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.

Around the Nation podcast: Your questions, Mount answers


Josh Yoder has the Linfield offense clicking as well as the Wildcats have their defense clicking.
Linfield athletics photo

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

Mount Union answered a big challenge on Saturday but that was not the only question we had this week, nor was it the only question you had this week either. So when we put out the call for questions, we got a lot of interest in regional rankings, some questions about specific teams and some about potential at-large bids. Plus we talked about the other key Top 25 games and Continue reading

Triple Take: Full accountability


Bryan Bradshaw and the rest of the Dubuque Spartans face a ranked team for the second time this season.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

If you aren’t listening to the ATN Podcast, you’re missing out. Not only do Pat and Keith offer up a thorough breakdown of the week gone by, they also recap how we did in our Triple Take picks — assuming you make it to the tail end of the podcast.

What we write here isn’t done in a vacuum and isn’t necessarily forgotten about by Saturday afternoon. We welcome your comments both here and via Twitter. We want to make this an open forum for discussion. There are so many exciting things happening every weekend and we know you read, so why wouldn’t you want to talk about it? And talk. And talk. And talk … Put your own predictions in the comments below.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 9 St. Thomas at No. 5 Bethel.
I don’t think there’s much debate here about which game will have the biggest impact nationally this week. Lining up two Top 10 teams against each other earns them that recognition. Since I’m not sure if one of my colleagues picking after me for Triple Take will share some first-hand insights into this game, I’ll stick to sharing the stat sheet with you: Bethel is 19th in total offense, with a pretty balanced delivery; 66th in defense, again balanced on that front; and is 17th and fourth at third-down conversions and turnover margin, respectively. St. Thomas is 39th in total offense, with a solid balance; fourth in defense, particularly stifling against the run; and 19th in third-down conversions.
Pat’s take: Dubuque at No. 21 Coe. This is kind of a sleeper game. But I think whoever wins the Iowa Conference will not emerge unscathed from the conference schedule. Between Coe, Dubuque, Simpson, Wartburg and Central, I expect there to be a game or two that don’t go as expected. Dubuque is 3-2 but one is to a ranked team and the other is to another WIAC opponent, both of whom are probably better than anyone Coe has beaten so far.
Keith’s take: No. 9 St. Thomas at No. 5 Bethel. I agree with Ryan, from the impact standpoint. There are a bunch of other intriguing games, but nothing that matches this meetup in Minnesota. The Tommies, a Stagg Bowl team last year, could be in two-loss, playoff-spot jeopardy by sunset on Saturday. A St. Thomas win sets up a furious race to the MIAC finish, as Bethel, UST, St. John’s and Concordia-Moorhead would each have a conference loss with four or fewer games to play. Which sets up the delicious scenario of a bunch of fans who really dislike the Tommies having to pull for them on Saturday. Key games down the stretch, should UST win, would be the Cobbers at the Tommies on Nov. 9 and the Royals at the Johnnies Nov. 16.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Northwestern at Greenville.
When we talk about undefeated teams that fly under the radar, Greenville is just such a team. Though, there’s nothing quiet about how they got to where they are, often flirting with 50 points a game, shouldered by a run game that has averaged 349 yards an outing. But Greenville’s strength might well be muted by Northwestern’s key asset: the ability to shut down the run. Three times this season, the Eagles have held opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground. We’ll see how far these teams have to stray from their comfort zones to earn the win.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Willamette at Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark has been putting some points on the board lately behind quarterback Keith Welch, scoring 34 vs. UW-Platteville and 21 vs. Pacific Lutheran, both teams we believe to be better than Willamette. It’s not a stretch to see the Pioneers scoring enough points to make the game surprisingly close.
Keith’s take: Sewanee at Centre. The Colonels are 4-1 and the Tigers just 2-4, but Sewanee’s slate has included competitive losses from coast to coast (at Willamette and Washington & Lee), and a win against Birmingham-Southern. The Tigers’ past five opponents are 20-6. Centre is racking up 440 yards a game, most of it passing, and 31.6 points per. Sewanee rushes for 243 yards a game and takes care of the ball, but defensively is 201st nationally on stopping third downs and tied for 230th in the red zone. That gives Centre the opening they need to get by while it’s close and then break it open.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville.
In a stacked WIAC, Stevens Point (with only one Top 25 vote) has been overshadowed by Platteville, Oshkosh and Whitewater this fall. And we’ll see this weekend if an injustice has been done there. The 4-1 Pointers’ only loss came last month at the hands of No. 4 North Central, but an overtime win against UW-Eau Claire last week hasn’t done a lot to instill confidence. Platteville should win, but Stevens Point could rattle the cage.
Pat’s take: No. 19 St. John Fisher. Man, this is a tough one. I do think there’s a 10% to 15% chance that Platteville loses to Stevens Point. Salisbury has quietly put together a couple of good games since losing to Wesley. Where I’m hanging my hat on this is St. John Fisher barely beat Frostburg State and Salisbury is a much tougher opponent. Obviously that’s a pretty simplistic “analysis,” because St. John Fisher will never take Salisbury lightly.
Keith’s take: No. 21 Coe. Finally a top 25 slate where we don’t have to scramble to find three where the ranked team could lose. I count eight, although the best two already got picked, and No. 5 Bethel losing to St. Thomas would hardly be an upset. So I lean toward the Kohawks, who have played outstanding defense since a 23-22 nail-biter over Monmouth in Week 1. But they also haven’t faced anyone the quality of the Spartans, while Dubuque played three WIAC teams and Central already. Coe has beaten Monmouth, Cornell, Wash. U., Buena Vista and Loras. They’ll get their respect if they start winning in the tougher part of their schedule, but Dubuque QB Bryan Bradshaw (1,333 yards, 14 TDs) won’t make their first big game an easy one.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: The ODAC.
Every week brings surprises in this conference, which has been referenced before as arguably having the most parity of any in the nation. This week, with Guilford at Bridgewater and Washington and Lee at Randolph-Macon, we get two see two teams at the top in conference play go up against two other above-.500 squads. As usual, expect these teams to continue beating themselves up ahead of the playoffs.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Conn.). The Bantams are one win short of their 50th consecutive home victory and host Bowdoin on Saturday. The last time Trinity lost a home game was to Williams on Sept. 29, 2001 and the Bantams have never lost a game played on artificial turf.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan. We’re so NESCAC-y today! Good teams from that conference tend to find themselves high on the national defensive rankings, and Bill Belichick’s alma mater is no differnt. Wesleyan is 4-0, facing 4-0 Amherst and their speedy offense on Saturday. The Cardinals have given up 22 points this season, no more than nine to any team. But the best part is, since they miss Middlebury in the 10-team conference’s eight-game schedule, a win points them toward a showdown with Connecticut rival Trinity for the conference title in November. Amherst allows 71 rushing yards a game and the Cardinals pound it for 266 per, so it should be a fun one along the line of scrimmage.

