post

Triple Take, Week 7: Time for some new teams to shine

Some weeks stand out because of stadium-filling rivalries and top-25 games that attract interest across the nation. This isn’t one of those weeks.

That, however, opens the door for the middle class of Division III to get some shine, and some air time. There are plenty of teams who aren’t top-ranked but are pretty good. At this time of year, there are 5-0 and 6-0 teams that might end up with three or four losses, and there are 3-2 and 4-1 teams that might not lose another game. Weeks like these are when teams begin to sort one another out.

Beyond the particular team and conference you follow, it can be tough to know where to look in a week like this. That’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. We’ll help you sort through the 117 games on tap this weekend, all but three involving two D-III teams. So with 231 of the 247 teams in action, check out the seven-point primers below for where to watch for great games, big upsets, and teams that will get their first wins or losses.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Gustavus Adolphus at No. 14 St. John’s. As my colleagues’ choices will prove, there’s no marquee game this week featuring a clash of top-25 teams. But there is this, the 6-0 Gusties traveling to Collegeville, Minn. with a former Johnnie as their star under center. Mitch Hendricks is the only quarterback in D-III to have surpassed 2,000 yards passing so far this season, and he has 23 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. The Gusties convert third downs at the nation’s highest rate (66.2) and score 54.5 points per game, but none of it means much if they lose to St. John’s, Bethel, Concordia-Moorhead and St. Thomas like they did to finish last season. The Johnnies, led by linebackers Carter Hanson and Drake Matuska, have been solid defensively, and the offense, behind RB Sam Sura and QB Nick Martin, takes care of the ball, so the Gusties will have to earn it. The Johnnies, who won 29-19 at Gustavus last season, are also coming in off a bye week. Frankly, this game could fit in “unbeaten team that takes its first loss” or “most likely top-25 team to lose” below, which makes it a perfect Game of the Week candidate.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Hendrix at Berry. I’m going off the top-25 map to pick this game, but with as wide open as the SAA is this season, this matchup between third-year programs will help to sort out the field. So far this season, two SAA teams have been ranked, and Hendrix and Berry have each knocked off one of those more-established teams. Is the student becoming the master? The Warriors have a combination running/passing game that yields a lot of points; the Vikings, on the other hand, haven’t allowed more than 17 points since Week 1. Each team will really need to tap into those strengths if it hopes to emerge the winner — and be the top dog in the conference race.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Carleton at St. Olaf. Nationally this is an underrated rivalry. As Minnesota rivalries goes, it will never match the Tommie-Johnnie game in terms of pure size and scope, but these two colleges nestled in small-town Northfield, Minn., have a fierce rivalry as well. It’s also pretty evenly matched. As St. Olaf has struggled the past couple of years, Carleton has been able to get its licks in and the games have been competitive in either direction. But lastly, it’s one of my favorite rivalries because it has one of my favorite traditions: The Walk. The winning team walks down to the middle of town and turns the eagle on top of the town’s war memorial to face the winner’s campus. Pretty cool sight.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Central at Loras. The Dutch have won three of four and are known, alongside Wartburg, as the perennial class of the IIAC. The Duhawks (2-3) have not won a conference title since rejoining in 1986, and were picked to finish last back in Kickoff ’15. But when the games got underway, we learned something about Loras: Its offense can wing it. The Duhawks lead the nation in passing offense (430 yards/game) and are top five in total offense. Because they are No. 229 overall in total defense, they’ve had scores of 56-52, 52-42, 48-41 and 30-27 … which you might notice are all relatively close games. Expect another one.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee at Randolph-Macon. Even when the Yellow Jackets are struggling, their struggles are often tied to losses against teams that air out the ball. W&L is not one of those teams. Macon knows how to stop the run — even the option run — and while these two teams are polar opposites in the standings, they’ll be close on the scoreboard.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Franklin. Franklin has been putting up a ton of points of late, although the 56 points vs. Anderson and the 80 vs. Earlham don’t really compare to what they might put up against their biggest competition for the conference title. However, MSJ has given up a few more points than usual.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan. After back-to-back weeks in which six top-25 teams lost, the pickings are slim this week. There are some decent opponents for the elite teams, like 4-1 Kean facing No. 4 Wesley and 3-2 UW-Stevens Point facing No. 5 UW-Oshkosh. I don’t even particularly like my pick, because the Titans are good defensively (No. 18 nationally) as they often are and are deserving of their top-25 spot. This is more a compliment to 2-3 Augustana, which played its first four games under Steve Bell closely before a 31-14 loss to seventh-ranked Wheaton last week. The Vikings’ hopes ride heavily on QB Sam Frasco, who is running it 17 times a game himself while averaging 33 passes.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ithaca. After a couple of weeks in which we’ve seen several in the top 25 fall, this Saturday is looking a lot more like chalk. And then there’s the anything-can-happen Empire 8. Brockport is only 1-2 in conference play, but those losses come at a combined four points. There’s no reason to believe that the Golden Eagles won’t push Ithaca to the bone in this one.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 19 Concordia-Moorhead. Like Ryan, I see a lot of chalk this week. I’m kind of stretching to find someone other than Ithaca to point to here so I’m going to take a flier on the possibility that Augsburg might be able to go up to Concordia-Moorhead and come out with a win. The Auggies still have incredible talent Ayrton Scott at quarterback and he’s a handful for any opposing defense.

