Triple Take: Kicking off 2014 with ten predictions for Week 1

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

After a 36-week layoff, Division III football is back this weekend. To help pass the time leading up to the opening kick, we’ve provided you Kickoff, the comprehensive season preview, and a slate of fresh columns.

But opening week isn’t complete until Pat Coleman, the executive editor, Ryan Tipps, the senior editor-turned-Around the Nation columnist, and I (Keith McMillan, staff has-been) stick our necks out with predictions for Week 1’s games. We’ll tackle the Top 25 and the games on the fringes; If you have no idea what to pay attention to as the first week gets underway, we’ve got you covered.

Tipps has moved into the penthouse, which means I get to stop by his old digs, cooking up the Triple Take categories and having first dibs on answering. Since I’m drunk with power and ready to celebrate the 244-team race to Salem, let’s make it a 10-pack to kick things off. Have fun with the picks, and if you’re bold enough, leave yours in the comments section below.

Game of the week
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More at No. 5 Wesley. It’s possible I’m shilling for this game because I’m on the call alongside Sean Greene as a special guest fill-in, but I’d probably pick it anyway. It’s a chance to see one of the nation’s most-decorated offensive players in Saints RB Domonique Hayden (2,234 total yards last season) against one of the most decorated programs … whose quarterback happened to pass for 633 yards in a playoff loss last time we saw him. Wesley’s been known to test itself with a crazy schedule and lose an early season game, even in Dover, so why wouldn’t all eyes be on this one?
Pat: Widener at No. 15 Rowan. I mean, that other game above is really the game of the week but this game is on Friday night so you can see both of them! Once upon a time we would have killed to see these two teams play each other and even though Jim Jones and Michael Coleman are no longer on the Pioneer…. err, Pride’s side, this should still be a great way to help kick off the season.
Ryan: No. 21 Hampden-Sydney at No. 16 Wabash. I can’t do a whole Around the Nation column hyping the uniqueness of this game and the impressiveness of this matchup and not pick it as my game of the week. Check out my inaugural ATN for the many reasons I’m excited about this game.

Surprisingly close game
Keith: Union at No. 23 Ithaca. This was tough for me. I see a lot of matchups that should be not close, and some that will be, but won’t be surprising. I was intrigued by second-year Southwestern (vs. Hardin-Simmons), Buena Vista (hosting No. 8 UW-Platteville) and Millsaps (hosting No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor), but not bold enough to pick them. Twenty-one returning starters emboldened me to take the Dutchmen, who are a 3-7 team going on the road to open up against a second-round playoff participant. Union returns every offensive starter but the tight end, while the Bombers only have three defensive starters back.
Pat: McDaniel at Catholic. It doesn’t read like it should be close on paper, because Catholic won 48-16 at McDaniel last fall, but the Cardinals have been very up and down of late. While that beats the heck out of just being down, Catholic has a lot of holes to fill this season and McDaniel could very well be bouncing back.
Ryan: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster. Their records may not have ended all that far apart in 2013, but the 58-21 pounding W&J handed out last season painted a frightening picture for the Scots. But Wooster has now matured and improved across the board, so don’t expect the Presidents to be rolling into the half up 42-14 again.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith: No. 25 Franklin. Mike Leonard is one of my favorite D-III coaches. His team is going on the road to open up against Illinois Wesleyan, a nine-win program from one of the nation’s best conferences. We ranked the Titans No. 52 in Kickoff, largely because they have only nine starting position players back, but the Grizzlies, who are breaking in new quarterback Grant Welp, only have 11. This is a solid first-week challenge for both teams.
Pat: No. 17 Wartburg. These guys and Augsburg actually have a much bigger rivalry in wrestling, where the two have won like all the national titles in the past 20 years, and Wartburg the past three. But these teams have played some pretty tight games even when the rankings suggest they shouldn’t. Nice to see this game back on the schedule for the first time since 2009 — Augsburg won the Battle of the Burgs in 2008 in a year in which the Auggies went 5-5 and the Warties (yeah, let’s go with that) went to the national quarterfinals.
Ryan: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I feel like there have been a couple of times in the past three or so years in which Hopkins has lost several starters or maybe a key skill player, and I think this is the season we’ll see the team backslide a bit. Hopkins, in turn, has shown how deep it is each and every time. I admittedly don’t have them in the lofty position of No. 14 on my ballot at this point, not with only three starters back on offense. Randolph-Macon doesn’t have a particularly good track record against Hopkins the past two seasons, but this year is ripe for that to change.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: George Fox and Pacific. The Bruins, who last played a game in 1968, restart football on Saturday, with a Linfield man (Chris Casey) at the helm. The NWC rival Boxers, meanwhile, were a re-startup in 2010 and enter Year 5 after winning zero, one, three and seven games. Was their Year 4 spike just a group of experienced seniors that had started for several years, or will Pacific be a year-in, year-out threat? I have no idea what to make of either non-D-III team they’re playing, Arizona Christian or College of Idaho, but I’ll have an eye on the D-III squads.
Pat: Stevenson. This is a Year 4 team and it’s time for that breakout that new programs often have in their fourth year. With a struggling program in North Carolina Wesleyan on the schedule to open the season, the first challenge is the length of the trip.
Ryan: Millsaps. I have no expectations that the Majors will actually pull off the upset here, but if you read Kickoff, you might have noticed that I have Millsaps chosen as one of my Pool B predictions. With a solid group of starters back from a team that was one game from likely making the playoffs last year, there’s a lot to look forward to with what this team can accomplish. We’ll see right away how they stack up against one of D-III’s elite.

