Triple Take: Big ones keep coming


Heidelberg faces its first big challenge of the season.
Heidelberg athletics photo

We’re down to the final three weeks of the regular season, and with that, we’re about to have some regional rankings to mull over. They are our best glimpse yet into the possibilities of the playoffs.

In many ways, the postseason is something we have long talked about without trying to get ourselves too worked up. It was always, “In the future” or “A ways off” or “One game at a time.” However, it no longer is this far-off thing; we’re almost face-to-face with it, along with a slew of high-profile games.

This is November. And this is Week 9’s Triple Take, courtesy of Pat, Keith and Ryan. Continue reading

Triple Take: Middle of the road


Thomas More has been rolling up the numbers on offense, but the Saints’ defense has shone as well.
Thomas More athletics photo

Week 6 signifies the midway point in the regular season. The bright side to that realization is that there’s still a whole lot of football left to play for the 244 teams in Division III (well, we hope that we can include Merchant Marine in that list).

For teams that are eyeing playoff runs, this could just be the beginning. With five weeks of postseason play, that means we’re only about a third of the way to the Stagg Bowl. There’s much that has happened, and much yet to come.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps talk about the here and now of this weekend:

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson.
I almost held back on this because W&J’s baffling loss last week to Bethany took some of the luster out of this matchup. But then I thought about 2012, when TMC crushed W&J but lost two other conference games to miss out on the automatic bid to the playoffs. Well, here’s W&J’s opportunity to keep itself in the hunt and not get that second, and almost surely postseason-killing, loss in PAC play. There’s a lot riding on this one for the Presidents.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.) at Hampden-Sydney. I know I’ve said before that there has been some great history in this rivalry in the past 15 or so years. Both teams have taken an unexpected loss this season and that makes it a little more desperate situation for each, but especially for Bridgewater since its loss was a conference game.
Keith’s take: Redlands at Cal Lutheran. The last game of the 107 on the D-III schedule this week by more than two hours might also be the most hyped matchup of 1-2 teams ever. But let’s be honest, if the Bulldogs (who played No. 3 UMHB and No. 15 Pacific Lutheran) and Kingsmen (PLU then No. 2 Linfield) were based out East or in the Midwest, where there are roughly three dozen potential opponents within 200 miles of each campus, then each could have been less aggressive and started 3-0. But this is the AQ system at work. Both Mike Maynard and Ben McEnroe realize it does their players no service to start that way, especially with this clash — that will likely decide the SCIAC — so early. If you’ve already faced a top-3 team, nothing you see Saturday night will intimidate. CLU is plus-5 in turnovers despite its record, and Redlands needs to generate some offense besides RBs Bobby Brown and Curtis Tanquary.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Buena Vista at Wartburg.
I think the Beavers’ 0-4 record is a little deceiving — every opponent they’ve played is undefeated, a combined record of 16-0. And against Concordia-Moorhead and Coe, the scoreboard was close deep into the game. Wartburg’s three wins, on the other hand, come against teams that are a combined 3-10. Their common opponent, Bethel, ended with fairly similar results. Buena Vista has a chance to surprise people down the stretch.
Pat’s take: No. 6 St. Thomas at Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus is certainly playing much better than it did last year, standing at 3-1 and blowing out two teams while only losing at Augsburg, by three. Last year St. Thomas didn’t have its best game but still led throughout. This year the Tommies may have a different feeling going to St. Peter, Minn., and can’t afford to sit their No. 1 quarterback, the way they did last week.
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Tufts. The Jumbos are close to a breakthrough — last week they were a yard away. It won’t happen against the Bantams, who are the class of the NESCAC, at least for the time being. But if Tufts can convert some third downs early — they’re under 30% this season against a defense that gets off the field three out of every four — they can keep it closer than most would expect.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 10 UW-Whitewater.
I was unsure what to make of Whitewater coming into this year, after missing the postseason last fall. I even said in Kickoff that I didn’t think UW-W would make the playoffs this year, at least not with Platteville and Oshkosh and the likelihood of a spoiler team in the WIAC. Enter that spoiler team. UW-Stout, which is coming off back-to-back games (albeit losses) against North Central and Oshkosh, isn’t going to be intimidated by anything Whitewater has to offer.
Pat’s take: No. 5 Bethel. I believe Bethel is the better team here but I’m resting this pick on the fact that Bethel really shouldn’t have won* that game last year anyway. Concordia-Moorhead will be very motivated to make sure they are not in position to lose if they celebrate prematurely on the field at the end of the game.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Bethel. I know, I keep on repeating, but the other possibilities, like No. 17 Wabash, get mentioned elsewhere anyway. Moorhead is the most significant road trip in the MIAC, for starters. The Cobbers are one of those teams who has been on the verge of getting it done but stays underrated because they haven’t. They also haven’t been dominant in their 4-0 start, and would need to slow the Royals’ run game (228 yds/g) to pull the  upset. Luckily, they’ve allowed only 96 rushing yards per game so far.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Maryville.
The Scots came into the season loaded with depth and hoping to shake off the injuries that have plagued them over the past two or three seasons. And to their credit, they’ve kept themselves in the conference hunt by knocking off Methodist (which beat USAC favorite Christopher Newport last week) and Averett and are currently sitting at 2-0 in conference play and 4-1 overall. On paper, they look like the best team in the USA South. Now, they have to further prove it on the field this weekend against one of the only other teams with a clean conference record, LaGrange. It’s a very winnable game for Maryville, if they can shore up their defense.
Pat’s take: Washington University-St. Louis. I even used the full name for a program that could conceivably run the table from here, go 8-2, end up with a reasonable strength of schedule and get a Pool B bid. If they do all that. This week’s game is at Hendrix and if the Warriors win, they become the Division III football state champions of Missouri, having beaten both of D-III teams from the state.
Keith’s take: Gallaudet. The Bison are a throwback, rushing for 350 yards per game — third nationally. They also stop the run and get off the field on third down (24.5 percent conversions allowed). Norwich comes down from Vermont having played three Liberty League teams prior to their ECFC-opening win over Becker last week. They’ve hung tough defensively against more talented teams, and even if Gallaudet is that, maybe they’ll have to make something happen in the passing game or on special teams to pull away.

