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Quick Hits Week 4: The big games, upset picks

Like last week there’s one huge game in the rankings and I’ll be there. And this week, it won’t require a boarding pass. Will this one live up to the hype better than last week’s? Our guest is Gene Schatz, a Division III football fan whose son played quarterback at Wesley a few years back. Gene has continued to follow Division III very closely and was at both the Salisbury-Montclair State game and the Wesley-Christopher Newport game last week. That’s dedication, Division III parents! (Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com)

— Pat Coleman

On Saturday, I’d rather be at …

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Keith’s take: Clemens Stadium. No. 4 St. Thomas at No. 6 St. John’s in an idyllic setting. It’ll probably be the best game-watching experience in D-III all season.
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Ryan’s take: In Springfield, Ohio, at Bash vs. Witt. Going off-grid with so many other eyes likely on Tommie-Johnnie game.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Collegeville, Minn. There’s a pretty cool game going on up there. What, you’ve heard of it? Never mind.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Tommie-Johnnie. For the third time in 364 days. Collegeville will be boppin’ as the home team tries to prevent a St. Thomas three-peat.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Clemens Stadium. I’ve always wanted to experience the atmosphere at this stadium, especially for this game. Their rankings make this year’s game a bonus.
Guest
Gene’s take: Collegeville, Minn. Would love to see if St. John’s can take the top spot back in the MIAC and break up the purple powers.

Which Top 25 team is most likely to get upset?

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Keith’s take: No. 13 Wabash. Didn’t have the guts to take Baldwin Wallace vs. Mount Union or pick against Cortland for the second week in a row.
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Ryan’s take: No. 11 Johns Hopkins. A solid Muhlenberg is as good a team as any to end JHU’s 29-game conference win streak.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 16 St. John Fisher. Under the assumption a huge Courage Bowl crowd fires up Brockport and the E8 refuses to be so easily predicted.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: No. 13 Wabash. On the road against a Wittenberg team playing with a purpose this season.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: No. 11 Johns Hopkins. Muhlenberg has built up well so far, while the Blue Jays have had some close results. A late score could decide it.
Guest
Gene’s take: No. 14 Delaware Valley. Taking a chance that Albright will live up to the preseason billing.

Who gets a sorely needed win this week?

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Keith’s take: UW-River Falls. Southwestern appears much improved, while the Falcons nearly beat Gustavus and get one more shot before WIAC play.
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Ryan’s take: Bethel. It’s already a big slide fof a once-major power.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Allegheny. Kenyon is 2-1, but that loss is a 45-7 drubbing by Hiram and Allegheny needs this one since they might not win another all year.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Ursinus. Two of the three winless Centennial teams meet when the Bears travel to McDaniel.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: UW-Eau Claire (at Wisconsin Lutheran). The Blugolds, with a 14-game losing streak, have a winnable game in front of them before WIAC play begins.
Guest
Gene’s take: Bethel. Just 3 years ago they went undefeated in the MIAC. Hard to believe they could start the season 0-4.

Name any Empire 8 team which will win on Saturday:

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Keith’s take: Alfred, against Ithaca. All the games are good, but I’ve warmed up to the Saxons, who are averaging 34 points a game and have two road wins.
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Ryan’s take: St. John Fisher. I added them to my Top 25 ballot last week.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Morrisville State. I’ll let the rest of these guys take the easy pick and I’ll move further down the alphabet.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Alfred. The Saxons have been as impressive as anyone in the E8. Alfred hosts an Ithaca team that has one offensive TD in two games.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Alfred. The Bombers can’t find an offensive stride still, while Alfred has scored 30-plus in each of their three games. Advantage: Saxons.
Guest
Gene’s take: Alfred. The Saxons take advantage of a struggling Ithaca offense.

