Triple Take, Week 5: October is here, and so are conference rumbles

Believe it or not, the first month of the season has gone by. And as the calendar flips from September to October, the Dubuque at Pacific and Wesley at North Central matchups turn to the more familar: Central at Wartburg, Washington & Jefferson at Thomas More and the like.

Of course, as the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, NACC, NWC, ODAC, SCIAC, USAC and the WIAC get conference play underway, there are some unfamiliar matchups as well. In the ASC, which along with the MWC has had just one league game played, Belhaven at Mary Hardin-Baylor is a conference clash. Rowan at Christopher Newport is now an NJAC game.

The four-team SCAC aside, league games in Division III’s 28 conferences will be underway as of this week. It’s not normal to follow that many conferences, so our abormal prognosticators — Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I — provide our seven-point primers in hopes of making sense of it all. Add your picks in the comment section below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. The WIAC clash could earn top bill here, but that has more of a defined favorite, and less on the line, since UW-Platteville has already scored a big non-conference win. The PAC teams might have more at stake; Thomas More missed the playoffs at 9-1 in 2013. It then upgraded the schedule by adding Wesley, lost, and missed the field at 8-2 last season. Both years included big losses to W&J (45-21 and 51-28). This season, if the Saints still can’t stop the Presidents, they at least look like a better bet to keep pace. You might know TMC from their All-American running back the past few years, but QB Jensen Gephardt is the nation’s third most-efficient passer. Look for his throws to Goose Cohorn, and either team’s defense generating turnovers as the difference in the game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 13 Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. The Saints, which average almost 60 points a game, have the second-best scoring offense in the nation. But W&J isn’t far behind on the list with 43 points a game. This will be a game that has the potential to see some wild offense come alive, and it would be of little surprise for it to be a back-and-forth slugfest. TMC holds the edge going into this one with more muscle and more balance on both sides of the ball. Yet all it takes is a well-timed turnover to shift the momentum of a matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: What they said. But also No. 14 UW-Platteville at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. Just to get in some info on another game here. Last week’s game couldn’t have come at a better time for Whitewater. The adjustment in terms of speed of game and quality of opponent for Whitewater last week was pretty necessary to prepare the Warhawks for the conference schedule. It took a while for the passing game to come around, but if Whitewater comes out ready to fire on Saturday, they should be in good shape. On the other hand, Platteville has to come out with a lot of confidence after the success it had in the non-conference schedule, and the Pioneers have had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 Ithaca at Utica. While the Bombers have the ranking and the name recognition, the Pioneers are still under the radar. (See what I did there? Bombers. Radar. Eh?) The case for Utica is that they’re 2-2, but with seven-point losses at Ohio Northern and at Cortland State surrounding an impressive win against Morrisville State. The Pioneers are back at home, and while Ithaca’s scores might lead one to believe they’re a little more offensively inclined than usual, Utica can keep pace, and Ithaca is still top 10 in passing efficiency defense and top 20 in rushing defense. Plus, it’s the Empire 8, so anything can happen.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Hardin-Simmons at Trinity. I’m high on Trinity’s potential this year, but the reality of it is that the Tigers haven’t been tested much. Trinity’s opponents are 1-10 this season, and the margins haven’t been what we’d expect to see from a team that can compete with the top of the ASC. What could keep Trinity in this one, though, is the defense — with pick-master Jai Boatman in the secondary, Luke Packard coming off Team of the Week honors and linebacker Julian Turner averaging 14 tackles a game. Confidence should be high that they can at least slow this HSU squad.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Any game in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. The potential of torrential rain makes this weekend interesting on the field. (And please, everyone, be safe off of it.) Rainy weather will favor the teams which run the ball well and play good defense, and if you need a real-world reminder, just review the UW-Whitewater/Morningside game. Option teams will have less of an advantage because of the way they pitch the ball around. Keep an eye out for results that look odd on paper. Paper is hard to read when it gets wet.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 18 Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys sneaked into the top 25, largely because of their Week 2 win at Texas Lutheran. But we don’t really know how good they are. Weston Garner, Jessie Ramos and company have another chance to prove it Saturday at Trinity (Texas), which is surprisingly 4-0. As Pat remarked on the podcast, this takes us back to the early 2000s when these two teams were national powers.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. If only because the top of the MIAC is so good that teams are vulnerable week after week. Opponent Concordia-Moorhead’s only blemish is to St. John’s, while Bethel has a loss only to Wartburg. No matter who comes away with the victory here, it’ll be the team’s first upper-tier win of the season.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 11 John Carroll. Not to keep sounding this horn week after week. I’ll just leave the team name here and hope that I don’t need to say anything else.

