Triple Take: Battles of midway

Willamette
Josh Dean leads Willamette, which has gone from the Fly to being the top passing team in Division III.
Willamette athletics photo

Can you believe we’ve already reached the midpoint of the regular season?

We’re entering Week 6 in the 11-game season. Most teams already have their bye week behind them, which means lots and lots of football will be played down the stretch.

At the moment, 29 teams that play nonconference games are still undefeated, and amazingly, the same number of teams are currently winless.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you some nuggets of insight to chew on in this week’s Triple Take. And if you’ve got something to say, don’t hesitate to voice your comments below.

– Tipps

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Salisbury at No. 9 St. John Fisher.
This is the kind of matchup I anticipated most when Salisbury joined the Empire 8 last season. Though the Gulls won the conference, Fisher got an at-large bid to the 2011 postseason – both went on to overcome two opponents and make it to regional finals. As usual, SU has one of the best rushing attacks in the country (whether dynamic quarterback Dan Griffin will be back in the lineup after Saturday’s injury is unclear). They will be tested against Fisher’s defense and sacking capabilities. Both teams are Top 10. I like the Gulls for the win, but I also expect this one to be tight.
Pat’s take: Washington and Jefferson at Thomas More. I can’t imagine what the four and a half hour bus ride from W&J to suburban Cincinnati will be like for a team that has to be reeling emotionally after the loss of its senior captain and running back. But on the field, I am sure the memory of Tim McNerney will be an inspiration to the Presidents. Conventional wisdom might expect W&J to come out flat but in my opinion they will be anything but.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Birmingham-Southern at No. 6 Wesley. There’s at least as much on the line in No. 8 Cal Lutheran at Redlands and No. 16 Wabash at Wittenberg, but with only one Pool B bid guaranteed, the round robin between B-SC, Wesley and Huntingdon looms large. The Wolverines play both Alabama teams this month, and the Panthers have already scored a 45-38 win over the Hawks that wasn’t as close as the final would have you believe. If the Wolverines keep winning, they’ll earn the Pool B bid. But with a loss to No. 2 UMHB in the books, another would be pushing it. B-SC is rushing for 250 yards per game, scoring 42 points per and has the nation’s third-best pass efficiency defense. The Wolverines are unlike any team B-SC has faced so far, talent-wise. If Wesley’s defensive line can control the line of scrimmage, B-SC is going to struggle.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Louisiana College at East Texas Baptist.
ETBU comes in as the underdog, no question about that. But both have experience against some good teams, and the Tigers have the benefit of practicing against a strong passing game, an element that will translate well when they host the No. 21 ranked Wildcats.
Pat’s take: No. 16 Wabash at Wittenberg. Wittenberg has had a great deal of success at home in recent years, and the Tigers haven’t lost a home game since Wabash came to town in 2008. That’s the one thing which gives me pause about this game. It’s also one of those games where the AFCA poll and our poll disagree. Our poll suggests Wabash should win at Wittenberg. While the AFCA poll does rank Wabash higher, it’s only by one spot and I wouldn’t think that’s enough to overcome home-field advantage. On a neutral field, I’d take Wabash for sure. At Wittenberg, however, I think it will be close.
Keith’s take: Northwestern (Minn.) at St. Scholastica. The surprising part is only if you’re far from UMAC country but are familiar with the Saints from last season’s playoff bracket. The Eagles won nine games in 2008 and one in 2010, and are back in the mix for a conference title, at 4-1, with only a loss to St. John’s. Since allowing 28 in a season-opening loss to Whitworth, St. Scholastica has given up 26 points total in four wins. So it’s the UMAC’s best defense, any way you slice it, against the conference’s best scoring offense and most efficient passing attack, led by QB Josh Balzer. One of these teams will likely end up in the playoffs.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 North Central.
Yes, I know one of my colleagues picked on North Central last week, too, but when you play in a conference as good as the CCIW, every week will be treacherous. A 3-1 opponent like Millikin that played Illinois Wesleyan to the bone will be no exception.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel. Yes, I know I picked Bethel to play surprisingly close last week, but that came through, actually. This is the middle of three big games for Bethel, as the Royals host Concordia-Moorhead this week, which is receiving votes in the D3football.com Top 25, then travel to St. Thomas next week. Concordia-Moorhead doesn’t have the dynamic playmaker that Augsburg has on offense, but is undefeated and also coming off a bye week.
Keith’s take: No. 9 St. John Fisher. I wasted a bunch of time looking at the numbers on Concordia-Moorhead and Bethel before I noticed that Pat took that game. With so many top 25 teams playing their best opponents of the season, I could pick games that are technically upsets but not surprises. And that’s what I ended up doing. Having seen it before, the Cardinals will defend the Salisbury option better — the Sea Gulls might not hit their average of 319 yards per game. Yet Fisher has let inferior opponents hang close, so there’s a good chance Salisbury runs away with it (pun acknowledged, but not intended). With practically the whole top 25 playing tough opponents, there just weren’t any limbs I felt comfortable going out on. So you get a not-shock as the pick.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Gallaudet.
With a rushing offense that averages 230 yards a game, and solid division of special teams players, has anyone else noticed that the Bison are creeping their way through a one-loss season, with that lone loss coming against undefeated Otterbein? Sure Mount Ida and Norwich and a couple of other ECFC teams could upend Gallaudet, but the team is on its way to a remarkable season after only a couple of years into restarting its varsity program. The checklist for the next three weeks involves Husson, Norwich and Becker.
Pat’s take: Willamette. The Bearcats are 4-0, with two wins against the American Southwest Conference, one against the Southern Athletic Association and one against fellow NWC member Pacific. No offense to Pacific, but this will be the first serious NWC challenge the new-look Bearcats have faced this season. And while Whitworth is 5-0 itself, the Pirates haven’t played anyone on the level of either Hardin-Simmons or East Texas Baptist. The top passing team might be slowed, but not enough to stop the unbeaten run.
Keith’s take: Millsaps. Off to their best start since the Mike DuBose years, the Majors have a major challenge in a visit from No. 24 Huntingdon. The Hawks are averaging 452 yards and 43 points a game, slightly more than Millsaps’ 442.5 and 41. So basically first team to play defense, or get a few turnovers, wins. The radar-worthy interest is so that I can figure out whether to start taking the Majors seriously as a playoff threat again. And if so, what an awful year for the SAA to give up its automatic bid.

