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Week 10: The clock ticks down on the 2015 season

Week 10. Here’s where the fun really begins. And for four-fifths of Division III, it’s 10 days from ending.

We won’t forget about all the teams who won’t make the field of 32 or participate in an ECAC bowl game in our weekly picks below. But do understand that most of the fun of the final two Saturdays of the D-III season revolves around the chase for those playoff spots, and around great rivalry games. A few of those rivals begin slugging it out this weekend, although most of the premier D-III rivalries are played in Week 11.

We’ve got regional rankings out now, and 24 of 25 automatic bids still to be clinched. This is the most wonderful time of our season. We want to you take it all in, to enjoy it. And the best way Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I can assist in that is by highlighting the games across the country that you should be paying attention to, beyond the one you’ll be participating in or following. So without further ado, here are our seven-point primers for one of the best weeks of the D-III season.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take:
No. 7 Wheaton at No. 22 Illinois Wesleyan. There are other games this week that are huge for both teams playing, but none that will cause the ripple effect that Thunder-Titans will. Not only will No. 16 North Central be feeling for its playoff pulse either during or immediately after its game at Augustana, but Pool C hopefuls nationwide have a vested interest in Wheaton, since a win would knock IWU out of the mix. NCC is plus-10 (18-point win, eight-point loss) in the potential scores-among-tied-teams three-way tiebreaker, so a close Illinois Wesleyan victory could hand the CCIW lead to the Cardinals and push both Wheaton and IWU into the pool of teams in good shape for at-large bid consideration. A Wheaton loss might also indirectly affect, say, Wabash, which could draw better matchups in the postseason if it remains unbeaten and Wheaton picks up a loss. All that and I haven’t mentioned a single thing about the game itself. IWU is certainly smarting after bad snaps led to nine North Central points last week. Wheaton only needed seven completions from QB Andrew Bowers in the driving rain, but it got 101 rushing yards. The forecast for Saturday in Bloomington is sunny with highs of 54 degrees, so this game won’t likely resemble either of last week’s.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 25 St. Lawrence at Hobart. Even last year, when Hobart was in its prime, this matchup was a nail-biter. This season, the spotlight is on the Saints, who have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since their infamous 5-5 regular season in 2010. They are a team chock full of playmakers, not the least of which is All-American cornerback Leondre Simmon, who was featured in my Around the Nation column this week as a dual-sport athlete. Though he’s primarily a cornerback (with five interceptions this year), he plays both sides of the ball. As a wide receiver, he has seven catches in the past five games — impressive primarily because five of those catches were for touchdowns. St. Lawrence has kept most opponents comfortably at bay, and the Saints are simply playing better football than Hobart right now.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albright at Stevenson. Now that we have regional rankings and a pecking order for potential at-large teams, there are few opportunities for teams to improve their stock. Albright’s SOS needs the boost. (You know, or Stevenson’s, but Albright is the higher-ranked team.) The winner has a shot at being the first team on the board to be selected as an at-large from the East Region if Delaware Valley wins out, and that’s an important position to be in. There’s no guarantee that an East Region team would get an at-large bid, but it’s key to be first in line.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Salisbury at No. 4 Wesley and No. 13 St. John’s at Bethel. I’m definitely swayed by the historical competitiveness of these rivalries more than how the teams match up this year. And while history doesn’t always matter, familiarity between coaches does, and the staffs of Sherman Wood and Mike Drass have been going at it for as long as I can remember, just like Steve Johnson and Gary Fasching, even when the latter was part of John Gagliardi’s staff. The Sea Gulls rush for a second-best-in-the-nation 376 yards a game, and Bethel goes for 247 per. The Wolverines allow a shade more than three yards per carry, and so do the Johnnies. The game may well be won in the trenches, which gives both underdogs a chance to keep it respectable.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo at Adrian. There’s so much focus on the top of the MIAA and the potential for a three-way tie that it’s easy to overlook the teams deeper down. Adrian is at 5-3, while K-zoo is only 2-6. However, K-zoo has played two of the conference’s tougher teams in recent weeks and should be well prepared to stand strong against Adrian. The Hornets may well benefit from their balance on offense to keep the defense guessing, which differs from Adrian’s heavy run game.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Austin College at No. 20 Texas Lutheran. The Roos haven’t had a winning season since 2000. Austin College needs a win in either of the last two games, vs. Texas Lutheran or Trinity, to pull that off. That may be enough to inspire AC to give the Bulldogs a battle.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 12 Thomas More. I’ll swing for the fences yet again in this category, and perhaps incur some troll’s wrath. I don’t know that anyone would have given No. 18 Case Western Reserve much of a shot against the Saints a few weeks back, but wins over W&J and Wash. U. have been eye-openers. The Spartans, who might be undefeated if not for missing a PAT with five minutes left in a 31-30 Week 1 loss at Chicago, have had no problem scoring behind QB Rob Cuda, WR Bryan Erb and the gang. But they’re also 10th nationally against the run (73.3 yds/game) and had six interceptions last week, while Thomas More has been flip-flopping quarterbacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints won big, but it’s probably time to take CWRU seriously.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: None. I haven’t played the “none” card in Triple Take yet this season, so I’m taking the opportunity. Maybe this is a testament to thinking that the poll has it right, and the teams that are currently ranked are there deservedly so. That’s not always the case earlier in the season. While Salisbury/Wesley, Hardin-Simmons/East Texas Baptist, St. John’s/Bethel and Concordia-Moorhead/Gustavus Adolphus (and others) have the potential to be competitive, I don’t see any of the bigger dogs falling this week.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 23 Concordia-Moorhead. I mean, I have to keep picking Gustavus Adolphus until they win one of these last four games. (I mean, this week or bust — it won’t be next week vs. St. Thomas.) We picked Gustavus to go 7-3 in Kickoff and goshdarnit, that’s what’s going to happen. Only issue is that this wouldn’t be a huge upset — MIAC No. 5 over MIAC No. 3.

