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Triple Take Week 11: This is what it’s all about

It’s Week 11. Do we even need an intro? Everyone’s got a big game this week, either playing for the final time this season or competing for the opportunity to play on.

There are rivalry games; Williams and Amherst’s game is the pair’s 130th, more than any in Division I FBS, II or III. There’s also Monon Bell, Cortaca Jug, The Game, Dutchman Shoes, Victory Bell, Regents Cup, Keystone Cup, Cranberry Bowl, Lincoln Trophy, Trinity-Wesleyan and the final CBB clash. Oh, and congrats, Lafayette and Lehigh, on meeting next week for the record 151st time, but this Saturday, we’ll be watching that other huge rivalry in the Lehigh Valley.

There are playoff bids to be clinched; Eleven of the 25 AQs are still up for grabs. Plus, there’s a four-team scrum in Texas for one Pool B bid, and then games from coast to coast that affect Pool C and the six at-large spots. Eastern teams might miss the playoffs but earn a spot in an ECAC or CC-MAC bowl game. There’s even a conference championship game, between Midwest Conference powers St. Norbert and Monmouth.

For everyone else, Week 11 is something to savor. It’s the last time players get to suit up, some until next season, some forever. It’s the last tailgate, the last road trip to cheer for a son, the Saturday spent in a press box or coaches’ booth.

Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I can’t get to every meaningful game. But with 232 of our 247 teams in action, each one facing a D-III opponent in 116 matchups, we can at least point you in the right direction on what to watch most closely, besides the game you’ll be following. We’ll do Triple Take a little differently once the playoffs begin, so thanks for hanging with us on Fridays for another season of the prescient and the way-off-base picks.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 East Texas Baptist at No. 13 Mary Hardin-Baylor. There are 11 automatic bids to be won, five in head-to-head games, three more that could go one of two ways, and three more that involve at least three teams. But nothing is quite the tangled web that the four Texas teams trying to wrangle the single Pool B bid is. The Tigers-Cru game has far-reaching implications, mostly if East Texas Baptist were to win. UMHB hasn’t lost multiple regular-season games since 2006, but ETBU’s win over Hardin-Simmons, which had beaten UMHB the week before, raised the possibility. A Tigers win means ETBU is 8-2, with wins over HSU and UMHB and a bad loss (55-27) to Texas Lutheran, which can finish 8-2 with its losses to UMHB and HSU. Each team will have played the other three, with a 1-2 or 2-1 record amongst. So who makes the playoffs in such a scenario? If it’s Hardin-Simmons, which is trying to beat Louisiana College to finish 9-1, then the other three end up in Pool C and still need to be sorted in order. The committee needs to know which South Region team to put on the board to discuss first. Anyway, UMHB, which is top six nationally in scoring offense, rush defense, third-down defense, red-zone defense, turnover margin and kickoff returns, can make a lot of this moot by winning.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Wabash at DePauw. It seems like every week recently, I’m latching onto something I wrote for Around the Nation to channel into my Game of the Week pick. Wabash and DePauw are two of the most intense rivals in college football, and their annual Monon Bell Classic is being played for the 122nd time. But more importantly, the winner of this game goes to the postseason via the NCAC’s automatic bid. The stakes couldn’t be any bigger for either team. This week, Wabash coach Erik Raeburn said, “This is going to be the best offensive line we’ve faced, and that’s going to be key because the defensive line has been one the main strengths of our team.” DePauw’s Bill Lynch noted that “turnovers will be tremendous to the outcome of the game. I don’t care what level you’re playing, that is one thing that is going to be a determining factor.” Wabash has won this game six times straight, and both teams have been known to play spoiler to the other. What’s almost guaranteed is that the lopsided matchups from a few years ago are a thing of the past; 2015 will be a competitive classic. And we get to watch it all on national television (AXS TV).
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Cortland State at Ithaca. This is typically a good shot for this space anyway, but let me count up a couple ways where this is better than your normal Cortaca Jug game. First of all, I hope you already read the link Ryan included in his rundown, but if not, it talks about how Cortland State needs a win to get into the playoffs. No chance if they lose. That’s subplot one. Subplot two is the fact that Cortland has now won this game five years in a row. Nobody in pads for Ithaca on Saturday has won the Cortaca Jug. (And by the way, the Red Dragons have won nine of the past 13.) After a fast start, it’s turned into a disappointing season for Ithaca, but a win gets the Bombers the Jug, a .500 season, and most importantly for Ithaca, it sends Cortland home.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hanover. The Panthers started the season 0-6 but won two in a row and lost last week by a field goal. So they’re both playing better and trying to salvage some pride, and doing it against a Franklin team that has already clinched its playoff spot. Hanover also has the nation’s leading tackler, in Ryan Martin, who averages 15.3 stops per game. The Grizzlies might ultimately retain the Victory Bell, but they should at least have to earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ferrum at N.C. Wesleyan. I’m intentionally trying to go off the grid a bit here, because as you’ll see below, every one of my other answers in Triple Take pertains to the playoffs. And while I love the playoffs and they are to be celebrated, there are 200 teams out there that have no shot at the postseason on Saturday, and their games are still fun and valuable. The FC/NCWC game pits a team in the upper third of the USAC with one in the lower third, yet despite the separation, there is a sense that each team had been trying to find itself at the early point of the season. The Bishops have gotten there, notching a few wins in recent weeks, but the Panthers have stumbled in some close ones in that same time frame. I think there’s a chance that this will still be tight deep in the second half.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Frostburg State at No. 21 Salisbury. It’s been mentioned a couple times recently, but Frostburg has been much more competitive this season and it looks like DeLane Fitzgerald has that program back on the right track. A win gives the Bobcats a seven win season for the first time since 1999 — seriously. Salisbury needs this win to advance, though, and that will give them enough incentive to hold off their archrival.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Case Western Reserve. No knock on the Spartans, who had a legitimate shot to prevent Thomas More from going into the clubhouse 10-0. But CWRU’s conference title and playoff hopes are gone, even though they’re 7-2 and five points from being unbeaten. It can be tough to maintain the intensity after being so close and coming up short. Meantime, Carnegie Mellon has averaged 53.2 points per game during its five-game winning streak. CMU’s Sam Benger leads the nation in rushing with 184.4 yards per game. In addition, the trip from Cleveland to Pittsburgh isn’t much, but this game is at Carnegie Mellon.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Albright. The Lions have one of the toughest games in the nation ahead of them if they want to earn the right to play in the postseason. Lebanon Valley is a 5-4 team, but that record is misleading. The games they lost have come by margins of five points, three points, 10 points and seven points. They’re in these things until the end, which means Albright will be forced to stay on the gas pedal for the full 60 minutes. It can be done — Albright has already beaten quality teams like Salisbury and Stevenson this season — but it will be a challenge.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 15 John Carroll. But in this case, I have to take the “disappointed” meaning of upset. Because losing to Mount Union won’t be an upset and I can’t see anyone other than the teams my colleagues mentioned getting upset in the intended sense of the word. John Carroll will lose on Saturday and be disappointed on Selection Sunday.