Pick a team that will win a shootout

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Guilford, at Washington & Lee. The nation’s No. 4 passing offense (the Quakers average 384.7 yards a game) and No. 3 total offense (639.3) meet the No. 1 rushing offense (509.7) and No. 10 total offense (562.3). Those numbers should come down a bit as the ODAC rivals face tougher competition in one another, but they do what they do. Guilford QB Matt Pawlowski will complete passes to Adam Smith, Daniel Woodruff and Rontavious Miller, and W&L counterpart Charlie Nelson will hand off to Duncan Maxwell or one of three other ballcarriers or keep it himself as the Generals whiz past in every direction. Whichever team can muster enough defense to slow the other probably pulls this one out.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mass-Dartmouth, at Framingham State. The MASCAC hasn’t been known for defense this fall, and shootouts seem to be commonplace. That will be no less likely when the conference’s only 3-1 teams meet. The Corsairs average more than 500 yards a game, while the Rams are just behind that with 472. The Rams’ weakness, though, is that their offense is one-dimensional — lots of passing, little run. The Corsairs will be more likely to make Framingham’s defense work for the win by spicing up the offensive approach and keeping the Rams guessing.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 17 UW-Oshkosh at UW-Stout. Stout has proven the ability to put points on the board this season against good teams (see Bethel, Wartburg) and UW-Oshkosh will score as well. As long as Stout’s offense remains healthy, it’ll be able to put up points against a good number of teams. Last year, that group was so debilitated that you can’t judge the Blue Devils based on those results.

Pick a team that will win a defensive battle

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 15 Rowan, at Christopher Newport. Pat and I had the same idea, except what I would put in this category he used under surprisingly close (although I don’t know what’s surprising about unpredictably close games in hurricane weather). In the interest of singling one team out, the Profs are already strong defensively — they’ve allowed just 20 points in three games, two on the road and two against teams that won eight or more games last season. Rowan is on the road again, in Newport News, which might not get the brunt of the hurricane, but will be sloppy by the time the game kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday, if it stays on schedule. Look for Darren Dungee, Josh Popper and Anthony Rizzolo to add to their defensive stats in a low-scoring affair.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: RPI, vs. Merchant Marine. Both teams are coming off shaky games and will be looking to re-establish themselves on the field. Not only are both of these teams’ strengths in their defensive units, but their offenses leave a little to be desired. RPI should pull this one out, but it would be no surprise to see a finish in the vicinity of 17-13.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific, vs. Pacific Lutheran. PLU has only played twice in the first four weeks of the season, while Pacific has an extra game under its belt. I’m looking for this game to qualify as a low-scoring one. What qualifies as low-scoring in college football these days?

Which team will win a challenging conference opener?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater. If we’re being totally honest, the Warhawks are ranked No. 1 because of what they’ve accomplished under Lance Leipold. However, new coach Kevin Bullis is off to a 3-0 start, including an impressive win over then-NAIA No. 1 Morningside. Now we’ve got a WIAC opponent, and a tough one at that. But if we’re being totally honest, the Pioneers are fortunate to be undefeated, as North Central had them on the ropes and just didn’t deliver the knockout blow. So it’s a bit of a prove-it game for both, and since Bullis (a longtime WIAC assistant) and his charges are no stranger to what they’ll be facing, and the Warhawks get to play at The Perk, one has to assume they’ll do what they do. But in a wise bit of scheduling, Mike Emendorfer’s team has had two weeks to prepare for UW-Whitewater.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Finlandia, vs. Maranatha Baptist. I know I’m stretching the definition of “conference” since the independents aren’t technically one. Regardless, the upstart from the Upper Peninsula has been throttled week after week — opponents have put up 272 points; the Lions have scored just nine. Finlandia did notch  its first touchdown of the season last week, so that’s a perk. Going into this week, the team can expect to see something totally different than what it’s dealt with in recent weeks — a team not from the WIAC. In fact, if Finlandia has a winnable game on its schedule, it’s this one against Maranatha Baptist. The Sabercats haven’t been through the meat grinder against the kind of competition Finlandia has faced, so if Finlandia is healthy, they should be prepared for this one. But, I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that every game in a startup’s season is going to be challenging.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Adrian, at Olivet. One of the key games of the MIAA season is this one, right out of the gate. There’s not much in the way of common opponents to judge these teams on, so I’ll be taking the team that has played the stronger schedule so far, even if that’s picking against the team that has the home-field advantage.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Widener. So I’m still not sure what to make of the Pride, but at 2-2 and 2-1 in the MAC, they have to have this game at Wilkes, which aside from its 12-7 upset of Delaware Valley has lost every game. What’s surprising is Widener is second in the nation in passing yards allowed, seventh in getting off the field on third downs and top 2o in total defense. It is also even in turnover margin, so either the stats are lying or Widener is a breakout team lying in wait. Which means now against the Colonels and next week against Misericordia are the times to show it, because 4-0 Stevenson follows them.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Centre. The Colonels had won 14 straight regular-season games, and there were high hopes for another sweep through the SAA. Chicago ruined that streak with a 49-30 outing last weekend. But the test of a good team is how well it bounces back after defeat. Centre’s opponent, Hendrix, is 2-1 to start the season, and both teams have quarterbacks who excel — expect a lot of offense. I’ll be on site in Danville, Ky., on Saturday to personally see how this one plays out.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Hendrix. I’m actually going to take the opposite side of this game from my colleague. Hendrix is on the upswing here and will go as far as quarterback Seth Peters can carry them. What the program lacks so far, though, is an ability to win on the road. They can put that struggle behind them in a memorable way on Saturday. But if they don’t, it will still be one more step on the road to growing a program.

