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, d3photography.com

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, d3photography.com

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: Conjuring up the past

Heidelberg sack
The rare event this week is a battle of 25’s, as Heidelberg takes on Otterbein.
Heidelberg athletics photo

The saying is that history repeats itself. And we ask ourselves whether certain teams are doomed to stare down another upset.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps dive into the past to bring you analysis of the present. We cast a wide net to predict the fall of a Top 25 team, detail the game of the week and pore over some of the unusual nicknames in D-III.

Don’t hesitate to offer your comments below.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Otterbein at No. 25 Heidelberg.
Nope, that’s not a typo. If you’ve looked at our Top 25 this week, you’ll see these two OAC teams are tied for the 25th spot. They are both undefeated, and with the second-place OAC team often having an inside track to a Pool C playoff bid, this game holds worlds of value — and intrigue.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at No. 4 St. Thomas. This has been a good game in recent seasons already, with two teams who love to line up and smash-mouth it straight at each other. Ironically, both teams are led by talented sophomore quarterbacks, and Bethel, especially, has opened it up on offense a little more this season. The past three meetings have been decided by 19 points combined, with St. Thomas winning both of the regular season meetings. It’s likely to be another battle.
Keith’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville at No. 14 UW-Oshkosh. Wow, I pick third, and I still get two no-brainers to choose from. Much to the dismay of two of the most active Twitter followings in No. 2 UMHB and No. 21 Louisiana College, I went to Wisconsin with this one. In WIAC history, the spotlight rarely has shone on Oshkosh and Platteville — You’d have to go back to 1976 to find the last time UW-Oshkosh tied atop the conference, and 1972 to find their last outright title, an undefeated 8-0 WIAC season. For UW-Platteville, go back to 1980 for the tie, 1974 for the outright. Worse yet — before tying for second last season, the teams only had one season each in the past 30 years finishing higher than fourth in the WIAC, each finishing third once (Oshkosh in 2007, UW-P in 1990). In 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2008, the Titans and Pioneers were at the bottom of the standings. So that should put in perspective how big a game it is, with UW-P (4-1, 1-1) just a failed two-point conversion against defending national champion UW-Whitewater from being undefeated, and UW-O 5-0. A Platteville win could make the WIAC three-way tie territory, but either way, UW-Oshkosh at UW-Whitewater the following week is huge. Titans QB Nate Wara has got the name recognition, now let’s see if he delivers in a big game.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Concordia-Chicago at Concordia (Wis.).
The Illinois one will pound the rock over and over and over. It’s the only way they’ll find success. The Wisconsin one, on the other hand, should be able to air out the ball, especially against a Cougars team that at 5-0 has nonetheless been prone to giving up some big yards. And both teams like to put up points: The Cougars average more than 38 on the scoreboard, while the 3-2 Falcons emerged from a week of hanging 55 on their opponent.
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Whitewater at UW-Stout. I look at a combination of a few factors that will keep this game unexpectedly close. In addition to UW-Whitewater’s struggles on offense, they’re also traveling on the day of the game. That four-hour bus ride, mandated by the WIAC office, might leave them a little slow to start. The question will be whether Stout can put enough points on the board to make it close or if it will be like the Stevens Point/Whitewater game.
Keith’s take: Pacific at Pacific Lutheran. If you just remember the Boxers as the expansion team and the Lutes as the program with the championship pedigree, it might be time to take a closer look at the NWC. Pacific is 2-3, with a three-point loss to Whitworth (5-1) among the defeats. The Lutes’ 2-2 record might be deceiving, since all four of the teams they’ve played are solid (three were in the postseason last year, three are 4-1 or better this season). Kyle Warner is averaging 116 receiving yards per game and Kellen Westering 97, so the Lutes’ air attack will probably be too much for the Boxers, but expect Pacific to show some bite.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 St. John Fisher.
At what point can we excuse an Alfred team’s opening day loss to RPI? Is it after the Saxons beat the team that toppled UW-Whitewater? Check. Is it after they beat an undefeated conference opponent? Check. Is it after they hold an opponent to just 4 rushing yards? Check. Fisher is coming off a punishing game against Salisbury, and Alfred’s hot streak coupled with SJF’s bruises make the Cardinals a target again this week.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. So many ranked teams are playing each other this week that I feel forced to take a higher-ranked team playing on the road in a game that the rankings suggest is a toss-up. And I like what Bryce Corrigan did last week against UW-La Crosse after getting a full week of reps as the No. 1 starter at quarterback. But UW-Oshkosh is in a position where it can just run it right at Platteville. If you have not seen dual-threat quarterback Nate Wara for Oshkosh, do yourself a favor and watch the live video on Saturday. Defenses are hard pressed to bottle him up.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Birmingham Southern. Eight top 25 teams are playing each other, so toss those out. Two are picked above. The pickins’ are downright slim, and Trinity (Texas) is the only team I can see really pulling a stunner. The Tigers won last season when B-SC was a conference mate, but now that the Panthers have gone and split off, another win could be satisfying. To do it, Trinity QB Nyk McKissic has to keep making good decisions; with 11 TD passes and just one interception, he’s done it so far. Trinity’s D also rebounded with a decent game against Rhodes after allowing 111 points in consecutive weeks, against Sul Ross State and  I’m sure I’ll get some silly irate tweet from Alabama saying how wrong this upset pick is, but keep in mind the Panthers have never beaten Trinity. Maybe it’s B-SC who would be pulling the upset, should our rankings hold.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee.
This is about the time of year when we can accurately take stock of what’s happening in the ODAC. The conference is as balanced as they come, and it’s often difficult to stick by early-season predictions. But after starting the season with a loss, W&L is looking like the playoff-caliber team of the past two seasons. Their points have increased with each game (28, 34, 42, 45), but unfortunately for them, so have their opponents’ points. Three of the last five games are probably the toughest on the schedule, starting with this weekend against Randolph-Macon, the only other ODAC team that hasn’t lost a conference game yet. These two teams, plus Bridgewater and Hampden-Sydney, will make for a jumbled race at the top.
Pat’s take: Waynesburg. This has to happen eventually, right? The lack of churn at the bottom of the Top 25 has made it difficult for teams such as Coe, Concordia-Moorhead or Waynesburg to get their due in the Top 25, but I think Waynesburg deserves one of those 20-25 spots. After consecutive 5-5 seasons, Bethany is struggling out of the gate, at 1-4.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson, Concordia-Moorhead and Allegheny. Hey, I’ve got a big radar. The Presidents host Westminster (Pa.), playing their first home game since RB Tim McNerney was killed. The Cobbers shouldn’t have much trouble with Hamline, but I’m curious if they’ll be sluggish after last week’s ending, or sharp. The Cobbers are guaranteed to see two of their MIAC competitors lose, when Bethel and St. Thomas, and Augsburg and St. Olaf play. And Allegheny, following the upset of Wabash, beat Oberlin 15-3 and lost a non-conference game to Chicago, 10-0. I thought this year’s Gators might be a great defensive team keeping scores low, but with the 219th-ranked offense in the nation, that would not seem to be the case. The Gators haven’t exactly seized the opening, but with home games against DePauw and Wittenberg in back to back weeks, the AQ and NCAC title is still there for the taking.

