Around the Nation Podcast: Still many unbeatens

Chicago had its hands full at Bethel on Saturday. (Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com)

Chicago had its hands full at Bethel on Saturday. (Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com)

A few unbeaten but unranked teams had the opportunity to prove themselves against opponents with a little more prestige on Saturday. But in the end, Chicago, Gustavus and Emory & Henry couldn’t get over the hump.

Of course, those losses, and others by UW-Stevens Point and Wesleyan, still leave Division III with nearly two dozen unbeaten teams. That seems like a lot for this time of year, but that’s not too unusual.

We remember what an unpopular decision it was to hire the guy who has won 100 of his first 106 career games as a head coach and talk about who to re-evaluate in the Top 25. 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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Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show:

Triple Take: We welcome many more

Linfield, North Central, Bethel, Pacific Lutheran, Cal Lutheran, Wabash, Baldwin Wallace. Those Top 25 teams and so many other squads around the nation haven’t had the chance to take their first regulation snap this fall.

That ends this weekend.

Only a small handful of teams won’t have at least one game under their belt by the close of Saturday. So which of this weekend’s openers are you most curious about? D3football.com’s Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps reveal their picks below in the weekly Triple Take feature.

We welcome your comments here or on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Pacific Lutheran at No. 18 Cal Lutheran.
You have to go back a couple of years to find a game when this wasn’t a good matchup. Starting in 2010, the Lutes have played their way into the national discussion, even if their best has been left on the playoff fringe looking in. It’s the opener for both teams, and it’s scheduled at a time where even East Coasters don’t have an excuse not to pay attention.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson at No. 19 St. John Fisher. I’m adamant about tipping the cap to teams who schedule strong opponents when they don’t have to, so respect is due here. And just our luck, this game matches up Presidents who gained 551 yards and hung 58 points on Wooster in the opener against Cardinals who allowed 145 and 0 against Otterbein. There’s poll position, potential Pool C slotting and pride on the line. The Cardinals are dead serious about testing themselves early this year — Otterbein won eight games last season, and W&J and Cortland State, next week’s opponent, were playoff teams. And that’s pre-Empire 8. Keep an eye on SJFC’s Dalton Donk and Mason Judd, who each had 10 tackles last week.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield at Hardin-Simmons. Game of the week if you like offense, and honestly, who doesn’t? Hardin-Simmons might have a fighting chance if it doesn’t give up 29 points in the first quarter, as it did on the trip to Willamette last week, but defense has never really been the Cowboys’ strong suit.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hanover at No. 20 Wabash.
I know I always open the door to criticism when I say that my alma mater is anything short of perfect, but the Little Giants have some pieces to replace this year, including dual-threat quarterback Chase Belton. Hanover isn’t as bad as last week’s score showed, which could make this recently renewed rivalry a good one on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at Marian. Speaking of teams testing themselves early, this qualifies there too. Marian, the defending NAIA champ coming off an overtime loss to fourth-ranked St. Xavier, hosts the Titans, who needed a second-half rally to beat IIAC favorite Central last week. The jury is still out on whether Nick Olla and Oshkosh belong at No. 10, but we’re going to find out quickly. Marian running back Tevin Lake rushed for 180 yards against St. Xavier and has four touchdowns already this season. Cory Wipperfurth had a 56-yard and a 67-yard catch for Oshkosh against Central. For me, the biggest question is for it to be surprisingly close, which way is the surprise? WIAC followers might think a top team from their conference should dominate an NAIA team. NAIA followers might think their defending champ should manhandle a non-powerhouse from D-III.
Pat’s take: Butler at No. 13 Franklin. I mean, I have to stick up for the D-III team here and believe, right? Would be nice if Franklin won so we could “prove” Butler is not better than Mount Union.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 6 North Central.
If for no other reason than it happened last year, but that’s all the more reason the Cardinals won’t get caught sleeping. However, UW-La Crosse has that all-too-precious first game in its pocket already, which improves the team’s chances.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley. The phrase “take it one week at a time” works in reverse too. Salisbury hasn’t won in the Route 13 rivalry since 2004, but four of the past six games have been low-scoring and decided by single digits, including 23-14 last year and 17-14 the year before. On talent, the Wolverines should win. But it’s funny, the difference between “on paper” and “in real life,” and players’ psyches affect that. I can absolutely remember as a player thinking “we’re going to kill these guys on Saturday” and not practicing as hard as for the games where you know you had a challenge ahead. If Wesley is feeling itself from its 644-yard, eight-sack opener against Widener, and is looking at Salisbury like a rollover because it lost in Week 1 … well, that’s when a rival bites unexpectedly.
Pat’s take: None. I was really tempted to take Elmhurst on the road at Trine but I think Elmhurst can handle it. Last week’s game vs. Loras was close at the half because of some sloppy penalties and turnovers in the red zone. With an extra two days of practice, I expect Elmhurst to come out much better than last week. (Trine has had the same extra practice as well, as both opened on Thursday last week.)

