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Quick Hits: Coming down to the wire

Conference races are coming down to the wire, and some of those key matchups come this week. That includes the game for bragging rights between our founding Around the Nation columnist (Keith McMillan, former defensive back at Randolph-Macon) and our current columnist (Adam Turer, former defensive back at Washington & Lee). Our guest prognosticator this week is Doug Rothschild, a Wheaton football alum who played for coach Swider and is currently the color analyst for Wheaton’s broadcasts.

— Pat Coleman

Which Week 9 game is the must-watch game?

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Keith’s take: There are two. Rowan at Frostburg and Salisbury at CNU. If the Profs and Captains win, Wesley could be atop the heap of five NJAC 6-2 teams.
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Ryan’s take: Middlebury at Trinity (Conn.). Because sometimes, you don’t have to be Top 25 teams to bring an awesome performance to the field.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Ithaca at St. John Fisher. I hear faint echoes of cries about bounced interceptions but just looking for an exciting game.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Case Western Reserve at Washington U., in a rare late-season non-conference game with playoff implications for both teams.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Brockport at No. 15 Alfred. This has national appeal as E8 is one of few East conferences with Pool C still in play. A Brockport win could undermine that.
Doug Rothschild
Doug’s take: Rowan at Frostburg. I am a sucker for good defense and these teams are 1-2 in the NJAC in scoring defense. Frostburg is 11th in D-III in defense behind Niles Scott and Will Sewell, who spend a lot of time in other team’s backfields.

Which Top 25 team is most likely to get upset?

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Keith’s take: No. 15 Alfred. The Saxons’ opponent, 5-2 Brockport, is two scores from being unbeaten and has played five one-score games.
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Ryan’s take: No. 24 St. John Fisher. Week in and week out, the Empire keeps striking back at one another.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 25 Case Western Reserve. In all honesty, this wouldn’t be much of an upset, either.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: No. 19 Salisbury at Christopher Newport, because the NJAC is as balanced as ever this year.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: No. 15 Alfred. It’s the time of year when leaves change, pumpkins are carved, and the E8 cannibalizes itself out of strong Pool C contention.
Doug Rothschild
Doug’s take: No. 25 Case Western Reserve. Easy come, easy go. They just appeared in the poll last week and a road trip to 6-1 WashU will be their stiffest test of the season.

Of the three NCAC teams ranked 20-23, which one makes the biggest statement to Top 25 voters?

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Keith’s take: Denison winning at DePauw would be more impressive than anything Wabash or Wittenberg could accomplish on Saturday. It’s not a lock to happen though.
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Ryan’s take: Wabash, with a win over upward-trending OWU. Still, I have exactly zero NCAC teams on my ballot, so they’re all needing to prove themselves to me.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Denison. The question, however, is whether it’s a positive statement made by the Big Red.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Denison winning at DePauw would be the biggest statement. Wittenberg is expected to win, and I expect Wabash to struggle against a hot Ohio Wesleyan squad.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Wabash (vs. Ohio Wesleyan). After a scare vs. Wooster, Wabash needs a statement win. They’ll start this game like a cannonball to win big.
Doug Rothschild
Doug’s take: Wabash. A convincing win @OWU tells Denison they are ready for next week’s showdown, shows their Monon rival how to do what they haven’t done in 4 seasons and keeps Pool C hopes alive.

Who wins the Around the Nation Classic between Keith McMillan’s and Adam Turer’s alma mater?

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Keith’s take: I’m obligated to pick the Yellow Jackets, but there’s solid logic. The past three games have been decided by 6, 4 and 3, and none of those R-MC teams had a D as good as this one.
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Ryan’s take: The nod goes to Washington & Lee. With the slate Randolph-Macon has coming up, it’s easy to get caught looking ahead.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Washington & Lee. Something in me just wants to recognize the team that scheduled Johns Hopkins, and that’s no longer Randolph-Macon.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: The mighty Generals take the hill.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Newspaper ink companies. A lot of letters & symbols for one game. (I’ll pick RMC, but Turer can gloat during our Stagg pregame show if I’m wrong.).
Doug Rothschild
Doug’s take: Randolph-Macon. While I may not be siding as much with Keith as my fellow Wheaton alum Pedro Arruza, Keith is the benefactor this week as his RM brothers have the No, 1 defense in the ODAC and defense wins championships.