Which team will turn the biggest 180 from last week?
Ryan’s take: Augsburg.
Two straight losses to two of the toughest teams in the MIAC. Still, the Auggies impressively hung 28 points each time on those opponents. But I have to believe what they want most is a win. And it’s a floundering St. Olaf that stands in the way.
Pat’s take: Pacific. This is a 180 in the opposite direction. Pacific is riding a great unbeaten streak and blew out Puget Sound but has to go to No. 17 Pacific Lutheran this week.
Keith’s take: Rowan. The Profs, who lost by 20 to Morrisville State last week, on Saturday face national power Wesley, ranked 11th. I don’t know that the Profs will win, but they’ll give a performance more befitting their reputation. Rowan has played good defense, particularly against the run, and kept games low scoring prior to the 502-yard mess at Morrisville. Wesley is going to throw playmakers at the Profs like they haven’t seen before, and it will require a 180 from last week just to hang close.

Which team with two or more losses is worth watching this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Gettysburg, against another two-loss team, Muhlenberg.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve never heard of the Old Tin Cup rivalry. Most people haven’t. The trophy dates to the 1950s and early ’60s and is just one of many awards linked to intra-Centennial play during the fall. This one, though, highlights an annually competitive matchup that has proven to be either fun shootouts or defensive battles, depending on the year. Both the Bullets and the Mules have been neck and neck for the past few seasons, their games separated by only a couple of points each meeting. I’d expect nothing less here.
Pat’s take: Bethany. Their PAC game at Waynesburg features two of the most prolific quarterbacks in Division III this year. Bethany’s Matt Grimard and Waynesburg’s Carter Hill rank 1-2 in passing yards per game in the PAC and 1-3 in total offense per game. Hill’s 302.7 passing yards per game is No. 11 in Division III, while Grimard is No. 3 at 336.4. Bethany is 2-3, but beat Washington and Jefferson its last time out and has had two weeks to prepare for this game.
Keith’s take: LaGrange. Originally I spotlighted 3-2 Alfred, which is hosting 4-1 Hartwick, here, but the 2-3 Panthers have the No. 1 passing attack in the country (390 yards/game) behind quarterback Graham Craig. Their fellow deep South independent-turned-USAC-member Huntingdon brings the No. 13 pass attack and No. 6 overall offense — they have a 313-yard rush game and a 462-yard passing game this season — to Callaway Stadium, where there should be fireworks Saturday.

Which team would you have liked to see play this Saturday?
Ryan’s take: Merchant Marine.

Pat’s take: Merchant Marine. (But also Swarthmore. Can I still be upset about that? More below.)
Keith’s take: Merchant Marine. Although two days to get the team reassembled and ready to play is probably a lot to ask.

Pat: Earlier this week I stumbled upon the interesting story of mid-1980s Swarthmore football. The school eventually dropped football after the 2000 season, but back in the mid-1980s, the school forced out extremely successful coach Tom Lapinski after a four-year stretch in which Swarthmore went 30-6. The below video aired on CBS during the middle of that great run by the Garnet.