Who can quiet your doubts with a solid performance Saturday?
Keith: No. 13 Wittenberg. The Tigers won 10 games and had the nation’s fifth-most-prolific offense last season. I didn’t put them in my preseason top 25, largely because only nine starters were back on the offense and defense combined. None of them is star QB Reed Florence. So while you can’t always read much into a D-III playing an FCS team, Wittenberg lost, 49-24, at Butler last year, and didn’t lose again until playing Mount Union in the playoffs. If they look good at home this Saturday, maybe they’ll be fine.
Pat: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I have some doubts, definitely. Reference Kickoff to find out why. But JHU has handled Randolph-Macon fairly easily the past two years, so if the game is a battle, it could bode well for the rest of the teams in the Centennial Conference. And since I’m the one who wrote that line in Kickoff, it’s not stealing. (credit: Pat Coleman)
Ryan: Huntingdon. With about half of the Hawks’ starting lineup lost to graduation, they were a tough bunch to slot into place during the preseason. Huntingdon isn’t a team that’s been built around one person, so a wide crop of receivers and rushers saw action last year even if they didn’t start. And the team’s two-quarterback system is no more now that one of those guys has graduated. Louisiana College will be a very tough game, but even a close game without a win will help put this Huntingdon team’s abilities in perspective.

Who looks back in November on a loss this Saturday with great regret?
Keith: The Rowan/Widener loser. I love that these two mid-Atlantic powers, each with 17 starters back, and barely separated by more than the Commodore Barry Bridge, open up with each other. But in conferences as competitive and jumbled as the NJAC and MAC, one might find itself wishing it hadn’t, when at-large bids for the 32-team playoff field are distributed.
Pat: St. Scholastica. With a win vs. Ripon on Saturday, just maybe beyond maybes St. Scholastica avoids Whitewater in the first round. But if the Saints manage to go 9-1, winning the UMAC, it’ll be a trip to a top seed. Again.
Ryan: Mount St. Joseph. The Lions have been playing second fiddle to Franklin often in recent years, and the possibility of getting over the hump this season should be cause for celebration. But a loss to Augustana this Saturday would start a likely two-week slide that goes through Millsaps the following weekend. So even if Mount St. Joseph earns an HCAC title, the result will be a team facing a very tough playoff draw.

Which young rivalry game is closer, the Soup Bowl or the Pynchon SAW Game?
Keith: Soup Bowl. Kickoff predicts big things for Guilford, but Greensboro’s got QB Ryan Throndset back for a fourth year starting, and 16 other returners, so we should see a thriller.
Pat: Soup Bowl. When you hold a contest to pick a rivalry name, you get what you get. I have to pick the Soup Bowl just on marketing principle here.
Ryan: Soup Bowl. I’m not sure that the Soup Bowl still counts as a young rivalry, but as it is, I like it as a competitive matchup. Guilford is surely going to be good this season, and while the Quakers are favored to take the win, Greensboro has a dynamic veteran quarterback in Throndset who will help keep the Pride on Guilford’s tail.

Editor’s note: Pynchon SAW is the new name for the Springfield-Western New England game.

