Triple Take, Week 5: Let the conference rumbles begin

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at Linfield. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at the Wildcats. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

If it hasn’t already where you’re from, conference play begins in Week 5. From the ASC to the WIAC (and places in between — the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, ODAC and SCIAC get underway, while all but one game has yet to be played in NJAC and NWC), the games against familiar rivals are on deck. Twenty-four of the 28  conferences come with an automatic bid, so even though it’s too early to talk postseason, it’s never too early to consider playoff implications. Saturday’s games mean something long term.

In short, though, we have a doozy upon us this weekend. Pat, Ryan and I sift through which of the 244 teams are most worth keeping an eye on, via seven categories.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 12 Bethel. The game in Washington, Pa. is more likely to be a defacto conference title game, but the one in Arden Hills, Minn. has even more on the line, and could feature the best-played football in the country on Saturday. The Cobbers and Royals each practice the lost art of playing defense, ranking in the national top 20 in total (averaging 263 and 241 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (a shade under 13 points per game each). Although Bethel is already on thin ice because of its season-opening loss to Wartburg, the MIAC has sent two teams to the playoffs nine times since the expansion in 1999, and this might end up a preview of this year’s duo. On top of all that, this insane thing happened last time these teams met at Bethel, and the specter of that game hangs over this one.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 14 Pacific Lutheran. I’m filing my take early, so I don’t get to see what Pat and Keith have written, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose this game, too. Never mind the fact that it’s a matchup between top-25 teams, but it has also grown into a marquee conference clash over the past few seasons. And it’s almost becoming a tradition for these two squads to meet twice in the fall, once in the regular season and then again in the first round of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, both are undefeated, and both have stout defenses. And because Linfield is excelling offensively with the pass while PLU is doing so with the run, these two teams would be candidates for the “contrasting styles” question farther down in Triple Take, if they weren’t so highly ranked, that is.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson. While all of those conferences listed above are getting started, the PAC is deep into its conference schedule, which started in Week 1 because of the conference’s expansion to include Carnegie Mellon and Case. With Thomas More already having taken a loss and the committee having passed over 1-loss PAC teams in the past because of strength of schedule, there may only be room for one PAC team in this year’s playoffs. Barring a later upset, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to get that spot.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Gallaudet at Anna Maria. The Bison won nine games, made the playoffs and had an NFL prospect last season. The AmCats are in their sixth football season, and have six wins total. But you can expect this one to be surprisingly close, if only because neither side can really score. Anna Maria has seven touchdowns in three games this season, but that’s seven more than Gallaudet, who have been outscored 50-2 so far. They’re part of the reason why, in contrast with conferences like the ASC, OAC and ODAC, where teams average more than 33 points per game, the ECFC is the nation’s lowest-scoring conference, at 15.41 points per team per game. There will probably be some success for both offenses on Saturday, but the casts have changed since last season, so don’t expect a playoff team vs. doormat blowout.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps at Hendrix. I’m looking forward to seeing this showdown happen. After the Majors got blasted by East Texas Baptist last week, there are a lot of questions hanging around for a team that was 9-1 last year but starts 2014 at 1-2. Tackling needs to improve; turnovers need to stop. ETBU’s 715 yards of total offense is a scary thing, and Millsaps should be scared if the team can’t keep those kinds of numbers in check going forward. But while Millsaps is a team on the slide, Hendrix appears to be one on the rise. A 3-0 start is something for the Warriors to be very happy about, and the fact that they were able to have their offense step up in games, as well as the defense to shine, shows how versatile this second-year program can be.
Pat’s take: Washington U. at Berry. One could play the comparative scores game because already this year, Rhodes has played both Berry and Wash U. But I just expect this to be close because it’s a bit of a trip for the Bears and Berry is getting better. They only lost to Rhodes 12-0 and lost 28-27 at LaGrange.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 UW-Platteville. I ruled out the top-25 clashes as picks here, and the luster is off games like Salisbury at No. 7 St. John Fisher and No. 8 Wartburg at Central. Even Louisiana College at No. 4 Wesley isn’t as exciting as it first appeared. So to truly go out on a limb, I’ll take 0-3 UW-Eau Claire, playing at Carson Park in the WIAC opener. The Blugolds have only scored 24 points this season, which makes this an even more risky pick, but they’ve played three perennial midwest powers  St. Thomas, St. John’s and Wheaton. UW-Platteville makes four current top 25 teams in four weeks for UW-EC, and if the Blugolds are not demoralized, they could catch the Pioneers sleeping. Last year, Eau Claire led at halftime and after a 98-yard third-quarter kick return before Platteville scored the final four TDs. UW-P this year has been a bit of an enigma, winning by 60 in Week 1 and squeezing past Dubuque in Week 2, and it’s had two weeks to stew over a 28-7 loss to North Central. So the upset is no small task.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. While this qualifies for this category because the Saints are in the Top 25, it barely counts as an upset when the opponent is undefeated conference rival Washington and Jefferson. Not to mention that both are statistically in the top 10 in total offense in the nation.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Lycoming, I suppose. The MAC unbeaten teams will start to knock each other off this week. In order to believe Stevenson can beat Lycoming, however, one has to think that Stevenson is ready to make a big leap forward. The Mustangs were fairly dominant in Week 1 vs. North Carolina Wesleyan but have won the next three games by a touchdown apiece, so they’re barely hanging onto this 4-0. They won’t be able to get away with 4-for-18 passing this week.

