Triple Take, Week 5: Let the conference rumbles begin

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at Linfield. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at the Wildcats. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

If it hasn’t already where you’re from, conference play begins in Week 5. From the ASC to the WIAC (and places in between — the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, ODAC and SCIAC get underway, while all but one game has yet to be played in NJAC and NWC), the games against familiar rivals are on deck. Twenty-four of the 28  conferences come with an automatic bid, so even though it’s too early to talk postseason, it’s never too early to consider playoff implications. Saturday’s games mean something long term.

In short, though, we have a doozy upon us this weekend. Pat, Ryan and I sift through which of the 244 teams are most worth keeping an eye on, via seven categories.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 12 Bethel. The game in Washington, Pa. is more likely to be a defacto conference title game, but the one in Arden Hills, Minn. has even more on the line, and could feature the best-played football in the country on Saturday. The Cobbers and Royals each practice the lost art of playing defense, ranking in the national top 20 in total (averaging 263 and 241 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (a shade under 13 points per game each). Although Bethel is already on thin ice because of its season-opening loss to Wartburg, the MIAC has sent two teams to the playoffs nine times since the expansion in 1999, and this might end up a preview of this year’s duo. On top of all that, this insane thing happened last time these teams met at Bethel, and the specter of that game hangs over this one.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 14 Pacific Lutheran. I’m filing my take early, so I don’t get to see what Pat and Keith have written, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose this game, too. Never mind the fact that it’s a matchup between top-25 teams, but it has also grown into a marquee conference clash over the past few seasons. And it’s almost becoming a tradition for these two squads to meet twice in the fall, once in the regular season and then again in the first round of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, both are undefeated, and both have stout defenses. And because Linfield is excelling offensively with the pass while PLU is doing so with the run, these two teams would be candidates for the “contrasting styles” question farther down in Triple Take, if they weren’t so highly ranked, that is.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson. While all of those conferences listed above are getting started, the PAC is deep into its conference schedule, which started in Week 1 because of the conference’s expansion to include Carnegie Mellon and Case. With Thomas More already having taken a loss and the committee having passed over 1-loss PAC teams in the past because of strength of schedule, there may only be room for one PAC team in this year’s playoffs. Barring a later upset, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to get that spot.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Gallaudet at Anna Maria. The Bison won nine games, made the playoffs and had an NFL prospect last season. The AmCats are in their sixth football season, and have six wins total. But you can expect this one to be surprisingly close, if only because neither side can really score. Anna Maria has seven touchdowns in three games this season, but that’s seven more than Gallaudet, who have been outscored 50-2 so far. They’re part of the reason why, in contrast with conferences like the ASC, OAC and ODAC, where teams average more than 33 points per game, the ECFC is the nation’s lowest-scoring conference, at 15.41 points per team per game. There will probably be some success for both offenses on Saturday, but the casts have changed since last season, so don’t expect a playoff team vs. doormat blowout.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps at Hendrix. I’m looking forward to seeing this showdown happen. After the Majors got blasted by East Texas Baptist last week, there are a lot of questions hanging around for a team that was 9-1 last year but starts 2014 at 1-2. Tackling needs to improve; turnovers need to stop. ETBU’s 715 yards of total offense is a scary thing, and Millsaps should be scared if the team can’t keep those kinds of numbers in check going forward. But while Millsaps is a team on the slide, Hendrix appears to be one on the rise. A 3-0 start is something for the Warriors to be very happy about, and the fact that they were able to have their offense step up in games, as well as the defense to shine, shows how versatile this second-year program can be.
Pat’s take: Washington U. at Berry. One could play the comparative scores game because already this year, Rhodes has played both Berry and Wash U. But I just expect this to be close because it’s a bit of a trip for the Bears and Berry is getting better. They only lost to Rhodes 12-0 and lost 28-27 at LaGrange.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 UW-Platteville. I ruled out the top-25 clashes as picks here, and the luster is off games like Salisbury at No. 7 St. John Fisher and No. 8 Wartburg at Central. Even Louisiana College at No. 4 Wesley isn’t as exciting as it first appeared. So to truly go out on a limb, I’ll take 0-3 UW-Eau Claire, playing at Carson Park in the WIAC opener. The Blugolds have only scored 24 points this season, which makes this an even more risky pick, but they’ve played three perennial midwest powers  St. Thomas, St. John’s and Wheaton. UW-Platteville makes four current top 25 teams in four weeks for UW-EC, and if the Blugolds are not demoralized, they could catch the Pioneers sleeping. Last year, Eau Claire led at halftime and after a 98-yard third-quarter kick return before Platteville scored the final four TDs. UW-P this year has been a bit of an enigma, winning by 60 in Week 1 and squeezing past Dubuque in Week 2, and it’s had two weeks to stew over a 28-7 loss to North Central. So the upset is no small task.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. While this qualifies for this category because the Saints are in the Top 25, it barely counts as an upset when the opponent is undefeated conference rival Washington and Jefferson. Not to mention that both are statistically in the top 10 in total offense in the nation.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Lycoming, I suppose. The MAC unbeaten teams will start to knock each other off this week. In order to believe Stevenson can beat Lycoming, however, one has to think that Stevenson is ready to make a big leap forward. The Mustangs were fairly dominant in Week 1 vs. North Carolina Wesleyan but have won the next three games by a touchdown apiece, so they’re barely hanging onto this 4-0. They won’t be able to get away with 4-for-18 passing this week.

