Division III playoffs: Triple Take sets the expectations for the Round of 32

Welcome to the most exciting Saturday of the postseason.

Thirty-two of the nation’s best teams meet in 16 first-round playoff games. Eight kick off at noon Eastern Time, and seven more at noon Central, meaning that for almost two hours, 15 14 of the games will be going on simultaneously. The first steps on the Road to Salem are a mad rush, and although you’ll likely be focused on just one game, you’ll care about what’s going on elsewhere.

Here’s how this works; it’s a bit different from the regular-season Triple Takes. The goal is for Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I, each guessing a score for each game without consulting with one another, to set the national expectation. Then, we want you prove us wrong. What fun would be a playoff in which we can predict all the outcomes? We’ll set the expectation, and when the score on Saturday looks different than what we forecast below, that’s a signal to everyone across the country that something significant is happening.

[The 2015 playoff bracket | Our surprise teams and disappointments]

Each of us will correctly predict between 11 and 15 winning teams; that’s just the nature of the Round of 32. But we’re not trying to prove who’s the smartest, emulate gamblers or earn bragging rights. We provide the picks and the line of consensus as service, to advise you on what to expect from unfamiliar teams, so that when you’re sifting through 15 game scores on Saturday afternoon, you’ll recognize a surprising result in the making. (Like last season, when we all picked Delaware Valley, a Round 1 loser to Christopher Newport, or when Texas Lutheran kept it surprisingly close with Mary Hardin-Baylor.)

— Keith McMillan

Our Triple Take Crew: Keith McMillan
Keith McMillan
Ryan Tipps
Ryan Tipps
Pat Coleman
Pat Coleman

Keith’s take: St. Thomas 49, La Verne 10
Ryan’s take: St. Thomas 52, La Verne 9
Pat’s take: St. Thomas 56, La Verne 7
Consensus: It’s a great year for the SCIAC champ to dodge the NWC champ … or is it?

Keith’s take: St. John’s 35, Dubuque 17
Ryan’s take: St. John’s 38, Dubuque 17
Pat’s take: St. John’s 42, Dubuque 21
Consensus: It’ll be closer than the 45-9 Sept. 5 game, but not close enough.

Keith’s take: Thomas More 38, Washington and Lee 34
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee 45, Thomas More 42
Pat’s take: Washington and Lee 51, Thomas More 49
Consensus: This matchup of 10-0 teams will be a shootout, and a toss-up.

Keith’s take: Wabash 34, Albion 21
Ryan’s take: Wabash 48, Albion 14
Pat’s take: Wabash 56, Albion 21
Consensus: The high-octane Britons haven’t seen a defense quite like the Little Giants’ unit.

Keith’s take: Linfield 55, Whitworth 13
Ryan’s take: Linfield 45, Whitworth 13
Pat’s take: Linfield 52, Whitworth 7
Consensus: Not all that different from the 52-10 game at the Catdome on Oct. 24.

Keith’s take: Salisbury 28, Cortland State 26
Ryan’s take: Salisbury 27, Cortland State 20
Pat’s take: Salisbury 48, Cortland State 45
Consensus: Salisbury spent four seasons going to upstate New York to beat Empire 8 teams. Cortland State runs out of close-game magic. But even so, all three think it will be close, so …

Keith’s take: Huntingdon 49, Hendrix 24
Ryan’s take: Hendrix 51, Huntingdon 45
Pat’s take: Hendrix 41, Huntingdon 28
Consensus: In the first Arkansas-Alabama playoff matchup in D-III history, two of the panelists like the upstart. It’s also the first matchup where our score guesses are wildly different.

Keith’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 30, Hardin-Simmons 24
Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, Hardin-Simmons 27
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, Hardin-Simmons 21
Consensus: It was a slow start and a furious fourth in HSU’s 29-26 win on Oct. 31. This time in Abilene, UMHB ekes it out.

Keith’s take: Mount Union 56, St. Lawrence 14
Ryan’s take: Mount Union 55, St. Lawrence 13
Pat’s take: Mount Union 52, St. Lawrence 7
Consensus: We’re not dissing the Saints. Mount Union’s allowed 34 points all season.

Keith’s take: Albright 37, Norwich 17
Ryan’s take: Albright 38, Norwich 7
Pat’s take: Albright 38, Norwich 13
Consensus: The Cadets have lost four games. No. 5 will be the highlight of the Lions’ season before a trip to Alliance.