Pick a team that will open conference play in dramatic fashion
Keith’s take: Willamette, vs. George Fox. The dramatics for the Bearcats might be of the record-setting variety as opposed to the last-second type. Willamette rushes for 285 yards a game, has had two weeks since a 42-28 win at Cal Lutheran, and faces first-year George Fox, which has allowed 1,028 yards in its two losses. The real curiosity might be finding out just how many NWC contenders there are, which means you’ll have to pay attention to Linfield-PLU and Whitworth-Pacific as well this weekend.
Ryan’s take: Redlands, at Pomona-Pitzer. An 0-2 record doesn’t tell us much if those two games came against No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 5 Linfield. The Bulldogs were expected to lose both of them (maximum chalk). But this week is Redlands’ chance to show what they learned from those experiences and put the lessons into action. Opponent Pomona-Pitzer should be a great way to make sure everything is clicking, to earn a win – and be set for the following week against Cal Lutheran and later against the rest of the SCIAC.
Pat’s take: Augustana, vs. Elmhurst. The CCIW opens this weekend with the potential for three blowouts, while this game, between teams expected to be in the middle of the conference, has the potential for some heroics. It matched a couple of players who have already had standout individual performances this year: Augustana defensive back Tim Maroder (four interceptions vs. Loras) and Elmhurst running back Josh Williams (306 rushing yards at Olivet).

Which team lost badly last week, but will bounce back?
Keith’s take: Southern Virginia, at Kean. Since these teams lost 47-7 to No. 4 Wesley and 73-7 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday, facing each other should be a relief. Both teams are 0-3. The Knights have a significant road trip to North Jersey ahead, but they’ve faced three high-powered offenses in Methodist, Guilford and Wesley. Kean has managed just 49 points total this season. (Millsaps, facing Hendrix after a 68-15 loss to ETBU, is a candidate here as well.)
Ryan’s take: Williams, at Bates. Sure, it’s tough to come off of a 38-0 loss to Trinity (Conn.), but if Williams can channel some of the success it found two weeks ago in its opener from quarterback Austin Lommen and running back Alex Scyocurka, then there’s a good chance that the Ephs can look sharp this weekend against Bates.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh, vs. UW-Stout. The Titans had a bye this past week, but they are 0-3 coming into this game, having not played a single Division III school. Getting to play UW-Stout will be better than playing South Dakota State, that’s for sure.

Pick a winner in a matchup of contrasting styles
Keith’s take: LaGrange, at Maryville. The Panthers contrast with themselves, much less the other team. LaGrange, behind QB Graham Craig, has the nation’s fifth-most-prolific passing offense and the 227th-best passing defense. They keep it interesting though, scoring between 28 and 35 each time out, allowing between 27 and 37, and having a two-point loss, a one-point win and two overtime wins. Across the way, Maryville brings a 286-yard-per-game rushing attack (11th-best nationally) and a scoring average of  get this  28.8 points per game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford, vs. Washington and Lee. Well, it’s almost unfair when I look at the contrast between the Quakers and Generals. Guilford has one of the best passing games in the nation, and, just as importantly, it is third statistically in turnover margin. Washington and Lee, on the other hand, slots in at No. 168 in turnover margin, being negative-2 on the season. And they have almost no pass game to speak of, relying on their ground attack  which isn’t close to where it’s been in recent seasons. Sure enough, these two teams contrast each other, just not in a flattering way.
Pat’s take: Illinois College, vs. Ripon. After two losses in a row, the Blueboys need to get well, and fast. The good thing is that neither of those games counted against IC’s conference record in the Midwest Conference South Division, and this week’s game vs. Ripon won’t, either. The run-heavy Red Hawks are also 1-2, but with the only win vs. Rockford. Meanwhile, most people should know Illinois College likes to throw the ball.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Bethany. Taking it on the chin from Mount Union in Week 1 perhaps was a wise strategy. The Bison have three wins since, including two on the road, and a 33-27 victory against Waynesburg last week. After 35 carries for just 75 yards in a 58-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, Bethany’s ground game has been stout. They’re running the ball an average of 46 times per game for almost 200 yards a week, with a three-headed attack: Running backs Jalen Holmes and Brandon Hill, and quarterback Brian Vales. Case Western Reserve has only allowed 83 yards per game rushing, so this clash will be worth watching.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I’m owning up to my mistake from last week, when I wrote about this game a week before it was to happen. So a cut-and-paste from that, which still applies today: I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles’ competition has been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: The Rhodes-Chicago winner. This is a key Pool B game on Saturday, a matchup of unbeatens. Rhodes put up 41 on Chicago in Memphis in 2013, winning 41-34, but expect a lower-scoring game.

