A new podcast for the new season

Thomas More gets credit for scheduling up, as go a handful of other teams, even though they lost.(Wesley athletics photo)

Thomas More gets credit for scheduling up, as go a handful of other teams, even though they lost.
(Wesley athletics photo)

The eighth season of the Around the Nation Podcast is underway. Pat and Keith run down the big news of the day, plus share their picks for game balls, most interesting stat lines, run through the past week’s predictions and more.

Is it better to schedule down or schedule up in non-conference games? Pat and Keith give their opening week opinions. Plus, please let us know how you feel about the new podcast format, as we continue to tweak it for the 2014 season.

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Triple Take: Rivalry week

Chris Haupt
With an extra week to wait and prepare, Chris Haupt and Widener need a win against Delaware Valley to secure a playoff bid.
Widener athletics file photo

For all the games played in the regular season, those that live as part of storied rivalries are among the greatest.

It’s special for the players, alumni and parents who get to be a part of those traditions. For no matter how bad a season has been, rivalry week offers a chance at a bit of redemption, a chance to play with heart and end the school year – or even a college career – with a smile. From Monon and Cortaca to Bowls and Games, the edge-of-your-seat excitement happens all across the country.

Pat, Keith and Ryan take you into Week 11, with Selection Sunday looming just beyond.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley at No. 9 Widener.
There has been no shortage of questions about the Pride’s strength throughout the season. They’ve beaten their three best opponents by only a combined 13 points. And their lesser opponents? Well, those teams have been absolutely pummeled. The Aggies are the last hurdle to Widener’s ride into the postseason, but oh what a hurdle. After a fall from grace with two opening losses, DelVal regained its form and has been more convincing than Widener down the stretch. Both teams are statistically sound, but Widener will want to win this one to avoid an ugly three-way tie for the top of the MAC. Of course, DelVal will want to win to force just such a situation. This will be a conference people could be talking a lot about come Sunday.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at No. 22 Bethel. Once upon a time, St. John’s had beaten Bethel 20 consecutive meetings. But these days, the Royals have the upper hand. Bethel’s playoff hopes are already flagging thanks to the loss to St. Olaf and it can’t afford to lose this game. Meanwhile, St. John’s needs the win to finish with a winning record … and who knows, it might take some extra motivation from the possibility that John Gagliardi might be coaching his last game.
Keith’s take: Adrian at No. 17 Huntingdon. Since I wrote the Around the Nation column largely on the implications of this game, there’s no need to rehash that if you’ve been following along. But I didn’t get into player matchups or X’s and O’s, and there’s something big to focus on here: Adrian is second in the country in scoring defense (10.67 points per game to No. 1 Mount Union’s 3.11) and held five consecutive MIAA opponents in the single digits before Albion scored 19 in an overtime loss last week. Huntingdon scores 39.25 points per game and puts up 417.75 yards (numbers that are just 16th and 54th nationally), with multitalented RB Trevor Manuel guiding the way. Adrian LBs Deonte Bridgman and Hunter Juntunen lead the Bulldogs’ defense, which is adept at stopping the run (1oth nationally) and the pass (fifth). Huntingdon DL D.J. Chappell and Courtney Moss have been spending time in opponents’ backfields. This game is a curiosity because of the mismatch of styles, as well as D-III regions. The MIAA isn’t exactly known as one of D-IIIs top conferences, and Huntingdon, if it wins big by scoring a bunch, will be making a statement for playoff inclusion and for the quality of D-III ball in the deep south.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Maryville at Ferrum.
Both teams have a lot to play for here, and it’s rare in recent years for this game to be separated by more than one score. The Scots are trying to secure their first winning season since 2007, and this under the leadership of a first-year coach. Ferrum, on the other hand, could be propelled into the postseason if Christopher Newport suffers an upset loss. Expect this matchup to go down to the bone.
Pat’s take: Denison at Kenyon. Denison has a huge chance to play spoiler here. And who thought we would ever be talking about someone spoiling Kenyon’s playoff chances? Denison’s 3-6 is just as misleading as Kenyon’s 6-3. For two members of the same conference, they have fairly few common opponents.