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Misericordia.
Credit goes to Keith for talking this team up in the Around the Nation Podcast earlier this week. He piqued my interest in the Cougars, even though they are barreling into a matchup with powerhouse Delaware Valley. More specifically, he turned me on to Misericordia quarterback Jeff Puckett, who complemented a lackluster 53-yard passing outing with a 301-yard rushing effort, contributing a total of six touchdowns. He has my attention. What’s more, the Cougar’s 40 points they scored in the opener is just shy of their point total for all of 2012. The MAC is a tough, tough conference, but Misericordia isn’t a team that’s going to stay winless for long.
Keith’s take: Framingham State and Salve Regina. Facing the NJAC’s Rowan and Montclair State respectively, it’s a chance for New England teams — their schedules opened up by the NEFC/MASCAC split — to gain some notice nationally. Both teams are coming off big first-week wins. Melikke van Alstyne and the Rams beat Endicott, 35-23, and Salve Regina walloped Bridgewater State, 36-7.
Pat’s take: Brockport State. Rolling over Lycoming for a second consecutive year didn’t garner much pub (no box score, no game story uploaded) but a game against Buffalo State gives the Eagles another shot at getting themselves on the Division III radar.

Which team will bounce back from a Week 1 loss?
Ryan’s take: North Park.
The perennial bottom of the CCIW (the Vikings haven’t won a conference game since 2000) melted down last week in the third quarter against Hope, costing them the game. But they’ll bounce back because the only success the Vikings ever have is in nonconference play, meaning this week against Benedictine and next week against Olivet will be some of the biggest prizes to play for all season.
Keith’s take: Central. The Dutch’s clash with Augustana isn’t the monster game it was or would have been years ago, but I thought Central took it to UW-Oshkosh for the portion of the game I watched last week. Perhaps it wasn’t the right portion, but assuming Central’s luck isn’t so poor this time around — quarterback Aaron Eisler left the game because of the triple-digit heat, a 65-yard Jacob Edelman interception return was called back and Wipperfurth hit the two big plays — they might be able to play two outstanding halves this week instead of just one. Augustana, a Week 1 winner over  Mt. St. Joseph, won’t make it easy though.
Pat’s take: Benedictine. That’s funny, or ironic, or something. I actually think it’s Benedictine who will bounce back from its loss to Wheaton and beat North Park. Benedictine played Wheaton pretty well and has a good slate of transfers complementing the returning starters.  Last year, Cyle Schultz had less than a full training camp of practice before taking over the starting quarterback job. Now he’s got a full year under his belt and the offense will be better. North Park, switching from the triple option to the spread, moves from a time-chewing offense to one that could get them off the field fast, putting a lot of pressure on the defense as the game wears on.

Opener you’re more curious about.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Linfield.
Last year, I went into the season very high on the Wildcats, with their senior quarterback, stud running back and several All-Region-caliber defenders. I picked them to win it all. At the time, injury took a little bit of the talent from those ranks, but Linfield still put together a season to be very proud of, including a deep playoff run. This year, I held back on my expectations — at least a little. Yes, running back Josh Hill and defensive lineman Tyler Steele have healed their wounds. Yes, All-West Defensive Player of the Year Dom Forrest returns at linebacker. But, as I said, I held back. Other voters in the Top 25 haven’t felt the same as I have, giving the Wildcats six first-place votes. This weekend, the most telling point could be how well Linfield reins in the explosive Hardin-Simmons offense. Can this defense be the kind that wins championships? We will very soon find out.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut. I was going to say No. 6 North Central at UW-LaCrosse, but I think with the Colonials coming over from the NJAC and facing a Nichols team that actually won last week, I’m interested in how they’ll do. Joe Loth, who coached previously at Kean and turned Otterbein into a playoff teams, enters his second season at Western Connecticut. The game is Friday night under the lights in Dudley, not Danbury, though.
Pat’s take: No. 8 Bethel. This is a heady spot for the Royals to be in. They did bow out in the second round last year but that was at Oshkosh, where they were underdogs. They’ll continue to share carries, presumably, but remember they have a quarterback who can throw for 250 yards in a game in Erik Peterson. They should be better than last year, but whether that’s enough to get them into the Top 10 is another story.

