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Wabash had some great performances from people in new spots, such as freshman Delan Pettiford.
Wabash athletics photo by Howard Hewitt

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There’s plenty of questions at this point in any season. Are there a lot of answers? Maybe not, definitely not as many as there are questions, but we’ll give it a try. Does Linfield’s 71 at Hardin-Simmons mean anything? Do we learn anything from Wheaton and Wabash’s triple monkey stompouts? Is this a Bethel team that could make a semifinal run? Does Cal Lutheran come back to win the SCIAC? What does it mean when a D-III beats the defending NAIA champ? How good is Hendrix?

Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman break down that and much more and analyze it all for you. The Around the Nation podcast is our weekly discussion of what went down and what’s about to happen.

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By the way, the tags below include the schools we talked about.

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Sep/13

13

Triple Take: We welcome many more

Linfield, North Central, Bethel, Pacific Lutheran, Cal Lutheran, Wabash, Baldwin Wallace. Those Top 25 teams and so many other squads around the nation haven’t had the chance to take their first regulation snap this fall.

That ends this weekend.

Only a small handful of teams won’t have at least one game under their belt by the close of Saturday. So which of this weekend’s openers are you most curious about? D3football.com’s Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps reveal their picks below in the weekly Triple Take feature.

We welcome your comments here or on Twitter using the hashtag #3take.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Pacific Lutheran at No. 18 Cal Lutheran.
You have to go back a couple of years to find a game when this wasn’t a good matchup. Starting in 2010, the Lutes have played their way into the national discussion, even if their best has been left on the playoff fringe looking in. It’s the opener for both teams, and it’s scheduled at a time where even East Coasters don’t have an excuse not to pay attention.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson at No. 19 St. John Fisher. I’m adamant about tipping the cap to teams who schedule strong opponents when they don’t have to, so respect is due here. And just our luck, this game matches up Presidents who gained 551 yards and hung 58 points on Wooster in the opener against Cardinals who allowed 145 and 0 against Otterbein. There’s poll position, potential Pool C slotting and pride on the line. The Cardinals are dead serious about testing themselves early this year — Otterbein won eight games last season, and W&J and Cortland State, next week’s opponent, were playoff teams. And that’s pre-Empire 8. Keep an eye on SJFC’s Dalton Donk and Mason Judd, who each had 10 tackles last week.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield at Hardin-Simmons. Game of the week if you like offense, and honestly, who doesn’t? Hardin-Simmons might have a fighting chance if it doesn’t give up 29 points in the first quarter, as it did on the trip to Willamette last week, but defense has never really been the Cowboys’ strong suit.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hanover at No. 20 Wabash.
I know I always open the door to criticism when I say that my alma mater is anything short of perfect, but the Little Giants have some pieces to replace this year, including dual-threat quarterback Chase Belton. Hanover isn’t as bad as last week’s score showed, which could make this recently renewed rivalry a good one on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at Marian. Speaking of teams testing themselves early, this qualifies there too. Marian, the defending NAIA champ coming off an overtime loss to fourth-ranked St. Xavier, hosts the Titans, who needed a second-half rally to beat IIAC favorite Central last week. The jury is still out on whether Nick Olla and Oshkosh belong at No. 10, but we’re going to find out quickly. Marian running back Tevin Lake rushed for 180 yards against St. Xavier and has four touchdowns already this season. Cory Wipperfurth had a 56-yard and a 67-yard catch for Oshkosh against Central. For me, the biggest question is for it to be surprisingly close, which way is the surprise? WIAC followers might think a top team from their conference should dominate an NAIA team. NAIA followers might think their defending champ should manhandle a non-powerhouse from D-III.
Pat’s take: Butler at No. 13 Franklin. I mean, I have to stick up for the D-III team here and believe, right? Would be nice if Franklin won so we could “prove” Butler is not better than Mount Union.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 6 North Central.
If for no other reason than it happened last year, but that’s all the more reason the Cardinals won’t get caught sleeping. However, UW-La Crosse has that all-too-precious first game in its pocket already, which improves the team’s chances.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley. The phrase “take it one week at a time” works in reverse too. Salisbury hasn’t won in the Route 13 rivalry since 2004, but four of the past six games have been low-scoring and decided by single digits, including 23-14 last year and 17-14 the year before. On talent, the Wolverines should win. But it’s funny, the difference between “on paper” and “in real life,” and players’ psyches affect that. I can absolutely remember as a player thinking “we’re going to kill these guys on Saturday” and not practicing as hard as for the games where you know you had a challenge ahead. If Wesley is feeling itself from its 644-yard, eight-sack opener against Widener, and is looking at Salisbury like a rollover because it lost in Week 1 … well, that’s when a rival bites unexpectedly.
Pat’s take: None. I was really tempted to take Elmhurst on the road at Trine but I think Elmhurst can handle it. Last week’s game vs. Loras was close at the half because of some sloppy penalties and turnovers in the red zone. With an extra two days of practice, I expect Elmhurst to come out much better than last week. (Trine has had the same extra practice as well, as both opened on Thursday last week.)