Which team plays its way into the playoff field in Week 11?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. The Empire 8 has been unpredictable all season, so why would the obvious (Cortland State winning and clinching the AQ) happen now? It’d be a remarkable finish for a group of Cardinals who lost their opener 48-0 and by late October, outscored opponents in back-to-back games, 90-0. One of those opponents is Ithaca, which has lost four straight since a 4-1 start. Cortland is 4-1 in one-score games, and has beaten Ithaca five straight. It’s time for the Bombers to catch a break. If that happens, SJFC still needs to beat Alfred, which is 7-2 with losses to both Cortaca Jug teams. But it would be a fitting finish for 2015’s most topsy-turvy conference.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Lakeland. I waffled back and forth between the Muskies and their opponent, Benedictine. There are a lot of comparable scores here, and both are undefeated in NACC play. I usually lean toward the team with the stouter run game (read: Benedictine), but I like that Lakeland has the potential to be a more dynamic team, with several targets for quarterback Michael Whitley to choose from. I give the nod to Lakeland.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Monmouth. I’ve agonized over this pick for a while but I’m going to go with the road team. I don’t believe Monmouth is flying to St. Norbert for this game the way Macalester flew to Illinois College for last year’s MWC title game, but as long as Monmouth can shake off its bus legs, it should be in good shape to compete in this game. St. Norbert is unbeaten but Monmouth’s loss was to Central, which is probably a slightly better team than the North Park-Carthage pairing that the Green Knights put together.