Which team bounces back after a tough loss?

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Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons. The foe is 1-6 Belhaven, which has given up 52 or more points in six straight games.
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Ryan’s take: Texas Lutheran, after losing its first-ever SCAC game. The Bulldogs beat Trinity (Texas) once already this year; don’t be surprised to see them with new fire to do it again.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Platteville. After the Pioneers have run the gantlet here over the past few weeks, a trip to UW-Stout should be a little easier to take. As long as they don’t take it too easy.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Franklin can stay in the HCAC mix and keep its playoff streak alive by winning at Mount St. Joseph.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Franklin. An extremely inconsistent ship needs to be righted immediately vs. Mount St. Joseph if the Griz have any hopes of playoffs.
Doug Rothschild
Doug’s take: Franklin lost its first conference game in 3 years last week. Mount St. Joseph might be on a roll but Mike Leonard’s teams have lost two conference games in a season just once since 2005. Grizzlies roll.

Pick an under-the-radar 1-loss team which will pick up its second loss Saturday.

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Keith’s take: Wash U. is surprisingly 6-1, and 7-0 Case Western Reserve needs this win to bolster its credentials because 9-1 against its schedule might not get it in the playoffs..
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Ryan’s take: Washington University, as it goes against undefeated former UAA foe Case.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bluffton. Rose-Hulman has to have its eyes on the HCAC automatic bid and shouldn’t be subject to a letdown after beating Franklin.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Tufts is an under-the-radar 4-1, but has to travel to an angry Amherst team that just got blanked by Wesleyan. The nicknameless home team wins.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Olivet. What’s lost from the AMAZING “Play of the Week” throw: the Comets struggled vs. a middling Benedictine team. Alma wins Saturday.
Doug Rothschild
Doug’s take: Pomona-Pitzer. The SCIAC is likely decided this week as two 1-loss teams play when 5-1 Redlands visits 5-1 Pomona-Pitzer. I give the edge to Redlands despite being on the road so Pomona-Pitzer picks up loss No 2.

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

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Triple Take Week 11: This is what it’s all about

It’s Week 11. Do we even need an intro? Everyone’s got a big game this week, either playing for the final time this season or competing for the opportunity to play on.

There are rivalry games; Williams and Amherst’s game is the pair’s 130th, more than any in Division I FBS, II or III. There’s also Monon Bell, Cortaca Jug, The Game, Dutchman Shoes, Victory Bell, Regents Cup, Keystone Cup, Cranberry Bowl, Lincoln Trophy, Trinity-Wesleyan and the final CBB clash. Oh, and congrats, Lafayette and Lehigh, on meeting next week for the record 151st time, but this Saturday, we’ll be watching that other huge rivalry in the Lehigh Valley.

There are playoff bids to be clinched; Eleven of the 25 AQs are still up for grabs. Plus, there’s a four-team scrum in Texas for one Pool B bid, and then games from coast to coast that affect Pool C and the six at-large spots. Eastern teams might miss the playoffs but earn a spot in an ECAC or CC-MAC bowl game. There’s even a conference championship game, between Midwest Conference powers St. Norbert and Monmouth.

For everyone else, Week 11 is something to savor. It’s the last time players get to suit up, some until next season, some forever. It’s the last tailgate, the last road trip to cheer for a son, the Saturday spent in a press box or coaches’ booth.

Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I can’t get to every meaningful game. But with 232 of our 247 teams in action, each one facing a D-III opponent in 116 matchups, we can at least point you in the right direction on what to watch most closely, besides the game you’ll be following. We’ll do Triple Take a little differently once the playoffs begin, so thanks for hanging with us on Fridays for another season of the prescient and the way-off-base picks.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 East Texas Baptist at No. 13 Mary Hardin-Baylor. There are 11 automatic bids to be won, five in head-to-head games, three more that could go one of two ways, and three more that involve at least three teams. But nothing is quite the tangled web that the four Texas teams trying to wrangle the single Pool B bid is. The Tigers-Cru game has far-reaching implications, mostly if East Texas Baptist were to win. UMHB hasn’t lost multiple regular-season games since 2006, but ETBU’s win over Hardin-Simmons, which had beaten UMHB the week before, raised the possibility. A Tigers win means ETBU is 8-2, with wins over HSU and UMHB and a bad loss (55-27) to Texas Lutheran, which can finish 8-2 with its losses to UMHB and HSU. Each team will have played the other three, with a 1-2 or 2-1 record amongst. So who makes the playoffs in such a scenario? If it’s Hardin-Simmons, which is trying to beat Louisiana College to finish 9-1, then the other three end up in Pool C and still need to be sorted in order. The committee needs to know which South Region team to put on the board to discuss first. Anyway, UMHB, which is top six nationally in scoring offense, rush defense, third-down defense, red-zone defense, turnover margin and kickoff returns, can make a lot of this moot by winning.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Wabash at DePauw. It seems like every week recently, I’m latching onto something I wrote for Around the Nation to channel into my Game of the Week pick. Wabash and DePauw are two of the most intense rivals in college football, and their annual Monon Bell Classic is being played for the 122nd time. But more importantly, the winner of this game goes to the postseason via the NCAC’s automatic bid. The stakes couldn’t be any bigger for either team. This week, Wabash coach Erik Raeburn said, “This is going to be the best offensive line we’ve faced, and that’s going to be key because the defensive line has been one the main strengths of our team.” DePauw’s Bill Lynch noted that “turnovers will be tremendous to the outcome of the game. I don’t care what level you’re playing, that is one thing that is going to be a determining factor.” Wabash has won this game six times straight, and both teams have been known to play spoiler to the other. What’s almost guaranteed is that the lopsided matchups from a few years ago are a thing of the past; 2015 will be a competitive classic. And we get to watch it all on national television (AXS TV).
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Cortland State at Ithaca. This is typically a good shot for this space anyway, but let me count up a couple ways where this is better than your normal Cortaca Jug game. First of all, I hope you already read the link Ryan included in his rundown, but if not, it talks about how Cortland State needs a win to get into the playoffs. No chance if they lose. That’s subplot one. Subplot two is the fact that Cortland has now won this game five years in a row. Nobody in pads for Ithaca on Saturday has won the Cortaca Jug. (And by the way, the Red Dragons have won nine of the past 13.) After a fast start, it’s turned into a disappointing season for Ithaca, but a win gets the Bombers the Jug, a .500 season, and most importantly for Ithaca, it sends Cortland home.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hanover. The Panthers started the season 0-6 but won two in a row and lost last week by a field goal. So they’re both playing better and trying to salvage some pride, and doing it against a Franklin team that has already clinched its playoff spot. Hanover also has the nation’s leading tackler, in Ryan Martin, who averages 15.3 stops per game. The Grizzlies might ultimately retain the Victory Bell, but they should at least have to earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ferrum at N.C. Wesleyan. I’m intentionally trying to go off the grid a bit here, because as you’ll see below, every one of my other answers in Triple Take pertains to the playoffs. And while I love the playoffs and they are to be celebrated, there are 200 teams out there that have no shot at the postseason on Saturday, and their games are still fun and valuable. The FC/NCWC game pits a team in the upper third of the USAC with one in the lower third, yet despite the separation, there is a sense that each team had been trying to find itself at the early point of the season. The Bishops have gotten there, notching a few wins in recent weeks, but the Panthers have stumbled in some close ones in that same time frame. I think there’s a chance that this will still be tight deep in the second half.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Frostburg State at No. 21 Salisbury. It’s been mentioned a couple times recently, but Frostburg has been much more competitive this season and it looks like DeLane Fitzgerald has that program back on the right track. A win gives the Bobcats a seven win season for the first time since 1999 — seriously. Salisbury needs this win to advance, though, and that will give them enough incentive to hold off their archrival.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Case Western Reserve. No knock on the Spartans, who had a legitimate shot to prevent Thomas More from going into the clubhouse 10-0. But CWRU’s conference title and playoff hopes are gone, even though they’re 7-2 and five points from being unbeaten. It can be tough to maintain the intensity after being so close and coming up short. Meantime, Carnegie Mellon has averaged 53.2 points per game during its five-game winning streak. CMU’s Sam Benger leads the nation in rushing with 184.4 yards per game. In addition, the trip from Cleveland to Pittsburgh isn’t much, but this game is at Carnegie Mellon.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Albright. The Lions have one of the toughest games in the nation ahead of them if they want to earn the right to play in the postseason. Lebanon Valley is a 5-4 team, but that record is misleading. The games they lost have come by margins of five points, three points, 10 points and seven points. They’re in these things until the end, which means Albright will be forced to stay on the gas pedal for the full 60 minutes. It can be done — Albright has already beaten quality teams like Salisbury and Stevenson this season — but it will be a challenge.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 15 John Carroll. But in this case, I have to take the “disappointed” meaning of upset. Because losing to Mount Union won’t be an upset and I can’t see anyone other than the teams my colleagues mentioned getting upset in the intended sense of the word. John Carroll will lose on Saturday and be disappointed on Selection Sunday.

