Triple Take Week 9: Season-ending seriousness is upon us

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

The time for pleasantries has passed. The everyone-across-the-nation-is-interesting window is rapidly closing. Tomorrow begins November, which means we’re focusing on conference-title chases, playoff-spot pursuit and the occasional season-defining rivalry game.

With that in mind, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I zoom in the focus from all 244 teams to the games (besides the one you’re already interested in) that most deserve your attention. Last week, teams lit up the scoreboard; we’ll tell you who won’t do it again. We’ve got insight on which top 25 teams are in danger, where conference races will tilt and which teams to keep on your radar, just in case something unexpected happens on Saturday. You’ll be able to say you saw it coming.

Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 16 UW-Platteville. The Warhawks didn’t partake in the scoring of the 70s like so many top-10 teams did last week. But they’ve been putting up silly numbers by preventing them. Since Franklin scored 13 on UW-W back in Week 2, just 17 points have been scored on that defense. Only UW-Eau Claire’s 19-play field goal drive came in the first three quarters, with the game still in reach. The Warhawks have the nation’s best scoring defense, and the Pioneers are 11th, at 11.3 points per game. UW-Whitewater’s push starts up front, where defensive linemen Mykaell Bratchett and Zach Franz are getting help from sophomores Brandon Tamsett and John Flood. Linebackers Jacob Zilbar and Andrew Belken need to have big days for the Pioneers’ defense. Offensively, QB Bryce Corrigan the UW-Platteville score 31.6 points per game, which in this era of high offense is just 73rd in the country.
Ryan’s take: Carroll at Macalester. Yup, I’m going off the top-25 grid here because at this point in the season, so much of the focus is on winning conferences and getting into the playoffs. This is one of those decisive games. Both of these teams are undefeated in the North Division of the MWC, and the winner should be able to round out the regular season with confidence and get a shot at the divisional championship game on Nov. 15 – and then a spot in the postseason.
Pat’s take: Howard Payne at Louisiana College. There have been so many entertaining games in this conference this season that I feel like I have to elevate one of them to Game of the Week status. Louisiana College has only been held under 30 points by Alcorn State and two top-five teams, while Howard Payne had a classic 54-53 win at East Texas Baptist two weeks ago. If you like defense, though, watch Keith’s Game of the Week instead.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Cowboys are surprisingly 5-1 and effectively 6-1, since they led Southwestern 28-7 in the third quarter in Week 1 before “persistent lightning” led to the game being called a no contest. The Cowboys’ only loss, however, came on their home field to Texas Lutheran the following week, 37-14, which explains why they aren’t getting any love in the poll. UMHB beat TLU 72-16 last week, so why would I pick this to be surprisingly close? Well for one, it only needs to be within 56 points to fit the definition, given the UMHB > TLU > HSU hierarchy to date. But it’s also because the Cowboys have a decent defense, and allow just 3.5 yards per carry. It’s not quite the 1.98 yards that UMHB allows, but given the history between the two Hardins, a reasonable final in the 35-14 range is possible.
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Christopher Newport. These teams are almost at opposite ends of the conference standings, but the Panthers are coming off a season-defining win against Huntingdon, so they’ll arrive in Newport News with some momentum. CNU certainly won’t let this game slide by, though, as the race for the USA South’s automatic qualifier could realistically go to any one of three teams right now. There’s a good deal at stake, and the Captains surely wouldn’t mind representing the conference in the postseason after missing it in 2013.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence at WPI. First of all, surprisingly distant for an East Region conference, where it’s nearly a six-hour drive. But also, looking for a fairly close game on the scoreboard in this one as well, especially for a game between a 3-4 team and a 6-1 team. St. Lawrence is built around defense, so I expect the score to be low, and close. Even though this game is perfectly positioned to be a trap game for St. Lawrence, right before the big showdown with Hobart, I also expect the score to be comfortably in SLU’s favor.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 Concordia-Moorhead. Having nominated St. Thomas as a potential upsetter (sure, that’s a word) of Bethel last week, I’m doubling down. But almost as much as it’s hard to believe the Tommies would pick up their third loss in a season for the first time since coach Glenn Caruso’s first there, in 2008, this is about the Cobbers. Concordia-Moorhead hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2005, but it’s been 8-2 the past two years, with an October loss to Bethel and an early-November loss to St. Thomas each time (they’ve actually lost six straight to the Tommies). The Cobbers, as you might guess, are 7-1 with a 27-17 Oct. 4 loss to Bethel the only blemish so far. It’s time for QB Griffin Neal, DE Nate Adams and the Cobbers to get the Tommie off their backs.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. As was pointed out in the ATN Podcast earlier this week, UW-Oshkosh’s record is deceiving because the first three opponents were non-D-III schools. The Titans are coming off of playing Whitewater closer than anyone else this season, and despite UW-SP’s marquee win over North Central early in the year, most of their games haven’t been blowouts. Just like with the game against Platteville, it’s possible that the talent of the WIAC will continue catch up with the Pointers this week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. I have to concur with my colleague here, rather than try to pick another one, and Ryan’s reasoning is sound. Part of the reason why Oshkosh was so “successful” against Whitewater, holding them under 100 yards in the second half, is because Jake Kumerow got banged up early in the game and they went really vanilla after that. So I think the Oshkosh score is misleading. However, UWSP simply can’t give the ball away as many times as it has and if the Pointers do that on Saturday, the Titans will make them pay for it.

