Triple Take, Week 5: Let the conference rumbles begin

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at Linfield. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at the Wildcats. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

If it hasn’t already where you’re from, conference play begins in Week 5. From the ASC to the WIAC (and places in between — the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, ODAC and SCIAC get underway, while all but one game has yet to be played in NJAC and NWC), the games against familiar rivals are on deck. Twenty-four of the 28  conferences come with an automatic bid, so even though it’s too early to talk postseason, it’s never too early to consider playoff implications. Saturday’s games mean something long term.

In short, though, we have a doozy upon us this weekend. Pat, Ryan and I sift through which of the 244 teams are most worth keeping an eye on, via seven categories.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 12 Bethel. The game in Washington, Pa. is more likely to be a defacto conference title game, but the one in Arden Hills, Minn. has even more on the line, and could feature the best-played football in the country on Saturday. The Cobbers and Royals each practice the lost art of playing defense, ranking in the national top 20 in total (averaging 263 and 241 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (a shade under 13 points per game each). Although Bethel is already on thin ice because of its season-opening loss to Wartburg, the MIAC has sent two teams to the playoffs nine times since the expansion in 1999, and this might end up a preview of this year’s duo. On top of all that, this insane thing happened last time these teams met at Bethel, and the specter of that game hangs over this one.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 14 Pacific Lutheran. I’m filing my take early, so I don’t get to see what Pat and Keith have written, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose this game, too. Never mind the fact that it’s a matchup between top-25 teams, but it has also grown into a marquee conference clash over the past few seasons. And it’s almost becoming a tradition for these two squads to meet twice in the fall, once in the regular season and then again in the first round of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, both are undefeated, and both have stout defenses. And because Linfield is excelling offensively with the pass while PLU is doing so with the run, these two teams would be candidates for the “contrasting styles” question farther down in Triple Take, if they weren’t so highly ranked, that is.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson. While all of those conferences listed above are getting started, the PAC is deep into its conference schedule, which started in Week 1 because of the conference’s expansion to include Carnegie Mellon and Case. With Thomas More already having taken a loss and the committee having passed over 1-loss PAC teams in the past because of strength of schedule, there may only be room for one PAC team in this year’s playoffs. Barring a later upset, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to get that spot.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Gallaudet at Anna Maria. The Bison won nine games, made the playoffs and had an NFL prospect last season. The AmCats are in their sixth football season, and have six wins total. But you can expect this one to be surprisingly close, if only because neither side can really score. Anna Maria has seven touchdowns in three games this season, but that’s seven more than Gallaudet, who have been outscored 50-2 so far. They’re part of the reason why, in contrast with conferences like the ASC, OAC and ODAC, where teams average more than 33 points per game, the ECFC is the nation’s lowest-scoring conference, at 15.41 points per team per game. There will probably be some success for both offenses on Saturday, but the casts have changed since last season, so don’t expect a playoff team vs. doormat blowout.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps at Hendrix. I’m looking forward to seeing this showdown happen. After the Majors got blasted by East Texas Baptist last week, there are a lot of questions hanging around for a team that was 9-1 last year but starts 2014 at 1-2. Tackling needs to improve; turnovers need to stop. ETBU’s 715 yards of total offense is a scary thing, and Millsaps should be scared if the team can’t keep those kinds of numbers in check going forward. But while Millsaps is a team on the slide, Hendrix appears to be one on the rise. A 3-0 start is something for the Warriors to be very happy about, and the fact that they were able to have their offense step up in games, as well as the defense to shine, shows how versatile this second-year program can be.
Pat’s take: Washington U. at Berry. One could play the comparative scores game because already this year, Rhodes has played both Berry and Wash U. But I just expect this to be close because it’s a bit of a trip for the Bears and Berry is getting better. They only lost to Rhodes 12-0 and lost 28-27 at LaGrange.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 UW-Platteville. I ruled out the top-25 clashes as picks here, and the luster is off games like Salisbury at No. 7 St. John Fisher and No. 8 Wartburg at Central. Even Louisiana College at No. 4 Wesley isn’t as exciting as it first appeared. So to truly go out on a limb, I’ll take 0-3 UW-Eau Claire, playing at Carson Park in the WIAC opener. The Blugolds have only scored 24 points this season, which makes this an even more risky pick, but they’ve played three perennial midwest powers  St. Thomas, St. John’s and Wheaton. UW-Platteville makes four current top 25 teams in four weeks for UW-EC, and if the Blugolds are not demoralized, they could catch the Pioneers sleeping. Last year, Eau Claire led at halftime and after a 98-yard third-quarter kick return before Platteville scored the final four TDs. UW-P this year has been a bit of an enigma, winning by 60 in Week 1 and squeezing past Dubuque in Week 2, and it’s had two weeks to stew over a 28-7 loss to North Central. So the upset is no small task.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. While this qualifies for this category because the Saints are in the Top 25, it barely counts as an upset when the opponent is undefeated conference rival Washington and Jefferson. Not to mention that both are statistically in the top 10 in total offense in the nation.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Lycoming, I suppose. The MAC unbeaten teams will start to knock each other off this week. In order to believe Stevenson can beat Lycoming, however, one has to think that Stevenson is ready to make a big leap forward. The Mustangs were fairly dominant in Week 1 vs. North Carolina Wesleyan but have won the next three games by a touchdown apiece, so they’re barely hanging onto this 4-0. They won’t be able to get away with 4-for-18 passing this week.