Keith’s take: Buena Vista at Dubuque. The Beavers, in hindsight, played perhaps the nation’s toughest opening five games (a distinction that previously belonged to Buffalo State). They went 0-5 against four teams that have playoff aspirations (UW-Platteville, Concordia-Moorhead, Bethel and Coe) and Wartburg, allowing 48.6 points per game and losing each contest by between 21 and 51 points. Since, however, they’ve reeled off four wins in varying fashions, and can get to .500 on the season by beating last season’s IIAC champ, who also comes in at 4-5. The Spartans can still wing it, as Sean Anderson averages seven catches a game and Austin Morgan (6.89) is just a shade behind, and you’d expect them — by reputation and name recognition — to run up some high totals against BVU. The Beavers allowed 369 yards and four passing touchdowns against Simpson last week, but they won, 29-27, and are playing to end the season on a high note, while Dubuque is undoubtedly disappointed with its encore.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Waynesburg.
One- and two-point wins against teams that are 2-7 don’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence, especially when this week’s opponent is veteran power Washington and Jefferson. Top 25 voters (myself included) held off a long time pulling the trigger on the Yellow Jackets because the strength of schedule and margins of victory just didn’t stack up well compared with the rest of the teams being considered. With a loss, Waynesburg could very well be sitting nervously as a 9-1 at-large team on Selection Sunday.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Cortland State. The Cortaca Jug is motivation enough for either team, and Ithaca has had a pretty good season. The Bombers lost each of the past two meetings, including being dominated last year in a 27-3 loss. There seems to be some gamesmanship going on with the status of Ithaca quarterback Phil Neumann as well, but I wouldn’t expect Ithaca to come with anything better than its best possible performance.
Keith’s take: No. 24 Pacific Lutheran. In trying to find a team that isn’t mentioned elsewhere in Triple Take, my options were limited; even more so when look for one that might actually lose. In a game at Menlo, in California’s bay area, the Seattle-area Lutes travel to face a team that’s lost four in a row. The Oaks, a former NWC and D-III member, have faced No. 3 Linfield, No. 6 Wesley and NAIA No. 1 Marian this season, so they’re ready for the kind of athletes they’ll see from PLU. The Lutes are tested as well, and need to win for playoff inclusion (even though Menlo is non-D-III, the at-large bids are so competitive, each team needs everything it can get), so perhaps this is a terrible pick. But what’d you want me to do, suggest Mississippi College would win at No. UMHB? Suggest 0-9 McDaniel would pick off No. 21 Johns Hopkins? I guess I could have picked No. 11 Salisbury to loaf, with playoff spot now in hand, against Regents Cup rival Frostburg State. My bad.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Pomona-Pitzer/Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Both of these teams can’t end the season winless. *Somebody* has to go home happy on Saturday. The Sagehens are riding an unflattering 18-game skid, so I could venture a guess as to which team will come out on top. But if ever there were a time to break the streak, this is it.
Pat’s take: St. Norbert. After a couple of years on the sidelines, St. Norbert is again playing a part in the Midwest Conference race. They could take Lake Forest down on Saturday, but if not, they were here in the end, which is something that would have been difficult to imagine after the opener against John Carroll.
Keith’s take: Louisiana College. Here’s a team I consider in the nation’s top 15, whose playoff hopes are on life support because Pool C is loaded with teams which grade out slightly better on the criteria than the Wildcats. As my eighth team in for seven spots when I ran a quick projection earlier in the week, LC’s hopes are very much alive. I know for a fact the selection committee members are curious about the game against Hardin-Simmons, which brings the nation’s No. 2 total offense (556.56 yards/game) and No. 234 defense (493 yards/game) to Pineville. Here’s the deal: The pressure is on, as it will be in the playoffs, so LC’s start a week early. A win with spotlight on, against this offense, is worth a win over a regionally ranked opponent, plus an SoS boost, which could help the Wildcats get in. They need just one thing to break right — a loss by one of the CCIW leaders, or a result in the NCAC that gives Wittenberg or Ohio Wesleyan the AQ, an Adrian win at Huntingdon — but more than anything, they need to beat the Cowboys, or there’ll be no one to blame but themselves.

Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Thomas More.
Remember the last time these two Bridge Bowl opponents met without one of them prepping for the postseason? Me neither. This is where the rivalry lives on the best, in the games in which each team is laying it all out on the field and playing with absolutely nothing to lose. MSJ is 4-5; TMC is 6-3. This is just such a game – the final hurrah for the seniors on both sidelines.
Pat’s take: Union at RPI. This snuck up on me because I wasn’t aware that the Dutchman Shoes game had been moved back to Week 11, which is where it belongs. A rivalry game just isn’t the same in Week 9, where it had been stuck for a while, or Week 6, where it was played a decade ago. For me, this rivalry game is most interesting because I want to see if RPI can continue the success it has had this season. And that success is surprising to me, considering the amount of turmoil the program has been through, including a four-head-coaches-in-15-months span. By the way, of this group, I’m the only one that doesn’t have an alma mater/rivalry game to worry about anymore. ::shakes fist:: Curse you, Georgetown!
Keith’s take: Hanover at Franklin. I had a similar thought about Union-RPI, and I’m glad it, the Bronze Turkey and the NESCAC rivalry games all fall on Week 11. Mostly though, the rivalry games this year are a bit out of the national spotlight. Trinity (Conn.) going for a perfect season against a better-than-usual Wesleyan (5-2) is a big deal, but the Victory Bell game is this year’s biggest. Despite Hanover’s 35-34 loss to Manchester (five straight wins) last week, the Panthers still have a chance to beat their rivals on their home field, win the HCAC and take the conference’s automatic playoff bid. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have been on a tear since an 0-2 start, and have allowed just 23 points over the past five games. Hanover won 15 of 16 from 1989 to 2004, but Franklin — coached by Mike Leonard, a 1984 Hanover grad — has won seven in a row.

Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: The NCAC’s tiebreaker champ.
While so many other teams out there have clarity on how to get their conference’s automatic qualifier, Wittenberg, Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon (all with one conference loss) have been bogged down by conference criteria that has been interpreted a dozen different ways by those outside of the NCAC brass. It appears that either Witt or Kenyon would get the AQ, but how grueling it must be to not know over these final two weeks whether you control your own fate. (UPDATE: The NCAC office has made public what would happen in the various scenarios)
Pat’s take: Castleton State. If the Spartans make it to the playoffs, and they very well can beat Mount Ida, they’ll get there without their star quarterback, Shane Brozowski, who broke his leg in last week’s win against Husson.
Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins. Great idea for a question, but my issue with it is every answer that makes sense now — North Central, for example — wouldn’t make as much sense after a win on Saturday puts that team into the playoffs. But I can say that the Blue Jays were once a ball rolling down hill, undefeated, in line for a playoff home game and a second consecutive 10-0 regular season before Franklin & Marshall spoiled it last week. Rebounding to beat McDaniel will clinch the Centennial Conference, and it’s plenty to pump up the players to push hard in Week 10. But it’s also going to be light years away from the type of challenge the Blue Jays get in the first round — against a Salisbury, maybe, or at home against Washington & Lee, as in Pat’s most recent projection. I think I’d rather be going into the playoffs having played my best game against my conference’s best team rather than this.

Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: No. 13 Heidelberg.
For a team that played Mount Union better than any other this year, Heidelberg could give itself a lot of drive (and maybe a good seeding) heading into postseason if they are able to knock off formerly ranked Baldwin Wallace.
Pat’s take: Adrian. With a win at Huntingdon on Saturday, the Bulldogs, already in as the MIAA champ, could potentially play themselves as high as a possible home game, or at least a winnable road game in the first round of the playoffs. With a loss, the Bulldogs could well find themselves on the short road to Alliance, Ohio, and a date with Mount Union. They will need to be at their most motivated, too, to go down to Alabama and beat a team that is playing for its playoff life. Huntingdon needs this win to get in, but I’d say Adrian needs the win in order to extend its reasonable playoff life.
Keith’s take: St. Olaf. Mostly an afterthought in this week’s playoff chatter, the Oles, with a win at 9-0 St. Thomas, would have closed the season with consecutive victories against regionally ranked opponents, be 8-2 and have an SoS that would get them in the discussion (.515 but bound to rise). So why is nobody talking about the Oles? Well, they allow 211 rushing yards per game, and the Tommies rush for 239 per, for starters. Upsetting the No. 4 Tommies would probably take a combination of great Oles play and lackluster effort from St. Thomas, which makes sense if you think the Tommies are content with just being in the postseason, but not if you believe they’d rather play in December in Minnesota instead of Oregon, Ohio or Texas.

Your handy guide to Pool C

Lycoming
Lycoming is on our list, but will the Warriors ever get on the board?
Lycoming athletics photo

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

By Keith McMillan

For the purposes of discussing Pool C on Monday’s podcast, Pat Coleman and I ran a loose projection of what regional rankings would look like after Saturday’s games (new ones come out Wednesday afternoon). Then we took a look at the teams who have the best chances at securing the seven at-large playoff bids.