Pinpoint a game that will change a conference-title chase.
Keith’s take: MIT at Endicott. The Gulls get 6-0 MIT at home this week, and face Western New England (6-1 after last week’s 35-34 loss at MIT) next week. One of these three teams is representing the NEFC in the playoffs, and fans of other Eastern teams should get behind Endicott. While the Gulls challenged themselves and lost to MASCAC leader Framingham State and LL leader Hobart in their first two games, a 9-0 MIT team would have to be a candidate to host in Round 1, provided it is eligible. Endicott leads the conference in scoring defense at 19.9 points allowed, and the Engineers lead it in scoring at 41.7 points per game, so there’s your matchup to watch.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton at Elmhurst. There will be no letdown for the Thunder after last weekend’s thrilling Little Brass Bell victory. Elmhurst has hung in the conference race – barely at times – and has gone 4-0 so far, but a future as a 5-2 CCIW team seems likely for the Bluejays. After Saturday, Wheaton should be all alone at the top.
Pat’s take: Centre at Hendrix. We had lots of talk about Hendrix in the first few weeks and then they dropped off the radar for a little while. But No. 1 quarterback Seth Peters is back after he missed the Wash. U. and Berry games (both losses) because of injury. Top running back Dayton Winn is back after missing the Berry game as well. Hendrix is very much in the SAA race and controls its own destiny.

Which team put up huge numbers last week that it won’t duplicate this week?
Keith’s take: Stevenson. I’m kind of mad at myself for writing this question. Because the longer I looked, the more I found teams that are probably going to put up big numbers again. I can’t trust Buena Vista’s defense to slow No. 6 Wartburg, or Wooster to stifle DePauw after a 59-point week, or Salve Regina to stop Maine Maritime’s running game. Stevenson, however, whitewashed FDU-Florham, 57-0, last week. Trey Lee scored three of his four touchdowns by halftime, when the Mustangs led by 37. This week the opponent is No. 12 Widener, which is also No. 12 nationally in total defense. The Mustangs scored eight touchdowns last week. The Pride has only allowed eight touchdowns all season.
Ryan’s take: Linfield. The Wildcats didn’t reach the 70-plus mark that other top-10 teams did in Week 8, but that’s certainly not an indictment on the talent the team has. This week pick isn’t an indictment, either. Willamette is more than five-scores better than Linfield’s opponent from last week, and I don’t expect the Linfield to play into a particularly drastic margin this week. Still, Linfield can probably hang 40-something on the Bearcats and win comfortably.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. The Saints have been back on cruise control the past three weeks after W&J caused them to downshift out of the tie for first in the PAC and the Top 25. They will not be putting up a 42-3/49.7/64-7 score against Waynesburg, to be sure, and they might not even put up a winning score.