Which upset of the past will have a different outcome this week?
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at No. 3 Linfield.
When you go four straight seasons undefeated in conference play, with a national championship sprinkled in, expectations are always high. But at some point, the bubble does burst. That happened in 2006 for Linfield, when a Whitworth team that amassed just 85 yards of total offense — but also forced five fumbles — went on to topple the 15th-ranked home team 17-13. Fast-forward to 2012, and Linfield is earning win after hard-fought win. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and the Pirates are following an aching loss to Willamette. This game may be as close as the ’06 matchup, but Linfield will keep its 20-game NWC win streak alive.
Pat’s take: No. 15 Wabash at Washington U. In 2010, Wabash came in unbeaten ranked No. 19, and Wash U came in 2-2, with its wins against Knox and Westminster (Mo.). Nonetheless, Wash U. came away the 24-20 victor. For history to repeat itself, Wabash would have to have significant breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and I don’t see that happening. Wash U has been held to 17 points or fewer by every team not named Kenyon this season in starting off 1-4.
Keith’s take: Trine at Adrian. The Thunder had won 18 MIAA games in a row, won in the playoffs, given UW-Whitewater a challenge and developed a Gagliardi Trophy winner. Then Trine lost, 26-7, at Adrian in last year’s MIAA, and nationally, we kind of stopped paying attention. Trine (4-2) and the Bulldogs (4-1) face off again Saturday, and the stats say Adrian (No. 7 defense in the country) is the favorite this time around. Before you get confused, let’s review: The upset of the past was Adrian over Trine. So this time around, Trine gets some payback. The Thunder hasn’t been a great offense overall, but quarterback Ryan Hargraves has been heating up over the past three games, and Myron Puryear, who had a touchdown on defense last week, is a threat in the return game.

Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Red of Wittenberg.
Timed at any other point in the season, and we’re looking at a Chicago team that would be competitive with Wittenberg. But following Witt’s loss at home to Wabash, the Tigers have to know that they need to be perfect from here on out to have any shot at the postseason. Witt will be on a mission and more than ready to put these pesky one-score margins behind them.
Pat’s take: Blueboys, of Illinois College. They’ll get right back on the winning side this week after a loss to Lake Forest in Week 6. Beloit, the Blueboys’ opponent, has been a surprise winless team this season. Not that we expected huge things out of the Buccaneers, considering we ranked them No. 192 in the preseason, but even that was ahead of Lawrence, Cornell and Knox, each of whom have beaten Beloit head-to-head this season.
Keith’s take: Green of … Nope, sorry. Red of Muhlenberg. Hey I looked for some Green Knights I could get excited about, to keep it balanced. I even considered the all-green Plymouth State-Endicott game. But I’d rather give you one extra upset pick, just outside the top 25, and a test of whether it’s important to have the human element in game insight. The computer ratings love Gettysburg. I like the Bullets, but see three of their wins (over start-up Misericordia, hapless Juniata and 0-5 McDaniel) as no great shakes. You’re supposed to beat those teams, and they did, so there’s that. But Muhlenberg brings a lot more defense to the table than most of the Bullets’ opponents so far. The Mules are coming off a loss to Susquehanna, which Gettysburg beat, which makes this pick slightly illogical. But, hey, at least there’s not much riding on it. Just a potential showdown of CC unbeatens next week, oh, and the future of man vs. computer. No pressure, Mules.

An unusual nickname you like.
Ryan’s take: Moravian Greyhounds.
Moravian has been a Centennial seesaw team the past few seasons, with records of 8-3, followed by 2-8, then 7-4, and back to 2-8. This season, they’ve already tied last year’s win total, and there is clear potential yet to notch two or three more wins in the books. And that means doing what it can to keep forcing turnovers and pressuring quarterbacks. As of late, Susquehanna has been finding its groove on both sides of the ball, which means Moravian will need to channel the quickness of its namesake in order to come away with a victory. (Want more of the unusual? Check out Moravian’s ambidextrous rugby-style punter in Around the Mid-Atlantic.)
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire Blugolds. But do you need me to say something about the game as well? I’m confused. They host UW-La Crosse this week in sore need of a win. In fact, both teams need a win badly, as La Crosse hasn’t lived up to the credit some gave it in the WIAC after it knocked off North Central in Week 1.
Keith’s take: Los Lobos, of Sul Ross State. Mostly I just wanted to name-check the ‘La Bamba’ band. But also we have what could be an epic shootout on deck. Sul Ross State is fourth in the country in total and scoring offense, with 545 yards and almost 49 points a game. Texas Lutheran is 50th in the nation, with a mere (!) 416 and 30. But here’s the real eye-opener. The Lobos are 233rd in D-III in pass defense, and the Bulldogs are 226th. Buckle up.

Triple Take: Enter Rivalry Week

Widener's Joe Wojceichowski
Joe Wojceichowski and the Widener defense will try to shut down Delaware Valley.
Widener athletics photo

The intensity of rivalries is virtually unmatched. The players become more focused, the crowd more vibrant. Alumni flood to stadiums, and memories are dredged up. A win against a rival opponent can rescue an otherwise sour season. And it makes Saturday night celebrations so much sweeter.

