Triple Take Week 8: Some clashes to get excited about

Will the Texas Lutheran defense stand up to Mary Hardin-Baylor? (TLU athletics photo)

Will the Texas Lutheran defense stand up to Mary Hardin-Baylor? (TLU athletics photo)

It’s that time of year when the air gets colder, the crowds get rowdier and the games get more meaningful.

To boil the action among 244 D-III teams down to a best-of list, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I sorted through dozens of games, including three clashes between top 25 teams. It’s also not too early to start discussing playoff implications, and we highlight teams that will give themselves a boost this weekend, and those that will fall down a peg. And not to forget the teams outside the playoff chase, we highlight a few teams in the midst of rough seasons that fans can look to for a W on Saturday.

It’s late October. This season is just getting to the good part. Here are our picks for this week.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Texas Lutheran. We hear this all the time: “You guys don’t give us any respect.” “No love for my team in the top 25?” Here’s the thing: Respect is earned, not given. That’s the difference right now between the two 6-0 teams in Texas, but what a giant opportunity this is for Texas Lutheran, which was 0-10 before coach Danny Padron was hired in 2010 following a highly successful run coaching in high school. UMHB is one of the five most successful programs in D-III over the past 10 or 15 years, and this year’s squad is well worth its No. 2 ranking. Both teams come in top 5 nationally in scoring offense, averaging more than 49 points per game. Defense is where the separation is; UMHB allows 11.5 points per game, TLU 26.3. That puts the spotlight on a Bulldogs defense led by DBs Drake Dowling and Michael Wall, although seniors Adam McGuire, Joey Meza and Ethan Powell have a chance to leave a mark. The crazy thing is TLU doesn’t even have to win to earn respect, move up in the top 25 or preserve its playoff hopes. They’re in front of their home crowd, and UMHB is expected to win, and maybe win big. It’s an opportunity.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 North Central at No. 19 Wheaton. In the ATN Podcast this past week, there was some talk about how Wheaton has dispelled some of its early-season hiccups and shown that it truly is a Top 25 team. Sorry Thunder fans, but I’m not yet convinced. The conference slate so far has consisted of the bottom three CCIW teams, and two of the nonconference opponents currently have a combined record of 1-11. That means two things: 1) I don’t know that Wheaton is ready to face a North Central team that became battle-tested in nonconference play (though the Cardinals’ CCIW games have also been against a weak slate); and 2) a loss here by Wheaton, coupled with that nonconference schedule, could mean that the team lacks the strength of schedule to be a real Pool C contender. For North Central, a loss Saturday would be its second of the year, also creating a gray area on the Pool C front. Perhaps the playoffs are in the back of these players’ minds – or perhaps just the fact that it’s the Little Brass Bell rivalry game is motivation enough.
Pat’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Texas Lutheran. Sorry, I have to repeat Keith’s pick here because it’s just a game that can swing a lot of things: UMHB’s hopes at a top seed, Texas Lutheran’s playoff hopes (and perhaps the hopes of others) as well as rankings for both of them. Texas Lutheran has been through a few changes recently: leaving the ASC for the SCAC, leaving a local high school stadium for a more intimate stadium of its own on campus … oh, and it’s started winning more games. TLU has a lot of former Mary Hardin-Baylor players and coaches on its sidelines as well, in case anyone needs any extra motivation.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Berry at Birmingham Southern. A few seasons ago, B-SC started 5-0 for the second consecutive year and was a legitimate playoff contender, while Berry football didn’t exist. If you’re a fan of a conference that never crosses paths with these teams, now part of the SAA, you might be surprised to learn that they both come into Saturday’s matchup with two wins. The Vikings have won two out of three, their first wins in history, and are trending upward offensively. B-SC is 2-1 in the SAA but allows 30.4 points per game. The more established program might still win, but Berry should make it interesting.
Ryan’s take: Washington U. at Chicago. These teams are having very different kinds of seasons, but Wash U. has found its groove at times this year, even if the team’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect that fact. If the Bears can muster up one of their better games, they’ll be able to hang with Chicago.
Pat’s take: East Texas Baptist at Louisiana College. I think this is a great game waiting to happen. I already expected it to be close, but I really want to spotlight it here. I expect a classic game of the “Little 12″ type we’ve been talking about on the podcast the past couple of years. One of many exciting games as we’ve come to expect from the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 11 Bethel. The category is “most likely,” not “definitely will be.” A loss to No. 22 St. Thomas wouldn’t be a major upset either, but we’ve sort of forgotten the once-dominant Tommies since a late-September loss to St. John’s. With the Royals allowing 15 points per game and the Tommies 16.5, expect a slugfest that could go either way, have major impact on the MIAC race and possibly result in an upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Widener. It wouldn’t be an earth-shattering upset if Lycoming wins this one, but it will be telling to learn what the Warriors did with their bye week after losing to Delaware Valley on Oct. 11, a loss that knocked them out of the Top 25. A win for Widener, however, would give a lot of credibility to the Pride’s success this season.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. Again, not overly likely but I can only say “none” once or twice a season, even if this has been a season in which none’s the word. The Stout team I saw a couple weeks ago has more than a fighting chance in this game, and for Platteville, this game comes sandwiched in between contests vs. UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater.

