Triple Take: Kicking off 2014 with ten predictions for Week 1

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

After a 36-week layoff, Division III football is back this weekend. To help pass the time leading up to the opening kick, we’ve provided you Kickoff, the comprehensive season preview, and a slate of fresh columns.

But opening week isn’t complete until Pat Coleman, the executive editor, Ryan Tipps, the senior editor-turned-Around the Nation columnist, and I (Keith McMillan, staff has-been) stick our necks out with predictions for Week 1’s games. We’ll tackle the Top 25 and the games on the fringes; If you have no idea what to pay attention to as the first week gets underway, we’ve got you covered.

Tipps has moved into the penthouse, which means I get to stop by his old digs, cooking up the Triple Take categories and having first dibs on answering. Since I’m drunk with power and ready to celebrate the 244-team race to Salem, let’s make it a 10-pack to kick things off. Have fun with the picks, and if you’re bold enough, leave yours in the comments section below.

Game of the week
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More at No. 5 Wesley. It’s possible I’m shilling for this game because I’m on the call alongside Sean Greene as a special guest fill-in, but I’d probably pick it anyway. It’s a chance to see one of the nation’s most-decorated offensive players in Saints RB Domonique Hayden (2,234 total yards last season) against one of the most decorated programs … whose quarterback happened to pass for 633 yards in a playoff loss last time we saw him. Wesley’s been known to test itself with a crazy schedule and lose an early season game, even in Dover, so why wouldn’t all eyes be on this one?
Pat: Widener at No. 15 Rowan. I mean, that other game above is really the game of the week but this game is on Friday night so you can see both of them! Once upon a time we would have killed to see these two teams play each other and even though Jim Jones and Michael Coleman are no longer on the Pioneer…. err, Pride’s side, this should still be a great way to help kick off the season.
Ryan: No. 21 Hampden-Sydney at No. 16 Wabash. I can’t do a whole Around the Nation column hyping the uniqueness of this game and the impressiveness of this matchup and not pick it as my game of the week. Check out my inaugural ATN for the many reasons I’m excited about this game.

Surprisingly close game
Keith: Union at No. 23 Ithaca. This was tough for me. I see a lot of matchups that should be not close, and some that will be, but won’t be surprising. I was intrigued by second-year Southwestern (vs. Hardin-Simmons), Buena Vista (hosting No. 8 UW-Platteville) and Millsaps (hosting No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor), but not bold enough to pick them. Twenty-one returning starters emboldened me to take the Dutchmen, who are a 3-7 team going on the road to open up against a second-round playoff participant. Union returns every offensive starter but the tight end, while the Bombers only have three defensive starters back.
Pat: McDaniel at Catholic. It doesn’t read like it should be close on paper, because Catholic won 48-16 at McDaniel last fall, but the Cardinals have been very up and down of late. While that beats the heck out of just being down, Catholic has a lot of holes to fill this season and McDaniel could very well be bouncing back.
Ryan: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster. Their records may not have ended all that far apart in 2013, but the 58-21 pounding W&J handed out last season painted a frightening picture for the Scots. But Wooster has now matured and improved across the board, so don’t expect the Presidents to be rolling into the half up 42-14 again.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith: No. 25 Franklin. Mike Leonard is one of my favorite D-III coaches. His team is going on the road to open up against Illinois Wesleyan, a nine-win program from one of the nation’s best conferences. We ranked the Titans No. 52 in Kickoff, largely because they have only nine starting position players back, but the Grizzlies, who are breaking in new quarterback Grant Welp, only have 11. This is a solid first-week challenge for both teams.
Pat: No. 17 Wartburg. These guys and Augsburg actually have a much bigger rivalry in wrestling, where the two have won like all the national titles in the past 20 years, and Wartburg the past three. But these teams have played some pretty tight games even when the rankings suggest they shouldn’t. Nice to see this game back on the schedule for the first time since 2009 — Augsburg won the Battle of the Burgs in 2008 in a year in which the Auggies went 5-5 and the Warties (yeah, let’s go with that) went to the national quarterfinals.
Ryan: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I feel like there have been a couple of times in the past three or so years in which Hopkins has lost several starters or maybe a key skill player, and I think this is the season we’ll see the team backslide a bit. Hopkins, in turn, has shown how deep it is each and every time. I admittedly don’t have them in the lofty position of No. 14 on my ballot at this point, not with only three starters back on offense. Randolph-Macon doesn’t have a particularly good track record against Hopkins the past two seasons, but this year is ripe for that to change.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: George Fox and Pacific. The Bruins, who last played a game in 1968, restart football on Saturday, with a Linfield man (Chris Casey) at the helm. The NWC rival Boxers, meanwhile, were a re-startup in 2010 and enter Year 5 after winning zero, one, three and seven games. Was their Year 4 spike just a group of experienced seniors that had started for several years, or will Pacific be a year-in, year-out threat? I have no idea what to make of either non-D-III team they’re playing, Arizona Christian or College of Idaho, but I’ll have an eye on the D-III squads.
Pat: Stevenson. This is a Year 4 team and it’s time for that breakout that new programs often have in their fourth year. With a struggling program in North Carolina Wesleyan on the schedule to open the season, the first challenge is the length of the trip.
Ryan: Millsaps. I have no expectations that the Majors will actually pull off the upset here, but if you read Kickoff, you might have noticed that I have Millsaps chosen as one of my Pool B predictions. With a solid group of starters back from a team that was one game from likely making the playoffs last year, there’s a lot to look forward to with what this team can accomplish. We’ll see right away how they stack up against one of D-III’s elite.

