Triple Take: Let’s get this 2015 thing started

It’s been a long time since we last saw a Division III game that counted. The Stagg Bowl was way back on Dec. 19, a mere 258 days ago. It’s been a longer wait for the 240-odd teams whose seasons ended before Salem, and still longer for McMurry, which returns to D-III after leaving following the 2011 season. Belhaven comes over from NAIA, and has never played a D-III game; Neither has Finlandia, which plays its program’s first game Saturday against Alma.

There are six Thursday night games, 12 on Friday and 92 on Saturday. Subtract the seven non-D-III opponents, and 195 of the record 247 teams that will play D-III football this season are in action on opening weekend.

Enjoy it. Whether you’re playing, watching or involved in game day some other way, it’s a three-hour break from everything else in the world. It’s a chance to see old friends and make new ones, to watch some players dig deep and pull out something from inside that they didn’t even know they had. It’s a chance to watch student-athletes who won’t forgo the first part of that deal.

I played tackle football for 13 consecutive seasons, between Pop Warner in Somerville, Mass., high school in Runnemede, N.J. and at Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va. In that picture below, which was taken in one of my first seasons writing for, I’m 23. Which reminds me that I’ve now not been playing football for more consecutive autumns than I played. All of which is to say, this weekend, if you’re a player, coach, parent or fan, take it all in and savor it. It goes by quickly. Teams only get eight to ten game days a season, unless they play really well and advance through the playoffs. But as those accustomed to playing 15 weeks would tell you, greatness happens one game at a time (a UW-Whitewater standard) and starts with respecting your opponent (something I’ve heard more than once at Mount Union).

Respect the game. Enjoy it. Savor it. Finally, it’s back.

— Keith McMillan

Triple Take is our weekly predictions column. Typically it appears on Friday morning, but with games kicking off on Thursday night, we’re presenting it a few hours early.

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 St. John Fisher at No. 23 Thomas More. You can’t really go wrong with a clash of ranked teams to kick things off. There’s lots to see here; The Saints (that’s Thomas More, not the school with ‘Saint’ in its name) opened with Wesley last year and stood up to the national power in a 35-21 loss. This game will be a challenge as well, and maybe one the Saints can pull off on the way to a PAC title. But TMC will have to do it without graduated All-American running back Domonique Hayden. SJFC is among the best in an expanded Empire 8, and the Cardinals will have a rough game nearly every week. They can’t afford to start 0-1.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 10 Wabash at Hampden-Sydney. As a Wabash grad, I’m coming out of the Triple Take gate playing the homer card. Wabash will probably be a better team than it was in 2014; Sydney is projected to be down a little. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of this matchup. As I talked about last year in my preseason Around the Nation column, the meeting between them is historic, as Wabash and H-SC are the only two D-III schools that abide by an all-male classroom atmosphere. And this is the first home-and-home series between them on the gridiron. I had talked with coaches and administrators at the schools as far back as 2008 about something like this taking place, and I’m excited that their enthusiasm translated into reality. Last year finished with a 34-21 Wabash win in Indiana. Kudos to both schools for putting a challenging nonconference game on their schedules. (Also, this is where I’ll be spending opening weekend.)
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 12 Widener. There are a lot of good games this week, right out of the chute. I like this one, in part because it’s now Rowan’s only non-conference game, and I wouldn’t mind at all if these teams played every year. There’s reason to have at least a couple of questions about Widener this year, based on who graduated, but I’ll also be intrigued to see how Rowan’s retooled offense works out. Goodbye spread, hello power offense. Should be interesting. Rowan would like nothing more than to slip back across the Commodore Barry Bridge with a signature win.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: MIT at WPI. The Engineers … oh wait, they’re both Engineers. MIT had a magical undefeated season last year, but they pulled out multiple close wins, and that will be difficult to replicate, especially with five of the first six games on the road. I think they do it once more in this Week 1 Friday nighter, even though Zach Grasis and WPI will grind it out and make MIT earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Augustana. I’m not ready yet to buy into this Lions team as being one of the better ones of recent years — we’ll see in a few weeks if they’re competing for the HCAC’s title. They lost a lot of starters and will have to break in a new (potentially young) quarterback. Last year, Mount St. Joseph showed no mercy against Augustana, being up 37-17 going into the fourth quarter before surging to a 58-25 win. Augustana has a new coach and is tailoring its offensive approach, giving them room to put more points on the board this time around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Alma at Finlandia. I mean, Finlandia isn’t surprisingly close to anyone in a geographic sense. Alma is the closest in-state rival and the Scots will still need to take a seven-hour bus ride to get to Finlandia. (I’m closer and I live two states away.) I’m hoping for a good game in Finlandia’s first-ever football game. A win might be too much to ask for but Alma (six wins in four seasons) hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire of late.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 12 Widener, against Rowan. Considering Thomas More over St. John Fisher would be fudging, this is the only logical option. The Profs bring back their star on offense, might find a role for a former star from Lafayette, and will take a short trip over the bridge, possibly bringing along the support a home team would have. Rowan isn’t favored against a Widener team that was in last season’s final eight, but they have a shot.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. There’s not much jumping out in the inaugural week of college football as a safe — or even likely — bet for this category. Bethel graduated its conference MVP-winning quarterback, so if there’s ever going to be rust on the wheels that a team like UW-Stout could exploit, it’s going to be in Week 1.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: None. And considering this is the first week, and the first-week poll always has the most questions, that’s saying something. I’ve mentioned Widener above and there’s another team out there who tends to struggle with its Week 1 opponent but honestly, they always win when I pick against them so it’s time to stop trying. Chalk in Week 1.