Which team revives its conference title and/or playoff hopes?
Keith’s take: Endicott. Because the Gulls opened up with non-conference losses to 2013 playoff teams Framingham State (20-17) and Hobart (28-18), it’s been easy to view the NEFC race as Western New England vs. MIT. But after winning at Coast Guard on Saturday, Endicott players on the bus ride back from Connecticut can refresh the scoreboard for updates on the the Golden Bears-Engineers 5 p.m. Saturday clash in Cambridge. When one loses, the Gulls will know whether to circle next week’s home MIT game or the one at WNEU in two weeks as their chance to take control of the NEFC.
Ryan’s take: Albion. Lycoming, which I talked about in my answer to the previous question, would definitely fit this category, but Triple Take is best when it uses the spread. In the MIAA, Albion is traveling to current conference leader Trine. Both teams are coming off of losses from last Saturday, but only Albion’s was to another MIAA team. A win here won’t put the Britons in the driver’s seat for the conference title, but it will give them a big lift toward that goal. The game should be competitive, but I like that Albion has cut its teeth against some solid competition without getting blown out (the most notable of which is the 42-31 outing against UW-Stevens Point). That should translate well on the field against Trine on Saturday.
Pat’s take: Ithaca. The Bombers are going to need more than a little help, but if they beat Salisbury on Saturday they’ll have knocked off one of the one-loss teams ahead of them. They have yet to play St. John Fisher and they’ll need help from someone remaining on Buffalo State’s schedule to take down the Bengals. But as I alluded to in the podcast earlier this week, Butterfield Stadium is the place where the triple-option goes to die. Never get turf, Ithaca.

Which team can forget about the playoffs after Saturday?
Keith’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors need a home win against Widener or they might be looking at an ECAC bowl invite while the Pride and Aggies play for an NCAA spot in Week 11. A win puts them right back in the MAC race, which as a 5-0 team before a 52-42 loss to Del Val two weeks ago, is probably where they feel they belong. The Warriors had only allowed 50 points total before their last game, but Widener, in a strange twist, is a also a defensive juggernaut (No. 4 nationally in scoring defense) under new coach Mike Kelly. Widener also has one turnover all season. The Pride has four road wins already, which should reduce the effect of having to travel to Williamsport, and Lycoming is the team that can’t afford to stumble again.
Ryan’s take: Castleton State. The Spartans are going up against Husson, the only team who has a perfect record in conference play so far. I expect Husson to keep it that way. Week after week, the Eagles, who are 4-1 overall, have been more convincing than are the Spartans. Castleton State could have position itself for a postseason opportunity with a win here, but the teams just appear to be going in different directions.
Pat’s take: The University of Chicago. Chicago has the better record, by a significant margin, but Washington U. has played a much tougher schedule and will definitely come in prepared. This is a rivalry game, to boot, and kicks off the University Athletic Association portion of the teams’s schedules. But the Maroons cannot afford to take another loss.

