Week 6: There’s excitement to be had, if you just know where to look

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Buff State’s defensive side of the ball will need to come through vs. Ithaca. (Buffalo State athletics photo)

Not every week is filled with top-25 clashes and rivalry games when we look for intriguing matchups across the nation. But with more than 200 teams in action on a given weekend, we usually end up with our fair share of dramatic finishes, milestones and outstanding performances. Some can be anticipated if you know where to look.

That’s where Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I come in. We’ll take you on a quick whirl around the country so you know which games to keep an eye on while you’re doing what you normally do on Saturdays, and we’ll keep it from feeling like a whirlwind.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran. It’s between this and the Lyco-Del Val game for me, and this matchup of ‘others receiving votes’ teams gets the nod because of the potential for fireworks. In the most amazing stat of the year possibly, ETBU, after allowing 98 points to a scholarship-level opponent in Week 1, is 3-1 and already back in the positive point differential for the season, on the strength of the country’s fourth-best offense. Yet TLU hasn’t scored fewer than 37 points in a game itself. ETBU QB Josh Warbington has 12 TDs, 3 INTs and three 350+ yard passing games. TLU RB Marquis Barrolle is rushing for 181 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns. But the clincher is the playoff implications; In a conference with No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor, ETBU needs every win in case it has to make an at-large case for a postseason spot. In Pool B, even at 5-0, Texas Lutheran remembers being shunned last season with just one loss. It’s an under-the-lights clash we can all take an interest in for the potential big numbers and the trickle-down effect.
Ryan’s take: Buffalo State at No. 13 Ithaca. Were it not for Buff’s narrow loss to Alfred a couple of weeks back, we’d be seeing two undefeated teams squaring off here. Despite a slow start in the opener, Ithaca has excelled in conference play, giving Utica its only loss and beating Alfred. On paper, the edge goes to Buffalo State, but the reality is that Ithaca hasn’t been giving up the kind of big points that the Bengals have been. And if the Bombers’ offense happens to be slumping at the half or in the third quarter, a good defense is always going to keep them in the game.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Lycoming at Delaware Valley. These MAC elimination games are going to be a brutal slog and this sounds like it’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Delaware Valley can score in bunches (49.8 points per game), while Lycoming hasn’t allowed more than 14 in a game all season. Lyco probably would like to have one more season of Tanner Troutman just for this game alone, to cover Rasheed Bailey, who is an electrifying receiver, by all accounts. Would love to see which contrast in styles wins out here.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Chicago at Trinity (Texas). The Maroons are 4-0. The Tigers are 1-4. And while that would normally make for a pretty straightforward winner, they move in completely different D-III circles. Chicago’s wins are against teams we ranked 84, 89, 213 and 217 in the 1-244 ranking in Kickoff. The Tigers losses are to teams we ranked 19, 37, 50 and 179. Preseason rankings don’t tell the whole story, but neither does just glancing at a record. Trinity’s talent should match up better with Chicago than it did with, say, Pacific Lutheran. That means the Maroons will have to keep playing outstanding defense. They’re currently allowing just 190.3 yards per game, third nationally behind Mount Union and UW-Whitewater.
Ryan’s take: Crown at Greenville. I felt like going deep into the conference rankings to find this week’s game, which is a great example of misdirection. Greenville sits at 4-1; Crown is winless. Those records seem to be in complete opposite directions until you consider that Greenville’s wins come against teams that are a combined 4-16. The Panthers’ one loss came against a 2-2 CCIW team. Crown, on the other hand, has played teams that are a combined 20-4, including an undefeated MIAC team. I expect the Storm to be able to hang right with Greenville, and I’d even wager they’ll pull off the upset.
Pat’s take: Texas Lutheran at East Texas Baptist. Actually, I just think this will be an awesome game and didn’t have room for two game of the week picks. Expecting an entertaining back-and-forth game worthy of two Little 12 teams, even if only one of them is still in the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wartburg. Coe, Saturday’s host, is off to a 2-2 start, with losses to teams currently ranked No. 16 (UW-Stevens Point) and No. 18 (Wheaton). More importantly than what might be a deceptive record is the idea that they simply have Wartburg’s number. The Knights haven’t beaten the Kohawks since 2010, after Coe rallied from down 17-0 to win by a field goal in 2011, won by four touchdowns in 2012 and scored 24 second-half points last year to become the only team besides Bethel to beat Wartburg. It’s a new year, and the Knights are 4-0 with a great defense (12th nationally at 11.3 points per game) and the Royals already in the rear-view mirror. Coe QB Josh Rekers had success passing against both Wheaton and UW-SP and will be a challenge though.
Ryan’s take: No 8 Hobart. Springfield always brings a good bit of quality to the table, but, since being in the LL, the team has yet been able to get over the hump against Hobart. The Statesmen have look good this year, but not flawless. Dickinson was able to play its way back into the opener; Endicott, too, scored the bulk of its points in the fourth quarter. A cushion going into the final period would help Hobart here, because high-scoring fourths are not foreign to the Pride.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Ithaca. I don’t have a strong feeling about anyone this week but perhaps Buffalo State can be the team to score more than 16 points on the Bombers. They will definitely need to if they want to win at Butterfield Stadium.

