Triple Take, Week 5: Let the conference rumbles begin

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at Linfield. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at the Wildcats. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

If it hasn’t already where you’re from, conference play begins in Week 5. From the ASC to the WIAC (and places in between — the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, ODAC and SCIAC get underway, while all but one game has yet to be played in NJAC and NWC), the games against familiar rivals are on deck. Twenty-four of the 28  conferences come with an automatic bid, so even though it’s too early to talk postseason, it’s never too early to consider playoff implications. Saturday’s games mean something long term.

In short, though, we have a doozy upon us this weekend. Pat, Ryan and I sift through which of the 244 teams are most worth keeping an eye on, via seven categories.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 12 Bethel. The game in Washington, Pa. is more likely to be a defacto conference title game, but the one in Arden Hills, Minn. has even more on the line, and could feature the best-played football in the country on Saturday. The Cobbers and Royals each practice the lost art of playing defense, ranking in the national top 20 in total (averaging 263 and 241 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (a shade under 13 points per game each). Although Bethel is already on thin ice because of its season-opening loss to Wartburg, the MIAC has sent two teams to the playoffs nine times since the expansion in 1999, and this might end up a preview of this year’s duo. On top of all that, this insane thing happened last time these teams met at Bethel, and the specter of that game hangs over this one.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 14 Pacific Lutheran. I’m filing my take early, so I don’t get to see what Pat and Keith have written, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose this game, too. Never mind the fact that it’s a matchup between top-25 teams, but it has also grown into a marquee conference clash over the past few seasons. And it’s almost becoming a tradition for these two squads to meet twice in the fall, once in the regular season and then again in the first round of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, both are undefeated, and both have stout defenses. And because Linfield is excelling offensively with the pass while PLU is doing so with the run, these two teams would be candidates for the “contrasting styles” question farther down in Triple Take, if they weren’t so highly ranked, that is.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson. While all of those conferences listed above are getting started, the PAC is deep into its conference schedule, which started in Week 1 because of the conference’s expansion to include Carnegie Mellon and Case. With Thomas More already having taken a loss and the committee having passed over 1-loss PAC teams in the past because of strength of schedule, there may only be room for one PAC team in this year’s playoffs. Barring a later upset, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to get that spot.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Gallaudet at Anna Maria. The Bison won nine games, made the playoffs and had an NFL prospect last season. The AmCats are in their sixth football season, and have six wins total. But you can expect this one to be surprisingly close, if only because neither side can really score. Anna Maria has seven touchdowns in three games this season, but that’s seven more than Gallaudet, who have been outscored 50-2 so far. They’re part of the reason why, in contrast with conferences like the ASC, OAC and ODAC, where teams average more than 33 points per game, the ECFC is the nation’s lowest-scoring conference, at 15.41 points per team per game. There will probably be some success for both offenses on Saturday, but the casts have changed since last season, so don’t expect a playoff team vs. doormat blowout.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps at Hendrix. I’m looking forward to seeing this showdown happen. After the Majors got blasted by East Texas Baptist last week, there are a lot of questions hanging around for a team that was 9-1 last year but starts 2014 at 1-2. Tackling needs to improve; turnovers need to stop. ETBU’s 715 yards of total offense is a scary thing, and Millsaps should be scared if the team can’t keep those kinds of numbers in check going forward. But while Millsaps is a team on the slide, Hendrix appears to be one on the rise. A 3-0 start is something for the Warriors to be very happy about, and the fact that they were able to have their offense step up in games, as well as the defense to shine, shows how versatile this second-year program can be.
Pat’s take: Washington U. at Berry. One could play the comparative scores game because already this year, Rhodes has played both Berry and Wash U. But I just expect this to be close because it’s a bit of a trip for the Bears and Berry is getting better. They only lost to Rhodes 12-0 and lost 28-27 at LaGrange.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 UW-Platteville. I ruled out the top-25 clashes as picks here, and the luster is off games like Salisbury at No. 7 St. John Fisher and No. 8 Wartburg at Central. Even Louisiana College at No. 4 Wesley isn’t as exciting as it first appeared. So to truly go out on a limb, I’ll take 0-3 UW-Eau Claire, playing at Carson Park in the WIAC opener. The Blugolds have only scored 24 points this season, which makes this an even more risky pick, but they’ve played three perennial midwest powers  St. Thomas, St. John’s and Wheaton. UW-Platteville makes four current top 25 teams in four weeks for UW-EC, and if the Blugolds are not demoralized, they could catch the Pioneers sleeping. Last year, Eau Claire led at halftime and after a 98-yard third-quarter kick return before Platteville scored the final four TDs. UW-P this year has been a bit of an enigma, winning by 60 in Week 1 and squeezing past Dubuque in Week 2, and it’s had two weeks to stew over a 28-7 loss to North Central. So the upset is no small task.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. While this qualifies for this category because the Saints are in the Top 25, it barely counts as an upset when the opponent is undefeated conference rival Washington and Jefferson. Not to mention that both are statistically in the top 10 in total offense in the nation.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Lycoming, I suppose. The MAC unbeaten teams will start to knock each other off this week. In order to believe Stevenson can beat Lycoming, however, one has to think that Stevenson is ready to make a big leap forward. The Mustangs were fairly dominant in Week 1 vs. North Carolina Wesleyan but have won the next three games by a touchdown apiece, so they’re barely hanging onto this 4-0. They won’t be able to get away with 4-for-18 passing this week.