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.


Triple take Week 11: It all comes down to this

Delaware Valley picked off Seth Klein twice in last year's Keystone Cup game. He has thrown only two interceptions in the nine games since. (Widener athletics photo)

Delaware Valley picked off Seth Klein twice in last year’s Keystone Cup game. He has thrown only two interceptions in the nine games since. (Widener athletics photo)

With all due respect to the pinnacle that is the Stagg Bowl, Week 11 is the most fun Division III can have, considering its all-inclusive nature. From the top-10 OAC clash to the multiple teams in the conference championship mix in the NACC and ODAC to Anna Maria facing Becker with each team vying for its first and only win of the season, there’s something on the line almost everywhere. If teams aren’t playing for a playoff spot outright, they’re playing for a bell or a jug or some other proof that they’ve beaten their rival. Some teams are just playing to go into the offseason on a positive note.

Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I make sense of this week’s slate, with a clear slant towards games with playoff implications. We’ll be here until the Stagg Bowl, of course, but if this is your last time joining us for predictions, thanks for enjoying another 11-week rush of a regular season with us.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 6 John Carroll at No. 3 Mount Union. If we’ve spent the season making almost no predictions about these two teams because they’ve made their wins look comically easy the Purple Raiders are outscoring opponents by an average of 64-6, and the Blue Streaks 55-7 then it’s only fair to thrust the spotlight on them now. Not only have they earned the recognition, but there’s actual intrigue when they’re facing one another. The teams met under similar circumstances last year, and Mount Union took a 35-13 lead on the way to a 42-34 win. The Blue Streaks, with six home games already in the books, play at Mount Union for the second year in a row because of the OAC’s normal schedule reshuffling. It’s a matchup of the nation’s No. 1 and 2 scoring offenses and total defenses (UW-Whitewater is wedged between the two in the top 3 of scoring defense). And on top of all that, the most accomplished player on either team, Mount Union QB Kevin Burke, tweeted midweek that the social-media yapping can stop, because the game is won on the field Saturday. While it’d be interesting, for the sake of change, if Mount Union lost and went on the road in the playoffs at some point, we’ve been conditioned to expect regular-season win No. 93 in a row for UMU.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Delaware Valley at No. 12 Widener. It helps my thinking that I profiled this game in this week’s Around the Nation column. The bottom line is that these two Keystone Cup rivals have never come into this game both being 9-0. The winner is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, but the loser is as close to an at-large lock as one could imagine. These two teams have dominated the MAC over the past decade, and both are averaging more than 40 points a game this season. This is Division III at its best.
Pat’s take: Also No. 6 John Carroll at No. 3 Mount Union. There aren’t enough words to describe how much we’ve been waiting for this game. But also, John Carroll really needs to play this game. It’s the first big test for the Blue Streaks since they lost at home in the first round of the playoffs last season and they have floated to No. 6 on the strength of other teams’ losses and their own pasting of overmatched opponents. The OAC has a bunch of really young programs (to put it mildly) who have proved to be no match for the two at the top and John Carroll has to perform well to be taken seriously in Week 12.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: No. 16 Washington and Jefferson at Waynesburg. Nobody’s talking about this game because the PAC has been clinched, and effectively over for weeks. Waynesburg is 7-2, however, with five games decided by seven points or fewer, including a one-touchdown loss to Thomas More last week. The Presidents are third nationally in total offense (553.4 yards/game) and sixth in scoring (47.7 points) and could use this as a tune-up for the postseason. But if they get caught looking ahead, it could be more of a struggle than they’d prefer.
Ryan’s take: Hendrix at Sewanee. The Tigers are coming off one of their best weeks of the season, while the Warriors have lost two in a row. The Warriors, at 5-4, should be favored, but I think Sewanee is carrying some positive momentum with them to make this a good one.
Pat’s take: Any of a dozen East Coast games. Keep an eye on the weather and the snow cover at any of a bunch of games in the Mid-Atlantic, where a storm front that dumped up to 16 inches of snow near St. John’s was making its way late this week. Schools in the Midwest know how to deal with this snow a little better and had an extra day to clear it, plus St. John’s is playing two hours south, at St. Olaf, where the snow cover was minimal. Some sets of seniors are going to get to go out with some pretty cool (if not pretty cold) memories and weather tends to keep the scoring down, so there could be some unpredictability.