The Empire 8 and ODAC are the toughest conferences to predict, but pick a winner from one anyway.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. Trying to figure out who’ll win when the Golden Eagles get a visit from Ithaca using past occurrences is an exercise in mental torture. (Hey, it is Halloween). Both teams are 5-2 and hoping to catch St. John Fisher in the Empire 8 race. One of the Bombers’ losses is to Frostburg State, which Brockport beat 46-0. But the Golden Eagles lost to Utica, which Ithaca handled, 27-10. The Bombers defense limited Salisbury’s often-outstanding triple-option rushing attack to just 74 yards in a 32-7 win last week. If we were going by just that, I’d say Bombers win easily. But Brockport counters with an offense that’s had 42 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, 11 in the past two games (h/t Brockport Sports Information). But even with those, three of the Golden Eagles’ wins are by five points or fewer. And in the nothing-makes-sense world of the E8 this season, one can only assume the result that seems more likely — Ithaca riding its dominant win over Salisbury to another win — is the opposite of what will happen.
Ryan’s take: St. John Fisher. The Cardinals will be going up against Buffalo State in what should be a competitive game between teams that have shown flashes of greatness this season. Fisher is four points away from being an undefeated team, and if I had to make a pick, I’d get behind Fisher to snag the E8’s automatic qualifier. But the Bengals will certainly have some fire in them, and pulling out the upset against the No. 15 team in the nation would put them right back in the mix for the postseason.
Pat’s take: Guilford. Thanks for leaving me an easy one. My alma mater has a really young team this year and just isn’t that good right now, and just in case one might be tempted to think they could still knock off Guilford, I’ll point out that it’s homecoming in Greensboro and that Catholic beat the Quakers last season, so it’s unlikely they’ll get taken lightly. Only question is if it will be close to the 62-14 win that Hampden-Sydney got at Catholic? Will Guilford go for style points to try to get itself more Top 25 votes?

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Ursinus. We’d be talking about the big showdown of undefeated teams with Johns Hopkins if not for the Bears’ 38-10 puzzler against Juniata a few weeks back. They had a momentum-killing turnover right before the half in the game, and settled for a field goal coming out of the half on a 12-play drive. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, and the Bears can forget about theirs if they play their best game against the No. 9-ranked Blue Jays.
Ryan’s take: Franklin. With a win this weekend, the Griz would be guaranteed to finish no worse than 7-1 in conference play, and they own the head-to-head victories over other potential one-loss teams. That means Franklin is poised to be the first team in 2014 to land a spot in the playoffs.
Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are still one of the one-loss teams afloat at the top of the USA South standings, while LaGrange and Air Raid Junior have struggled on offense the past four weeks (and on defense for three of those). The Panthers offense, expected to be prolific, has been ordinary, averaging 22 points the past four weeks. CNU has two games left and has its destiny in its own hands.

Around the Nation Podcast: Shootout weekend

Marquis Barolle has already gone for 1,152 yards on the ground this season. (Texas Lutheran photo by Bailee Bauman)

Marquis Barolle has already gone for 1,152 yards on the ground this season. (Texas Lutheran photo by Bailee Bauman)

No offense, but if you like defense, there wasn’t a lot to like about Week 6. But if you like big totals on the scoreboard, then this was the week for you. From Texas Lutheran-East Texas Baptist to Delaware Valley-Lycoming and about 30 monkeystomps, Pat and Keith talk about it all in the Around the Nation podcast.

Meanwhile, why is offense seemingly so far ahead of defense in Division III football these days? Keith, the former Division III safety, gives us his two cents. And keeps it under two minutes, as the podcast rules require. Plus, Pat and Keith each give out their game balls, look beyond the obvious games to some underappreciated highlights and much more.

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You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast

Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show:

Week 6: There’s excitement to be had, if you just know where to look

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Buff State’s defensive side of the ball will need to come through vs. Ithaca. (Buffalo State athletics photo)

Not every week is filled with top-25 clashes and rivalry games when we look for intriguing matchups across the nation. But with more than 200 teams in action on a given weekend, we usually end up with our fair share of dramatic finishes, milestones and outstanding performances. Some can be anticipated if you know where to look.