Pick a team that will open conference play in dramatic fashion
Keith’s take: Willamette, vs. George Fox. The dramatics for the Bearcats might be of the record-setting variety as opposed to the last-second type. Willamette rushes for 285 yards a game, has had two weeks since a 42-28 win at Cal Lutheran, and faces first-year George Fox, which has allowed 1,028 yards in its two losses. The real curiosity might be finding out just how many NWC contenders there are, which means you’ll have to pay attention to Linfield-PLU and Whitworth-Pacific as well this weekend.
Ryan’s take: Redlands, at Pomona-Pitzer. An 0-2 record doesn’t tell us much if those two games came against No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 5 Linfield. The Bulldogs were expected to lose both of them (maximum chalk). But this week is Redlands’ chance to show what they learned from those experiences and put the lessons into action. Opponent Pomona-Pitzer should be a great way to make sure everything is clicking, to earn a win – and be set for the following week against Cal Lutheran and later against the rest of the SCIAC.
Pat’s take: Augustana, vs. Elmhurst. The CCIW opens this weekend with the potential for three blowouts, while this game, between teams expected to be in the middle of the conference, has the potential for some heroics. It matched a couple of players who have already had standout individual performances this year: Augustana defensive back Tim Maroder (four interceptions vs. Loras) and Elmhurst running back Josh Williams (306 rushing yards at Olivet).

Which team lost badly last week, but will bounce back?
Keith’s take: Southern Virginia, at Kean. Since these teams lost 47-7 to No. 4 Wesley and 73-7 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday, facing each other should be a relief. Both teams are 0-3. The Knights have a significant road trip to North Jersey ahead, but they’ve faced three high-powered offenses in Methodist, Guilford and Wesley. Kean has managed just 49 points total this season. (Millsaps, facing Hendrix after a 68-15 loss to ETBU, is a candidate here as well.)
Ryan’s take: Williams, at Bates. Sure, it’s tough to come off of a 38-0 loss to Trinity (Conn.), but if Williams can channel some of the success it found two weeks ago in its opener from quarterback Austin Lommen and running back Alex Scyocurka, then there’s a good chance that the Ephs can look sharp this weekend against Bates.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh, vs. UW-Stout. The Titans had a bye this past week, but they are 0-3 coming into this game, having not played a single Division III school. Getting to play UW-Stout will be better than playing South Dakota State, that’s for sure.

