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Triple Take: Middle of the road

Thomas More has been rolling up the numbers on offense, but the Saints’ defense has shone as well.
Thomas More athletics photo

Week 6 signifies the midway point in the regular season. The bright side to that realization is that there’s still a whole lot of football left to play for the 244 teams in Division III (well, we hope that we can include Merchant Marine in that list).

For teams that are eyeing playoff runs, this could just be the beginning. With five weeks of postseason play, that means we’re only about a third of the way to the Stagg Bowl. There’s much that has happened, and much yet to come.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps talk about the here and now of this weekend:

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson.
I almost held back on this because W&J’s baffling loss last week to Bethany took some of the luster out of this matchup. But then I thought about 2012, when TMC crushed W&J but lost two other conference games to miss out on the automatic bid to the playoffs. Well, here’s W&J’s opportunity to keep itself in the hunt and not get that second, and almost surely postseason-killing, loss in PAC play. There’s a lot riding on this one for the Presidents.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.) at Hampden-Sydney. I know I’ve said before that there has been some great history in this rivalry in the past 15 or so years. Both teams have taken an unexpected loss this season and that makes it a little more desperate situation for each, but especially for Bridgewater since its loss was a conference game.
Keith’s take: Redlands at Cal Lutheran. The last game of the 107 on the D-III schedule this week by more than two hours might also be the most hyped matchup of 1-2 teams ever. But let’s be honest, if the Bulldogs (who played No. 3 UMHB and No. 15 Pacific Lutheran) and Kingsmen (PLU then No. 2 Linfield) were based out East or in the Midwest, where there are roughly three dozen potential opponents within 200 miles of each campus, then each could have been less aggressive and started 3-0. But this is the AQ system at work. Both Mike Maynard and Ben McEnroe realize it does their players no service to start that way, especially with this clash — that will likely decide the SCIAC — so early. If you’ve already faced a top-3 team, nothing you see Saturday night will intimidate. CLU is plus-5 in turnovers despite its record, and Redlands needs to generate some offense besides RBs Bobby Brown and Curtis Tanquary.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Buena Vista at Wartburg.
I think the Beavers’ 0-4 record is a little deceiving — every opponent they’ve played is undefeated, a combined record of 16-0. And against Concordia-Moorhead and Coe, the scoreboard was close deep into the game. Wartburg’s three wins, on the other hand, come against teams that are a combined 3-10. Their common opponent, Bethel, ended with fairly similar results. Buena Vista has a chance to surprise people down the stretch.
Pat’s take: No. 6 St. Thomas at Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus is certainly playing much better than it did last year, standing at 3-1 and blowing out two teams while only losing at Augsburg, by three. Last year St. Thomas didn’t have its best game but still led throughout. This year the Tommies may have a different feeling going to St. Peter, Minn., and can’t afford to sit their No. 1 quarterback, the way they did last week.
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Tufts. The Jumbos are close to a breakthrough — last week they were a yard away. It won’t happen against the Bantams, who are the class of the NESCAC, at least for the time being. But if Tufts can convert some third downs early — they’re under 30% this season against a defense that gets off the field three out of every four — they can keep it closer than most would expect.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 10 UW-Whitewater.
I was unsure what to make of Whitewater coming into this year, after missing the postseason last fall. I even said in Kickoff that I didn’t think UW-W would make the playoffs this year, at least not with Platteville and Oshkosh and the likelihood of a spoiler team in the WIAC. Enter that spoiler team. UW-Stout, which is coming off back-to-back games (albeit losses) against North Central and Oshkosh, isn’t going to be intimidated by anything Whitewater has to offer.
Pat’s take: No. 5 Bethel. I believe Bethel is the better team here but I’m resting this pick on the fact that Bethel really shouldn’t have won* that game last year anyway. Concordia-Moorhead will be very motivated to make sure they are not in position to lose if they celebrate prematurely on the field at the end of the game.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Bethel. I know, I keep on repeating, but the other possibilities, like No. 17 Wabash, get mentioned elsewhere anyway. Moorhead is the most significant road trip in the MIAC, for starters. The Cobbers are one of those teams who has been on the verge of getting it done but stays underrated because they haven’t. They also haven’t been dominant in their 4-0 start, and would need to slow the Royals’ run game (228 yds/g) to pull the  upset. Luckily, they’ve allowed only 96 rushing yards per game so far.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Maryville.
The Scots came into the season loaded with depth and hoping to shake off the injuries that have plagued them over the past two or three seasons. And to their credit, they’ve kept themselves in the conference hunt by knocking off Methodist (which beat USAC favorite Christopher Newport last week) and Averett and are currently sitting at 2-0 in conference play and 4-1 overall. On paper, they look like the best team in the USA South. Now, they have to further prove it on the field this weekend against one of the only other teams with a clean conference record, LaGrange. It’s a very winnable game for Maryville, if they can shore up their defense.
Pat’s take: Washington University-St. Louis. I even used the full name for a program that could conceivably run the table from here, go 8-2, end up with a reasonable strength of schedule and get a Pool B bid. If they do all that. This week’s game is at Hendrix and if the Warriors win, they become the Division III football state champions of Missouri, having beaten both of D-III teams from the state.
Keith’s take: Gallaudet. The Bison are a throwback, rushing for 350 yards per game — third nationally. They also stop the run and get off the field on third down (24.5 percent conversions allowed). Norwich comes down from Vermont having played three Liberty League teams prior to their ECFC-opening win over Becker last week. They’ve hung tough defensively against more talented teams, and even if Gallaudet is that, maybe they’ll have to make something happen in the passing game or on special teams to pull away.

