ATN Podcast: Snow, records, clinching

Alex Tanney
Alex Tanney is the third Tanney to play football at Monmouth, but will be known as the best in the family
Monmouth athletics photo

Records fell, as did snowflakes and the chances of anyone else winning any of eight conference titles. The Centennial, PAC, MIAA, MWC, MIAC, WIAC, UMAC and SCIAC each got the ultimate clarity on Saturday: automatic bids.

We talk about those, the records set by Mike Zweifel and Alex Tanney, the interesting things the purple powers did and really, much more. Check the list of tags at the bottom of this page to see who’s discussed.

You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed:

Plus, here’s the first look at this week’s D3reports, as well as Division III football highlight reels. These will also appear on the front page on Monday afternoon.

Triple Take: Watchlist for records

Case Western Reserve
Manny Sicre got nearly half of his rushing yards in Case’s season opener. The Spartans need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs.
Case Western Reserve athletics photo

The season is getting down to the wire, and conference matchups will be decided with each week that goes by. But individual achievements are on the watchlist as well for Saturday. Career records set at Westminster (Mo.) are threatened by players from Dubuque (wide receiver Michael Zweifel) and Monmouth (quarterback Alex Tanney).

Will they fall? Will the weather wreak havoc? Snow? And what races will get clarity? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps offer up their thoughts.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Salisbury at No. 7 Wesley.
In their first year in the Empire 8, the Gulls have certainly approached things with a take-no-prisoners attitude. How else would you describe posting 65, 69 and 70 points on some of the conference’s best teams? Better than ever, quarterback Dan Griffin is getting the job done both through the air and on the ground, totaling 22 touchdowns this season. And the team is plus-11 in turnovers. But Salisbury hasn’t won the annual matchup against Wesley, the Route 13 Rivalry, since 2004. For all the good that Wesley brings to the table year in and year out, they feel somewhat vulnerable this year. Maybe it’s just hard to get a handle on them since three of their seven games have been against non-D-III schools. Nonetheless, if there’s ever been a time for Salisbury to break its losing streak against Wesley, this year is it.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at No. 23 Trinity (Texas). Aside from Ryan’s pick, the only meeting of top 25 teams this week, the Panthers-Tigers matchup probably has the furthest-reaching consequences. Not only are both teams in the mix for the SCAC title and automatic bid, but their location and previous results give other teams in the playoff hunt a rooting interest in how they do.
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 18 Kean. The loss by Montclair State on the scoreboard and the other one under center have opened the NJAC race up even further. It’s going to get nuts from here. So far, it’s hard to say whether Kean’s football program has gotten distracted by the winds swirling around other Kean athletic teams, but even if not, it’s a key game. Both teams need this.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Widener at Albright.
With a lot to gain and the potential to still win the conference, Widener could pour it on and run away with this game. But if the Pride get caught thinking too much about the conference showdown against Delaware Valley, Albright may be able to catch them sleeping. Aside from one game this season, Albright plays its opponents competitively, so a one-score game isn’t out of the question.
Keith’s take: Wooster at Hiram. Traditionally a pretty good NCAC program, Wooster might seem from an outsider’s view as the team with a chance to get right against the 1-6 Terriers. But look for a tight finish, mostly because both teams struggle mightily at putting points on the board. Hiram is the 229th-ranked scoring offense in the country at a shade more than 10 points per game and No. 225 Wooster isn’t much better at a little more than 12.
Pat’s take: Carthage at North Park. There’s nothing to be gained by picking North Park to win a CCIW game when it hasn’t since time immemorial (actually 2000). But the Vikings have been competitive more often than not, including a 27-24 loss at Augustana last week. Keith keeps talking about the North Park-at-Carthage game from last year where North Park was competitive. A loss would make it 80 consecutive conference games, by my count.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Kean.
It seems a little like Kean’s opponent, Rowan, has flown under the radar this season. Remember last year they were a one-loss team that got snubbed from the postseason while conference-mates Cortland State and Montclair State got to keep playing? This year’s Profs have a lot to be motivated about, and they’re just balanced enough in all facets of the game to keep the opposition guessing. And Kean hasn’t exactly been steamrolling teams this season.
Keith’s take: No. 24 Illinois Wesleyan. This might a week without an upset in the top 25, and this could be a little bit of a reach. But the Titans have to be careful to avoid the hangover that comes from gearing up for a game as big as last week’s clash with North Central, and then the deflating feeling that goes with getting shutout. Millkin hasn’t won since Oct. 1, and if it begins to sniff a chance at victory, IWU’s job is going to get tougher. The Big Blue scores more than 30 points a game, but the Titans are a powerhouse defensively, allowing less than 10.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Wesley. I don’t usually pick ranked games for this, even the home team when higher ranked, but Salisbury is in a good position here to reclaim U.S. 13 for its own and put Wesley deep on the playoff bubble. Salisbury hasn’t been tested in a while but one of the side benefits to the recent blowouts is that they came on the road, where the Sea Gulls couldn’t completely empty the bench because it was left at home. The key players on the two-deep still had a fair amount of playing time. Plus, Salisbury is throwing the ball better than in previous years and that has appeared to be where Wesley struggles defensively.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
The Spartans line up against their stiffest UAA competition, Chicago, this weekend. For my part, Case hasn’t really been on my radar yet. Their games have been close, and Pool B entry to the postseason is scarcer than ever. But, as noted above, Wesley could pick up loss No. 2 this weekend, which means Case should be determined to finish out 9-1 if they hope to make the playoffs. With the selection committee now able to factor in previous playoff performance, Case is in trouble with its few one-and-dones under their belt. So the Spartans shouldn’t simply be looking to win but rather to win convincingly.
Keith’s take: Wartburg. The up-and-down IIAC needs the annual Knights-Dutch clash to help sort the conference title race out. Central has been hot offensively, scoring 119 points in its past two games, and the Wartburg defense — traditionally a strength — has given up 39 and 38. I don’t know quite what to make of this Wartburg team, even this deep into the season, but I hope Saturday provides the most definitive clue yet.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints can’t clinch the automatic bid this weekend at the Metrodome unless they win and Eureka also loses to Northwestern, but they are going to be all but assured of winning the automatic bid from the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference with a win against first-year program Presentation.