Know your As, Bs and Cs.
Ryan’s take: Albion.
This time last year, the Britons were turning heads after a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive led to an upset win against Wheaton. What happened the rest of the season wasn’t pretty. The following week saw a loss to middling Benedictine, with a .500 conference record after that. Albion’s flirt with the edges of the Top 25 was gone in a breath. This year, though, will be far from a repeat of 2012. Unlike last fall, Wheaton has a game under its belt going into the Albion game, and Albion isn’t riding the wave of confidence it had after a trouncing of an opener last year. Wheaton is out to settle a score, and will do so swiftly under the lights.
Keith’s take: Birmingham Southern. Pretty sure, after leading 52-10 at one point in a 59-38 win against LaGrange last week, that Hendrix is due for an introduction to what an established, highly competitive D-III program looks like. And maybe the young SAA program should take notes. B-SC was a startup (or more accurately, a restart) itself in 2007. This is what the Warriors will look like in a few years if progress matches ambition.
Pat’s take: Coe. Over Cornell. Former Midwest Conference rivals, then Iowa Conference rivals, now non-conference rivals. Maybe growing a little closer together. Cornell was certainly better in the win-loss column last year, but is going 4-5 in the Midwest Conference better than going 1-7 in the Iowa Conference? Coe struggled last week at Monmouth, but at least the Coe bus won’t break down on the way to the game this week, since it’s the home opener. Will Cornell be more competitive this week? Perhaps not. But it could get better.

Triple Take: Rivalry week

Chris Haupt
With an extra week to wait and prepare, Chris Haupt and Widener need a win against Delaware Valley to secure a playoff bid.
Widener athletics file photo

For all the games played in the regular season, those that live as part of storied rivalries are among the greatest.

It’s special for the players, alumni and parents who get to be a part of those traditions. For no matter how bad a season has been, rivalry week offers a chance at a bit of redemption, a chance to play with heart and end the school year – or even a college career – with a smile. From Monon and Cortaca to Bowls and Games, the edge-of-your-seat excitement happens all across the country.

