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Oct/13

11

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.

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

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

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

Don’t hesitate to offer your comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trinity (Texas)
Trinity (Texas) answered Huntingdon’s statement with one of its own.
Trinity athletics file photo

It was an interesting week down south, with Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon taking losses and Centre and Trinity (Texas) getting a leg up in the SCAC race. Salisbury rolled up an amazing point total and continues to dominate against Empire 8 foes. Wartburg fell and Redlands rose in crazy fourth quarters. (Here’s a link to that video.) Plus Kean picked up its first loss after flirting with it in previous weeks.

Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman discuss that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. See the list of tags at the bottom of this post to see who else is discussed.

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, here’s the first look at this week’s D3reports, as well as Division III football highlight reels. These will also appear on the front page on Monday afternoon.

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