Pick a team that will help its postseason chances this weekend

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Albion. The dream for the Britons, as laid out in a Kickoff ’15 Q&A, was to win the MIAA and dodge the first-round fate of weaker-conference champions: Getting sent to Mount Union or Wheaton or some such place in Round 1. The Britons’ strength of schedule might have earned them a home game if 10-0. That ship sailed with 55-51 loss to Trine, but the conference championship and automatic playoff bid are still Albion’s for the taking, because virtually every scenario breaks its way. All it has to do is take care of Alma on Saturday. The bad news? The Scots, after six wins in the previous four seasons, are looking for win No. 6.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Berry. I gotta hand it to this young team, it’s been exciting to see how they have rebounded from an opening-week nonconference loss to sweep through the SAA thus far. A win at Birmingham-Southern means the Vikings are in the playoffs in just their third season as a team. The Panthers have a sub-.500 record and have struggled in conference play, so Berry should be able to secure their postseason spot by the close of business on Saturday.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 2 Linfield. The Wildcats need one win to wrap up the Northwest Conference automatic bid and they’ll get it this week vs. Puget Sound. Not sure exactly what went into last week’s game vs. George Fox, which was the poster child for “surprisingly close,” but if Linfield needed a wake-up call in any way, that was certainly a candidate. That, and being ranked third in the regional rankings.

Pick a team that will not help its playoff chances this weekend

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Pat used my first idea, so I landed on a team that doesn’t even have a game. The Red Dragons (7-2, 5-2) get a break from the 11-week whirlwind that is the Empire 8 while Alfred (6-2, 4-2) and St. John Fisher (5-3, 4-2) attempt to keep pace, facing Utica (4-4, 3-3) and Hartwick (3-5, 1-5). Cortland State’s season will again come down to the Cortaca Jug game, and struggling Ithaca should have no problem getting amped up to spoil it for their rival and send good fortune either the Cardinals’ or Saxons’ way. But those teams have to play, and since this is the E8, risk defeat this week. Cortland can kick back and watching knowing that it’ll still be in the conference-title hunt in Week 11.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs line up against Albright, and the pair make up two-thirds of the one-loss teams in the MAC. This weekend, we’ll get to see some separation in the pack. Though both of these teams lost to Delaware Valley, the Aggies have a loss to a bottom-rung MAC team, which means the playoff chances for both Stevenson and Albright are alive if they can win out and DelVal stumbles yet again. But first and foremost, Stevenson and Albright, as I said, must win out to stay alive, and that’s an impossibility after this weekend. Albright has been the overall more impressive team this season and will stay in the hunt, which effectively means Stevenson’s hopes will vanish.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Monmouth. There’s nothing Monmouth can do this weekend to help its playoff chances. All the Scots can do is go out and beat Knox and retain the Bronze Turkey for the 17th consecutive season. It has no impact on their position in the Midwest Conference title game and Monmouth doesn’t have a real shot at an at-large bid, so this game is essentially meaningless for playoff purposes. It’s just their biggest rivalry, that’s all.