Which team won’t be playing for any titles this season, but will win by 10 points or more?
Keith’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons have shot themselves in the foot more than any team in the country this season, with a national-worst 25 turnovers (12 fumbles, 13 interceptions). But they face the least-prolific offense in the nation in UW-Eau Claire (three touchdowns and three field goals in six games). Considering the UW-RF defense has held St. John’s, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Platteville below 30, it shouldn’t take a career day to outscore the Blugolds. But it would help if they hang on to the darn ball.
Ryan’s take: DePauw. The Tigers picked up conference loss No. 2 last weekend, effectively knocking them out of any playoff or title discussions. But as any fan of rivalries knows, seasons can be salvaged by that Week 11 game. But before then, there’s still a lot of football to play, and I see nothing slowing a DePauw team when it lines up against floundering Allegheny this weekend. The Gators have lost by more than 10 in each of their defeats this season, so it seems likely that DePauw will be able to use Allegheny as a way to take out some frustrations.
Pat’s take: Heidelberg. Perhaps an obvious choice, but a week after the Berg pulled Cartel Brooks from the game after eight carries vs. Mount Union, they’ll be looking to get him as many carries and yards as possible against Marietta. 10 points or much much more.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Centre. Neck and neck with Carroll, also 6-0, for least-talked-about undefeated team, the Kentucky Colonels get a visit from 5-1 Rhodes this week. Two of the more alliterative and efficient quarterbacks in D-III face off in Centre’s Heath Haden and Rhodes’ Blake Box. But the big-picture interest here is how each team needs to beat the other for a notch on its playoff resume, and how Centre’s continued success could affect Pool B, which also features unbeaten Wesley and Texas Lutheran and 5-1 Framingham State, whose only loss is to Rowan.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury. The E8 is notoriously hard to get a handle on, and Salisbury’s performances have a big role to play in that. Mix a big loss to Wesley and a close loss to Buffalo State with wins over St. John Fisher and Utica, and we now have a team that might be climbing out of the hole it dug for itself early in the season. No team is spotless in the conference, meaning Salisbury has a real shot to claw into the postseason if it can extend its three-game win streak.
Pat’s take: Macalester. The Scots are likely to improve to 6-1 this week as they host Lawrence. They aren’t going to win by 60-plus points like Carroll did last week because Mac isn’t trying to impress anyone, but they should win and set up the showdown next week with Carroll for the lead in the Midwest Conference North Division.

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: Shootout weekend

Marquis Barolle has already gone for 1,152 yards on the ground this season. (Texas Lutheran photo by Bailee Bauman)

Marquis Barolle has already gone for 1,152 yards on the ground this season. (Texas Lutheran photo by Bailee Bauman)

No offense, but if you like defense, there wasn’t a lot to like about Week 6. But if you like big totals on the scoreboard, then this was the week for you. From Texas Lutheran-East Texas Baptist to Delaware Valley-Lycoming and about 30 monkeystomps, Pat and Keith talk about it all in the Around the Nation podcast.

Meanwhile, why is offense seemingly so far ahead of defense in Division III football these days? Keith, the former Division III safety, gives us his two cents. And keeps it under two minutes, as the podcast rules require. Plus, Pat and Keith each give out their game balls, look beyond the obvious games to some underappreciated highlights and much more.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your phone or portable device.

You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast

Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show:

Week 6: There’s excitement to be had, if you just know where to look

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Buff State’s defensive side of the ball will need to come through vs. Ithaca. (Buffalo State athletics photo)

Not every week is filled with top-25 clashes and rivalry games when we look for intriguing matchups across the nation. But with more than 200 teams in action on a given weekend, we usually end up with our fair share of dramatic finishes, milestones and outstanding performances. Some can be anticipated if you know where to look.