Pick a winner in a matchup of contrasting styles
Keith’s take: LaGrange, at Maryville. The Panthers contrast with themselves, much less the other team. LaGrange, behind QB Graham Craig, has the nation’s fifth-most-prolific passing offense and the 227th-best passing defense. They keep it interesting though, scoring between 28 and 35 each time out, allowing between 27 and 37, and having a two-point loss, a one-point win and two overtime wins. Across the way, Maryville brings a 286-yard-per-game rushing attack (11th-best nationally) and a scoring average of  get this  28.8 points per game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford, vs. Washington and Lee. Well, it’s almost unfair when I look at the contrast between the Quakers and Generals. Guilford has one of the best passing games in the nation, and, just as importantly, it is third statistically in turnover margin. Washington and Lee, on the other hand, slots in at No. 168 in turnover margin, being negative-2 on the season. And they have almost no pass game to speak of, relying on their ground attack  which isn’t close to where it’s been in recent seasons. Sure enough, these two teams contrast each other, just not in a flattering way.
Pat’s take: Illinois College, vs. Ripon. After two losses in a row, the Blueboys need to get well, and fast. The good thing is that neither of those games counted against IC’s conference record in the Midwest Conference South Division, and this week’s game vs. Ripon won’t, either. The run-heavy Red Hawks are also 1-2, but with the only win vs. Rockford. Meanwhile, most people should know Illinois College likes to throw the ball.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Bethany. Taking it on the chin from Mount Union in Week 1 perhaps was a wise strategy. The Bison have three wins since, including two on the road, and a 33-27 victory against Waynesburg last week. After 35 carries for just 75 yards in a 58-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, Bethany’s ground game has been stout. They’re running the ball an average of 46 times per game for almost 200 yards a week, with a three-headed attack: Running backs Jalen Holmes and Brandon Hill, and quarterback Brian Vales. Case Western Reserve has only allowed 83 yards per game rushing, so this clash will be worth watching.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I’m owning up to my mistake from last week, when I wrote about this game a week before it was to happen. So a cut-and-paste from that, which still applies today: I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles’ competition has been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: The Rhodes-Chicago winner. This is a key Pool B game on Saturday, a matchup of unbeatens. Rhodes put up 41 on Chicago in Memphis in 2013, winning 41-34, but expect a lower-scoring game.

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 Week 3: Big clashes and bigger road trips

Cartel Brooks and Heidelberg had their way with Alma in Week 1. This weeks opponent will be much more challenging. (Heidelberg athletics photo)

Cartel Brooks and the rest of the Heidelberg Student Princes had their way with Alma in Week 1. This week’s opponent will be much more challenging.
Heidelberg athletics photo

Late September in Division III is a special time.

In some places, conference play gets underway, and for those who aren’t quite there yet, it’s road trip time! No. 1 UW-Whitewater has a jaunt to New Jersey coming down the ‘pike, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor is cheesing on the way to Wisconsin, No. 6 Linfield is going back to Cali and Coast Guard is going to Farmville.

The weather cools off a bit, so players at least avoid seeing heat blur as it rises off the turf. That makes it a great weekend to take in a game quite literally from coast (at Mass. Maritime, against Maine Maritime in the 42nd Admiral’s Cup) to coast (at Cal Lutheran, against Willamette in Thousand Oaks, Calif., at its “work of art” stadium a few miles inland) and everywhere in between.

Here’s a rundown from Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I of which among the 244 teams most bears watching in Week 3:

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville at No. 5 North Central. Big games abound this week, but it’s difficult to look past a clash of top-10 teams. This matchup was such a letdown in last year’s playoff second round that it was the fifth mentioned in the eight-game roundup that week. This time instead of Stanek vs. Kelly, it’s Dylan Warden and Bryce Corrigan under center, and the defenses perhaps in the spotlight. The Pioneers have allowed just 314 yards per game in wins over Buena Vista and Dubuque, and the Cardinals allowed 195 last week against St. Norbert. It’s the first game at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium since the playoff clash, and it’s a 6 p.m. kickoff. Giddy up.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville at No. 5 North Central. The year’s first matchup between top-10 teams hardly needs an explanation as to why it’s worth being the game of the week. The two teams average more than 500 yards of total offense a game, putting them at 18th and 19th nationally in that category. Even more interesting (and more of an “X” factor in this game) is that they each typically win the turnover battles against their opponents.
Pat’s take: No. 16 Heidelberg at No. 10 John Carroll. After last year, when we didn’t get to know how good either of these teams really were until November, we won’t have a Heidelberg Uncertainty Principle (go ahead, Google it) in 2014, at least now as to how these teams stack up against each other. Except that if Mark Myers doesn’t play for John Carroll … we’ll still end up with legitimate questions. “We’re planning on going without him,” JCU coach Tom Arth said in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s just too early to say. We’re kind of proceeding as if he will not be playing.”