Across the country, rivalries will be taking place Saturday as the regular season comes to a close and the playoff prowess in a few remaining conferences shakes out.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through the action, with Selection Sunday right on the horizon.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon at No. 7 Wesley.
It’s been a couple of years now since the Wolverines were in a position in which losing the regular season finale would likely mean no playoff performance. But there are question marks for Saturday. Wesley’s loss to Kean earlier in the year made perfection necessary for the final eight games of the season. And Huntingdon won’t be a pushover. The Hawks have already dealt losses to teams that currently stand at 8-1 and 7-2. Could a team like Wesley, which has been to the national semifinals each of the past two seasons, get left out in the cold entirely? Their performance Saturday will be telling.
Keith’s take: Wherever you’re headed. The other guys nail the games with the farthest-rippling playoff implications. So I’ll go ahead and cop out, under the premise that there’s no need to single out a game when we have five conference championships decided (NEFC, NJAC, MAC, LL and NWC), rivalry games from Indiana to Massachusetts to Virginia — and Iowa and Pennsylvania — that make or break seasons. And beyond that, it’s Week 11 — the last game of the season for all but 32 playoff teams and 14 ECAC bowl-bound squads. Hundreds of seniors will hang it up after this. Parents will see their son play one last time, and tailgate grills will make a final appearance before heading into the garage for offseason storage. So I’ll play the Jon Gruden “everything’s awesome” role. Because, you know, it is.
Pat’s take: Widener at No. 11 Delaware Valley. Literally, you can’t do a playoff projection without the result of this game, and there are a lot of factors. Let’s see, Delaware Valley has this tremendously backloaded schedule, with Lycoming and Widener at the end. The Aggies haven’t looked very much like the young team that they are this season. Widener surprised Delaware Valley last year and sent them on a course for Mount Union in the second round, so the rivalry got amped up a little higher and Delaware Valley has even more motivation. But what could be more motivating than the only chance Widener has to get a playoff bid?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 Johns Hopkins at McDaniel.
Part of the motivation here is seeing JHU almost drop their matchup against Franklin and Marshall last week, a team that should have been handled easily by the high-powered Blue Jays. However, what makes McDaniel a thinker in this situation is its track record this year: of the Green Terror’s seven losses, five were by eight points or less. McDaniel hasn’t really been able to bring all the pieces together to get wins, but the team has been able to hang around long enough to make it interesting. This Saturday’s game will be interesting, too.
Keith’s take: Trine at Albion. Maybe surprising only in the sense that the Britons are playoff-bound no matter the outcome, and Trine — the dominant MIAA program of the past few seasons picked up two conferences losses by mid-October. But I’m not sure I expect Albion to win, observing from afar. After an impressive five-game stretch, the Britons outgained DePauw 380-126 last week but managed just three points. Trine is the MIAA’s top rush offense (179 yards/game) and Albion is the top rush defense (96 yards). Should be a fun one.
Pat’s take: UW-La Crosse at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. UW-La Crosse gave UW-Whitewater a decent game in the season opener. It’s not likely to be the same close game it was in September, but it will be interesting to see how the teams have grown since Week 1 … not to mention how Whitewater might do if it needed to use Levell Coppage in the fourth quarter.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Franklin.
Over the past four weeks, the Grizzlies have progressively played their way through the bottom four teams in the HCAC, starting with 4-5 Rose-Hulman and ending with 0-9 Earlham. So how will they react to all of sudden having to play a more competitive team again? Franklin is unquestionably the better team in this matchup, but Hanover’s advantage is being able to push Franklin enough to throw the Grizzlies off their game. This is a rivalry game, too, played for the Victory Bell. Hanover will be well aware of the fact that this is the last game of their season, win or lose. The Panthers will surely want to win.
Keith’s take: No. 9 Wabash. Just kidding Little Giants fans. Admit it, you got mad there for a second. No. 22 Bethel is my real pick. And with the 10th best rushing offense in the country at 279 yards a game, and with the No. 14 total defense, the Royals probably are just an unfortunate version of the team that played in a national semifinal last season. That said, it’s not easy to force yourself to play just for pride, and that appears to be all the Royals have left when they face 6-3 Augsburg in the Metrodome. Bethel and Augsburg had similar results against St. Thomas and St. Olaf, but only the Royals have to realize there’s no long playoff run ahead this year, just a long football-free December like most of are used to, and turning that into positive motivation.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Redlands. Last year, Redlands barely beat Chapman, finishing 8-1. The previous two years, Redlands lost in Week 11 to finish 7-2 each season and miss out on any shot at the playoffs. Not going to say any more.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg.
A win in the Mules’ crosstown rivalry game against Moravian would position them well for an ECAC postseason game. Muhlenberg stumbled a couple of times during the season but showed they could compete with the likes of Delaware Valley and Johns Hopkins. The team’s seniors certainly remember the special run the Mules had during their freshman year, and they’ll certainly be eager to channel that energy again.
Keith’s take: UW-Platteville. If the Pioneers can beat UW-Stevens Point for a second time, they’ll finish 7-3 and go down as the best team not to beat anybody great, but to only lose to really good teams. The three losses are to Wheaton, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh, which are 22-5 combined. A seventh win would also eclipse the best record of the D3football.com era, a 6-4 mark in 2004.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons started the season 0-8, but had two close losses at home, then won at UW-La Crosse last week to snap the losing streak. River Falls returns home this week to face UW-Eau Claire.

