Around the Nation Podcast: A bit about elite teams

Duane Thompson and Mary Hardin-Baylor continue to put up lots of yards and points. (UMHB athletics photo)

Duane Thompson and Mary Hardin-Baylor continue to put up lots of yards and points. (UMHB athletics photo)

Whether there is a separation at the top of the poll, whether it’s the top four teams, the top six or seven, or some other combination, one thing is for sure: they certainly separated themselves on the scoreboard this week.

And they do often.

Does that mean this is a bad year for parity? Or a great year for the upcoming playoffs? Keith and Pat discuss that and much more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

Plus they hand out their game balls, look at teams on the rise, under-the-radar highlights, key stats and more.

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Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show, including highlights from the Little Brass Bell game, a postgame report from UMHB-TLU and much more:

Triple Take Week 3: Big clashes and bigger road trips

Cartel Brooks and Heidelberg had their way with Alma in Week 1. This weeks opponent will be much more challenging. (Heidelberg athletics photo)

Cartel Brooks and the rest of the Heidelberg Student Princes had their way with Alma in Week 1. This week’s opponent will be much more challenging.
Heidelberg athletics photo

Late September in Division III is a special time.

In some places, conference play gets underway, and for those who aren’t quite there yet, it’s road trip time! No. 1 UW-Whitewater has a jaunt to New Jersey coming down the ‘pike, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor is cheesing on the way to Wisconsin, No. 6 Linfield is going back to Cali and Coast Guard is going to Farmville.

The weather cools off a bit, so players at least avoid seeing heat blur as it rises off the turf. That makes it a great weekend to take in a game quite literally from coast (at Mass. Maritime, against Maine Maritime in the 42nd Admiral’s Cup) to coast (at Cal Lutheran, against Willamette in Thousand Oaks, Calif., at its “work of art” stadium a few miles inland) and everywhere in between.

Here’s a rundown from Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I of which among the 244 teams most bears watching in Week 3:

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville at No. 5 North Central. Big games abound this week, but it’s difficult to look past a clash of top-10 teams. This matchup was such a letdown in last year’s playoff second round that it was the fifth mentioned in the eight-game roundup that week. This time instead of Stanek vs. Kelly, it’s Dylan Warden and Bryce Corrigan under center, and the defenses perhaps in the spotlight. The Pioneers have allowed just 314 yards per game in wins over Buena Vista and Dubuque, and the Cardinals allowed 195 last week against St. Norbert. It’s the first game at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium since the playoff clash, and it’s a 6 p.m. kickoff. Giddy up.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville at No. 5 North Central. The year’s first matchup between top-10 teams hardly needs an explanation as to why it’s worth being the game of the week. The two teams average more than 500 yards of total offense a game, putting them at 18th and 19th nationally in that category. Even more interesting (and more of an “X” factor in this game) is that they each typically win the turnover battles against their opponents.
Pat’s take: No. 16 Heidelberg at No. 10 John Carroll. After last year, when we didn’t get to know how good either of these teams really were until November, we won’t have a Heidelberg Uncertainty Principle (go ahead, Google it) in 2014, at least now as to how these teams stack up against each other. Except that if Mark Myers doesn’t play for John Carroll … we’ll still end up with legitimate questions. “We’re planning on going without him,” JCU coach Tom Arth said in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s just too early to say. We’re kind of proceeding as if he will not be playing.”