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Morrisville State at St. Lawrence. New York is the home of the close game this week, according to us. Mine’s only a surprise to the naked eye, or those attracted to the 112 points QB Lemar Johnson and the Mustangs have scored in their 2-0 start. But the Saints (1-1) are fourth in the country in total defense (146.5 yards per game) and time of possession (38:17). So whether it’s stopping the Mustangs or keeping the ball away from Johnson’s offense, St. Lawrence has a chance.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 St. John Fisher at Brockport State. One of the best things Brockport State has going for it is its defense, particularly against the pass, and Fisher had nearly 300 yards through the air in the opener against Otterbein. Brockport will stay in this if they can neutralize Fisher’s Tyler Fenti-Nathan Nigolian connection. Brockport has already built up a 2-0 record, including a win over Cortland State, and appears to be a team with more potential to rise.
Pat’s take: Hartwick at No. 19 Ithaca. This offense vs. defense matchup probably favors the defense. Ithaca can almost certainly hold the Hawks under 40. And a little shout-out to North Carolina Wesleyan, which kept its game vs. Christopher Newport closer than most would likely have expected on Thursday night before losing, 31-28.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. Ol’ Chalky Coleman down below might end up being correct, but Ryan and I will show some guts and walk out on a limb. Hartwick has flashed impressive offense in its 1-1 start, hitting the 40-point mark and having nearly 500 yards of offense against Western Connecticut and Morrisville State. Wide receiver Tanner Williams had 13 catches for 255 yards and three TDs in the opener, and running back Greg Bell had 51 carries for 331 yards and three TDs last week. The Hawks also handed the Bombers one of their three losses last season, 21-9. Ithaca hung on against Union in Week 1, winning 21-16 when the Dutchmen’s 14-play drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth and goal, and was not in action last weekend.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Wheaton. I’m stepping up to own the pick I made in Kickoff, when I said UW-Eau Claire would pull off the most surprising upset of the season. The Blugolds fared very well against St. Thomas but then had got beaten big by St. John’s. Wheaton, in turn, wasn’t flexing a ton of muscle against Kalamazoo last weekend. There’s a lot of opportunity for UW-EC to make a statement here and not stumble winless into conference play.
Pat’s take: None. Among possibilities that would be true upsets (not Rowan/Wesley and certainly not the games between ranked teams), I would say Brockport State over St. John Fisher is the best possibility. But I like the chalk here.

Which team won’t have a great season, but will have a great week?
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist. The Tigers have Millsaps, trips to Texas Lutheran, Louisiana College and Hardin-Simmons, and a season-ending home game with No. 2 UMHB ahead. That’s five likely losses unless they play better than they have in recent seasons, but this week’s clash with Southwestern is an opportunity to shine. ETBU already had its get-right game, beating Austin 43-27 after giving up 98 to Texas A&M-Commerce. The Tigers are home under their lights against the Pirates, who spent some time this week in the spotlight after earning their program’s first victory. RB Toi Glover, a 1,000-yard back last year, averaged 8.4 yards per carry last week. If he and the Tigers can’t beat Southwestern, the order of things in Texas will be shaken up.
Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley. The Aggies should have a good season, but with Widener and Lycoming being the ones I feel in the driver’s seat of the MAC, Del Val won’t end up with the kind of season the team considers great. This week, Wilkes is on the slate. While the Colonels did win last week, they also got slammed in a shutout loss to Muhlenberg in Week 1. This will be a win for Del Val and should give them some momentum with a few meatier games around the corner.
Pat’s take: Manchester. The Spartans gave up 60 points to a team that took a seven-hour bus ride to get there last week in Buffalo State. That’s not a sign of a team that’s going to play in the postseason. However, Manchester hosts in-state HCAC rival Earlham this week, which has been outscored by 63 points over the first two weeks.