That’s where Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I come in. We’ll take you on a quick whirl around the country so you know which games to keep an eye on while you’re doing what you normally do on Saturdays, and we’ll keep it from feeling like a whirlwind.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran. It’s between this and the Lyco-Del Val game for me, and this matchup of ‘others receiving votes’ teams gets the nod because of the potential for fireworks. In the most amazing stat of the year possibly, ETBU, after allowing 98 points to a scholarship-level opponent in Week 1, is 3-1 and already back in the positive point differential for the season, on the strength of the country’s fourth-best offense. Yet TLU hasn’t scored fewer than 37 points in a game itself. ETBU QB Josh Warbington has 12 TDs, 3 INTs and three 350+ yard passing games. TLU RB Marquis Barrolle is rushing for 181 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns. But the clincher is the playoff implications; In a conference with No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor, ETBU needs every win in case it has to make an at-large case for a postseason spot. In Pool B, even at 5-0, Texas Lutheran remembers being shunned last season with just one loss. It’s an under-the-lights clash we can all take an interest in for the potential big numbers and the trickle-down effect.
Ryan’s take: Buffalo State at No. 13 Ithaca. Were it not for Buff’s narrow loss to Alfred a couple of weeks back, we’d be seeing two undefeated teams squaring off here. Despite a slow start in the opener, Ithaca has excelled in conference play, giving Utica its only loss and beating Alfred. On paper, the edge goes to Buffalo State, but the reality is that Ithaca hasn’t been giving up the kind of big points that the Bengals have been. And if the Bombers’ offense happens to be slumping at the half or in the third quarter, a good defense is always going to keep them in the game.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Lycoming at Delaware Valley. These MAC elimination games are going to be a brutal slog and this sounds like it’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Delaware Valley can score in bunches (49.8 points per game), while Lycoming hasn’t allowed more than 14 in a game all season. Lyco probably would like to have one more season of Tanner Troutman just for this game alone, to cover Rasheed Bailey, who is an electrifying receiver, by all accounts. Would love to see which contrast in styles wins out here.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Chicago at Trinity (Texas). The Maroons are 4-0. The Tigers are 1-4. And while that would normally make for a pretty straightforward winner, they move in completely different D-III circles. Chicago’s wins are against teams we ranked 84, 89, 213 and 217 in the 1-244 ranking in Kickoff. The Tigers losses are to teams we ranked 19, 37, 50 and 179. Preseason rankings don’t tell the whole story, but neither does just glancing at a record. Trinity’s talent should match up better with Chicago than it did with, say, Pacific Lutheran. That means the Maroons will have to keep playing outstanding defense. They’re currently allowing just 190.3 yards per game, third nationally behind Mount Union and UW-Whitewater.
Ryan’s take: Crown at Greenville. I felt like going deep into the conference rankings to find this week’s game, which is a great example of misdirection. Greenville sits at 4-1; Crown is winless. Those records seem to be in complete opposite directions until you consider that Greenville’s wins come against teams that are a combined 4-16. The Panthers’ one loss came against a 2-2 CCIW team. Crown, on the other hand, has played teams that are a combined 20-4, including an undefeated MIAC team. I expect the Storm to be able to hang right with Greenville, and I’d even wager they’ll pull off the upset.
Pat’s take: Texas Lutheran at East Texas Baptist. Actually, I just think this will be an awesome game and didn’t have room for two game of the week picks. Expecting an entertaining back-and-forth game worthy of two Little 12 teams, even if only one of them is still in the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wartburg. Coe, Saturday’s host, is off to a 2-2 start, with losses to teams currently ranked No. 16 (UW-Stevens Point) and No. 18 (Wheaton). More importantly than what might be a deceptive record is the idea that they simply have Wartburg’s number. The Knights haven’t beaten the Kohawks since 2010, after Coe rallied from down 17-0 to win by a field goal in 2011, won by four touchdowns in 2012 and scored 24 second-half points last year to become the only team besides Bethel to beat Wartburg. It’s a new year, and the Knights are 4-0 with a great defense (12th nationally at 11.3 points per game) and the Royals already in the rear-view mirror. Coe QB Josh Rekers had success passing against both Wheaton and UW-SP and will be a challenge though.
Ryan’s take: No 8 Hobart. Springfield always brings a good bit of quality to the table, but, since being in the LL, the team has yet been able to get over the hump against Hobart. The Statesmen have look good this year, but not flawless. Dickinson was able to play its way back into the opener; Endicott, too, scored the bulk of its points in the fourth quarter. A cushion going into the final period would help Hobart here, because high-scoring fourths are not foreign to the Pride.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Ithaca. I don’t have a strong feeling about anyone this week but perhaps Buffalo State can be the team to score more than 16 points on the Bombers. They will definitely need to if they want to win at Butterfield Stadium.

Pick a team that faces much better competition this week than last, and tell us how it fares.
Keith’s take: Berry. The Vikings won the first game in program history, 29-23, last week against Wash. U. This week they face Centre, which hung 50 on that same Bears group two weeks ago. The Colonels have outscored opponents by a 38-17 average in its 4-0 start, and rush for 244 of their 443 yards of weekly offense. Berry will likely have to wait for its first win streak.
Ryan’s take: Willamette. The swing is big if you’re going up against football newbie George Fox one week and then turning around to face Whitworth the next. Whitworth bested its weaker foes but is on a two-game skid against some tougher teams. I’m not sure that a win here would be enough to lift the Bearcats into the Top 25, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of voters will bump Willamette up a spot or two after winning.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Mount Union, at Ohio Northern. I was reviewing old Top 25 polls this week — the coaches poll, mind you — in helping a school out on a research project and was reminded that in 2005, when Ohio Northern won at Mount Union, the Purple Raiders actually fell to No. 9 in the AFCA Top 25. It’s hard to imagine the Purple Raiders ever being just the ninth-best team in Division III. We’re in our tenth season since then and Mount Union has barely skipped a beat. One beat at most. They won’t skip a beat this week. (For the record, Mount Union fell to No. 6 in that week’s D3football.com Top 25.)

Which one of the surprise unbeatens remains that way?
Keith’s take: Luther. The Norse haven’t beaten Central since 2008, and they’re hosting in front of a homecoming crowd that doesn’t really know what it’s like to cheer for a 4-0 team. So not only should it be a wild atmosphere, but the Norse seem up to the challenge. Josh Vos and DB-turned-QB JJ Sirios are each rushing for more than 100 yards per game, and Central hasn’t been great at run defense (166 yards per game). Luther’s rushing offense is No. 2 nationally, sandwiched between more familiar option teams Maine Maritime and Springfield. It’s the Norse and the Dutch, so why wouldn’t one side make history?
Ryan’s take: UW-Stevens Point. Then again, the Pointers are going up against the only team in the WIAC that is currently winless, UW-Eau Claire. UW-EC has had one of the toughest schedules to date in Division III: They started off against St. Thomas, then played St. John’s, Wheaton and UW-Platteville. Had Eau Claire not gotten pasted against Platteville, I might think they’d have the spark to play a spoiler role. Instead, Stevens Point will have one last opportunity to work out the kinks before going on the road to Platteville next weekend.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.). It’s an unexpected battle of unbeatens between Bridgewater and Emory and Henry, and if this were 2000, this would be front-page news. But since both programs have been down for the better part of a decade, at least, it’s slipped well under the radar. I like Bridgewater at home, but E&H has played three road games out of four, so the road won’t be unfamiliar.

Which player put up huge numbers in Week 5 and will do it again this week?
Keith’s take: Satiir Stevenson, safety for Guilford. Ryan turned his answers in first and yoked my original pick. (Fun fact: I’m told it’s cog-lin, not cough). The Quakers might seem like they’re all offense, but Stevenson’s 22 tackles last week against Washington & Lee were the second highest single-game total in D-III this season. This week’s opponent, Shenandoah, happens to be the ODAC’s best rushing offense, at 289 yards per game, so they’ll need another big tackling effort to slow down the Hornets and 5-9 all-purpose threat Cedrick Delaney.
Ryan’s take: Pete Coughlin, quarterback for Washington and Jefferson. Last week, the big numbers (383 passing yards, six touchdowns) really mattered because the game was against rival Thomas More and is generally the matchup that yields the PAC’s playoff contender. It would be of little surprise to see him fling around those kinds of numbers again, with winless Grove City on the docket. The only limiting factor will be if Coughlin sits out most or all of the second half.
Pat’s take: Withler Marcelin, Rowan running back. Good category because I was feeling bad about him not having a spot for him on the D3football.com Team of the Week last week. He ran for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, with scores of 28, 54 and 75 yards vs. Cortland State and if Rowan needs him to, he’ll have a big game vs. William Paterson.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Thomas More. It’s deflating to lose the conference matchup that often defines the season, so I’m interesting in seeing how the Saints get up to face Geneva. Thomas More seemed like it had the makings of a playoff-bound team when I saw it in Week 1, but after the W&J loss, it’s out of their hands. The Wesley loss means at-large is probably out too, which means they’ll have to get some help. But you can’t take advantage of help if you don’t take care of your own business first.
Ryan’s take: The Trine at Olivet matchup. I know we usually pick a single team here, but the MIAA has been next to impossible to get a handle on this fall. It’s nice that the two teams with the best overall records are meeting so early in conference play. We’ll get a bit of clarity in Michigan after Saturday.
Pat’s take: Gustavus Adolphus. This is the end of the 6-0 run we’ve been talking about since the preseason. St. Olaf won’t be able to stop the Golden Gusties’ offense.