Triple Take: Going down the rabbit hole

From a huge rivalry game to a couple of stellar Top 25 matchups, there’s no shortage of things to keep an eye on this week among Division III’s elite.

But if you read our Around the Region columns and listen to the ATN Podcast, you already know how deep the rabbit hole goes with all the stories, teams and players that make up small-college football. There so much more going on than what will fit in this Triple Take space, but Pat Coleman (@d3football), Keith McMillan (@D3Keith) and Ryan Tipps (@NewsTipps) break down the week ahead and some of the games that are on our radars.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Two Top 5 teams. Perennial deep playoff runs. History of great clashes. New UMHB stadium. New Crusader starting quarterback. Wolverines coming off hail mary win. Saturday under the lights. Pick your reason why this game will be exciting. There’s no wrong answer.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Given that I already wrote about that here though, perhaps some fresh thoughts on No. 22 Cal Lutheran at No. 3 Linfield will suffice? Pacific Lutheran rushed for 234 yards against CLU last week, and Linfield ran for nearly 300 against Hardin-Simmons, including more than 150 from quarterbacks. The Kingsmen, tied at 24, couldn’t get off the field during PLU’s game-winning drive. Linfield might keep it on the ground at key times and eke out yet another win over its class-of-the-West-Coast rival.
Pat’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Normally we try not to repeat games but let’s be honest, this is it. Once upon a time the Tommie-Johnnie game could have measured up or Linfield-Cal Lutheran, but not this year.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Sul Ross State at Trinity.
It’s a bit hard to get a handle on the Lobos since they have yet to take the field against a D-III opponent. Their ability to get a rushing game going against the Tigers’ mid-range run defense will be the key to Sul Ross getting points on the board and staying in this one.
Keith’s take: Louisiana College at Huntingdon. If it was billed as top-level ASC team against team picked to finish middle of USAC, it might sound like it won’t be close, but this will be. The Wildcats and Hawks are each off to very good starts (Huntingdon won 35-7 at ASC member Mississippi College on Sept. 14, and LC has two wins over NAIA teams). The Wildcats dominated Webber International statistically last week, but needed to cap a 16-play drive with the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left, partially because 12 penalties for 171 yards set them back. Huntingdon had eight penalties of its own, and completed just 15 passes last week, so unless both teams clean up their acts, the game could stay close because both sides’ miscues keep the other in it.
Pat’s take: Redlands at No. 11 Pacific Lutheran. This game will not be as far apart as a game between a near-Top 10 team and a team not quite receiving votes would expect to be. Both teams have been tested early, and Redlands could well be up to the task.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Baldwin Wallace.
I could see the Yellow Jackets’ game against John Carroll coming down to which offense has the ball last. Both teams put up some wild offensive stats in their first games, and Baldwin Wallace has the most to lose as the team surely has its eyes on a conference prize if Mount Union shows any bit of vulnerability in the next few weeks.
Keith’s take: No major upsets. Wesley and Cal Lutheran won’t count as upsets if they lose to higher-ranked top-25 teams. I’m intrigued by Redlands at No. 11 Pacific Lutheran, Albright hosting No. 21 Delaware Valley and the two top-25 games involving OAC teams, but I wouldn’t pick them in writing.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. You’d have to believe that Albright is gong to come out more than a little fired up and focused after losing to Stevenson last week and putting the Mustangs … say, on the radar. Albright might not win the MAC this season, but they’re talented enough to knock off a contender, especially one coming to Reading.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Stevenson.
The Mustangs are carrying a solid opening set into this Friday night matchup against FDU-Florham. I’ll be interested to see how well they can hang onto the ball after Florham showed last week that it likes to pressure teams into making turnovers. The Devils edged out TCNJ in a low-scoring game thanks primarily to forcing five of them. Stevenson, in only its third year, could prove this week and in the next couple that it is a team ready to contend.
Keith’s take: Ohio Wesleyan. Two of last year’s surprise teams, not just in the NCAC but nationally, meet this week when Kenyon hosts the Battling Bishops. OWU would seem to have the edge, with a week off since its season-opening win over Bluffton and the Lords coming off a 25-15 loss at Earlham in which they gained only 221 yards. With both teams playing Wabash and Wittenberg this season, I’m looking for something to indicate whether QB Mason Espinosa and OWU will be a contender for a conference title. Hey, let’s keep it in the NCAC …
Pat’s take: Hiram. No, seriously. Readers of Kickoff know why I say so — they have a transfer quarterback who played at Notre Dame … even if it is the Division II school in Ohio. Rob Partridge is listed as a freshman in the Terriers’ stats, but don’t let that fool you: He’s actually a senior. And with that experience, he’s going to have Hiram in a lot more games than it would have been in last year. If he plays, that is, since he didn’t finish last week’s game at Denison.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: Kean.
While the final score last week appears to have been a thorough beating at the hands of Mary Hardin-Baylor, it belies the closeness of the matchup at halftime, when UMHB had just a 3-0 lead. The Crusaders, of course, made adjustments under center and elsewhere, and took off from there, but the fact that Kean was able to hang with such a good team for such a long time and force a couple of turnovers has to give them confidence going up against Endicott this week.
Keith’s take: Salisbury. The Gulls might take the frustration of losing to two top-25 teams by a total of 10 points out on N.C. Wesleyan. It’s a new season and all, and a fresh coaching staff for the (other) Battling Bishops, but Salisbury won 69-6 at home last year.
Pat’s take: Susqhenanna. In a matchup of 0-2 teams, I take Susquehanna over Dickinson. It’s puzzling how poorly Dickinson has been playing so far this season, while Susquehanna has at least looked decent in one game, at Merchant Marine in the season opener.

