Around the Nation podcast: McKoy and the conference showdowns

Ill. Wesleyan hasn’t been 7-0 since 1996.
Illinois Wesleyan photo by Marc Featherly

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If you are a regular listener to the Around the Nation podcast, you already knew who Western Connecticut running back Octavias McKoy is. This week the rest of college football found out, as he ripped off 455 rushing yards, setting the single-game rushing record for all levels of NCAA football. Hear from him and his coach at the top of the podcast. Continue reading

Triple Take: Starting to click

PLU teammates look on as Connor Cummings breaks up a pass downfield at UW-Eau Claire.
Photo by Ryan Coleman,

We hear it in the ATN Podcast. We read about it in regional columns or on the message boards. The elements of a team that were hazy and green early on are finally starting to click.

Offensive lines that were breaking in new members and secondaries that got burned in the opening games are now settling into their roles and learning how to work together, and most of all, to play off one another. They’ve become a team, in every sense of the word.

And there are so many of those teams in Division III. For Triple Take, Pat, Keith and Ryan bring some insight into just a sliver of those that are out there.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Pacific Lutheran at No. 2 Linfield.
Probably one of the most anticipated conference clashes of the season — and I hope that it lives up to the billing. Linfield, though, is teetering toward nearly 600 yards a game in offense and is a wildcat when it comes to putting up points. The Lutes, on the other hand, are coming off a close win against UW-Eau Claire, which, as Pat and Keith mentioned in this space last week, could be attributed to them getting caught looking ahead to this matchup. While Pacific Lutheran and Linfield aren’t all that far apart on the Top 25, I think the dropoff from that elite tier to where the Lutes are is significant enough that it would be a clear upset if PLU were to win.
Pat’s take: Augsburg at No. 5 Bethel. Although I like that game above as well, obviously. Augsburg remains a dark horse in the MIAC, not having played anyone of note on the national or regional scene as of yet. And since the season started, that dark horse status has been usurped by St. John’s, then Concordia-Moorhead. But the Auggies have a pretty special quarterback in sophomore Ayrton Scott, a significant dual threat. Bethel, however, has grass, and a lot of rain in the Twin Cities leading up to this weekend. It could get messy.
Keith’s take: No. 11 Pacific Lutheran at No. 2 Linfield. I know we try to mix it up, and I pick third by virtue of waiting the longest to put my games into the blog post, but to me there’s not another choice in Week 5. A large part of why I believe that is because PLU played Linfield twice last year, losing 31-24 at home in Tacoma and 27-24 in McMinnville in the playoffs. So while Linfield has outscored its three opponents 168-35 and looks like it might have a team for the ages, the Lutes aren’t intimidated. Both teams frontloaded their schedules, perhaps to get ready for this game. It could be clear sailing for each after this — no disrespect to Willamette, Pacific and the rest of the NWC bunch. QB Dalton Ritchey and the Lutes are rarely penalized and have seven turnovers in three games, but it would help against Linfield if they generate some. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are fifth nationally in total offense and No. 15 in defense. In the playoff game, Linfield sacked Ritchey six times and had a key interception return for a TD, and they’d like to get after him again.

Richard Gunn’s Trine team could be the near-victim of a surprisingly close game, or the Thunder could be on your radar at the end of the weekend.
Photo by Eric Kelley,