Pick a team that faces much better competition this week than last, and tell us how it fares.
Keith’s take: Berry. The Vikings won the first game in program history, 29-23, last week against Wash. U. This week they face Centre, which hung 50 on that same Bears group two weeks ago. The Colonels have outscored opponents by a 38-17 average in its 4-0 start, and rush for 244 of their 443 yards of weekly offense. Berry will likely have to wait for its first win streak.
Ryan’s take: Willamette. The swing is big if you’re going up against football newbie George Fox one week and then turning around to face Whitworth the next. Whitworth bested its weaker foes but is on a two-game skid against some tougher teams. I’m not sure that a win here would be enough to lift the Bearcats into the Top 25, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of voters will bump Willamette up a spot or two after winning.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Mount Union, at Ohio Northern. I was reviewing old Top 25 polls this week — the coaches poll, mind you — in helping a school out on a research project and was reminded that in 2005, when Ohio Northern won at Mount Union, the Purple Raiders actually fell to No. 9 in the AFCA Top 25. It’s hard to imagine the Purple Raiders ever being just the ninth-best team in Division III. We’re in our tenth season since then and Mount Union has barely skipped a beat. One beat at most. They won’t skip a beat this week. (For the record, Mount Union fell to No. 6 in that week’s D3football.com Top 25.)

Which one of the surprise unbeatens remains that way?
Keith’s take: Luther. The Norse haven’t beaten Central since 2008, and they’re hosting in front of a homecoming crowd that doesn’t really know what it’s like to cheer for a 4-0 team. So not only should it be a wild atmosphere, but the Norse seem up to the challenge. Josh Vos and DB-turned-QB JJ Sirios are each rushing for more than 100 yards per game, and Central hasn’t been great at run defense (166 yards per game). Luther’s rushing offense is No. 2 nationally, sandwiched between more familiar option teams Maine Maritime and Springfield. It’s the Norse and the Dutch, so why wouldn’t one side make history?
Ryan’s take: UW-Stevens Point. Then again, the Pointers are going up against the only team in the WIAC that is currently winless, UW-Eau Claire. UW-EC has had one of the toughest schedules to date in Division III: They started off against St. Thomas, then played St. John’s, Wheaton and UW-Platteville. Had Eau Claire not gotten pasted against Platteville, I might think they’d have the spark to play a spoiler role. Instead, Stevens Point will have one last opportunity to work out the kinks before going on the road to Platteville next weekend.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.). It’s an unexpected battle of unbeatens between Bridgewater and Emory and Henry, and if this were 2000, this would be front-page news. But since both programs have been down for the better part of a decade, at least, it’s slipped well under the radar. I like Bridgewater at home, but E&H has played three road games out of four, so the road won’t be unfamiliar.

