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Triple Take, Week 6: Crossing the halfway point

When Bridgewater State and Mass-Dartmouth kick off on Friday night, it will mark the beginning of Week 6 in Division III, the first of 106 games. In our traditional 11-week season, it also means we’ll be crossing the halfway point, and by now should have a fair idea of what teams are and are going to be this season. Most teams are playing their fifth game of ten this week, and a handful are playing game six.

But half a season remaining means there’s plenty of time to write the final chapters of these various stories, and for us to observe how they unfold. For some teams, it starts on Saturday, and that’s why one of the seven Triple Take questions this week asks whether a team will begin to change its fortunes, for better or worse, with this weekend’s result.

As always, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I provide primers on the week ahead. Add your picks in the comment section below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 14 Rowan at Salisbury. The host Sea Gulls are the nation’s second-most-successful rushing offense, at more than 391 yards per game. The Profs are top 20 against the run, allowing fewer than 77 yards per game. Classic ‘something’s got to give’ matchup. But it’s game-of-the-week quality for another reason: As members of the newfangled NJAC, both have No. 5 Wesley still ahead on the schedule and can’t afford the conference loss here. The Sea Gulls, whose Week 1 blown lead against Albright looks less bad with each passing week, won’t be in a good place for an at-large bid with another defeat either. Salisbury’s game at TCNJ last week was cancelled, so they’re surely itching to get back on the field.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 15 UW-Oshkosh. I had originally done a writeup on the Rowan/Salisbury game for this spot, but the more I thought of it, the more it seemed like that game was the lone possibility of an upset. So I moved that one to my upset game and figured it best to point to the one matchup between top-25 teams. The thing is, Oshkosh isn’t on my ballot yet because I haven’t seen what they’re capable of in a challenging situation. A win or a close loss could really win me over for the Titans. Whitewater has had two very difficult weeks back to back, and Oshkosh will make it a third. The question may be whether the Warhawks are thoroughly battle tested because of these games or whether they’re getting worn down by their constant intensity.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Washington and Lee at Hampden-Sydney. After Matt Pawlowski’s injury last week threw the Old Dominion Athletic Conference race even further open, this game follows right on its heels. It’s still early in the ODAC season and both teams are 1-0 in conference games, but W&L has taken down one of the contenders already. Like many option attacks, the Generals offense has had varied success over the years, but is on an upswing this year behind trigger man Charlie Nelson. The defense has given up a lot of yards on the ground this season, but it’s unclear what kind of rushing game the Tigers have to throw at them — H-SC did run a lot last week, but it was in the rain and in a run-out-the-clock type of game. It might not be a four-overtime game like it was in 2012, but I look for an entertaining battle.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Berry at No. 24 Chicago. The Maroons have cracked the D3football.com top 25 for the first time, a big accomplishment for the alma mater of the first Heisman Trophy winner and former Big Ten school coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Sparked by two huge Chandler Carroll rushing days, Chicago is averaging nearly 35 points per game and is 4-0. Berry has quietly won four straight since a Week 1 loss to Maryville, and allowed just 29 points in the process (7.5 per game). The Vikings probably aren’t stout enough defensively to hold Chicago down for a full game, but it could be low-scoring and close for a while.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Redlands at Cal Lutheran. At 1-2, the Bulldogs appear on paper to have had a slow start to their season, but when one of the early opponents is Linfield, that’s just how things are going to look. Previous years have started with losses, too, when the likes of Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Pacific Lutheran in its prime were on the schedule. Undefeated Cal Lutheran has been winning, but they’ve been doing it in an up-and-down fashion, having to mount a big comeback in one game and fend off a late surge in another. Knee-deep in conference play, these two teams now have a lot riding on this matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Stevens Point at No. 12 UW-Platteville. If nothing else, we’ll find out exactly how good the Pointers are and if they’ll be a threat to the Warhawks later, or to the Pioneers this week. Losing at Albion in Week 1 knocked Stevens Point off the radar and the Pointers haven’t played anyone since then to get themselves back on it, but they could do so on Saturday.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 18 Cortland State. The Red Dragons have won in overtime in back-to-back weeks and have been on an amazing run of last-minute finishes since last season’s Cortaca Jug game. Buffalo State is coming off a 30-7 win against St. John Fisher behind backup quarterback Aaron Ertel’s three-touchdown-pass, no-interception day. Jon Mannix, Jake Smith and Steven Ferreira have all scored game-winners for Cortland State, and against Framingham State, the punt coverage team preserved the victory while leading by five in the final seconds. One has to wonder how long Cortland’s heroics can go on.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Rowan. If not for a miniscule Week 1 stumble against Albright, Salisbury would be on a lot more people’s radars (and the fact that Albright is borderline top 25 makes that loss all the more forgivable). Rowan’s weakness is that it hasn’t been able to put up many points this season, especially in the past two weeks. The team relies too much on its defense (to its credit, a stout one). These two teams haven’t played each other since 2012, and it’s difficult to slow a triple-option team like Salisbury if you’re not used to playing against that kind of offense. If the Profs win, their No. 14 spot in the poll will be more than justified. If Salisbury wins, we will almost certainly see them back in the national discussion and will start analyzing their conference showdown with Wesley in November.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 14 Rowan. I have to go here, as well, to back up my take from the Around the Nation podcast. The question in my mind is how much Salisbury will have the ball — the Profs not only have the defense that Ryan notes, but they also have Wit Marcelin, who can help them control the clock and pound out long drives. The Profs won’t control the ball for the 41 minutes like they did against William Paterson, but if they can get close, they have a shot to control this game. But you can also bet that Rowan has scoured the video of that Salisbury-Albright game for what secrets it holds to beating the Sea Gulls. (And completely ignored the Salisbury-Southern Virginia video.)