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Morrisville State at St. Lawrence. New York is the home of the close game this week, according to us. Mine’s only a surprise to the naked eye, or those attracted to the 112 points QB Lemar Johnson and the Mustangs have scored in their 2-0 start. But the Saints (1-1) are fourth in the country in total defense (146.5 yards per game) and time of possession (38:17). So whether it’s stopping the Mustangs or keeping the ball away from Johnson’s offense, St. Lawrence has a chance.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 St. John Fisher at Brockport State. One of the best things Brockport State has going for it is its defense, particularly against the pass, and Fisher had nearly 300 yards through the air in the opener against Otterbein. Brockport will stay in this if they can neutralize Fisher’s Tyler Fenti-Nathan Nigolian connection. Brockport has already built up a 2-0 record, including a win over Cortland State, and appears to be a team with more potential to rise.
Pat’s take: Hartwick at No. 19 Ithaca. This offense vs. defense matchup probably favors the defense. Ithaca can almost certainly hold the Hawks under 40. And a little shout-out to North Carolina Wesleyan, which kept its game vs. Christopher Newport closer than most would likely have expected on Thursday night before losing, 31-28.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. Ol’ Chalky Coleman down below might end up being correct, but Ryan and I will show some guts and walk out on a limb. Hartwick has flashed impressive offense in its 1-1 start, hitting the 40-point mark and having nearly 500 yards of offense against Western Connecticut and Morrisville State. Wide receiver Tanner Williams had 13 catches for 255 yards and three TDs in the opener, and running back Greg Bell had 51 carries for 331 yards and three TDs last week. The Hawks also handed the Bombers one of their three losses last season, 21-9. Ithaca hung on against Union in Week 1, winning 21-16 when the Dutchmen’s 14-play drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth and goal, and was not in action last weekend.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Wheaton. I’m stepping up to own the pick I made in Kickoff, when I said UW-Eau Claire would pull off the most surprising upset of the season. The Blugolds fared very well against St. Thomas but then had got beaten big by St. John’s. Wheaton, in turn, wasn’t flexing a ton of muscle against Kalamazoo last weekend. There’s a lot of opportunity for UW-EC to make a statement here and not stumble winless into conference play.
Pat’s take: None. Among possibilities that would be true upsets (not Rowan/Wesley and certainly not the games between ranked teams), I would say Brockport State over St. John Fisher is the best possibility. But I like the chalk here.

Which team won’t have a great season, but will have a great week?
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist. The Tigers have Millsaps, trips to Texas Lutheran, Louisiana College and Hardin-Simmons, and a season-ending home game with No. 2 UMHB ahead. That’s five likely losses unless they play better than they have in recent seasons, but this week’s clash with Southwestern is an opportunity to shine. ETBU already had its get-right game, beating Austin 43-27 after giving up 98 to Texas A&M-Commerce. The Tigers are home under their lights against the Pirates, who spent some time this week in the spotlight after earning their program’s first victory. RB Toi Glover, a 1,000-yard back last year, averaged 8.4 yards per carry last week. If he and the Tigers can’t beat Southwestern, the order of things in Texas will be shaken up.
Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley. The Aggies should have a good season, but with Widener and Lycoming being the ones I feel in the driver’s seat of the MAC, Del Val won’t end up with the kind of season the team considers great. This week, Wilkes is on the slate. While the Colonels did win last week, they also got slammed in a shutout loss to Muhlenberg in Week 1. This will be a win for Del Val and should give them some momentum with a few meatier games around the corner.
Pat’s take: Manchester. The Spartans gave up 60 points to a team that took a seven-hour bus ride to get there last week in Buffalo State. That’s not a sign of a team that’s going to play in the postseason. However, Manchester hosts in-state HCAC rival Earlham this week, which has been outscored by 63 points over the first two weeks.

Which team or player has a breakout game this week?
Keith’s take: Billy Beecher, Case Western Reserve. The Spartans quarterback had been a bit-part player in the past, and took over as the starter in the opener against Carnegie Mellon. In the 30-0 win, he passed for 301 yards and two TDs and rushed for another, so that was probably his breakout game regionally. St. Vincent has allowed 841 yards and 79 points in its opening two losses. Beecher has a chance to put up numbers that garner national attention in this matchup.
Ryan’s take: Mason Blaschke of Trinity (Texas). Rarely in this space do we get to highlight individual players (so thank you for the opportunity, Keith!). Coming off of a wrist injury last season, Blaschke hasn’t really excelled yet this fall. The Tigers are 0-2, and his passing outings have been 208 yards against Howard Payne and just 89 yards against Willamette. There’s more to Blaschke than he’s showing us. He has the right guys to throw to, and sacks haven’t been a particular burden. This week, Trinity plays Sul Ross State, the team that handed Southwestern its first win in the modern era. If Blaschke and the Tigers aren’t dominating here, then we’re looking at a mess of red flags.
Pat’s take: Matthew McDaniels, Merchant Marine. Actually, this is hard, because I kept looking at games and the players that came to mind had already had their breakout games this season. But McDaniels has been somewhat held in check this season. Last week, when he ran for 174 yards as the Mariners’ option quarterback, the team still lost. But a cross-river rivalry like SUNY-Maritime should be more than enough motivation.

