Triple Take: Let’s get this 2015 thing started

It’s been a long time since we last saw a Division III game that counted. The Stagg Bowl was way back on Dec. 19, a mere 258 days ago. It’s been a longer wait for the 240-odd teams whose seasons ended before Salem, and still longer for McMurry, which returns to D-III after leaving following the 2011 season. Belhaven comes over from NAIA, and has never played a D-III game; Neither has Finlandia, which plays its program’s first game Saturday against Alma.

There are six Thursday night games, 12 on Friday and 92 on Saturday. Subtract the seven non-D-III opponents, and 195 of the record 247 teams that will play D-III football this season are in action on opening weekend.

Enjoy it. Whether you’re playing, watching or involved in game day some other way, it’s a three-hour break from everything else in the world. It’s a chance to see old friends and make new ones, to watch some players dig deep and pull out something from inside that they didn’t even know they had. It’s a chance to watch student-athletes who won’t forgo the first part of that deal.

I played tackle football for 13 consecutive seasons, between Pop Warner in Somerville, Mass., high school in Runnemede, N.J. and at Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va. In that picture below, which was taken in one of my first seasons writing for, I’m 23. Which reminds me that I’ve now not been playing football for more consecutive autumns than I played. All of which is to say, this weekend, if you’re a player, coach, parent or fan, take it all in and savor it. It goes by quickly. Teams only get eight to ten game days a season, unless they play really well and advance through the playoffs. But as those accustomed to playing 15 weeks would tell you, greatness happens one game at a time (a UW-Whitewater standard) and starts with respecting your opponent (something I’ve heard more than once at Mount Union).

Respect the game. Enjoy it. Savor it. Finally, it’s back.

— Keith McMillan

Triple Take is our weekly predictions column. Typically it appears on Friday morning, but with games kicking off on Thursday night, we’re presenting it a few hours early.

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 St. John Fisher at No. 23 Thomas More. You can’t really go wrong with a clash of ranked teams to kick things off. There’s lots to see here; The Saints (that’s Thomas More, not the school with ‘Saint’ in its name) opened with Wesley last year and stood up to the national power in a 35-21 loss. This game will be a challenge as well, and maybe one the Saints can pull off on the way to a PAC title. But TMC will have to do it without graduated All-American running back Domonique Hayden. SJFC is among the best in an expanded Empire 8, and the Cardinals will have a rough game nearly every week. They can’t afford to start 0-1.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 10 Wabash at Hampden-Sydney. As a Wabash grad, I’m coming out of the Triple Take gate playing the homer card. Wabash will probably be a better team than it was in 2014; Sydney is projected to be down a little. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of this matchup. As I talked about last year in my preseason Around the Nation column, the meeting between them is historic, as Wabash and H-SC are the only two D-III schools that abide by an all-male classroom atmosphere. And this is the first home-and-home series between them on the gridiron. I had talked with coaches and administrators at the schools as far back as 2008 about something like this taking place, and I’m excited that their enthusiasm translated into reality. Last year finished with a 34-21 Wabash win in Indiana. Kudos to both schools for putting a challenging nonconference game on their schedules. (Also, this is where I’ll be spending opening weekend.)
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 12 Widener. There are a lot of good games this week, right out of the chute. I like this one, in part because it’s now Rowan’s only non-conference game, and I wouldn’t mind at all if these teams played every year. There’s reason to have at least a couple of questions about Widener this year, based on who graduated, but I’ll also be intrigued to see how Rowan’s retooled offense works out. Goodbye spread, hello power offense. Should be interesting. Rowan would like nothing more than to slip back across the Commodore Barry Bridge with a signature win.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: MIT at WPI. The Engineers … oh wait, they’re both Engineers. MIT had a magical undefeated season last year, but they pulled out multiple close wins, and that will be difficult to replicate, especially with five of the first six games on the road. I think they do it once more in this Week 1 Friday nighter, even though Zach Grasis and WPI will grind it out and make MIT earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Augustana. I’m not ready yet to buy into this Lions team as being one of the better ones of recent years — we’ll see in a few weeks if they’re competing for the HCAC’s title. They lost a lot of starters and will have to break in a new (potentially young) quarterback. Last year, Mount St. Joseph showed no mercy against Augustana, being up 37-17 going into the fourth quarter before surging to a 58-25 win. Augustana has a new coach and is tailoring its offensive approach, giving them room to put more points on the board this time around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Alma at Finlandia. I mean, Finlandia isn’t surprisingly close to anyone in a geographic sense. Alma is the closest in-state rival and the Scots will still need to take a seven-hour bus ride to get to Finlandia. (I’m closer and I live two states away.) I’m hoping for a good game in Finlandia’s first-ever football game. A win might be too much to ask for but Alma (six wins in four seasons) hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire of late.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 12 Widener, against Rowan. Considering Thomas More over St. John Fisher would be fudging, this is the only logical option. The Profs bring back their star on offense, might find a role for a former star from Lafayette, and will take a short trip over the bridge, possibly bringing along the support a home team would have. Rowan isn’t favored against a Widener team that was in last season’s final eight, but they have a shot.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. There’s not much jumping out in the inaugural week of college football as a safe — or even likely — bet for this category. Bethel graduated its conference MVP-winning quarterback, so if there’s ever going to be rust on the wheels that a team like UW-Stout could exploit, it’s going to be in Week 1.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: None. And considering this is the first week, and the first-week poll always has the most questions, that’s saying something. I’ve mentioned Widener above and there’s another team out there who tends to struggle with its Week 1 opponent but honestly, they always win when I pick against them so it’s time to stop trying. Chalk in Week 1.