Pick an unranked, unvoted-for 3-0 team that will win this week:

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Keith’s take: Berry, vs. Sewanee. The Tigers have lost their first three games by 21-17 twice and 21-16. So give me Berry, scoring three TDs and winning by four.
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Ryan’s take: Plymouth State, keeping this Cinderella season rolling.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Coe. And Nebraska Wesleyan still won’t have beaten a Division III team since …
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Northwestern. They should beat Martin Luther; the bigger question is, will they allow points for the first time this season?
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Centre (vs. Chicago). It’s revenge for Centre after their 2015 loss to the Maroons in what could be a key SAA matchup.
Guest
Gene’s take: St. Vincent. The Bearcats who have only won more than four games once since bringing the program back look to go 4-0.

Which NESCAC game should I care about?

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Keith’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. It’s the only game between teams picked to have winning records (both 6-2) in Kickoff, or teams that had them last year.
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Ryan’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts, possibly the day’s most competitive matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. Night games in the NESCAC are pretty darn rare, so this could be fun.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. Can reigning NESCAC player of the year Chance “the Running Back” Brady start another dominant rushing campaign?
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Colby at Williams. For the start of the Mark Raymond era, as he tries to turn around the Ephs the same way he turned around St. Lawrence.
Guest
Gene’s take: Wesleyan at Tufts. Two teams near the top of the NESCAC last year don’t want to start the season 0-1.

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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Triple Take, Week 9: Several down and three to go

Week 9 isn’t quite the week of marquee games that Week 8 was, but there are three clashes that pit top-20 teams against one another. And besides, with three weeks left in the regular season, we’ve hit the point where every game is big for teams in the hunt for conference titles and one of the 32 playoff spots.

Sometimes around this time of year, we veteran playoff prognosticators get more concerned with losses, because they help us eliminate contenders. But no matter what’s left to compete for as November nears — championships, rivalry trophies or plain ol’ pride — the object is to win. With 239 teams each trying to get one, participating in 120 Week 9 games across 28 conferences and beyond, it can be hard to keep track of what matters. That’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. We compile our seven-point primers for the weekend independent of one another, then reveal them so Division III observers can know where to look beyond their own games for potential upsets, the biggest face-offs and those that are below-the-radar but still meaningful.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 13 Hardin-Simmons. The clashes of top-20 MIAC and CCIW teams are big, but both of those conference races have other teams in the mix; this is pretty much winner-take-all. Yet the prize is no longer the ASC’s automatic bid. Because the conference has just six core members, plus McMurry transitioning back into D-III and Belhaven in its first year, it no longer has a playoff spot reserved for its champion. The winner in Abilene is probably a shoo-in for the Pool B playoff spot reserved for teams without access to automatic bids. The loser has to swim in Pool C with the runners up in 26 of the other conferences, hoping for one of six at-large bids.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 13 Hardin-Simmons. For the first time in more than a decade, we’re deep in the season and both teams are still undefeated as they meet. Plus there’s the lone Pool B bid riding on the outcome of this game. I could go into more reasons why we should all be paying attention to this one, but I spelled a lot of it out already this week in my Around the Nation column.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Washington University at No. 23 Case Western Reserve. Case gets to put its newly minted top-25 ranking on the line in a big game right away. Despite playing for automatic bids in their separate conferences, the UAA teams still all play each other. Case, which has already lost to University of Chicago, now faces Wash. U., which is coming in riding high. The Bears are 5-2 and have scored 145 points in the past three weeks. This should be a great matchup of teams peaking at the right time, as both Case and Wash. U. are facing their toughest competition at the end of the season.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Loras at Dubuque. The Duhawks started this season with seven wins in the previous four years. If the host Spartans win Saturday, it’d be their sixth this year. Dubuque (5-2) got national notice two weeks ago by walloping then-No. 8 Wartburg, so it now leads the IIAC. The Spartans have also won the past four in the series by 27 or more. However, Loras (4-3) boasts the nation’s top passing offense at 409 yards per game, and is 207th in time of possession — suggesting the Duhawks play fast and get off the field. Dubuque is 170th nationally in pass efficiency defense so they’ll either have to play a superb game defensively or score to keep up. The IIAC has traditionally been the territory of Central, Wartburg and Coe, and a bit further back, Simpson. Loras reinstated football in 1980, and has never won an IIAC title. Dubuque has won it once since that year. Saturday, they play for first place in a game so rarely big, I had no idea they played for the Key City Trophy.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Maryville. If looking strictly at the records, a 6-1 Maryville squad should roll over a 2-4 LaGrange without issue. But the scoreboard itself points to another angle: Of the four games the Panthers have lost, three of the margins have been by one point, three points and seven points. Of the games they’ve won, the margins were two points and three points. This is a team that has been playing close games all season, and while many of the games haven’t been against competition as good as the Scots, there’s nothing to suggest that this will be a runaway performance by Maryville.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Berry at Millsaps. Berry is 6-1, 5-0 in the SAA and Millsaps is 1-6, 0-5. That brings with it a connotation of a big win for Berry but I’m looking for a closer game. Berry has only blown out one opponent all season, the 24-0 home win vs. Rhodes that opened everyone’s eyes early in the season. In fact, the Vikings have only outscored opponents 142-113 this season, despite their gaudy record. Millsaps won’t be getting 70 points rolled up on it this week.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Case Western Reserve. The Spartans now play football in the PAC, while Washington U. plays in the SAA; Both are UAA rivals in other sports. The Bears (5-2) have recently discovered a high-powered offense. Since being held to 13 by Berry, they’ve gone for 37, 38 and 70 points. Junior quarterback J.J Tomlin leads what is now the nation’s sixth-best passing offense at 339 yards per game. Case Western Reserve’s defensive strength, unfortunately, is against the run. The Spartans (6-1) have just four turnovers all season, and they’ll need to keep that going and keep pace with the Bears’ offense to avoid making their stay in the top 25 a short one.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 22 Washington and Lee. The ODAC is one of those conferences where anything can happen. We’ve said it a few times already this season, and it applies now as the Generals square off against Emory and Henry. Both teams average in the 30s when it comes to scoring, and both are good at holding their opponents to an average of about 21 points. What could make this interesting is the E&H has statistically the best rushing defense in the conference, but that’s only because we’re deep in the season, and most of the other teams have already played the ultra-run-heavy W&L. So the numbers are skewed in favor of E&H. If there’s any legitimacy to that stat, though, we’ll find out for certain on Saturday. The momentum of games change on big plays; between these two teams, the winner may depend on them.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 20 Cortland State. It might be easy pickin’s here to take the Empire 8 game, but it’s not just because the conference has been evenly balanced and difficult to predict. Cory Benedetto is coming off the best performance of his brief starting career at Morrisville State and Cristian Pena has rushed for 100 yards in three of the past four games. I think we’ll continue to have churn at the bottom of the poll this week.

