Triple Take, Week 3: The competition gets rougher

In quite a few places from coast to coast this weekend, the time for mismatches is over. Whether conference play is getting underway like it is in the Empire 8 and OAC, or teams are looking for one more good non-conference test, like our games of the week below, teams are getting on their levels.

By that I mean they’re beginning to play the contests that will define them this season, the ones they’ll look back on with pride if they emerge victorious. Players don’t care about rivalries nearly as much as the alumni. They love the games that push them until the fourth quarter, until sweat drips down between their helmets and faces, and they can put their hands on their knees or hips and exhale, knowing that was tough. We’ve got a bevy of those in Week 3.

All of us who aren’t putting on pads this weekend get the benefit of watching. Since many of our 247 teams are in action, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I provide a seven-point primer on where to look for this weekend’s highlights. Enjoy.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 North Central at No. 22 Platteville. Here’s where we find out if these Cardinals and Pioneers are living off the reputations their predecessors built, or if they deserve their spots in the top 25. UW-Platteville outscored Buena Vista and Dubuque 80-20, and has the North Central game as a rugged warmup for a conference opener with No. 1 UW-Whitewater next week. QB Tom Kelly is completing 78 percent of his passes so far. North Central, meantime, rushed for 269 yards in its opener at 5.6 per carry, and hosts No. 5 Wesley next week. The road gets easier for neither, and a win here would be one to savor (and file away in case it is needed to convince the selection committee of at-large playoff spot worthiness).
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Hobart at No. 24 Ithaca. Despite going through a realignment and seeing traditional power St. John Fisher manhandled in Week 1, the Empire 8 looks to have maintained much of the top-to-bottom power it has shown in recent seasons. What hasn’t truly emerged, in my mind, is a front-runner. Ithaca has broken into the top 25, but Cortland State, Morrisville State, Alfred and Fisher are all getting votes. I think voters are uncertain which of them will break into the top of the pack. Ithaca, with a winning performance against Hobart, could set itself apart. Hobart, on the other hand, hasn’t moved much so far this year, but that could change (for better or for worse) based on the outcome of this game.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Maryville at Emory and Henry. These teams have played a string of good to great games each of the past three seasons, even as the relative fortunes of the two programs have shifted a couple of times. Last year this was an early-season low-scoring game, but it ended up being the only time E&H was held under 27 points. These are both teams who we expect to contend for their respective conference titles, and a good non-conference test for each.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Fitchburg State at Framingham State. If you follow the national scene, you’ll know that the hosts have been knocking on the top 25/could-win-a-playoff-game-or-two door for three years. The visitors are the team you probably mistake for Framingham, unless  you’re familiar with Massachusetts. The Falcons surged from 2-8 in 2013 to 6-4 last year by winning close games, although they trailed 35-6 during a 42-21 loss to Framingham last season. Fitchburg is 2-0 but hasn’t played nearly the level of competition that Framingham has, so I might have talked myself out of this being surprisingly close. I probably should have picked Endicott at St. Lawrence, based solely on the Gulls staying close to Hobart last week and their new head man knowing the Saints from having coached previously with the rival Statesmen.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Wesleyan at No. 17 Wittenberg. I almost picked this as my top 25 upset game but I couldn’t justify to myself that an upset would actually happen. After all, Witt’s margin of victory was 36 points last year and 38 points two years ago, and the Tigers are darn good again this season. I do feel that Witt will win, but I don’t think it will be as egregiously lopsided.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Widener at Albright. In fact, this is another candidate for me for game of the week. Albright is 1-0 after its comeback win vs. Salisbury on Opening Friday and Widener lost to Rowan, then pulled away from King’s with a big third quarter last week. I suspect Widener would be a slight favorite on the road here but I’m making this pick primarily to tell people not to rule Albright out.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 St. John’s, at Concordia-Moorhead. Because it’s his home base, Minnesota games are usually Pat’s department. But I’m taking this because it’s the right pick, and because I get to pontificate. D-III isn’t always fair. Certain teams just get a raw deal. Four straight seasons, Louisiana College went 7-3 and missed the playoffs by a hair. When they finally went 8-2, with losses only to Wesley and UMHB, their reward was a first-round exit at UMHB. The Wildcats and Concordia-Moorhead are my ‘best teams with the least to show for it’ over the past 10 years. The Cobbers have gone 8-2 with a win against St. John’s each of the past three seasons, and haven’t made the playoffs. With the Johnnies back in the top 10, and St. Thomas and Bethel also ranked, the MIAC is as brutal as ever. The Cobbers won their first two games 41-17 and 41-7, while St. John’s won by 36 and 49. This is the first stiff test for both, so I don’t know that the first two games give any indication about which way this will go.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 10 John Carroll. I’ve mentioned in an Around the Nation column that I’m more skeptical of JCU than it seems other top 25 voters are. Heidelberg (along with Ohio Northern in two weeks) poses one of the few hurdles to the Blue Streaks until they play Mount Union in Week 11. I would be okay being proven wrong by a strong John Carroll performance, but I’m not seeing it play out that way.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 18 Centre. I think this is another week that is relatively devoid of upsets but the Colonels had a lot of things go right last year on the way to going 10-0. Wash. U., on the other hand, is an opponent that Centre could be convinced to take lightly based on the fact that the Colonels won 50-20 last year. I’m not super convinced, but I didn’t think I could get away with saying “nobody” for all 11 weeks of the season. (By the way, Keith, pontificate all you want. I think the Cobbers’ streak ends here.)

