TAG | Hope
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.
Adrian · Albright · Augustana · Birmingham-Southern · Buffalo State · Carthage · Case Western Reserve · Cortland State · Delaware Valley · Dubuque · Eureka · Gallaudet · Greensboro · Guilford · Hamline · Hanover · Hartwick · Hope · Husson · Illinois College · John Carroll · Johns Hopkins · Juniata · Kean · Knox · Lebanon Valley · Marietta · Minnesota-Morris · Montclair State · North Park · Norwich · Otterbein · Randolph-Macon · Rowan · St. John Fisher · St. Norbert · St. Scholastica · St. Thomas · Thiel · Thomas More · UW-Eau Claire · Western New England · Whitworth · William Paterson · Wisconsin Lutheran
Week 4 marks the debut of the remaining Division III teams — those from the NESCAC. After this week, every one of the 238 teams we cover will have game time in the bank.
But while some teams are taking the field for the first times, in other parts of the country, squads are setting up for some pretty big showdowns, and they go beyond the purview of the Top 25.
Three D-III minds – Pat’s, Keith’s and mine — help make sense of what’s in store.
– Ryan Tipps
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 Hardin-Simmons at No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor. There’s so much to pick from this week, but I have to go with this battle in the heart of Texas because on my Top 25 ballot, I have these two teams flipped around. Especially coming off of a trouncing of another top-ranked team last weekend, it’s hard not to be excited about what HSU brings to the table. The offense is operating as if Justin Feaster and ZaVious Robbins never missed a year. UMHB is good, too, but if the Crusaders get in the unenviable position of falling behind early (which can happen against a team like the Cowboys, which hits hardest in quarters 1 and 2), UMHB won’t have the tools to claw back by the end of 60 minutes.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Central at No. 9 Coe. Must. Stay. Home. Too. Many. Good Games. This is the closest of the great games to me but if I drove four hours (or so) each way to Iowa I would miss being able to follow all of the other good ones. Hoping to set up both screens and see this Wittenberg-Allegheny game on Fox College Sports-Central. Do I get that with the sports pack on DirecTV? Central has a habit of pulling out great games late but Coe has to know that because it played practically nobody in the non-conference schedule, it needs to win this to have a real playoff shot.
Keith’s take: No. 17 UW-Eau Claire at No. 11 North Central. I’m in agreement with Ryan, that Hardin-Simmons looks dangerous, and with Pat that there are more good games than one can watch this Saturday. And since they chose first, that leaves me Blugolds at Cardinals for my GOTW. But it’s worthy, not only as the week’s third clash of top 25s, but as one of the last big inter-conference clashes of 2010 until the playoffs in November. So can we try to extrapolate some meaning from it, with CCIW teams off to a 19-2 start, and the WIAC at just 5-9 but having played No. 2 Mount Union, No. 4 St. Thomas, No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor, No. 7 Central, No. 10 Ohio Northern, No. 11, No. 14 Trine, No. 15 Willamette, No. 18 St. John’s and No. 22 Wheaton? Honestly, it’s hard to say. It might just be about how the Blugolds rush offense (175 yards per game so far) deals with the Cardinals’ run D (36/game). It’s North Central’s first big test, if nothing else.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Dickinson at McDaniel. Most years, you’d expect Dickinson to be the top dog in this fight, but 2010 brings a twist with McDaniel being undefeated and Dickinson currently winless. The Red Devils don’t boast any of the obvious strengths they’ve held in the past, but they’re not likely to play into the hands of the Green Terror’s conference-leading run defense. Dickinson can throw the ball well, which means they will still be an offensive threat late in the game, no matter what the scoreboard is showing.
Pat’s take: Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. W&J hasn’t shown much of late and the scuttlebutt might be that Thomas More has left them in the dust, but there’s still a lot of pride left in this program and this is a chance to make a splash again and return to relevancy on the national scene. Three losses in six games isn’t Presidents football.
Keith’s take: Lewis & Clark at Whitworth. Coming off a 63-point Saturday against Pomona-Pitzer, the Pioneers’ confidence might be the highest its been since we I can remember. L&C features the the nation’s sixth-most productive rushing attack at 330 yards per game, with both Joevonte Mayes and Keith Welch averaging more than 130 per. But doing it against a pair of mid-level SCIAC teams isn’t like winning in the NWC. ‘Surprisingly close’ might just mean another touchdown closer than the last three (48-7 in ’07, then 42-7 and 34-7 last year), but when coming from the depths the Pioneers have seen, any step forward is progress.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None. This might be the first time ever that I’ve said “none” to this question. Aside from the game in Texas I already mentioned up top, I don’t see any teams losing to a lower-slotted opponent this weekend.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Alfred. Springfield has just been too efficient on offense this season and only one game is against an opponent from a bottom-feeding conference. The fact that Springfield took it to Wilkes last week (566 yards, 90 carries) gives the offense a legitimate performance against a representative Division III team. Alfred isn’t in for a rude awakening, because it knows what it’s getting into, but this first salvo in the war for the top of the Empire 8 is going to shuffle the Top 25 a bit.