Most likely Top 25 team to lose:
Keith’s take: No. 4 Wesley. The Wolverines have their best team since the 2011 squad that nearly won at Mount Union to advance to the Stagg Bowl, and they beat Charlotte 35-28 last year, in that program’s first season. This time around, the 49ers are a different beast. They’re 3-6, but with five losses by eight points or fewer. And they haven’t been playing the dregs of FCS either — last week’s loss was to Coastal Carolina, who’s No. 1 and No. 2 in the FCS polls, and the week before, ranked James Madison beat them, 48-40. Most D-III teams have a handful of players who could be on scholarship in FCS or D-II; Charlotte has at least 85 such players. As big a point of pride as it was for Wesley to have beaten a scholarship program last season, it had to be that humbling for the 49ers. Coming off six straight losses and hungry for a win, and not likely to take the little ol’ Division III team lightly this year, Charlotte is going to be quite the mountain for Wesley to scale. The good news: The Wolverines have had two weeks to prepare, and won’t be knocked out of the D-III playoff picture with a loss.
Ryan’s take: No. 22 St. Thomas. We all expected to see Gustavus Adolphus slide at the end of the season, but the slide hasn’t been that drastic on the scoreboard. Yes, the Gusties are in a three-game skid to St. John’s, Bethel and Concordia-Morehead, but not one margin has been by more than 10 points. Common-opponent comparisons lend weight to what can happen on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 15 UW-Platteville. The UW-Oshkosh Titans have been served notice by the West Region committee that they are not simply playing out the string this year, that they have a chance at a playoff bid. Oshkosh is making its longest trip of the conference season and while it’s a long drive from northeast to southwest Wisconsin, they also get to escape the snow zone and should have a nice, dry surface to play on. Now, those elements probably favor an offensive-minded team such as Platteville, but Oshkosh has to see it has a chance to play on. This may be an elimination game for both teams, but Oshkosh is trying to prove that it is worthy of playoff consideration after losing three consecutive games to scholarship schools to open the season.

Which team can play itself into the postseason in Week 11?
Keith’s take: Emory & Henry, against Guilford. The Wasps may need to give the Yellow Jackets a buzz to call in a favor, but with a win against the 7-2 Quakers and a Randolph-Macon upset of Hampden-Sydney in The Game, first-year coach Curt Newsome and his team are playoff-bound. If the Wasps and Tigers both win, Hampden-Sydney gets the automatic bid by virtue of its head-t0-head 49-27 victory in October, and the Wasps are 9-1 but on the fringe of the Pool C picture. With a .478 strength of schedule (anything below .500 is not good) that should rise a bit after playing Guilford, and no wins over regionally-ranked opponents, they’d have a shaky case for an at-large bid when put up against other possible 9-1 teams like Wabash, the Mount Union/John Carroll loser, the Delaware Valley/Widener loser and perhaps Texas Lutheran. Guilford, with one of its losses coming to Hampden-Sydney, is basically blocked from getting in.
Ryan’s take: Husson, against Mount Ida. Husson (6-0 in conference play) owns leadership of most of the conference’s offensive stats and is second defensively allowing just 17 points a game. The one crucial spot where Mount Ida, which has just one conference loss, could gain an edge is if the Mustangs are able to win the turnover battle. That has proven effective for much of the season. Barring that, however, it looks like the Eagles should be able to punch their ticket to the playoffs and avoid a messy three-way tie at the top of the ECFC.
Pat’s take: Centre, at Birmingham-Southern. I mean, I have to believe this is still possible, despite the utterly bizarre way in which the South Region’s regional advisory committee ranked them. Surely the national committee will correct that error if Centre goes 10-0. Perhaps Centre will feel like it needs to beat the Panthers with style points in order to convince the committee it’s a legitimate 10-0 team. It’s not like we’re talking about Westminster (Mo.) 1999, folks. 10-0 against a representative Division III schedule belongs in the playoffs already. Why the drama?