Which team with a losing record has the most left to play for?
Ryan’s take: DePauw.
Any season — no matter humbling or below expectations it is — can be salvaged with a win against a bitter rival, in this case Wabash. That’s three weeks away, which means two more games for DPU to fix what may be broke. The Tigers have not been impressive on offense this year, but last week against Ohio Wesleyan, Drew Seaman strung together a 166-yard, three-touchdown performance. That, folks, amounts to a glimmer of hope for a team that’s 2-4 only one season removed from a SCAC title and a playoff run. A chance to find itself, as well as battle for the Monon Bell trophy, gives DePauw plenty to fight for.
Keith’s take: Pacific. Still looking for the first win since reviving the program, the Boxers are 0-7 and coming off of demoralizing losses of 49-6, 49-7 and 48-6, at Willamette, against Linfield, and at Whitworth. Pacific’s best chance to get over that is by beating another potentially demoralized team, in 0-7 conference foe Puget Sound. The Loggers, whose two wins last season were against Pacific, have given up 450 points and 43 points per game. That’s an opportunity for the Boxers offense to get on track.
Pat’s take: Ithaca. At 3-4, and with Frostburg State, Alfred and Cortland State still to come, the Bombers are in danger of seeing their streak of consecutive winning seasons end at 40. It’s not the longest such streak, obviously, but Ithaca is among the historic Division III football programs for a reason. They need to win all three to keep that streak alive. Central’s streak, formerly the second-longest, ended with a 5-5 season in 2003.