Pat, Keith and Ryan take you into Week 11, with Selection Sunday looming just beyond.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley at No. 9 Widener.
There has been no shortage of questions about the Pride’s strength throughout the season. They’ve beaten their three best opponents by only a combined 13 points. And their lesser opponents? Well, those teams have been absolutely pummeled. The Aggies are the last hurdle to Widener’s ride into the postseason, but oh what a hurdle. After a fall from grace with two opening losses, DelVal regained its form and has been more convincing than Widener down the stretch. Both teams are statistically sound, but Widener will want to win this one to avoid an ugly three-way tie for the top of the MAC. Of course, DelVal will want to win to force just such a situation. This will be a conference people could be talking a lot about come Sunday.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at No. 22 Bethel. Once upon a time, St. John’s had beaten Bethel 20 consecutive meetings. But these days, the Royals have the upper hand. Bethel’s playoff hopes are already flagging thanks to the loss to St. Olaf and it can’t afford to lose this game. Meanwhile, St. John’s needs the win to finish with a winning record … and who knows, it might take some extra motivation from the possibility that John Gagliardi might be coaching his last game.
Keith’s take: Adrian at No. 17 Huntingdon. Since I wrote the Around the Nation column largely on the implications of this game, there’s no need to rehash that if you’ve been following along. But I didn’t get into player matchups or X’s and O’s, and there’s something big to focus on here: Adrian is second in the country in scoring defense (10.67 points per game to No. 1 Mount Union’s 3.11) and held five consecutive MIAA opponents in the single digits before Albion scored 19 in an overtime loss last week. Huntingdon scores 39.25 points per game and puts up 417.75 yards (numbers that are just 16th and 54th nationally), with multitalented RB Trevor Manuel guiding the way. Adrian LBs Deonte Bridgman and Hunter Juntunen lead the Bulldogs’ defense, which is adept at stopping the run (1oth nationally) and the pass (fifth). Huntingdon DL D.J. Chappell and Courtney Moss have been spending time in opponents’ backfields. This game is a curiosity because of the mismatch of styles, as well as D-III regions. The MIAA isn’t exactly known as one of D-IIIs top conferences, and Huntingdon, if it wins big by scoring a bunch, will be making a statement for playoff inclusion and for the quality of D-III ball in the deep south.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Maryville at Ferrum.
Both teams have a lot to play for here, and it’s rare in recent years for this game to be separated by more than one score. The Scots are trying to secure their first winning season since 2007, and this under the leadership of a first-year coach. Ferrum, on the other hand, could be propelled into the postseason if Christopher Newport suffers an upset loss. Expect this matchup to go down to the bone.
Pat’s take: Denison at Kenyon. Denison has a huge chance to play spoiler here. And who thought we would ever be talking about someone spoiling Kenyon’s playoff chances? Denison’s 3-6 is just as misleading as Kenyon’s 6-3. For two members of the same conference, they have fairly few common opponents.
Keith’s take: Buena Vista at Dubuque. The Beavers, in hindsight, played perhaps the nation’s toughest opening five games (a distinction that previously belonged to Buffalo State). They went 0-5 against four teams that have playoff aspirations (UW-Platteville, Concordia-Moorhead, Bethel and Coe) and Wartburg, allowing 48.6 points per game and losing each contest by between 21 and 51 points. Since, however, they’ve reeled off four wins in varying fashions, and can get to .500 on the season by beating last season’s IIAC champ, who also comes in at 4-5. The Spartans can still wing it, as Sean Anderson averages seven catches a game and Austin Morgan (6.89) is just a shade behind, and you’d expect them — by reputation and name recognition — to run up some high totals against BVU. The Beavers allowed 369 yards and four passing touchdowns against Simpson last week, but they won, 29-27, and are playing to end the season on a high note, while Dubuque is undoubtedly disappointed with its encore.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Waynesburg.
One- and two-point wins against teams that are 2-7 don’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence, especially when this week’s opponent is veteran power Washington and Jefferson. Top 25 voters (myself included) held off a long time pulling the trigger on the Yellow Jackets because the strength of schedule and margins of victory just didn’t stack up well compared with the rest of the teams being considered. With a loss, Waynesburg could very well be sitting nervously as a 9-1 at-large team on Selection Sunday.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Cortland State. The Cortaca Jug is motivation enough for either team, and Ithaca has had a pretty good season. The Bombers lost each of the past two meetings, including being dominated last year in a 27-3 loss. There seems to be some gamesmanship going on with the status of Ithaca quarterback Phil Neumann as well, but I wouldn’t expect Ithaca to come with anything better than its best possible performance.
Keith’s take: No. 24 Pacific Lutheran. In trying to find a team that isn’t mentioned elsewhere in Triple Take, my options were limited; even more so when look for one that might actually lose. In a game at Menlo, in California’s bay area, the Seattle-area Lutes travel to face a team that’s lost four in a row. The Oaks, a former NWC and D-III member, have faced No. 3 Linfield, No. 6 Wesley and NAIA No. 1 Marian this season, so they’re ready for the kind of athletes they’ll see from PLU. The Lutes are tested as well, and need to win for playoff inclusion (even though Menlo is non-D-III, the at-large bids are so competitive, each team needs everything it can get), so perhaps this is a terrible pick. But what’d you want me to do, suggest Mississippi College would win at No. UMHB? Suggest 0-9 McDaniel would pick off No. 21 Johns Hopkins? I guess I could have picked No. 11 Salisbury to loaf, with playoff spot now in hand, against Regents Cup rival Frostburg State. My bad.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Pomona-Pitzer/Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Both of these teams can’t end the season winless. *Somebody* has to go home happy on Saturday. The Sagehens are riding an unflattering 18-game skid, so I could venture a guess as to which team will come out on top. But if ever there were a time to break the streak, this is it.
Pat’s take: St. Norbert. After a couple of years on the sidelines, St. Norbert is again playing a part in the Midwest Conference race. They could take Lake Forest down on Saturday, but if not, they were here in the end, which is something that would have been difficult to imagine after the opener against John Carroll.
Keith’s take: Louisiana College. Here’s a team I consider in the nation’s top 15, whose playoff hopes are on life support because Pool C is loaded with teams which grade out slightly better on the criteria than the Wildcats. As my eighth team in for seven spots when I ran a quick projection earlier in the week, LC’s hopes are very much alive. I know for a fact the selection committee members are curious about the game against Hardin-Simmons, which brings the nation’s No. 2 total offense (556.56 yards/game) and No. 234 defense (493 yards/game) to Pineville. Here’s the deal: The pressure is on, as it will be in the playoffs, so LC’s start a week early. A win with spotlight on, against this offense, is worth a win over a regionally ranked opponent, plus an SoS boost, which could help the Wildcats get in. They need just one thing to break right — a loss by one of the CCIW leaders, or a result in the NCAC that gives Wittenberg or Ohio Wesleyan the AQ, an Adrian win at Huntingdon — but more than anything, they need to beat the Cowboys, or there’ll be no one to blame but themselves.

Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Thomas More.
Remember the last time these two Bridge Bowl opponents met without one of them prepping for the postseason? Me neither. This is where the rivalry lives on the best, in the games in which each team is laying it all out on the field and playing with absolutely nothing to lose. MSJ is 4-5; TMC is 6-3. This is just such a game – the final hurrah for the seniors on both sidelines.
Pat’s take: Union at RPI. This snuck up on me because I wasn’t aware that the Dutchman Shoes game had been moved back to Week 11, which is where it belongs. A rivalry game just isn’t the same in Week 9, where it had been stuck for a while, or Week 6, where it was played a decade ago. For me, this rivalry game is most interesting because I want to see if RPI can continue the success it has had this season. And that success is surprising to me, considering the amount of turmoil the program has been through, including a four-head-coaches-in-15-months span. By the way, of this group, I’m the only one that doesn’t have an alma mater/rivalry game to worry about anymore. ::shakes fist:: Curse you, Georgetown!
Keith’s take: Hanover at Franklin. I had a similar thought about Union-RPI, and I’m glad it, the Bronze Turkey and the NESCAC rivalry games all fall on Week 11. Mostly though, the rivalry games this year are a bit out of the national spotlight. Trinity (Conn.) going for a perfect season against a better-than-usual Wesleyan (5-2) is a big deal, but the Victory Bell game is this year’s biggest. Despite Hanover’s 35-34 loss to Manchester (five straight wins) last week, the Panthers still have a chance to beat their rivals on their home field, win the HCAC and take the conference’s automatic playoff bid. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have been on a tear since an 0-2 start, and have allowed just 23 points over the past five games. Hanover won 15 of 16 from 1989 to 2004, but Franklin — coached by Mike Leonard, a 1984 Hanover grad — has won seven in a row.

Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: The NCAC’s tiebreaker champ.
While so many other teams out there have clarity on how to get their conference’s automatic qualifier, Wittenberg, Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon (all with one conference loss) have been bogged down by conference criteria that has been interpreted a dozen different ways by those outside of the NCAC brass. It appears that either Witt or Kenyon would get the AQ, but how grueling it must be to not know over these final two weeks whether you control your own fate. (UPDATE: The NCAC office has made public what would happen in the various scenarios)
Pat’s take: Castleton State. If the Spartans make it to the playoffs, and they very well can beat Mount Ida, they’ll get there without their star quarterback, Shane Brozowski, who broke his leg in last week’s win against Husson.
Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins. Great idea for a question, but my issue with it is every answer that makes sense now — North Central, for example — wouldn’t make as much sense after a win on Saturday puts that team into the playoffs. But I can say that the Blue Jays were once a ball rolling down hill, undefeated, in line for a playoff home game and a second consecutive 10-0 regular season before Franklin & Marshall spoiled it last week. Rebounding to beat McDaniel will clinch the Centennial Conference, and it’s plenty to pump up the players to push hard in Week 10. But it’s also going to be light years away from the type of challenge the Blue Jays get in the first round — against a Salisbury, maybe, or at home against Washington & Lee, as in Pat’s most recent projection. I think I’d rather be going into the playoffs having played my best game against my conference’s best team rather than this.

Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: No. 13 Heidelberg.
For a team that played Mount Union better than any other this year, Heidelberg could give itself a lot of drive (and maybe a good seeding) heading into postseason if they are able to knock off formerly ranked Baldwin Wallace.
Pat’s take: Adrian. With a win at Huntingdon on Saturday, the Bulldogs, already in as the MIAA champ, could potentially play themselves as high as a possible home game, or at least a winnable road game in the first round of the playoffs. With a loss, the Bulldogs could well find themselves on the short road to Alliance, Ohio, and a date with Mount Union. They will need to be at their most motivated, too, to go down to Alabama and beat a team that is playing for its playoff life. Huntingdon needs this win to get in, but I’d say Adrian needs the win in order to extend its reasonable playoff life.
Keith’s take: St. Olaf. Mostly an afterthought in this week’s playoff chatter, the Oles, with a win at 9-0 St. Thomas, would have closed the season with consecutive victories against regionally ranked opponents, be 8-2 and have an SoS that would get them in the discussion (.515 but bound to rise). So why is nobody talking about the Oles? Well, they allow 211 rushing yards per game, and the Tommies rush for 239 per, for starters. Upsetting the No. 4 Tommies would probably take a combination of great Oles play and lackluster effort from St. Thomas, which makes sense if you think the Tommies are content with just being in the postseason, but not if you believe they’d rather play in December in Minnesota instead of Oregon, Ohio or Texas.