ATN Podcast: One big shakeup

There was one huge upset this week, but that left a lot of room to talk about other games as well. So in addition to Dubuque-Wartburg, let’s take a few minutes to focus on the “middle class” of Division III football, as it were. Or at least, teams trying to break into the Top 25, or trying to break through and win a conference. Which are the teams on the rise? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

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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.


Triple Take: Kicking off 2014 with ten predictions for Week 1

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell,

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell,

After a 36-week layoff, Division III football is back this weekend. To help pass the time leading up to the opening kick, we’ve provided you Kickoff, the comprehensive season preview, and a slate of fresh columns.

But opening week isn’t complete until Pat Coleman, the executive editor, Ryan Tipps, the senior editor-turned-Around the Nation columnist, and I (Keith McMillan, staff has-been) stick our necks out with predictions for Week 1’s games. We’ll tackle the Top 25 and the games on the fringes; If you have no idea what to pay attention to as the first week gets underway, we’ve got you covered.

Tipps has moved into the penthouse, which means I get to stop by his old digs, cooking up the Triple Take categories and having first dibs on answering. Since I’m drunk with power and ready to celebrate the 244-team race to Salem, let’s make it a 10-pack to kick things off. Have fun with the picks, and if you’re bold enough, leave yours in the comments section below.

Game of the week
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More at No. 5 Wesley. It’s possible I’m shilling for this game because I’m on the call alongside Sean Greene as a special guest fill-in, but I’d probably pick it anyway. It’s a chance to see one of the nation’s most-decorated offensive players in Saints RB Domonique Hayden (2,234 total yards last season) against one of the most decorated programs … whose quarterback happened to pass for 633 yards in a playoff loss last time we saw him. Wesley’s been known to test itself with a crazy schedule and lose an early season game, even in Dover, so why wouldn’t all eyes be on this one?
Pat: Widener at No. 15 Rowan. I mean, that other game above is really the game of the week but this game is on Friday night so you can see both of them! Once upon a time we would have killed to see these two teams play each other and even though Jim Jones and Michael Coleman are no longer on the Pioneer…. err, Pride’s side, this should still be a great way to help kick off the season.
Ryan: No. 21 Hampden-Sydney at No. 16 Wabash. I can’t do a whole Around the Nation column hyping the uniqueness of this game and the impressiveness of this matchup and not pick it as my game of the week. Check out my inaugural ATN for the many reasons I’m excited about this game.