Who can quiet your doubts with a solid performance Saturday?
Keith: No. 13 Wittenberg. The Tigers won 10 games and had the nation’s fifth-most-prolific offense last season. I didn’t put them in my preseason top 25, largely because only nine starters were back on the offense and defense combined. None of them is star QB Reed Florence. So while you can’t always read much into a D-III playing an FCS team, Wittenberg lost, 49-24, at Butler last year, and didn’t lose again until playing Mount Union in the playoffs. If they look good at home this Saturday, maybe they’ll be fine.
Pat: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I have some doubts, definitely. Reference Kickoff to find out why. But JHU has handled Randolph-Macon fairly easily the past two years, so if the game is a battle, it could bode well for the rest of the teams in the Centennial Conference. And since I’m the one who wrote that line in Kickoff, it’s not stealing. (credit: Pat Coleman)
Ryan: Huntingdon. With about half of the Hawks’ starting lineup lost to graduation, they were a tough bunch to slot into place during the preseason. Huntingdon isn’t a team that’s been built around one person, so a wide crop of receivers and rushers saw action last year even if they didn’t start. And the team’s two-quarterback system is no more now that one of those guys has graduated. Louisiana College will be a very tough game, but even a close game without a win will help put this Huntingdon team’s abilities in perspective.

Who looks back in November on a loss this Saturday with great regret?
Keith: The Rowan/Widener loser. I love that these two mid-Atlantic powers, each with 17 starters back, and barely separated by more than the Commodore Barry Bridge, open up with each other. But in conferences as competitive and jumbled as the NJAC and MAC, one might find itself wishing it hadn’t, when at-large bids for the 32-team playoff field are distributed.
Pat: St. Scholastica. With a win vs. Ripon on Saturday, just maybe beyond maybes St. Scholastica avoids Whitewater in the first round. But if the Saints manage to go 9-1, winning the UMAC, it’ll be a trip to a top seed. Again.
Ryan: Mount St. Joseph. The Lions have been playing second fiddle to Franklin often in recent years, and the possibility of getting over the hump this season should be cause for celebration. But a loss to Augustana this Saturday would start a likely two-week slide that goes through Millsaps the following weekend. So even if Mount St. Joseph earns an HCAC title, the result will be a team facing a very tough playoff draw.

Which young rivalry game is closer, the Soup Bowl or the Pynchon SAW Game?
Keith: Soup Bowl. Kickoff predicts big things for Guilford, but Greensboro’s got QB Ryan Throndset back for a fourth year starting, and 16 other returners, so we should see a thriller.
Pat: Soup Bowl. When you hold a contest to pick a rivalry name, you get what you get. I have to pick the Soup Bowl just on marketing principle here.
Ryan: Soup Bowl. I’m not sure that the Soup Bowl still counts as a young rivalry, but as it is, I like it as a competitive matchup. Guilford is surely going to be good this season, and while the Quakers are favored to take the win, Greensboro has a dynamic veteran quarterback in Throndset who will help keep the Pride on Guilford’s tail.

Editor’s note: Pynchon SAW is the new name for the Springfield-Western New England game.

