Triple Take, Week 5: Let the conference rumbles begin

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at Linfield. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at the Wildcats. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

If it hasn’t already where you’re from, conference play begins in Week 5. From the ASC to the WIAC (and places in between — the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, ODAC and SCIAC get underway, while all but one game has yet to be played in NJAC and NWC), the games against familiar rivals are on deck. Twenty-four of the 28  conferences come with an automatic bid, so even though it’s too early to talk postseason, it’s never too early to consider playoff implications. Saturday’s games mean something long term.

In short, though, we have a doozy upon us this weekend. Pat, Ryan and I sift through which of the 244 teams are most worth keeping an eye on, via seven categories.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 12 Bethel. The game in Washington, Pa. is more likely to be a defacto conference title game, but the one in Arden Hills, Minn. has even more on the line, and could feature the best-played football in the country on Saturday. The Cobbers and Royals each practice the lost art of playing defense, ranking in the national top 20 in total (averaging 263 and 241 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (a shade under 13 points per game each). Although Bethel is already on thin ice because of its season-opening loss to Wartburg, the MIAC has sent two teams to the playoffs nine times since the expansion in 1999, and this might end up a preview of this year’s duo. On top of all that, this insane thing happened last time these teams met at Bethel, and the specter of that game hangs over this one.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 14 Pacific Lutheran. I’m filing my take early, so I don’t get to see what Pat and Keith have written, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose this game, too. Never mind the fact that it’s a matchup between top-25 teams, but it has also grown into a marquee conference clash over the past few seasons. And it’s almost becoming a tradition for these two squads to meet twice in the fall, once in the regular season and then again in the first round of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, both are undefeated, and both have stout defenses. And because Linfield is excelling offensively with the pass while PLU is doing so with the run, these two teams would be candidates for the “contrasting styles” question farther down in Triple Take, if they weren’t so highly ranked, that is.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson. While all of those conferences listed above are getting started, the PAC is deep into its conference schedule, which started in Week 1 because of the conference’s expansion to include Carnegie Mellon and Case. With Thomas More already having taken a loss and the committee having passed over 1-loss PAC teams in the past because of strength of schedule, there may only be room for one PAC team in this year’s playoffs. Barring a later upset, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to get that spot.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Gallaudet at Anna Maria. The Bison won nine games, made the playoffs and had an NFL prospect last season. The AmCats are in their sixth football season, and have six wins total. But you can expect this one to be surprisingly close, if only because neither side can really score. Anna Maria has seven touchdowns in three games this season, but that’s seven more than Gallaudet, who have been outscored 50-2 so far. They’re part of the reason why, in contrast with conferences like the ASC, OAC and ODAC, where teams average more than 33 points per game, the ECFC is the nation’s lowest-scoring conference, at 15.41 points per team per game. There will probably be some success for both offenses on Saturday, but the casts have changed since last season, so don’t expect a playoff team vs. doormat blowout.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps at Hendrix. I’m looking forward to seeing this showdown happen. After the Majors got blasted by East Texas Baptist last week, there are a lot of questions hanging around for a team that was 9-1 last year but starts 2014 at 1-2. Tackling needs to improve; turnovers need to stop. ETBU’s 715 yards of total offense is a scary thing, and Millsaps should be scared if the team can’t keep those kinds of numbers in check going forward. But while Millsaps is a team on the slide, Hendrix appears to be one on the rise. A 3-0 start is something for the Warriors to be very happy about, and the fact that they were able to have their offense step up in games, as well as the defense to shine, shows how versatile this second-year program can be.
Pat’s take: Washington U. at Berry. One could play the comparative scores game because already this year, Rhodes has played both Berry and Wash U. But I just expect this to be close because it’s a bit of a trip for the Bears and Berry is getting better. They only lost to Rhodes 12-0 and lost 28-27 at LaGrange.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 UW-Platteville. I ruled out the top-25 clashes as picks here, and the luster is off games like Salisbury at No. 7 St. John Fisher and No. 8 Wartburg at Central. Even Louisiana College at No. 4 Wesley isn’t as exciting as it first appeared. So to truly go out on a limb, I’ll take 0-3 UW-Eau Claire, playing at Carson Park in the WIAC opener. The Blugolds have only scored 24 points this season, which makes this an even more risky pick, but they’ve played three perennial midwest powers  St. Thomas, St. John’s and Wheaton. UW-Platteville makes four current top 25 teams in four weeks for UW-EC, and if the Blugolds are not demoralized, they could catch the Pioneers sleeping. Last year, Eau Claire led at halftime and after a 98-yard third-quarter kick return before Platteville scored the final four TDs. UW-P this year has been a bit of an enigma, winning by 60 in Week 1 and squeezing past Dubuque in Week 2, and it’s had two weeks to stew over a 28-7 loss to North Central. So the upset is no small task.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. While this qualifies for this category because the Saints are in the Top 25, it barely counts as an upset when the opponent is undefeated conference rival Washington and Jefferson. Not to mention that both are statistically in the top 10 in total offense in the nation.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Lycoming, I suppose. The MAC unbeaten teams will start to knock each other off this week. In order to believe Stevenson can beat Lycoming, however, one has to think that Stevenson is ready to make a big leap forward. The Mustangs were fairly dominant in Week 1 vs. North Carolina Wesleyan but have won the next three games by a touchdown apiece, so they’re barely hanging onto this 4-0. They won’t be able to get away with 4-for-18 passing this week.