Which team can play itself out of the postseason in Week 11?
Keith’s take: Texas Lutheran, against Southwestern. The Bulldogs should Marquis Ba-ROLL over the 1-7 Pirates. (Ugh, I can’t believe I typed that). Given Wednesday’s regional rankings, TLU looks like a good bet to get that playoff spot it missed last season, no doubt partially because it scheduled UMHB this year. The reward would be another trip to UMHB, and a chance to avenge a 72-16 Oct. 25 loss, but the Week 11 win has to come first. With Centre and Framingham State each breathing down the Bulldogs’ necks in Pool B, behind Stagg Bowl contender Wesley, there’s no margin for error. Regarding the Bulldogs, Colonels and Rams, the national committee is in a precarious position either way. TLU played UMHB, Framingham State played Rowan and Centre (208th-best strength of schedule, .441, this week) played no one that’s regionally ranked. So it might be reasonable to believe that if the Colonels had, they’d have the same blemish on their unbeaten record. If you look at who the three actually beat, only TLU has a win over a regionally ranked team, and none play a team of consequence in Week 11.
Ryan’s take: Wabash, against DePauw. I have to find a way to get a mention of the Monon Bell game in here, right? Bottom line is that DePauw has no chance of making the playoffs, but Wabash does. That kind of dynamic has made this game interesting in years past because rivals love nothing more than winning the trophy game – and spoiling the other’s playoff chances can be the perfect cherry on top. Even though the Little Giants lost last weekend, I like their playoff chances as a 9-1 team because of the Week 1 win over Hampden-Sydney. That’s a far more quality win than 2013’s win over Hanover; that year, Wabash finished 9-1 but was left out, in part, because of a weak strength of schedule. Wabash has more than just the bell at stake this weekend and needs to make this one count if the team hopes to play past Saturday.
Pat’s take: Ithaca, against Cortland State, hear me out. Here’s why — Ithaca can’t be excluded from the postseason if it loses on Saturday, it already has an automatic bid. But the Bombers can play themselves out of having a winnable playoff game if they lose to Cortland State. That would leave Ithaca 7-3, and they are driving distance to Wesley and Mount Union. Beating Cortland State gives Ithaca a chance at a winnable first-round playoff game as well as the Cortaca Jug.
Keith’s other take: Pacific, against Linfield. Sorry, couldn’t publish this without acknowledging the chance the Boxers have to do the improbable. Despite getting through September with only two losses and a cancellation, Pacific is 6-0 in NWC play, and has to go through the mighty national power to become a playoff automatic qualifier. The teams’ results against Willamette, which upset the Wildcats, then lost last week to the Boxers, makes this a believable possibility. I find it hard to believe the Wildcats would lose a clincher at the Catdome; For more on this game from a Linfield perspective, I recommend this post over at, even though it takes a swipe at “national pundits” right in the middle of it.

