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 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.


Around the Nation: Crazy endings, big showdowns and lots of sacks

Impressive midseason matchups lead to some readjustment, not just in the Top 25 poll but in playoff positioning. No, it’s not too early to talk about some conference races. Plus there was a Division III record set on Saturday, and a bunch of crazy endings to talk about. 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.

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Triple Take: Predictions for a rowdy Week 2 in Division III


Baldwin Wallace rolls out for the 2014 season this week.

Some of my Washington Post coworkers who love college football have spent the week lamenting what a lame slate Division I FBS has got going on this weekend. No such issues here in Division III, which makes it a good week to get out from in front of the TV and go to a game.

There’s one clash of ranked teams, and ten — count ’em, ten — ranked teams taking on pretty good challenges, be they against teams on the fringe of the rankings, teams with recent playoff pedigree or teams expected to push for a conference title and finish with a winning record.

To help make sense of the 200-plus teams in action are Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan (that’s me) and Ryan Tipps:

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at Salisbury:
I’m going to burn up my quota of Wesley picks pretty soon, but with just five games against D-III teams, and any loss putting a Pool B playoff spot in jeopardy, this game has wide-ranging implications. Plus it’s top 25-caliber rivals under the lights (6 p.m. kick). The Wolverines had two defensive starters ejected last week, but safety Sean Hopkins’s suspension for targeting was overturned on appeal, and all-American linebacker Sosthene Kapepula starts this week because getting tossed for two personal fouls doesn’t come with a suspension for the following game.
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport at No. 24 Hampden-Sydney. I’ve been filling in my answers from bottom to top and already used up (beware of spoilers) the Wesley and Rowan games, so I’m looking at other matchups. But I’m also not going to be shy highlighting Hampden-Sydney’s matchup twice in two weeks. The Tigers and Captains are both coming off losses to very physical teams, and the “healing” factor might be the key to who comes away victorious this weekend. Last season, CNU surprised H-SC early and put up the points needed to win. This year, I think both teams are genuinely better than their 2013 incarnations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a matchup between the future winners of the ODAC and USAC.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Bethel at No. 15 Wartburg. I feel like the Midwest guy saying this but I do feel like this is one of the best games of the week and for me, at least, worth the six-hour round trip. After seeing how Wartburg manhandled Augsburg last week, a middle-of-the-pack team in Bethel’s conference, I’m interested to see how they stack up here. Wartburg has that advantage from this being its second game of the season and that’s big. Also, Bethel graduated a ton of receiving prowess, and that helped the program make a jump into the next tier, at least in my opinion. They have been more multi-dimensional the past couple of years. Erik Peterson’s season ended early last year as well because of injury and in his return, he will be facing a defensive front that knows how to get to the quarterback. Primed for an upset, although I don’t generally include games between ranked teams as upset picks or teams most likely to lose.

Surprisingly close game
Keith No. 5 Linfield at Chapman:
I went way out on a limb with this pick in Kickoff, and there’s some logic behind it. The Wildcats have scuffled with good SCIAC teams on the road in the past, and the Panthers are pretty good. Chapman has nine back on offense to Linfield’s three on D. It’s no short trip. And even if the Panthers don’t pull what would be a major upset, for the people across the country who know Linfield as an elite program and don’t really know Chapman, don’t be surprised if it’s close.
Ryan: Methodist at Guilford. So a close game here isn’t going to be a huge surprise aside from the fact that Guilford cleaned up a lot more heartily than Methodist did in Week 1. But there wasn’t any other category that this game fit under – and I wanted to make sure it was highlighted in Triple Take. If I picked the likely conference winners in my Game of the week, listed here are the best-bet runners-up. Scoring should be high in this one, and it very well could be a turnover or two that makes the difference.
Pat: Illinois College at Rose-Hulman. This is a game that I don’t know how to analyze and would love to just see it happen. RHIT is on a bit of an upswing of late and could compete for another (share of a) HCAC title. For IC, this is the only test on the schedule outside of the Midwest Conference opponents.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith No. 24 Hampden-Sydney:
No. 15 Wartburg is more likely to lose, facing No. 7 Bethel, but in the spirit of the category, I’ll pick a ranked team to lose to a non-ranked team. On one hand, H-SC should bounce back from its loss last weekend out at Wabash, especially with what should be a pretty high-powered offense. On the other, Christopher Newport came 47 seconds from shutting the Tigers out in a 17-7 win last season, so this isn’t too much of a stretch.
Ryan: No. 11 St. Thomas. UW-La Crosse is but a shadow of the conference-contending team it fielded a decade or so ago, but the Eagles are also good for an upset here and there, and they maintain themselves as competitive in many of their major outings.
(Editor’s reminder: We don’t consult with each other while making our picks)
Pat: No. 11 St. Thomas. I’ll probably get a phone call or a text or get pulled aside after a game to be asked about this but in the first game so far, St. Thomas had to hold on at the end to beat UW-Eau Claire, and we think UW-La Crosse is another step up the WIAC ladder. Meanwhile, UW-L had a nice first week. UST is a defensive-oriented team at the moment, at least until the offense catches up, and a low-scoring game keeps UW-L in it longer.

Team inactive in Week 1 that’s most impressive in Week 2
Keith: No. 6 North Central.
The Cardinals, with just eight starters back, were built for last season, and nearly made the Stagg Bowl. They have a huge clash with No. 8 UW-Platteville coming up next week, so opening with St. Norbert should be a decent test. They’ll pass with flying colors.
Ryan: No. 6 North Central. Opponent St. Norbert is always good for an above-.500 season (read: SOS bump), which makes a playoff hopeful like North Central happy come seeding time. And the Cardinals likely won’t be feeling behind despite the Green Knights already having a game under their belt. North Central should glide comfortably to a win. (As an aside, St. Norbert is one of those teams that impresses me by scheduling tough in nonconference play year after year, with Wartburg, St. Thomas and John Carroll as some recent opponents. It will likely be another loss for the Green Knights, but at least they’re putting themselves out there.)
Pat: Baldwin Wallace. The Yellow Jackets are one of the three OAC teams that have a Week 1 bye and play non-conference in Week 2 before moving into the conference schedule. Even though Bluffton played last week, an upper-division OAC team should not be fazed by that extra week of preparation.

Team that lost in Week 1 that’s most impressive in Week 2
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More.
The Saints play at Hanover, the second road game of a five-in-six stretch to open the season. The Panthers aren’t bad, but they aren’t Wesley either. I was impressed with Thomas More’s sure tackling and fiesty effort last week, and against normal-for-D-III team speed, the offense should look more like that 40-point-a-game group it was last season.
Ryan: Dickinson. The Red Devils found their fire in the fourth quarter last week against 12th-ranked Hobart. If that can carry over to Week 2 against a Juniata team that has surged from the Centennial depths, then Dickinson will have a lot to look forward to this season.
Pat: No. 24 Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers will be extra motivated not to start 0-2 and also exorcise the demons of last year’s meeting with Christopher Newport. I mean, I assume there are some demons associated with throwing five interceptions and not scoring in the first 59 minutes of the game. That’s a nice first couple of weeks on the schedule for H-SC and CNU and now the Tigers are going to want to make sure they are the team that comes out of it 1-1 and the Captains go 0-2.

Rivalry game that turns out most exciting
Keith: The Secretaries’ Cup.
The Chowder Bowl, won by SUNY-Maritime by one over Mass. Maritime with a late score on Thursday night, got the weekend off to a good start. And not far from Throggs Neck, N.Y., in New London, Conn., Merchant Marine and Coast Guard play in one of the most idyllic settings in college football. The Secretaries’ Cup is full of so much atmosphere (I wrote about it a few years ago) that the game being good is practically a bonus.
Ryan: No. 5 Wesley at Salisbury. Three points, 10 points, nine points, three points … You have to go back more than half a decade to find a matchup between Wesley and Salisbury that wasn’t tense and tightly fought. These two teams annually bring their best when they line up, and the fact that Salisbury moved to the E8 a couple of years ago has done nothing to lessen the intensity that patrols Route 13. Despite the close scores, the Wolverines have owned the Gulls year in and year out for the past decade, which may be the only strike against this matchup from a neutral fan’s perspective.
Pat: The Chowder Bowl. Already played by the time this gets posted (but not yet as of this writing), the two maritime schools getting together just upriver from Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 has to take precedence over everything else.

Best New England performance against a big-conference team
Keith: Bridgewater State.
First off, kudos props to Endicott for stepping up their game and scheduling Hobart, following Framingham State’s date with Rowan and Salve Regina’s with Montclair State. More respect for football in a particular region is earned by winning. And it helps to win on the weeks when folks across the nation are paying attention. I think all three New England teams mentioned have a chance to win, but the best chance is the Bears, at the NJAC’s William Paterson.
Ryan: Rowan at Framingham State. I still have Rowan on my Top 25 ballot, though squeaked in just under the wire. I also picked Framingham State as a near-miss Pool B candidate in Kickoff. Whether it’s the best or not, it’s certainly the one I’m most interested in and the one that will be the most telling in the long run.
Pat: Endicott. Nearly picked for a category before I saw the rest of the questions, I like the Gulls’ chances of keeping it close. You know, in a Western New England-Union kind of way, but probably without the upset. I think Salve has the best chance of a win, but that Endicott might give the best performance.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: Puget Sound.
The Loggers have one win the past three seasons (2011-13). But after an opening-week home victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, they can make it two wins this season Saturday at Occidental. The Tigers didn’t play last week, but have 17 starters back from a 5-4 team, so it might be a lot to ask.
Ryan: Augsburg. I don’t believe that the 40-3 loss that they were dealt in Week 1 represents the kind of team Augsburg really is. I expect the Auggies to bounce back this week against Concordia (Wis.). And if they don’t, well, the MIAC is right around the corner and it isn’t a forgiving place.
Pat: Central. A win vs. Monmouth would virtually assure Central of a 3-0 start heading into the Week 5 game vs. Wartburg (the intervening weeks are a home game vs. Maranatha and a bye). Also, kudos to Monmouth for going out and playing its non-conference games against actual non-Midwest Conference teams (looking at you, Grinnell, Beloit, Cornell).