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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 7: Time for some new teams to shine

Some weeks stand out because of stadium-filling rivalries and top-25 games that attract interest across the nation. This isn’t one of those weeks.

That, however, opens the door for the middle class of Division III to get some shine, and some air time. There are plenty of teams who aren’t top-ranked but are pretty good. At this time of year, there are 5-0 and 6-0 teams that might end up with three or four losses, and there are 3-2 and 4-1 teams that might not lose another game. Weeks like these are when teams begin to sort one another out.

Beyond the particular team and conference you follow, it can be tough to know where to look in a week like this. That’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. We’ll help you sort through the 117 games on tap this weekend, all but three involving two D-III teams. So with 231 of the 247 teams in action, check out the seven-point primers below for where to watch for great games, big upsets, and teams that will get their first wins or losses.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Gustavus Adolphus at No. 14 St. John’s. As my colleagues’ choices will prove, there’s no marquee game this week featuring a clash of top-25 teams. But there is this, the 6-0 Gusties traveling to Collegeville, Minn. with a former Johnnie as their star under center. Mitch Hendricks is the only quarterback in D-III to have surpassed 2,000 yards passing so far this season, and he has 23 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. The Gusties convert third downs at the nation’s highest rate (66.2) and score 54.5 points per game, but none of it means much if they lose to St. John’s, Bethel, Concordia-Moorhead and St. Thomas like they did to finish last season. The Johnnies, led by linebackers Carter Hanson and Drake Matuska, have been solid defensively, and the offense, behind RB Sam Sura and QB Nick Martin, takes care of the ball, so the Gusties will have to earn it. The Johnnies, who won 29-19 at Gustavus last season, are also coming in off a bye week. Frankly, this game could fit in “unbeaten team that takes its first loss” or “most likely top-25 team to lose” below, which makes it a perfect Game of the Week candidate.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Hendrix at Berry. I’m going off the top-25 map to pick this game, but with as wide open as the SAA is this season, this matchup between third-year programs will help to sort out the field. So far this season, two SAA teams have been ranked, and Hendrix and Berry have each knocked off one of those more-established teams. Is the student becoming the master? The Warriors have a combination running/passing game that yields a lot of points; the Vikings, on the other hand, haven’t allowed more than 17 points since Week 1. Each team will really need to tap into those strengths if it hopes to emerge the winner — and be the top dog in the conference race.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Carleton at St. Olaf. Nationally this is an underrated rivalry. As Minnesota rivalries goes, it will never match the Tommie-Johnnie game in terms of pure size and scope, but these two colleges nestled in small-town Northfield, Minn., have a fierce rivalry as well. It’s also pretty evenly matched. As St. Olaf has struggled the past couple of years, Carleton has been able to get its licks in and the games have been competitive in either direction. But lastly, it’s one of my favorite rivalries because it has one of my favorite traditions: The Walk. The winning team walks down to the middle of town and turns the eagle on top of the town’s war memorial to face the winner’s campus. Pretty cool sight.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Central at Loras. The Dutch have won three of four and are known, alongside Wartburg, as the perennial class of the IIAC. The Duhawks (2-3) have not won a conference title since rejoining in 1986, and were picked to finish last back in Kickoff ’15. But when the games got underway, we learned something about Loras: Its offense can wing it. The Duhawks lead the nation in passing offense (430 yards/game) and are top five in total offense. Because they are No. 229 overall in total defense, they’ve had scores of 56-52, 52-42, 48-41 and 30-27 … which you might notice are all relatively close games. Expect another one.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee at Randolph-Macon. Even when the Yellow Jackets are struggling, their struggles are often tied to losses against teams that air out the ball. W&L is not one of those teams. Macon knows how to stop the run — even the option run — and while these two teams are polar opposites in the standings, they’ll be close on the scoreboard.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Franklin. Franklin has been putting up a ton of points of late, although the 56 points vs. Anderson and the 80 vs. Earlham don’t really compare to what they might put up against their biggest competition for the conference title. However, MSJ has given up a few more points than usual.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan. After back-to-back weeks in which six top-25 teams lost, the pickings are slim this week. There are some decent opponents for the elite teams, like 4-1 Kean facing No. 4 Wesley and 3-2 UW-Stevens Point facing No. 5 UW-Oshkosh. I don’t even particularly like my pick, because the Titans are good defensively (No. 18 nationally) as they often are and are deserving of their top-25 spot. This is more a compliment to 2-3 Augustana, which played its first four games under Steve Bell closely before a 31-14 loss to seventh-ranked Wheaton last week. The Vikings’ hopes ride heavily on QB Sam Frasco, who is running it 17 times a game himself while averaging 33 passes.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ithaca. After a couple of weeks in which we’ve seen several in the top 25 fall, this Saturday is looking a lot more like chalk. And then there’s the anything-can-happen Empire 8. Brockport is only 1-2 in conference play, but those losses come at a combined four points. There’s no reason to believe that the Golden Eagles won’t push Ithaca to the bone in this one.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 19 Concordia-Moorhead. Like Ryan, I see a lot of chalk this week. I’m kind of stretching to find someone other than Ithaca to point to here so I’m going to take a flier on the possibility that Augsburg might be able to go up to Concordia-Moorhead and come out with a win. The Auggies still have incredible talent Ayrton Scott at quarterback and he’s a handful for any opposing defense.