Celebrating the red …
Ryan’s take: Wabash.
The scarlet-clad Little Giants take on Ohio Wesleyan, which in the big picture of the NCAC could be viewed as an up-and-coming program with their 9-1 2012 campaign and being 3-1 so far this fall. But what’s troubling is OWU’s overtime shootout loss to Denison, which is the toughest team they’ve played so far. Still, a loss to Denison means it could be a tricky Saturday against a 4-0 Wabash team that averages more than 50 points a game and has logged two shutouts so far. And OWU knows what that’s like after being shutout last year on their home turf by the Little Giants. No one has really been able to effectively pass against Wabash (Wooster did break the 200-yard mark), and while I’m sure that Mason Espinosa will make some plays and get some yards through the air, I don’t think it’ll be enough.
Pat’s take: Cortland State. The Red Dragons, who should have little trouble holding Montclair State’s offense in check considering the Red Hawks haven’t scored more than 17 points in a single game this season. Montclair is 1-4 with its only win coming against Salve Regina.
Keith’s take: Augsburg, at St. John’s. The Auggies nearly had their breakthrough last week at Bethel. They’ve got some interesting recent history with the Johnnies, but won’t need a late-game miracle if Ayrton Scott has a balanced game. The Johnnies are the rare team that gives up almost as much rushing (173 yards/game) as it does passing (181), and that plays into Scott’s hands. He passes for 254 yards a game but averages more than 20 carries as well, at 6.2 yards a run and 126 a game. And since the Auggies are technically Maroon, if the Johnnies win, I’m still right … sort of.

… white …
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman.
This perennial middle-of-the-pack HCAC team gets overlooked often in the discussions that veer toward Franklin and, to a lesser extent, Mount St. Joseph. That’s because the nation’s top teams (Mount Union, Linfield, etc.) and the bottom teams (North Park, Husson, etc.) get talked about often, and those in the middle don’t always get their voices heard. (Insert any government-shutdown political metaphor you want there.) What RHIT has done is be consistent and beat who it’s supposed to beat and be competitive against who it’s supposed to be competitive against. Rose should be able to handle its 1-4 Bluffton opponent this week, but with FC and MSJ to follow, keeping focused and not getting caught looking ahead is critical.
Pat’s take: Bowdoin. This has to be Bowdoin. Bowdoin’s only school color is white. And with a name like Polar Bears, it’s really difficult to justify another color. In addition to that, Bowdoin has already exceeded last year’s win total and has winless Hamilton taking the long trip to Brunswick, Maine.
Keith’s take: Shenandoah and Guilford. It was just a game last week, but after the upsets of Bridgewater and Washington & Lee, the Hornets’ trip to Greensboro is suddenly a big ODAC game. I’ve seen photos of Shenandoah wearing white at home, and Guilford wearing it on the road, so I don’t know which white I’m celebrating. Luckily, I really have no sense of which team should win here. The 2-2 Quakers have played four close games, and haven’t stood out in any particular area. Even their 24th-in-the-nation numbers defending the pass were helped by the fact W&L didn’t bother to try last week. Shenandoah is also 2-2 and all over the board, and was helped against Bridgewater by four turnovers.