In a game outside the playoff chase, pick a winner

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Amherst. There’s a clash of unbeaten teams in Massachusetts on Saturday, with one of the most fun-to-watch offenses in D-III taking on a traditionally great defensive team. (Trinity, Conn. has allowed six touchdowns all season, the same number as Linfield in one fewer game.) Does anyone outside the NESCAC’s circle care? The NESCAC is fine playing in its own sandbox (or in the house with its own robotic erector set, as it were) and we’re fine with it too. But if the conference was in Week 10 instead of Week 7 and played non-conference foes, this would be a matchup of top-25 teams with an automatic bid on the line. As it is, voters are just guessing at where or whether to place these teams, and fans from outside the circle are indifferent. And given that Johns Hopkins, Washington & Lee and Case Western Reserve are all currently proving that it’s possible to be in the top 20 of U.S. News & World Report and D3football.com at the same time, and it’s disappointing that there’s no framework to appreciate this game within the overall fabric of D-III.

[For a preview of the game, check out our friends at NothingButNESCAC.com]

Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Trinity (Texas). In Kickoff 2015, I picked Trinity as the team to most improve its record over 2014. While the Tigers are two games ahead of last year’s record already, I expect them to be able to run the table in these final weeks (Saturday vs. Southwestern and then at Austin) and officially double last fall’s win total. Of course, that probably won’t put them as the nation’s most improved team overall; that honor (I believe) will go to Washington and Lee, which was 2-8 last year and is 8-0 so far this year. (Kudos to Adam Turer on picking W&L in Kickoff!)
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Misericordia. I’m going to pick the Cougars here on Saturday vs. Wilkes. Miseri and Wilkes have played everyone pretty similarly all season, and after last week’s narrow loss to FDU-Florham, here’s a chance for the Cougars to get their first win of the season. The build has been slow for Miseri, and they haven’t had the Year Four surge that many new programs have had.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 Hardin-Simmons. So you’ve finally vanquished the UMHB demon. You know who doesn’t care? East Texas Baptist, which is surprisingly 6-2, gains 491 yards per game and is within sniffing distance of its first ASC title since 2003. So if the Cowboys are worthy of their ranking and a team we should expect to play a playoff game outside the Texas border, they must handle business on Saturday. I’ll be watching (from afar).
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: The Maryville at Huntingdon game. I didn’t have any other available spot in this list game, and this game is too big for USA South playoff implications not to mention. Huntingdon can secure its spot in the postseason, and Maryville can get there by winning both this week and next week. Both teams are having very solid seasons that would be even more impressive without each having a somewhat-surprising slipup (read: both teams should be undefeated right now). More notably, these are the only two teams in the conference that have records above .500, and there will be a lot of eyes on them to see how well they can represent the USAC now as well as in 15 days.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Berry at Birmingham-Southern. Once again, this will be on visual, not on radar. This is the game I’ll be at on Saturday, to see if Berry can clinch the Southern Athletic Association’s automatic bid. When I saw the Vikings slog through a losing battle with Millsaps last year, I would never have envisioned they could be in this position a year later. Also, let’s keep the rain away. Thanks.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient, and those that were terribly off base.