Which team can play poorly in Week 11, but survive to play next week?
Keith’s take: Rowan, on Friday night at TCNJ. The NJAC’s tiebreaker is different than it was the last time it had three teams in the mix for a bid on the final week, and the Profs need only win to cash in some old chips. Even a 3-2 victory against one of D-III’s worst offenses (TCNJ is tied for 234th at 11 points per game, and 236th in total offense at 221 yards per game) would get it done. Because it held first-half leads in a 31-0 win over Morrisville State and a 20-16 loss to Montclair State, the two teams it is tied with atop the conference, Rowan is playoff-bound with any kind of win Friday. With a loss, Montclair would need only beat 2-7 Kean to get in. Morrisville State, 8-2 and off this week, needs two 2-7 teams to pull upsets to receive the automatic bid.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Wesley. We haven’t said hardly a word about Wesley in weeks because the second half of their schedule was loaded with non-Division III opponents. Wesley is the caliber of team that we should be talking about each week, but until next year when the Wolverines join the NJAC, there’s just not much to say. Frankly, the games they are playing these last couple of weeks matter less to the D-III world than the other 100-plus games out there each week. Wesley wraps up the regular season playing Charlotte, a team that played Wesley well last year. Hopefully, that means Wesley will get a little better battle-tested this week than it has against, say, College of Faith or Menlo in the past month.
Pat’s take: Mount Union. I don’t expect the Purple Raiders to play poorly, but they are the one team I am sure can lose on Saturday and not suffer a significant impact to their playoff chances or their first-round opponent next week. The way the committee ranked teams this week, I don’t have a lot of optimism for other teams in the same situation.

They’ll be off the playoff radar, but on yours
Keith’s take: Wilmington and Tarrell Starckey. It’s kind of tough for me to care about any Week 11 game with no playoff implications unless it’s a rivalry game. But there are 217 teams in action this weekend in 110 games, and most of them are neither. Way on the other end of the spectrum are players like Starckey, a junior who averages 10.5 tackles per game for his career, and plays on a team that’s 0-9 this year but has a chance to finish with a win against 2-7 Muskingum. There are players like this who might never get a moment on the front page of (and some who have, like Thomas More’s Domonique Hayden and Heidelberg’s Cartel Brooks, who are are also among the career leaders and are probably playing their last game) but who exhibit as much heart and represent “For the Love of the Game” as much as a Gagliardi Trophy winner.
Ryan’s take: The bye week of Thomas More and Mount St. Joseph. As an alumnus of a school with a great rivalry, I hate seeing any rivalry game get passed over, especially one that is so geographically sensible and is established enough to have a trophy. I miss you, Bridge Bowl.
Pat’s take: Union and RPI. Union leads the Dutchman Shoes rivalry 47-17 and the series with RPI, 80-27-4 or 81-26-4. That depends on whose records you believe for the 1886 game. However, RPI has won nine of the past 20 and has evenly split the past 10 meetings. This is a rivalry that has gotten much more competitive in the past two decades and is worthy of Week 11 status.

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 off base.

Triple Take predictions, Week 10: This is almost it!


Tyler Holmes and Wabash will try to keep the unbeaten run alive. (Wabash photo by Howard Hewitt)

Week 10. This is almost it.

For a handful of teams, this is it — their season will be over by Saturday evening. For another handful, this is it in the sense that the game that defines the season is this week. And for a few more, this is almost it — there’s one more shot next week, whether that shot is to score a win that influences the playoff selection committee, or just to head into the offseason on a high note.

With regional rankings out and selection Sunday nine days from now, Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I focus on the top end of Division III in this week’s predictions, as a field of 32 will be chosen from the 230 or so that are playoff-eligible. Here are our predictions.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: Ithaca at No. 15 St. John Fisher. The clashes at the top of the MIAC and NCAC are bigger games, but we have a Wabash grad and Minnesota resident here more qualified to handle those. We might overdo the Empire 8 in Triple Take every week, yet this one is huge because it’s the difference between winning the conference and possibly a couple playoff games, as E8 winners have been known to do, and missing the field entirely. Salisbury game aside, the Cardinals have been pretty solid in total defense (275 yards/game, 25th nationally). Ithaca (294/34th) isn’t far behind, and after allowing 38 points to Frostburg State, have allowed just three TDs in two games. To top it off, the past three Bombers-Cardinals clashes have been decided by three, four and three points.
Ryan’s take: No. 9 Wabash at No. 14 Wittenberg. As a Wabash grad, I feel no pressure to *have* to pick this game; fact is, I *want* to pick it. Not only is this one of the two top-25 clashes this weekend, but it also features two teams that have grown into the fiercest of rivals when it comes to talking about the NCAC. Only once since 2004 has a team not named Wabash or Wittenberg won the conference title, and even that was a co-champion situation in which Witt still got the automatic qualifier. The Little Giants and Tigers are at the top of most major statistical categories in the conference, including scoring offense and scoring defense. Makes you wonder what kind of game we’re in for this weekend, huh?
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel at No. 18 St. John’s. The first time I saw these teams play was on another cold Week 10 Saturday, 11 years ago when St. John’s coach John Gagliardi came in with 408 career wins and needed one more to surpass legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson to become the winningest coach in college football history. I don’t expect to see (or be) a member of the national media at this game, nor 14,000 people, but it still has the makings of a classic. The primary question in my mind is how well Bethel’s defense will contain St. John’s running back Sam Sura, and whether the Johnnies will continue to rip a page from the 2003 playbook and put their best receiver in the backfield in a big game. (I mean, if they’re going to throw the ball around 10 times per game, what else does Josh Bungum have to do?)

