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.


A new podcast for the new season

Thomas More gets credit for scheduling up, as go a handful of other teams, even though they lost.(Wesley athletics photo)

Thomas More gets credit for scheduling up, as go a handful of other teams, even though they lost.
(Wesley athletics photo)

The eighth season of the Around the Nation Podcast is underway. Pat and Keith run down the big news of the day, plus share their picks for game balls, most interesting stat lines, run through the past week’s predictions and more.

Is it better to schedule down or schedule up in non-conference games? Pat and Keith give their opening week opinions. Plus, please let us know how you feel about the new podcast format, as we continue to tweak it for the 2014 season.

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Triple Take: Watchlist for records

Case Western Reserve
Manny Sicre got nearly half of his rushing yards in Case’s season opener. The Spartans need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs.
Case Western Reserve athletics photo

The season is getting down to the wire, and conference matchups will be decided with each week that goes by. But individual achievements are on the watchlist as well for Saturday. Career records set at Westminster (Mo.) are threatened by players from Dubuque (wide receiver Michael Zweifel) and Monmouth (quarterback Alex Tanney).

Will they fall? Will the weather wreak havoc? Snow? And what races will get clarity? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps offer up their thoughts.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Salisbury at No. 7 Wesley.
In their first year in the Empire 8, the Gulls have certainly approached things with a take-no-prisoners attitude. How else would you describe posting 65, 69 and 70 points on some of the conference’s best teams? Better than ever, quarterback Dan Griffin is getting the job done both through the air and on the ground, totaling 22 touchdowns this season. And the team is plus-11 in turnovers. But Salisbury hasn’t won the annual matchup against Wesley, the Route 13 Rivalry, since 2004. For all the good that Wesley brings to the table year in and year out, they feel somewhat vulnerable this year. Maybe it’s just hard to get a handle on them since three of their seven games have been against non-D-III schools. Nonetheless, if there’s ever been a time for Salisbury to break its losing streak against Wesley, this year is it.
Keith’s take: Birmingham-Southern at No. 23 Trinity (Texas). Aside from Ryan’s pick, the only meeting of top 25 teams this week, the Panthers-Tigers matchup probably has the furthest-reaching consequences. Not only are both teams in the mix for the SCAC title and automatic bid, but their location and previous results give other teams in the playoff hunt a rooting interest in how they do.
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 18 Kean. The loss by Montclair State on the scoreboard and the other one under center have opened the NJAC race up even further. It’s going to get nuts from here. So far, it’s hard to say whether Kean’s football program has gotten distracted by the winds swirling around other Kean athletic teams, but even if not, it’s a key game. Both teams need this.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Widener at Albright.
With a lot to gain and the potential to still win the conference, Widener could pour it on and run away with this game. But if the Pride get caught thinking too much about the conference showdown against Delaware Valley, Albright may be able to catch them sleeping. Aside from one game this season, Albright plays its opponents competitively, so a one-score game isn’t out of the question.
Keith’s take: Wooster at Hiram. Traditionally a pretty good NCAC program, Wooster might seem from an outsider’s view as the team with a chance to get right against the 1-6 Terriers. But look for a tight finish, mostly because both teams struggle mightily at putting points on the board. Hiram is the 229th-ranked scoring offense in the country at a shade more than 10 points per game and No. 225 Wooster isn’t much better at a little more than 12.
Pat’s take: Carthage at North Park. There’s nothing to be gained by picking North Park to win a CCIW game when it hasn’t since time immemorial (actually 2000). But the Vikings have been competitive more often than not, including a 27-24 loss at Augustana last week. Keith keeps talking about the North Park-at-Carthage game from last year where North Park was competitive. A loss would make it 80 consecutive conference games, by my count.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Kean.
It seems a little like Kean’s opponent, Rowan, has flown under the radar this season. Remember last year they were a one-loss team that got snubbed from the postseason while conference-mates Cortland State and Montclair State got to keep playing? This year’s Profs have a lot to be motivated about, and they’re just balanced enough in all facets of the game to keep the opposition guessing. And Kean hasn’t exactly been steamrolling teams this season.
Keith’s take: No. 24 Illinois Wesleyan. This might a week without an upset in the top 25, and this could be a little bit of a reach. But the Titans have to be careful to avoid the hangover that comes from gearing up for a game as big as last week’s clash with North Central, and then the deflating feeling that goes with getting shutout. Millkin hasn’t won since Oct. 1, and if it begins to sniff a chance at victory, IWU’s job is going to get tougher. The Big Blue scores more than 30 points a game, but the Titans are a powerhouse defensively, allowing less than 10.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Wesley. I don’t usually pick ranked games for this, even the home team when higher ranked, but Salisbury is in a good position here to reclaim U.S. 13 for its own and put Wesley deep on the playoff bubble. Salisbury hasn’t been tested in a while but one of the side benefits to the recent blowouts is that they came on the road, where the Sea Gulls couldn’t completely empty the bench because it was left at home. The key players on the two-deep still had a fair amount of playing time. Plus, Salisbury is throwing the ball better than in previous years and that has appeared to be where Wesley struggles defensively.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
The Spartans line up against their stiffest UAA competition, Chicago, this weekend. For my part, Case hasn’t really been on my radar yet. Their games have been close, and Pool B entry to the postseason is scarcer than ever. But, as noted above, Wesley could pick up loss No. 2 this weekend, which means Case should be determined to finish out 9-1 if they hope to make the playoffs. With the selection committee now able to factor in previous playoff performance, Case is in trouble with its few one-and-dones under their belt. So the Spartans shouldn’t simply be looking to win but rather to win convincingly.
Keith’s take: Wartburg. The up-and-down IIAC needs the annual Knights-Dutch clash to help sort the conference title race out. Central has been hot offensively, scoring 119 points in its past two games, and the Wartburg defense — traditionally a strength — has given up 39 and 38. I don’t know quite what to make of this Wartburg team, even this deep into the season, but I hope Saturday provides the most definitive clue yet.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints can’t clinch the automatic bid this weekend at the Metrodome unless they win and Eureka also loses to Northwestern, but they are going to be all but assured of winning the automatic bid from the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference with a win against first-year program Presentation.

Which team with a losing record has the most left to play for?
Ryan’s take: DePauw.
Any season — no matter humbling or below expectations it is — can be salvaged with a win against a bitter rival, in this case Wabash. That’s three weeks away, which means two more games for DPU to fix what may be broke. The Tigers have not been impressive on offense this year, but last week against Ohio Wesleyan, Drew Seaman strung together a 166-yard, three-touchdown performance. That, folks, amounts to a glimmer of hope for a team that’s 2-4 only one season removed from a SCAC title and a playoff run. A chance to find itself, as well as battle for the Monon Bell trophy, gives DePauw plenty to fight for.
Keith’s take: Pacific. Still looking for the first win since reviving the program, the Boxers are 0-7 and coming off of demoralizing losses of 49-6, 49-7 and 48-6, at Willamette, against Linfield, and at Whitworth. Pacific’s best chance to get over that is by beating another potentially demoralized team, in 0-7 conference foe Puget Sound. The Loggers, whose two wins last season were against Pacific, have given up 450 points and 43 points per game. That’s an opportunity for the Boxers offense to get on track.
Pat’s take: Ithaca. At 3-4, and with Frostburg State, Alfred and Cortland State still to come, the Bombers are in danger of seeing their streak of consecutive winning seasons end at 40. It’s not the longest such streak, obviously, but Ithaca is among the historic Division III football programs for a reason. They need to win all three to keep that streak alive. Central’s streak, formerly the second-longest, ended with a 5-5 season in 2003.

If there were no obstacles, and excluding your game of the week pick, where would you like to be this Saturday?
Ryan’s take: Ursinus at No. 14 Johns Hopkins.
I feel like I’m talking about one or the other of these teams almost every week, but if I want to answer honestly, this is the game I want to see. I want to see if JHU is for real this year — as in 2009 playoff-run real. I think they are. JHU can clinch a playoff berth with a win, so there’s plenty at stake for them. Ursinus isn’t the kind of Bears you play dead with though or they’ll eat your team up.
Keith’s take: At Castleton State or Middlebury. I have no qualms going to see the Route 13 rivalry, but if I could be anywhere, Vermont during fall foliage season sounds nice. The Spartans and Panthers are just a 45-minute drive from one another, and the start times are staggered. Castleton plays Gallaudet, and Middlebury faces off with Trinity (Conn.).
Pat’s take: Actually, the game I’ll be at. I feel good about having a chance to be there for history when Dubuque hosts Luther. But more about that in a second.

Do one, both or neither of the Westminster (Mo.) records fall this weekend?
Ryan’s take: One.
I think Monmouth’s Alex Tanney will get the two touchdown passes he needs to break the career mark in that category. His team should be able to make short work of Carroll. However, I don’t think Dubuque’s Michael Zweifel gets the 12 catches he needs to set the career catches record. He’ll probably fall three or four catches short of that mark. But look for him to break it in the Spartans’ last game of the regular season on Nov. 5.
Keith’s take: Both. With 123 career TD passes and five in each of the past two games, Tanney seems a sure bet to break through. The Pioneers have the best defense in the MWC though. Meanwhile, Zwiefel has had 17 or more catches for more than 200 yards twice in his past three games, so whopping numbers are normal for him.
Pat’s take: Both. There’s no way Michael Zweifel doesn’t get those receptions this weekend, in the team’s final home game. Remember who the offensive coordinator reports to. He caught 17 passes last week. Twelve catches is merely right at his average.