The NESCAC starts this week. Give us any prediction.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan struggles for a half, then pulls away from Middlebury. Here are the five NESCAC games; right away, two of the four teams that had losing records last year will get that taste out of their mouths, since 0-8 Hamilton faces 0-8 Tufts and 2-6 Williams hosts 3-5 Bowdoin. But there’s intrigue at the top, too. Preseason favorite (at least according to the Nothing but NESCAC crew who did our picks in Kickoff ’14) Wesleyan has 20 starters back from a 7-1 team. Middlebury was 7-1 last year too, but there’s no more McCallum Foote to lead the way. The Panthers’ eight returning defensive starters can help keep it close for a while, but not forever.
Ryan’s take: Five NESCAC teams will win on Saturday. What? Too easy? Okay, how about Bates will play Amherst neck and neck? The past four meetings between these two teams have seen the Bobcats outscored 119-13. But Bates has shown improvement the past two seasons and has the “problem” of having had some solid competition for its starting spots – as well as some depth. This will be a much better game than people are used to seeing between these two.
Pat’s take: Tufts’ long losing streak continues. I’d have said otherwise if Dave Murray hadn’t been hired at Hamilton over the summer. Murray didn’t have a lot of time to recruit for the Continentals this season but will put a little spark into the program.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Rose-Hulman. Duh. After a 40-spot in Week 1 and 74 in Week 2, I’m intrigued by the offense. Defensively, after allowing 68 points and 745 yards to Illinois College, they’re understandably the 220th-ranked defense in the country. This week’s opponent, Hanover, manages to rank worse at 225th, allowing more than seven yards per play, 558 yards per game and 40 points in an 0-2 start against Centre and Thomas More. The Engineers’ equipment manager may want to pack some scoreboard lightbulbs to give to Hanover in case Austin Swenson and the RHIT offense burn them out.
Ryan’s take: Hiram. The Terriers are third in the nation in turnover margin (thanks, in part, to six picks against Denison) and occupy the lone spot atop the NCAC. Well, part of that is because most of the NCAC hasn’t played two games yet like Hiram has, but don’t take this away from them. Hiram paid its dues for many, many, many years in the lower rungs of a middle-of-the-road conference (16th this year in Kickoff). Allegheny is a beatable opponent, which could lock in the team’s best season in years just three weeks into 2014.
Pat’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs have started off 2-0 and if they can beat Lebanon Valley, they’ll be in the best possible shape as they start running this MAC gantlet. Four of their next five games will be against Albright, Lycoming, Delaware Valley and Widener.

Triple Take: Conference clashes underway


In 2005, Kyle Gearman shocked Concordia-Moorhead with a 74-yard touchdown catch with under 30 seconds left. SJU hosts the Cobbers this weekend.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Almost every team in an automatic-qualifying conference will have a conference game under its belt by the end of the weekend.

For those teams off to a rough start in nonconference action, now is the time to refocus and use what was learned in previous weeks to try to make a mark in conference play and reach for the AQ. For many, it is, or was, a new beginning to the season.

So which teams can turn things around, and which ones are out to prove that they’re more than just their nonconference record? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through some of the best this weekend has to offer.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Hope at Illinois Wesleyan.
I’m veering off the Top 25 pack a bit this week, but both teams are undefeated, with the Titans getting a fair number of votes in the poll. More significantly, though, is that each of these teams have been putting up some wild numbers against the competition, with neither team scoring fewer than 37 points in their five combined victories. And no opponent has been within 20 points at the end of four quarters. What does this mean? Well, each team is facing its stiffest test of the season, and this could be a breakout moment for one of them.
Keith’s take: No. 11 Wesley at Birmingham Southern. This is the first time in the history of Triple Take I’ve filled out all the below categories first, while skipping over Game of the Week to come back to it. It’s that kind of week. I nearly went with Cortland State at St. John Fisher or Pat’s game below in this slot, but it’s been a long time since the Wolverines were beaten so thoroughly in a regular season game, and the fate of the top 25 and Pool B rests on how they respond. B-SC is 3-0 and along with Huntingdon and Louisiana College is a deep south team that’s had its shot to beat the Wolverines but hasn’t been able to close the deal. All three of those teams are in the ‘can win 7-8 games and occasionally make the playoffs’ tier, and B-SC is the latest to get a chance at national recognition. The host Panthers have a shot because they can score — 143 points in three wins — but they’ve only been able to outscore in 2013 — they’ve allowed at least 32 points in each game, and Wesley brings a caliber of athlete B-SC hasn’t faced since a 26-17 loss in Delaware last season.