Which team will continue to defy preseason expectations?
Ryan’s take: Albion.
Albion is a 3-1 team with a win (albeit a close one) over Wheaton. They’re on my ballot for the Top 25 poll, but clearly many people are still skeptical of how good this Britons squad is. It’s hard to think they can be this good the year after Chris Greenwood graduated and went to the NFL. Well, Albion lining up against Trine this weekend should help do some convincing by coming away with a win.
Pat’s take: Rowan. The Profs have definitely outplayed the expectations, with their only loss coming to Merrimack, a Division II program that is 2-2 against fellow D-II schools in a not-so-great conference. Montclair State has definitely underplayed even the modest preseason expectations for a team that lost a large senior class.
Keith’s take: Redlands. By this I mean I don’t think a playoff team last season expects to be 1-3 after the first week of October, but the Bulldogs are staring at the very real possibility of this, at home against No. 8 Cal Lutheran. Redlands is 213th nationally in passing yardage allowed, at 258 yards per game, and the Kingsmen are passing for 295.

Which team is going to soar?
Ryan’s take: The Owls, of Westfield State.
After a 1-4 start to the season, there doesn’t appear to be a lot working in favor of Westfield State. Rusher Kevin Parnell, who does good work on special teams, too, is the team’s bright spot. But this week, their NEFC Bogan pride is on the line as they go up against winless Maine Maritime. Both teams are riding a four-game skid, and someone’s got to break it. Despite the losses, the Owls, compared with the Mariners, have simply been playing better, more competitive games as of late.
Pat’s take: The Bombers, of Ithaca. It will be interesting as Ithaca’s schedule gets a little harder here. For a team that has had such upheaval at the quarterback position, the offensive numbers are impressive, but the defense will have its hands full dealing with an Alfred team that dropped 40 on Buffalo State two weeks ago.
Keith’s take: The Eagles, of UW-La Crosse. Turnover generation has been key for UW-La Crosse, which is hosting UW-Platteville, which was without its top two QBs in much of last week’s game. In other words, backup QBs vs. a team that has forced six more turnovers than it has allowed, against good competition, is a recipe for trouble. It’s also the first home game for the Eagles after four on the road in their 2-2 start.

Which team needs a win for morale purposes?
Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney.
For the past several years, the Tigers have rightfully seen themselves as strong contenders for the ODAC title. But last week, Catholic had other things in mind. The conference, though, isn’t too far removed from the 2008 season, when four teams shared the conference title with 4-2 ODAC records. All is certainly not lost for H-SC, and a win this weekend against undefeated Bridgewater will again put the team back on its intended track. But this will be one. tough. fight.
Pat’s take: St. John’s. But whether the Johnnies will get it, with a trip to Augsburg on the docket, is another matter.
Keith’s take: Knox. I was going to go with Wilkes here, after losing by 90 to Widener, but the Colonels already bounced back and won, 37-27, against FDU-Florham. Wilkes plays first-year Misericordia, while Knox, which had a quarterback pass for 736 yards in Week 1 and hasn’t won since, gets a visit from 0-5 Beloit. The Buccaneers are averaging less than 10 points per game, good for 233rd in the nation in scoring offense, giving Knox a rare advantage. They average more than 22, factoring in the 55 they scored in the Week 1 loss to Eureka. And, making my answer four times as long as Pat’s, St. Vincent (0-4) could use a morale-boosting win when it gets a visit from Thiel (1-4.)