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ATN Podcast: Let the speculation begin

Lots of good showdowns this weekend to talk about, and we hit on a bunch, but that’s just the beginning.  What we’re really here to do is talk about the playoffs! Where do we know more about automatic bids? Which at-large teams have a good shot as it stands right now? Who might get the No. 1 seeds? There’s still three weeks left but it’s time to get in the swing of things. Plus, which are the teams on the rise? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile 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
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Triple Take, Week 8: The biggest week so far

Everything that Week 7 was not, in terms of big matchups, Week 8 is. There are no fewer than five nationally significant major clashes, plus several more games that will greatly impact conference races. Here’s a quick list, in rough order of importance:

No. 24 Texas Lutheran (5-1) at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-0)
No. 8 Wheaton (6-0) at No. 16 North Central (4-2)
No. 5 UW-Oshkosh (5-1) at No. 12 UW-Platteville (5-1)
No. 21 Rowan (5-1) at No. 4 Wesley (6-0)
No. 25 Whitworth (6-0) at No. 2 Linfield (5-0)

Those are the big five. For the uninitiated, one might assume the clash of undefeated teams is the biggest, but in all these matchups, there’s some nuance. Three top-five teams are at home, where they rarely lose. Meantime, UW-Oshkosh’s loss was to non-Division-III Robert Morris-Chicago, so when it comes to playoff positioning, we can toss the 23-21 Week 1 result right out the window. North Central’s two losses are to Platteville, in overtime, and to Wesley, on a two-point conversion with seven seconds left. The Cardinals blew three-touchdown leads in both games. Rowan’s loss is by three, to No. 23 Salisbury, Texas Lutheran’s is by eight to No. 14 Hardin-Simmons, and Platteville’s is by 10, to No. 6 UW-Whitewater. Platteville also beat Dubuque, which manhandled then-No. 8 Wartburg last week, 31-7 back in September.

In essence, each one of those 10 teams is powerful. One tier below, we have:

No. 10 Johns Hopkins (6-0) at Gettysburg (5-1)
Franklin & Marshall (5-1) at Moravian (5-1)
Delaware Valley (5-1) at No. 20 Albright (6-0)
Widener (4-2) at Stevenson (5-1)
No. 23 Salisbury (4-1) at Kean (4-2)
St. Lawrence (5-1) at Springfield (4-3)
Bethel (4-2) at No. 7 St. Thomas (6-0)
Hendrix (4-2) at Chicago (5-1)
Brockport State (4-2) at Cortland State (6-1)
Wesleyan (3-1) at Amherst (4-0)