Hope has started off 3-0, but faces a more significant test this week in Illinois Wesleyan.
Hope College photo by Tom Renner

Pat’s take: Concordia-Moorhead at No. 21 St. John’s. This series has had a recent history of tight games and dramatic finishes. And St. John’s has had a particularly recent history of both, having won its three games this year by a TOTAL of eight points. All the signs point to a great game. Will it be a letdown for the Johnnies after the big win last week?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Washington at Centre.
The Colonels are riding a three-game win streak, while the Bears are just 1-2. However, WashU hasn’t let opponents get out of reach (and that includes UW-Whitewater), and that striking distance could work out to their benefit. Centre has a defense that can be taken advantage of at times, and WashU can be in the game if they spot those times.
Keith’s take: Olivet at North Park. The more I looked at the slate, the more I found games I want to be tight but I think are going to be surprisingly not close (like Illinois College at Ripon, Montclair State at Rowan, or Williams at Trinity, Conn.). The Comets are 3-0, the Vikings 0-2. But Olivet is new money — at 1-39 the previous four seasons, they aren’t used to going on the road and winning. North Park (7-31 from 2009 to 2012) earned its only win last season, 46-21 in Michigan. This time around Olivet is making the three-hour bus ride to Chicago, and North Park is coming off a bye week.
Pat’s take: Stevenson at No. 22 Delaware Valley. Pretty sure Stevenson has never started a season 4-0. Stevenson had only won four games in the entire history of the program before the season started. I could consider picking this game in the next category down, as well. If you haven’t paid that close attention the first couple of weeks this year, you might get caught unaware of where the Mustangs have come, and there are enough questions about the Aggies to give one pause, that’s all.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None.
On paper, this appears to be an easy week for the Top 25, as long as one of the teams at the top doesn’t get caught sleeping….
Keith’s take: No. 16 Johns Hopkins. Since it wouldn’t be much of an upset if Concordia-Moorhead beat No. 21 St. John’s or Lycoming beat No. 24 Widener, I’ll ride the Mules. The Blue Jays are still favorites, and for the upset to happen, Muhlenberg would have to figure out how to score on Johns Hopkins, which has given up no more than 14 points in each of its three games. The Mules have hung a 59 and a 58 on the score board this season, but against its only quality opponent, they scored 21 (in a loss to Franklin & Marshall).
Pat’s take: No. 11 Wesley. This probably comes from seeing the Wolverines dismantled by Mary Hardin-Baylor last week, but I’m a little concerned about Wesley in this key Pool B clash. Without the diversity on offense … or even a lot of success last week, Wesley looked a little ordinary and could be in trouble this week.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist.
If you read this week’s Around the South column, you know that ETBU has been lighting things up through the air, with a nation-leading 435.5 yards per game passing. However, the opponents from the Tigers’ first two games are currently winless. Not so with Saturday’s opponent, Willamette. The Bearcats gave up a lot of points in their wins, so ETBU (which posted 50-plus in its two outings) might be able to run away with this one. Let’s just see which quarterback they use most.
Keith’s take: The Cleveland area. My friends Lacy and Kipp are heading to Cleveland for other sporting events this weekend, and asked me a few weeks ago how good the Otterbein at John Carroll game would be, since they were going to go. That, plus a tweet that noted that No. 1 Mount Union and No. 2 Linfield will be playing on miles apart on Saturday, got me intrigued. Someone interested in seeing a bunch of competitive D-III teams on one day — a WesleyDad of the Midwest, as it were — could catch six without leaving the Cleveland area. Linfield is at Case Western Reserve at noon, Muskingum is at Baldwin-Wallace at 2 p.m., and then the aforementioned Cardinals face the Blue Streaks at 7 p.m., which leaves just enough time for dinner in between Games 2 and 3.
Pat’s take: Huntingdon. Yeah. I’m a week late to this party. Keith was all over this last week. Struggling Ferrum makes the trip to Alabama for the first time to see the Hawks and I don’t expect the southern hospitality to extend between the lines.

Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Wooster.
Hiram is coming off its first shutout win in nearly two decades, and Wooster has Wabash on the horizon in Week 5. The Scots would do themselves a favor to make sure they focus on the task at hand rather than the beast that lies beyond.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes’ game at Linfield is by far the most compelling matchup of Week 5, and of the other teams that have big games next week, most don’t have games they could possibly lose this week. There’s Wesley, which plays Birmingham Southern and then Huntingdon, but after being humbled more or less in consecutive weeks, there’s no way they look ahead. I don’t expect PLU to lose, but it’s all I got.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes travel to UW-Eau Claire, a team St. Thomas beat 52-7. Pacific Lutheran has Linfield next week. That, plus the trip a little over halfway across the continent could spell trouble for Pacific Lutheran if not handled well.

Which undefeated team is going to pick up its first loss?
Ryan’s take: Merchant Marine.
While the Mariners are an impressive 3-0, they’ve hardly been getting in the victory column in convincing fashion. And that bodes poorly when lining up against a Top 10 team like Hobart.
Keith’s take: Juniata. So far the Eagles are one of my favorite stories of the season, so if they win at Franklin & Marshall, I will eat crow for all the long-suffering Juniata fans. The Diplomats — I couldn’t decide if they were historical peoples, a joke you’ll understand in a few paragraphs — are 1-2, but nearly won the opener at defending ODAC champion Washington & Lee, and beat Muhlenberg before losing at Ursinus. So the slate is a little tougher than what Juniata has faced so far — Thiel, Dickinson and Gettysburg are 2-7, and the records coming in could be misleading. It’s about to get real for Ward Udinski and the Eagles anyway; If they win at F&M, they should enjoy it. Johns Hopkins, Ursinus and Muhlenberg are the next three opponents.
Pat’s take: UW-Stevens Point. A trip to North Central isn’t really a good sign the way things are clicking for the Cardinals right now. North Central has run through the middle-to-bottom of the WIAC the past couple of weeks and there isn’t much reason to think this will be different.

Which historical peoples is most intriguing?
Ryan’s take: The Pioneers of Grinnell.
Grinnell is hunting for its first win and is clearly not the same kind of team offensively in the wake of injured quarterback Sam Poulos. Last week, especially, the defense was tasked with keeping the team in its game against MWC leader Lake Forest, and the unit was largely successful – evidence of how senior-laden the team is on that side of the ball. If the Pioneers can manage a game when both sides are clicking, they can log wins this weekend against Beloit and onward through the season.
Keith’s take: The Saints of Thomas More. One of my favorite parts of Triple Take each week is scrolling down to see what Ryan has picked as the last question. Waynesburg’s visit to Kentucky is intriguing because the Yellow Jackets, 3-0 this season, have won 14 of their past 15 games. But during that stretch, they haven’t had to win a big game on the road. Muskingum, Bethany, Geneva and Thiel were all three-win teams last season, St. Vincent was 0-10 and the Yellow Jackets’ road win this year was at 1-2 Frostburg State. Thomas More is 2-0, back in the top 25 and hasn’t surrendered a point. So for both sides it’s the first test of how legitimate a contender each will be, and the winner gets a leg up in the PAC title race.
Pat’s take: The Colonials of Western Connecticut. I’m very interested to see how the Colonials do against Framingham State. Western Connecticut has started the season 2-0, but has done so against teams that were a combined 3-17 last season. Here they’ll take on the MASCAC favorite and we’ll find out how close Western is to actually contending for the MASCAC title. We already knew they would be competitive in the new league, where they were not competitive in the NJAC. But while Rowan held Melikke Van Alstyne to 63 yards, Western Connecticut may not be so lucky.