Which team will play its way out of the playoff field in Week 11?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Olivet. At 8-1, the Comets should be virtually guaranteed a postseason game. But instead, they’re pretty much locked out. A win over Alma hands the MIAA title to Albion. A loss hands it to Trine. At 9-1, their Pool C credentials won’t be outstanding, with a Strength of Schedule figure around .500 and an 0-1 record against regionally ranked opponents. The Comets need to win their game, and root for carnage among Pool C contenders.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist. Big kudos for this team in beating Hardin-Simmons last week, but I think that it was a bit of lightning in a (very sloppy) bottle for the Tigers to have done so. I don’t think they can repeat the feat by beating Mary Hardin-Baylor this weekend and keeping themselves in the playoff discussion. What they will do, however, is give the playoff committee more of a reason to nab UMHB as a Pool C selection.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Trine. I mean, no doubt about it, Trine needs help to even get into the playoff picture but Adrian is waiting to make sure it doesn’t even come down to that. Just for the record, Trine’s path in is by beating Adrian and hoping Alma beats Olivet.

Which rival will dance into the offseason most happily?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: RPI. The Engineers are still alive for a playoff spot, but it’s likely that 7-2 St. Lawrence beats 3-5 Merchant Marine and clinches the Liberty League’s bid. Still, RPI should enjoy a chance to face its rival when it’s 0-9. Speaking from experience, it’s not as fun as playing them when they’re good, but kicking your rivals when they’re down isn’t unenjoyable. The playoff scenarios mean 7-2 RPI isn’t loafing through practice this week or taking Union lightly. So even if this is RPI’s last game, or an ECAC bowl precursor, the Engineers have a chance to go hang on to the Shoes all offseason.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Salisbury. A win here guarantees the Gulls a chance in the dance, so the offseason in this case might still be a couple of weeks away. Salisbury has bounced back from two big disappointments this season, and the team has done a lot with a varied mix of younger and older players. Frostburg has had a great season and climbed up from several years of sub .500 seasons to a 6-3 record currently. But next year is really their year to take off. If this were 2016, I might be choosing the Bobcats here, but for 2015, I think this is the Gulls’ launch pad into the postseason.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Amherst. The Williams football program has become a shadow of the shadow of its former self. The Ephs are about to put the finishing touches on a third consecutive 2-6 season. Meanwhile, Amherst is looking to run the table for the second year in a row and increase its win streak to 19 consecutive games. No contest here, even in Williamstown.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon. I won’t go so far as to make my alma mater’s rivalry game of the week, since it’s got no influence on the conference title or playoff picture, a rarity in recent years. But it’s my radar, and The Game is where I’ll be on Saturday. Frankly, I hated the tailgate as a player, because people would stand over there and stuff their faces while we were sweating, blocking and tackling. But I’ve learned to appreciate the creative displays of Lemon and Black, the Virginian food specialties and the off-field camaraderie. And for the second season in a row, the Yellow Jackets can soothe the hurt of a disappointing season by going out with a bang. I know not everybody cares about this particular rivalry game on Saturday, but everyone who’s involved in one knows exactly what I’m talking about. From Dutchman Shoes to Monon Bell to Cortaca Jug, homecoming is nothing compared to this. A playoff game wouldn’t draw as big a crowd. These are the days players make memories that they’ll embellish and recount in the tailgate 20 years from now. So that’s what’s on my radar, this rivalry game and all of them, really.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Moravian. The Greyhounds are a borderline Pool C team, and this weekend’s game against Muhlenberg will help them by raising their Strength of Schedule numbers. For this category, though, it isn’t that Moravian is specifically on my radar because of this game, what’s on my radar is every team that has the potential to affect Moravian’s postseason chances.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks are going to be looking to leave no doubt and finish off a 9-1 regular season at home vs. UW-Stout. In 2012, the Warhawks still had a shot late in the season at getting into the playoffs and lost to UW-Stevens Point. This Warhawks group won’t let that happen, keeping the national title defense alive heading into the playoffs.

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.