Which team went into overtime last week but will be able to breathe easily late in this week’s game?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Lebanon Valley. Going from playing Lycoming one week to FDU-Florham the next isn’t the contrast is once was, but the Devils’ 40-7 loss to Delaware Valley looked like the FDU of old. The Flying Dutchmen are 2-3, but have played Franklin & Marshall, Stevenson and Widener closely. Lebanon Valley is also one of the five least-penalized teams in the country, one of the 25 best at third-down defense, and they rush for 251 yards per game. FDU-Florham (2-2) is getting an eye-opening season from wide receiver Malik Pressley, but he won’t be any help to a rush defense that is ranked 231st in D-III, allowing 259 yards per game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ripon. Part of why I’m zeroing in on the Hawks is because it’s probably been a couple of seasons since I mentioned them in Triple Take. Ripon has just one blemish this season, and week to week, they’ve been getting better at scoring points. Opponent Macalester doesn’t rate too highly statistically on stopping the run game, which is where Ripon’s strength lies.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Chapman. At 0-3, the Panthers already have lost more games than they did the previous two seasons combined. It shouldn’t take until October for a playoff team to get its first win the following season, but that’s one of the dangers of the nine-game schedule. Chapman should find Pomona-Pitzer an easier opponent than Linfield, Whitworth and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Pick a team that will benefit from playing at home in Week 6

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Amherst. Although Middlebury is way up in Northern Vermont, it’s still only a three-hour drive from Amherst. The Lord Jeffs’ crowd probably won’t rival one for a season-ending Williams game, but this might turn out to be the clash that decides the NESCAC, so some fans should show. I’m not sure if the Lord Jeffs’ offense under Matt Ballard still resembles a blur (please read this 2011 Chuck Klostermann piece about the offense under now-AD Don Faulstick if you never have), but Amherst has run 166 plays in two games (83 per) so it probably does. Its defense is also stout, as one would expect after opening with Bates and Bowdoin. But since the Lord Jeffs’ D has to deal with Middlebury QB Matt Milano (and perhaps Jared Leibowitz) in a big early-season game, it can’t hurt to have the home crowd on its side. (Our friends at Nothing but NESCAC preview the showdown here.)
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Emory and Henry. The Wasps’ game against Bridgewater is shaping up to be a good one, with both teams entering 3-1 — the lone loss for each of them comes against teams that are undefeated. Most interesting is that this year’s ODAC is similar to the untemplated ODACs we’ve seen in recent years, where teams at the bottom still compete hard and there is vulnerability at all stages. Hampden-Sydney wasn’t a clear favorite going into the season but is doing well, Washington and Lee is riding an undefeated streak, and Guilford isn’t going to slide much after just one loss — all of that in addition to E&H and BH2O both poised to challenge. If I were in this game, I’d want to be at home in front of my own fans. It’s a big one.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Although the Aggies were largely written off before the season started thanks to its graduation losses, then even more so after a Week 2 loss at Wilkes, Delaware Valley is still here and still in contention for the MAC title. The Aggies also control their destiny, with all the teams ahead of them in the standings still to come on their schedule. In this case, with Stevenson coming to Doylestown, Delaware Valley can get itself one step closer to returning to the top of the conference.

