Triple Take, Week 7: Approaching a turning point

Shreve Rohle and the Hampden-Sydney defense don't get nearly as much of the spotlight as the Tigers' offense does.

Shreve Rohle and the Hampden-Sydney defense don’t get nearly as much of the spotlight as the Tigers’ offense does.

Past the season’s halfway point, many of us have seen enough to think we know something about this year’s teams. That can lead to griping with the poll results, overconfidence before this weekend’s games and the kinds of surprises that make Saturdays in the fall so much fun.

Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I try to make sense of the several dozen teams in action, as the leaves turn colors and Division III teams reach their turning points.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 St. John’s at Gustavus Adolphus. Although the setting in Collegeville, Minn. is more iconic, this is the biggest game in St. Peter in years, with the 6-0 Gusties taking on the 4-1 Johnnies. There’s history between the two, starting with the quarterback, as Pat points out below, and last season’s game, a 23-20 double-overtime Gustavus win. One has to reach back that far, however, to find the Gusties’ last victory against a pretty good team. They’re averaging 46.0 points per game (amazingly only tied for ninth nationally) but their undefeated start has come against teams that are 7-19 so far. The Johnnies game starts a run against teams that are 16-4, and if Gustavus proves it is for real, that makes five contenders in the MIAC (along with Bethel, St. Thomas and Concordia-Moorhead).
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Washington and Jefferson at Bethany. It seems like every week, whether in Triple Take or on the ATN Podcast or on the message boards, we’ve talked about the surprise undefeated teams out there. While Bethany isn’t undefeated, I have no reservations talking about the Bison as a surprise this season. At 5-1, they’ve already matched their best win total since 2001, and it’s tough to fault them for their lone loss, which came against Mount Union in Week 1. The winner of this one will be the only team that remains undefeated in conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Stevens Point at No. 14 UW-Platteville. I’ll throw out the classic term “elimination game” on this contest, because even though both are unbeaten in the conference, neither has played UW-Whitewater yet. I’ll have to caveat this by saying Stevens Point could be a candidate at 8-2 with a win vs. North Central and potential losses to UW-P and UW-W, but the committee is too unpredictable from year to year to really give a two-loss team hope as an at-large.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Heidelberg at No. 3 Mount Union. Let’s be clear. Against the Purple Raiders, who have won their first four games by an average score of 64-4, anything resembling a normal football score is “surprisingly close.” Mount Union has allowed three touchdowns this season, none with the margin tighter than 38. Heidelberg comes in scoring 51.2 points per game and will become the first team to score on Mount Union in the first half this season. It might even lead in the game. The Student Princes, who were not competitive in a 43-16 loss to John Carroll earlier this season, lost 44-34 to Mount Union last year, and 30-13 the year before. Those would be surprisingly close, grading on the UMU scale.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Wittenberg at Wooster. I think Witt has inched up a little too high in the Top 25, and last week’s seven-point win over a middling Denison squad didn’t do a lot to reaffirm faith in the Tigers. I don’t think Witt is vulnerable to all-out losing this one, but I think it’ll be closer than it should be for a 15th-ranked team. Wooster has played two tough teams already, so they shouldn’t be in for any surprises lining up against a team like Wittenberg.
Pat’s take: Occidental at Chapman. Chapman is on the verge of the Top 25, and perhaps could be ranked higher than Pacific Lutheran based on how they both played Linfield, but that’s neither here nor there. Going out on a limb because Occidental isn’t really back yet based on the results to date: edging Puget Sound and losing at Austin College outside of conference play. One wouldn’t expect a particularly close game here, so expect something a little closer.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 25 Hampden-Sydney, vs. Emory & Henry. As a Randolph-Macon grad, trust, I feel icky praising either of these teams. But it’s deserved. The Tigers should win, especially at home, where their attendance is behind only St. John’s and UW-Whitewater in D-III. But they have had a midseason stumble against a lower-rung ODAC team the past two seasons. The Wasps are 5-0 and revived under Curt Newsome, but it can be tempting to think of a team that most experienced H-SC players are used to beating handily as another lower-rung squad, and that’s when upsets happen.
Ryan’s take: None. This is perhaps the hardest question of the week, and it’s the one I’m filling out last. I think there could be a handful of teams (Wooster, Utica, Bethany, Gustavus Adolphus and Emory and Henry) that hang with their Top 25 foes early on, but I don’t see any of them following through for all four quarters to grab the win.
Pat’s take: No. 22 St. Johns, at Gustavus Adolphus. Yep, alright, gonna roll the dice here. Keith and I have been talking about Gustavus Adolphus as a potential 6-0 team since August … and then as a potential 6-4 team. But let’s see if these Gusties and their golden-boy quarterback, Mitch Hendricks, can pull off the upset. Gustavus beat St. John’s last year, and for those of you who don’t know, Hendricks is a former Johnnie, having transferred to Gustavus.

