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.