Which player put up huge numbers in Week 5 and will do it again this week?
Keith’s take: Satiir Stevenson, safety for Guilford. Ryan turned his answers in first and yoked my original pick. (Fun fact: I’m told it’s cog-lin, not cough). The Quakers might seem like they’re all offense, but Stevenson’s 22 tackles last week against Washington & Lee were the second highest single-game total in D-III this season. This week’s opponent, Shenandoah, happens to be the ODAC’s best rushing offense, at 289 yards per game, so they’ll need another big tackling effort to slow down the Hornets and 5-9 all-purpose threat Cedrick Delaney.
Ryan’s take: Pete Coughlin, quarterback for Washington and Jefferson. Last week, the big numbers (383 passing yards, six touchdowns) really mattered because the game was against rival Thomas More and is generally the matchup that yields the PAC’s playoff contender. It would be of little surprise to see him fling around those kinds of numbers again, with winless Grove City on the docket. The only limiting factor will be if Coughlin sits out most or all of the second half.
Pat’s take: Withler Marcelin, Rowan running back. Good category because I was feeling bad about him not having a spot for him on the D3football.com Team of the Week last week. He ran for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, with scores of 28, 54 and 75 yards vs. Cortland State and if Rowan needs him to, he’ll have a big game vs. William Paterson.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Thomas More. It’s deflating to lose the conference matchup that often defines the season, so I’m interesting in seeing how the Saints get up to face Geneva. Thomas More seemed like it had the makings of a playoff-bound team when I saw it in Week 1, but after the W&J loss, it’s out of their hands. The Wesley loss means at-large is probably out too, which means they’ll have to get some help. But you can’t take advantage of help if you don’t take care of your own business first.
Ryan’s take: The Trine at Olivet matchup. I know we usually pick a single team here, but the MIAA has been next to impossible to get a handle on this fall. It’s nice that the two teams with the best overall records are meeting so early in conference play. We’ll get a bit of clarity in Michigan after Saturday.
Pat’s take: Gustavus Adolphus. This is the end of the 6-0 run we’ve been talking about since the preseason. St. Olaf won’t be able to stop the Golden Gusties’ offense.

Podcast: Strange, and happy endings

This is what it looked like -- Dennis Dunn got pretty far out onto the field. (Texas Lutheran athletics video)

This is what it looked like — Dennis Dunn got pretty far out onto the field.
(Texas Lutheran athletics video)

What’s the sound of a team snapping a 31-game losing streak? Or of a team’s dreams vanishing in a last-second mistake?

You’ll hear both of those, and get Keith and Pat’s take on it in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

I mean, really, the head coach runs all the way out to the 10-yard line to try to stop his quarterback from spiking it? Definitely kept him from doing so. That was the talker of Saturday night, along with Tufts snapping its long losing streak. And UW-Whitewater’s long bus ride. And other things said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, game balls were handed out, and more. It’s Week 3 of the retooled Around the Nation Podcast, so listen in.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your phone or portable device.

You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast

Plus, the D3football.com Postgame Show is back: Check out highlights and reports from games across Division III. Are we missing your highlights? Post in the comments below.

Triple Take: Kicking off 2014 with ten predictions for Week 1

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

There are some pretty high expectations on Satiir Stevenson and Guilford this season. (Photo by John Bell, www.touchalifephotography.com)

After a 36-week layoff, Division III football is back this weekend. To help pass the time leading up to the opening kick, we’ve provided you Kickoff, the comprehensive season preview, and a slate of fresh columns.

But opening week isn’t complete until Pat Coleman, the executive editor, Ryan Tipps, the senior editor-turned-Around the Nation columnist, and I (Keith McMillan, staff has-been) stick our necks out with predictions for Week 1’s games. We’ll tackle the Top 25 and the games on the fringes; If you have no idea what to pay attention to as the first week gets underway, we’ve got you covered.