Pick a team whose result will change its fortunes to date

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Puget Sound. It’s been good to see the Loggers finally taste a bit of success, and with Whitworth good again, I can’t believe I’m highlighting this game. But the feel-good nature of the UPS’s start might take a hit when the Pirates cross Washington state for this one. The Loggers have managed to start 2-1 with a defense that’s 189th overall (435 yards/game) and 212th against the pass. The Loggers’ offense is almost all pass, and it’s worked so far. But Whitworth is 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense, with eight interceptions, while facing teams trying to come back from big deficits. The Pirates have also scored between 37 and 47 points in all of their wins.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: DePauw. DPU’s win streak likely ends here against No. 20 Wittenberg. But kudos to DePauw for even being a team in this position, a far cry from where they were just a couple of seasons ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the only loss they carry into their rivalry showdown with Wabash in Week 11.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Finlandia. Can’t go more than a few days without mentioning the first-year program and the Lions have a shot at the program’s first winning streak with Presentation coming to town. The Saints, whom you might remember once lived in Division III and the UMAC, are a more-established program, but not a strong one, and they have a 10-hour bus ride to get to Hancock, Mich. But even if Finlandia doesn’t win this game, I expect the Lions to be competitive for the second week in a row and that’s an important milestone for the program as well.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 15 UW-Oshkosh. Since a season-opening, non-division 23-21 loss to Robert Morris-Chicago, the Titans have outscored opponents, 190-14. The Titans are currently top 10 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense. Their competition (Finlandia, North Park and UW-Stout) has been so overmatched, it’s been hard to get a read on how the Titans would stack up against top D-III teams. UW-Whitewater is No. 1 because of reputation, as well as solid wins at Morningside and against UW-Platteville, so I’ll be watching both teams to see how they compare, how they affect the playoff picture and whether Saturday’s loser is an at-large bid candidate.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern. Very few teams come away from Alliance looking good, but the Polar Bears have several reasons to be happy with how this season is playing out. A win against Mount isn’t what I’m expecting, but if ONU can hold their own with no more than a two-score margin, they will be worth paying attention to.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific and No. 3 Linfield. Actually, rather than relying on radar, I’ll have them on visual, as I’ll be seeing the Boxers and Wildcats live Saturday afternoon in McMinnville, Ore. I’ll primarily be looking for something to make me feel confident in voting Linfield No. 1, but also looking to see Pacific for the first time.

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 5: October is here, and so are conference rumbles

Believe it or not, the first month of the season has gone by. And as the calendar flips from September to October, the Dubuque at Pacific and Wesley at North Central matchups turn to the more familar: Central at Wartburg, Washington & Jefferson at Thomas More and the like.

Of course, as the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, NACC, NWC, ODAC, SCIAC, USAC and the WIAC get conference play underway, there are some unfamiliar matchups as well. In the ASC, which along with the MWC has had just one league game played, Belhaven at Mary Hardin-Baylor is a conference clash. Rowan at Christopher Newport is now an NJAC game.