There are 27 unbeaten teams. Pick one to lose for the first time.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Denison, at Wittenberg. I gave Gettysburg and Gustavus Adolphus a look in this category, but the 5-0 and 3-2 records in this Ohio night game are deceiving. The Big Red survived a two-point conversion attempt with 44 seconds left in a 10-9 win against Ohio Wesleyan (a team Wittenberg beat, 42-21) two games ago, while the Tigers’ two losses were on the road to Wabash and DePauw, who are both unbeaten. Denison has the ninth-ranked defense in the country, but Wittenberg QB Zach Jenkins and WR Corey Stump should put a dent in that ranking. I’m not going that far out on a limb here, since the Big Red haven’t beaten Wittenberg since 1989, and haven’t won in Springfield since 1952, long before their mascot (see No. 9 in ‘100 things we love about Denison’) was something other than Big Red.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: St. Norbert, at Ripon. The Midwest is a tricky beast this season, and St. Norbert is the only team in either division that is currently unbeaten. I know I picked Ripon for a Triple Take category just last week, and the Red Hawks proved me right. I’ll take them again, this time to dole out the upset against the Green Knights.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Gettysburg, vs. Muhlenberg. This particular Battle of the Burgs is a little bit turned on its head from recent years, with Gettysburg (5-0) coming in riding high and Muhlenberg sporting two losses. But the Mules’ two losses are to Centennial teams that Gettysburg hasn’t even played yet: Johns Hopkins and F&M. The records for each are a little misleading and this game is more evenly matched than the conference standings would suggest, primarily because Gettysburg’s 4-0 conference mark has come at the hands of the four teams at the bottom of the conference standings.

There are 26 winless teams. Pick one to win for the first time.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Worcester State, at Mass-Dartmouth. I was tempted to take 0-4 Pacific Lutheran at 5-0 Whitworth, but if you look closely at the Lancers, they’ve been tied or within one score in the fourth quarter of three of their five losses. It’s a Friday night game in North Dartmouth, where the 3-3 Corsairs are coming off a pair of losses and might be thinking the 0-5 Lancers are an easy win and way to get back over .500.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Hanover, vs. Anderson. Neither team has looked pretty this year — the margins of their losses edge into the realm of the absurd at times. But Hanover’s best game this season came last week against Mount St. Joseph, which was close for almost the entire 60 minutes. If the Panthers can carry that momentum into this Saturday’s game (and do a lot better than giving away four turnovers), it will be able to erase the goose egg from the win column.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire, vs. UW-Stout. The Blugolds’ best chance to get a win this season comes on Saturday night when they host their archrival UW-Stout. The Blue Devils will be making a 24-mile trip east on I-94 to Eau Claire, Wis., where they will be favored, no doubt. But Eau Claire has to get this one, or the next week’s game at La Crosse, in order to keep our Kickoff projection from coming true. The Blugolds finish at UW-Whitewater, home to UW-Platteville, and at UW-Oshkosh.

Pick a player you think will play a large role in leading his team to victory.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Utica kicker Thomas Woodburn. Yeah, I said it. A kicker is going to sway a game. Woodburn, coming off a 5-for-5 week in field-goal kicking against Brockport State and who is 16 of 17 on the season, is needed more than most place kickers. He’s attempted at least two field goals in five of six games. (Only one of the field goals is longer than 37 yards, which says something about where the Pioneers’ offense tends to stall.) Since Week 2, Woodburn has handled the punting in addition to PATs, field goals and kickoffs. And a team that has played three straight overtime games and four one-score games needs an accurate leg on its side. But beyond all that, in a nine-team Empire 8 in which any team legitimately could beat any of the others, Utica needs Woodburn. The Pioneers, at 4-2, 3-1, are tied with Cortland State for the conference lead and could be playoff-bound for the first time in the 15-year history of the program. St. John Fisher, after a rough start, has won two of its past three against Empire 8 teams and might be able to push Utica to a fourth consecutive overtime game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Albion quarterback Dominic Bona and running back Mike Czarnecki, vs. Adrian. The Britons are a team I’ve been eyeing especially closely this season, and in recent weeks, I’ve gotten a handful of e-mails from fans talking about this Saturday’s matchup. Adrian is one of the bigger conference threats to Albion, and last year, the Bulldogs ruined Albion’s momentum in a big way. This season is different: Bona averages 276 passing yards a game, and Czarnecki is at 156 rushing yards a game — and he’s not even the team’s only 100-yard-plus rusher! (Fellow senior Colin Parks is the other.) If you listened to the ATN podcast this week, you know that these Albion players have thoughts of the playoffs growing in their minds. They’re halfway there.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: North Park quarterback T.D. Conway vs. Elmhurst. Conway struggled last week vs. North Central but has been pretty strong against the rest of the schedule. North Park has played four really good teams this year, three ranked in the top 25. Facing an Elmhurst team which is not quite on the level of Wheaton or North Central should allow Conway to shine. Plus, with Elmhurst running back Josh Williams not at full strength, there will be more opportunities for the Vikings to live up to the other half of this question, namely, winning the game.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Trinity (Texas). The Tigers are 4-1 but outside the top 25 because of a 24-point loss to No. 15 Hardin-Simmons. Trinity plays four of its next five against Austin and Southwestern, but the Kangaroos, Saturday’s opponent, are 3-2. Trinity probably won’t be able to earn top-25 consideration until the Oct. 31 game against Texas Lutheran, but we are watching.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Denison. For all of the talk in the NCAC about Wabash, Wittenberg and, more recently, DePauw, there’s one more team that’s fighting for some recognition: Denison. The Big Red line up against damaged-giant Wittenberg on Saturday. Last year’s game was only a seven-point win by Witt, and that was when Denison was having a down season and Witt was having a good one. I’m interested to see where the winds are shifting now that the Big Red are riding a hot streak.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica at Northwestern (Minn.). I won’t be able to attend this game, unfortunately — I had hoped to do so. But the winner of the game is firmly in the driver’s seat in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, with a chance to run the table in conference play. Should be a great night for a game, and a very competitive one as well.

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 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.