Which team plays its way into the playoff field in Week 11?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. The Empire 8 has been unpredictable all season, so why would the obvious (Cortland State winning and clinching the AQ) happen now? It’d be a remarkable finish for a group of Cardinals who lost their opener 48-0 and by late October, outscored opponents in back-to-back games, 90-0. One of those opponents is Ithaca, which has lost four straight since a 4-1 start. Cortland is 4-1 in one-score games, and has beaten Ithaca five straight. It’s time for the Bombers to catch a break. If that happens, SJFC still needs to beat Alfred, which is 7-2 with losses to both Cortaca Jug teams. But it would be a fitting finish for 2015’s most topsy-turvy conference.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Lakeland. I waffled back and forth between the Muskies and their opponent, Benedictine. There are a lot of comparable scores here, and both are undefeated in NACC play. I usually lean toward the team with the stouter run game (read: Benedictine), but I like that Lakeland has the potential to be a more dynamic team, with several targets for quarterback Michael Whitley to choose from. I give the nod to Lakeland.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Monmouth. I’ve agonized over this pick for a while but I’m going to go with the road team. I don’t believe Monmouth is flying to St. Norbert for this game the way Macalester flew to Illinois College for last year’s MWC title game, but as long as Monmouth can shake off its bus legs, it should be in good shape to compete in this game. St. Norbert is unbeaten but Monmouth’s loss was to Central, which is probably a slightly better team than the North Park-Carthage pairing that the Green Knights put together.

Which team will play its way out of the playoff field in Week 11?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Olivet. At 8-1, the Comets should be virtually guaranteed a postseason game. But instead, they’re pretty much locked out. A win over Alma hands the MIAA title to Albion. A loss hands it to Trine. At 9-1, their Pool C credentials won’t be outstanding, with a Strength of Schedule figure around .500 and an 0-1 record against regionally ranked opponents. The Comets need to win their game, and root for carnage among Pool C contenders.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist. Big kudos for this team in beating Hardin-Simmons last week, but I think that it was a bit of lightning in a (very sloppy) bottle for the Tigers to have done so. I don’t think they can repeat the feat by beating Mary Hardin-Baylor this weekend and keeping themselves in the playoff discussion. What they will do, however, is give the playoff committee more of a reason to nab UMHB as a Pool C selection.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Trine. I mean, no doubt about it, Trine needs help to even get into the playoff picture but Adrian is waiting to make sure it doesn’t even come down to that. Just for the record, Trine’s path in is by beating Adrian and hoping Alma beats Olivet.