Which team that finished strong in 2014 is going to have the biggest Week 1 letdown?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Curry. The Colonels won their final three after an 0-7 start, but it was slightly misleading, because two of the wins were against 1-9 Nichols and 3-6 Maine Maritime. To start 2015 off right, Curry must win under the lights on Friday night at Bridgewater State, which brings back seven on each side of the ball from a 5-5 team. The Colonels have about the same number of starters back, and the benefit of unfamiliarity; The schools, not far from one another in Massachusetts, south of Boston, did not play last season.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rowan. The Profs ended the last regular season with three straight wins, a share of the NJAC conference title and a trip to the playoffs. But also like last year, they’ll kickoff another season going up against Widener. The thoroughly battle-tested Pride are shaping up to be just as formidable as they proved to be in 2014, and the Profs are going to have a tough go of it right from the start.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Morrisville State (vs. St. Lawrence). This is the week we’ll get to find out how much of the Mustangs’ 2014 surge was the Lemar Johnson show. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence has legitimate reasons to think it can contend for the playoffs, and not in a 5-5, manage-to-snag-the-automatic-bid way. SLU slipped early last season but isn’t likely to let that happen again.

Which lopsided matchup would you most like to be more competitive?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No.13 Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon. In Week 1 last year, my alma mater was a seven-win team with its star quarterback back, going up to face the perennially ranked Blue Jays. They lost, 42-3. The quarterback is now a member of the coaching staff. And Johns Hopkins is still ranked 13th. Do I need more than that?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Greensboro. I’m certainly not begrudging Guilford for stepping up its game and showing on the field that it is ready and determined to make a playoff run this fall. But this crosstown rivalry represents something more than just a W or an L for the teams — it’s also charity event known as the Gate City Soup Bowl. People who come get their admission fee waived if they bring canned goods to donate. Success of the food drive means getting people to the stadium; getting them to the stadium means presenting them with an exciting game to watch. Guilford has owned most of the history of this series, capped with last year’s 52-0 victory. It would be fun to see these two teams grind out a close matchup in this 19th meeting, but I fear that may not come to pass.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethany at No. 2 Mount Union. I mean, just for variety’s sake. Let’s see the new Mount Union offense put through its paces for more than a couple of quarters. Not expecting anything outlandish, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the Machine need to disengage the cruise control?