Pick a team that will open conference play in dramatic fashion
Keith’s take: Willamette, vs. George Fox. The dramatics for the Bearcats might be of the record-setting variety as opposed to the last-second type. Willamette rushes for 285 yards a game, has had two weeks since a 42-28 win at Cal Lutheran, and faces first-year George Fox, which has allowed 1,028 yards in its two losses. The real curiosity might be finding out just how many NWC contenders there are, which means you’ll have to pay attention to Linfield-PLU and Whitworth-Pacific as well this weekend.
Ryan’s take: Redlands, at Pomona-Pitzer. An 0-2 record doesn’t tell us much if those two games came against No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 5 Linfield. The Bulldogs were expected to lose both of them (maximum chalk). But this week is Redlands’ chance to show what they learned from those experiences and put the lessons into action. Opponent Pomona-Pitzer should be a great way to make sure everything is clicking, to earn a win – and be set for the following week against Cal Lutheran and later against the rest of the SCIAC.
Pat’s take: Augustana, vs. Elmhurst. The CCIW opens this weekend with the potential for three blowouts, while this game, between teams expected to be in the middle of the conference, has the potential for some heroics. It matched a couple of players who have already had standout individual performances this year: Augustana defensive back Tim Maroder (four interceptions vs. Loras) and Elmhurst running back Josh Williams (306 rushing yards at Olivet).

Which team lost badly last week, but will bounce back?
Keith’s take: Southern Virginia, at Kean. Since these teams lost 47-7 to No. 4 Wesley and 73-7 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday, facing each other should be a relief. Both teams are 0-3. The Knights have a significant road trip to North Jersey ahead, but they’ve faced three high-powered offenses in Methodist, Guilford and Wesley. Kean has managed just 49 points total this season. (Millsaps, facing Hendrix after a 68-15 loss to ETBU, is a candidate here as well.)
Ryan’s take: Williams, at Bates. Sure, it’s tough to come off of a 38-0 loss to Trinity (Conn.), but if Williams can channel some of the success it found two weeks ago in its opener from quarterback Austin Lommen and running back Alex Scyocurka, then there’s a good chance that the Ephs can look sharp this weekend against Bates.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh, vs. UW-Stout. The Titans had a bye this past week, but they are 0-3 coming into this game, having not played a single Division III school. Getting to play UW-Stout will be better than playing South Dakota State, that’s for sure.

Pick a winner in a matchup of contrasting styles
Keith’s take: LaGrange, at Maryville. The Panthers contrast with themselves, much less the other team. LaGrange, behind QB Graham Craig, has the nation’s fifth-most-prolific passing offense and the 227th-best passing defense. They keep it interesting though, scoring between 28 and 35 each time out, allowing between 27 and 37, and having a two-point loss, a one-point win and two overtime wins. Across the way, Maryville brings a 286-yard-per-game rushing attack (11th-best nationally) and a scoring average of  get this  28.8 points per game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford, vs. Washington and Lee. Well, it’s almost unfair when I look at the contrast between the Quakers and Generals. Guilford has one of the best passing games in the nation, and, just as importantly, it is third statistically in turnover margin. Washington and Lee, on the other hand, slots in at No. 168 in turnover margin, being negative-2 on the season. And they have almost no pass game to speak of, relying on their ground attack  which isn’t close to where it’s been in recent seasons. Sure enough, these two teams contrast each other, just not in a flattering way.
Pat’s take: Illinois College, vs. Ripon. After two losses in a row, the Blueboys need to get well, and fast. The good thing is that neither of those games counted against IC’s conference record in the Midwest Conference South Division, and this week’s game vs. Ripon won’t, either. The run-heavy Red Hawks are also 1-2, but with the only win vs. Rockford. Meanwhile, most people should know Illinois College likes to throw the ball.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Bethany. Taking it on the chin from Mount Union in Week 1 perhaps was a wise strategy. The Bison have three wins since, including two on the road, and a 33-27 victory against Waynesburg last week. After 35 carries for just 75 yards in a 58-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, Bethany’s ground game has been stout. They’re running the ball an average of 46 times per game for almost 200 yards a week, with a three-headed attack: Running backs Jalen Holmes and Brandon Hill, and quarterback Brian Vales. Case Western Reserve has only allowed 83 yards per game rushing, so this clash will be worth watching.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I’m owning up to my mistake from last week, when I wrote about this game a week before it was to happen. So a cut-and-paste from that, which still applies today: I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles’ competition has been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: The Rhodes-Chicago winner. This is a key Pool B game on Saturday, a matchup of unbeatens. Rhodes put up 41 on Chicago in Memphis in 2013, winning 41-34, but expect a lower-scoring game.

Podcast: Finally, some upsets

Deion Jones had two of UW-Stevens Point's four interceptions in Saturday's win. (Photo by Jack McLaughlin)

Deion Jones had two of UW-Stevens Point’s four interceptions in Saturday’s win. (Photo by Jack McLaughlin)

They’re probably not too upset in Stevens Point, Wis., or Collegeville, Minn., but it’s always good to have something to analyze and talk about. The MIAC race is just getting started and the WIAC hasn’t even started yet but this week’s results already have us rethinking the expectations.

Meanwhile, game balls were handed out, and Pat and Keith look over all the crazy stats and all the scheduled games, even if they didn’t get played.

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

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.