Pick a team that can greatly improve its playoff chances with a win

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Albion. The Britons gained notice by averaging about 50 points per game in a 6-0 start. They scored 51 last week, but allowed Trine to rally from down 17 for the 55-51 win, which means Saturday’s game at 7-0 Olivet is its last playoff hope. The Comets are on top and would clinch with a win (Trine, the only other team in the hunt, lost 49-24 to Olivet on Oct. 10). The Britons, however, would jump right back into the top spot with a win and any Trine loss. Since MIAA teams really don’t get at-large bids, this is essentially a conference title game with a playoff spot on the line. It’s such a big game, the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer published dueling columns making the case for either team to win.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Endicott. The NEFC is a mess of undefeated Western New England and three one-loss conference teams, including Endicott. The key to this cluster, though, is that WNEU hasn’t played any of those one-loss teams yet, so head-to-head matchups and the potential for tiebreakers will probably leave fans of this conference guessing about its Pool A selection until the final clock runs out on Nov. 14. Endicott can stay in the hunt if it knocks Western New England off this weekend.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 22 Washington and Lee. The Generals travel to Emory and Henry for what should be their last big test of the ODAC season. I say “should be” because of the ODAC’s general unpredictability. But the Generals can all but clinch this week with a win against the Wasps. And if Guilford were to lose to Catholic and Hampden-Sydney to Bridgewater, the Generals could clinch the automatic bid outright, regardless of their results the final two weeks vs. Shenandoah and Catholic.

Pick a surprising one-loss team that will remain on the fringes of the playoff hunt

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: DePauw. Joe Sager’s Around the Great Lakes column this week featured the Tigers’ offensive balance, partly fueled by QB Matt Hunt and his wide receiver brother Andy. At Denison, which features its own QB/WR brothers in Tommy and Matt Iammarino, DePauw will need to keep it balanced and continue to be the NCAC’s best third-down offense. Both DePauw and Denison have yet to face Wabash and its mighty defense, so improving to 7-1 might keep whichever team wins on the playoff fringe only until the Little Giants game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Frostburg State. This week’s game against Rowan is a tough matchup for the Bobcats, probably the toughest since the Wesley game in Week 2. Frostburg is a young team that starts five freshmen on offense, but, like Rowan, their success is largely rooted in how they’ve performed on defense. With so much youth and with the shift in the conferences, probably no one saw this kind of success from the team this season, but what it’s doing is helping to build toward something even bigger in the years to come. Rowan is coming off of a close loss to Wesley – how banged up the Profs are will also factor into how this game plays out.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Gustavus Adolphus. Keith and I spent some time this August talking about whether the Gusties would be able to improve on their 6-0 start/0-4 finish from last season and even though they don’t necessarily match up well with Bethel’s weaknesses, I’m looking at this game as a possibility. The Royals should, however, be able to pass for more than 1 yard, which will be an improvement over last week.

Pick a team that won’t be playing for any titles this season, but will win comfortably

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hamline. Because the Pipers play in the absolutely loaded MIAC, their revival story has gone underappreciated. After four wins in four seasons, Hamline won four last year. They’re just 2-5 this time around, but were competitive in seven- and 10-point losses to Gustavus Adolphus (6-1) and Concordia-Moorhead (7-1). The Pipers can get to .500 with a strong finish, and St. Olaf, one of the two MIAC teams they beat last season, is beatable again. Hamline’s problem areas are a deadly mixture of penalties and poor performance on third downs and in the red zone, but the Oles have the nation’s 229th-ranked defense, allowing 501 yards per game. Pipers QB Justice Spriggs and WRs Philip Sherman and Naji El-Araby could have their first really big day together.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Hobart. Once the king of the Liberty League, the Statesmen weathered their third loss last week and are effectively (though perhaps not technically) out of the title hunt. Up next, though, is Union. The winless Dutchmen have played a couple of close games this month, but even with Hobart losing a bit of its edge, it seems unlikely that Union will be able to hang around in this one.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Finlandia at Maranatha Baptist. I have to get in my contractually obligated minimum number of references to Finlandia and since we left them out of the podcast this week the 2-6 Lions fit here. Finlandia beat Maranatha at Finlandia back on Oct. 3, 30-14. Logic would suggest the Sabercats would be able to keep it closer at home, but I’m here saying it won’t go down that way.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: McMurry, hosting Belhaven. The War Hawks are 3-5 in their first season back in D-III, and 1-3 against D-III opponents. Belhaven is now one of those, in its first season coming over from NAIA, but it is just 1-7 and 0-6 against D-IIIs. The Hal Mumme bowl (the ex-Kentucky coach was head man at McMurry from 2009 to 2013, and now leads Belhaven) will take place while Matt Mumme’s LaGrange team plays a key USAC game at Maryville.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Lakeland. It sometimes gets easy as we talk about teams from the 10 strongest conferences to overlook those closer to the bottom who are fighting to be in the same 32-team playoff. The NACC is one of those weaker conferences, and this weekend, Lakeland takes on Concordia (Wis.) to help sort out of the top of the heap. Coupled with Benedictine who is also still sitting comfortably at the pinnacle, there is a lot yet to sort out there.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Stags play Cal Lutheran at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday night and Keith and I might have to hold off a little while on recording the weekly podcast that night to see how that game progresses first. Pretty sure I’ll be spending that “fall back” hour on D3football.com, as I usually do.

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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Around the Nation Podcast: New beginnings

Actual games. Actual results. The 2015 Division III football season went from virtual to literal this week. What were the big surprises? What interesting games flew under the radar? Who are the teams on the rise after one week? 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