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ATN Podcast: Two results throw it wide open

Wesley and Hardin-Simmons could have made it easy on the committee and on all the bracketologists in Division III who are trying to figure out where they’ll go in the playoffs. Instead, Salisbury upset the Wolverines and East Texas Baptist knocked off the Cowboys. What are the ramifications? What do the at-large bids look like now? (A hint, they look awesome.) Plus, which are the teams on the rise in the playoff hunt? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile device. 
You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast
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Triple Take, Week 8: The biggest week so far

Everything that Week 7 was not, in terms of big matchups, Week 8 is. There are no fewer than five nationally significant major clashes, plus several more games that will greatly impact conference races. Here’s a quick list, in rough order of importance:

No. 24 Texas Lutheran (5-1) at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-0)
No. 8 Wheaton (6-0) at No. 16 North Central (4-2)
No. 5 UW-Oshkosh (5-1) at No. 12 UW-Platteville (5-1)
No. 21 Rowan (5-1) at No. 4 Wesley (6-0)
No. 25 Whitworth (6-0) at No. 2 Linfield (5-0)

Those are the big five. For the uninitiated, one might assume the clash of undefeated teams is the biggest, but in all these matchups, there’s some nuance. Three top-five teams are at home, where they rarely lose. Meantime, UW-Oshkosh’s loss was to non-Division-III Robert Morris-Chicago, so when it comes to playoff positioning, we can toss the 23-21 Week 1 result right out the window. North Central’s two losses are to Platteville, in overtime, and to Wesley, on a two-point conversion with seven seconds left. The Cardinals blew three-touchdown leads in both games. Rowan’s loss is by three, to No. 23 Salisbury, Texas Lutheran’s is by eight to No. 14 Hardin-Simmons, and Platteville’s is by 10, to No. 6 UW-Whitewater. Platteville also beat Dubuque, which manhandled then-No. 8 Wartburg last week, 31-7 back in September.

In essence, each one of those 10 teams is powerful. One tier below, we have:

No. 10 Johns Hopkins (6-0) at Gettysburg (5-1)
Franklin & Marshall (5-1) at Moravian (5-1)
Delaware Valley (5-1) at No. 20 Albright (6-0)
Widener (4-2) at Stevenson (5-1)
No. 23 Salisbury (4-1) at Kean (4-2)
St. Lawrence (5-1) at Springfield (4-3)
Bethel (4-2) at No. 7 St. Thomas (6-0)
Hendrix (4-2) at Chicago (5-1)
Brockport State (4-2) at Cortland State (6-1)
Wesleyan (3-1) at Amherst (4-0)