… and blue.
Ryan’s take: Hartwick.
I’m eager to see if the Hawks can build upon their win over a good Ithaca team last week and upend St. John Fisher on Saturday. The Cardinals played a scary-close matchup against Frostburg State in Week 5, raising more than a few eyebrows. Both Hartwick and SJF are undefeated right now, and I think Hartwick is carrying the momentum. But this game isn’t do or die. The E8 is a regular contributor to Pool C playoff bids, and a loss here (especially a close one) won’t put either team out of the running.
Pat’s take: Merchant Marine. Plenty of reasons to be blue at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Yeah, no, not letting this go.
Keith’s take: Rochester. We’ll celebrate the Yellowjackets’ savvy move of dodging the shutdown, and by extension Merchant Marine, and lining up a game against Alfred State. It’s probably not the best matchup involving an Alfred — the Saxons’ clash with Ithaca could be a lot more exciting. But for both sides, who wear different shades of blue, a game is a game. Any one against a legitimate opponent should be celebrated. Would be nice if the Mariners’ careers weren’t being ruined, but least the Yellowjackets don’t have to go down on that sinking ship.

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Christian Bailoni has thrown just five interceptions in seven games. He’ll try to lead Kean past Cortland State on Saturday.
Kean athletics photo

Open the floodgates. After this week, no one can fault you for talking about the playoffs too early. Why’s that? Because, with a win, we might see the first playoff competition officially enter the field.

You’ll have to read below to find out exactly who we’re talking about.