Celebrating the red …
Ryan’s take: Wabash.
The scarlet-clad Little Giants take on Ohio Wesleyan, which in the big picture of the NCAC could be viewed as an up-and-coming program with their 9-1 2012 campaign and being 3-1 so far this fall. But what’s troubling is OWU’s overtime shootout loss to Denison, which is the toughest team they’ve played so far. Still, a loss to Denison means it could be a tricky Saturday against a 4-0 Wabash team that averages more than 50 points a game and has logged two shutouts so far. And OWU knows what that’s like after being shutout last year on their home turf by the Little Giants. No one has really been able to effectively pass against Wabash (Wooster did break the 200-yard mark), and while I’m sure that Mason Espinosa will make some plays and get some yards through the air, I don’t think it’ll be enough.
Pat’s take: Cortland State. The Red Dragons, who should have little trouble holding Montclair State’s offense in check considering the Red Hawks haven’t scored more than 17 points in a single game this season. Montclair is 1-4 with its only win coming against Salve Regina.
Keith’s take: Augsburg, at St. John’s. The Auggies nearly had their breakthrough last week at Bethel. They’ve got some interesting recent history with the Johnnies, but won’t need a late-game miracle if Ayrton Scott has a balanced game. The Johnnies are the rare team that gives up almost as much rushing (173 yards/game) as it does passing (181), and that plays into Scott’s hands. He passes for 254 yards a game but averages more than 20 carries as well, at 6.2 yards a run and 126 a game. And since the Auggies are technically Maroon, if the Johnnies win, I’m still right … sort of.