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo at Trine.
These two team pretty regularly go in opposite directions in the standings, but K-zoo has been playing well enough at the line (on both sides of the ball) this season that they could keep this one close. What’s been killing them most this year is the turnovers — and they’re one of the worst offenders in the country in that category. Guard the ball and air it out a bit to put the linebackers on their heels and this game will be within a score.
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire at No. 9 UW-Platteville. I feel like I could be going out on a limb here a bit but on paper, when you think about Platteville struggling early with Lewis and Clark and Pacific Lutheran not being able to finish off Eau Claire until the end, there’s a case to be made. The question will be whether Joel Sweeney and the Eau Claire offense can wear down the Platteville defense and whether the Eau Claire defense can even begin to slow down the Pioneers’ passing game.
Keith’s take: Olivet at Alma. The Comets are 4-0, and the Scots 0-4 with just 33 points scored. Easy pickins, right? Well, if Alma isn’t demoralized by the unfortunately powerful part of their schedule — Heidelberg and UW-Oshkosh are former doormats now in the top 25, and Illnois Wesleyan is knocking on the door as well — maybe not. The Comets were the only team Alma beat last year, and that came after getting similiarly pummeled in their first four games. The Scots also had a 20-0 lead against Lakeland but gave up the winning score with 24 seconds left, so they’re not hopeless when matched against someone of their caliber. Alma’s numbers are bad across the board, and Olivet has beaten Wilmington, Rockford, Wisconsin Lutheran and North Park by starting with good run defense — just 74.3 yards per game allowed. They’ve generated turnovers as well.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Bethel.
Both Bethel and opponent Augsburg have played decent schedules — at least enough so to prepare them to face each other. I have Augsburg on my Top 25 ballot, so I certainly think there’s something there to like. There are similarities in the two teams’ offensive capabilities, and both are ahead of the curve in terms of forcing turnovers. It would surprise me little if a big play or two were the deciding factor in this one.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. Although this would only be an upset on paper. Delaware Valley and Lycoming are closer together than a No. 21 ranking and zero votes would suggest. The top teams in the MAC … and of course, the number of top teams is up for debate … are all really close together. The thing keeping Lycoming from having Top 25 votes is the inability of the offense to even score against Brockport State.
Keith’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. Not to dump on the Aggies, who could very well go on the road and beat Lycoming, I just don’t see a lot of top 25 upsets this week. There are some top 25 teams I wonder about — We’ve yet to see No. 15 Wheaton against a strong opponent, for example, but visiting Augustana might not fit that bill, even at 2-1; I’m curious if No. 22 Christopher Newport can be consistent through 10 games — but not many I’d pick to lose.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 UW-Oshkosh.
OK, so there’s no team ranked in the Top 10 that isn’t already on my radar. But they are higher in the overall poll than they are on my ballot, because clobbering an 0-4 Alma team and beating a non-Division III opponent don’t give me a lot of great data to go on. So let’s not say that they’re just coming on my radar, rather let’s say I’m hoping to use Saturday’s game against UW-Stout to help calibrate that radar a bit.
Pat’s take: Misericordia. I’m calling it here — first win in program history on Saturday. That’s because if they don’t win at home vs. King’s, it’s a long wait until the next chance. They play Widener, Lebanon Valley, Stevenson and Albright before ending the 2013 season at FDU-Florham. You need to do it here, Cougars.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. The Golden Eagles beat Lycoming, 30-2, then lost close games at Buffalo State and against Alfred in overtime. Rowan makes the longest remaining road trip in the NJAC, six hours from South Jersey to the village northwest of Rochester and not far from the banks of Lake Ontario. The Profs aren’t the easiest team to figure out either, so this game could go in an unexpected direction. What we do know is that the Golden Eagles, behind their dual Tys, QB Ty Stoldt and RB Tyrone Nichols, can put up offense. The bad news is that even after holding Lycoming to 2 points, Brockport still has the country’s 223rd-ranked defense.

Team most likely to salvage a bad season.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury.
The Gulls have had two weeks to put the past behind them and give into E8 play, which starts this week at Utica. In fact, Salisbury carries with it a 13-1 conference record over two seasons, winning the automatic qualifier both times. Maybe chalk this up to the quarterbacking tandem of John Dunbar and Joey Jones feeling like they’ve gotten their feet wet — “clicking” if I want to play off the Triple Take intro. Maybe their near win against Wesley still resonates. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll still finish the season 8-2.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. And it hasn’t been a particularly bad season, but it was definitely a bad September in the W-L column. If I continue to feel like the Falcons are going to be better than the two wins they had last year, this is a game (at UW-Stevens Point) they should think about winning. I feel like I’ve written almost these exact same words in #3take in the past, too.
Keith’s take: Monmouth. It wasn’t that long ago when the Scots’ game with St. Norbert was the defacto MWC title game. Now Monmouth is 1-2 and the Green Knights 3-1. The Scots go on the road for the first time this season, and after a 1-point and a 3-point loss at home, the trip to DePere, Wis. might be welcome. There’s no pressure, but plenty of inspiration in this old-fashioned conference rivalry. If the Scots can get RB Trey Yocum, the nation’s fourth-leading rusher (160.7 yards/game) going against St. Norbert’s defense, which has given up yards but no more than seven points the past three games, they could score a mild upset.