There are 27 unbeaten teams. Pick one to lose for the first time.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Denison, at Wittenberg. I gave Gettysburg and Gustavus Adolphus a look in this category, but the 5-0 and 3-2 records in this Ohio night game are deceiving. The Big Red survived a two-point conversion attempt with 44 seconds left in a 10-9 win against Ohio Wesleyan (a team Wittenberg beat, 42-21) two games ago, while the Tigers’ two losses were on the road to Wabash and DePauw, who are both unbeaten. Denison has the ninth-ranked defense in the country, but Wittenberg QB Zach Jenkins and WR Corey Stump should put a dent in that ranking. I’m not going that far out on a limb here, since the Big Red haven’t beaten Wittenberg since 1989, and haven’t won in Springfield since 1952, long before their mascot (see No. 9 in ‘100 things we love about Denison’) was something other than Big Red.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: St. Norbert, at Ripon. The Midwest is a tricky beast this season, and St. Norbert is the only team in either division that is currently unbeaten. I know I picked Ripon for a Triple Take category just last week, and the Red Hawks proved me right. I’ll take them again, this time to dole out the upset against the Green Knights.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Gettysburg, vs. Muhlenberg. This particular Battle of the Burgs is a little bit turned on its head from recent years, with Gettysburg (5-0) coming in riding high and Muhlenberg sporting two losses. But the Mules’ two losses are to Centennial teams that Gettysburg hasn’t even played yet: Johns Hopkins and F&M. The records for each are a little misleading and this game is more evenly matched than the conference standings would suggest, primarily because Gettysburg’s 4-0 conference mark has come at the hands of the four teams at the bottom of the conference standings.

There are 26 winless teams. Pick one to win for the first time.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Worcester State, at Mass-Dartmouth. I was tempted to take 0-4 Pacific Lutheran at 5-0 Whitworth, but if you look closely at the Lancers, they’ve been tied or within one score in the fourth quarter of three of their five losses. It’s a Friday night game in North Dartmouth, where the 3-3 Corsairs are coming off a pair of losses and might be thinking the 0-5 Lancers are an easy win and way to get back over .500.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Hanover, vs. Anderson. Neither team has looked pretty this year — the margins of their losses edge into the realm of the absurd at times. But Hanover’s best game this season came last week against Mount St. Joseph, which was close for almost the entire 60 minutes. If the Panthers can carry that momentum into this Saturday’s game (and do a lot better than giving away four turnovers), it will be able to erase the goose egg from the win column.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire, vs. UW-Stout. The Blugolds’ best chance to get a win this season comes on Saturday night when they host their archrival UW-Stout. The Blue Devils will be making a 24-mile trip east on I-94 to Eau Claire, Wis., where they will be favored, no doubt. But Eau Claire has to get this one, or the next week’s game at La Crosse, in order to keep our Kickoff projection from coming true. The Blugolds finish at UW-Whitewater, home to UW-Platteville, and at UW-Oshkosh.