Pick a team that will open conference play in dramatic fashion
Keith’s take: Willamette, vs. George Fox. The dramatics for the Bearcats might be of the record-setting variety as opposed to the last-second type. Willamette rushes for 285 yards a game, has had two weeks since a 42-28 win at Cal Lutheran, and faces first-year George Fox, which has allowed 1,028 yards in its two losses. The real curiosity might be finding out just how many NWC contenders there are, which means you’ll have to pay attention to Linfield-PLU and Whitworth-Pacific as well this weekend.
Ryan’s take: Redlands, at Pomona-Pitzer. An 0-2 record doesn’t tell us much if those two games came against No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 5 Linfield. The Bulldogs were expected to lose both of them (maximum chalk). But this week is Redlands’ chance to show what they learned from those experiences and put the lessons into action. Opponent Pomona-Pitzer should be a great way to make sure everything is clicking, to earn a win – and be set for the following week against Cal Lutheran and later against the rest of the SCIAC.
Pat’s take: Augustana, vs. Elmhurst. The CCIW opens this weekend with the potential for three blowouts, while this game, between teams expected to be in the middle of the conference, has the potential for some heroics. It matched a couple of players who have already had standout individual performances this year: Augustana defensive back Tim Maroder (four interceptions vs. Loras) and Elmhurst running back Josh Williams (306 rushing yards at Olivet).

Which team lost badly last week, but will bounce back?
Keith’s take: Southern Virginia, at Kean. Since these teams lost 47-7 to No. 4 Wesley and 73-7 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday, facing each other should be a relief. Both teams are 0-3. The Knights have a significant road trip to North Jersey ahead, but they’ve faced three high-powered offenses in Methodist, Guilford and Wesley. Kean has managed just 49 points total this season. (Millsaps, facing Hendrix after a 68-15 loss to ETBU, is a candidate here as well.)
Ryan’s take: Williams, at Bates. Sure, it’s tough to come off of a 38-0 loss to Trinity (Conn.), but if Williams can channel some of the success it found two weeks ago in its opener from quarterback Austin Lommen and running back Alex Scyocurka, then there’s a good chance that the Ephs can look sharp this weekend against Bates.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh, vs. UW-Stout. The Titans had a bye this past week, but they are 0-3 coming into this game, having not played a single Division III school. Getting to play UW-Stout will be better than playing South Dakota State, that’s for sure.

Pick a winner in a matchup of contrasting styles
Keith’s take: LaGrange, at Maryville. The Panthers contrast with themselves, much less the other team. LaGrange, behind QB Graham Craig, has the nation’s fifth-most-prolific passing offense and the 227th-best passing defense. They keep it interesting though, scoring between 28 and 35 each time out, allowing between 27 and 37, and having a two-point loss, a one-point win and two overtime wins. Across the way, Maryville brings a 286-yard-per-game rushing attack (11th-best nationally) and a scoring average of  get this  28.8 points per game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford, vs. Washington and Lee. Well, it’s almost unfair when I look at the contrast between the Quakers and Generals. Guilford has one of the best passing games in the nation, and, just as importantly, it is third statistically in turnover margin. Washington and Lee, on the other hand, slots in at No. 168 in turnover margin, being negative-2 on the season. And they have almost no pass game to speak of, relying on their ground attack  which isn’t close to where it’s been in recent seasons. Sure enough, these two teams contrast each other, just not in a flattering way.
Pat’s take: Illinois College, vs. Ripon. After two losses in a row, the Blueboys need to get well, and fast. The good thing is that neither of those games counted against IC’s conference record in the Midwest Conference South Division, and this week’s game vs. Ripon won’t, either. The run-heavy Red Hawks are also 1-2, but with the only win vs. Rockford. Meanwhile, most people should know Illinois College likes to throw the ball.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Bethany. Taking it on the chin from Mount Union in Week 1 perhaps was a wise strategy. The Bison have three wins since, including two on the road, and a 33-27 victory against Waynesburg last week. After 35 carries for just 75 yards in a 58-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, Bethany’s ground game has been stout. They’re running the ball an average of 46 times per game for almost 200 yards a week, with a three-headed attack: Running backs Jalen Holmes and Brandon Hill, and quarterback Brian Vales. Case Western Reserve has only allowed 83 yards per game rushing, so this clash will be worth watching.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I’m owning up to my mistake from last week, when I wrote about this game a week before it was to happen. So a cut-and-paste from that, which still applies today: I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles’ competition has been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: The Rhodes-Chicago winner. This is a key Pool B game on Saturday, a matchup of unbeatens. Rhodes put up 41 on Chicago in Memphis in 2013, winning 41-34, but expect a lower-scoring game.

ATN Podcast: When a surprise isn’t a surprise

Darius Wilson
Mary Hardin-Baylor bounced Louisiana College from the playoffs, perhaps a round sooner than it should have been.
Photo by Andrew Zavoina, d3photography.com

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

Maybe an upset isn’t an upset when 76 percent of you pick it to happen. There were five road teams who won on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs and one of them was an upset if you believe in the other Top 25. But when Elmhurst and North Central each went on the road and won, and Bethel won on the road as well, they each struck blows for their conferences.

Updated bracket, playoff features

But so did Concordia-Chicago. So did Framingham State, despite losing. There aren’t moral victories necessarily in the playoffs but it’s better to go out 20-19 or 24-23 than it is 73-14. But every game gets discussed and we look ahead to what we hope will be a great second weekend of the playoffs as well.

Keith and Pat talk about that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast, sponsored by the City of Salem, hosts of Stagg Bowl XL. Tickets on sale now!

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Postgame show

Here’s this week’s D3football.com reports, highlight packages and postgame interviews.

And this week’s photo galleries from our friends at d3photography.com:

Triple Take: We predict the scores

Taylor Copacia
Josh Mitchell was featured in Kickoff back in August and as we reach mid-November, he and North Central are still in the picture.
North Central photo by Steve Woltmann

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

Roughly 200 teams have already turned in their gear for the season, but there is still lots of exciting football left to play. For many teams, the past 10 games have been a buildup to the playoffs and the chance to prove their worth on the national stage.

D3football.com’s coverage will be going strong over the next few weeks, and that began Thursday with our 32-team capsules, one of the cornerstones of our postseason reporting. They offer insight on how to tell if a team is playing well or poorly, along with how far into the bracket we think each team can make it. We also took a long-view look at who might surprise and disappoint by the time the first three rounds are in the books.

But you’re still hungry for more, right?

From now until the second weekend in December, Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps will not only pick the winners of games in Triple Take, but we’ll also project the scores. It’s a transparent test of our perceptions week in and week out. (And we each make our picks independently.)

These postseason Triple Take predictions are not intended to be lines on the games, but rather a broad test of expectations vs. outcome.
How does this work?