A conference opener you like.
Ryan’s take: Emory and Henry at Randolph-Macon.
There have been more than a few times in recent years in which the Wasps torched the opposition in nonconference play and then slid a bit once the ODAC docket began. Against the 2-1 Yellow Jackets, we’ll get a good idea of just what kind of team E&H is this season and whether star passer Kyle Boden and his top-notch receiving corps can keep the offensive sparks flying. R-MC is certainly no pushover and, as always, is expected to also be in the conference hunt.
Pat’s take: Loras at Luther. I like this game because these two teams had such poor seasons last year and Loras’ only conference win was against Luther. It’s a chance for Luther to return the favor, and the Norse already have a surprise win under their belt with the victory against rival St. Olaf earlier in the season.
Keith’s take: Simpson at Wartburg and Adrian at Hope. The IIAC and MIAA have both been mentioned plenty already, so I’ll keep it brief. Storm QB Taylor Nelson is completing 68% of his passes, 20 of which have gone to Brad Vogel in a 2-1 start. The Knights are 2-1 as well, and LB Ryan Billings and the defense could make a statement. I don’t know that there’s a clear IIAC favorite yet, but this game will help us determine one; Same goes for the MIAA, where Flying Dutchmen QB Michael Atwell is third in the country with 1,306 passing yards, while a team traditionally known for good defense tries to stop him. LB Deontae Bridgeman leads the Bulldogs’ defense.

Which “fighters” will win their battle this week?
Ryan’s take: The Spartans of Dubuque.
I have to believe that a nonconference slate of WIAC teams prepares someone as well as possible for their run toward the AQ. While it’s tough to say that the Spartans hung with their opponents each time, some late scores tell me that they’re not ones to throw in the towel. With a visit from Central on deck, Dubuque can bring themselves back into the Iowa discussion, a year after a deflating .500 season. And they’d do themselves some favors, too, if they’d find a darned ground game.
Pat’s take: The Privateers of SUNY-Maritime. I just know it won’t be the Mariners of the Merchant Marine Academy, and that’s a shame. I just don’t want to see something like “Fightin’ Engineers” in this category because you could put “Fighting” in front of anything. Except Quakers, perhaps. No Fighting Quakers. Or Diplomats.
Keith’s take: The Majors of Millsaps. Could you do Fighting Flying Dutchmen? Because that seems like one modifier too many. And while we’re on fighters, how lucky is Coast Guard to be under the Department of Defense instead of Transportation? The Bears’ game with Western New England will go on. But anyway, Millsaps hosts Hendrix. And after one week — mostly one giant SB Nation article — turned Hendrix from ‘the first-year program that could’ to ‘okay, enough about these noobs,’ I’m sure the Majors (3-0) would like to give the Warriors (2-1) a proper Welcome-to-D-III humbling.

Triple take: Surges and upsets

Pacific Lutheran
Brandon James ran for 77 yards in Pacific Lutheran’s opener. Are the Lutes ready to pick up where they left off in 2010?
Pacific Lutheran athletics photo

We’ve seen what teams can do, and some may already be grinding their way into conference play. And, perhaps most exciting of all, upsets happening around the nation have been forcing us to reshape our notions of who will compete and who will get left behind as we inch toward the playoffs.