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Misericordia.
Credit goes to Keith for talking this team up in the Around the Nation Podcast earlier this week. He piqued my interest in the Cougars, even though they are barreling into a matchup with powerhouse Delaware Valley. More specifically, he turned me on to Misericordia quarterback Jeff Puckett, who complemented a lackluster 53-yard passing outing with a 301-yard rushing effort, contributing a total of six touchdowns. He has my attention. What’s more, the Cougar’s 40 points they scored in the opener is just shy of their point total for all of 2012. The MAC is a tough, tough conference, but Misericordia isn’t a team that’s going to stay winless for long.
Keith’s take: Framingham State and Salve Regina. Facing the NJAC’s Rowan and Montclair State respectively, it’s a chance for New England teams — their schedules opened up by the NEFC/MASCAC split — to gain some notice nationally. Both teams are coming off big first-week wins. Melikke van Alstyne and the Rams beat Endicott, 35-23, and Salve Regina walloped Bridgewater State, 36-7.
Pat’s take: Brockport State. Rolling over Lycoming for a second consecutive year didn’t garner much pub (no box score, no game story uploaded) but a game against Buffalo State gives the Eagles another shot at getting themselves on the Division III radar.

Which team will bounce back from a Week 1 loss?
Ryan’s take: North Park.
The perennial bottom of the CCIW (the Vikings haven’t won a conference game since 2000) melted down last week in the third quarter against Hope, costing them the game. But they’ll bounce back because the only success the Vikings ever have is in nonconference play, meaning this week against Benedictine and next week against Olivet will be some of the biggest prizes to play for all season.
Keith’s take: Central. The Dutch’s clash with Augustana isn’t the monster game it was or would have been years ago, but I thought Central took it to UW-Oshkosh for the portion of the game I watched last week. Perhaps it wasn’t the right portion, but assuming Central’s luck isn’t so poor this time around — quarterback Aaron Eisler left the game because of the triple-digit heat, a 65-yard Jacob Edelman interception return was called back and Wipperfurth hit the two big plays — they might be able to play two outstanding halves this week instead of just one. Augustana, a Week 1 winner over  Mt. St. Joseph, won’t make it easy though.
Pat’s take: Benedictine. That’s funny, or ironic, or something. I actually think it’s Benedictine who will bounce back from its loss to Wheaton and beat North Park. Benedictine played Wheaton pretty well and has a good slate of transfers complementing the returning starters.  Last year, Cyle Schultz had less than a full training camp of practice before taking over the starting quarterback job. Now he’s got a full year under his belt and the offense will be better. North Park, switching from the triple option to the spread, moves from a time-chewing offense to one that could get them off the field fast, putting a lot of pressure on the defense as the game wears on.

