Mike Benderski made the D3football.com Team of the Week for his performance on special teams against Rochester. Will St. John Fisher need similar heroics this week?
St. John Fisher athletics photo
By the end of Saturday, every one of the 239 teams in Division III will have lined up to take a snap this season.
This weekend marks the debut of the NESCAC teams, which don’t play any teams outside the conference, either in the regular season or the postseason. The teams in the NESCAC should have some familiarity across the football landscape, though. Few folks haven’t heard of the storied Amherst-Williams rivalry, dubbed the “Biggest Little Game in America.” Or of the “other Trinity,” the Connecticut-based team that regularly notches 7-1 or 8-0 seasons.
And the, of course for us, there’s the other 200-plus teams worth talking about, from the ones who are still hunting for their first win here in Week 4 to the ones who are hanging onto undefeated seasons – and hope to keep it that way!
Pat Coleman (@d3football), Keith McMillan (@D3Keith) and Ryan Tipps (@D3MidAtlantic) give you a taste of the NESCAC and a full helping from the other 28 conferences in Division III in this week’s Triple Take.
Don’t hesitate to comment below or join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.
Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Hartwick at No. 10 St. John Fisher. I know we hit on this two weeks ago, but the Empire 8 is truly one wickedly scary conference to play in. Hartwick and SJF are the only 3-0 teams currently in the pack, which makes this the first of many conference matchups where teams will be able to separate themselves from the ravenous bunch. (Sidebar: Don’t be surprised to see next week’s Salisbury/Buffalo State E8 clash as a Game of the Week pick, too.) Fisher has lined up against quality opponents, dealing its first three opponents their only losses of the season. The Hawks, on the other hand, have blown out most of their competition by a margin of 144-62. But those opponents were much weaker than the fare Fisher has lined up against, and that makes me wonder if Hartwick is really prepared for what’s going to come at it on Saturday. Come to think of it, this situation is a good argument for playing tough nonconference games.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Thomas More at Waynesburg. Thomas More was ranked No. 8 last time these teams met, and has gone 2-3 since. The Saints come in at a more realistic ranking this time and have undefeated Waynesburg waiting for them. Both teams have been slow starters so far this season on offense, so look for at least one of these teams to make a bold move early.
Keith’s take: No. 6 Wesley at Louisiana College. It’s almost a defacto playoff game, in Week 4. That alone makes it worth of G.O.T.W. status — Wesley’s loss to No. 2 UMHB means it can’t afford to lose again and expect its usual spot in the playoffs. LC, meanwhile, has to go through UMHB to win its conference, and if it loses, one loss to a team like Wesley is all it can afford. The Wolverines have already played two road games, and two of the top 10 teams in the country, so their stats are skewed toward unimpressive. But if ever Justin Sotillare, Askia Jahad and the offense needs to guide an inspired effort, it’s on a trip to unfamiliar territory, coming off a loss. The Wildcats are known for their passing offense, but it’s actually their pass defense, and overall prowess on that side of the ball — just 400 yards allowed in a 2-0 start — that’s been key so far.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: St. Scholastica at Martin Luther. The Saints are best when they’re able to move the ball with ease via their run game, particularly in last week’s lopsided win over Greenville. But Martin Luther, after three games, has limited opponents to an average of 73 yards a game. If the Knights can neutralize the Saints’ best attack, they might be able to keep this one close.
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wesley at Louisiana College. Every game from here on out, Wesley is fighting for its playoff life, as the NCAA doesn’t take our poll into account when selecting or seeding playoff teams. While Wesley is the superior team on paper, the trip might take a few points out of them. What the Wolverines need is to find their running game and when Louisiana College allows just 100.5 yards per game on the ground, it might not be easy. But neither Webber International nor Belhaven is on the level of a highly ranked Division III team.
Keith’s take: Kalamazoo at Centre. With its first foray into the playoffs last season, Centre has become a nationally known name. Kalamazoo is anything but, but they’ve pulled out three close wins this September, with one in four overtimes. The Hornets’ running game, behind Dimeko Price (105.33 yards per game) and Aaron McGuire (86.67) is humming and confidence is as high as its been. The Colonels have given up 559 rushing yards in the past two games, including 338 in a 34-16 loss at Washington & Lee. Centre definitely needs to get back on track, but if they allow the Hornets to get the run game going, it could be quite the tussle.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 UW-Whitewater. I’m not going to lie, I feel like I’m stirring the pot with this one, even though that’s not my intent. Any team lining up against UW-Stevens Point would have its hands full this week — Whitewater just happened to draw that short straw. The Pointers are 1-1, coming off a week of drubbing Dubuque. Their only loss is an eight-point decision to St. Francis, one of the nation’s best NAIA programs. UW-SP has put up some wild numbers on offense, but the key to beating Whitewater will be defense, as Buffalo State showed. The Warhawk throne has been rattled. I’m sure most of you are like me and eager to see how the defending national champions respond tomorrow and through the rest of the season.
Pat’s take: No. 24 Johns Hopkins. Muhlenberg has been quietly dominant in going 3-0, and has outscored opponents 81-7 in the process. The Centennial so rarely has a team run the table the way it did last year. One of these two is likely to win the conference anyway, and I think the Mules are the ones.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Brockport State. Three weeks ago Kean was a top 25 team and Brockport wasn’t yet on the top 25 radar. But the Golden Eagles have started 3-0, and the Cougars 0-2, and here we are. Kean is ranked 210th in the country in total offense, with Brockport 10th, but defensively the Golden Eagles should be more generous than UMHB, which Kean lost to, 34-7, in its last game, two weeks ago. The Cougars have had that time to stew, and to heal up, from their visit to Texas. They led Albright 26-7 in their opener before allowing the Lions to score the final 22 points of the game. Brockport State’s offense might continue to hum, but Kean has far too much talent to sputter as it has for the past six quarters. Plus, as a playoff team last season, the Cougars are at a point where their pride is being tested. Win now, in front of the home crowd, or there’s a miserable season ahead.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Central. The Dutch have to be wondering what to make of this Albion squad, which knocked off Wheaton only to fall to the NATHC’s Benedictine. Central’s been interesting so far this year, having not scored even one first-half touchdown but then having posted 35 points in fourth quarters alone. And we have yet to see any breakout performances — though punter Blaine Forsythe has been doing quite well with ample opportunity. Maybe Central is on my radar for the wrong reasons, but maybe that’s just the nature of the buildup to this year’s IIAC matchups.
Pat’s take: Carnegie Mellon. Or Waynesburg or Muhlenberg, whom I’ve mentioned in previous categories. But Carnegie Mellon is facing DePauw, and while I might pick the Tigers to rally around their new coach and win, I’m not sure I’ll do so against an unbeaten team on a long road trip.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. I’m curious about how Buffalo State handles success and how St. John’s bounces back from defeat. Endicott, Muhlenberg and Otterbein all interested me this week. But the Hawks bring a 545-yard and 49-point-per-game offense to Hampden-Sydney, which is off to a slow start by its offensive standards, which are similar to Huntingdon’s. But the Hawks have played almost no defense to date (450 yards and 32 points per game allowed) while the Tigers seem to have figured out that being one-dimensional isn’t too productive. The Tigers have a solid pass rush and a decent defense overall. Against Huntingdon, we’ll find out if they’re “good.” Quarterbacks Neal Posey (Huntingdon) and Nash Nance could get to slinging it around the field on Saturday.
From which “direction” do you see bigger things?
Ryan’s take: North Park. OK, we all know that the Vikings don’t fare well against their CCIW brethren. But it’s been several seasons since North Park has started the year 0-2. And last year, they even swept their nonconference slate. This week, they line up against another winless team, Olivet. North Park may not be great, but they’re better than the 0-2 record they bring to the table. Of course, when you give up six turnovers in one game as they did last week, there’s not a lot of wiggle room to succeed.
Pat’s take: Uhh … Birmingham-Southern. But this shouldn’t be a surprise and I’m probably not enlightening too many people with this pick. The most interesting thing here is that this will be the first time that the Panthers have had to leave the state this season.
Keith’s take: Western New England. The Golden Bears lost their opener at Norwich, then responded by outscoring its next two oppoents, 85-24. Nichols is up next, and they’re 0-3 with each loss by at least 23 points. There’s a bad statistical mismatch ahead too. WNEU is the nation’s second-best team in turnover margin, averaging 3.67 more per game than they give to their opponents. The Bison are 229th, turning it over 3.67 times a game more than they generate.
Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve. Opponent Ohio Wesleyan hasn’t put together a highly commendable season since a 7-3 outing in 2005. But this year, the team has a new coach and, with him, a new offense and new excitement surrounding the program. The last two times these teams played, Case held OWU to just 7 points each outing while piling on 55 and 35 points of their own. That won’t happen this time. OWU is 2-0 so far, and if Case gets too focused on next week’s game against Wittenberg, they just might see themselves with another game in the loss column.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley, perhaps. Stevenson might have enough firepower to take the Dutchmen down a peg or two a week before Leb Val hosts Widener. However, after Leb Val’s loss to Lyco last week they might be better focused than to fall into a trap game.
Keith’s take: Wittenberg. Wooster tends not to be an easy win, but the Tigers have two of those so far, and know their season can be defined by games against Case Western Reserve and Wabash the next two weeks. Wooster is good enough to force the Tigers to snap into focus. Wittenberg has been lighting up the skies, passing for 342 yards per game of its 492 offensively. Meanwhile, the Scots have seven sacks in their 1-1 start, and have been solid defensively (36th, at 259 yards allowed per game).
Which NESCAC game are you most looking forward to?
Ryan’s take: Bates at Trinity (Conn.). It’s hard being in someone’s shadow. And while Trinity running back Evan Bunker hasn’t exactly floundered, it will be good for him to have a season all to himself without older brother Eric (from Amherst) competing for accolades. The pair were the conference’s two first-team rushers, tying with 853 yards each last season, and Eric earned the NESCAC’s Offensive Player of the Year honor. You can be sure Evan will want that nod this season, and it all starts in the battle against Bates this weekend.
Pat’s take: Bowdoin at Middlebury. Middlebury should be putting some points on the board this year and I’m interested to see how they start out. McCallum Foote won’t surprise opponents this year but he should be no less effective in his second year, with an extra year of experience reading defenses and understanding the playbook.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. Hear me out here. We already know Amherst, which hosts Hamilton, and Williams, which hosts Colby, are going to be pretty good, as usual. But you never know which NESCAC team is suddenly going to go 6-2. Wesleyan, 4-4 last season, might be a candidate, but has only 11 starters back. Tufts (1-7) has 15. This is the NESCAC game with the most drama potential in the outcome, though conference championship potential is low.