Given last week’s regional rankings and last Saturday’s upsets, some changed, but not much. In the East, we move St. John Fisher out and Delaware Valley in. In the South, Franklin & Marshall takes the place of Hampden-Sydney. In the North, Wabash tumbles from fourth out of the ten regionally ranked teams, while Wheaton joins, and slots no lower than sixth. In the West, losses by Bethel and Concordia-Moorhead weren’t enough to push them out, which meant teams like Illinois College, St. Olaf and Willamette, which might be ranked in less competitive regions, are still on the outside looking in.

With that part of the exercise complete, Pat and I were able to project automatic qualifiers in the 11 conferences with bids up for grabs. The main ones that affect Pool C are the CCIW and NCAC, with the MAC not far behind. For this, we projected North Central (by virtue of a win against 5-4 Augustana and an Elmhurst win over 6-3 Illinois Wesleyan) and Widener in. At the time of recording, we didn’t feel comfortable with how we were interpreting the NCAC tiebreaker, but as I read it then and read it now, I think Kenyon would win a three-way tiebreaker with Wittenberg and Ohio Wesleyan. The Lords have the worst overall record, but their only conference loss is to OWU, because it doesn’t play Wabash or Wittenberg. The Tigers and Battling Bishops losses are to Wabash, which is lower in the standings than OWU.

Kenyon in is bad news for other Pool C hopefuls, who’ll be rooting for potential Pool C teams to take any Pool A bid possible.

What we came up with is the below chart. This is both what the board would look like after the AQ teams are put into the field, and the way these teams fell in our mock regional ranking, excluding teams we project to win the AQ. Included with each team is its current strength of schedule figure and its record against regionally ranked opponents. Asterisks denote a Week 11 clash with an RRO.

Most likely Pool C candidates:

West North South East
Pacific Lutheran, .625, 0-2 Elmhurst, .530, 1-1 Huntingdon, .603, 1-1* Rowan, .508, 1-1
Bethel, .585, 1-1 Heidelberg, .450, 0-1 Louisiana College, .505, 0-2* Lycoming, .536, 0-1
Concordia-Moorhead, .604, 0-2 Wheaton, .558, 1-1 Muhlenberg, .548, 1-1 Bridgewater State, .511, 0-1
UW-Platteville, .530, 0-1 North Coast runners up Franklin & Marshall, .537, 2-1 Delaware Valley, .471, 0-2*

If you want to simulate the way the national selection committee will approach at-large selections on Saturday night, take the top four teams in each regional and compare them on the criteria. Instead of evaluating a pool of 16 or 18 teams at once, they’ll just look at four. Each time you put a team in — say Elmhurst finishes 9-1 and is your first — then you just bump the next team up on to the board (in this case Heidelberg) and compare the four. In theory, all seven at large teams could come from the same region.

The purpose of this post is not to pick the seven for you — I’ll leave that for you — but to give you insight on what the facts are, and what the committee is looking at, prior to Saturday’s final week of games. Some points of analysis:

Few one-loss teams: Though we always say its about who you beat not who you lose to, number of losses clearly matters, as winning percentage is primary criteria. Loosely translated, that means 9-1 and 8-1 teams are usually Pool C locks, provided there are enough bids to accommodate them. But this year, there are seven bids and just a handful of teams who could finish 9-1 and not earn an AQ: Elmhurst, Heidelberg, Ohio Wesleyan, Wittenberg, Bridgewater State, Illinois College. That’s it. Rowan, which could finish 8-2, but 8-1 against Division III opponents, makes a seventh “one-loss team” for playoff purposes.

Strength of schedule: If only wins mattered, we’d slot those seven in and call it a day. But we know all schedules are not created equal. So the NCAA adds two-thirds opponents winning percentage (who you played) and one-third opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (reflects strong conference, strong non-conference scheduling) to get the SoS figures linked to above. And that means Pacific Lutheran, with its monster figure, could be in better shape than half of the one-loss teams. It also means if, say, Huntingdon were on the board alongside Delaware Valley, which beats Widener but not by the 16 points required to secure the AQ, then the Aggies are at a serious disadvantage. One note about how to interpret SoS figures. Slightly higher is not a big deal to the committee, but a very noticeable difference could tilt the scales among otherwise tied teams. Below .500 is not very good.

Once ranked, always ranked: Wabash might have dropped out of our mock regional rankings, but they were ranked at one point, therefore their results still counts as games played vs. RRO.

Week 11 RRO clashes: Adrian at Huntingdon, Delaware Valley at Widener, Hardin-Simmons at Louisiana College.