Opener you’re more curious about.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Linfield.
Last year, I went into the season very high on the Wildcats, with their senior quarterback, stud running back and several All-Region-caliber defenders. I picked them to win it all. At the time, injury took a little bit of the talent from those ranks, but Linfield still put together a season to be very proud of, including a deep playoff run. This year, I held back on my expectations — at least a little. Yes, running back Josh Hill and defensive lineman Tyler Steele have healed their wounds. Yes, All-West Defensive Player of the Year Dom Forrest returns at linebacker. But, as I said, I held back. Other voters in the Top 25 haven’t felt the same as I have, giving the Wildcats six first-place votes. This weekend, the most telling point could be how well Linfield reins in the explosive Hardin-Simmons offense. Can this defense be the kind that wins championships? We will very soon find out.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut. I was going to say No. 6 North Central at UW-LaCrosse, but I think with the Colonials coming over from the NJAC and facing a Nichols team that actually won last week, I’m interested in how they’ll do. Joe Loth, who coached previously at Kean and turned Otterbein into a playoff teams, enters his second season at Western Connecticut. The game is Friday night under the lights in Dudley, not Danbury, though.
Pat’s take: No. 8 Bethel. This is a heady spot for the Royals to be in. They did bow out in the second round last year but that was at Oshkosh, where they were underdogs. They’ll continue to share carries, presumably, but remember they have a quarterback who can throw for 250 yards in a game in Erik Peterson. They should be better than last year, but whether that’s enough to get them into the Top 10 is another story.

Know your As, Bs and Cs.
Ryan’s take: Albion.
This time last year, the Britons were turning heads after a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive led to an upset win against Wheaton. What happened the rest of the season wasn’t pretty. The following week saw a loss to middling Benedictine, with a .500 conference record after that. Albion’s flirt with the edges of the Top 25 was gone in a breath. This year, though, will be far from a repeat of 2012. Unlike last fall, Wheaton has a game under its belt going into the Albion game, and Albion isn’t riding the wave of confidence it had after a trouncing of an opener last year. Wheaton is out to settle a score, and will do so swiftly under the lights.
Keith’s take: Birmingham Southern. Pretty sure, after leading 52-10 at one point in a 59-38 win against LaGrange last week, that Hendrix is due for an introduction to what an established, highly competitive D-III program looks like. And maybe the young SAA program should take notes. B-SC was a startup (or more accurately, a restart) itself in 2007. This is what the Warriors will look like in a few years if progress matches ambition.
Pat’s take: Coe. Over Cornell. Former Midwest Conference rivals, then Iowa Conference rivals, now non-conference rivals. Maybe growing a little closer together. Cornell was certainly better in the win-loss column last year, but is going 4-5 in the Midwest Conference better than going 1-7 in the Iowa Conference? Coe struggled last week at Monmouth, but at least the Coe bus won’t break down on the way to the game this week, since it’s the home opener. Will Cornell be more competitive this week? Perhaps not. But it could get better.

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It’s easy to feel a little envious of Division I schools – they got their season underway last weekend, and we’ve had to bide our time an extra week.

But now, the wait is over.

Division III football is up to 244 teams this fall, which means we will get to enjoy hundreds of games over the next 11 weeks, with dozens going on each Saturday.

If you haven’t signed up for Kickoff 2013 already, please do so. It’s D3football.com’s preseason publication and is a great way to get introduced to the many things happening this year in Division III football. It has a slew of feature stories as well as rankings and interviews with coaches from every team in the nation.

D3football.com also brings you regional and national columns throughout the season, and every Friday morning, you’ll be able to dive into the column you’re reading right now, called Triple Take.

In Triple Take, Executive Editor and Publisher Pat Coleman, Managing Editor and National Columnist Keith McMillan and Senior Editor and former Mid-Atlantic Columnist Ryan Tipps break down some of the week’s biggest games, sleeper teams and those who we’re keeping an especially close eye on. From now until the Stagg Bowl, we’ll take you well beyond the Top 25.

We open up Triple Take to comments in the section below, or feel free to take the conversation to Twitter using the hashtag #3take. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: Pat (@d3football), Keith (@D3Keith) and Ryan (@NewsTipps).