Surprisingly close game
Keith: Union at No. 23 Ithaca. This was tough for me. I see a lot of matchups that should be not close, and some that will be, but won’t be surprising. I was intrigued by second-year Southwestern (vs. Hardin-Simmons), Buena Vista (hosting No. 8 UW-Platteville) and Millsaps (hosting No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor), but not bold enough to pick them. Twenty-one returning starters emboldened me to take the Dutchmen, who are a 3-7 team going on the road to open up against a second-round playoff participant. Union returns every offensive starter but the tight end, while the Bombers only have three defensive starters back.
Pat: McDaniel at Catholic. It doesn’t read like it should be close on paper, because Catholic won 48-16 at McDaniel last fall, but the Cardinals have been very up and down of late. While that beats the heck out of just being down, Catholic has a lot of holes to fill this season and McDaniel could very well be bouncing back.
Ryan: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster. Their records may not have ended all that far apart in 2013, but the 58-21 pounding W&J handed out last season painted a frightening picture for the Scots. But Wooster has now matured and improved across the board, so don’t expect the Presidents to be rolling into the half up 42-14 again.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith: No. 25 Franklin. Mike Leonard is one of my favorite D-III coaches. His team is going on the road to open up against Illinois Wesleyan, a nine-win program from one of the nation’s best conferences. We ranked the Titans No. 52 in Kickoff, largely because they have only nine starting position players back, but the Grizzlies, who are breaking in new quarterback Grant Welp, only have 11. This is a solid first-week challenge for both teams.
Pat: No. 17 Wartburg. These guys and Augsburg actually have a much bigger rivalry in wrestling, where the two have won like all the national titles in the past 20 years, and Wartburg the past three. But these teams have played some pretty tight games even when the rankings suggest they shouldn’t. Nice to see this game back on the schedule for the first time since 2009 — Augsburg won the Battle of the Burgs in 2008 in a year in which the Auggies went 5-5 and the Warties (yeah, let’s go with that) went to the national quarterfinals.
Ryan: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I feel like there have been a couple of times in the past three or so years in which Hopkins has lost several starters or maybe a key skill player, and I think this is the season we’ll see the team backslide a bit. Hopkins, in turn, has shown how deep it is each and every time. I admittedly don’t have them in the lofty position of No. 14 on my ballot at this point, not with only three starters back on offense. Randolph-Macon doesn’t have a particularly good track record against Hopkins the past two seasons, but this year is ripe for that to change.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: George Fox and Pacific. The Bruins, who last played a game in 1968, restart football on Saturday, with a Linfield man (Chris Casey) at the helm. The NWC rival Boxers, meanwhile, were a re-startup in 2010 and enter Year 5 after winning zero, one, three and seven games. Was their Year 4 spike just a group of experienced seniors that had started for several years, or will Pacific be a year-in, year-out threat? I have no idea what to make of either non-D-III team they’re playing, Arizona Christian or College of Idaho, but I’ll have an eye on the D-III squads.
Pat: Stevenson. This is a Year 4 team and it’s time for that breakout that new programs often have in their fourth year. With a struggling program in North Carolina Wesleyan on the schedule to open the season, the first challenge is the length of the trip.
Ryan: Millsaps. I have no expectations that the Majors will actually pull off the upset here, but if you read Kickoff, you might have noticed that I have Millsaps chosen as one of my Pool B predictions. With a solid group of starters back from a team that was one game from likely making the playoffs last year, there’s a lot to look forward to with what this team can accomplish. We’ll see right away how they stack up against one of D-III’s elite.

Who can quiet your doubts with a solid performance Saturday?
Keith: No. 13 Wittenberg. The Tigers won 10 games and had the nation’s fifth-most-prolific offense last season. I didn’t put them in my preseason top 25, largely because only nine starters were back on the offense and defense combined. None of them is star QB Reed Florence. So while you can’t always read much into a D-III playing an FCS team, Wittenberg lost, 49-24, at Butler last year, and didn’t lose again until playing Mount Union in the playoffs. If they look good at home this Saturday, maybe they’ll be fine.
Pat: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I have some doubts, definitely. Reference Kickoff to find out why. But JHU has handled Randolph-Macon fairly easily the past two years, so if the game is a battle, it could bode well for the rest of the teams in the Centennial Conference. And since I’m the one who wrote that line in Kickoff, it’s not stealing. (credit: Pat Coleman)
Ryan: Huntingdon. With about half of the Hawks’ starting lineup lost to graduation, they were a tough bunch to slot into place during the preseason. Huntingdon isn’t a team that’s been built around one person, so a wide crop of receivers and rushers saw action last year even if they didn’t start. And the team’s two-quarterback system is no more now that one of those guys has graduated. Louisiana College will be a very tough game, but even a close game without a win will help put this Huntingdon team’s abilities in perspective.

Who looks back in November on a loss this Saturday with great regret?
Keith: The Rowan/Widener loser. I love that these two mid-Atlantic powers, each with 17 starters back, and barely separated by more than the Commodore Barry Bridge, open up with each other. But in conferences as competitive and jumbled as the NJAC and MAC, one might find itself wishing it hadn’t, when at-large bids for the 32-team playoff field are distributed.
Pat: St. Scholastica. With a win vs. Ripon on Saturday, just maybe beyond maybes St. Scholastica avoids Whitewater in the first round. But if the Saints manage to go 9-1, winning the UMAC, it’ll be a trip to a top seed. Again.
Ryan: Mount St. Joseph. The Lions have been playing second fiddle to Franklin often in recent years, and the possibility of getting over the hump this season should be cause for celebration. But a loss to Augustana this Saturday would start a likely two-week slide that goes through Millsaps the following weekend. So even if Mount St. Joseph earns an HCAC title, the result will be a team facing a very tough playoff draw.