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: No. 13 Widener at King’s. For a 3-5 team, the Monarchs have pulled off some amazing feats, like managing to play both No. 19 Delaware Valley (24-21 loss last week) and 1-7 Misericordia (36-29 win) even. Three of King’s losses are by a touchdown or less, and they lost by two scores to Lycoming. All that bodes well for another game where they hang close to a superior team. Turnovers are even more key here than usual — Widener has just six giveaways all season, and King’s has 10.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Thomas More. The newcomer vs. a PAC power. Case hasn’t been playing particularly well this season, but one bright spot is that they can handle an opponent’s run game reasonably well. That might not translate into a win against TMC, but it should keep the score somewhat in check.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Willamette at Pacific. Mostly because I don’t know what to do with this game and it should be mentioned. Willamette has to be favored, even though Pacific is in first place in the Northwest Conference at the moment. But Pacific needed overtime to beat Lewis and Clark last week and hasn’t played Linfield yet, so being in first place is cool for the program, but a little misleading at the moment.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Hobart. The discrepancy between the Statesmen’s No. 7 ranking and St. Lawrence’s two votes is the biggest in this week’s conference-title toss-ups. If it weren’t for the Saints’ puzzling 10-7 loss to Norwich early in the season, we’d be billing this as a matchup of 8-0 teams. But what makes the potential for upset here real is that both teams are equally adept at the rare skill of good defense. Hobart has held five opponents to 13 points or fewer, and the three times a team has gone over, it’s needed to get there with a TD in the final minute after the outcome has been decided. St. Lawrence, meantime, is sixth nationally in total defense (219 yards/game, 10 TDs allowed), just ahead of No. 10 Hobart (234/11), and neither team has more than nine turnovers this season. To pull the upset, Mike Lefflbine and the Saints’ offense will have to figure out how to score on Hobart, which might not be likely, but it’s more possible than the disparate rankings might make it seem.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Hobart. St. Lawrence hasn’t been squeaking by most teams on the schedule; instead the Saints have been leaving few questions about who’s the best team on the field each week. SLU allows just 11 points a game — a mere 0.1 better than Hobart’s average in that category — and should be able to use its pass-leaning offense to keep the Statesmen on their toes. The winner of this will most likely end up being the Liberty League’s playoff representative. (Of course, if SLU wins, perhaps the LL would send two teams?)
Pat’s take: No. 21 Chapman. At some point we may well see Chapman take over the top dog spot in the SCIAC, possibly this year. But it’s easier to believe the previous champion will hang on to its throne, perhaps for one extra season.

Pinpoint a game that will decide a conference race this weekend
Keith’s take: No. 21 Chapman at Redlands, SCIAC. If Chapman wins, the conference would be wrapped up with a tidy bow. Redlands, however, can delay the crowning another week, because next week’s opponent, Occidental, isn’t eliminated yet, despite a 59-21 loss to Chapman in October. Redlands has been off the national radar since being outscored 72-3 in season-opening losses to No. 2 UMHB and No. 11 Linfield, which beat Chapman 21-14. The Panthers, who run for 253 yards a game and pass for 211, could lose and still end up winning the tiebreaker (Rose Bowl rule?) anyway. They could bypass the complications with a win.
Ryan’s take: Franklin at Defiance, HCAC. After misreading the schedule last week, I feel obligated to renew the spotlight I put on this game. The Grizzlies are undefeated in conference play and hold tiebreakers over every one- and two-loss team in the HCAC. Not that it will come to that. A win this weekend means that Franklin is in the playoffs no matter what happens elsewhere in the conference. Consider the conference decided.
Pat’s take: Illinois Wesleyan at Wheaton (Ill.), CCIW. This isn’t a winner-take-all game and probably won’t be much of a battle. But with a win, Wheaton will pick up its ninth victory for the first time since 2010 and clinch its first playoff bid since then as well. Illinois Wesleyan has struggled to find a quarterback this season, and Wheaton appears to have found its signal-caller.