•   First, look at the scoring margin. If they are predicted to be a close game, we think the teams are evenly matched.
•   Second, look at the winners. If it’s a three-man sweep, we think there’s a clear favorite. If it’s a split decision, it’s definitely a toss-up.
•   Third, look at the total points. If most of us predict a lot of points, you can expect a shootout. Weather permitting, of course.

It’s not a competition between the three of us, so we have no stake in being right — we’d rather see you show off your smarts in the bracket challenge. Ryan, Keith and Pat aren’t keeping score, but usually the first weekend, each picks between 12 and 14 correct winners, often in the ballpark of the actual final. That means these Triple Take picks set the expectation, but we know at least a few teams will surprise us in the opening round. Will it be yours?

If you don’t feel your team is getting enough love, jump in and explain to us in the comments section below why they’re going to win. And if you’re feeling prescient, leave your final score guesses for any or all games below, and check back in afterward to see how you did. Be sure to follow the updates across the country on Twitter, using the hashtag #d3fb.

For more info on the 32-team race to Salem, including the brackets, info on each team and feature stories, check our playoffs home page.

LINFIELD BRACKET
Ryan’s take: Linfield 28, Pacific Lutheran 20
Keith’s take: Linfield 27, Pacific Lutheran 24
Pat’s take: Linfield 47, Pacific Lutheran 24

Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran 30, North Central 28
Keith’s take: North Central 35, Cal Lutheran 34
Pat’s take: North Central 35, Cal Lutheran 32

Ryan’s take: Bethel 33, Concordia-Chicago 10
Keith’s take: Bethel 35, Concordia-Chicago 21
Pat’s take: Bethel 32, Concordia-Chicago 14

Ryan’s take: UW-Oshkosh 44, St. Scholastica 13
Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh 55, St. Scholastica 10
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh 56, St. Scholastica 6

ST. THOMAS BRACKET
Ryan’s take: St. Thomas 43, St. Norbert 7
Keith’s take: St. Thomas 28, St. Norbert 7
Pat’s take: St. Thomas 45, St. Norbert 0

Ryan’s take: Coe 42, Elmhurst 13
Keith’s take: Coe 31, Elmhurst 21
Pat’s take: Elmhurst 38, Coe 35

Ryan’s take: Heidelberg 33, Wittenberg 24
Keith’s take: Heidelberg 21, Wittenberg 17
Pat’s take: Heidelberg 27, Wittenberg 20

Ryan’s take: Hobart 37, Washington and Lee 14
Keith’s take: Hobart 35, Washington and Lee 31
Pat’s take: Hobart 35, Washington and Lee 14

MARY HARDIN-BAYLOR BRACKET
Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 37, Louisiana College 21
Keith’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, Louisiana College 14
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 35, Louisiana College 10

Ryan’s take: Adrian 21, Franklin 17
Keith’s take: Adrian 17, Franklin 14
Pat’s take: Adrian 21, Franklin 18

Ryan’s take: Cortland State 31, Framingham State 24
Keith’s take: Cortland State 29, Framingham State 15
Pat’s take: Cortland State 38, Framingham State 7

Ryan’s take: Wesley 41, Mount Ida 14
Keith’s take: Wesley 42, Mount Ida 20
Pat’s take: Wesley 62, Mount Ida 0

MOUNT UNION BRACKET
Ryan’s take: Mount Union 56, Christopher Newport 7
Keith’s take: Mount Union 49, Christopher Newport 0
Pat’s take: Mount Union 61, Christopher Newport 0

Ryan’s take: Washington and Jefferson 28, Johns Hopkins 27
Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins 28, Washington and Jefferson 17
Pat’s take: Johns Hopkins 24, Washington and Jefferson 21

Ryan’s take: Salisbury 27, Rowan 20
Keith’s take: Salisbury 21, Rowan 12
Pat’s take: Rowan 31, Salisbury 20

Ryan’s take: Widener 49, Bridgewater State 24
Keith’s take: Widener 60, Bridgewater State 20
Pat’s take: Widener 63, Bridgewater State 6