Aside from No. 1 UW-Whitewater against Waldorf, which team has the most impressive win?
Keith: No. 10 John Carroll. No. 3 Mount Union has been waiting to bounce back from its Stagg Bowl embarrassment for months, and plays Bethany. But the Blue Streaks, bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs, have been waiting even longer, and face St. Vincent in new coach Ron Dolciato’s first game. This will be the Bearcats’ 22nd straight loss, and QB Mark Myers and Co. are pretty enough to make it ugly.
Pat: UW-La Crosse. I mean, define impressive. Am I impressed by beating Waldorf 66-3 or Bethany 49-7? Not really. For UW-L, even beating Dubuque at all would be a nice start to the season and we seem to expect the Eagles to be a little higher in the WIAC standings in 2014.
Ryan: No. 15 Rowan. Opponent Widener will finish the season at or near the top of the MAC. “Impressive” isn’t about a thrashing; “impressive” is about standing up to real adversity and walking away with control, confidence and victory. This game will raise the Profs’ profile a notch.

Pick a team ranked 150-244 in Kickoff that wins:
Keith: No. 159 St. Scholastica. Winning is nothing new to the Saints, and this wouldn’t be going very far out on a limb if they weren’t playing No. 99 Ripon. I’ll take the upset — long trip to Duluth, and new coach Kurt Ramler leading what could be a high-powered attack against the Red Hawks’ “slot bone.”
Pat: No. 195 Ferrum. I could have lost a lot of money the last few years picking USA South teams to beat ODAC teams (since it didn’t happen very often). But that would involve betting. Which is wrongDon’t do it. But even though Ferrum is pretty universally expected to be down this year, I like them at home over the school with first-year head coach and the offseason silliness.
Ryan: No. 203 Misericordia. As I highlighted in Kickoff, I think the Cougars are a team set to ride last year’s season-ending victory into a few more for the win column this fall. Utica is far from a sure thing for Misericordia, but a win also isn’t unattainable in this matchup, especially if the Cougars’ defense can show their worth.

Which manly men win the Stag Bowl and keep alive their Stagg Bowl hopes?
Keith: Hampden-Sydney. Oh Jeez. Who wrote this question? I don’t see what’s so great about going to college without women, but I guess it leaves more time for football practice, which could explain how the Tigers held my beloved Randolph-Macon out of the postseason by a yard last year. Admittedly, Nash Nance’s gang nearly pulled off the surprise of the playoffs out at Linfield and look poised to pick up where they left off. With only one offensive line starter back, Nance may be running for his life on Saturday, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Pat is picking the Little Giants and Ryan is abstaining, so I’ll hold my nose and select the southern gentlemen. For football reasons, of course.
Pat: Wabash. They’re playing at home. Wish I could be there but the man listed below will already be there so it didn’t make sense for me to try to get there as well. I expect to watch it online and then see my upset pick game Saturday night. I just expect this to be a good game. Keith’s right about Nance being on the run a bit on Saturday. I’m just glad this game is finally here because the fan bravado on the message board is getting to be a bit much.
Ryan: Pass. So often we ask questions on this site with a qualifier that says “alma maters excluded.” As a Wabash grad, I really should follow that rule with the first part of this question, despite the split decision from the two fellows picking before me (I do think I said all I needed to say in ATN this week). But realistically, both of these teams are ranked and have the possibility of conference AQs to look forward to, so a loss for either won’t knock them out of playoff contention. They both will have kept their Stagg Bowl hopes alive going into Week 2.

Triple Take: First onto the field

It’s easy to feel a little envious of Division I schools – they got their season underway last weekend, and we’ve had to bide our time an extra week.

But now, the wait is over.

Division III football is up to 244 teams this fall, which means we will get to enjoy hundreds of games over the next 11 weeks, with dozens going on each Saturday.

If you haven’t signed up for Kickoff 2013 already, please do so. It’s D3football.com’s preseason publication and is a great way to get introduced to the many things happening this year in Division III football. It has a slew of feature stories as well as rankings and interviews with coaches from every team in the nation.

D3football.com also brings you regional and national columns throughout the season, and every Friday morning, you’ll be able to dive into the column you’re reading right now, called Triple Take.

In Triple Take, Executive Editor and Publisher Pat Coleman, Managing Editor and National Columnist Keith McMillan and Senior Editor and former Mid-Atlantic Columnist Ryan Tipps break down some of the week’s biggest games, sleeper teams and those who we’re keeping an especially close eye on. From now until the Stagg Bowl, we’ll take you well beyond the Top 25.