Tipps has moved into the penthouse, which means I get to stop by his old digs, cooking up the Triple Take categories and having first dibs on answering. Since I’m drunk with power and ready to celebrate the 244-team race to Salem, let’s make it a 10-pack to kick things off. Have fun with the picks, and if you’re bold enough, leave yours in the comments section below.

Game of the week
Keith: No. 22 Thomas More at No. 5 Wesley. It’s possible I’m shilling for this game because I’m on the call alongside Sean Greene as a special guest fill-in, but I’d probably pick it anyway. It’s a chance to see one of the nation’s most-decorated offensive players in Saints RB Domonique Hayden (2,234 total yards last season) against one of the most decorated programs … whose quarterback happened to pass for 633 yards in a playoff loss last time we saw him. Wesley’s been known to test itself with a crazy schedule and lose an early season game, even in Dover, so why wouldn’t all eyes be on this one?
Pat: Widener at No. 15 Rowan. I mean, that other game above is really the game of the week but this game is on Friday night so you can see both of them! Once upon a time we would have killed to see these two teams play each other and even though Jim Jones and Michael Coleman are no longer on the Pioneer…. err, Pride’s side, this should still be a great way to help kick off the season.
Ryan: No. 21 Hampden-Sydney at No. 16 Wabash. I can’t do a whole Around the Nation column hyping the uniqueness of this game and the impressiveness of this matchup and not pick it as my game of the week. Check out my inaugural ATN for the many reasons I’m excited about this game.

Surprisingly close game
Keith: Union at No. 23 Ithaca. This was tough for me. I see a lot of matchups that should be not close, and some that will be, but won’t be surprising. I was intrigued by second-year Southwestern (vs. Hardin-Simmons), Buena Vista (hosting No. 8 UW-Platteville) and Millsaps (hosting No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor), but not bold enough to pick them. Twenty-one returning starters emboldened me to take the Dutchmen, who are a 3-7 team going on the road to open up against a second-round playoff participant. Union returns every offensive starter but the tight end, while the Bombers only have three defensive starters back.
Pat: McDaniel at Catholic. It doesn’t read like it should be close on paper, because Catholic won 48-16 at McDaniel last fall, but the Cardinals have been very up and down of late. While that beats the heck out of just being down, Catholic has a lot of holes to fill this season and McDaniel could very well be bouncing back.
Ryan: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster. Their records may not have ended all that far apart in 2013, but the 58-21 pounding W&J handed out last season painted a frightening picture for the Scots. But Wooster has now matured and improved across the board, so don’t expect the Presidents to be rolling into the half up 42-14 again.

Most likely top 25 team to lose
Keith: No. 25 Franklin. Mike Leonard is one of my favorite D-III coaches. His team is going on the road to open up against Illinois Wesleyan, a nine-win program from one of the nation’s best conferences. We ranked the Titans No. 52 in Kickoff, largely because they have only nine starting position players back, but the Grizzlies, who are breaking in new quarterback Grant Welp, only have 11. This is a solid first-week challenge for both teams.
Pat: No. 17 Wartburg. These guys and Augsburg actually have a much bigger rivalry in wrestling, where the two have won like all the national titles in the past 20 years, and Wartburg the past three. But these teams have played some pretty tight games even when the rankings suggest they shouldn’t. Nice to see this game back on the schedule for the first time since 2009 — Augsburg won the Battle of the Burgs in 2008 in a year in which the Auggies went 5-5 and the Warties (yeah, let’s go with that) went to the national quarterfinals.
Ryan: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I feel like there have been a couple of times in the past three or so years in which Hopkins has lost several starters or maybe a key skill player, and I think this is the season we’ll see the team backslide a bit. Hopkins, in turn, has shown how deep it is each and every time. I admittedly don’t have them in the lofty position of No. 14 on my ballot at this point, not with only three starters back on offense. Randolph-Macon doesn’t have a particularly good track record against Hopkins the past two seasons, but this year is ripe for that to change.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith: George Fox and Pacific. The Bruins, who last played a game in 1968, restart football on Saturday, with a Linfield man (Chris Casey) at the helm. The NWC rival Boxers, meanwhile, were a re-startup in 2010 and enter Year 5 after winning zero, one, three and seven games. Was their Year 4 spike just a group of experienced seniors that had started for several years, or will Pacific be a year-in, year-out threat? I have no idea what to make of either non-D-III team they’re playing, Arizona Christian or College of Idaho, but I’ll have an eye on the D-III squads.
Pat: Stevenson. This is a Year 4 team and it’s time for that breakout that new programs often have in their fourth year. With a struggling program in North Carolina Wesleyan on the schedule to open the season, the first challenge is the length of the trip.
Ryan: Millsaps. I have no expectations that the Majors will actually pull off the upset here, but if you read Kickoff, you might have noticed that I have Millsaps chosen as one of my Pool B predictions. With a solid group of starters back from a team that was one game from likely making the playoffs last year, there’s a lot to look forward to with what this team can accomplish. We’ll see right away how they stack up against one of D-III’s elite.