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Widener at No. 5 Wesley.
In Kickoff 2013, I foreshadowed a dropoff from Widener coming off an 11-win season. Here’s the chance for the Pride to prove me wrong. Their challenges stem from some rebuilding spots on offense (quarterback and offensive line), and a new head coach who has yet to get his feet wet leading this team on game day. Wesley is not without its own question marks, but the Wolverines are a team that reloads more often than it rebuilds –- and is prime position to start moving hard into the season.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Widener at No. 5 Wesley would have been my pick, but Ryan generously starts the blog post each week and gets first dibs. So even though there’s plenty of intrigue about what kind of team Widener will be, we can stay within a 75-mile radius of Philadelphia and pull in another monster matchup with top 25 implications. Rowan at Delaware Valley pits a pair of three-loss teams last season (although the Profs picked up their third in the playoffs) with the majority of their outstanding defenses back. The Aggies have seven starters from the No. 9 unit in the country and the Profs eight from No. 42. Rowan turns to Paul Hammersma at quarterback and would seem to have the greater struggle to score points, but if the Profs’ D slows QB Aaron Wilmer and Del Val, we’ll have a great game that could be the springboard to someone’s big season.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Franklin at No. 1 Mount Union. It’s the head coaching debut of Vince Kehres and we’re going to learn a lot. A couple of key pieces return on offense,  but after his arrest this week in an off-campus incident, Roman Namdar might not be making his debut at wide receiver. But I’d have to think that Kevin Burke at quarterback and Germany Woods at running back should have enough firepower on offense to make this an entertaining game, regardless of the experience of the offensive line.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Washington and Jefferson at Wooster.
The Scots tend to play up, and on paper, W&J is on a level above Wooster. If the Scots can establish a run game and make the Presidents give up some yards, there’s certainly a good opportunity to keep this game within seven to 10 points.
Keith’s take: UW-Eau Claire at No. 2 St. Thomas. Springfield and Western New England are surprisingly close geographically, as the Empire 8 and NEFC teams are in the same Massachusetts city. And that could be a good game. But I went Blugolds and Tommies because there’s a reason Glenn Caruso schedules that game for his MIAC powerhouse. He knows the middle-of-the-WIAC Blugolds will take on anyone and give his team a good Week 1 test, regardless of the final score.
Pat’s take (filed before Thursday’s game): Loras at No. 22 Elmhurst. This isn’t your older brother’s Bluejays team, nor is it Josh Williams’ older brother’s Bluejays team. We might not see all the effects of Elmhurst losing a great senior class and a head coach, but I’m not sure they’ll dominate Loras the way they should.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Salisbury.
It’s been a few years since Christopher Newport played “spoiler” to the Top 25, but these recent seasons have also seen the Captains beset by a ridiculous amount of injury, which has ended any season momentum before it even starts. There’s a lot to be excited about with this CNU team, starting with the return of quarterback Lyndon Gardner, who was hurt for a good chunk of 2012. In turn, Salisbury is missing a few key pieces that will take some time to sort out, so the Captains could get the kind of win they haven’t seen since the turn of the decade.
Keith’s take: No. 24 St. John Fisher. This Cardinal-on-Cardinal action probably should have been my pick below for where a bird team is going to bite it, since I’d be guaranteed to be right. But SJFC’s trip to Otterbein — 16 starters back from last year’s 8-2 team — could mean a short stay in the top 25 for the Cardinals. Yes, those Cardinals.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Johns Hopkins. I mean, I don’t think Wittenberg losing to Butler would be an upset, although I certainly hope the Tigers can come away with a win against non-scholarship Butler. It’s hard to know what to make of Randolph-Macon or anyone in the ODAC this year, but I give the Yellow Jackets a shot.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
Even their losses last fall were tight because of how well the defense was able to keep the Spartans in their games. Well, consider most of that asset gone. Now, Case has to rely on its offense to provide a cushion when it can and to follow through and win games. The team is not going to do that until it can anoint a single quarterback that the team can rally around. There’s some dicey matchups midway through the schedule for this to remain a question mark for too long.
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons. Well it’s Week 1. Darn near everybody is on “Hmm, I’m curious about them” status. Fresh programs Southwestern, Hendrix and Berry all play their first games at home. But forced to choose, HSU and No. 11 UW-Platteville are two non-playoff teams that could go a long way this year. Since the Cowboys have their opener in Oregon, against sometimes-pretty-good Willamette, they’re the most intriguing watch of the week.
Pat’s take: Lewis and Clark. And if for no other reason than the fact that the Pioneers are off the west coast and into a part of the country where those of you who don’t stay up for the late games might learn something about them. It will be a Pioneering winner, for sure, whether that’s L&C or Utica.