Rivalry game you’re most interested in (alma maters excluded).
Ryan’s take: Amherst at Williams.
No matter what, this is the end of the road for both of these teams, which opt not to compete in the playoffs. So at stake is pride: the Ephs’ pride in keeping Amherst from an undefeated 2011 season; the Lord Jeffs’ pride in avenging last year’s loss. If you don’t know the history between these two schools, look it up. It’s unlikely that any two institutions have claim to a more natural rivalry than these two. And it’s rare for them to produce anything but a captivating game.
Keith’s take: Coe at Cornell. Okay, you can get Curt Menefee to pose in a “beat Cornell” shirt. Probably could get Fred Jackson too. But as long as I’ve been writing rivalry stories, I’ve never been able to say anything about this game but that they’ve played it for a long time (121 and counting). Am I just not talking to the right people? The two teams have followed each other from the MWC to the IIAC and are going their separate ways as Cornell heads back to the MWC, but I’m interested in whether fans in Iowa really care about this rivalry.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Kean at No. 15 Montclair State. Okay, so it won’t appear on too many lists of great rivalries but I’m going to go ahead and pick it here because there should be plenty of bad blood … or blood, anyway … to go with what’s on the line in this game, for the NJAC title. Kean coach Dan Garrett and both of his coordinators played at Montclair, which is just 18 miles from Kean, in northern New Jersey.

Who will have the least momentum going into the playoffs?
Ryan’s take: Albion.
The Britons have to be scratching their heads after last weekend’s loss to DePauw and should have spent this week learning how to once again become in tune with their offensive mojo. Even though Trine doesn’t have the luster of the last couple of seasons, the team still knows how to force turnovers and run the ball down its opponent’s throat. Albion knows how to handle the run — usually — and the ability to stop that will help them with their confidence going into the playoffs. However, it won’t be a surprise if Albion is an eighth seed in the region, which wouldn’t be doing them any favors. The mental hurdle will be as tough as the physical one.
Keith’s take: St. Thomas. They’re 10-0, sure. But they don’t have a game this Saturday. So I guess it depends how you define momentum.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. Regardless of whether Thomas More wins this week or not, the Saints are already back on their heels after the loss to Waynesburg. Thomas More went solely from being a heavy favorite to being a favorite against Mount St. Joseph in their local rivalry game, but either way, the damage has been done.

Which team can alter its fortunes the most?
Ryan’s take: Lewis and Clark.
The question isn’t which team “will,” but rather which team “can.” And the Pioneers certainly can. A win at Linfield puts L&C — a team just three seasons removed from a long string of 0- and 1-win seasons — in the playoffs. On the flip side, a loss for the Pioneers means they’ll be sitting at home next week.
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney. Besides Widener and the other teams that can play their way into the playoffs with wins, H-SC could change course the most on Saturday. A win over 7-2 Randolph-Macon continues the Tigers’ dominance in the series and gives them an advantage in recruiting. A loss could mean the difference between a home playoff game against somebody like Christopher Newport, Centre or Thomas More, or a road game at Salisbury, Wesley or Johns Hopkins.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). Not sure it’s in a positive way, however. Austin has to be motivated to not finish the season 0-10. The Kangaroos have been fairly decent at home while the Tigers have struggled a little bit on the road.