We open up Triple Take to comments in the section below, or feel free to take the conversation to Twitter using the hashtag #3take. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: Pat (@d3football), Keith (@D3Keith) and Ryan (@NewsTipps).

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Widener at No. 5 Wesley.
In Kickoff 2013, I foreshadowed a dropoff from Widener coming off an 11-win season. Here’s the chance for the Pride to prove me wrong. Their challenges stem from some rebuilding spots on offense (quarterback and offensive line), and a new head coach who has yet to get his feet wet leading this team on game day. Wesley is not without its own question marks, but the Wolverines are a team that reloads more often than it rebuilds –- and is prime position to start moving hard into the season.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Widener at No. 5 Wesley would have been my pick, but Ryan generously starts the blog post each week and gets first dibs. So even though there’s plenty of intrigue about what kind of team Widener will be, we can stay within a 75-mile radius of Philadelphia and pull in another monster matchup with top 25 implications. Rowan at Delaware Valley pits a pair of three-loss teams last season (although the Profs picked up their third in the playoffs) with the majority of their outstanding defenses back. The Aggies have seven starters from the No. 9 unit in the country and the Profs eight from No. 42. Rowan turns to Paul Hammersma at quarterback and would seem to have the greater struggle to score points, but if the Profs’ D slows QB Aaron Wilmer and Del Val, we’ll have a great game that could be the springboard to someone’s big season.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Franklin at No. 1 Mount Union. It’s the head coaching debut of Vince Kehres and we’re going to learn a lot. A couple of key pieces return on offense,  but after his arrest this week in an off-campus incident, Roman Namdar might not be making his debut at wide receiver. But I’d have to think that Kevin Burke at quarterback and Germany Woods at running back should have enough firepower on offense to make this an entertaining game, regardless of the experience of the offensive line.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster.
The Scots tend to play up, and on paper, W&J is on a level above Wooster. If the Scots can establish a run game and make the Presidents give up some yards, there’s certainly a good opportunity to keep this game within seven to 10 points.
Keith’s take: UW-Eau Claire at No. 2 St. Thomas. Springfield and Western New England are surprisingly close geographically, as the Empire 8 and NEFC teams are in the same Massachusetts city. And that could be a good game. But I went Blugolds and Tommies because there’s a reason Glenn Caruso schedules that game for his MIAC powerhouse. He knows the middle-of-the-WIAC Blugolds will take on anyone and give his team a good Week 1 test, regardless of the final score.
Pat’s take (filed before Thursday’s game): Loras at No. 22 Elmhurst. This isn’t your older brother’s Bluejays team, nor is it Josh Williams’ older brother’s Bluejays team. We might not see all the effects of Elmhurst losing a great senior class and a head coach, but I’m not sure they’ll dominate Loras the way they should.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Salisbury.
It’s been a few years since Christopher Newport played “spoiler” to the Top 25, but these recent seasons have also seen the Captains beset by a ridiculous amount of injury, which has ended any season momentum before it even starts. There’s a lot to be excited about with this CNU team, starting with the return of quarterback Lyndon Gardner, who was hurt for a good chunk of 2012. In turn, Salisbury is missing a few key pieces that will take some time to sort out, so the Captains could get the kind of win they haven’t seen since the turn of the decade.
Keith’s take: No. 24 St. John Fisher. This Cardinal-on-Cardinal action probably should have been my pick below for where a bird team is going to bite it, since I’d be guaranteed to be right. But SJFC’s trip to Otterbein — 16 starters back from last year’s 8-2 team — could mean a short stay in the top 25 for the Cardinals. Yes, those Cardinals.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Johns Hopkins. I mean, I don’t think Wittenberg losing to Butler would be an upset, although I certainly hope the Tigers can come away with a win against non-scholarship Butler. It’s hard to know what to make of Randolph-Macon or anyone in the ODAC this year, but I give the Yellow Jackets a shot.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
Even their losses last fall were tight because of how well the defense was able to keep the Spartans in their games. Well, consider most of that asset gone. Now, Case has to rely on its offense to provide a cushion when it can and to follow through and win games. The team is not going to do that until it can anoint a single quarterback that the team can rally around. There’s some dicey matchups midway through the schedule for this to remain a question mark for too long.
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons. Well it’s Week 1. Darn near everybody is on “Hmm, I’m curious about them” status. Fresh programs Southwestern, Hendrix and Berry all play their first games at home. But forced to choose, HSU and No. 11 UW-Platteville are two non-playoff teams that could go a long way this year. Since the Cowboys have their opener in Oregon, against sometimes-pretty-good Willamette, they’re the most intriguing watch of the week.
Pat’s take: Lewis and Clark. And if for no other reason than the fact that the Pioneers are off the west coast and into a part of the country where those of you who don’t stay up for the late games might learn something about them. It will be a Pioneering winner, for sure, whether that’s L&C or Utica.