Provide an underranked team and predict how they’ll perform in Week 7.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Washington & Jefferson. The two most underranked teams, Texas Lutheran and Buffalo State, are off this week. The only other ones I have much lower than their ranking are Pacific Lutheran and the Presidents, who travel to Bethany. It’s a huge game for the Bison, who opened up with Mount Union and have seen top talent before. But even in Bethany’s five consecutive wins, they haven’t been so suffocating defensively that I can envision them stopping W&J’s 52.2-point per game offense, so I see the Presidents taking control of the PAC race.
Ryan’s take: Ithaca. It’s hard to figure out who’s underrated enough to register significantly (the only team in which there’s a big gap between my ballot and the actual Top 25 is Buffalo State, which has a bye week). But in keeping with the Empire 8, I think it was a bit drastic to drop Ithaca completely out of the poll after losing to Buff State. Ithaca was ranked No. 13 the week prior, so a lot of other one-loss teams leapfrogged them in the top 25. Ithaca is still on my ballot, and I think this week against Frostburg State will be a relatively easy one, especially considering the poundings the Bobcats have been taking so far in conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Widener. It is so much easier for me to think in terms of overrated teams, but of course, for every overrated team there has to be an underrated team, right? So let’s go with Widener beating Wilkes. It won’t be 90-0, but if you get 90, think about taking the over.

Pick a team that put up big numbers last week and tell us if they’ll do it again.
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley, at Stevenson. The 52 points Lycoming “held” the Aggies to last week was their lowest point total since 30 in Week 1 against Montclair State. Stevenson brings a pretty legit defense into the game, as they allow just 14 points a game and are 31st nationally in total defense. They’re even better against the run (22nd, 95 ypg), and are coming off a bye week. I’m not sure it’ll matter much against the high-powered Aggies, especially since Stevenson’s 230th-ranked offense won’t be able to keep up with QB Aaron Wilmer and Del Val’s 50.2-point per game unit. Stevenson’s last time out, a 31-10 loss to Lycoming, showed us that the Mustangs aren’t quite ready to gallop with the MAC’s big horses yet.
Ryan’s take: Concordia (Wis.), at Trine. Once Concordia got rolling in the second half last week against Aurora, there was no stopping them. The end result was 62 points on the scoreboard, 754 offensive yards and a quarterback, Austin Damaschke, getting four touchdowns. Trine, which is 4-1 and has a solid red-zone defense, isn’t going to give up that kind of yardage or that kind of score. At the very least, we can expect Trine’s offense to stay on the field longer, severely limiting the damage Concordia can do with its own O. To answer the original question: No, Concordia won’t do it again.
Pat’s take: Castleton State, at Mount Ida. Would have said Washington U. here, but instead of playing Maranatha Baptist, Wash U. has an unexpected bye. Apparently the Sabercats have just 22 healthy players. Guess I’m not sure why Maranatha couldn’t have given a little more warning on pulling out of games. Instead I’ll take the Spartans, who have turned it around after last year’s lost season.

Which muddled conference race gets less muddled this week?
Keith’s take: NWC. Linfield, the perennial favorite, is already in control here, with a win over perennial challenger Pacific Lutheran and as one of only two NWC teams without a conference loss. But with Whitworth coming off a 61-45 win at Willamette, their game with Linfield might show us if there’s a second challenger in the NWC or if the Wildcats will run away with it. Pacific Lutheran goes to Pacific as well, and at the bottom end, restartup George Fox gets one of its two chances for a win this season against an improved Puget Sound. Even if all the results play out as expected, folks far from NWC country pay attention, because the presence (or not) of a second NWC team in the postseason picture has trickle-down implications for the entire 32-team bracket. (Because of geography, and playoff travel cost restrictions, for the uninitiated)
Ryan’s take: ODAC. I’ll play the Virginia card and pick the game that involves a school two hours to the east of me (Hampden-Sydney) and another about two hours to the southwest (Emory and Henry). E&H has certainly elbowed its way into the ODAC discussion with an unblemished record, and Hampden-Sydney, despite a nonconference loss, is showing itself to be every bit the conference threat of recent years. Behind Nash Nance, Hampden-Sydney likes to throw the ball — and it does so well. The Wasps, however, have the best pass defense in the conference. The way these opponents balance each other out makes this particularly interesting.
Pat’s take: MIAC. I mean, I’m contractually required to pick this, right? Assume one of the two guys ahead of me who still lives in Virginia will take the ODAC, but we also start unraveling the knot at the top of the MIAC this week with Gustavus hosting St. John’s. Of the five teams with zero or one MIAC losses at the top of the conference standings, Gustavus has yet to play any of them, while St. Thomas has only played St. John’s. Concordia-Moorhead has beaten SJU and lost to Bethel. St. John’s has played two of the four. So in short, a lot of key games left to be played.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Morrisville State. Rowan is receiving only one vote in the poll, but one might not even be the number of teams who are going to challenge the Profs for the NJAC title. Montclair State has won four straight since a 10-point loss to Del Val, but it’s the Mustangs who are most intriguing. Quarterback Lemar Johnson is rushing for more than 130 yards per game over his past four, and is coming off a 302-yard passing, one-big-highlight day against Kean. If they can get enough from the defense, after allowing 31 points three times and 40 once in its 5-1 start, we could have a conference race to watch.
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist. A week after losing to Texas Lutheran, I’m eager to see if there will be a hangover at ETBU when the team lines up against Howard Payne. Fun fact: Howard Payne’s last game was also against Texas Lutheran.
Pat’s take: Tufts. Again. This week the 2-2 Jumbos have a legitimate shot of knocking off Williams. And six weeks ago, let alone three years ago, that would have seemed like fantasy.

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.