Pick a player you think will play a large role in leading his team to victory.

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Utica kicker Thomas Woodburn. Yeah, I said it. A kicker is going to sway a game. Woodburn, coming off a 5-for-5 week in field-goal kicking against Brockport State and who is 16 of 17 on the season, is needed more than most place kickers. He’s attempted at least two field goals in five of six games. (Only one of the field goals is longer than 37 yards, which says something about where the Pioneers’ offense tends to stall.) Since Week 2, Woodburn has handled the punting in addition to PATs, field goals and kickoffs. And a team that has played three straight overtime games and four one-score games needs an accurate leg on its side. But beyond all that, in a nine-team Empire 8 in which any team legitimately could beat any of the others, Utica needs Woodburn. The Pioneers, at 4-2, 3-1, are tied with Cortland State for the conference lead and could be playoff-bound for the first time in the 15-year history of the program. St. John Fisher, after a rough start, has won two of its past three against Empire 8 teams and might be able to push Utica to a fourth consecutive overtime game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Albion quarterback Dominic Bona and running back Mike Czarnecki, vs. Adrian. The Britons are a team I’ve been eyeing especially closely this season, and in recent weeks, I’ve gotten a handful of e-mails from fans talking about this Saturday’s matchup. Adrian is one of the bigger conference threats to Albion, and last year, the Bulldogs ruined Albion’s momentum in a big way. This season is different: Bona averages 276 passing yards a game, and Czarnecki is at 156 rushing yards a game — and he’s not even the team’s only 100-yard-plus rusher! (Fellow senior Colin Parks is the other.) If you listened to the ATN podcast this week, you know that these Albion players have thoughts of the playoffs growing in their minds. They’re halfway there.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: North Park quarterback T.D. Conway vs. Elmhurst. Conway struggled last week vs. North Central but has been pretty strong against the rest of the schedule. North Park has played four really good teams this year, three ranked in the top 25. Facing an Elmhurst team which is not quite on the level of Wheaton or North Central should allow Conway to shine. Plus, with Elmhurst running back Josh Williams not at full strength, there will be more opportunities for the Vikings to live up to the other half of this question, namely, winning the game.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Trinity (Texas). The Tigers are 4-1 but outside the top 25 because of a 24-point loss to No. 15 Hardin-Simmons. Trinity plays four of its next five against Austin and Southwestern, but the Kangaroos, Saturday’s opponent, are 3-2. Trinity probably won’t be able to earn top-25 consideration until the Oct. 31 game against Texas Lutheran, but we are watching.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Denison. For all of the talk in the NCAC about Wabash, Wittenberg and, more recently, DePauw, there’s one more team that’s fighting for some recognition: Denison. The Big Red line up against damaged-giant Wittenberg on Saturday. Last year’s game was only a seven-point win by Witt, and that was when Denison was having a down season and Witt was having a good one. I’m interested to see where the winds are shifting now that the Big Red are riding a hot streak.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica at Northwestern (Minn.). I won’t be able to attend this game, unfortunately — I had hoped to do so. But the winner of the game is firmly in the driver’s seat in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, with a chance to run the table in conference play. Should be a great night for a game, and a very competitive one as well.

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.

post

Around the Nation: A great week for D-III football

Let’s see — the No. 1 Division III team beat the NAIA’s No. 1 team, SportsCenter spent significant time on two Division III campuses and we had a great, gutsy schedule of a non-conference game turn into a fantastic contest that was worth the price of admission. We look at those stories, plus, which are the teams on the rise? 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
Photo by Tim Ward, d3photography.com
post

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 D3football.com, 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.