Which team that finished strong in 2014 is going to have the biggest Week 1 letdown?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Curry. The Colonels won their final three after an 0-7 start, but it was slightly misleading, because two of the wins were against 1-9 Nichols and 3-6 Maine Maritime. To start 2015 off right, Curry must win under the lights on Friday night at Bridgewater State, which brings back seven on each side of the ball from a 5-5 team. The Colonels have about the same number of starters back, and the benefit of unfamiliarity; The schools, not far from one another in Massachusetts, south of Boston, did not play last season.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rowan. The Profs ended the last regular season with three straight wins, a share of the NJAC conference title and a trip to the playoffs. But also like last year, they’ll kickoff another season going up against Widener. The thoroughly battle-tested Pride are shaping up to be just as formidable as they proved to be in 2014, and the Profs are going to have a tough go of it right from the start.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Morrisville State (vs. St. Lawrence). This is the week we’ll get to find out how much of the Mustangs’ 2014 surge was the Lemar Johnson show. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence has legitimate reasons to think it can contend for the playoffs, and not in a 5-5, manage-to-snag-the-automatic-bid way. SLU slipped early last season but isn’t likely to let that happen again.

Which lopsided matchup would you most like to be more competitive?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No.13 Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon. In Week 1 last year, my alma mater was a seven-win team with its star quarterback back, going up to face the perennially ranked Blue Jays. They lost, 42-3. The quarterback is now a member of the coaching staff. And Johns Hopkins is still ranked 13th. Do I need more than that?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Greensboro. I’m certainly not begrudging Guilford for stepping up its game and showing on the field that it is ready and determined to make a playoff run this fall. But this crosstown rivalry represents something more than just a W or an L for the teams — it’s also charity event known as the Gate City Soup Bowl. People who come get their admission fee waived if they bring canned goods to donate. Success of the food drive means getting people to the stadium; getting them to the stadium means presenting them with an exciting game to watch. Guilford has owned most of the history of this series, capped with last year’s 52-0 victory. It would be fun to see these two teams grind out a close matchup in this 19th meeting, but I fear that may not come to pass.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethany at No. 2 Mount Union. I mean, just for variety’s sake. Let’s see the new Mount Union offense put through its paces for more than a couple of quarters. Not expecting anything outlandish, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the Machine need to disengage the cruise control?

Pick a color: Green or yellow

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Yes. We’ll be watching to see if Illinois Wesleyan (green) is a CCIW challenger, in its opener against usually-the-class-of-the-HCAC Franklin (yellow). Since I’m supposed to choose, give me our preseason No. 59 IWU, with its eight returning starters on offense and nine on D, in a mild upset over No. 50. Kickoff projected the Titans to go 8-2 off a 4-6 2014.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Green, of Belhaven. Good riddance to the NAIA and welcome to Division III! And, of course, welcome back to D-III Coach Mumme. It’s likely the Blazers will begin their tenure here with a win.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Green. With St. Norbert, under a new coach again, its third in three years, hosting Carthage, which has fallen so far that they’re a unanimous pick to finish behind North Park, the CCIW’s doormat of the decades.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: McMurry. Both teams in the St. Lawrence-Morrisville State game intrigue me, but since Pat touched on that one above, and Ryan mentioned Belhaven, let’s go with the War Hawks. I’m curious about what kind of team they’ll field after recruiting scholarship athletes in Texas for a few years, only to lose some of them when they moved back to a non-scholarship model.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs made some noise en route to their best performance in the MAC ever. But can they sustain having improved their record so drastically? Moreover, can they really make the surge count and compete for a title spot (or at least a Pool C bid)? The opener against N.C. Wesleyan is winnable, but it’ll be more challenging this year to put up 40 points like in 2014.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Also green, and yellow (OK, really it’s gold). And those things I said about what Widener lost over the offseason go triple for Del Val, which lost an NFL prospect wide receiver, one of its best-ever quarterbacks, and basically starts over in terms of returning starters. But Montclair doesn’t have the type of offense that will let them run away and hide from people, so I expect the Aggies to hang in this game and keep it close longer than one might otherwise expect from them this season. Should be an interesting year in Doylestown, Pa.