That’s where Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I come in. We’ll take you on a quick whirl around the country so you know which games to keep an eye on while you’re doing what you normally do on Saturdays, and we’ll keep it from feeling like a whirlwind.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran. It’s between this and the Lyco-Del Val game for me, and this matchup of ‘others receiving votes’ teams gets the nod because of the potential for fireworks. In the most amazing stat of the year possibly, ETBU, after allowing 98 points to a scholarship-level opponent in Week 1, is 3-1 and already back in the positive point differential for the season, on the strength of the country’s fourth-best offense. Yet TLU hasn’t scored fewer than 37 points in a game itself. ETBU QB Josh Warbington has 12 TDs, 3 INTs and three 350+ yard passing games. TLU RB Marquis Barrolle is rushing for 181 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns. But the clincher is the playoff implications; In a conference with No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor, ETBU needs every win in case it has to make an at-large case for a postseason spot. In Pool B, even at 5-0, Texas Lutheran remembers being shunned last season with just one loss. It’s an under-the-lights clash we can all take an interest in for the potential big numbers and the trickle-down effect.
Ryan’s take: Buffalo State at No. 13 Ithaca. Were it not for Buff’s narrow loss to Alfred a couple of weeks back, we’d be seeing two undefeated teams squaring off here. Despite a slow start in the opener, Ithaca has excelled in conference play, giving Utica its only loss and beating Alfred. On paper, the edge goes to Buffalo State, but the reality is that Ithaca hasn’t been giving up the kind of big points that the Bengals have been. And if the Bombers’ offense happens to be slumping at the half or in the third quarter, a good defense is always going to keep them in the game.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Lycoming at Delaware Valley. These MAC elimination games are going to be a brutal slog and this sounds like it’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Delaware Valley can score in bunches (49.8 points per game), while Lycoming hasn’t allowed more than 14 in a game all season. Lyco probably would like to have one more season of Tanner Troutman just for this game alone, to cover Rasheed Bailey, who is an electrifying receiver, by all accounts. Would love to see which contrast in styles wins out here.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Chicago at Trinity (Texas). The Maroons are 4-0. The Tigers are 1-4. And while that would normally make for a pretty straightforward winner, they move in completely different D-III circles. Chicago’s wins are against teams we ranked 84, 89, 213 and 217 in the 1-244 ranking in Kickoff. The Tigers losses are to teams we ranked 19, 37, 50 and 179. Preseason rankings don’t tell the whole story, but neither does just glancing at a record. Trinity’s talent should match up better with Chicago than it did with, say, Pacific Lutheran. That means the Maroons will have to keep playing outstanding defense. They’re currently allowing just 190.3 yards per game, third nationally behind Mount Union and UW-Whitewater.
Ryan’s take: Crown at Greenville. I felt like going deep into the conference rankings to find this week’s game, which is a great example of misdirection. Greenville sits at 4-1; Crown is winless. Those records seem to be in complete opposite directions until you consider that Greenville’s wins come against teams that are a combined 4-16. The Panthers’ one loss came against a 2-2 CCIW team. Crown, on the other hand, has played teams that are a combined 20-4, including an undefeated MIAC team. I expect the Storm to be able to hang right with Greenville, and I’d even wager they’ll pull off the upset.
Pat’s take: Texas Lutheran at East Texas Baptist. Actually, I just think this will be an awesome game and didn’t have room for two game of the week picks. Expecting an entertaining back-and-forth game worthy of two Little 12 teams, even if only one of them is still in the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wartburg. Coe, Saturday’s host, is off to a 2-2 start, with losses to teams currently ranked No. 16 (UW-Stevens Point) and No. 18 (Wheaton). More importantly than what might be a deceptive record is the idea that they simply have Wartburg’s number. The Knights haven’t beaten the Kohawks since 2010, after Coe rallied from down 17-0 to win by a field goal in 2011, won by four touchdowns in 2012 and scored 24 second-half points last year to become the only team besides Bethel to beat Wartburg. It’s a new year, and the Knights are 4-0 with a great defense (12th nationally at 11.3 points per game) and the Royals already in the rear-view mirror. Coe QB Josh Rekers had success passing against both Wheaton and UW-SP and will be a challenge though.
Ryan’s take: No 8 Hobart. Springfield always brings a good bit of quality to the table, but, since being in the LL, the team has yet been able to get over the hump against Hobart. The Statesmen have look good this year, but not flawless. Dickinson was able to play its way back into the opener; Endicott, too, scored the bulk of its points in the fourth quarter. A cushion going into the final period would help Hobart here, because high-scoring fourths are not foreign to the Pride.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Ithaca. I don’t have a strong feeling about anyone this week but perhaps Buffalo State can be the team to score more than 16 points on the Bombers. They will definitely need to if they want to win at Butterfield Stadium.