But there is lots more than that to discuss. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you upset picks, teams with losing records that are worth watching and other surprises.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan at No. 9 North Central.
Can the Titans rebound after squandering a lead and losing last week to Wheaton? The fact is, last week’s game against Wheaton was arguably the first real test IWU faced this season – and they slipped up. Meanwhile, North Central has faced and toppled stiffer competition ever since the Week 1 loss against UW-LaCrosse. Both teams are statistically among the absolute best in the nation defensively. It will be interesting to see which team does the best job in motivating the offense to getting in the end zone. Both teams have been adept at not just putting points on the board after reaching the red zone but also actually getting touchdowns. But can IWU still do so without quarterback Rob Gallik? He’s out for the season with an ACL tear, and his backup’s only pass attempt last week resulted in an interception. That puts North Central heavily in control.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Cortland State at Kean. Cortland, which floated below the radar all season after losing at Buffalo State on Sept. 1, announced its return last week with a home win against Rowan. These two teams have taken the past two automatic bids from the league and are both unbeaten in NJAC play coming in. Remember the great game these two played last year? And it means more in Week 9 than it did last year in Week 3. Cortland is rolling up record numbers of points, while Kean has two offensive standouts as well in Darius Kinney and Deandre Fowlkes.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 16 Huntingdon. Will someone clinch here? Technically, no, but effectively yes. This is a Pool B play-in game, in my opinion, because the Wolverines’ strength of schedule makes it a no-brainer if it finishes its games against D-III teams with just a seven-point loss to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor. On the flipside, Millsaps might finish with a better record than Huntingdon, but the Hawks’ last game, two weeks ago, was a 45-24 win against Millsaps. QB Neal Posey and RB Trevor Manuel power the high-octane Hawks offense (43.3 points, 444 yards/game) but Wesley’s been quietly good on defense (16 points per game, No. 24 against the pass). Much of the preseason talk about the Wolverines centered on QB Justin Sotillare, but Wesley’s getting contributions up and down the roster, on offense (five players, not including Sotillare, generating at least 53 all-purpose yards per game), defense (LB Sosthene Kaepepula, 9.43 tackles/game) and even special teams (Sean Hopkins, 19 yards per punt return). So many other games this week could fit the G.O.T.W. bill.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Carnegie Mellon at Washington U.
You have to go back to 2005 to find a matchup between these two teams that hasn’t been separated essentially by more than a touchdown. Entering this year with inverse 5-2 and 2-5 records, CMU is the clear favorite thanks to a nicely stacked backfield. Yet when the Bears play a good team, it’s amazing how much they step up into the role. Just ask Coe and Wabash. Wash U. may not get the win, but they’ll make it fun to watch.
Pat’s take: Westminster (Pa.) at No. 25 Waynesburg. Shoot, pretty much every Waynesburg game has been close and pretty much every Westminster game has been close as well. I’d actually think about this in the next category down, but Waynesburg has somehow found a way to be resilient.
Keith’s take: FDU-Florham at Misericordia. The first-year Cougars are basically a JV team playing against full-fledged varsity teams, and the results have reflected that. Their closest game was a 55-17 loss to King’s, which is 1-6 and lost, 30-14, to FDU-Florham. I wouldn’t suggest that Misericordia’s going to win, even though the 1-6 Blue Devils have been outscored 128-21 in their past three games and rank 200th or worse in 10 of the main 17 statistics tracked by the NCAA. But that’s just it; knowing they should win going in leaves an opening for the Blue Devils to be lackadaisical even when they should be hungry for a victory, and it might result in the best two or three quarters of Misericordia’s inaugural season before FDU-Florham gets serious and puts the game away.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None.
End of story.
Pat’s take: No. 11 Wabash. I actually think Ryan is on the right track here, but I feel like I should pick someone. (Someone other than the Waynesburg pick I obliquely referenced earlier.) Wabash at least has a decent shot of losing, just because Ohio Wesleyan is playing better than it has in years, but if you look at the Around the Nation column we posted on Thursday, you’ll see the comparative scores don’t favor OWU.
Keith’s take: No. 19 Coe. Way too many great games this week to think the top 25 will get through unscathed. There are three top 25-on-top 25 matchups, and another six games where a top 25 team is playing a five-win team. Maybe they’ll all come through, but the odds aren’t in their favor. Based on common results against Simpson (a 20-19 Wartburg loss, a 47-7 Coe win), one wouldn’t suspect an upset. But the Knights allow just 48 rushing yards per game, while Coe depends on the ground attack for 233 of its 479 yards per game. Plus, an outright conference title and simple Weeks 10 and 11 seems so un-IIAC. Coe would put the league title in the bag with a win, but the IIAC seems like it’s always got a tiebreaker coming into play. I’m betting on that more than I’m betting against the Kohawks.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps.
The Majors go up against a Trinity team that has been up and down all year – convincing win over Texas Lutheran and narrower one over Birmingham-Southern; yet also big losses against Sul Ross State and Centre. Millsaps, on the other hand, is riding a 6-1 record into the stretch, and still has B-S lying in wait. A playoff spot isn’t out of the question if they can win out.
Pat’s take: Middlebury. This is a team with some talent, especially on offense. You should have read about quarterback McCallum Foote, especially in Kickoff, as well as tight end Billy Chapman in a Team of the Week this year and right tackle Ryan Moores, an NFL prospect. Playing at Trinity (Conn.) is about the biggest challenge you can get in the NESCAC in any given year. While last year the Panthers lost this game 42-7, Foote did not play.
Keith’s take: Heidelberg and Willamette. For simple reasons. The Student Princes have hardly been challenged, and we really have no idea if they’re a team that can give Mount Union a game — with the nation’s No. 11 scoring offense (42 points per game, behind No. 1 UMU’s 55.3), a team that can beat another league champion in the first round of the playoffs, or one that is going to stumble this week and against either John Carroll or Baldwin Wallace and miss the postseason entirely. Until I watch the SportsTime Ohio rebroadcast at 11 p.m. on Saturday night, I still won’t really have any idea how strong this Heidelberg team is. The stats (The Student Princes are the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, at a little more than eight points per game, behind No. 1 Mount Union, who’s got six straight shutouts) suggest a great game, but also that the OAC has been very poor challengers this season as well. Willamette I’m interested in because the loss to Pacific Lutheran puts a three-way tie on the table in the NWC with a win at No. 3 Linfield, which seems unlikely. The Bearcats also put the NWC’s chances at a second playoff bid, which once seemed strong, in danger with a loss.