… white …
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman.
This perennial middle-of-the-pack HCAC team gets overlooked often in the discussions that veer toward Franklin and, to a lesser extent, Mount St. Joseph. That’s because the nation’s top teams (Mount Union, Linfield, etc.) and the bottom teams (North Park, Husson, etc.) get talked about often, and those in the middle don’t always get their voices heard. (Insert any government-shutdown political metaphor you want there.) What RHIT has done is be consistent and beat who it’s supposed to beat and be competitive against who it’s supposed to be competitive against. Rose should be able to handle its 1-4 Bluffton opponent this week, but with FC and MSJ to follow, keeping focused and not getting caught looking ahead is critical.
Pat’s take: Bowdoin. This has to be Bowdoin. Bowdoin’s only school color is white. And with a name like Polar Bears, it’s really difficult to justify another color. In addition to that, Bowdoin has already exceeded last year’s win total and has winless Hamilton taking the long trip to Brunswick, Maine.
Keith’s take: Shenandoah and Guilford. It was just a game last week, but after the upsets of Bridgewater and Washington & Lee, the Hornets’ trip to Greensboro is suddenly a big ODAC game. I’ve seen photos of Shenandoah wearing white at home, and Guilford wearing it on the road, so I don’t know which white I’m celebrating. Luckily, I really have no sense of which team should win here. The 2-2 Quakers have played four close games, and haven’t stood out in any particular area. Even their 24th-in-the-nation numbers defending the pass were helped by the fact W&L didn’t bother to try last week. Shenandoah is also 2-2 and all over the board, and was helped against Bridgewater by four turnovers.

… and blue.
Ryan’s take: Hartwick.
I’m eager to see if the Hawks can build upon their win over a good Ithaca team last week and upend St. John Fisher on Saturday. The Cardinals played a scary-close matchup against Frostburg State in Week 5, raising more than a few eyebrows. Both Hartwick and SJF are undefeated right now, and I think Hartwick is carrying the momentum. But this game isn’t do or die. The E8 is a regular contributor to Pool C playoff bids, and a loss here (especially a close one) won’t put either team out of the running.
Pat’s take: Merchant Marine. Plenty of reasons to be blue at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Yeah, no, not letting this go.
Keith’s take: Rochester. We’ll celebrate the Yellowjackets’ savvy move of dodging the shutdown, and by extension Merchant Marine, and lining up a game against Alfred State. It’s probably not the best matchup involving an Alfred — the Saxons’ clash with Ithaca could be a lot more exciting. But for both sides, who wear different shades of blue, a game is a game. Any one against a legitimate opponent should be celebrated. Would be nice if the Mariners’ careers weren’t being ruined, but least the Yellowjackets don’t have to go down on that sinking ship.

Triple Take: The penultimate week

It’s make or break time for a lot of teams. Players and coaches will be hunting for that last push toward the postseason and will be keeping an eye on the national landscape as teams fall in and out of contention for conference qualifiers and at-large bids.