Basically, it’s one big slobberknocker. And if the above intro just looks like a list of games, names and records to you, then that’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. Our job is to sort out this Battle Royale for you so you can make sense of Week 8. You’ll have your eyes on one game, more than likely, but what else should you be paying attention to? Below the radar or clearly on it, we’ll show you the way.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 8 Wheaton at No. 16 North Central. My initial instinct was to pick the Texas clash, because TLU and UMHB don’t have Pool A bids to fall back on if they lose. They’re essentially competing for the same Pool B spot, and there’s a Hardin-Simmons/UMHB game after this. But since Ryan has Texas covered, and a one-loss UMHB would be a Pool C (at-large) shoo-in, let’s shoot up to Chicagoland. The Little Brass Bell rivalry game is at North Central’s Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, meaning higher-ranked Wheaton will have to make the seven-mile trek. But it’s the status of Thunder QB Johnny Peltz (the Chicago Tribune says he’s “listed as the starter” after missing two games because of injury) and North Central’s desperation that makes this the game of the week. The Cardinals had both UW-Platteville and Wesley on the ropes and failed to deliver the knockout blow. NCC is clearly as talented as anyone, but a potential dream season goes up in smoke if they can’t finish a game. And even if NCC wins, 6-0 Illinois Wesleyan looms next week; IWU and Wheaton clash the week after.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Texas Lutheran at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor. It’s hard to see this matchup listed and not hark back to last year’s weather-delayed, two-day postseason game in which UMHB edged out a 27-20 victory. It was a starkly narrow outing compared with the Cru’s regular-season 72-16 win against TLU. UMHB is as threatening as ever, with one of the nation’s best scoring offenses; but not to be out-offensed (yes, I just verbed a noun), TLU is pretty skilled at putting points on the board, too. So this one will likely be which defense can step up and stop their opponent’s onslaught most effectively. UMHB, though less effective halting the pass than halting the run, still holds the upper hand on that front.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Oshkosh at No. 12 UW-Platteville. Like the game Ryan mentions, this is also a game which may carry the fate of multiple playoff hopefuls in the balance. If Platteville beats Oshkosh, and they and Whitewater each win out to finish with one D-III loss, it’s possible three WIAC teams could make the playoffs. If Oshkosh wins, Platteville is definitely still in the conversation thanks to its win against North Central and its early-season win vs. Dubuque, which now carries more weight than initially thought. But if Platteville wins, there’s a chance someone’s playoff bubble will eventually pop.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hartwick at Alfred. Maybe this is only surprising to those who have paid zero attention to the Empire 8 this season, since the conference race has been the demolition derby predicted in Kickoff ’15. In a conference where five of nine teams have four wins overall, six have exactly two conference losses and the leader (Cortland State) wins by miracle seemingly every week, the Hawks have yet to get in on the action. But even though Hartwick is 2-4, 0-4, they’re right there — Cortland and Morrisville State each won by just a field goal. So why wouldn’t Alfred (4-2, 2-2), which has played one-score Empire 8 games against Cortland and Buffalo State, play another tight one with Hartwick?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran at Chapman. Chapman has bumbled to a 1-4 record this season as it struggled to get its offense rolling and swapped out a starting quarterback midseason. It’s a far drop off of 2014, when the team’s only two losses came at the hands of Linfield. Meanwhile, Cal Lutheran at 4-1 has been a seesaw of performance this season, winning games but leaving doubt about how good they really are. This will be an interesting matchup that will do one of two things: give more credence to Cal Lutheran’s run or further muddy the SCIAC waters by letting another conference-title challenger hang around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Montclair State at TCNJ. Closer than expected for a .500 team vs. a winless team. Once upon a time this was the premier rivalry in New Jersey small college football, and while that was supplanted by Rowan-TCNJ, this is still the oldest. TCNJ has too much going for it this season to finish 0-10 (or 1-9 with a win vs. Southern Virginia). The Lions will pick off one of the next two opponents, I think, and it could be this week.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 7 St. Thomas. We’re going to have at least five top-25 teams lose this week, and in the spirit of taking a stab at a true upset, I’ll go beyond those 10 ranked squads playing other ranked teams. There’s no reason that the Tommies, a team I have higher on my ballot than their No. 7 overall ranking, should lose to this particular Bethel team. But the Tommies and Royals have such history — Bethel has won the past two, and knocked St. Thomas out of the 2010 playoffs with a 12-7 win that followed a 10-6 loss earlier in the year — that if there were a shocker in this week’s top 25, this would be it. Both teams average 237 rushing yards per game, but the Tommies’ defense only allows 62 to Bethel’s 145, so it would take a Herculean effort up front.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Albright. Opponent Delaware Valley has far exceeded my expectations this season. With as much as the Aggies had to replace because of graduations, I was expecting them to be closer to 3-3 at this point rather than 5-1. The game against Albright starts the difficult stretch of the season for DelVal, but if they really have been able to reload rather than rebuild, Albright will be the first step toward DelVal re-establishing itself at the top of the MAC.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 8 Wheaton. My concern here is the same I’ve mentioned previously, that Wheaton is nursing some injuries and will be missing its No. 1 quarterback for this game. That negates a significant advantage. No. 16 North Central is playing for its playoff life at the moment, and pride, and the Little Brass Bell, and to get the CCIW title. They’re quite battle-tested this season and a couple plays away from being in the top 10.

Pick a winner in a game that will affect a conference race later

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Loras, at Simpson. I’m going to again board the bandwagon of the high-octane Duhawks, who are standing next to Albion at the “National Leaders in Total Offense” party, next to Wesley, Mount Union, St. Thomas, Wheaton and Thomas More, like they belong there. And maybe they do. With Dubuque taking control of the IIAC race last week, and playing 1-5 Buena Vista this week, Loras needs to win at home against Simpson (both are 3-3, 2-1) to set up a crosstown showdown for a share of first place next week. I’m not saying if we did D-III Game Day that we’d come to Dubuque, Iowa next Saturday for Duhawks-Spartans, but I’m not saying we wouldn’t.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: St. Lawrence, at Springfield. The Liberty League is one of the many conference parity mashups that has been difficult to sort through this year. Hobart was king – they had been so for the past three seasons. But defeat at the hands of Springfield, as well as St. Lawrence’s rise the past two years, provides an air of uncertainty to the LL. There are many directions this conference could turn, including seeing Hobart again emerge on top. The St. Lawrence/Springfield matchup will hopefully help with some clarity and give a bit of momentum to the victor (who I’m projecting to be St. Lawrence).
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 7 St. Thomas, hosting Bethel. This game is for first place now, or a share of it, but I include it here because it definitely will affect it later as well, should Bethel win. St. Thomas has the opportunity to run the table and leave no doubt, but like the WIAC game I referenced above, there’s a chance this game could feature multiple playoff teams, or multiple playoff hopefuls.