Which team with a losing record has the most left to play for?
Ryan’s take: LaGrange.
Besides any team with a Week 11 rivalry? (DePauw, Mount St. Joseph, Williams, I’m look at you guys.) Aside from a rivalry game, the other great factor is a conference championship, and LaGrange is actually in the driver’s seat for the USA South’s automatic qualifier. The team’s only conference loss is against Averett, which is at the bottom of the conference and is no threat to compete for the AQ. In their first year in the USAC, the Panthers took down perennial conference power Christopher Newport and now enjoy a 3-1 conference record, despite being just 3-4 overall. Methodist is this week, but it’s Ferrum and a rising Greensboro that will be the biggest challengers to LaGrange.
Pat’s take: Marietta. It is just pride that they’re playing for, but this is one of those times where a team should really look further down the schedule. Baldwin Wallace and Otterbein come up next, but the season-ending game against Muskingum is where Marietta needs to peak. The Pioneers haven’t gone winless since 1991, and this young team needs to pull together with its eyes on avoiding that.
Keith’s take: St. John’s. You’ve got to dig through the record book to find the last .500 (4-4-1, 1986) or sub-.500 (3-5, 1967) team coached by John Gagliardi. You don’t become the all-time winningest coach (487) or program (.705 winning percentage, per a claim on the Johnnies’ website) by having many of those. At 3-4 currently, coming off a bye since a win that followed a four-game losing streak, the Johnnies finish their home slate with Gustavus Adolphus, before playing at Hamline and at Bethel to end the season. Given that the final two weeks are probably a win and a loss, this week marks the difference between 5-5 and 4-6. Below .500, or the lack of a strong three-week finish, could make the calls for Gagliardi to finally retire grow louder. I’ve never heard John say anything that would suggest he would ever hang them up without being forced to, but I’m not sure how much he calls his own shot in that regard. Winning couldn’t hurt, and so the Johnnies, who have scored 21 or more in all but one game this year, welcome Gustavus, who averages less than 20, to town for a clash, to, oh, preserve the Johnnie legacy, keep its legendary coach in place and simply win.

Which “state of mind” are you drawn to?
Ryan’s take: Cortland State.
The Red Dragons will clinch a playoff berth with a win over Kean this week. How can we not be drawn to that? But, since I’m the first of our trio to make his Triple Take picks, it’s possible one of my colleagues will have already mentioned Cortland higher up. Sooooooo, Castleton State, which lines up against a Gallaudet squad that’s playing better than ever, is also a good one to watch.
Pat’s take: Illinois College. This week’s game at Monmouth should be interesting, because Michael Bates hasn’t come back since the game in which he got injured against Lake Forest. I’d really like to talk about the state of Defiance, but I don’t see them beating Franklin.
Keith’s take: Framingham and Bridgewater States. The Rams (No. 4 total defense nationally) have a lower yards-per-play (3.3) than anybody but Mount Union (2.12) and have won seven in a row since a seven-turnover opening-week debacle against Endicott in which the Gulls returned two interceptions for scores. Coast Guard, a surprising 4-3, hosts Framingham State, while Bridgewater State (No. 9 total defense nationally) hosts punchless Maine Maritime (0-7) hoping for a stumble and a chance to sneak back into the Bogan Division race. The Bears only loss came 16-0 at home against the Rams, so they’d be pulling for Worcester State (5-3) the following week if Framingham State does stumble. The Rams’ name to know is Melikke van Alstyne, a running back rushing for 148 yards per game.

Which game are you surprised means as much as it does at this point in the season?
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Hampden-Sydney.
With Guilford having swept through Bridgewater and Randolph-Macon over the past two weeks, the team that was 2-8 last season could put themselves in prime position with a win over Hampden-Sydney this week. H-SC may be slightly down compared with recent year, but I emphasize “slightly.” The Tigers are still going to take advantage of opponent miscues as well as come up with creative play-calling. The Quakers probably won’t emerge from this with a win, but just the fact that they’re in a position to compete for the ODAC title in Week 9, that’s an impressive stride over their recent seasons.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Heidelberg at No. 1 Mount Union. And this is not just because the two teams are unbeaten, although that’s obviously a big part of it. This is also bigger than expected because neither team has particularly been challenged this season, because Ohio Northern is unexpectedly 2-5 and Capital has struggled. (By the way, on the opposite side, surprised that Concordia-Chicago at Benedictine doesn’t have more riding on it. Would not have expected Benedictine to be 1-3 in the league.)
Keith’s take: No. 11 Wabash at Ohio Wesleyan. Let’s be real. There are probably some team Moms, videographers and backup linemen that didn’t expect a 7-0 start for the Battling Bishops, who haven’t finished above .500 since 2005. The national praise has been slow to come because of Ohio Wesleyan’s competition; If we’re all waiting for them to beat a serious opponent, they don’t come much more serious than the Little Giants. Defensive linemen James Huddleston and Johnathan Valentine have propelled OWU to the top of D-III in sacks this season, Miles McKenzie leads the nation in field goals and QB Mason Espinosa is top 15 in passing. If OWU pulls off the upset, it’s not only in the driver’s seat for the NCAC automatic bid with two games to go, it makes Coach Tom Watts a favorite for the North Region coach of the year and puts the 2002 Hanover graduate on the short list of young D-III coaches on the rise.

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St. John Fisher ended last season on a roll to the Elite 8. The Cardinals start with a Top 25 opponent in Thomas More.

Are you ready to take in more than 1,200 college football games this season? We sure are!

The Division III community is embarking on a fall during which 239 teams will take the field, most playing nine or 10 games in the regular season. D-III is the largest division in college, and D3football.com will give you insight across the board into the good, the bad, and the potential breakouts.

That all started with Kickoff 2012, our preseason publication, which has a slew of feature stories as well as rankings and interviews with coaches from every team in the nation. (There’s still lots of valuable info there if you haven’t purchased yet.)

D3football.com also brings you regional and national columns throughout the season, and every Friday morning, you’ll be able to dive into the column you’re reading right now, called Triple Take.

In Triple Take, Executive Editor and Publisher Pat Coleman, Managing Editor and National Columnist Keith McMillan and Senior Editor and longtime Mid-Atlantic Columnist Ryan Tipps break down some of the week’s biggest games, sleeper teams and those who we’re keeping an especially close eye on. From now until the Stagg Bowl, we’ll take you well beyond the Top 25.

We open up Triple Take to comments in the section below, or feel free to take the conversation to Twitter using the hashtag #3take. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: Pat (@d3football), Keith (@D3Keith) and Ryan (@D3MidAtlantic).