Who can quiet your doubts with a solid performance Saturday?
Keith: No. 13 Wittenberg. The Tigers won 10 games and had the nation’s fifth-most-prolific offense last season. I didn’t put them in my preseason top 25, largely because only nine starters were back on the offense and defense combined. None of them is star QB Reed Florence. So while you can’t always read much into a D-III playing an FCS team, Wittenberg lost, 49-24, at Butler last year, and didn’t lose again until playing Mount Union in the playoffs. If they look good at home this Saturday, maybe they’ll be fine.
Pat: No. 14 Johns Hopkins. I have some doubts, definitely. Reference Kickoff to find out why. But JHU has handled Randolph-Macon fairly easily the past two years, so if the game is a battle, it could bode well for the rest of the teams in the Centennial Conference. And since I’m the one who wrote that line in Kickoff, it’s not stealing. (credit: Pat Coleman)
Ryan: Huntingdon. With about half of the Hawks’ starting lineup lost to graduation, they were a tough bunch to slot into place during the preseason. Huntingdon isn’t a team that’s been built around one person, so a wide crop of receivers and rushers saw action last year even if they didn’t start. And the team’s two-quarterback system is no more now that one of those guys has graduated. Louisiana College will be a very tough game, but even a close game without a win will help put this Huntingdon team’s abilities in perspective.

Who looks back in November on a loss this Saturday with great regret?
Keith: The Rowan/Widener loser. I love that these two mid-Atlantic powers, each with 17 starters back, and barely separated by more than the Commodore Barry Bridge, open up with each other. But in conferences as competitive and jumbled as the NJAC and MAC, one might find itself wishing it hadn’t, when at-large bids for the 32-team playoff field are distributed.
Pat: St. Scholastica. With a win vs. Ripon on Saturday, just maybe beyond maybes St. Scholastica avoids Whitewater in the first round. But if the Saints manage to go 9-1, winning the UMAC, it’ll be a trip to a top seed. Again.
Ryan: Mount St. Joseph. The Lions have been playing second fiddle to Franklin often in recent years, and the possibility of getting over the hump this season should be cause for celebration. But a loss to Augustana this Saturday would start a likely two-week slide that goes through Millsaps the following weekend. So even if Mount St. Joseph earns an HCAC title, the result will be a team facing a very tough playoff draw.

Which young rivalry game is closer, the Soup Bowl or the Pynchon SAW Game?
Keith: Soup Bowl. Kickoff predicts big things for Guilford, but Greensboro’s got QB Ryan Throndset back for a fourth year starting, and 16 other returners, so we should see a thriller.
Pat: Soup Bowl. When you hold a contest to pick a rivalry name, you get what you get. I have to pick the Soup Bowl just on marketing principle here.
Ryan: Soup Bowl. I’m not sure that the Soup Bowl still counts as a young rivalry, but as it is, I like it as a competitive matchup. Guilford is surely going to be good this season, and while the Quakers are favored to take the win, Greensboro has a dynamic veteran quarterback in Throndset who will help keep the Pride on Guilford’s tail.