Basically, it’s one big slobberknocker. And if the above intro just looks like a list of games, names and records to you, then that’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. Our job is to sort out this Battle Royale for you so you can make sense of Week 8. You’ll have your eyes on one game, more than likely, but what else should you be paying attention to? Below the radar or clearly on it, we’ll show you the way.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 Wheaton at No. 16 North Central. My initial instinct was to pick the Texas clash, because TLU and UMHB don’t have Pool A bids to fall back on if they lose. They’re essentially competing for the same Pool B spot, and there’s a Hardin-Simmons/UMHB game after this. But since Ryan has Texas covered, and a one-loss UMHB would be a Pool C (at-large) shoo-in, let’s shoot up to Chicagoland. The Little Brass Bell rivalry game is at North Central’s Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, meaning higher-ranked Wheaton will have to make the seven-mile trek. But it’s the status of Thunder QB Johnny Peltz (the Chicago Tribune says he’s “listed as the starter” after missing two games because of injury) and North Central’s desperation that makes this the game of the week. The Cardinals had both UW-Platteville and Wesley on the ropes and failed to deliver the knockout blow. NCC is clearly as talented as anyone, but a potential dream season goes up in smoke if they can’t finish a game. And even if NCC wins, 6-0 Illinois Wesleyan looms next week; IWU and Wheaton clash the week after.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Texas Lutheran at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor. It’s hard to see this matchup listed and not hark back to last year’s weather-delayed, two-day postseason game in which UMHB edged out a 27-20 victory. It was a starkly narrow outing compared with the Cru’s regular-season 72-16 win against TLU. UMHB is as threatening as ever, with one of the nation’s best scoring offenses; but not to be out-offensed (yes, I just verbed a noun), TLU is pretty skilled at putting points on the board, too. So this one will likely be which defense can step up and stop their opponent’s onslaught most effectively. UMHB, though less effective halting the pass than halting the run, still holds the upper hand on that front.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Oshkosh at No. 12 UW-Platteville. Like the game Ryan mentions, this is also a game which may carry the fate of multiple playoff hopefuls in the balance. If Platteville beats Oshkosh, and they and Whitewater each win out to finish with one D-III loss, it’s possible three WIAC teams could make the playoffs. If Oshkosh wins, Platteville is definitely still in the conversation thanks to its win against North Central and its early-season win vs. Dubuque, which now carries more weight than initially thought. But if Platteville wins, there’s a chance someone’s playoff bubble will eventually pop.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hartwick at Alfred. Maybe this is only surprising to those who have paid zero attention to the Empire 8 this season, since the conference race has been the demolition derby predicted in Kickoff ’15. In a conference where five of nine teams have four wins overall, six have exactly two conference losses and the leader (Cortland State) wins by miracle seemingly every week, the Hawks have yet to get in on the action. But even though Hartwick is 2-4, 0-4, they’re right there — Cortland and Morrisville State each won by just a field goal. So why wouldn’t Alfred (4-2, 2-2), which has played one-score Empire 8 games against Cortland and Buffalo State, play another tight one with Hartwick?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran at Chapman. Chapman has bumbled to a 1-4 record this season as it struggled to get its offense rolling and swapped out a starting quarterback midseason. It’s a far drop off of 2014, when the team’s only two losses came at the hands of Linfield. Meanwhile, Cal Lutheran at 4-1 has been a seesaw of performance this season, winning games but leaving doubt about how good they really are. This will be an interesting matchup that will do one of two things: give more credence to Cal Lutheran’s run or further muddy the SCIAC waters by letting another conference-title challenger hang around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Montclair State at TCNJ. Closer than expected for a .500 team vs. a winless team. Once upon a time this was the premier rivalry in New Jersey small college football, and while that was supplanted by Rowan-TCNJ, this is still the oldest. TCNJ has too much going for it this season to finish 0-10 (or 1-9 with a win vs. Southern Virginia). The Lions will pick off one of the next two opponents, I think, and it could be this week.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 7 St. Thomas. We’re going to have at least five top-25 teams lose this week, and in the spirit of taking a stab at a true upset, I’ll go beyond those 10 ranked squads playing other ranked teams. There’s no reason that the Tommies, a team I have higher on my ballot than their No. 7 overall ranking, should lose to this particular Bethel team. But the Tommies and Royals have such history — Bethel has won the past two, and knocked St. Thomas out of the 2010 playoffs with a 12-7 win that followed a 10-6 loss earlier in the year — that if there were a shocker in this week’s top 25, this would be it. Both teams average 237 rushing yards per game, but the Tommies’ defense only allows 62 to Bethel’s 145, so it would take a Herculean effort up front.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Albright. Opponent Delaware Valley has far exceeded my expectations this season. With as much as the Aggies had to replace because of graduations, I was expecting them to be closer to 3-3 at this point rather than 5-1. The game against Albright starts the difficult stretch of the season for DelVal, but if they really have been able to reload rather than rebuild, Albright will be the first step toward DelVal re-establishing itself at the top of the MAC.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 8 Wheaton. My concern here is the same I’ve mentioned previously, that Wheaton is nursing some injuries and will be missing its No. 1 quarterback for this game. That negates a significant advantage. No. 16 North Central is playing for its playoff life at the moment, and pride, and the Little Brass Bell, and to get the CCIW title. They’re quite battle-tested this season and a couple plays away from being in the top 10.

Pick a winner in a game that will affect a conference race later

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Loras, at Simpson. I’m going to again board the bandwagon of the high-octane Duhawks, who are standing next to Albion at the “National Leaders in Total Offense” party, next to Wesley, Mount Union, St. Thomas, Wheaton and Thomas More, like they belong there. And maybe they do. With Dubuque taking control of the IIAC race last week, and playing 1-5 Buena Vista this week, Loras needs to win at home against Simpson (both are 3-3, 2-1) to set up a crosstown showdown for a share of first place next week. I’m not saying if we did D-III Game Day that we’d come to Dubuque, Iowa next Saturday for Duhawks-Spartans, but I’m not saying we wouldn’t.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: St. Lawrence, at Springfield. The Liberty League is one of the many conference parity mashups that has been difficult to sort through this year. Hobart was king – they had been so for the past three seasons. But defeat at the hands of Springfield, as well as St. Lawrence’s rise the past two years, provides an air of uncertainty to the LL. There are many directions this conference could turn, including seeing Hobart again emerge on top. The St. Lawrence/Springfield matchup will hopefully help with some clarity and give a bit of momentum to the victor (who I’m projecting to be St. Lawrence).
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 7 St. Thomas, hosting Bethel. This game is for first place now, or a share of it, but I include it here because it definitely will affect it later as well, should Bethel win. St. Thomas has the opportunity to run the table and leave no doubt, but like the WIAC game I referenced above, there’s a chance this game could feature multiple playoff teams, or multiple playoff hopefuls.