Aside from No. 1 UW-Whitewater against Waldorf, which team has the most impressive win?
Keith: No. 10 John Carroll. No. 3 Mount Union has been waiting to bounce back from its Stagg Bowl embarrassment for months, and plays Bethany. But the Blue Streaks, bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs, have been waiting even longer, and face St. Vincent in new coach Ron Dolciato’s first game. This will be the Bearcats’ 22nd straight loss, and QB Mark Myers and Co. are pretty enough to make it ugly.
Pat: UW-La Crosse. I mean, define impressive. Am I impressed by beating Waldorf 66-3 or Bethany 49-7? Not really. For UW-L, even beating Dubuque at all would be a nice start to the season and we seem to expect the Eagles to be a little higher in the WIAC standings in 2014.
Ryan: No. 15 Rowan. Opponent Widener will finish the season at or near the top of the MAC. “Impressive” isn’t about a thrashing; “impressive” is about standing up to real adversity and walking away with control, confidence and victory. This game will raise the Profs’ profile a notch.

Pick a team ranked 150-244 in Kickoff that wins:
Keith: No. 159 St. Scholastica. Winning is nothing new to the Saints, and this wouldn’t be going very far out on a limb if they weren’t playing No. 99 Ripon. I’ll take the upset — long trip to Duluth, and new coach Kurt Ramler leading what could be a high-powered attack against the Red Hawks’ “slot bone.”
Pat: No. 195 Ferrum. I could have lost a lot of money the last few years picking USA South teams to beat ODAC teams (since it didn’t happen very often). But that would involve betting. Which is wrongDon’t do it. But even though Ferrum is pretty universally expected to be down this year, I like them at home over the school with first-year head coach and the offseason silliness.
Ryan: No. 203 Misericordia. As I highlighted in Kickoff, I think the Cougars are a team set to ride last year’s season-ending victory into a few more for the win column this fall. Utica is far from a sure thing for Misericordia, but a win also isn’t unattainable in this matchup, especially if the Cougars’ defense can show their worth.

Which manly men win the Stag Bowl and keep alive their Stagg Bowl hopes?
Keith: Hampden-Sydney. Oh Jeez. Who wrote this question? I don’t see what’s so great about going to college without women, but I guess it leaves more time for football practice, which could explain how the Tigers held my beloved Randolph-Macon out of the postseason by a yard last year. Admittedly, Nash Nance’s gang nearly pulled off the surprise of the playoffs out at Linfield and look poised to pick up where they left off. With only one offensive line starter back, Nance may be running for his life on Saturday, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Pat is picking the Little Giants and Ryan is abstaining, so I’ll hold my nose and select the southern gentlemen. For football reasons, of course.
Pat: Wabash. They’re playing at home. Wish I could be there but the man listed below will already be there so it didn’t make sense for me to try to get there as well. I expect to watch it online and then see my upset pick game Saturday night. I just expect this to be a good game. Keith’s right about Nance being on the run a bit on Saturday. I’m just glad this game is finally here because the fan bravado on the message board is getting to be a bit much.
Ryan: Pass. So often we ask questions on this site with a qualifier that says “alma maters excluded.” As a Wabash grad, I really should follow that rule with the first part of this question, despite the split decision from the two fellows picking before me (I do think I said all I needed to say in ATN this week). But realistically, both of these teams are ranked and have the possibility of conference AQs to look forward to, so a loss for either won’t knock them out of playoff contention. They both will have kept their Stagg Bowl hopes alive going into Week 2.

Triple Take: Rivalry week 2013


The Hampden-Sydney/Randolph-Macon game always draws a crowd. This year it’s also a winner-take-all game for the ODAC title.
Hampden-Sydney athletics photo

If you’ve never been affiliated with a school that has an intense, no-love-lost rivalry, you’re missing out on one of the sweeter things in life. Because when game time comes, there’s something absolutely all-consuming about how you feel about your team and what you’d like to do to those on the “other team.”

Many teams will be feeling that this weekend, capping the season against their archrival. And if the playoffs are not on the horizon, Week 11 can spell one last chance to make the season memorable by taking home the Bridge Bowl Trophy or Monon Bell or Cortaca Jug or Regents Cup or any of the many other prizes out there.

This week highlights the rivalries, but there’s more to this week than that. With Selection Sunday coming up, there’s so much to play for.

Here’s what Pat, Keith and Ryan have to say about that:

Continue reading

Triple Take: Penultimate picks


Either Wabash or Wittenberg will clinch the NCAC automatic bid Saturday.
Wabash athletics photo by Howard Hewitt

The long-awaited regional rankings are here, and we can expect to see at least a couple of teams clinch their conferences and their paths to the playoffs. All that on top of another week in which we see four games between Top 25 teams — dramatically narrowing the choices of Pat, Keith and Ryan for “Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.”