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at No. 11 St. John Fisher.
Fisher blasted through the first two rounds of the 2011 playoffs, proving to the selection committee and the D-III community that 8-2 teams deserve at-large bids. Their Empire 8 conference is one of the absolute toughest in the land, and getting the ball rolling against the PAC’s standard-bearer will be an exciting test. Both teams return the bulk of their starters and match up amazingly well on the field. A win for momentum’s sake could be crucial, too, as each team faces its top conference opponent the first week of October.
Pat’s take: St. Norbert vs. John Carroll. It’s in Ireland, for goodness sakes. I’m not sure I need to write anything else.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at No. 11 St. John Fisher. Usually we try not to duplicate picks, but this was my standout game before I saw Ryan’s, and I’m sticking with it. There’s some other intrigue, like Willamette at Hardin-Simmons and Monmouth at Coe, but this is the biggest toss-up involving at least one top 25 team. Luke Magness became Thomas More’s starting quarterback right at the end of the season last year; We’ll be watching to see how much better he is with an offseason to prepare for the job. Likewise, St. John Fisher’s Ryan Kramer was a running back-turned-QB in a pinch last season; He’s had a full go-round to train as a signal-caller.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Marietta.
Case has ushered in some teams with top-notch records recently, not losing more than two games a season over the past five years. But the Spartans are rarely dynamic out of the gate. Chalk that up to reasons we may never know. But with some changes happening up front for Case, an OAC team (even a lower-tier one) isn’t how I’d prefer to start my season.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Delaware Valley at Rowan. The Profs look to be coming into this season undermanned when compared to their cross-river rivals. And even though Rowan is far removed from the program which beat Delaware Valley in back-to-back years for the East Region title in 2004 and 2005, there’s still a little pride in Glassboro. Enough to give them a fighting chance.
Keith’s take: Augustana at Dubuque. On the surface, it’s a 2-8 team vs. a playoff team. Beneath it, though, the Vikings have usually been good for about seven wins a season, and come from the always-tough CCIW. Last season, the Spartans won, 18-13, on the road. They’re a more confident team now, coming off an IIAC championship, but they’re also without Gagliardi Trophy winner Michael Zweifel, who accounted for an enormous amount of their offense last season. Even if Dubuque wins again, it’ll be by a not-pretty score like last season.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 St. Thomas.
Can a team really lose its best players at its three prime skill positions — the quarterback and All-Americans at running back and wide receiver — and still deserve a spot in the Top 10? Not unless your name is Mount Union or UW-Whitewater. The Tommies’ opening opponent, UW-Eau Claire, is a solid mid-pack WIAC team, which stands for a lot coming from that conference. St. Thomas might make the playoffs again (they might even go 10-0), but there’s a lot more trepidation about the team’s potency now than there was at this time in 2011.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. St. John Fisher performed better in the playoffs last season without Ryan Kramer than it did with him. But it’s good to remember that Kramer was not expected to be the quarterback in 2011 when the season started, and worked out in the offseason and preseason as a running back before the presumed starter got hurt. With a full offseason to prepare, Kramer should be much more polished under center.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Kean. I don’t think any of the ranked teams are really likely to be upset; If I thought so, I wouldn’t have put these teams in the preseason top 25.  And I mean actual upsets (*glares at Pat*). Kean though, is replacing nearly its entire offense (four starters back; 13 overall) while its opponent, Albright, brings back the group almost intact (nine offensive starters, 16 overall). The game is under the lights in Union, N.J. though, which means this is about as weak an upset pick as I could possibly make. Other viable choices were No. 6 North Central, hosting UW-LaCrosse or No. 7 Salisbury, at Christopher Newport.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 24. Birmingham-Southern.
Any team that has a rusher like Shawn Morris has one less position it needs to worry about come Saturday. As the No. 2 rusher in country last fall, Morris was instrumental in helping B-SC reach further for its gold ring than ever before. The Panthers have turned things around in recent years, and barring any major stumbles, they should be on everyone’s radar for the next several weeks, starting with their game against LaGrange.
Pat’s take: Buffalo State. The Empire 8 coaches’ poll snubbed the Bengals and despite my best efforts, I think Kickoff did too. I agree with what Ryan said above, about the Empire 8 being among the toughest conferences in Division III football, but Buffalo State will be able to hold its own. Whether that translates into a win against Cortland State remains to be seen but the Bengals should be on your radar, for sure.
Keith’s take: William Paterson and Wisconsin Lutheran.
Yeah I’m not sure I understood Pat’s obssession with Buffalo State during our Kickoff meetings, but then he could probably say the same about my Wisconsin Lutheran pick in the Beyond the Top 25 piece. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, buy Kickoff. … It won’t affect the Northern Athletics Conference race, but Wisconsin Lutheran’s opener at Ripon is a chance for them to take a step toward the postseason. Meanwhile, the real intrigue is in the NJAC, a race that could be up for grabs, especially if my upset pick is correct. That means William Paterson needs to start the season with an attention-grabbing victory against King’s. Other potential picks here included North Park at Hope and Illinois College, hosting Hanover.