Pick a color: Green or yellow

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Yes. We’ll be watching to see if Illinois Wesleyan (green) is a CCIW challenger, in its opener against usually-the-class-of-the-HCAC Franklin (yellow). Since I’m supposed to choose, give me our preseason No. 59 IWU, with its eight returning starters on offense and nine on D, in a mild upset over No. 50. Kickoff projected the Titans to go 8-2 off a 4-6 2014.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Green, of Belhaven. Good riddance to the NAIA and welcome to Division III! And, of course, welcome back to D-III Coach Mumme. It’s likely the Blazers will begin their tenure here with a win.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Green. With St. Norbert, under a new coach again, its third in three years, hosting Carthage, which has fallen so far that they’re a unanimous pick to finish behind North Park, the CCIW’s doormat of the decades.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: McMurry. Both teams in the St. Lawrence-Morrisville State game intrigue me, but since Pat touched on that one above, and Ryan mentioned Belhaven, let’s go with the War Hawks. I’m curious about what kind of team they’ll field after recruiting scholarship athletes in Texas for a few years, only to lose some of them when they moved back to a non-scholarship model.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs made some noise en route to their best performance in the MAC ever. But can they sustain having improved their record so drastically? Moreover, can they really make the surge count and compete for a title spot (or at least a Pool C bid)? The opener against N.C. Wesleyan is winnable, but it’ll be more challenging this year to put up 40 points like in 2014.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Also green, and yellow (OK, really it’s gold). And those things I said about what Widener lost over the offseason go triple for Del Val, which lost an NFL prospect wide receiver, one of its best-ever quarterbacks, and basically starts over in terms of returning starters. But Montclair doesn’t have the type of offense that will let them run away and hide from people, so I expect the Aggies to hang in this game and keep it close longer than one might otherwise expect from them this season. Should be an interesting year in Doylestown, Pa.

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.


Around the Nation Podcast: Down to 16

Linfield honored fallen teammate Parker Moore before taking the field against Chapman, then did so again on its first offensive play from scrimmage. (Photo by B. Scott Presley,

Linfield honored fallen teammate Parker Moore before taking the field against Chapman, then did so again on its first offensive play from scrimmage. (Photo by B. Scott Presley,

We can’t have 16 great first-round games. It just can’t happen — if it does, the NCAA committee would have had to really screw up its job, because there are supposed to be mismatches. But even from a blowout, we could learn something. And there were close games as well that provided a lot of insight, as well as a game that needed an extra day, and even more.

Now, we can have seven great second-round games. And Keith and Pat discuss the first round, preview the second, and touch on a couple of interesting ECAC performances and much more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

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Division III Playoffs, Round of 32: Triple Take’s score predictions

Hobart didn't schedule any Empire 8 contenders the past two seasons, but the NCAA committee has sent them an Empire 8 team in the playoffs for the second year in a row. This year it's Tom Dempsey and the Ithaca Bombers. (Ithaca athletics photo)

Hobart didn’t schedule any Empire 8 contenders the past two seasons, but the NCAA committee has sent them an Empire 8 team in the playoffs for the second year in a row. This year it’s Tom Dempsey and the Ithaca Bombers. (Ithaca athletics photo)

The playoffs are upon us. The five-week march to Salem happens in three phases. Before we get to the elite powers facing off in the semifinals and Stagg Bowl, with national broadcast coverage, and before we get to the really competitive games of Rounds 2 and 3, there’s this Saturday.

The first round, from about noon ET to 4 p.m., is a rush of as many as 15 games going on simultaneously. Every game kicks off at noon local time, which means all but Chapman at Linfield start within an hour of one another. Many of you will be watching one game in particular. For those who won’t, or for those who will have one eye on the game they’re attending while furiously refreshing the scoreboard, Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I are at your service.

This is different from the regular-season Triple Takes. We’re offering scores only, not paragraphs of insight. It is an exercise in setting the national expectation. It has nothing to do with proving our predictive powers, gambling or bragging rights, although each of us will correctly predict all but a few of the winners. The scores and the line of consensus advise you on what to expect, so that when you’re sifting through 15 game scores on Saturday afternoon, you’ll recognize a surprising result in the making. (Like Wartburg over Illinois Wesleyan last year, after we all picked IWU, for example.)

— Keith McMillan

Keith’s take:  UW-Whitewater 52, Macalester 7
Ryan’s take: UW-Whitewater 45, Macalester 3
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater 45, Macalester 6
Consensus: The defending champions should dominate in the Scots’ first playoff game ever.

Keith’s take: Wabash 27, Franklin 17
Ryan’s take: Wabash 41, Franklin 21
Pat’s take: Wabash 53, Franklin 31
Consensus: How much scoring we expect varies, but the Little Giants should win this 4-5 matchup by double digits.

Keith’s take: St. John’s 31, St. Scholastica 10
Ryan’s take: St. John’s 38, St. Scholastica 7
Pat’s take: St. John’s 38, St. Scholastica 17
Consensus: The Johnnies see Kurt Ramler again, and send the Saints to another unceremonious first-round exit.

Keith’s take: Wartburg 35, St. Thomas 21
Ryan’s take: Wartburg 34, St. Thomas 20
Pat’s take: Wartburg 54, St. Thomas 35
Consensus: For all the talk about it being a tough draw, we’ve got the Knights by two or three touchdowns.

Keith’s take: Widener 31, Muhlenberg 21
Ryan’s take: Widener 49, Muhlenberg 21
Pat’s take: Widener 42, Muhlenberg 35
Consensus: We’re varied on how close the Mules keep it, but the Pride roars on.

Keith’s take: Delaware Valley 42, Christopher Newport 35
Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley 41, Christopher Newport 37
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley 56, Christopher Newport 31
Consensus: The Aggies have one of the most generous defenses in the field, so they’ll have to win a shootout.

Keith’s take: Linfield 28, Chapman 21
Ryan’s take: Linfield 28, Chapman 13
Pat’s take: Linfield 27, Chapman 24
Consensus: Basically a repeat of the Week 1 matchup, with a bit more scoring.

Keith’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 52, Texas Lutheran 24
Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 56, Texas Lutheran 17
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 48, Texas Lutheran 13
Consensus: Not quite 72-16, but not quite close.

Keith’s take: Wesley 56, Hampden-Sydney 21
Ryan’s take: Wesley 45, Hampden-Sydney 10
Pat’s take: Wesley 42, Hampden-Sydney 20
Consensus: The Wolverines pick up where they left off the last time they played a D-III opponent.

Keith’s take: MIT 24, Husson 21
Ryan’s take: MIT 34, Husson 31
Pat’s take: Husson 20, MIT 15
Consensus: This could go either way, and we all expect a grind.

Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins 34, Rowan 17
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins 27, Rowan 17
Pat’s take: Johns Hopkins 24, Rowan 10
Consensus: The Profs just don’t have enough offensive variety to keep up with the Blue Jays.

Keith’s take: Hobart 24, Ithaca 22
Ryan’s take: Ithaca 24, Hobart 20
Pat’s take: Ithaca 24, Hobart 21
Consensus: We effectively picked the same score, in a toss-up. (We each make our choices without looking at the others) Hobart is a No. 2 seed, but would it be an upset if it lost to the Empire 8 champs?

Keith’s take: Wheaton 31, Benedictine 6
Ryan’s take: Wheaton 42, Benedictine 7
Pat’s take: Wheaton 54, Benedictine 0
Consensus: At least the Eagles, who rallied from 1-4 to win the NACC, have a short ride home.

Keith’s take: John Carroll 35, Centre 13
Ryan’s take: John Carroll 45, Centre 14
Pat’s take: John Carroll 45, Centre 21
Consensus: Going toe-to-toe with Mount Union in Week 11 portends success more than going 10-0 in the SAA.

Keith’s take: Washington and Jefferson 28, Wittenberg 24
Ryan’s take: Wittenberg 38, Washington and Jefferson 21
Pat’s take: Washington and Jefferson 34, Wittenberg 31
Consensus: This is one of the few places Pat and I see potential for a narrow upset; Ryan disagrees.

Keith’s take: Mount Union 49, Adrian 13
Ryan’s take: Mount Union 66, Adrian 7
Pat’s take: Mount Union 54, Adrian 3
Consensus: The Bulldogs run into a bulwark.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below, or tweet at us at @D3Keith, @NewsTipps and @d3football. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks and the highlights from Round 1.