Which young rivalry game is closer, the Soup Bowl or the Pynchon SAW Game?
Keith: Soup Bowl. Kickoff predicts big things for Guilford, but Greensboro’s got QB Ryan Throndset back for a fourth year starting, and 16 other returners, so we should see a thriller.
Pat: Soup Bowl. When you hold a contest to pick a rivalry name, you get what you get. I have to pick the Soup Bowl just on marketing principle here.
Ryan: Soup Bowl. I’m not sure that the Soup Bowl still counts as a young rivalry, but as it is, I like it as a competitive matchup. Guilford is surely going to be good this season, and while the Quakers are favored to take the win, Greensboro has a dynamic veteran quarterback in Throndset who will help keep the Pride on Guilford’s tail.

Editor’s note: Pynchon SAW is the new name for the Springfield-Western New England game.

Aside from No. 1 UW-Whitewater against Waldorf, which team has the most impressive win?
Keith: No. 10 John Carroll. No. 3 Mount Union has been waiting to bounce back from its Stagg Bowl embarrassment for months, and plays Bethany. But the Blue Streaks, bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs, have been waiting even longer, and face St. Vincent in new coach Ron Dolciato’s first game. This will be the Bearcats’ 22nd straight loss, and QB Mark Myers and Co. are pretty enough to make it ugly.
Pat: UW-La Crosse. I mean, define impressive. Am I impressed by beating Waldorf 66-3 or Bethany 49-7? Not really. For UW-L, even beating Dubuque at all would be a nice start to the season and we seem to expect the Eagles to be a little higher in the WIAC standings in 2014.
Ryan: No. 15 Rowan. Opponent Widener will finish the season at or near the top of the MAC. “Impressive” isn’t about a thrashing; “impressive” is about standing up to real adversity and walking away with control, confidence and victory. This game will raise the Profs’ profile a notch.

Pick a team ranked 150-244 in Kickoff that wins:
Keith: No. 159 St. Scholastica. Winning is nothing new to the Saints, and this wouldn’t be going very far out on a limb if they weren’t playing No. 99 Ripon. I’ll take the upset — long trip to Duluth, and new coach Kurt Ramler leading what could be a high-powered attack against the Red Hawks’ “slot bone.”
Pat: No. 195 Ferrum. I could have lost a lot of money the last few years picking USA South teams to beat ODAC teams (since it didn’t happen very often). But that would involve betting. Which is wrongDon’t do it. But even though Ferrum is pretty universally expected to be down this year, I like them at home over the school with first-year head coach and the offseason silliness.
Ryan: No. 203 Misericordia. As I highlighted in Kickoff, I think the Cougars are a team set to ride last year’s season-ending victory into a few more for the win column this fall. Utica is far from a sure thing for Misericordia, but a win also isn’t unattainable in this matchup, especially if the Cougars’ defense can show their worth.

Which manly men win the Stag Bowl and keep alive their Stagg Bowl hopes?
Keith: Hampden-Sydney. Oh Jeez. Who wrote this question? I don’t see what’s so great about going to college without women, but I guess it leaves more time for football practice, which could explain how the Tigers held my beloved Randolph-Macon out of the postseason by a yard last year. Admittedly, Nash Nance’s gang nearly pulled off the surprise of the playoffs out at Linfield and look poised to pick up where they left off. With only one offensive line starter back, Nance may be running for his life on Saturday, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Pat is picking the Little Giants and Ryan is abstaining, so I’ll hold my nose and select the southern gentlemen. For football reasons, of course.
Pat: Wabash. They’re playing at home. Wish I could be there but the man listed below will already be there so it didn’t make sense for me to try to get there as well. I expect to watch it online and then see my upset pick game Saturday night. I just expect this to be a good game. Keith’s right about Nance being on the run a bit on Saturday. I’m just glad this game is finally here because the fan bravado on the message board is getting to be a bit much.
Ryan: Pass. So often we ask questions on this site with a qualifier that says “alma maters excluded.” As a Wabash grad, I really should follow that rule with the first part of this question, despite the split decision from the two fellows picking before me (I do think I said all I needed to say in ATN this week). But realistically, both of these teams are ranked and have the possibility of conference AQs to look forward to, so a loss for either won’t knock them out of playoff contention. They both will have kept their Stagg Bowl hopes alive going into Week 2.