Which team or player has a breakout game this week?
Keith’s take: Billy Beecher, Case Western Reserve. The Spartans quarterback had been a bit-part player in the past, and took over as the starter in the opener against Carnegie Mellon. In the 30-0 win, he passed for 301 yards and two TDs and rushed for another, so that was probably his breakout game regionally. St. Vincent has allowed 841 yards and 79 points in its opening two losses. Beecher has a chance to put up numbers that garner national attention in this matchup.
Ryan’s take: Mason Blaschke of Trinity (Texas). Rarely in this space do we get to highlight individual players (so thank you for the opportunity, Keith!). Coming off of a wrist injury last season, Blaschke hasn’t really excelled yet this fall. The Tigers are 0-2, and his passing outings have been 208 yards against Howard Payne and just 89 yards against Willamette. There’s more to Blaschke than he’s showing us. He has the right guys to throw to, and sacks haven’t been a particular burden. This week, Trinity plays Sul Ross State, the team that handed Southwestern its first win in the modern era. If Blaschke and the Tigers aren’t dominating here, then we’re looking at a mess of red flags.
Pat’s take: Matthew McDaniels, Merchant Marine. Actually, this is hard, because I kept looking at games and the players that came to mind had already had their breakout games this season. But McDaniels has been somewhat held in check this season. Last week, when he ran for 174 yards as the Mariners’ option quarterback, the team still lost. But a cross-river rivalry like SUNY-Maritime should be more than enough motivation.

The NESCAC starts this week. Give us any prediction.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan struggles for a half, then pulls away from Middlebury. Here are the five NESCAC games; right away, two of the four teams that had losing records last year will get that taste out of their mouths, since 0-8 Hamilton faces 0-8 Tufts and 2-6 Williams hosts 3-5 Bowdoin. But there’s intrigue at the top, too. Preseason favorite (at least according to the Nothing but NESCAC crew who did our picks in Kickoff ’14) Wesleyan has 20 starters back from a 7-1 team. Middlebury was 7-1 last year too, but there’s no more McCallum Foote to lead the way. The Panthers’ eight returning defensive starters can help keep it close for a while, but not forever.
Ryan’s take: Five NESCAC teams will win on Saturday. What? Too easy? Okay, how about Bates will play Amherst neck and neck? The past four meetings between these two teams have seen the Bobcats outscored 119-13. But Bates has shown improvement the past two seasons and has the “problem” of having had some solid competition for its starting spots – as well as some depth. This will be a much better game than people are used to seeing between these two.
Pat’s take: Tufts’ long losing streak continues. I’d have said otherwise if Dave Murray hadn’t been hired at Hamilton over the summer. Murray didn’t have a lot of time to recruit for the Continentals this season but will put a little spark into the program.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Rose-Hulman. Duh. After a 40-spot in Week 1 and 74 in Week 2, I’m intrigued by the offense. Defensively, after allowing 68 points and 745 yards to Illinois College, they’re understandably the 220th-ranked defense in the country. This week’s opponent, Hanover, manages to rank worse at 225th, allowing more than seven yards per play, 558 yards per game and 40 points in an 0-2 start against Centre and Thomas More. The Engineers’ equipment manager may want to pack some scoreboard lightbulbs to give to Hanover in case Austin Swenson and the RHIT offense burn them out.
Ryan’s take: Hiram. The Terriers are third in the nation in turnover margin (thanks, in part, to six picks against Denison) and occupy the lone spot atop the NCAC. Well, part of that is because most of the NCAC hasn’t played two games yet like Hiram has, but don’t take this away from them. Hiram paid its dues for many, many, many years in the lower rungs of a middle-of-the-road conference (16th this year in Kickoff). Allegheny is a beatable opponent, which could lock in the team’s best season in years just three weeks into 2014.
Pat’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs have started off 2-0 and if they can beat Lebanon Valley, they’ll be in the best possible shape as they start running this MAC gantlet. Four of their next five games will be against Albright, Lycoming, Delaware Valley and Widener.