Keith’s take: No. 12 Thomas More. Even with six teams playing each other in what would be slight upsets at best, and with Montclair State-Morrisville State, Linfield-La Verne and Mount Union-Wilmington on the docket, there are still some distinct possibilities. Chicago might not be a pushover for Wabash, and Allegheny could be the toughest opponent Wittenberg sees until November. Capital could do a number on Wesley. But football, and the pride its players have, is funny sometimes. Just as we start to hand over ‘dominant team in the PAC’ status from Washington & Jefferson to Thomas More, the Presidents could summon an effort that throws it all into doubt again.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Denison. On the standings list, here’s this little undefeated team sandwiched between the NCAC’s power W’s. The Big Red have struggled to land just two winning seasons in the past decade, but here they are, 3-0 and facing a Case team that’s been surprisingly impressive despite the holes left by graduations. I’ll be looking at Denison much in the same way I did with McMurry last week: I’m not expecting a win, but a strong showing will go a long way toward seeing how much this once-lower-rung NCAC team has risen.
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. When I saw this team play last year, I thought they looked good … probably for this year. So far that’s been true, as they’re the country’s No. 4 scoring offense (49 points is their low game during the 3-0 start). Hobart (2-0) is averaging 36.5 points and five sacks a game, and this marks a test stronger than any the Cardinals have had this season. With a win, SJF could shoot into the top 25.
Pat’s take: Salisbury. This team should already be on your radar, but Hampden-Sydney will be the highest-profile team the unbeaten Sea Gulls have taken on. It might be tempting to think that Salisbury won’t be ready for a close game after beating Christopher Newport by 48 and Husson by, yes, 77, but the Sea Gulls also beat North Carolina Wesleyan 13-7 to open the season. The defense came up with two stops inside the Sea Gulls 25 in the final four minutes to seal the deal. More than 278 total yards will be needed this week, however.
In a game between winless teams, pick a winner in one of them.
Ryan’s take: Hope, against Lakeland Not since 2005 has Hope won a nonconference game. I thought that the Dutchmen were going to get the nonconference monkey off their back in Week 2. I was wrong. If they fall short on Saturday, they’re likely left with another 11 months before the opportunity arises again.
Pat’s take: Anna Maria, against Becker. Neither team’s resume gives it a clear advantage over the other, but I’m picking the Amcats not because of their nickname (AMCAT = Anna Maria College Athletic Team) but because this program is still in search of its first win. Becker wasn’t on the schedule last year, so there’s no history to draw from.
Keith’s take: Thiel, against St. Vincent. It’s been a rough week for the Tomcats, first with the death of freshman defensive end Louis Giuntini, and much less importantly, with a Pittsburgh news organization wondering if they’d lose to their No. 1-ranked high school team. Later in Triple Take we look at situations where a team could lose focus; Thiel’s rough week might have sharpened theirs. It’s not hard to give it all in practice with such a stark reminder that you’re lucky to be playing; I’d go Thiel this week even if the opponent weren’t the Bobcats, 1-31 since reviving football. Both SVU losses are by five, while Thiel’s gained just 183 yards per game (216th of 226 teams recognized in the national stats and with games played) and scored 4.33 points per (224th), so without the emotional factor, it’d be wise to have picked the other way.
As the NESCAC debuts, which game from there are you most looking forward to?
Ryan’s take: Wesleyan at Middlebury. Mostly I’m looking to see how Middlebury quarterback Donald McKillop responds on the field to having lost to graduation three of his five favorite throwing targets. With the ground game missing a key element, too, McKillop will have to lead his team against an opponent it hasn’t faced since 2007.
Pat’s take: Wesleyan at Middlebury. But I’m interested for a different reason, wondering what the first game in the Mike Whalen era is like. The successful Williams coach returned to his alma mater this offseason.
Keith’s take: Colby at Trinity (Conn.) Amherst, as defending champions returning 15 starters, is the team I’m most curious about, but opening up with Bates (1-7, last place last season) won’t tell us much. The White Mules (14 back) and Bantams (15) are among the teams which could push to finish in the NESCAC’s top half, with Trinity among the three traditional challengers.
What team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Endicott. The Gulls are staring down Curry in two weeks, but first they have to line up against 1-2 Salve Regina on Saturday. The Gulls are coming off a 42-point margin win last week, so bottom line will be adjusting to a Salve Regina team that has given up an average of just 12 points per game all year. But the Seahawks’ secondary will be playing on its heels all day against Endicott’s pass game, and a few breaks one way or another could leave the favored Gulls in trouble.
Pat’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas. Coach-speak is all well and good but let’s be honest: After the frustrations of the past two seasons for St. Thomas against archrival St. John’s, what Tommie doesn’t at least have the Oct. 2 date with the Johnnies mentally circled, if not actually physically marked on some form of calendar? This week’s game against Concordia-Moorhead is the definition of a trap game. Oh, and I said this last year too. But it’s still the case.
Keith’s take: No. 22 Wheaton. With a CCIW clash against No. 21 Illinois Wesleyan (off this week) looming, it could be difficult for the Thunder to take Olivet seriously, even under the lights in Michigan. Coaches preach against it, but it absolutely happens.
So, how about your thoughts on this week’s games? What’s most interesting about your team’s game? Give us a comment below.
Alfred · Anna Maria · Becker · Central · Coe · Colby · Concordia-Moorhead · Denison · Dickinson · Endicott · Hampden-Sydney · Hardin-Simmons · Hobart · Hope · Lakeland · Lewis and Clark · Mary Hardin-Baylor · McDaniel · Middlebury · North Central · Olivet · Salisbury · Salve Regina · Springfield · St. John Fisher · St. Thomas · St. Vincent · Thiel · Thomas More · Trinity (Conn.) · UW-Eau Claire · Washington and Jefferson · Wesleyan · Wheaton · Whitworth