In each of the first two weeks, a national Top 4 team has been knocked off. Is being that high in the rankings is a curse? If so, that means Mary Hardin-Baylor and St. Thomas, as well as Division III’s reining purple powers, will be fending off the ghosts this week.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you an inside look at some of the captivating games taking place tonight and Saturday.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Lebanon Valley at No. 25 Delaware Valley.
Recent matchups between these two have been far more lopsided than they should have been, but the Aggies no longer have big-gun quarterback piling up the stats. DelVal is 2-0, but the team’s total margin of victory is 2 points. Lebanon Valley, meanwhile, has been finding the end zone fast and frequently so far in their undefeated debut weeks. The X-factor? It could be penalties. Both teams have lacked some discipline in that category so far this year, with the Dutchmen at six per game and the Aggies at eight per game.
Keith’s take: No. 18 Kean at No. 11 Cortland State. We’ll find out quickly if last week’s big upset was due to Kean being top 25-worthy this season, or Wesley being weaker than normal. Cortland State has played Kean every year since 1996, according to the game notes, but has only lost to the Cougars once, at home in ’09. For Kean, this is as long a road trip as it’ll have in the NJAC, and it’s an opportunity to set up a great season; its next five games are against teams it should beat. Defense will be the key on Saturday; both are opportunistic teams in the turnover battle.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at Concordia-Moorhead. It’s probably been a pretty interesting week for the Johnnies after getting blown out at home by UW-Eau Claire last week. The Johnnies have won five of six in this series and 15 of 18 and coach Terry Horan was a wide receiver for the Cobbers the last time they won at home against St. John’s (1986). Last year’s meeting resulted in 70 combined points (42-28 St. John’s) and 950 yards of total offense.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Anderson.
Despite being a lower-tier HCAC team, Anderson has had a knack for being able to put up some significant points against the Lions. And Anderson has many of its core skill players back to make even more dents in the MSJ defense.
Keith’s take: Pacific Lutheran at No. 19 Cal Lutheran. When those Lutherans get together, things can get out of hand! In all seriousness, PLU doesn’t come in ranked, but it does come in having held Hamline to 144 yards in an opening-game shutout. Cal Lutheran, and particularly Eric Rogers, who scored one touchdown rushing and had another receiving against Linfield in the opener, is more of a threat than anyone the Lutes saw in Week 1. Yet it appears PLU picked up right where it left off after an 8-1 season. Although CLU should be hungry for its first victory, its home crowd might be a little more sparse than usual with the game moved to Moorpark College because construction at the on-campus stadium is incomplete.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Wittenberg at Washington U. It’s a big test for the 2-0 Bears, who have beaten Knox and Rhodes but now face a team that has won 22 consecutive regular season games. If there’s a time for Wash U to knock the Tigers off, it’s this year, with 12 senior starters and seven consecutive home wins. Last year this game was not competitive at Wittenberg, with the Tigers winning 37-7, but the Tigers have also had some close calls on the road in the past season-plus.