We’ve also gotten our first look at the regional rankings that give us a good snapshot in time as to which teams could be playoff bound. Few, though, can rest on their laurels. Even one-win teams can sneak up and bite you. It’s happened before. Spoilers are lurking everywhere.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you their looks at Week 10.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 North Central at No. 24 Wheaton.
I love the Little Brass Bell rivalry game, even though the Cardinals have dominated the matchup the last few seasons. Importantly for two-loss Wheaton, another defeat here means they will slip entirely out of playoff contention. So more than just pride is certainly on the line. North Central, on the other hand, can clinch a playoff spot because of head-to-head wins against the other top teams in the CCIW – and they still have the chance to run the table with a victory the final week against Augustana. In only one win this season has North Central failed to score at least 40 points, and that was a 37-pointer against UW-Stout. Wheaton’s defense will need to be on its toes if it doesn’t want to spend the day playing on its heels.
Pat’s take: No. 1 Mount Union at No. 23 Baldwin Wallace (maybe). At this point, it’s not even sure Baldwin Wallace can host this game. On Wednesday the playing surface was underwater and on Thursday afternoon there was still no electricity to the stadium. BW, which already has to deal with not being as talented as Mount Union (like most of Division III is), has the additional distraction of the revelation this week that Baldwin Wallace declared its athletic teams ineligible for the playoffs. Now, why I’m picking this game as my game of the week is the history that BW often gives Mount Union a tough game (last year, 25-20). And now BW has nothing left to lose and can really only play spoiler. It should be an interesting game for that standpoint alone.
Keith’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas at No. 17 Concordia-Moorhead. No game on Saturday will have as much of a domino effect on the playoffs. Fringe Pool C teams will have an interest in seeing the Tommies win in Moorhead, while MIAC boosters could push for the Cobbers to win, which would put three conference teams on the path to the postseason. It’s the most significant conference road trip, the Tommies have been playing through some injuries, and the Cobbers have been pointed towards this game ever since they were stunned on the final play at Bethel. Brett Baune rushes for 109 of the Cobbers’ 262 yards per game on the ground, while the Tommies are fifth in the nation in run defense, allowing 56.75 yards per game.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hardin-Simmons at Texas Lutheran.
The Bulldogs played the pass-heavy Louisiana College last week to overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if they can repeat the feat against Hardin-Simmons, which throws for nearly 400 yards a game.
Pat’s take: Greensboro at Christopher Newport. Only once in the 11-year history of the series has Greensboro even been within one score of CNU. This might be the best Greensboro team in the program’s brief history, however (started in 1997), and the Pride have never finished with a record of above .500. This might not be the year but a split in the final two games to go 5-5 is definitely possible.
Keith’s take: Brockport State at Montclair State. It’s been an unusually rough 3-5 season for the Redhawks. But being fortunate enough to have a game in North Jersey this week when the other local teams are all cancelled might tap into to something that the Redhawks haven’t been able to draw out this season. The 5-3 Golden Eagles have been all over the board, scoring 35 or more four times and 6 or less twice. Defensively, they’ve given up 45 to Cortland State and held Lycoming to 2. Montclair State’s Bill Roman has assumed the main ballcarrier’s role the past three games, and has rushed for 393 yards.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 21 Franklin.
The Grizzlies have been nothing short of dominant in conference play this season, shutting out three of their last four opponents. But these final two weeks show Franklin running smack-dab into the second- and third-best teams in the HCAC. This week, Bluffton is the kind of team that can do a lot more damage to Franklin’s passing attack than most other opponents and could give the Griz a run for its money.
Pat’s take: No. 18 Heidelberg. John Carroll has had an interesting season, beating all the teams it has been expected to beat and losing to the teams it should lose to. This is a step up for John Carroll, but Mark Myers, the transfer quarterback from Pitt, has had a great season for the Blue Streaks. With as much talent as Heidelberg has on offense, JCU may well have the biggest offensive talent on the field.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Salisbury. The Sea Gulls, who I once had ranked as high as sixth on my ballot, have looked vulnerable the past two weeks. And as good as Alfred and Ithaca are, Utica is passing for 350 yards per game and has allowed 14 points over the past three games. Salisbury is at home, and brings its trademark option attack to the table, so a shootout could be in order.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Adrian.
In our preseason Kickoff 2012 publication, the Bulldogs were the team I picked to be the surprise playoff entry. Now, they stand at 5-0 in conference play with only one more MIAA game to go. That means they’ve already clinched a share of the conference title for the first time in 15 years, but I’m sure they’ll be happier knocking off Albion this week and sweeping the conference. And a win would give them momentum heading into the final game, a nonconference tilt again Huntingdon. Adrian has almost flown under the radar all season, quietly stacking up the nation’s third best defense statistically and keeping every MIAA opponent to single digits in scoring. They can’t look past Albion, of course (the Britons did beat Wheaton early this season), but the Bulldogs should be very optimistic about their chances and looking forward to their first postseason berth since 1988.
Pat’s take: Buffalo State. Just about everyone else’s most surprising playoff entry is eliminated (except Jason Bailey, who picked Ferrum) so I’m looking at a surprise that unsurprised and could do so again. The Bengals have never been as explosive offensively as they were in Week 1, a win against Cortland State which still puzzles, and Ryan Lehotsky has been running the offense the past week and a half instead of Casey Kacz. Buff State has already outdone the Empire 8 coaches’ poll and our more optimistic preseason predictions. Now the goal is to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2000. And beat two teams that went to the Elite 8 and beyond last year.
Keith’s take: Tufts. We’ve seen a handful of major losing streaks kick the bucket over the past few weeks, and now it’s the Jumbos’ turn. Tufts has lost 21 in a row, but gets a visit from 1-5 Colby on Saturday. The Jumbos are coming off a rough stretch, having to play Amherst, Williams and Trinity consecutively, but they were competitive early in the season against Bates and Bowdoin. Before we turn our attention completely to the postseason, I’ll be looking for one more regular-season win that gives a team the first taste of victory.