But there are plenty of other categories for them to spread their wings (bird reference; we’ll circle back to that later) here in the Week 10 Triple Take predictions:

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Wittenberg at No. 13 Wabash.
Playing the homer card here, because as expected, this matchup is poised to determine which red-and-white-clad “W” team gets to go to the playoffs. The Little Giants have been rolling week after week, logging three shutouts this season already. But have they been tested? Not significantly. That has made their No. 3 statistical ranking in total defense and their top spot in turnover margin seem exaggerated. But, to be sure, there has to be talent and depth to get to these numbers against any collegiate competition, so while the schedule has been favorable, Wabash’s place in the poll isn’t necessarily unjustified. Wittenberg is a bit in the same boat, though the Tigers can boast having faced at least one very solid team in Butler, a nonscholarship Division I-FCS squad that beat the Tigers badly. Witt is ninth nationally in total offense, and 19th in defense. For more than a decade, this has been a marquee NCAC matchup. That doesn’t change on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Heidelberg at No. 14 John Carroll. I’m going to say this out loud right now, and this is rare for me — this is a matchup I think the AFCA poll has right and we don’t. They have John Carroll ranked higher than Heidelberg. Although this requires a leap of faith to do so, I agree with them.
Keith’s take: No. 4 North Central at No. 19 Wheaton. Guess that leaves me this game. Honestly, I’d have taken the ‘Berg at John Carroll, but it’s Week 10 and I wrote down 25 games of interest in my pre-Triple Take exercise. There’s GOTW candidates everywhere. The weird thing about this one is, in light of North Central’s 46-17 win over Illinois Wesleyan, and the Titans’ 30-19 win over Wheaton, the Thunder are 40 points down in the three-way tiebreaker formula. But with a win, they can stay in the Pool C picture — which in my opinion is currently Heidelberg/John Carroll winner, UW-Platteville/UW-Oshkosh winner, Wittenberg/Wabash loser, Pacific Lutheran, Concordia-Moorhead (which faces St. Thomas this week), Illinois Wesleyan and the fourth Pool B team. For five spots. Wheaton would need to slow down NCC QB Spencer Stanek and the nation’s fifth-best offense (527.8 yards/game). The Cardinals’ balance (NCC rushes for 251 and passes for 276.8/game) will make it next to impossible.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Washington University.
Both teams have had moments of epic floundering this fall, while both have also showed signs of brilliance. As a few prominent Pool B teams picked up extra losses recently, Washington could be on the bubble of a playoff spot, especially if their only two losses remain those to undefeated UW-Whitewater and to two-loss Coe. The Bears have a lot to play for, and previous seasons have consistently shown their game against the Spartans to be a defensive struggle.
Pat’s take: Randolph-Macon at Bridgewater. The Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak, one that was pretty ugly, last week. With archrival Hampden-Sydney looming next week, perhaps Randolph-Macon is vulnerable here, and perhaps Bridgewater is going to play like the conference favorite we somehow thought they would be. (Although the conference coaches’ poll had them just three points out of first as well.)
Keith’s take: Franklin & Marshall at Johns Hopkins. This will be surprisingly close on the national scene, but those who closely follow the Centennial Conference remember that the Diplomats won this game in a similar situation last season, and Johns Hopkins still went on to win a first-round playoff game, 42-10. The Blue Jays are 8-0 and dominant offensively — No. 4 nationally at 529 yards a game, including 271 rushing. They’re also a top 25 defensive outfit in several categories, and they’re home at Homewood. So why F&M? It’s scored 35 or more four out of five weeks, it allows less than 50% of third downs to convert and knowing they’ve beaten the Blue Jays recently, they won’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ithaca.
Prior to last week, the Bombers had been the only Empire 8 team to have beaten Salisbury since the Gulls entered the conference. Both teams have a playoff spot that they are struggling for — meaning everything is on the line here.
Pat’s take: No. 18 St. Thomas. This is just a bookkeeping upset, really. I think there are some voters who have St. Thomas still ranked highly anticipating this game and thinking the Tommies can beat the Cobbers and justify where they’re listed. As down as the Tommies have appeared this season, though, they are still just a missed kick from being 9-1 and shoot, they were in the game at Bethel a heck of a lot longer than I would have thought. I went right picking St. John’s in this spot last week and now I’m giving the other side of that rivalry the business as well, I suppose.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Millsaps. The unbeaten Majors are at home against 6-2 Centre, a team that has had wild swings of effectiveness this season. When the Colonels are on, they can put up numbers; they average 462 yards of offense a game, including 190 on the ground. RB Harry Meisner will have quite a task in upstaging Millsaps RB Mike Barthelmy. An upset, however, would set off a race between the Colonels team bus or flight back to Kentucky, and all the thank-you letters coming in from Framingham, Mass., Dover, Del. and other hometowns of teams on the Pool B fringe.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Moravian.
In case you missed Around the Mid-Atlantic this week, Moravian has sloughed off a 12-game slide and now has won two in a row, with Juniata (also the subject of an ATMA column earlier this season) on tap. A win here for the Greyhounds could breathe new life and momentum into their Week 11 rivalry game at Muhlenberg.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. That’s if they can deal with the 10-hour bus ride to Greenville, that is. This is a winner-take-all game for the UMAC and while it would be further off most people’s radar to take Greenville, I like the Saints here.
Keith’s take: Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs, on the heels of their win over Lousiana College, are a lock for a Pool B playoff spot if they finish the season with wins over Hardin-Simmons and Howard Payne. Saturday’s game against the Cowboys is a lock for 900 yards and 90 points between the teams. QB Brent Peavy going against the HSU defense (235th-best in scoring, allowing 45.5 points/game) could mean those are distributed 60-30, and 600 yards to 300. But I’ll have it on my radar in case it gets in 47-43, 470-yards to 430 territory. The Cowboys average 445 yards and 39 points themselves, but could be demoralized after a 63-7 loss to No. 3 UMHB was followed by a loss to previously winless Sul Ross State.

Which team will clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Gallaudet.
The 8-0 team has already beaten the second- and third-best teams in the ECFC. For a school that dropped its team to club in the ’90s and slowly returned it to collegiate form, history will be made when the Bison clinch Saturday afternoon.
Pat’s take: Franklin. Such are the days of the Grizzlies’ lives. It’s only because Rose-Hulman hasn’t lost any other conference games since losing to Franklin. The Grizzlies are an immovable force, at least within the HCAC.
Keith’s take: UW-Whitewater. Too bad Ryan mentions St. Lawrence-Hobart below, I wanted to make reference to the ‘bart stars here. I’ll go with the sixth-ranked Warhawks, who will be able to pound the rock against a game UW-Stevens Point team that has already faced No. 4 North Central, No. 8 UW-Oshkosh and No. 11 UW-Platteville, which it only lost to by one point. The UW-W title was no forgone conclusion as the season kicked off, but as it stands, the WIAC title might not be the last it wins.

Which regionally ranked team will see its fortunes change?
Ryan’s take: St. Lawrence, No. 10 in the East.
Only because the Saints will be getting bounced out of the regional rankings after this week’s game against Hobart. A close game won’t help them. A loss, and they’re gone.
Pat’s take: Washington U., No. 8 in the South. The Bears have been banged up at running back and have been just squeaking by. Nearly losing to Macalester makes it difficult for me to like their chances vs. Case.
Keith’s take: Hope, No. 10 in the North. There’s more than regional rankings to worry about in Holland, Mich., but Flying Dutchmen can gain a lot of ground during their Week 10 bye. For starters, MIAA leader Albion (4-0, 6-2) travels to Adrian (3-2, 6-3), and a not-that-unlikely-upset won’t change the status of the Week 11 Hope-Albion clash — but it could soften the Britons up before the Flying Dutchmen get their crack. Also, in the North, regionally ranked teams face off in the NCAC, OAC and CCIW, so a slide up the NCAA’s rankings by next Wednesday is possible as well.

This one’s for the birds.
Ryan’s take: The Hawks of Huntingdon.
The Hawks finish out their season with two of their toughest conference matchups — Methodist and Maryville. Win out, and Huntingdon will be in the playoffs in just its first year in the USA South. But I’m not sure Huntingdon can pull it off. A win this weekend is a sound bet; a win in Week 11 isn’t something I’d put my money on.
Pat’s take: The Blue Jays of Johns Hopkins. That’s where they’ll be clinching the Centennial Conference automatic bid to the playoffs for the fourth time in five season.
Keith’s take: The Cardinals of Wesleyan. Amherst-Williams is known as the littlest big game in America, but it’s not even the biggest in the NESCAC this week. The Cardinals, a one-win team as recently as 2008, aim to finish off their first 8-0 season since 1969. Wesleyan is already Little Three champs, having beaten Amherst and Williams, but their rival a half-hour down I-91 (or the Connecticut River, for those inclined) is the thing that stands in the way of perfection. And to make it better, Trinity has been the NESCAC power for a decade. It hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2001, but after a 5-0 start lost close ones to Middlebury and Amherst. The game is in Hartford, and Wesleyan allows 239 yards a game, with nobody scoring more than 14 on them this season. The chance is there to cap perfection by smothering a geographic rival and conference powerhouse on its own field.