Keith’s take: Wesley 40, Framingham State 27
Ryan’s take: Wesley 42, Framingham State 21
Pat’s take: Wesley 47, Framingham State 28
Consensus: Not a cakewalk for the Wolverines, but they eventually pull away.

Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins 42, Western New England 21
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins 45, Western New England 10
Pat’s take: Johns Hopkins 38, Western New England 10
Consensus: The Bears aren’t golden against the Blue Jays. This one is for the birds.

Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh 63, St. Scholastica 13
Ryan’s take: UW-Oshkosh 56, St. Scholastica 3
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh 52, St. Scholastica 7
Consensus: UMAC champs get the MIAC or WIAC champ in Round 1, and the results haven’t been pretty.

Keith’s take: Ohio Northern 31, Franklin 30
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern 45, Franklin 34
Pat’s take: Ohio Northern 35, Franklin 20
Consensus: Teams that have no business being in the tournament usually prove that actually, they do. Plus, it’s an OAC No. 2.

Keith’s take: UW-Whitewater 35, St. Norbert 7
Ryan’s take: UW-Whitewater 48, St. Norbert 7
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater 35, St. Norbert 7
Consensus: So seven it is for the Green Knights, against the defending champions.

Keith’s take: Wheaton 39, Lakeland 14
Ryan’s take: Wheaton 28, Lakeland 13
Pat’s take: Wheaton 48, Lakeland 7
Consensus: You won’t even be able to tell that much of the Thunder’s offense has been banged up.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below, or tweet at us at @D3Keith, @NewsTipps and @d3football. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks and the highlights from Round 1.


Triple Take, Week 9: Several down and three to go

Week 9 isn’t quite the week of marquee games that Week 8 was, but there are three clashes that pit top-20 teams against one another. And besides, with three weeks left in the regular season, we’ve hit the point where every game is big for teams in the hunt for conference titles and one of the 32 playoff spots.