Watch for falling AQs (first loss): Widener (.450, 1-0*) and Waynesburg (.402, 0-0) could poach a Pool C spot from somebody if they fail to win on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets host Washington & Jefferson for the PAC title. They’re already 9-0 and could get in on record alone, but they also have one of the worst SoS figures and no games against RROs. They might be out with a loss, or they might boot your team from the field. You need them to clinch AQs.

Watch for falling AQs (second loss): Cal Lutheran (.515, 1-1) and Franklin (.471, 0-1) could fall into Pool C by picking up another D-III loss (the Grizzlies have one against I-AA Butler). Lake Forest and Elmhurst could join the group, and will have SoS figures above .530 and results vs. RROs, but would be better off just winning. Illinois College (vs. 7-2 Carroll) has an outside shot at its AQ, but would be in trouble with a defeat, due to a very low SoS and a h2h loss to Lake Forest.

Explaining the North Coast: If Kenyon steals the automatic bad, that’s bad news for everyone. Bumps all three NCAC runners up into Pool C. Ohio Wesleyan, (.511, 0-1); Wittenberg, ( .420, 0-1) and Wabash (.561, 2-0). Right now we have them in this order. But Wabash beat both teams head to head, so you’d want them to get to the board first. But those pesky two losses, to a potential 9-1 for OWU and Wittenberg. So maybe they get to the board first, separated by OWU’s SoS.

Explaining the CCIW: North Central takes the AQ if they, Elmhurst and Wheaton each win. In this case, Elmhurst is a strong Pool C. if North Central loses, Elmhurst can win. If Elmhurst loses, Wheaton wins.

On Bridgewater State: As the NEFC’s third-best team, they miss the conference title game, but are protected from picking up another loss. So while 9-1 is good, it might not be better than 9-2. Framingham State, if it loses the title game and automatic qualifier, has a head to head victory over the Bears. So they would get in first. And maybe Salve Regina would too; having played in the championship game, adding one RRO and also coming in under the ‘conference postseason contests’ criteria, giving it something Bridgewater State can’t match.

Too far out: There are a handful of teams who could finish with only two losses, but not be seriously considered for the field. St. Olaf (0-2, .515) might actually deserve consideration, but they would have to win at St. Thomas (9-0) this week to stay in the discussion. The group also includes Carroll (low SoS), Endicott (losses to Salve Regina, Bridgewater), Ferrum (low SoS), Gallaudet (low SoS), Greenville (no RROs), Millsaps (low SoS), Northwestern (no RROs), Otterbein (stuck behind Mount Union and Heidelberg) and Wisconsin Lutheran (low SoS), among others.

Guide to teams to root for (or against): Teams in need want the other teams with good resumes to pick up an additional loss. Root for Adrian to beat Huntingdon, and for Widener and Waynesburg to finish unbeaten. You sho should pull for the NCAC to shake out in Ohio Wesleyan’s favor. Or Wabash’s somehow. Root for Cal Lutheran to handle business against Chapman; Every AQ in Pool A is one fewer candidate to worry about in Pool C.

Okay fine, just this one: So this is the fun of it.

PLU, Elmhurst, Huntingdon and Rowan come the board first. The Bluejays go based on overall record and decent-enough SoS.

PLU, Heidelberg, Huntingdon, Rowan: The Berg can’t lose to Baldwin-Wallace. Their SoS isn’t good enough, even with the expected bump, to make up for the second loss. Here though, Rowan gets in, then Heidelberg.

PLU, Wheaton, Huntingdon, Lycoming. I take the Hawks, with the high SoS and the win over an RRO (Hampden-Sydney). Would need another win over an RRO to survive, so we’re projecting. After that, it’s Pacific Lutheran. Lost to two top-10 teams but beat three with at least five wins.

That’s five.

Bethel, Wheaton, Louisiana College, Lycoming.  Two more to choose. By virtue of high SoS and a win over RRO each, the Royals and Thunder round out my field.

My seven: Elmhurst, Rowan, Heidelberg, Huntingdon, Pacific Lutheran, Bethel, Wheaton.

Left on the board: Concordia-Moorhead, NCAC team, LC and Lycoming. So that last-second Royals TD would have decided a playoff bid. And Wheaton would have played its way in. Louisiana College sees two-loss teams get added, but it and UW-Platteville watch others with higher SoS and wins over RROs go.

Leave yours in the comments.

Sorry for not posting this on Tuesday, everybody. It will be reprised for Thursday’s Around the Nation, using the actual regional rankings.