If there were no obstacles, and excluding your game of the week pick, where would you like to be this Saturday?
Ryan’s take: Ursinus at No. 14 Johns Hopkins.
I feel like I’m talking about one or the other of these teams almost every week, but if I want to answer honestly, this is the game I want to see. I want to see if JHU is for real this year — as in 2009 playoff-run real. I think they are. JHU can clinch a playoff berth with a win, so there’s plenty at stake for them. Ursinus isn’t the kind of Bears you play dead with though or they’ll eat your team up.
Keith’s take: At Castleton State or Middlebury. I have no qualms going to see the Route 13 rivalry, but if I could be anywhere, Vermont during fall foliage season sounds nice. The Spartans and Panthers are just a 45-minute drive from one another, and the start times are staggered. Castleton plays Gallaudet, and Middlebury faces off with Trinity (Conn.).
Pat’s take: Actually, the game I’ll be at. I feel good about having a chance to be there for history when Dubuque hosts Luther. But more about that in a second.

Do one, both or neither of the Westminster (Mo.) records fall this weekend?
Ryan’s take: One.
I think Monmouth’s Alex Tanney will get the two touchdown passes he needs to break the career mark in that category. His team should be able to make short work of Carroll. However, I don’t think Dubuque’s Michael Zweifel gets the 12 catches he needs to set the career catches record. He’ll probably fall three or four catches short of that mark. But look for him to break it in the Spartans’ last game of the regular season on Nov. 5.
Keith’s take: Both. With 123 career TD passes and five in each of the past two games, Tanney seems a sure bet to break through. The Pioneers have the best defense in the MWC though. Meanwhile, Zwiefel has had 17 or more catches for more than 200 yards twice in his past three games, so whopping numbers are normal for him.
Pat’s take: Both. There’s no way Michael Zweifel doesn’t get those receptions this weekend, in the team’s final home game. Remember who the offensive coordinator reports to. He caught 17 passes last week. Twelve catches is merely right at his average.

Triple Take: Ranked and filed teams

Griffin, Salisbury
Dan Griffin has rushed for 1,016 yards and 13 scores from his quarterback position for Salisbury. Will Wesley be able to contain the Sea Gulls’ rushing attack?

A one-loss record isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be — at least in the eyes of the NCAA. We’ve seen this week what teams in that category matter most, thanks to the release of the NCAA’s Regional Rankings. And in the ATN Podcast, we’ve heard Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan break down the strength of schedule numbers for a lot of the pack that is hoping to swim in the Pool C waters.

Less than a month before the end of regular-season play, has also been able to touch on which four teams the NCAA could build its four brackets around. We’re no longer living in a North/South/East/West mentality. With the shifting of Mount Union and some other changes in recent years, the NCAA has done a much improved job of picking the four top teams (according to their standards) and creating the regions around them.

As was stated in the Podcast, it’s amazing how different the playoff picture can wind up in just these last couple of weeks. Most teams have just three games left to make or break their season.

Pat, Keith and Ryan Tipps have a few things to look out for on Saturday:

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 3 Wesley at Salisbury.
These longtime foes will clash for the last time this year in conference play, and, like often, the drama is swirling. Wesley is riding an undefeated streak that includes a win over Delaware Valley as well as over Christopher Newport and Capital, the latter two of which lost some of their luster this season. Salisbury, in turn, has often steamrolled teams this year on the ground (500- and 600-yards rushing hasn’t been uncommon). But have the Gulls been tested? They’ve played just two teams all season that have a winning record, one of those matchups ending in a close loss to Hampden-Sydney. Salisbury needs to perform well on Saturday to show they’re a playoff-worthy team, especially in an environment that has been skeptical of two-loss Pool C teams. And for Wesley? An undefeated season, one notably built around their successful backup quarterback, would go far in seeding consideration.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Montclair State at Cortland State. For Cortland, the big challenges come late in the season, and the Red Dragons have already failed one of them, losing to Rowan. I don’t think it informs us much to compare their games against Rowan — Kenny Brock played quarterback for Rowan against Montclair (and was 7-for-28) while Tim Hagerty took over the starting job after that. Both have had some great defensive performances this season, however. So expect a high-scoring game. That’s how it works, right?
Keith’s take: Montclair State at Cortland State. I could have gone with the other Pool B clash, Norwich at SUNY-Maritime, for variety. And that is probably the third biggest game of the week. But while Wolverines-Gulls and Cadets-Privateers will impact the playoff fortunes of the teams involved, and maybe each other, the NJAC battle has far-reaching consequences. A Montclair State win keeps the Red Hawks on track to be the first East Region team to go unbeaten and earn a No. 1 seed in the playoffs since Wilkes in 2006. A loss opens the door to another team, either Mount Union or Wesley, likely being the center of the easternmost bracket. Plus, Red Hawks-Red Dragons is a matchup of silly-good defenses: Cortland is the national leader in scoring defense (6.43 points per game) and is fifth in yardage (210.86), while Montclair is fourth (8.14) and third (205.57).