Which 2012 playoff team is going to end up wishing it had a Week 1 bye?
Ryan’s take: St. Scholastica.
Sure the Saints should be able to stand up to the competition in the UMAC and claim another conference championship, but Whitworth’s defense will again be there to snuff out any spark early on in the opener.
Keith’s take: Framingham State. I don’t think they’ll wish they had a bye, necessarily, but they might lose at Endicott. The Gulls won this game 34-7 last season, but the Rams played Salve Regina in the NEFC title game and advanced to the playoffs. I think Framingham State would be eager for another crack at Endicott, so maybe they don’t fit perfectly in this category, but if I couldn’t squeeze them in here, I wouldn’t have mentioned the game at all. Melikke van Alstyne has made a name for himself in the Rams’ backfield, and he’s got four of his offensive line starters back.
Pat’s take: Concordia-Chicago. An extra week of practice would probably suit this program just fine — they lost more than 50 players and the head coach from last year and came into training camp with a depth chart in extreme flux. Lake Forest and the Cougars had a great showdown last year but it won’t be repeated.

Which bird will get bested?
Ryan’s take: The Falcons of Concordia (Wis.).
Concordia has a lot of things going well for it, including a solid group of returning players, to put the team in a prime position to compete for the top spot in the NACC. Hopes are high, and the expectations are not unreasonable. However, opponent Augsburg is a tough one right out of the gate. The Auggies, by their own right, are a team that’s been steadily improving its stock year to year – and they play in a conference against the toughest schools in Minnesota. This game will be good — better than the one last year –- but the Falcons are going to have to have to wait till next week to put one in the win column.
Keith’s take: The Seahawks of Salve Regina. I’ll have you know I put 14 games on my “to watch” list, and there were Golden Bears and Beavers and Boxers and Bulldogs and Engineers and Cowboys and Saints and Soup Bowls and Backyard Brawls. But darned if I didn’t have to get to the last game to get a bird team. By the way, Bridgewater State, our pick in Kickoff to win the MASCAC, has eight starters back on offense. Salve has all-American Phil Terio on defense, but lost five key starters and defensive-minded coach Bob Chesney.
Pat’s take: The Eagles of Northwestern (Minn.). Not sure how good a year to expect out of St. Olaf but Northwestern is breaking in a new quarterback for the first time in a few years while the Oles are breaking in a new head coach.

Which long losing streak is likely to end?
Ryan’s take: Hartwick.
Certainly not the longest of down streaks to be riding, but the seven-game skid after opening 2012 with three wins had to have been disappointing for the Hawks. But that’s not terribly far removed from the results of the past few seasons, since Jason Boltus quarterbacked the team back in 2008. Last fall, Hartwick crushed Husson in the season opener 55-14. There’s no reason to think they aren’t motivated to repeat the feat on Saturday.
Keith’s take: McDaniel. Catholic and Western Maryland used to be one of the games of the year back in the days when I wrote the Around the Mid-Atlantic column. Now it’s the game where I pick the Green Terror, which has lost 12 in a row but outdid Stevenson in a scrimmage and has star running back Joe Rollins prepped for a big final season, to break a losing streak. Go figure. Simple Daddy, don’t you know that things move in cycles?
Pat’s take: Maine Maritime. Thirteen losses in a row is a huge comedown for a team that was competitive in a 2009 playoff game at Montclair State. The Mariners losing to Anna Maria to start last season was a bit of a shocker and surely Maine Maritime is eager to not let that happen again.

Triple Take: Enter Rivalry Week

Widener's Joe Wojceichowski
Joe Wojceichowski and the Widener defense will try to shut down Delaware Valley.
Widener athletics photo

The intensity of rivalries is virtually unmatched. The players become more focused, the crowd more vibrant. Alumni flood to stadiums, and memories are dredged up. A win against a rival opponent can rescue an otherwise sour season. And it makes Saturday night celebrations so much sweeter.