Sometimes around this time of year, we veteran playoff prognosticators get more concerned with losses, because they help us eliminate contenders. But no matter what’s left to compete for as November nears — championships, rivalry trophies or plain ol’ pride — the object is to win. With 239 teams each trying to get one, participating in 120 Week 9 games across 28 conferences and beyond, it can be hard to keep track of what matters. That’s where Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I come in. We compile our seven-point primers for the weekend independent of one another, then reveal them so Division III observers can know where to look beyond their own games for potential upsets, the biggest face-offs and those that are below-the-radar but still meaningful.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 13 Hardin-Simmons. The clashes of top-20 MIAC and CCIW teams are big, but both of those conference races have other teams in the mix; this is pretty much winner-take-all. Yet the prize is no longer the ASC’s automatic bid. Because the conference has just six core members, plus McMurry transitioning back into D-III and Belhaven in its first year, it no longer has a playoff spot reserved for its champion. The winner in Abilene is probably a shoo-in for the Pool B playoff spot reserved for teams without access to automatic bids. The loser has to swim in Pool C with the runners up in 26 of the other conferences, hoping for one of six at-large bids.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 13 Hardin-Simmons. For the first time in more than a decade, we’re deep in the season and both teams are still undefeated as they meet. Plus there’s the lone Pool B bid riding on the outcome of this game. I could go into more reasons why we should all be paying attention to this one, but I spelled a lot of it out already this week in my Around the Nation column.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Washington University at No. 23 Case Western Reserve. Case gets to put its newly minted top-25 ranking on the line in a big game right away. Despite playing for automatic bids in their separate conferences, the UAA teams still all play each other. Case, which has already lost to University of Chicago, now faces Wash. U., which is coming in riding high. The Bears are 5-2 and have scored 145 points in the past three weeks. This should be a great matchup of teams peaking at the right time, as both Case and Wash. U. are facing their toughest competition at the end of the season.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Loras at Dubuque. The Duhawks started this season with seven wins in the previous four years. If the host Spartans win Saturday, it’d be their sixth this year. Dubuque (5-2) got national notice two weeks ago by walloping then-No. 8 Wartburg, so it now leads the IIAC. The Spartans have also won the past four in the series by 27 or more. However, Loras (4-3) boasts the nation’s top passing offense at 409 yards per game, and is 207th in time of possession — suggesting the Duhawks play fast and get off the field. Dubuque is 170th nationally in pass efficiency defense so they’ll either have to play a superb game defensively or score to keep up. The IIAC has traditionally been the territory of Central, Wartburg and Coe, and a bit further back, Simpson. Loras reinstated football in 1980, and has never won an IIAC title. Dubuque has won it once since that year. Saturday, they play for first place in a game so rarely big, I had no idea they played for the Key City Trophy.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Maryville. If looking strictly at the records, a 6-1 Maryville squad should roll over a 2-4 LaGrange without issue. But the scoreboard itself points to another angle: Of the four games the Panthers have lost, three of the margins have been by one point, three points and seven points. Of the games they’ve won, the margins were two points and three points. This is a team that has been playing close games all season, and while many of the games haven’t been against competition as good as the Scots, there’s nothing to suggest that this will be a runaway performance by Maryville.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Berry at Millsaps. Berry is 6-1, 5-0 in the SAA and Millsaps is 1-6, 0-5. That brings with it a connotation of a big win for Berry but I’m looking for a closer game. Berry has only blown out one opponent all season, the 24-0 home win vs. Rhodes that opened everyone’s eyes early in the season. In fact, the Vikings have only outscored opponents 142-113 this season, despite their gaudy record. Millsaps won’t be getting 70 points rolled up on it this week.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Case Western Reserve. The Spartans now play football in the PAC, while Washington U. plays in the SAA; Both are UAA rivals in other sports. The Bears (5-2) have recently discovered a high-powered offense. Since being held to 13 by Berry, they’ve gone for 37, 38 and 70 points. Junior quarterback J.J Tomlin leads what is now the nation’s sixth-best passing offense at 339 yards per game. Case Western Reserve’s defensive strength, unfortunately, is against the run. The Spartans (6-1) have just four turnovers all season, and they’ll need to keep that going and keep pace with the Bears’ offense to avoid making their stay in the top 25 a short one.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 22 Washington and Lee. The ODAC is one of those conferences where anything can happen. We’ve said it a few times already this season, and it applies now as the Generals square off against Emory and Henry. Both teams average in the 30s when it comes to scoring, and both are good at holding their opponents to an average of about 21 points. What could make this interesting is the E&H has statistically the best rushing defense in the conference, but that’s only because we’re deep in the season, and most of the other teams have already played the ultra-run-heavy W&L. So the numbers are skewed in favor of E&H. If there’s any legitimacy to that stat, though, we’ll find out for certain on Saturday. The momentum of games change on big plays; between these two teams, the winner may depend on them.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 20 Cortland State. It might be easy pickin’s here to take the Empire 8 game, but it’s not just because the conference has been evenly balanced and difficult to predict. Cory Benedetto is coming off the best performance of his brief starting career at Morrisville State and Cristian Pena has rushed for 100 yards in three of the past four games. I think we’ll continue to have churn at the bottom of the poll this week.

Pick a team that can greatly improve its playoff chances with a win

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Albion. The Britons gained notice by averaging about 50 points per game in a 6-0 start. They scored 51 last week, but allowed Trine to rally from down 17 for the 55-51 win, which means Saturday’s game at 7-0 Olivet is its last playoff hope. The Comets are on top and would clinch with a win (Trine, the only other team in the hunt, lost 49-24 to Olivet on Oct. 10). The Britons, however, would jump right back into the top spot with a win and any Trine loss. Since MIAA teams really don’t get at-large bids, this is essentially a conference title game with a playoff spot on the line. It’s such a big game, the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer published dueling columns making the case for either team to win.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Endicott. The NEFC is a mess of undefeated Western New England and three one-loss conference teams, including Endicott. The key to this cluster, though, is that WNEU hasn’t played any of those one-loss teams yet, so head-to-head matchups and the potential for tiebreakers will probably leave fans of this conference guessing about its Pool A selection until the final clock runs out on Nov. 14. Endicott can stay in the hunt if it knocks Western New England off this weekend.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 22 Washington and Lee. The Generals travel to Emory and Henry for what should be their last big test of the ODAC season. I say “should be” because of the ODAC’s general unpredictability. But the Generals can all but clinch this week with a win against the Wasps. And if Guilford were to lose to Catholic and Hampden-Sydney to Bridgewater, the Generals could clinch the automatic bid outright, regardless of their results the final two weeks vs. Shenandoah and Catholic.