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Luther at No. 13 Wartburg.
Once Wartburg beat Coe, the Knights were seen as having clear control of the IIAC. I agree with that notion. But Luther is not far behind at 4-3, and could put a kink in this conference race. Wartburg’s defense is stout, but Luther’s offense is balanced just enough that they should be able to move the ball. And perhaps most of all, Wartburg will showdown with Central a week from now and could be in jeopardy of getting caught looking ahead to that game.
Pat’s take: McMurry at No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. I certainly expect a lot of offense in this game. Is 62-45 close? McMurry hasn’t beaten Hardin-Simmons since HSU restarted football — and picture that, by the way, the first-year Cowboys beating the Indians back in the 1990’s.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at DePauw. Because the Panthers are in their fourth season in the transition from Division I, and are yet ineligible for the playoffs or the SCAC title, their 5-2 record has gone largely unrecognized nationally. They rush for 285 yards per game, with a low of 149 against Trinity, and 5.6 per carry. Across the white lines, DePauw may well relax after clinching a playoff spot and find itself in a familiar spot. The Tigers have pulled out wins of five points or fewer against Centre (4-3), Adrian (3-4) and Trinity (3-4), but it’s dangerous living on the edge.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ursinus.
Opponent Moravian is one of those teams that has flashes of greatness — but when things on the field start to snowball, they really snowball. The Greyhounds have improved in recent weeks, using a varied ground attack enhanced and complemented by Matt Johnson taking the reins under center. As quarterback, he has put up 788 passing yards in the past four games and will help his team become a real threat to the Bears’ perfect season.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Wesley. No disrespect intended, as always, but the rivalry aspect of this game plays large, plus Salisbury fighting for its playoff life. Salisbury has certainly been on a roll lately, at least, rushing for 420 or more yards in every game since opening day.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Wheaton. It’s not so much a slap at the Thunder, who we’ve already disrespected by including them in Pool C talk before actually losing a game. It’s more a recognition that the CCIW is a week-in, week-out test. Augustana has the nation’s toughest schedule (opponents are 46-19, or .707) by a shade over Ithaca, according to NCAA data. After playing Central and North Central, the teams that handed the 5-2 Vikings their losses, nothing about Wheaton should overwhelm Augustana.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: The first-year starting quarterbacks.
Three of the top four most efficient passers in the country are in their first year as starters for their teams. Wittenberg’s Ben Zoeller, UW-Whitewater’s Matt Blanchard and Welsey’s Justin Sottilare are all leading teams that are gunning for playoff runs — and if they repeat last year’s performances, deep playoff runs. Each quarterback has a passer rating of at least 182, and it’s easy to forget how hard it is to lead a team in the spotlight. Witt is on a bye week, but UW-W and Wesley each have arguably their biggest games of the regular season this week. All eyes, including mine, will be on them.
Pat’s take: Chicago. Am I just projecting a Pool B blowup this week? Maybe, but Chicago has had a fine season to date, heading or its best season since 2000. A 17-point loss against comparable opponent Wabash was on the road, at least. Perhaps the magic of Stagg Field will give the Maroons a boost against Case Western Reserve.
Keith’s take: Otterbein. I’m curious, as Pat is, about the UAA. WNEC-Endicott interests me. But I’ll be looking for the Cardinals to show us something against Mount Union; specifically, if reports of the Purple Raiders’ demise are exaggerated. Mount Union has shut out three teams and held two others to single digits. They’ve given up only 7 points at home, but UW-Oshkosh (28) and Marietta (14) earned their totals as hosts. Otterbein is averaging more than 35 points per game.

What team in the NCAA regional rankings is going to make a statement this week?
Ryan’s take: Western New England.
In a conference that has long been dominated by the likes of Curry and Plymouth State, the Golden Bears are coming off a week of taking down the second of those two foes. This week, they line up against Endicott, which has just one conference loss and isn’t out of the NEFC Boyd race. Western New England has a shot to improve its strength of schedule and further showcase a defense that has given up more than 10 points only once all season.
Pat’s take: Wartburg. Sorry — with all due respect to my Virginia colleague, I don’t see Luther making it close against Wartburg. Not many teams have been able to score on Wartburg and while I don’t see Luther getting enough to make it close. A big win isn’t going to change this regional ranking but it seems inevitable to me.
Keith’s take: Norwich. At No. 8 in the East Region playing No. 6, there’ll be an opportunity to move up.

Which Pool B contender will need the most help getting into the postseason after this week?
Ryan’s take: SUNY-Maritime.
Because of the perceived strength of the ECFC, it’s easy for even the good teams from that conference to slip under the radar for a few weeks. But on Saturday will be the challenge for the top spot when one-loss Norwich takes on undefeated SUNY-Maritime. The winner has a good shot at getting a Pool B bid. However, if the Privateers lose, there will have to be a lot of shake-ups elsewhere (Case Western Reserve dropping a game, Norwich losing in the final two weeks, Wesley falling to Salisbury) for them to appear viable at the table. A loss to Norwich isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. The Cadets are regionally ranked and have some solid wins on their resume: notching itself as Western New England’s only loss or the year and beating St. Lawrence, which is now at the top of the Liberty League. Norwich should have the firmer handle on this game, which means SUNY-Maritime could need to be paying attention to the wider D-III landscape.
Pat’s take: Salisbury. Which is unfortunate, because the Sea Gulls are better than either of the ECFC teams. Even with a win, Salisbury isn’t a lock for the playoffs, but with a loss, Salisbury is definitely hoping for some of those things Ryan mentioned above.
Keith’s take: Salisbury. Taking a second loss could devastate the Gulls in their last non-AQ run before moving to the Empire 8. Their playoff hopes would be virtually none this season with another defeat.

What game slipped under the radar in the East?
Ryan’s take: Middlebury at Trinity (Conn.).
Both NESCAC teams have been putting up solid points this year: The Panthers average 24 per game while the Bantams bring home almost 31 a game. Middlebury benefits from its star signal-caller, Donald McKillop, who throws for 331 yards a game. Trinity, on the other hand, creates discord for defenders on the ground, tallying 240 rushing yards a game while holding opponents to just 41 such yards per outing. Expect high scoring and a lot of yardage in Hartford, Conn.
Pat’s take: Widener at Lebanon Valley. Widener’s first-year coach, Isaac Collins, can’t be hearing good things from higher-ups about this season. The Pride have (has?) played a tough schedule but lost all three of those games, 37-0, 31-7 and 31-7. That’s one thing, but last week’s home loss to Albright can’t inspire confidence. Lebanon Valley can’t be very happy with its season either, coming off a near-playoff trip in 2009, but Jim Monos has been through thick and thin with the Flying Dutchmen.
Keith’s take: Union at RPI. Can you believe we got this deep into Triple Take without mentioning The Shoes rivalry? Hard to know what to make of the two teams being down along with the rest of the Liberty League, but I think it enhances the game. There are no second chances this season. No playoffs to alleviate the sting for the loser. Beating a rival might be all either side has to play for.