consecutive home wins. Last year this game was not competitive at Wittenberg, with the Tigers winning 37-7, but the Tigers have also had some close calls on the road in the past season-plus.

Most likely Top 25 to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Ohio Northern.
It’s not as if either the Polar Bears (with a win over N.C. Wesleyan) or opponent Otterbein (with a win over Gallaudet) were overly impressive in Week 1. ONU may not be able to slow Ott’s passing game come Saturday, and it’s tough for them to be guaranteed the edge in the turnover battle. Still, the Cardinals should not have been pushed into overtime by Gallaudet, so there are clear flaws to be worked out in that corner, too. Each team has had the past two weeks to make repairs.
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wheaton, by UW-Platteville. There are quite a few vulnerable top 25 teams, but they aren’t facing a real rugged slate of opponents this weekend. Platteville usually fits in the “not rugged” category as well, but after allowing just 6 points in two wins, outrushing UW-Stevens Point and Buena Vista 197.5-66.5, Wheaton could be in for a much tougher game than last year’s 51-20 victory. The game is a night kickoff at Platteville’s 10,000-seat Pioneer Stadium to boot.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Trine, by UW-River Falls. The Falcons were in the game for a half last week against St. Thomas, which isn’t really an indicator of future success, but I believe that River Falls is ready to bounce back at least a little in its first year under coach Matt Walker. Trine has won two games but not in convincing fashion against teams it would normally beat in a convincing manner.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Adrian.
It’s been several years since the Bulldogs started a season 2-0. Brandon Miller has proven himself a very capable quarterback, Damon Brown a skilled rusher and the defensive line a stingy bunch. The team’s toughest test of the season comes now against Augustana, whose 0-2 record is deceiving. The Vikings, armed with a pass game that will put a lot of pressure on the Adrian defensive backs, have played two solid teams close.
Keith’s take: St. Vincent. After giving it to FDU-Florham pretty good in a 55-3 victory, let’s see how the Bearcats deal with success. The program has not won consecutive games since its revival, but with trips to Thiel and Geneva (both 0-2) on deck, three in a row is possible. Of course, the Tomcats and Golden Tornadoes are probably licking their chops as well; PAC teams are used to St. Vincent being easy pickings.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Hampden-Sydney. Truth be told, the Tigers should be on your radar already, but wins against the USA South don’t always mean much on the national scene. They have one last USAC opponent this week, Ferrum, then travel to Huntingdon next week.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: Franklin and Marshall, vs. Ursinus.
Both F&M and Ursinus got the season started on a rough foot. But I think the Diplomats have the ability to do a better job of stopping Ursinus’ balanced but average offense than the Bears do of stopping F&M’s pass-heavy attack. Ursinus has yet to really break out of the middle of the pack in any significant statistical category, showing that the need remains for them to light a spark before they’ll be taken seriously as Centennial competitors. For F&M, it’s all about follow-through. Seven trips to the red zone and only two touchdowns? That has to improve if F&M wants to win some games this season.
Keith’s take: Coe, vs. Simpson. Both the Kohawks and Storm were blown out against a top-five team in Week 1 and lost a close one last week. Coe, ranked in the preseason, comes back home against a team it beat 42-21 last season. Coe has rushed for 206 yards per game and 5 per carry; Simpson allowed 411 and 7.6 against Bethel and could be similarly vulnerable in the ground game this weekend.
Pat’s take: Wooster, vs. Oberlin. Although the Yeomen are 1-0 themselves, with a 42-0 win against Kenyon, Wooster will still have an easier time than it had against Baldwin-Wallace and Wabash to open the season. The Scots will need to do a better job hanging onto the ball, though, having turned it over eight times in the first two weeks.

Which upset winner from last weekend will have the biggest letdown?
Ryan’s take: UW-Platteville.
In Wheaton’s opener, the Thunder posted 570 yards. Passing, rushing, it was all good news for this stalwart of the CCIW. After Platteville shocked UW-Stevens Point into a lopsided affair last week, don’t expect Wheaton to be as likely to fall. Platteville’s undefeated season ends here.
Keith’s take: Utica. Perhaps the Pioneers have risen enough and Union has fallen to the point where last week’s 28-27 Utica win is no longer an upset. But this week has letdown written all over it, with a lengthy road trip down to Maryland, where the Pioneers may be walking into a beehive of emotion. It’s Frostburg State’s first home game since teammate Derek Sheely died in the preseason. Fans are asked to wear white. On the field, the Bobcats have looked potent offensively; they racked up 411 yards in a losing effort at Springfield last weekend.
Pat’s take: McMurry. Mary Hardin-Baylor is a much better team than UT-San Antonio, regardless of the number of scholarships either one offers. But the War Hawks shouldn’t be intimidated by anything the Cru throws at them, having gotten knocked around hard by a Top 25 FCS team in Week 1 and having played in front of 30,000-plus in Week 2.

If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?
Ryan’s take: A Cardinal from Catholic.
For two weeks in a row, quarterback Greg Cordivari has led his offense on last-minute, game-winning drives to usher in a team that’s 2-0 instead of the other way around. Being a CUA fan has been a heart-pounding feat so far this season. Tonight, Carnegie Mellon is on tap.
Keith’s take: A War Hawk from McMurry. I see what you did there. Interesting question. After an 82-6 loss to one D-I-FCS program and a televised win over another last week, I’d be a War Hawk so I can take confidence from that win over UT-San Antonio into the atmosohere under the lights at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor and see if that helps our team, um, soar.
Pat’s take: Hawk. The one from Huntingdon. This weekend is Huntingdon’s chance to write perhaps the final chapter in the Bible Bowl, a rivalry between the Hawks and crosstown rival Faulkner. An NAIA member, Faulkner is seeing its conference schedule expanded to 10 games next year, and the rivalry needs to go. But the game doesn’t help Huntingdon’s playoff chances anyway, and in addition, Huntingdon has won all four meetings so far.