Pick a team that will open conference play in dramatic fashion
Keith’s take: Willamette, vs. George Fox. The dramatics for the Bearcats might be of the record-setting variety as opposed to the last-second type. Willamette rushes for 285 yards a game, has had two weeks since a 42-28 win at Cal Lutheran, and faces first-year George Fox, which has allowed 1,028 yards in its two losses. The real curiosity might be finding out just how many NWC contenders there are, which means you’ll have to pay attention to Linfield-PLU and Whitworth-Pacific as well this weekend.
Ryan’s take: Redlands, at Pomona-Pitzer. An 0-2 record doesn’t tell us much if those two games came against No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 5 Linfield. The Bulldogs were expected to lose both of them (maximum chalk). But this week is Redlands’ chance to show what they learned from those experiences and put the lessons into action. Opponent Pomona-Pitzer should be a great way to make sure everything is clicking, to earn a win – and be set for the following week against Cal Lutheran and later against the rest of the SCIAC.
Pat’s take: Augustana, vs. Elmhurst. The CCIW opens this weekend with the potential for three blowouts, while this game, between teams expected to be in the middle of the conference, has the potential for some heroics. It matched a couple of players who have already had standout individual performances this year: Augustana defensive back Tim Maroder (four interceptions vs. Loras) and Elmhurst running back Josh Williams (306 rushing yards at Olivet).

Which team lost badly last week, but will bounce back?
Keith’s take: Southern Virginia, at Kean. Since these teams lost 47-7 to No. 4 Wesley and 73-7 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday, facing each other should be a relief. Both teams are 0-3. The Knights have a significant road trip to North Jersey ahead, but they’ve faced three high-powered offenses in Methodist, Guilford and Wesley. Kean has managed just 49 points total this season. (Millsaps, facing Hendrix after a 68-15 loss to ETBU, is a candidate here as well.)
Ryan’s take: Williams, at Bates. Sure, it’s tough to come off of a 38-0 loss to Trinity (Conn.), but if Williams can channel some of the success it found two weeks ago in its opener from quarterback Austin Lommen and running back Alex Scyocurka, then there’s a good chance that the Ephs can look sharp this weekend against Bates.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh, vs. UW-Stout. The Titans had a bye this past week, but they are 0-3 coming into this game, having not played a single Division III school. Getting to play UW-Stout will be better than playing South Dakota State, that’s for sure.

Pick a winner in a matchup of contrasting styles
Keith’s take: LaGrange, at Maryville. The Panthers contrast with themselves, much less the other team. LaGrange, behind QB Graham Craig, has the nation’s fifth-most-prolific passing offense and the 227th-best passing defense. They keep it interesting though, scoring between 28 and 35 each time out, allowing between 27 and 37, and having a two-point loss, a one-point win and two overtime wins. Across the way, Maryville brings a 286-yard-per-game rushing attack (11th-best nationally) and a scoring average of  get this  28.8 points per game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford, vs. Washington and Lee. Well, it’s almost unfair when I look at the contrast between the Quakers and Generals. Guilford has one of the best passing games in the nation, and, just as importantly, it is third statistically in turnover margin. Washington and Lee, on the other hand, slots in at No. 168 in turnover margin, being negative-2 on the season. And they have almost no pass game to speak of, relying on their ground attack  which isn’t close to where it’s been in recent seasons. Sure enough, these two teams contrast each other, just not in a flattering way.
Pat’s take: Illinois College, vs. Ripon. After two losses in a row, the Blueboys need to get well, and fast. The good thing is that neither of those games counted against IC’s conference record in the Midwest Conference South Division, and this week’s game vs. Ripon won’t, either. The run-heavy Red Hawks are also 1-2, but with the only win vs. Rockford. Meanwhile, most people should know Illinois College likes to throw the ball.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Bethany. Taking it on the chin from Mount Union in Week 1 perhaps was a wise strategy. The Bison have three wins since, including two on the road, and a 33-27 victory against Waynesburg last week. After 35 carries for just 75 yards in a 58-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, Bethany’s ground game has been stout. They’re running the ball an average of 46 times per game for almost 200 yards a week, with a three-headed attack: Running backs Jalen Holmes and Brandon Hill, and quarterback Brian Vales. Case Western Reserve has only allowed 83 yards per game rushing, so this clash will be worth watching.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I’m owning up to my mistake from last week, when I wrote about this game a week before it was to happen. So a cut-and-paste from that, which still applies today: I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles’ competition has been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: The Rhodes-Chicago winner. This is a key Pool B game on Saturday, a matchup of unbeatens. Rhodes put up 41 on Chicago in Memphis in 2013, winning 41-34, but expect a lower-scoring game.

Triple Take: Blemished and battling

Trevor Manuel
Trevor Manuel leads Huntingdon with 177 all-purpose yards per game.
Huntingdon athletics photo

By the time Week 5 rolls past, the Division III landscape usually still has many unbeatens fighting toward the postseason. At this point in 2008, ’09 and ’10, a total of only two teams made the D3football.com Top 10 with a blemish on their records.

This year alone, we have three.

It suggests an anything-can-happen season, but there’s potentially deeper insight into it for those willing to explore on a national scale.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps are here to help you analyze. Saturday is closing in fast, and that means more upsets may be in the making.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Wittenberg at Huntingdon.
The Hawks come in as a one-loss team averaging more than 37 points a game in very consistent offensive performances. And, they’ve already taken down a team that’s been in the Top 25 this season, Hampden-Sydney. Statistically, Huntingdon doesn’t stack up well against the pass, and Witt has a signal-caller who’s thrown for 1,500 yards and has a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio. But these stats were familiar in the H-SC game, too, and Huntingdon found a way through turnovers to overcome their shortcomings and win. (Is it an omen that both Witt and -Sydney are nicknamed the Tigers?) With has an opening-week win against Capital, a team that’s shown glimmers of skill, Witt proved it can win when it counts. It’ll be a long ride from Montgomery back to Springfield if they don’t.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Cortland State at No. 11 Montclair State. Truthfully, I probably would’ve picked Ryan’s game, but his reward for working up the post each week is first choice. This NJAC clash will do, however, because it will provide needed clarity in what is right now potentially a five-team race. Or maybe it won’t, since last season finished in a three-way tie. In any case, I watched Dan Pitcher carve up Rowan a couple weeks ago to the tune of 315 passing yards, and the statistics say Montclair’s been vulnerable to the pass (151st nationally). But the Red Hawks are usually stout on defense, and last season Cortland needed to score 10 points in the final 11 minutes of a 10-9 win. Already this year the Red Dragons and Red Hawks have two common opponents (Buffalo State and Morrisville State), with each winning one by blowout. Cortland’s played the tougher schedule so far, and comes in with a loss to Kean. The lack of any real idea what’s going to happen, though I’d lean Cortland right now if forced to choose, makes it a classic Game of the Week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Wartburg at Dubuque. I don’t think I can consider this as a team likely to be upset, since the teams are so close together in the voting … and not even in the same order on my ballot. My thinking is that if Coe’s Jared Kuehner caught nine passes for 115 against Wartburg a couple weeks ago, what will Mike Zweifel and Demacus Fleming do through the air for Dubuque?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Franklin at Rose-Hulman.
While the Grizzlies are a one-loss team, they can be excused for their blemish, having come at the hands of defending national champion UW-Whitewater. This week’s opponent, Rose-Hulman, stands at just 2-2, but the Engineers have been able to find success if they balance their offense and not slough off when getting to the ball on defense. Perhaps most critical for Rose to pull an upset will be to stop Franklin on third down. The Grizzlies have a knack for converting the down and keeping drives alive.
Keith’s take: Mount Ida at Anna Maria. It stands to reason that any team that’s lost the first 23 games in its history might be a pushover, even for a 1-3 team like Mount Ida. But the AmCats are on the cusp, coming off a 56-52 loss to rival Castleton State and a 48-40 four-overtime loss to Gallaudet in which they led 34-13. Perhaps, since the Mustangs have played four close games a fifth wouldn’t be a surprise, but it should be close. And Anna Maria might finally win.
Pat’s take: Hobart at Union. I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here, as Union has been on the wrong side of a couple of surprisingly close games. But the Dutchmen have turned their close losses into close wins the past two weeks, which gives me a reason to make this pick. Union lost in a close one on the road at Hobart last year, starting their season-ending tailspin. With the home field, Union could turn that around.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Delaware Valley.
After a slow start to the season, Wilkes has scooped up victories against Widener and FDU-Florham, the former of which stands at 4-1 this season. Wilkes has seen improving play from quarterback Alex George, and the team is coming off a week in which two of its players earned MAC weekly honors. The Aggies, on the other hand, may have the defense to at least slow Wilkes’ nearly 500-yard-a-game average. Swallowing up Zach Tivald along with George should be a priority. If that happens, DelVal may be lucky enough to earn a repeat of its first two games.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Kean. We finally gave them some Around the Region love; that’s the kiss of death. In all seriousness, I could be reading the TCNJ and Western Connecticut results wrong, but the Cougars don’t seem all the way dialed in every week, and eventually that bites a team. I don’t know that I’d expect Buffalo State to pull the upset, but Kean could use a convincing win to keep from finding itself in this space again.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Salisbury. A lot of the talk around the game centers around the two triple-option offenses of Salisbury and Springfield but considering these defenses see the triple-option on a regular basis, I think we could see more of a defensive battle than initially pondered.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Pacific Lutheran.
The Lutes came into 2011 with some seriously depleted ranks and real uncertainty about whether they’d come close to a repeat of last year’s 8-1 season. So far, they stand at 2-1, which looks good on the surface. Yet those two wins come against teams that are a combined 0-8 this year. The Lutes’ only challenge was their failed comeback attempt in a 28-17 road loss to Cal Lutheran. Pacific Lutheran may not repeat last year’s success, but a win this week against Whitworth means they won’t have slipped to the NWC’s basement.
Keith’s take: Augsburg. The Auggies have been consistent on the scoreboard, averaging 32 points per game without scoring fewer than 28, and defensive linemen Edmond Smith and Aaron Perry have them among the nation’s leaders in sacks and tackles for losses. I don’t expect them to beat No. 3 St. Thomas, but I would like to find out if we can expect them to be competitive the next two weekends, at Concordia-Moorhead and against St. Olaf. Or will a promising 4-0 start morph into 4-3 in a few weeks?
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints have a chance to go unbeaten and need to win every week in order to avoid a first-round playoff road trip to a top seed. Northwestern has certainly seen more success in past years, but is 3-1 in the league and certainly not out of the hunt yet.

Which conference game has the potential to change the race or throw us for a loop?
Ryan’s take: Heidelberg at Muskingum. Raise your hand if you saw these two teams being a combined 7-1 and vying for the upper-echelon of the OAC. There might be a hand raised way in the back of the room, but that’s about it. These standings are nothing to scoff at. Together, the Student Princes and the Muskies have taken down Ohio Northern, Otterbein and Capital — you know, the kinds of teams we’ve gotten used to hearing about even into the postseason. Often, the No. 2 team in the OAC gets a playoff bid, and if these teams hope to be in the discussion at the end of the season, they need to keep winning. The victor on Saturday will have earned itself a boost.
Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh at UW-Eau Claire and Ripon at Monmouth. Double bonus for faithful TT readers! The Blugolds (that’s UW-EC) have beaten both UW-Stout and UW-River Falls by multiple touchdowns in their 3-1 start, but the Titans whomped those teams even worse. With a win against Central and a loss to No. 2 Mount Union, Oshkosh seems made to contend, but we need to see it against a respectable WIAC team. Meanwhile, in the MWC, four teams are 4-1, 3-1, and two face off on Saturday. Ripon bring the nation’s No. 4 rushing offense (349 yards per game) to Illinois to try to outscore Monmouth’s No. 6 passing offense (332.6/game). The Scots have played better defense (17 points allowed the past three games) and have put up the more convincing conference results, so a Ripon win would be a major upset.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley at Albright. We need the result of this game in order to see if Albright will be in position to challenge Delaware Valley for the conference lead next week. The Lions stubbed their toe last week at Lycoming and another loss likely eliminate them from the conference race. If not Albright, Wilkes (this week), Widener and Lycoming have a shot left.

Tigers, Lions or Bears?
Ryan’s take: Tigers.
But this is almost cheating because the Tigers of Sewanee are playing at the Tigers of Trinity (Texas). This game should belong to Trinity, but the best part is that each of these teams are rebounding. Last year, Trinity had its first losing season in roughly two decades; now, they’re sitting tied atop the SCAC with an undefeated record. Sewanee on the other hand, has hobbled through a zero-win season and a couple of one-win seasons in recent years. But here, they’re not just sitting at 2-3, but they’re playing teams competitively. The worst loss was against Washington and Lee, which is coming off a conference-title season. But losses to 5-0 Birmingham-Southern and 2-3 Millsaps have been much closer. Compared with last season, fortunes have smiled on both of these schools.
Keith’s take: Tigers. I took a look at some Bears — Bridgewater State has played three close games in a row. I checked out some Lions, but Pat already mentioned Albright. Truth is, Tigers are playing this week’s most interesting games, from East Texas Baptist trying to catch No. 19 Louisiana College hung over from its loss at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, to Hampden-Sydney facing one-time ODAC power Bridgewater and Wittenberg making its trip to Alabama.
Pat’s take: Tigers. Bengals, to be specific. Buffalo State has a shot at Kean this week, which is coming off back-to-back weeks of unimpressive performances, at least by Top 25 standards. After struggling the first two weeks offensively, Buffalo State has put it together, thanks in large part to the emergence of running back Rich Pete, who has averaged 104.3 yards rushing the past three games. Recommend punt protection if they’re going to upset the Cougars.

Which team needs a win for morale purposes?
Ryan’s take: Greensboro.
Or, for that matter, their opponent Averett. The two teams have a total record of 1-7, an indicator of the overall struggles that the USA South has encountered this season. But the Pride need this win more because they haven’t played any Division III teams close this season. Even being within striking distance of a win will be a morale boost.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut at Morrisville State. Apparently I’m trying to make sure the NJAC is mentioned in response to *every* question … but both of these teams could use a life. The Colonels are in the midst of a fairly inexplicable 15-game losing streak; they’ve lost three games by 37 or more, yet were 10 points behind 10th-ranked Kean in the fourth quarter. Morrisville lost its first two games, to Hartwick and Montclair State, by a total of four points, but is 0-4 because it doesn’t do anything particularly well. The offense is a big culprit, putting up just 14 points per game (210th nationally). Somebody’s going to win here, and it’s going to be a big lift for some kids who have to be struggling to believe right now.
Pat’s take: Aurora. This week’s midseason battle with Benedictine for what could be supremacy in the NATHC took a wrong turn for the Spartans with last week’s loss to Lakeland. Aurora is still looking for a conference win and is 1-3 overall, where Benedictine at least picked up a win against Concordia (Ill.) after losses to North Park and Kalamazoo, traditionally bottom feeders in the CCIW and MIAA.

Triple Take: As many questions as answers

Mount Union Got a sense of the Division III landscape yet? Hopefully, now that we’re going into Week 5, the picture is getting a little clearer.

While we all see a lot, we don’t yet see it all. Folks might be unsure of whether Mount Union can again run the table in the OAC or whether Linfield’s debut loss was a fluke. We might also be wondering about the teams at the other end of the spectrum: Has the luster faded from Christopher Newport, or can Lebanon Valley salvage its season? We are armed with so many answers, but there are still many questions out there to target.

D3football.com Executive Editor Pat Coleman, Managing Editor Keith McMillan and Senior Editor Ryan Tipps have some things to say about the weekend ahead and which teams have something unique to watch out for.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Willamette at No. 16 Linfield.
The Wildcats began the year at No. 4 before falling unexpectedly in their opener to Cal Lutheran. Willamette, likewise, is a one-loss team that joins Linfield as the favorites in the NWC. This could turn ugly if Aaron Boehme is able to throw the ball with impunity against a Bearcats team that isn’t great against the pass. Willamette is keen on forcing turnovers, and giving their “fly” offense a short field will be important to ultimately taking control of the conference.
Pat’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas at No. 19 St. John’s. I am sure it’s alright if I pick the game I’m going to be at, considering that it’s likely that 15,000 people will be there with me. St. Thomas has lost 12 of these games in a row (also known as, hasn’t beaten St. John’s in the D3football.com era), and although there have been a few close ones in that stretch, I’m not sure last year should be one of them. St. Thomas was out of the game when two fourth-quarter special teams mistakes by St. John’s got them back in. The 15-for-31 passing sounds better than it is — even completed passes were off-target and left receivers in no position to do anything after the catch. Good news for St. Thomas is the alternating quarterbacks thing is done, but the bad news is Ben Wartman has been banged up and hasn’t played an entire game this year. Last year some of the Tommies looked a little rattled by the massive crowd in Collegeville. Perhaps the experience of three playoff games, two on the road, will give St. Thomas some perspective to draw on. Looking at a defensive battle.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Ohio Northern at No. 2 Mount Union . According to the order set in my look at 12 of this weekend’s top clashes in Around the Nation, I should choose No. 18 UW-Eau Claire at UW-Stevens Point here (only because Tipps already took the No. 1 game). And clearly the Blugolds and Pointers have the most at stake. But for sheer talent on the field, and gravity of a potential upset, Alliance may be Saturday’s epicenter.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Elmhurst at North Park.
Define “surprisingly close” however you’d like, but the two-win Vikings won’t play into the CCIW whipping-boy role against Elmhurst. Not only is North Park winning some this year, but they’re just flat out playing better football. Undefeated Elmhurst is having a stellar year as well, but it’s easy to believe it could be caught looking ahead a little to the Wheaton game on Oct. 9.
Pat’s take: Carthage at No. 10 North Central (Ill.). I’ll stay in the CCIW here. Carthage has played really well on offense of late. North Central will provide a stiffer test on defense than Franklin, Lakeland and Concordia (Wis.) have so far, but Carthage has a good amount of offense to bring to the table.
Keith’s take: John Carroll at Otterbein. The Blue Streaks opened their season with losses to Case Western Reserve and Mount Union, making them look worse than they are. (they give up 433 yards a game, for instance). Otterbein, which beat Heidelberg by a point in its last game. began the season ranked.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 UW-Eau Claire.
Is this the easy pick as most any game between WIAC teams could go either way on any given Saturday? Perhaps. Aside from a Week 1 loss against Willamette, UW-Stevens Point has been charging ahead with a run-by-committee approach to offense. Eau Claire has clearly battle-tested itself against some great nonconference teams, but the “W” in Wisconsin will be fueled by how peppy the Blugolds feel after last week’s loss to North Central.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Montclair State. But wow, was I tempted to take a rare opportunity to put Mount Union in this space. When does one really have the chance to do that? I think, however, that Montclair State has drifted a little high in the rankings. Kean at home under the lights, looking to make up for its season-opening loss to Cortland State, has plenty of motivation, even if there’s no bad blood anymore.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Cal Lutheran. There are at least four top 25 teams who will lose clashes against other ranked opponents, and a couple more facing teams that are or should be receiving votes. The Kingsmen have a dangerous Redlands team to worry about, one led by sixth-year quarterback Dan Selway, who has not been sacked and hasn’t had his best game. The Bulldogs defense has given up 17 points in two games against decent opponents (East Texas Baptist, Whitworth).

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: FDU-Florham.
The Devils aren’t a team that I notice a lot on an annual basis, but here they are, 3-0, already with as many wins as they’ve had in any season since 2005. A big test will come this weekend when they open conference play against Widener. Florham is the only undefeated team in the MAC. It’ll be interesting if they can stay that way.
Pat’s take: Birmingham-Southern. The Panthers aren’t yet eligible for the SCAC title or a playoff bid (or the D3football.com Top 25) but they are 3-0 heading into a home game against Trinity (Texas).
Keith’s take: Ripon. The Red Hawks’ triple-option has hummed to the tune of 322 yards per game in a 4-0 start, while Saturday’s opponent, Knox, isn’t in the nation’s top 200 in any offensive or defensive category. Ripon shouldn’t lose, but part of being a conference leader is putting away the teams you should beat.

Which conference race will get the most clarity after Saturday?
Ryan’s take: The ODAC’s.
Emory and Henry hosts Randolph-Macon, and both enter 4-0. On paper, few teams come across as more evenly matched. Offensively and defensively, E&H and R-MC are among the top three statistically in the conference. And they have similar lopsided scores against a common opponent. As I pointed to in this week’s Around the Mid-Atlantic, the ODAC is living under the perception of parity. With two undefeated teams squaring off, we’ll see how that perception plays out.
Pat’s take: The OAC. Well, I mean, it’s certainly possible Mount Union doesn’t win the league outright. It’s happened in current players’ lifetimes. But even if it doesn’t happen, we’ll know the road map a lot better after the Mount Union-Ohio Northern game.
Keith’s take: The NEFC. The CCIW and ODAC pictures will clear up a bit, but both sides of the NEFC have surprise leaders in big clashes this weekend. In Kickoff ’10, I thought Endicott might usurp Curry in the Boyd, and they each head into their meeting this week at 3-1. The Colonels might not yet be ready to end their run of dominance; they’ve allowed just seven points against D-III teams, while the Gulls have played three close games. On the Bogan side, favored Maine Maritime is rushing for a national-best 488 yards per game but gave up 46 points last week in a surprising loss to Fitchburg State, after winning their first two by shutout. The Mariners try to bounce back against Worcester State, a bit of a surprise at 3-1. Framingham State is also unexpectedly 3-1, and faces 2-2 Mass. Maritime.

Which team with a conference loss can help itself the most?
Ryan’s take: Norwich.
The Cadets dealt the Empire 8 its first loss of the season in nonconference play and then fell in the ECFC opener by one point to Mount Ida. Too many drives died before they even got started. This weekend at Becker starts a stretch of four games against teams that are currently a combined 1-13 against Division III opponents. Using this time to shore up their game and eliminate mistakes will open up opportunities before they line up against SUNY-Maritime.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys can’t let down against an East Texas Baptist team that has already taken down UW-La Crosse and came out and surprised McMurry last week. Yes, last week’s loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor probably puts the Cowboys out of the ASC race, but there’s still a lot of season left and Hardin-Simmons needs to win the final six games.
Keith’s take: Lewis & Clark. The Pioneers aren’t ready to contend, but hosting Pacific, in its first year back on the field, is an opportunity to pick up a second win this early for the first time since 2003. As the program begins a rise, it can’t really afford to fall to the Boxers.

What team really needs a morale win this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Both Christopher Newport and Shenandoah.
And these teams happen to play each other on Saturday. The Captains are off to the worst start in the young history of their program. And for a team that has spent a lot of its seasons in the playoffs, 2010 has to be hard to digest. But the win they need isn’t necessarily the win they’ll get. Even in CNU’s best years, Shenandoah has historically played this game tough. The Hornets were thought to be entering a season of improvement over last year, when they lost six games by a field goal or less. However, SU, as well as CNU, are winless this season, and both are coming off a bye week to get their act together.
Pat’s take: Hamline. I’m not going to say our expectations for Hamline were high this year but we did picture a .500 season. Instead, the Pipers are 0-3 and after getting trashed at home by Carleton last week, a team that had lost to Crown, a loss to Macalester has to be considered a distinct possibility.
Keith’s take: Occidental. Interim coach Eric Bergstrom has the Tigers off to a 1-1 start, but coach Dale Widolff is suspended until Oct. 10 and the team hasn’t played since Sept. 11. In the Myron Claxton’s Shoes Game vs. Whittier, Occidental could very much use a victory to rally around. Limiting the Poets’ run game (269.5 yards per in a 1-1 start) is a key.