Pick a surprising one-loss team that will remain on the fringes of the playoff hunt

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: DePauw. Joe Sager’s Around the Great Lakes column this week featured the Tigers’ offensive balance, partly fueled by QB Matt Hunt and his wide receiver brother Andy. At Denison, which features its own QB/WR brothers in Tommy and Matt Iammarino, DePauw will need to keep it balanced and continue to be the NCAC’s best third-down offense. Both DePauw and Denison have yet to face Wabash and its mighty defense, so improving to 7-1 might keep whichever team wins on the playoff fringe only until the Little Giants game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Frostburg State. This week’s game against Rowan is a tough matchup for the Bobcats, probably the toughest since the Wesley game in Week 2. Frostburg is a young team that starts five freshmen on offense, but, like Rowan, their success is largely rooted in how they’ve performed on defense. With so much youth and with the shift in the conferences, probably no one saw this kind of success from the team this season, but what it’s doing is helping to build toward something even bigger in the years to come. Rowan is coming off of a close loss to Wesley – how banged up the Profs are will also factor into how this game plays out.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Gustavus Adolphus. Keith and I spent some time this August talking about whether the Gusties would be able to improve on their 6-0 start/0-4 finish from last season and even though they don’t necessarily match up well with Bethel’s weaknesses, I’m looking at this game as a possibility. The Royals should, however, be able to pass for more than 1 yard, which will be an improvement over last week.

Pick a team that won’t be playing for any titles this season, but will win comfortably

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hamline. Because the Pipers play in the absolutely loaded MIAC, their revival story has gone underappreciated. After four wins in four seasons, Hamline won four last year. They’re just 2-5 this time around, but were competitive in seven- and 10-point losses to Gustavus Adolphus (6-1) and Concordia-Moorhead (7-1). The Pipers can get to .500 with a strong finish, and St. Olaf, one of the two MIAC teams they beat last season, is beatable again. Hamline’s problem areas are a deadly mixture of penalties and poor performance on third downs and in the red zone, but the Oles have the nation’s 229th-ranked defense, allowing 501 yards per game. Pipers QB Justice Spriggs and WRs Philip Sherman and Naji El-Araby could have their first really big day together.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Hobart. Once the king of the Liberty League, the Statesmen weathered their third loss last week and are effectively (though perhaps not technically) out of the title hunt. Up next, though, is Union. The winless Dutchmen have played a couple of close games this month, but even with Hobart losing a bit of its edge, it seems unlikely that Union will be able to hang around in this one.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Finlandia at Maranatha Baptist. I have to get in my contractually obligated minimum number of references to Finlandia and since we left them out of the podcast this week the 2-6 Lions fit here. Finlandia beat Maranatha at Finlandia back on Oct. 3, 30-14. Logic would suggest the Sabercats would be able to keep it closer at home, but I’m here saying it won’t go down that way.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: McMurry, hosting Belhaven. The War Hawks are 3-5 in their first season back in D-III, and 1-3 against D-III opponents. Belhaven is now one of those, in its first season coming over from NAIA, but it is just 1-7 and 0-6 against D-IIIs. The Hal Mumme bowl (the ex-Kentucky coach was head man at McMurry from 2009 to 2013, and now leads Belhaven) will take place while Matt Mumme’s LaGrange team plays a key USAC game at Maryville.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Lakeland. It sometimes gets easy as we talk about teams from the 10 strongest conferences to overlook those closer to the bottom who are fighting to be in the same 32-team playoff. The NACC is one of those weaker conferences, and this weekend, Lakeland takes on Concordia (Wis.) to help sort out of the top of the heap. Coupled with Benedictine who is also still sitting comfortably at the pinnacle, there is a lot yet to sort out there.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Stags play Cal Lutheran at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday night and Keith and I might have to hold off a little while on recording the weekly podcast that night to see how that game progresses first. Pretty sure I’ll be spending that “fall back” hour on, as I usually do.

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.


ATN Podcast: One big shakeup

There was one huge upset this week, but that left a lot of room to talk about other games as well. So in addition to Dubuque-Wartburg, let’s take a few minutes to focus on the “middle class” of Division III football, as it were. Or at least, teams trying to break into the Top 25, or trying to break through and win a conference. Which are the teams on the rise? 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: