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ATN Podcast: Let the speculation begin

Lots of good showdowns this weekend to talk about, and we hit on a bunch, but that’s just the beginning.  What we’re really here to do is talk about the playoffs! Where do we know more about automatic bids? Which at-large teams have a good shot as it stands right now? Who might get the No. 1 seeds? There’s still three weeks left but it’s time to get in the swing of things. 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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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
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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.

Triple Take predictions, Week 10: This is almost it!

wabash-tyler-holmes-480x400-hh

Tyler Holmes and Wabash will try to keep the unbeaten run alive. (Wabash photo by Howard Hewitt)

Week 10. This is almost it.

For a handful of teams, this is it — their season will be over by Saturday evening. For another handful, this is it in the sense that the game that defines the season is this week. And for a few more, this is almost it — there’s one more shot next week, whether that shot is to score a win that influences the playoff selection committee, or just to head into the offseason on a high note.

With regional rankings out and selection Sunday nine days from now, Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I focus on the top end of Division III in this week’s predictions, as a field of 32 will be chosen from the 230 or so that are playoff-eligible. Here are our predictions.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: Ithaca at No. 15 St. John Fisher. The clashes at the top of the MIAC and NCAC are bigger games, but we have a Wabash grad and Minnesota resident here more qualified to handle those. We might overdo the Empire 8 in Triple Take every week, yet this one is huge because it’s the difference between winning the conference and possibly a couple playoff games, as E8 winners have been known to do, and missing the field entirely. Salisbury game aside, the Cardinals have been pretty solid in total defense (275 yards/game, 25th nationally). Ithaca (294/34th) isn’t far behind, and after allowing 38 points to Frostburg State, have allowed just three TDs in two games. To top it off, the past three Bombers-Cardinals clashes have been decided by three, four and three points.
Ryan’s take: No. 9 Wabash at No. 14 Wittenberg. As a Wabash grad, I feel no pressure to *have* to pick this game; fact is, I *want* to pick it. Not only is this one of the two top-25 clashes this weekend, but it also features two teams that have grown into the fiercest of rivals when it comes to talking about the NCAC. Only once since 2004 has a team not named Wabash or Wittenberg won the conference title, and even that was a co-champion situation in which Witt still got the automatic qualifier. The Little Giants and Tigers are at the top of most major statistical categories in the conference, including scoring offense and scoring defense. Makes you wonder what kind of game we’re in for this weekend, huh?
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel at No. 18 St. John’s. The first time I saw these teams play was on another cold Week 10 Saturday, 11 years ago when St. John’s coach John Gagliardi came in with 408 career wins and needed one more to surpass legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson to become the winningest coach in college football history. I don’t expect to see (or be) a member of the national media at this game, nor 14,000 people, but it still has the makings of a classic. The primary question in my mind is how well Bethel’s defense will contain St. John’s running back Sam Sura, and whether the Johnnies will continue to rip a page from the 2003 playbook and put their best receiver in the backfield in a big game. (I mean, if they’re going to throw the ball around 10 times per game, what else does Josh Bungum have to do?)

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: No. 13 Widener at King’s. For a 3-5 team, the Monarchs have pulled off some amazing feats, like managing to play both No. 19 Delaware Valley (24-21 loss last week) and 1-7 Misericordia (36-29 win) even. Three of King’s losses are by a touchdown or less, and they lost by two scores to Lycoming. All that bodes well for another game where they hang close to a superior team. Turnovers are even more key here than usual — Widener has just six giveaways all season, and King’s has 10.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Thomas More. The newcomer vs. a PAC power. Case hasn’t been playing particularly well this season, but one bright spot is that they can handle an opponent’s run game reasonably well. That might not translate into a win against TMC, but it should keep the score somewhat in check.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Willamette at Pacific. Mostly because I don’t know what to do with this game and it should be mentioned. Willamette has to be favored, even though Pacific is in first place in the Northwest Conference at the moment. But Pacific needed overtime to beat Lewis and Clark last week and hasn’t played Linfield yet, so being in first place is cool for the program, but a little misleading at the moment.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Hobart. The discrepancy between the Statesmen’s No. 7 ranking and St. Lawrence’s two votes is the biggest in this week’s conference-title toss-ups. If it weren’t for the Saints’ puzzling 10-7 loss to Norwich early in the season, we’d be billing this as a matchup of 8-0 teams. But what makes the potential for upset here real is that both teams are equally adept at the rare skill of good defense. Hobart has held five opponents to 13 points or fewer, and the three times a team has gone over, it’s needed to get there with a TD in the final minute after the outcome has been decided. St. Lawrence, meantime, is sixth nationally in total defense (219 yards/game, 10 TDs allowed), just ahead of No. 10 Hobart (234/11), and neither team has more than nine turnovers this season. To pull the upset, Mike Lefflbine and the Saints’ offense will have to figure out how to score on Hobart, which might not be likely, but it’s more possible than the disparate rankings might make it seem.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Hobart. St. Lawrence hasn’t been squeaking by most teams on the schedule; instead the Saints have been leaving few questions about who’s the best team on the field each week. SLU allows just 11 points a game — a mere 0.1 better than Hobart’s average in that category — and should be able to use its pass-leaning offense to keep the Statesmen on their toes. The winner of this will most likely end up being the Liberty League’s playoff representative. (Of course, if SLU wins, perhaps the LL would send two teams?)
Pat’s take: No. 21 Chapman. At some point we may well see Chapman take over the top dog spot in the SCIAC, possibly this year. But it’s easier to believe the previous champion will hang on to its throne, perhaps for one extra season.

Pinpoint a game that will decide a conference race this weekend
Keith’s take: No. 21 Chapman at Redlands, SCIAC. If Chapman wins, the conference would be wrapped up with a tidy bow. Redlands, however, can delay the crowning another week, because next week’s opponent, Occidental, isn’t eliminated yet, despite a 59-21 loss to Chapman in October. Redlands has been off the national radar since being outscored 72-3 in season-opening losses to No. 2 UMHB and No. 11 Linfield, which beat Chapman 21-14. The Panthers, who run for 253 yards a game and pass for 211, could lose and still end up winning the tiebreaker (Rose Bowl rule?) anyway. They could bypass the complications with a win.
Ryan’s take: Franklin at Defiance, HCAC. After misreading the schedule last week, I feel obligated to renew the spotlight I put on this game. The Grizzlies are undefeated in conference play and hold tiebreakers over every one- and two-loss team in the HCAC. Not that it will come to that. A win this weekend means that Franklin is in the playoffs no matter what happens elsewhere in the conference. Consider the conference decided.
Pat’s take: Illinois Wesleyan at Wheaton (Ill.), CCIW. This isn’t a winner-take-all game and probably won’t be much of a battle. But with a win, Wheaton will pick up its ninth victory for the first time since 2010 and clinch its first playoff bid since then as well. Illinois Wesleyan has struggled to find a quarterback this season, and Wheaton appears to have found its signal-caller.

Pinpoint a conference race that will not be decided this weekend
Keith’s take: ODAC. Guilford must win at Hampden-Sydney this week and Emory & Henry next weekend to win the conference title. The Quakers, who lost 47-31 to Shenandoah a few weeks ago, are no more likely to get it done than the Tigers, who were cruising through the conference before a 34-9 loss to Bridgewater last week. H-SC needs to beat Guilford and rival Randolph-Macon in Week 11 to take the crown, while E&H has home games against Shenandoah and then Guilford, but lost 49-27 to H-SC in October. If it feels like every conference team still is in the mix somehow, well, duh, it’s the ODAC.
Ryan’s take: ECFC. Husson appears in control of the conference, being undefeated and cruising convincingly through most of its games. But the Eagles’ real challenge to their postseason hopes won’t come until Week 11 when they travel to Mount Ida, which has just one conference loss. Both Husson and Mount Ida play 0-8 teams this weekend, so there’s every reason to expect that they’ll remain on track for their final-week collision.
Pat’s take: MWC. We might not even know immediately on conclusion of the games on Saturday who will be playing in the Midwest Conference title game and tiebreakers might be required. In the North Division, if Macalester defeats St. Norbert, they win the division and play for the title next week. If St. Norbert wins and Carroll beats Beloit, then there’s a three-way tie and it comes down to how many quarters each team led. (If St. Norbert wins and leads all four quarters in the process, they play for the automatic bid). In the South Division, Cornell plays Illinois College for a share of the title. If Illinois College wins, it plays for the title. Cornell can  force a tie with a win and Monmouth can make it a three-way tie with a win vs. Knox. (Monmouth has not lost a game to Knox in the history of D3football.com.) Look for teams to take an early lead and keep trying to score.

Predict the outcome of a game outside the playoff picture
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Wesleyan. Amherst has already locked up best-team-in-the-NESCAC honors, and is aiming to finish 8-0 by beating 2-5 rival Williams. There’s maybe more intrigue in Tufts going for its fifth win this season at Middlebury, after not winning a game from 2010-13. But the Cardinals got drubbed by their Bantam rivals last season, so that’s all the story line needed for this one. It’s the final game for Wesleyan DB Jake Bussani, the active career leader in interceptions (17) and passes defensed (38), and a big reason why the Cardinals are top-five nationally in pass efficiency defense. The player behind Bussani on the career interceptions list, UW-Whitewater’s Brady Grayvold (16), plays almost as many games in two seasons (30, for the frequent Stagg Bowl participants) as Bussani has had in his four-year career (32). It’s only fitting that he makes one final big play and helps Wesleyan avenge last year’s loss.
Ryan’s take: Kenyon at Wooster. The season really derailed for the Scots midway through October, and the best chance they have at a rebound is this game. It certainly should happen. Yet without a win here, Wooster will almost certainly be riding on fumes when it visits Ohio Wesleyan in the season finale.
Pat’s take: Alfred State at Washington U. Not difficult to predict the Bears will win this game, but I just wanted to bring this game to the radar and give some kudos to Alfred State and Wash. U. for making the most of a bad situation. Both teams got dropped by Maranatha Baptist this season when the Bearcats couldn’t reliably field a football team, but rather than have Alfred State swallow its airfare, they continue to travel this weekend and end up in St. Louis instead of Watertown, Wis. As for Maranatha, there’s a lot of recruiting to do this offseason to get up into the 40s or 50s instead of opening the season with 30 players and dropping to the low 20s.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Montclair State. An afterthought coming into the season because it totaled nine wins in 2012 and ’13, wins No. 8 and 9 this season would clinch the NJAC and potentially a winnable first-round home game against a team from New England in Round 1. Before they get that far ahead though, the Red Hawks have to get past 7-2 Morrisville State, which has come close a couple times in recent seasons, but hasn’t beaten Montclair State.
Ryan’s take: Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs’ placement in the NCAA’s regional rankings compared with Centre have me curious about a 9-1 team getting picked ahead for Pool B over an undefeated team. It’s a bit unexpected, but that makes TLU’s game against a 5-3 Austin this week all that much more crucial.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh. The Titans won’t lose this weekend, and although their strength of schedule will drop, they’ll likely stay in the regional rankings until next week, when they face UW-Platteville.

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.