Editor’s note: Pynchon SAW is the new name for the Springfield-Western New England game.

Aside from No. 1 UW-Whitewater against Waldorf, which team has the most impressive win?
Keith: No. 10 John Carroll. No. 3 Mount Union has been waiting to bounce back from its Stagg Bowl embarrassment for months, and plays Bethany. But the Blue Streaks, bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs, have been waiting even longer, and face St. Vincent in new coach Ron Dolciato’s first game. This will be the Bearcats’ 22nd straight loss, and QB Mark Myers and Co. are pretty enough to make it ugly.
Pat: UW-La Crosse. I mean, define impressive. Am I impressed by beating Waldorf 66-3 or Bethany 49-7? Not really. For UW-L, even beating Dubuque at all would be a nice start to the season and we seem to expect the Eagles to be a little higher in the WIAC standings in 2014.
Ryan: No. 15 Rowan. Opponent Widener will finish the season at or near the top of the MAC. “Impressive” isn’t about a thrashing; “impressive” is about standing up to real adversity and walking away with control, confidence and victory. This game will raise the Profs’ profile a notch.

Pick a team ranked 150-244 in Kickoff that wins:
Keith: No. 159 St. Scholastica. Winning is nothing new to the Saints, and this wouldn’t be going very far out on a limb if they weren’t playing No. 99 Ripon. I’ll take the upset — long trip to Duluth, and new coach Kurt Ramler leading what could be a high-powered attack against the Red Hawks’ “slot bone.”
Pat: No. 195 Ferrum. I could have lost a lot of money the last few years picking USA South teams to beat ODAC teams (since it didn’t happen very often). But that would involve betting. Which is wrongDon’t do it. But even though Ferrum is pretty universally expected to be down this year, I like them at home over the school with first-year head coach and the offseason silliness.
Ryan: No. 203 Misericordia. As I highlighted in Kickoff, I think the Cougars are a team set to ride last year’s season-ending victory into a few more for the win column this fall. Utica is far from a sure thing for Misericordia, but a win also isn’t unattainable in this matchup, especially if the Cougars’ defense can show their worth.

Which manly men win the Stag Bowl and keep alive their Stagg Bowl hopes?
Keith: Hampden-Sydney. Oh Jeez. Who wrote this question? I don’t see what’s so great about going to college without women, but I guess it leaves more time for football practice, which could explain how the Tigers held my beloved Randolph-Macon out of the postseason by a yard last year. Admittedly, Nash Nance’s gang nearly pulled off the surprise of the playoffs out at Linfield and look poised to pick up where they left off. With only one offensive line starter back, Nance may be running for his life on Saturday, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. Pat is picking the Little Giants and Ryan is abstaining, so I’ll hold my nose and select the southern gentlemen. For football reasons, of course.
Pat: Wabash. They’re playing at home. Wish I could be there but the man listed below will already be there so it didn’t make sense for me to try to get there as well. I expect to watch it online and then see my upset pick game Saturday night. I just expect this to be a good game. Keith’s right about Nance being on the run a bit on Saturday. I’m just glad this game is finally here because the fan bravado on the message board is getting to be a bit much.
Ryan: Pass. So often we ask questions on this site with a qualifier that says “alma maters excluded.” As a Wabash grad, I really should follow that rule with the first part of this question, despite the split decision from the two fellows picking before me (I do think I said all I needed to say in ATN this week). But realistically, both of these teams are ranked and have the possibility of conference AQs to look forward to, so a loss for either won’t knock them out of playoff contention. They both will have kept their Stagg Bowl hopes alive going into Week 2.