Pick a team with a losing record to win

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors once ruled the MAC with an iron fist, but this year, everyone else is getting its shots in, as Lycoming is 1-5. Having lost nine in a row to the Warriors, FDU-Florham (2-4) would certainly like to join in. Both teams have lost three straight since beating Wilkes, but the Devils’ losses have been by a combined 147-27, with 33 points the closest margin. Lycoming’s past two losses were by three and four points, on the road, one in overtime. Look for RB Blake Bowman and WR Ryan Umpleby to have big games.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are playing a 5-1 Frostburg State squad, but it’s worth noting that the Bobcats’ record comes with the help of wins against the bottom three teams in the NJAC. Of course, there’s a chance that 5-1 mark will improve by beating the fourth-from-the-bottom team in the conference, but CNU has been at its best this season playing the toughest teams in the conference. CNU has a knack for stepping up when it needs to, whether that’s against Wesley or Rowan or Montclair or, I’m betting, against Frostburg.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific Lutheran. The winless Lutes — have you ever said that before this season? — have George Fox coming to town. GFU is 3-3, with two wins at home and a win at Arizona Christian. I wouldn’t have thought PLU would have to hope for a win vs. a second-year D-III program, but it might be necessary. My thinking here is that a young program might need a little more experience before it can go on the road and beat an established program, even if it’s a struggling one.

Pick a team with a winning record to lose

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Springfield, against St. Lawrence. The Pride upended the usual state of things in the Liberty League with a 35-point second half to rally past Hobart. That opened the door for itself, for Rochester, for RPI, and for St. Lawrence. The Saints right now are in the drivers’ seat, and with a respectable run defense (121 yards/game, 56th nationally) that should be familiar with Springfield’s successful attack, and a Liberty-League-best scoring offense (30.3 points/game), they can stay there.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman. As much fun as the Engineers have been having on their undefeated run, that streak stops against Franklin. It should be an interesting battle to see the HCAC’s top two quarterbacks sling it out against each other, but the bottom line is that RHIT hasn’t found an answer for the Grizzlies since 2009.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethel at No. 7 St. Thomas. This game has traditionally been a slog, a pound-the-rock type of fight, and I would not expect any different in 2015. St. Thomas is even more ground game-oriented than previously, and when I saw Bethel play earlier this season, their secondary particularly impressed me. But St. Thomas is more talented and should be able to take this game based on the strength of their defense, their run game and special teams.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: The Centennial Conference. Johns Hopkins has been in control so long that it’s easy to glaze over the CC when looking at which races will be contested. But with the 6-0 Blue Jays being trailed by three 5-1 teams and 4-2 Muhlenberg, this could get interesting, both locally and nationally. Between the four leaders, only JHU and Moravian have played so far (a 45-23 Hopkins win). This week, F&M goes to Moravian and JHU goes to Gettysburg, to give us a little bit more clarity in terms of what’s ahead. If two teams begin to emerge, we could be looking at an unexpected Pool C contender. If it really gets crazy, we could be looking at a half-Empire 8 situation. Or Johns Hopkins could just be saving its best for last. So basically, that’s why it’s on the radar this week.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve. Consider the game against No. 16 Washington and Jefferson to be Case’s opportunity to show what it’s really made of, to show everyone that it has put the season-opening loss behind it and that it deserves to be positioned at the top of the PAC. Most of all, this will be a big test of whether Case has turned itself around after a couple of sub-.500 seasons. W&J quarterback Pete Coughlin and rusher Ryan Ruffing will undoubtedly make it a tough game for a team like Case.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Western New England. Once upon a time this was our predicted game of the year in the NEFC. Now the game vs. MIT is just another step for WNEU on its way to a potential 10-0 season, and maybe a first-round home game vs. Husson. (Although Husson hasn’t won the ECFC yet and … well there are some other games to be played.)

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.