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: Shaking up the bracket

Linfield's big win was the biggest news of Saturday. (Photo by Joe Fusco,

Linfield’s big win was the biggest news of Saturday.
(Photo by Joe Fusco,

Linfield upset the apple cart with its big win on Saturday, knocking off a UMHB program that had been a play or two from making the Stagg Bowl the past two years. Plus Wartburg, John Carroll and Hobart each survived second-round squeakers.

Pat and Keith summarize the high points of all eight games, give their analysis and look ahead to next week’s quarterfinals. That and much more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

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Triple Take: Predicted scores for the second round of the playoffs

Tyre Coleman needs one sack to move into sole possession of second place all-time in the history of the NCAA tracking stats, and 4.5 to move into a tie for first. (Hobart athletics photo)

Tyre Coleman needs one sack to move into sole possession of second place all-time in the history of the NCAA tracking stats, and 4.5 to move into a tie for first. (Hobart athletics photo)

Consider for a moment the quality of the 16 teams remaining in the postseason. Nine of them are still unbeaten, and six of the other seven teams have one loss. Together, the teams who will take the fields on Saturday have experienced defeat just nine times, with one of the losses coming to a scholarship-level team and another coming against Mount Union, which is one of the 16 teams still alive.

Saturday’s road teams  the ones which the bracket-makers consider the underdogs will include Linfield and St. John’s, the past two programs other than Mount Union or UW-Whitewater to win Stagg Bowls. The field still includes both the Purple Raiders and Warhawks, all eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and the top 11 teams in the top 25, as well as 13 of the top 14.

In other words, this is the best of the best. The one drawback to having such an expansive playoff is that eight very good seasons come to an end this week. But they do so having satisfied the competitive urge, going against the best the 244-team division has to offer. And the eight that move on to the quarterfinals do so knowing they had to pass pretty serious tests, for the most part, to move on.

The purpose of Triple Take this week is to set the national expectation. We know most folks don’t have the time or inclination to follow all 16 of these teams, or really develop an idea of what we’re in for Saturday. It’s a much more difficult week to forecast than last, but publisher Pat Coleman, national columnist Ryan Tipps and I take a crack at this week’s scores. If you see something on Saturday that runs contrary to the picks you see below, realize you are witnessing history in the making.

— Keith McMillan

Keith’s take:  UW-Whitewater 28, Wabash 14
Ryan’s take: UW-Whitewater 31, Wabash 14
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater 38, Wabash 14
Consensus: Unanimous. We’ve each got the Little Giants scoring a couple touchdowns, making the giants of Division III fight for their pass into the next round.

Keith’s take: Wartburg 31, St. John’s 17
Ryan’s take: St. John’s 21, Wartburg 20
Pat’s take: Wartburg 31, St. John’s 17
Consensus: Split decision. Ryan’s got the Johnnies pulling some upset wizardry in Waverly. Pat and I see the same two-TD margin for the Knights.

Keith’s take: Widener 38, Christopher Newport 28
Ryan’s take: Widener 41, Christopher Newport 24
Pat’s take: Widener 35, Christopher Newport 14
Consensus: Unanimous. We aren’t expecting these guys to need late field goals to decide it this week.

Keith’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, Linfield 27
Ryan’s take: Linfield 38, Mary Hardin-Baylor 34
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 27, Linfield 24
Consensus: Split decision. Although we all agree that two of the legendary programs in D-III should be engaged in a down-to-the-wire affair.

Keith’s take: Wesley 59, MIT 7
Ryan’s take: Wesley 48, MIT 3
Pat’s take: Wesley 55, MIT 7
Consensus: Unanimous. On a day of competitive games, we see this as a mismatch.

Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins 28, Hobart 21
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins 28, Hobart 24
Pat’s take: Johns Hopkins 31, Hobart 20
Consensus: Unanimous. In a clash of 11-0 teams, we expect the Blue Jays to eke out a road win, likely because the Statesmen have been cutting it close lately. Their past three wins are by 2, 5 and 7 points.

Keith’s take: John Carroll 35, Wheaton 24
Ryan’s take: John Carroll 31, Wheaton 24
Pat’s take: John Carroll 30, Wheaton 26
Consensus: Unanimous. The predictions, made separately with no knowledge of the others, look fairly similar. Expect one of the day’s best games.

Keith’s take: Mount Union 38, Washington and Jefferson 20
Ryan’s take: Mount Union 45, Washington and Jefferson 17
Pat’s take: Mount Union 42, Washington and Jefferson 20
Consensus: Unanimous. Not expecting the Presidents to be completely blown away like most early-round Purple Raider opponents are.

We invite you to add your predictions and reasoning in the comments below, or tweet at us at @D3Keith, @NewsTipps and @d3football. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks and the most recent round of playoffs.