Which team is far topping your expectations?
Ryan’s take: Juniata.
You have to go back at least a decade to find a season in which the Eagles have started 2-0. And while coach and Juniata grad Tim Launtz showed last season, in his sophomore year at the helm, that he is serious about turning the team around, he’s following through with that goal splendidly this fall. The next couple weeks could be bumpy for Juniata, with Gettysburg this week then Franklin and Marshall and Johns Hopkins, but there’s a lot for these players to be happy about. Junior quarterback Ward Udinski has 634 passing yards in just two games, with more than 100 yards rushing. This is a team that could sneak up on some of the top teams in the conference if they let their guard down.
Keith’s take: Olivet. I listed a handful of mildly surprising 2-0 teams in Off the Beaten Path, and the Comets get more acknowledgement here not just for winning at Wilmington and then beating Wisconsin Lutheran so far. It’s that there’s no reason it should stop. This week’s opponent, Rockford, is 0-2 and 2-30 since the start of the 2010 season, and 0-2 North Park and 0-2 Alma follow.
Pat’s take: Emory and Henry. So far, at least. Not just beating Ferrum, but crushing them, and then beating Maryville as well. Even though the ODAC has generally owned the USA South in recent years, that’s a convincing butt-kicking of the Panthers. And even though E&H generally beats Ferrum soundly in Emory, it’s still a bit of a surprise to me because I was thinking E&H was on a bit of a downslide.

Color me red.
Ryan’s take: Olivet.
This is another one of those teams that could fall under “far topping my expectations,” but since their uniforms are Scarlet, I get an opportunity to talk about them in this category instead. The Comets have already notched their best season in years. And with Rockford and North Park over the next two weeks before MIAA play begins, it’s no stretch to think Olivet could be 4-0 and looking to rattle some conference cages behind Braden Black at quarterback and his go-to receiver, Dan Hugan. The weakness in their armor, though, is the pass defense (statistically 211th in Division III), which will need to improve if Olivet hopes to take this success to the next level.
Keith’s take: Bates. Hey Ryan, my bad for using Olivet, didn’t know you’d be shooting stars down here when I wrote that. (See what I did there?) Maybe I should have given 2-0 Hope some love instead. The good folks in Michigan will appreciate the Olivet nods, but anyway, Bates … So yeah, the NESCAC gets underway this week, and the Bobcats get conference favorite Trinity right off the bat. I’m responsible for a portion of the Bantams’ also receiving votes in the top 25, so I’m not picking Bates so much as I’m watching to see signs that last year’s 5-3 season was no fluke. Jeff Hetzel and Damon Hatheway were high on Bates in Kickoff, and assuming that quarterback battle is settled, we’ll get an indication of whether that 6-2 prediction could be on the money.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. After a close loss to St. John’s and a non-embarrassing loss to No. 2 St. Thomas, it’s time for UW-River Falls to hit the road. While that involves something different than the first two games at home did, I think River Falls will be just a bit on the rise this season.

Triple Take: Will someone clinch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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