Pick a team that faces much better competition this week than last, and tell us how it fares.
Keith’s take: Berry. The Vikings won the first game in program history, 29-23, last week against Wash. U. This week they face Centre, which hung 50 on that same Bears group two weeks ago. The Colonels have outscored opponents by a 38-17 average in its 4-0 start, and rush for 244 of their 443 yards of weekly offense. Berry will likely have to wait for its first win streak.
Ryan’s take: Willamette. The swing is big if you’re going up against football newbie George Fox one week and then turning around to face Whitworth the next. Whitworth bested its weaker foes but is on a two-game skid against some tougher teams. I’m not sure that a win here would be enough to lift the Bearcats into the Top 25, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of voters will bump Willamette up a spot or two after winning.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Mount Union, at Ohio Northern. I was reviewing old Top 25 polls this week — the coaches poll, mind you — in helping a school out on a research project and was reminded that in 2005, when Ohio Northern won at Mount Union, the Purple Raiders actually fell to No. 9 in the AFCA Top 25. It’s hard to imagine the Purple Raiders ever being just the ninth-best team in Division III. We’re in our tenth season since then and Mount Union has barely skipped a beat. One beat at most. They won’t skip a beat this week. (For the record, Mount Union fell to No. 6 in that week’s D3football.com Top 25.)

Which one of the surprise unbeatens remains that way?
Keith’s take: Luther. The Norse haven’t beaten Central since 2008, and they’re hosting in front of a homecoming crowd that doesn’t really know what it’s like to cheer for a 4-0 team. So not only should it be a wild atmosphere, but the Norse seem up to the challenge. Josh Vos and DB-turned-QB JJ Sirios are each rushing for more than 100 yards per game, and Central hasn’t been great at run defense (166 yards per game). Luther’s rushing offense is No. 2 nationally, sandwiched between more familiar option teams Maine Maritime and Springfield. It’s the Norse and the Dutch, so why wouldn’t one side make history?
Ryan’s take: UW-Stevens Point. Then again, the Pointers are going up against the only team in the WIAC that is currently winless, UW-Eau Claire. UW-EC has had one of the toughest schedules to date in Division III: They started off against St. Thomas, then played St. John’s, Wheaton and UW-Platteville. Had Eau Claire not gotten pasted against Platteville, I might think they’d have the spark to play a spoiler role. Instead, Stevens Point will have one last opportunity to work out the kinks before going on the road to Platteville next weekend.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.). It’s an unexpected battle of unbeatens between Bridgewater and Emory and Henry, and if this were 2000, this would be front-page news. But since both programs have been down for the better part of a decade, at least, it’s slipped well under the radar. I like Bridgewater at home, but E&H has played three road games out of four, so the road won’t be unfamiliar.

Which player put up huge numbers in Week 5 and will do it again this week?
Keith’s take: Satiir Stevenson, safety for Guilford. Ryan turned his answers in first and yoked my original pick. (Fun fact: I’m told it’s cog-lin, not cough). The Quakers might seem like they’re all offense, but Stevenson’s 22 tackles last week against Washington & Lee were the second highest single-game total in D-III this season. This week’s opponent, Shenandoah, happens to be the ODAC’s best rushing offense, at 289 yards per game, so they’ll need another big tackling effort to slow down the Hornets and 5-9 all-purpose threat Cedrick Delaney.
Ryan’s take: Pete Coughlin, quarterback for Washington and Jefferson. Last week, the big numbers (383 passing yards, six touchdowns) really mattered because the game was against rival Thomas More and is generally the matchup that yields the PAC’s playoff contender. It would be of little surprise to see him fling around those kinds of numbers again, with winless Grove City on the docket. The only limiting factor will be if Coughlin sits out most or all of the second half.
Pat’s take: Withler Marcelin, Rowan running back. Good category because I was feeling bad about him not having a spot for him on the D3football.com Team of the Week last week. He ran for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, with scores of 28, 54 and 75 yards vs. Cortland State and if Rowan needs him to, he’ll have a big game vs. William Paterson.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Thomas More. It’s deflating to lose the conference matchup that often defines the season, so I’m interesting in seeing how the Saints get up to face Geneva. Thomas More seemed like it had the makings of a playoff-bound team when I saw it in Week 1, but after the W&J loss, it’s out of their hands. The Wesley loss means at-large is probably out too, which means they’ll have to get some help. But you can’t take advantage of help if you don’t take care of your own business first.
Ryan’s take: The Trine at Olivet matchup. I know we usually pick a single team here, but the MIAA has been next to impossible to get a handle on this fall. It’s nice that the two teams with the best overall records are meeting so early in conference play. We’ll get a bit of clarity in Michigan after Saturday.
Pat’s take: Gustavus Adolphus. This is the end of the 6-0 run we’ve been talking about since the preseason. St. Olaf won’t be able to stop the Golden Gusties’ offense.