A team that will clinch a share of the conference title on Saturday.
Ryan’s take: Widener.
Rightly or wrongly, I got on the Widener bandwagon early in the season, before the Pride had really proven themselves. Close wins against Lebanon Valley and Lycoming helped to separate Widener from the rest of the MAC. But even though a win over FDU-Florham will give the undefeated Pride a share of the conference title, they still have to beat Delaware Valley next weekend to avoid a three-way tie at the top of the MAC and to assure themselves a trip to the playoffs. (Wait, what’s that? The Widener/Florham game is canceled? Well, shucks, that throws us into a conundrum. Widener, at worse, would be a one-loss team, but DelVal potentially could have more conference wins than the Pride. Anyone know the MAC’s championship rules off the top of their heads? Either way, I’m sure Keith and Pat have some winners to talk about here:)
Pat’s take: Salisbury. I know there is some rumbling that Utica has a shot to take down Salisbury but I don’t see it. Using last year’s game, played in Week 5 at the end of a seven and a half hour drive by Salisbury, doesn’t equate to winning in Salisbury. Now, I’ll admit, the Sea Gulls offense, even on turf, hasn’t been putting up the same type of points in recent weeks, but I don’t think there’s enough to get Utica over the top.
Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays have no easy matchup, with 6-2 Franklin & Marshall on deck. JHU has averaged nearly 500 yards of offense, with RB Jonathan Rigaud leading the way, and F&M allows 133 rushing yards per game. That’s not terrible, but it’s a sign that there might be an opening for the Blue Jays. F&M has given up 28 or more points in four games already, and it’s doubtful they’ll hold high-powered Johns Hopkins down.

Which season turnaround has been the most interesting?
Ryan’s take: Brockport State.
And not in the good-turnaround sort of way. After starting the season beating Lycoming and Buffalo State (which would then go on to beat UW-Whitewater), Brockport put itself on a lot of people’s watch lists. The team even enjoyed a 17th-place spot in the poll. But the conference portion of the season has been hard on the Golden Eagles, who have eked out a .500 performance. The final two games, against Montclair State and Morrisville State, have winability written all over them. They’re not sure things, but Brockport could end the season swinging with a 7-3 record.
Pat’s take: Ohio Wesleyan. And most interesting to me has been how the Battling Bishops have threatened to make the last NCAC season without a full round-robin a tiebreaking nightmare. You know, interesting like a trainwreck. Allegheny can save the NCAC from some of this ignominy, but then again, Allegheny lost to Kenyon, so it’s not a guarantee.
Keith’s take: Lake Forest. The Foresters haven’t finished above .500 since 2004, but at 8-1, they’ve clinched that and are in line for a playoff spot. Statistically they haven’t overwhelmed, yet they’ve survived on heart, winning five games by a touchdown or less. That’s a recipe for a heck of ride, if nothing else.

Which team will rise in the regional rankings next week, and why?
Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney.
There no reason to think that, when Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee line up this weekend, it won’t be a shootout. In rushing offense, W&L is at the top of the stat sheet; in passing offense, H-SC is Top 40. While I think the Tigers are clicking more right now, that doesn’t mean the Generals won’t put up one heck of a fight. Both teams are in the regional rankings and looking to move up. More importantly, both want to secure their spot to be playing on Nov. 17.
Pat’s take: North Central (Ill.). At least, they should. The Cardinals’ strength of schedule should increase, while Concordia-Chicago’s should decrease. And if it doesn’t happen this week, it should next week. It would be better if it happened this week, so that the final public ranking reflects this change, rather than waiting for the secret ranking.
Keith’s take: Coe. One of the MIAC teams above is guaranteed to lose. The Kohawks should move to 9-0 on Saturday against Loras, but their rise up the rankings is capped because they have no games against regionally ranked opponents.