Across the country, rivalries will be taking place Saturday as the regular season comes to a close and the playoff prowess in a few remaining conferences shakes out.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through the action, with Selection Sunday right on the horizon.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon at No. 7 Wesley.
It’s been a couple of years now since the Wolverines were in a position in which losing the regular season finale would likely mean no playoff performance. But there are question marks for Saturday. Wesley’s loss to Kean earlier in the year made perfection necessary for the final eight games of the season. And Huntingdon won’t be a pushover. The Hawks have already dealt losses to teams that currently stand at 8-1 and 7-2. Could a team like Wesley, which has been to the national semifinals each of the past two seasons, get left out in the cold entirely? Their performance Saturday will be telling.
Keith’s take: Wherever you’re headed. The other guys nail the games with the farthest-rippling playoff implications. So I’ll go ahead and cop out, under the premise that there’s no need to single out a game when we have five conference championships decided (NEFC, NJAC, MAC, LL and NWC), rivalry games from Indiana to Massachusetts to Virginia — and Iowa and Pennsylvania — that make or break seasons. And beyond that, it’s Week 11 — the last game of the season for all but 32 playoff teams and 14 ECAC bowl-bound squads. Hundreds of seniors will hang it up after this. Parents will see their son play one last time, and tailgate grills will make a final appearance before heading into the garage for offseason storage. So I’ll play the Jon Gruden “everything’s awesome” role. Because, you know, it is.
Pat’s take: Widener at No. 11 Delaware Valley. Literally, you can’t do a playoff projection without the result of this game, and there are a lot of factors. Let’s see, Delaware Valley has this tremendously backloaded schedule, with Lycoming and Widener at the end. The Aggies haven’t looked very much like the young team that they are this season. Widener surprised Delaware Valley last year and sent them on a course for Mount Union in the second round, so the rivalry got amped up a little higher and Delaware Valley has even more motivation. But what could be more motivating than the only chance Widener has to get a playoff bid?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Johns Hopkins at McDaniel.
Part of the motivation here is seeing JHU almost drop their matchup against Franklin and Marshall last week, a team that should have been handled easily by the high-powered Blue Jays. However, what makes McDaniel a thinker in this situation is its track record this year: of the Green Terror’s seven losses, five were by eight points or less. McDaniel hasn’t really been able to bring all the pieces together to get wins, but the team has been able to hang around long enough to make it interesting. This Saturday’s game will be interesting, too.
Keith’s take: Trine at Albion. Maybe surprising only in the sense that the Britons are playoff-bound no matter the outcome, and Trine — the dominant MIAA program of the past few seasons picked up two conferences losses by mid-October. But I’m not sure I expect Albion to win, observing from afar. After an impressive five-game stretch, the Britons outgained DePauw 380-126 last week but managed just three points. Trine is the MIAA’s top rush offense (179 yards/game) and Albion is the top rush defense (96 yards). Should be a fun one.
Pat’s take: UW-La Crosse at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. UW-La Crosse gave UW-Whitewater a decent game in the season opener. It’s not likely to be the same close game it was in September, but it will be interesting to see how the teams have grown since Week 1 … not to mention how Whitewater might do if it needed to use Levell Coppage in the fourth quarter.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Franklin.
Over the past four weeks, the Grizzlies have progressively played their way through the bottom four teams in the HCAC, starting with 4-5 Rose-Hulman and ending with 0-9 Earlham. So how will they react to all of sudden having to play a more competitive team again? Franklin is unquestionably the better team in this matchup, but Hanover’s advantage is being able to push Franklin enough to throw the Grizzlies off their game. This is a rivalry game, too, played for the Victory Bell. Hanover will be well aware of the fact that this is the last game of their season, win or lose. The Panthers will surely want to win.
Keith’s take: No. 9 Wabash. Just kidding Little Giants fans. Admit it, you got mad there for a second. No. 22 Bethel is my real pick. And with the 10th best rushing offense in the country at 279 yards a game, and with the No. 14 total defense, the Royals probably are just an unfortunate version of the team that played in a national semifinal last season. That said, it’s not easy to force yourself to play just for pride, and that appears to be all the Royals have left when they face 6-3 Augsburg in the Metrodome. Bethel and Augsburg had similar results against St. Thomas and St. Olaf, but only the Royals have to realize there’s no long playoff run ahead this year, just a long football-free December like most of are used to, and turning that into positive motivation.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Redlands. Last year, Redlands barely beat Chapman, finishing 8-1. The previous two years, Redlands lost in Week 11 to finish 7-2 each season and miss out on any shot at the playoffs. Not going to say any more.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg.
A win in the Mules’ crosstown rivalry game against Moravian would position them well for an ECAC postseason game. Muhlenberg stumbled a couple of times during the season but showed they could compete with the likes of Delaware Valley and Johns Hopkins. The team’s seniors certainly remember the special run the Mules had during their freshman year, and they’ll certainly be eager to channel that energy again.
Keith’s take: UW-Platteville. If the Pioneers can beat UW-Stevens Point for a second time, they’ll finish 7-3 and go down as the best team not to beat anybody great, but to only lose to really good teams. The three losses are to Wheaton, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh, which are 22-5 combined. A seventh win would also eclipse the best record of the D3football.com era, a 6-4 mark in 2004.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons started the season 0-8, but had two close losses at home, then won at UW-La Crosse last week to snap the losing streak. River Falls returns home this week to face UW-Eau Claire.

Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Amherst at Williams.
No matter what, this is the end of the road for both of these teams, which opt not to compete in the playoffs. So at stake is pride: the Ephs’ pride in keeping Amherst from an undefeated 2011 season; the Lord Jeffs’ pride in avenging last year’s loss. If you don’t know the history between these two schools, look it up. It’s unlikely that any two institutions have claim to a more natural rivalry than these two. And it’s rare for them to produce anything but a captivating game.
Keith’s take: Coe at Cornell. Okay, you can get Curt Menefee to pose in a “beat Cornell” shirt. Probably could get Fred Jackson too. But as long as I’ve been writing rivalry stories, I’ve never been able to say anything about this game but that they’ve played it for a long time (121 and counting). Am I just not talking to the right people? The two teams have followed each other from the MWC to the IIAC and are going their separate ways as Cornell heads back to the MWC, but I’m interested in whether fans in Iowa really care about this rivalry.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Kean at No. 15 Montclair State. Okay, so it won’t appear on too many lists of great rivalries but I’m going to go ahead and pick it here because there should be plenty of bad blood … or blood, anyway … to go with what’s on the line in this game, for the NJAC title. Kean coach Dan Garrett and both of his coordinators played at Montclair, which is just 18 miles from Kean, in northern New Jersey.

Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: Albion.
The Britons have to be scratching their heads after last weekend’s loss to DePauw and should have spent this week learning how to once again become in tune with their offensive mojo. Even though Trine doesn’t have the luster of the last couple of seasons, the team still knows how to force turnovers and run the ball down its opponent’s throat. Albion knows how to handle the run — usually — and the ability to stop that will help them with their confidence going into the playoffs. However, it won’t be a surprise if Albion is an eighth seed in the region, which wouldn’t be doing them any favors. The mental hurdle will be as tough as the physical one.
Keith’s take: St. Thomas. They’re 10-0, sure. But they don’t have a game this Saturday. So I guess it depends how you define momentum.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. Regardless of whether Thomas More wins this week or not, the Saints are already back on their heels after the loss to Waynesburg. Thomas More went solely from being a heavy favorite to being a favorite against Mount St. Joseph in their local rivalry game, but either way, the damage has been done.

Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: Lewis and Clark.
The question isn’t which team “will,” but rather which team “can.” And the Pioneers certainly can. A win at Linfield puts L&C — a team just three seasons removed from a long string of 0- and 1-win seasons — in the playoffs. On the flip side, a loss for the Pioneers means they’ll be sitting at home next week.
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney. Besides Widener and the other teams that can play their way into the playoffs with wins, H-SC could change course the most on Saturday. A win over 7-2 Randolph-Macon continues the Tigers’ dominance in the series and gives them an advantage in recruiting. A loss could mean the difference between a home playoff game against somebody like Christopher Newport, Centre or Thomas More, or a road game at Salisbury, Wesley or Johns Hopkins.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). Not sure it’s in a positive way, however. Austin has to be motivated to not finish the season 0-10. The Kangaroos have been fairly decent at home while the Tigers have struggled a little bit on the road.