Which 2011 playoff team is going to end up wishing it had a Week 1 bye?
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins.
The Blue Jays have said more than once in recent seasons that quarterback Hewitt Tomlin was the face of the franchise, the player on whom success and defeat often rested. Tomlin has graduated, and with him the more than 2,600 yards he threw for last year. That doesn’t leave a settling thought for a team that has to go up against Randolph-Macon, with its penchant for replacing top-notch running backs with even more top-notch backs. Macon is stingy with points, too. A team might be able to air the ball out and make some big plays to put up points, but most opponents won’t win the war in the trenches with Macon. JHU won’t have the leverage going into Saturday to outlift R-MC.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. It isn’t a rebuilding season for the Saints, to be sure, but they won’t be 10-0 dominant like they were last year. And you can consult the Kickoff rankings to see the difference between last year’s non-conference opener (Lawrence) and this year’s (Whitworth).
Keith’s take: Franklin. Look, we salute the Grizzlies for playing Mount Union. It’ll be a meeting of some of D-III’s best fans, at least in the pre-game tailgate. For years we’ve seen teams take this Week 1 game to get a taste of the Purple Raiders, and they end up with a mouthful. Franklin, which has designs on being a perennial contender, took a game with UW-Whitewater last season and lost 45-0. The playoff rematch was 41-14. I know Franklin doesn’t really wish it had a bye, because they’re playing these games to figure out what it takes to get to the purple powers’ level, but the final score may leave a bit to be desired. Mount Union has been vulnerable in recent seasons, but we’re talking December vulnerable, not beginning of September. Other candidates: Bendictine at No. 15 Wheaton, Monmouth at Coe.

Which conference will have the most impressive non-conference win?
Ryan’s take: The MIAA.
It’s not every day that a team from Michigan can get a leg up on the CCIW, but that’s exactly what could happen when Adrian hosts Carthage. The Bulldogs are a team on the rise, and they’re certainly hoping to bite into a piece of the playoff pie. Should they lose a conference game, wins against teams like Carthage could factor in nicely for at-large consideration.
Pat’s take: The MAC. There are a couple of possible matchups here that could give me that result, but the one I’m thinking of is Lebanon Valley at Montclair State. Montclair State just lost too much on offense and defense … and special teams … and while Lebanon Valley doesn’t exactly return intact either, it should have the upper hand.
Keith’s take: The ECFC.
A few teams scheduled aggressively, opening up opportunities for upsets. Gallaudet at Otterbein, Norwich against Western New England and Husson at Hartwick are the three games that would catch my attention, should the ECFC team prevail.

Which long losing streak is likely to end?
Ryan’s take: Greensboro, at Guilford.
If you’re going to end a losing streak, nothing’s sweeter than doing it against a cross-town rival. The Pride has a new coach, one who is familiar with the inner workings of the team. That means there’s new perspectives but without the learning curve. To most teams, Guilford wouldn’t be a chest-thumping win, but Greensboro has won just one game since September 2010. And last year’s matchup against Guilford was a lopsided affair. A win by Greensboro isn’t going to be a sign of a great resurgence afoot, but it will be a step in the right direction for a program looking to rebuild.
Pat’s take: Knox, vs. Eureka. The Prairie Fire have been put out 14 consecutive times, but it’s better to open against Eureka than against Wash U. Knox is playing at home and should have 18 starters back. Eureka has some pretty good talent as well, but if the win doesn’t come here for Knox, in the inaugural Lincoln Bowl, it will be more than a month before there’s another similar opportunity.
Keith’s take: Thiel, vs. Juniata.
The Tomcats won 11 games in 2005, but now are coming off consecutive 0-10 seasons and 22 consecutive losses. Juniata, meanwhile, is 6-54 since that 2005 season, so if there was ever an opportunity for Theil to break the streak, now is the time. Hamline (16 consecutive losses) at Minnesota-Morris is another candidate.

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