The four-team SCAC aside, league games in Division III’s 28 conferences will be underway as of this week. It’s not normal to follow that many conferences, so our abormal prognosticators — Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I — provide our seven-point primers in hopes of making sense of it all. Add your picks in the comment section below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. The WIAC clash could earn top bill here, but that has more of a defined favorite, and less on the line, since UW-Platteville has already scored a big non-conference win. The PAC teams might have more at stake; Thomas More missed the playoffs at 9-1 in 2013. It then upgraded the schedule by adding Wesley, lost, and missed the field at 8-2 last season. Both years included big losses to W&J (45-21 and 51-28). This season, if the Saints still can’t stop the Presidents, they at least look like a better bet to keep pace. You might know TMC from their All-American running back the past few years, but QB Jensen Gephardt is the nation’s third most-efficient passer. Look for his throws to Goose Cohorn, and either team’s defense generating turnovers as the difference in the game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 13 Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. The Saints, which average almost 60 points a game, have the second-best scoring offense in the nation. But W&J isn’t far behind on the list with 43 points a game. This will be a game that has the potential to see some wild offense come alive, and it would be of little surprise for it to be a back-and-forth slugfest. TMC holds the edge going into this one with more muscle and more balance on both sides of the ball. Yet all it takes is a well-timed turnover to shift the momentum of a matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: What they said. But also No. 14 UW-Platteville at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. Just to get in some info on another game here. Last week’s game couldn’t have come at a better time for Whitewater. The adjustment in terms of speed of game and quality of opponent for Whitewater last week was pretty necessary to prepare the Warhawks for the conference schedule. It took a while for the passing game to come around, but if Whitewater comes out ready to fire on Saturday, they should be in good shape. On the other hand, Platteville has to come out with a lot of confidence after the success it had in the non-conference schedule, and the Pioneers have had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 Ithaca at Utica. While the Bombers have the ranking and the name recognition, the Pioneers are still under the radar. (See what I did there? Bombers. Radar. Eh?) The case for Utica is that they’re 2-2, but with seven-point losses at Ohio Northern and at Cortland State surrounding an impressive win against Morrisville State. The Pioneers are back at home, and while Ithaca’s scores might lead one to believe they’re a little more offensively inclined than usual, Utica can keep pace, and Ithaca is still top 10 in passing efficiency defense and top 20 in rushing defense. Plus, it’s the Empire 8, so anything can happen.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Hardin-Simmons at Trinity. I’m high on Trinity’s potential this year, but the reality of it is that the Tigers haven’t been tested much. Trinity’s opponents are 1-10 this season, and the margins haven’t been what we’d expect to see from a team that can compete with the top of the ASC. What could keep Trinity in this one, though, is the defense — with pick-master Jai Boatman in the secondary, Luke Packard coming off D3football.com Team of the Week honors and linebacker Julian Turner averaging 14 tackles a game. Confidence should be high that they can at least slow this HSU squad.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Any game in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. The potential of torrential rain makes this weekend interesting on the field. (And please, everyone, be safe off of it.) Rainy weather will favor the teams which run the ball well and play good defense, and if you need a real-world reminder, just review the UW-Whitewater/Morningside game. Option teams will have less of an advantage because of the way they pitch the ball around. Keep an eye out for results that look odd on paper. Paper is hard to read when it gets wet.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 18 Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys sneaked into the top 25, largely because of their Week 2 win at Texas Lutheran. But we don’t really know how good they are. Weston Garner, Jessie Ramos and company have another chance to prove it Saturday at Trinity (Texas), which is surprisingly 4-0. As Pat remarked on the podcast, this takes us back to the early 2000s when these two teams were national powers.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. If only because the top of the MIAC is so good that teams are vulnerable week after week. Opponent Concordia-Moorhead’s only blemish is to St. John’s, while Bethel has a loss only to Wartburg. No matter who comes away with the victory here, it’ll be the team’s first upper-tier win of the season.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 11 John Carroll. Not to keep sounding this horn week after week. I’ll just leave the team name here and hope that I don’t need to say anything else.

Pick a team that will win a shootout

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Guilford, at Washington & Lee. The nation’s No. 4 passing offense (the Quakers average 384.7 yards a game) and No. 3 total offense (639.3) meet the No. 1 rushing offense (509.7) and No. 10 total offense (562.3). Those numbers should come down a bit as the ODAC rivals face tougher competition in one another, but they do what they do. Guilford QB Matt Pawlowski will complete passes to Adam Smith, Daniel Woodruff and Rontavious Miller, and W&L counterpart Charlie Nelson will hand off to Duncan Maxwell or one of three other ballcarriers or keep it himself as the Generals whiz past in every direction. Whichever team can muster enough defense to slow the other probably pulls this one out.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mass-Dartmouth, at Framingham State. The MASCAC hasn’t been known for defense this fall, and shootouts seem to be commonplace. That will be no less likely when the conference’s only 3-1 teams meet. The Corsairs average more than 500 yards a game, while the Rams are just behind that with 472. The Rams’ weakness, though, is that their offense is one-dimensional — lots of passing, little run. The Corsairs will be more likely to make Framingham’s defense work for the win by spicing up the offensive approach and keeping the Rams guessing.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 17 UW-Oshkosh at UW-Stout. Stout has proven the ability to put points on the board this season against good teams (see Bethel, Wartburg) and UW-Oshkosh will score as well. As long as Stout’s offense remains healthy, it’ll be able to put up points against a good number of teams. Last year, that group was so debilitated that you can’t judge the Blue Devils based on those results.

Pick a team that will win a defensive battle

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 15 Rowan, at Christopher Newport. Pat and I had the same idea, except what I would put in this category he used under surprisingly close (although I don’t know what’s surprising about unpredictably close games in hurricane weather). In the interest of singling one team out, the Profs are already strong defensively — they’ve allowed just 20 points in three games, two on the road and two against teams that won eight or more games last season. Rowan is on the road again, in Newport News, which might not get the brunt of the hurricane, but will be sloppy by the time the game kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday, if it stays on schedule. Look for Darren Dungee, Josh Popper and Anthony Rizzolo to add to their defensive stats in a low-scoring affair.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: RPI, vs. Merchant Marine. Both teams are coming off shaky games and will be looking to re-establish themselves on the field. Not only are both of these teams’ strengths in their defensive units, but their offenses leave a little to be desired. RPI should pull this one out, but it would be no surprise to see a finish in the vicinity of 17-13.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific, vs. Pacific Lutheran. PLU has only played twice in the first four weeks of the season, while Pacific has an extra game under its belt. I’m looking for this game to qualify as a low-scoring one. What qualifies as low-scoring in college football these days?

Which team will win a challenging conference opener?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater. If we’re being totally honest, the Warhawks are ranked No. 1 because of what they’ve accomplished under Lance Leipold. However, new coach Kevin Bullis is off to a 3-0 start, including an impressive win over then-NAIA No. 1 Morningside. Now we’ve got a WIAC opponent, and a tough one at that. But if we’re being totally honest, the Pioneers are fortunate to be undefeated, as North Central had them on the ropes and just didn’t deliver the knockout blow. So it’s a bit of a prove-it game for both, and since Bullis (a longtime WIAC assistant) and his charges are no stranger to what they’ll be facing, and the Warhawks get to play at The Perk, one has to assume they’ll do what they do. But in a wise bit of scheduling, Mike Emendorfer’s team has had two weeks to prepare for UW-Whitewater.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Finlandia, vs. Maranatha Baptist. I know I’m stretching the definition of “conference” since the independents aren’t technically one. Regardless, the upstart from the Upper Peninsula has been throttled week after week — opponents have put up 272 points; the Lions have scored just nine. Finlandia did notch  its first touchdown of the season last week, so that’s a perk. Going into this week, the team can expect to see something totally different than what it’s dealt with in recent weeks — a team not from the WIAC. In fact, if Finlandia has a winnable game on its schedule, it’s this one against Maranatha Baptist. The Sabercats haven’t been through the meat grinder against the kind of competition Finlandia has faced, so if Finlandia is healthy, they should be prepared for this one. But, I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that every game in a startup’s season is going to be challenging.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Adrian, at Olivet. One of the key games of the MIAA season is this one, right out of the gate. There’s not much in the way of common opponents to judge these teams on, so I’ll be taking the team that has played the stronger schedule so far, even if that’s picking against the team that has the home-field advantage.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Widener. So I’m still not sure what to make of the Pride, but at 2-2 and 2-1 in the MAC, they have to have this game at Wilkes, which aside from its 12-7 upset of Delaware Valley has lost every game. What’s surprising is Widener is second in the nation in passing yards allowed, seventh in getting off the field on third downs and top 2o in total defense. It is also even in turnover margin, so either the stats are lying or Widener is a breakout team lying in wait. Which means now against the Colonels and next week against Misericordia are the times to show it, because 4-0 Stevenson follows them.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Centre. The Colonels had won 14 straight regular-season games, and there were high hopes for another sweep through the SAA. Chicago ruined that streak with a 49-30 outing last weekend. But the test of a good team is how well it bounces back after defeat. Centre’s opponent, Hendrix, is 2-1 to start the season, and both teams have quarterbacks who excel — expect a lot of offense. I’ll be on site in Danville, Ky., on Saturday to personally see how this one plays out.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Hendrix. I’m actually going to take the opposite side of this game from my colleague. Hendrix is on the upswing here and will go as far as quarterback Seth Peters can carry them. What the program lacks so far, though, is an ability to win on the road. They can put that struggle behind them in a memorable way on Saturday. But if they don’t, it will still be one more step on the road to growing a program.

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: Big games and close calls

We might question whether some teams are as good as we think, and some Top 25 voters might be asking the same questions. Other teams are right where everyone thought they would be. And in some places, there’s new excitement and new life for football. We look at those teams, 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