Which team gets its first win this weekend?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Pacific Lutheran. After the Lutes more or less gave one away, albeit kindly to their Lutheran brethren from California, they have to face 2-0 Trinity (Texas). The Tigers’ struggles last season included a 38-14 home loss to PLU, but their 2-0 start this year includes a convincing 35-6 win against Willamette, the Lutes’ conference rival. But if Pacific Lutheran plays more like the team that built the 26-10 halftime lead at Cal Lutheran and less like the one that blew it, they’ll get their first win.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Capital. This pick is more a testament to a solid showing the Crusaders had in Week 1 against Wittenberg than it is to the fact that they’re playing Wilmington this week. Against Witt, Capital had a furious never-give-up type of rally in the fourth quarter, and that kind of determination will lead them to a solid season. Wilmington is 1-0 for the first time since 2002, a win that helped them snap a 23-game losing streak. While the Quakers should be feeling good about themselves because of it, they likely won’t be able to hang with Capital.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Lewis and Clark. One of the fun things about some of these games between teams elsewhere in the rankings is they can be wide-open, high-scoring, entertaining affairs, and that’s why I picked this game out. Roger Caron is hanging on in his tenure at Pomona-Pitzer, while Lewis and Clark hired former Linfield national champion coach Jay Locey. This game might not remain competitive in future years but right now, a game between two teams that have lost 27 of their past 28 games still has promise to be exciting. I attended this game six short years ago and it was fantastically entertaining.

Which team bounces back from a tough loss?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Augustana. I could have picked Salisbury at Montclair State and automatically have been correct, since both were hard-luck losers to MAC teams in their openers two weeks ago but one is bound to win. Yet the Vikings, who led Albion twice in the fourth quarter and scored 49 points, were even harder-luck losers. They have a chance to rebound against Loras, which scored 42 in a 10-point loss to UW-Stout and is facing a CCIW team for the second time in three weeks.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg. Yes, last week I picked the Mules to be one of the top 25 upsets, and they were. But I also see potential in this team, and I think they will use this week against McDaniel to regain their confidence and iron out their kinks ahead of the Johns Hopkins game on Sept. 26.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: St. John Fisher at Cortland State. I just have to envision that St. John Fisher used its bye week to correct some of the many things that apparently went wrong two weeks ago in that dismal loss at Thomas More. Now, unfortunately for the Cardinals, Cortland has spent the past two weeks winning games against teams in the top quarter of Division III, and doing it with either of their quarterbacks, so St. John Fisher has its work cut out for it. I just can’t imagine Fisher laying another egg.

Pick a team with a funny name but serious game this weekend.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Alfred.  The school with a name that sounds like your grandfather hosts an Empire 8 clash with Buffalo State. I originally wrote the question intending “serious game” to mean a team that’s going to play well, but every Empire 8 matchup this week looks serious, from a competitive perspective. Alfred has beaten Husson and RPI, while the Bengals have been off since shutting out Otterbein in the opener. Unrelated, I’m amused by four of the five water schools (the three Maritimes, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard) matching up this weekend.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers. The school’s Web site quotes ESPN saying, “How fierce can a corncob be? But that’s what makes the Cobber special — it symbolizes not only Concordia’s athletic spirit, but its overall good sense of humor.” We will see how fierce indeed as the team takes on No. 8 St. John’s on Saturday. The Johnnies have lost this matchup three years running.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: FDU-Florham. More about the school name than the rather pedestrian “Devils” nickname, but this is because the school used to refer to itself as FDU-Madison and it’s actually in Madison, N.J. But I guess “Florham” sounds better. If you can’t beat ’em, Florham. One more pun — that’s what the Devils’ passing offense has been doing the past two games, flooring ’em with lots of passes to Malik Pressley. We’ll see how King’s chooses to defend against him.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Becker and Nichols. Becker, which played its first game in 2005, has never won more than three games in a season and has only twice has had back-to-back wins. Nichols has won four games in the past five seasons. Both won convincingly last week, and by late Friday night, either the Hawks or Bison will be 2-1 and on a winning streak where fans have seen few.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Montclair State. I had the Red Hawks on my top 25 ballot at the beginning of the season, before they lost to Delaware Valley. They’re no longer there, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. I’m most curious to see how they fare against the triple-option from NJAC newcomer Salisbury. That offense is a beast unlike anything Montclair State is used to.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albion. Mostly I’m keeping my eye on this game to see if Albion, which hosts Lakeland, can significantly cut into that 50.5 points allowed per game. If the Britons can’t keep the Muskies down, then there might not be any hope for them defensively and they will have to rely on winning a shootout every week.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient, and those that were terribly off base.

Around the Nation podcast: McKoy and the conference showdowns

Ill. Wesleyan hasn’t been 7-0 since 1996.
Illinois Wesleyan photo by Marc Featherly

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

If you are a regular listener to the Around the Nation podcast, you already knew who Western Connecticut running back Octavias McKoy is. This week the rest of college football found out, as he ripped off 455 rushing yards, setting the single-game rushing record for all levels of NCAA football. Hear from him and his coach at the top of the podcast. 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,

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.