Pick a team with a losing record to win

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors once ruled the MAC with an iron fist, but this year, everyone else is getting its shots in, as Lycoming is 1-5. Having lost nine in a row to the Warriors, FDU-Florham (2-4) would certainly like to join in. Both teams have lost three straight since beating Wilkes, but the Devils’ losses have been by a combined 147-27, with 33 points the closest margin. Lycoming’s past two losses were by three and four points, on the road, one in overtime. Look for RB Blake Bowman and WR Ryan Umpleby to have big games.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are playing a 5-1 Frostburg State squad, but it’s worth noting that the Bobcats’ record comes with the help of wins against the bottom three teams in the NJAC. Of course, there’s a chance that 5-1 mark will improve by beating the fourth-from-the-bottom team in the conference, but CNU has been at its best this season playing the toughest teams in the conference. CNU has a knack for stepping up when it needs to, whether that’s against Wesley or Rowan or Montclair or, I’m betting, against Frostburg.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific Lutheran. The winless Lutes — have you ever said that before this season? — have George Fox coming to town. GFU is 3-3, with two wins at home and a win at Arizona Christian. I wouldn’t have thought PLU would have to hope for a win vs. a second-year D-III program, but it might be necessary. My thinking here is that a young program might need a little more experience before it can go on the road and beat an established program, even if it’s a struggling one.

Pick a team with a winning record to lose

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Springfield, against St. Lawrence. The Pride upended the usual state of things in the Liberty League with a 35-point second half to rally past Hobart. That opened the door for itself, for Rochester, for RPI, and for St. Lawrence. The Saints right now are in the drivers’ seat, and with a respectable run defense (121 yards/game, 56th nationally) that should be familiar with Springfield’s successful attack, and a Liberty-League-best scoring offense (30.3 points/game), they can stay there.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman. As much fun as the Engineers have been having on their undefeated run, that streak stops against Franklin. It should be an interesting battle to see the HCAC’s top two quarterbacks sling it out against each other, but the bottom line is that RHIT hasn’t found an answer for the Grizzlies since 2009.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethel at No. 7 St. Thomas. This game has traditionally been a slog, a pound-the-rock type of fight, and I would not expect any different in 2015. St. Thomas is even more ground game-oriented than previously, and when I saw Bethel play earlier this season, their secondary particularly impressed me. But St. Thomas is more talented and should be able to take this game based on the strength of their defense, their run game and special teams.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: The Centennial Conference. Johns Hopkins has been in control so long that it’s easy to glaze over the CC when looking at which races will be contested. But with the 6-0 Blue Jays being trailed by three 5-1 teams and 4-2 Muhlenberg, this could get interesting, both locally and nationally. Between the four leaders, only JHU and Moravian have played so far (a 45-23 Hopkins win). This week, F&M goes to Moravian and JHU goes to Gettysburg, to give us a little bit more clarity in terms of what’s ahead. If two teams begin to emerge, we could be looking at an unexpected Pool C contender. If it really gets crazy, we could be looking at a half-Empire 8 situation. Or Johns Hopkins could just be saving its best for last. So basically, that’s why it’s on the radar this week.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve. Consider the game against No. 16 Washington and Jefferson to be Case’s opportunity to show what it’s really made of, to show everyone that it has put the season-opening loss behind it and that it deserves to be positioned at the top of the PAC. Most of all, this will be a big test of whether Case has turned itself around after a couple of sub-.500 seasons. W&J quarterback Pete Coughlin and rusher Ryan Ruffing will undoubtedly make it a tough game for a team like Case.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Western New England. Once upon a time this was our predicted game of the year in the NEFC. Now the game vs. MIT is just another step for WNEU on its way to a potential 10-0 season, and maybe a first-round home game vs. Husson. (Although Husson hasn’t won the ECFC yet and … well there are some other games to be played.)

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient, and those that were terribly off base.