Most likely Top 25 to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Ohio Northern.
It’s not as if either the Polar Bears (with a win over N.C. Wesleyan) or opponent Otterbein (with a win over Gallaudet) were overly impressive in Week 1. ONU may not be able to slow Ott’s passing game come Saturday, and it’s tough for them to be guaranteed the edge in the turnover battle. Still, the Cardinals should not have been pushed into overtime by Gallaudet, so there are clear flaws to be worked out in that corner, too. Each team has had the past two weeks to make repairs.
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wheaton, by UW-Platteville. There are quite a few vulnerable top 25 teams, but they aren’t facing a real rugged slate of opponents this weekend. Platteville usually fits in the “not rugged” category as well, but after allowing just 6 points in two wins, outrushing UW-Stevens Point and Buena Vista 197.5-66.5, Wheaton could be in for a much tougher game than last year’s 51-20 victory. The game is a night kickoff at Platteville’s 10,000-seat Pioneer Stadium to boot.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Trine, by UW-River Falls. The Falcons were in the game for a half last week against St. Thomas, which isn’t really an indicator of future success, but I believe that River Falls is ready to bounce back at least a little in its first year under coach Matt Walker. Trine has won two games but not in convincing fashion against teams it would normally beat in a convincing manner.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Adrian.
It’s been several years since the Bulldogs started a season 2-0. Brandon Miller has proven himself a very capable quarterback, Damon Brown a skilled rusher and the defensive line a stingy bunch. The team’s toughest test of the season comes now against Augustana, whose 0-2 record is deceiving. The Vikings, armed with a pass game that will put a lot of pressure on the Adrian defensive backs, have played two solid teams close.
Keith’s take: St. Vincent. After giving it to FDU-Florham pretty good in a 55-3 victory, let’s see how the Bearcats deal with success. The program has not won consecutive games since its revival, but with trips to Thiel and Geneva (both 0-2) on deck, three in a row is possible. Of course, the Tomcats and Golden Tornadoes are probably licking their chops as well; PAC teams are used to St. Vincent being easy pickings.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Hampden-Sydney. Truth be told, the Tigers should be on your radar already, but wins against the USA South don’t always mean much on the national scene. They have one last USAC opponent this week, Ferrum, then travel to Huntingdon next week.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: Franklin and Marshall, vs. Ursinus.
Both F&M and Ursinus got the season started on a rough foot. But I think the Diplomats have the ability to do a better job of stopping Ursinus’ balanced but average offense than the Bears do of stopping F&M’s pass-heavy attack. Ursinus has yet to really break out of the middle of the pack in any significant statistical category, showing that the need remains for them to light a spark before they’ll be taken seriously as Centennial competitors. For F&M, it’s all about follow-through. Seven trips to the red zone and only two touchdowns? That has to improve if F&M wants to win some games this season.
Keith’s take: Coe, vs. Simpson. Both the Kohawks and Storm were blown out against a top-five team in Week 1 and lost a close one last week. Coe, ranked in the preseason, comes back home against a team it beat 42-21 last season. Coe has rushed for 206 yards per game and 5 per carry; Simpson allowed 411 and 7.6 against Bethel and could be similarly vulnerable in the ground game this weekend.
Pat’s take: Wooster, vs. Oberlin. Although the Yeomen are 1-0 themselves, with a 42-0 win against Kenyon, Wooster will still have an easier time than it had against Baldwin-Wallace and Wabash to open the season. The Scots will need to do a better job hanging onto the ball, though, having turned it over eight times in the first two weeks.

Which upset winner from last weekend will have the biggest letdown?
Ryan’s take: UW-Platteville.
In Wheaton’s opener, the Thunder posted 570 yards. Passing, rushing, it was all good news for this stalwart of the CCIW. After Platteville shocked UW-Stevens Point into a lopsided affair last week, don’t expect Wheaton to be as likely to fall. Platteville’s undefeated season ends here.
Keith’s take: Utica. Perhaps the Pioneers have risen enough and Union has fallen to the point where last week’s 28-27 Utica win is no longer an upset. But this week has letdown written all over it, with a lengthy road trip down to Maryland, where the Pioneers may be walking into a beehive of emotion. It’s Frostburg State’s first home game since teammate Derek Sheely died in the preseason. Fans are asked to wear white. On the field, the Bobcats have looked potent offensively; they racked up 411 yards in a losing effort at Springfield last weekend.
Pat’s take: McMurry. Mary Hardin-Baylor is a much better team than UT-San Antonio, regardless of the number of scholarships either one offers. But the War Hawks shouldn’t be intimidated by anything the Cru throws at them, having gotten knocked around hard by a Top 25 FCS team in Week 1 and having played in front of 30,000-plus in Week 2.

If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?
Ryan’s take: A Cardinal from Catholic.
For two weeks in a row, quarterback Greg Cordivari has led his offense on last-minute, game-winning drives to usher in a team that’s 2-0 instead of the other way around. Being a CUA fan has been a heart-pounding feat so far this season. Tonight, Carnegie Mellon is on tap.
Keith’s take: A War Hawk from McMurry. I see what you did there. Interesting question. After an 82-6 loss to one D-I-FCS program and a televised win over another last week, I’d be a War Hawk so I can take confidence from that win over UT-San Antonio into the atmosohere under the lights at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor and see if that helps our team, um, soar.
Pat’s take: Hawk. The one from Huntingdon. This weekend is Huntingdon’s chance to write perhaps the final chapter in the Bible Bowl, a rivalry between the Hawks and crosstown rival Faulkner. An NAIA member, Faulkner is seeing its conference schedule expanded to 10 games next year, and the rivalry needs to go. But the game doesn’t help Huntingdon’s playoff chances anyway, and in addition, Huntingdon has won all four meetings so far.