Which 2012 playoff team is going to end up wishing it had a Week 1 bye?
Ryan’s take: St. Scholastica.
Sure the Saints should be able to stand up to the competition in the UMAC and claim another conference championship, but Whitworth’s defense will again be there to snuff out any spark early on in the opener.
Keith’s take: Framingham State. I don’t think they’ll wish they had a bye, necessarily, but they might lose at Endicott. The Gulls won this game 34-7 last season, but the Rams played Salve Regina in the NEFC title game and advanced to the playoffs. I think Framingham State would be eager for another crack at Endicott, so maybe they don’t fit perfectly in this category, but if I couldn’t squeeze them in here, I wouldn’t have mentioned the game at all. Melikke van Alstyne has made a name for himself in the Rams’ backfield, and he’s got four of his offensive line starters back.
Pat’s take: Concordia-Chicago. An extra week of practice would probably suit this program just fine — they lost more than 50 players and the head coach from last year and came into training camp with a depth chart in extreme flux. Lake Forest and the Cougars had a great showdown last year but it won’t be repeated.

Which bird will get bested?
Ryan’s take: The Falcons of Concordia (Wis.).
Concordia has a lot of things going well for it, including a solid group of returning players, to put the team in a prime position to compete for the top spot in the NACC. Hopes are high, and the expectations are not unreasonable. However, opponent Augsburg is a tough one right out of the gate. The Auggies, by their own right, are a team that’s been steadily improving its stock year to year – and they play in a conference against the toughest schools in Minnesota. This game will be good — better than the one last year –- but the Falcons are going to have to have to wait till next week to put one in the win column.
Keith’s take: The Seahawks of Salve Regina. I’ll have you know I put 14 games on my “to watch” list, and there were Golden Bears and Beavers and Boxers and Bulldogs and Engineers and Cowboys and Saints and Soup Bowls and Backyard Brawls. But darned if I didn’t have to get to the last game to get a bird team. By the way, Bridgewater State, our pick in Kickoff to win the MASCAC, has eight starters back on offense. Salve has all-American Phil Terio on defense, but lost five key starters and defensive-minded coach Bob Chesney.
Pat’s take: The Eagles of Northwestern (Minn.). Not sure how good a year to expect out of St. Olaf but Northwestern is breaking in a new quarterback for the first time in a few years while the Oles are breaking in a new head coach.

Which long losing streak is likely to end?
Ryan’s take: Hartwick.
Certainly not the longest of down streaks to be riding, but the seven-game skid after opening 2012 with three wins had to have been disappointing for the Hawks. But that’s not terribly far removed from the results of the past few seasons, since Jason Boltus quarterbacked the team back in 2008. Last fall, Hartwick crushed Husson in the season opener 55-14. There’s no reason to think they aren’t motivated to repeat the feat on Saturday.
Keith’s take: McDaniel. Catholic and Western Maryland used to be one of the games of the year back in the days when I wrote the Around the Mid-Atlantic column. Now it’s the game where I pick the Green Terror, which has lost 12 in a row but outdid Stevenson in a scrimmage and has star running back Joe Rollins prepped for a big final season, to break a losing streak. Go figure. Simple Daddy, don’t you know that things move in cycles?
Pat’s take: Maine Maritime. Thirteen losses in a row is a huge comedown for a team that was competitive in a 2009 playoff game at Montclair State. The Mariners losing to Anna Maria to start last season was a bit of a shocker and surely Maine Maritime is eager to not let that happen again.

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