Pinpoint a conference race that will not be decided this weekend
Keith’s take: ODAC. Guilford must win at Hampden-Sydney this week and Emory & Henry next weekend to win the conference title. The Quakers, who lost 47-31 to Shenandoah a few weeks ago, are no more likely to get it done than the Tigers, who were cruising through the conference before a 34-9 loss to Bridgewater last week. H-SC needs to beat Guilford and rival Randolph-Macon in Week 11 to take the crown, while E&H has home games against Shenandoah and then Guilford, but lost 49-27 to H-SC in October. If it feels like every conference team still is in the mix somehow, well, duh, it’s the ODAC.
Ryan’s take: ECFC. Husson appears in control of the conference, being undefeated and cruising convincingly through most of its games. But the Eagles’ real challenge to their postseason hopes won’t come until Week 11 when they travel to Mount Ida, which has just one conference loss. Both Husson and Mount Ida play 0-8 teams this weekend, so there’s every reason to expect that they’ll remain on track for their final-week collision.
Pat’s take: MWC. We might not even know immediately on conclusion of the games on Saturday who will be playing in the Midwest Conference title game and tiebreakers might be required. In the North Division, if Macalester defeats St. Norbert, they win the division and play for the title next week. If St. Norbert wins and Carroll beats Beloit, then there’s a three-way tie and it comes down to how many quarters each team led. (If St. Norbert wins and leads all four quarters in the process, they play for the automatic bid). In the South Division, Cornell plays Illinois College for a share of the title. If Illinois College wins, it plays for the title. Cornell can  force a tie with a win and Monmouth can make it a three-way tie with a win vs. Knox. (Monmouth has not lost a game to Knox in the history of Look for teams to take an early lead and keep trying to score.

Predict the outcome of a game outside the playoff picture
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Wesleyan. Amherst has already locked up best-team-in-the-NESCAC honors, and is aiming to finish 8-0 by beating 2-5 rival Williams. There’s maybe more intrigue in Tufts going for its fifth win this season at Middlebury, after not winning a game from 2010-13. But the Cardinals got drubbed by their Bantam rivals last season, so that’s all the story line needed for this one. It’s the final game for Wesleyan DB Jake Bussani, the active career leader in interceptions (17) and passes defensed (38), and a big reason why the Cardinals are top-five nationally in pass efficiency defense. The player behind Bussani on the career interceptions list, UW-Whitewater’s Brady Grayvold (16), plays almost as many games in two seasons (30, for the frequent Stagg Bowl participants) as Bussani has had in his four-year career (32). It’s only fitting that he makes one final big play and helps Wesleyan avenge last year’s loss.
Ryan’s take: Kenyon at Wooster. The season really derailed for the Scots midway through October, and the best chance they have at a rebound is this game. It certainly should happen. Yet without a win here, Wooster will almost certainly be riding on fumes when it visits Ohio Wesleyan in the season finale.
Pat’s take: Alfred State at Washington U. Not difficult to predict the Bears will win this game, but I just wanted to bring this game to the radar and give some kudos to Alfred State and Wash. U. for making the most of a bad situation. Both teams got dropped by Maranatha Baptist this season when the Bearcats couldn’t reliably field a football team, but rather than have Alfred State swallow its airfare, they continue to travel this weekend and end up in St. Louis instead of Watertown, Wis. As for Maranatha, there’s a lot of recruiting to do this offseason to get up into the 40s or 50s instead of opening the season with 30 players and dropping to the low 20s.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Montclair State. An afterthought coming into the season because it totaled nine wins in 2012 and ’13, wins No. 8 and 9 this season would clinch the NJAC and potentially a winnable first-round home game against a team from New England in Round 1. Before they get that far ahead though, the Red Hawks have to get past 7-2 Morrisville State, which has come close a couple times in recent seasons, but hasn’t beaten Montclair State.
Ryan’s take: Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs’ placement in the NCAA’s regional rankings compared with Centre have me curious about a 9-1 team getting picked ahead for Pool B over an undefeated team. It’s a bit unexpected, but that makes TLU’s game against a 5-3 Austin this week all that much more crucial.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh. The Titans won’t lose this weekend, and although their strength of schedule will drop, they’ll likely stay in the regional rankings until next week, when they face UW-Platteville.

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.