Which rival will dance into the offseason most happily?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: RPI. The Engineers are still alive for a playoff spot, but it’s likely that 7-2 St. Lawrence beats 3-5 Merchant Marine and clinches the Liberty League’s bid. Still, RPI should enjoy a chance to face its rival when it’s 0-9. Speaking from experience, it’s not as fun as playing them when they’re good, but kicking your rivals when they’re down isn’t unenjoyable. The playoff scenarios mean 7-2 RPI isn’t loafing through practice this week or taking Union lightly. So even if this is RPI’s last game, or an ECAC bowl precursor, the Engineers have a chance to go hang on to the Shoes all offseason.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Salisbury. A win here guarantees the Gulls a chance in the dance, so the offseason in this case might still be a couple of weeks away. Salisbury has bounced back from two big disappointments this season, and the team has done a lot with a varied mix of younger and older players. Frostburg has had a great season and climbed up from several years of sub .500 seasons to a 6-3 record currently. But next year is really their year to take off. If this were 2016, I might be choosing the Bobcats here, but for 2015, I think this is the Gulls’ launch pad into the postseason.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Amherst. The Williams football program has become a shadow of the shadow of its former self. The Ephs are about to put the finishing touches on a third consecutive 2-6 season. Meanwhile, Amherst is looking to run the table for the second year in a row and increase its win streak to 19 consecutive games. No contest here, even in Williamstown.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon. I won’t go so far as to make my alma mater’s rivalry game of the week, since it’s got no influence on the conference title or playoff picture, a rarity in recent years. But it’s my radar, and The Game is where I’ll be on Saturday. Frankly, I hated the tailgate as a player, because people would stand over there and stuff their faces while we were sweating, blocking and tackling. But I’ve learned to appreciate the creative displays of Lemon and Black, the Virginian food specialties and the off-field camaraderie. And for the second season in a row, the Yellow Jackets can soothe the hurt of a disappointing season by going out with a bang. I know not everybody cares about this particular rivalry game on Saturday, but everyone who’s involved in one knows exactly what I’m talking about. From Dutchman Shoes to Monon Bell to Cortaca Jug, homecoming is nothing compared to this. A playoff game wouldn’t draw as big a crowd. These are the days players make memories that they’ll embellish and recount in the tailgate 20 years from now. So that’s what’s on my radar, this rivalry game and all of them, really.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Moravian. The Greyhounds are a borderline Pool C team, and this weekend’s game against Muhlenberg will help them by raising their Strength of Schedule numbers. For this category, though, it isn’t that Moravian is specifically on my radar because of this game, what’s on my radar is every team that has the potential to affect Moravian’s postseason chances.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks are going to be looking to leave no doubt and finish off a 9-1 regular season at home vs. UW-Stout. In 2012, the Warhawks still had a shot late in the season at getting into the playoffs and lost to UW-Stevens Point. This Warhawks group won’t let that happen, keeping the national title defense alive heading into the playoffs.

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

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ATN Podcast: Two results throw it wide open

Wesley and Hardin-Simmons could have made it easy on the committee and on all the bracketologists in Division III who are trying to figure out where they’ll go in the playoffs. Instead, Salisbury upset the Wolverines and East Texas Baptist knocked off the Cowboys. What are the ramifications? What do the at-large bids look like now? (A hint, they look awesome.) Plus, which are the teams on the rise in the playoff hunt? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

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

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile device. 
You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast