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

wabash-tyler-holmes-480x400-hh

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 D3football.com.) 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.

Triple Take Week 8: Some clashes to get excited about

Will the Texas Lutheran defense stand up to Mary Hardin-Baylor? (TLU athletics photo)

Will the Texas Lutheran defense stand up to Mary Hardin-Baylor? (TLU athletics photo)

It’s that time of year when the air gets colder, the crowds get rowdier and the games get more meaningful.

To boil the action among 244 D-III teams down to a best-of list, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I sorted through dozens of games, including three clashes between top 25 teams. It’s also not too early to start discussing playoff implications, and we highlight teams that will give themselves a boost this weekend, and those that will fall down a peg. And not to forget the teams outside the playoff chase, we highlight a few teams in the midst of rough seasons that fans can look to for a W on Saturday.

It’s late October. This season is just getting to the good part. Here are our picks for this week.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Texas Lutheran. We hear this all the time: “You guys don’t give us any respect.” “No love for my team in the top 25?” Here’s the thing: Respect is earned, not given. That’s the difference right now between the two 6-0 teams in Texas, but what a giant opportunity this is for Texas Lutheran, which was 0-10 before coach Danny Padron was hired in 2010 following a highly successful run coaching in high school. UMHB is one of the five most successful programs in D-III over the past 10 or 15 years, and this year’s squad is well worth its No. 2 ranking. Both teams come in top 5 nationally in scoring offense, averaging more than 49 points per game. Defense is where the separation is; UMHB allows 11.5 points per game, TLU 26.3. That puts the spotlight on a Bulldogs defense led by DBs Drake Dowling and Michael Wall, although seniors Adam McGuire, Joey Meza and Ethan Powell have a chance to leave a mark. The crazy thing is TLU doesn’t even have to win to earn respect, move up in the top 25 or preserve its playoff hopes. They’re in front of their home crowd, and UMHB is expected to win, and maybe win big. It’s an opportunity.
Ryan’s take: No. 12 North Central at No. 19 Wheaton. In the ATN Podcast this past week, there was some talk about how Wheaton has dispelled some of its early-season hiccups and shown that it truly is a Top 25 team. Sorry Thunder fans, but I’m not yet convinced. The conference slate so far has consisted of the bottom three CCIW teams, and two of the nonconference opponents currently have a combined record of 1-11. That means two things: 1) I don’t know that Wheaton is ready to face a North Central team that became battle-tested in nonconference play (though the Cardinals’ CCIW games have also been against a weak slate); and 2) a loss here by Wheaton, coupled with that nonconference schedule, could mean that the team lacks the strength of schedule to be a real Pool C contender. For North Central, a loss Saturday would be its second of the year, also creating a gray area on the Pool C front. Perhaps the playoffs are in the back of these players’ minds – or perhaps just the fact that it’s the Little Brass Bell rivalry game is motivation enough.
Pat’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Texas Lutheran. Sorry, I have to repeat Keith’s pick here because it’s just a game that can swing a lot of things: UMHB’s hopes at a top seed, Texas Lutheran’s playoff hopes (and perhaps the hopes of others) as well as rankings for both of them. Texas Lutheran has been through a few changes recently: leaving the ASC for the SCAC, leaving a local high school stadium for a more intimate stadium of its own on campus … oh, and it’s started winning more games. TLU has a lot of former Mary Hardin-Baylor players and coaches on its sidelines as well, in case anyone needs any extra motivation.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Berry at Birmingham Southern. A few seasons ago, B-SC started 5-0 for the second consecutive year and was a legitimate playoff contender, while Berry football didn’t exist. If you’re a fan of a conference that never crosses paths with these teams, now part of the SAA, you might be surprised to learn that they both come into Saturday’s matchup with two wins. The Vikings have won two out of three, their first wins in history, and are trending upward offensively. B-SC is 2-1 in the SAA but allows 30.4 points per game. The more established program might still win, but Berry should make it interesting.
Ryan’s take: Washington U. at Chicago. These teams are having very different kinds of seasons, but Wash U. has found its groove at times this year, even if the team’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect that fact. If the Bears can muster up one of their better games, they’ll be able to hang with Chicago.
Pat’s take: East Texas Baptist at Louisiana College. I think this is a great game waiting to happen. I already expected it to be close, but I really want to spotlight it here. I expect a classic game of the “Little 12″ type we’ve been talking about on the podcast the past couple of years. One of many exciting games as we’ve come to expect from the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 11 Bethel. The category is “most likely,” not “definitely will be.” A loss to No. 22 St. Thomas wouldn’t be a major upset either, but we’ve sort of forgotten the once-dominant Tommies since a late-September loss to St. John’s. With the Royals allowing 15 points per game and the Tommies 16.5, expect a slugfest that could go either way, have major impact on the MIAC race and possibly result in an upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Widener. It wouldn’t be an earth-shattering upset if Lycoming wins this one, but it will be telling to learn what the Warriors did with their bye week after losing to Delaware Valley on Oct. 11, a loss that knocked them out of the Top 25. A win for Widener, however, would give a lot of credibility to the Pride’s success this season.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. Again, not overly likely but I can only say “none” once or twice a season, even if this has been a season in which none’s the word. The Stout team I saw a couple weeks ago has more than a fighting chance in this game, and for Platteville, this game comes sandwiched in between contests vs. UW-Stevens Point and UW-Whitewater.

Which team revives its conference title and/or playoff hopes?
Keith’s take: Endicott. Because the Gulls opened up with non-conference losses to 2013 playoff teams Framingham State (20-17) and Hobart (28-18), it’s been easy to view the NEFC race as Western New England vs. MIT. But after winning at Coast Guard on Saturday, Endicott players on the bus ride back from Connecticut can refresh the scoreboard for updates on the the Golden Bears-Engineers 5 p.m. Saturday clash in Cambridge. When one loses, the Gulls will know whether to circle next week’s home MIT game or the one at WNEU in two weeks as their chance to take control of the NEFC.
Ryan’s take: Albion. Lycoming, which I talked about in my answer to the previous question, would definitely fit this category, but Triple Take is best when it uses the spread. In the MIAA, Albion is traveling to current conference leader Trine. Both teams are coming off of losses from last Saturday, but only Albion’s was to another MIAA team. A win here won’t put the Britons in the driver’s seat for the conference title, but it will give them a big lift toward that goal. The game should be competitive, but I like that Albion has cut its teeth against some solid competition without getting blown out (the most notable of which is the 42-31 outing against UW-Stevens Point). That should translate well on the field against Trine on Saturday.
Pat’s take: Ithaca. The Bombers are going to need more than a little help, but if they beat Salisbury on Saturday they’ll have knocked off one of the one-loss teams ahead of them. They have yet to play St. John Fisher and they’ll need help from someone remaining on Buffalo State’s schedule to take down the Bengals. But as I alluded to in the podcast earlier this week, Butterfield Stadium is the place where the triple-option goes to die. Never get turf, Ithaca.

Which team can forget about the playoffs after Saturday?
Keith’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors need a home win against Widener or they might be looking at an ECAC bowl invite while the Pride and Aggies play for an NCAA spot in Week 11. A win puts them right back in the MAC race, which as a 5-0 team before a 52-42 loss to Del Val two weeks ago, is probably where they feel they belong. The Warriors had only allowed 50 points total before their last game, but Widener, in a strange twist, is a also a defensive juggernaut (No. 4 nationally in scoring defense) under new coach Mike Kelly. Widener also has one turnover all season. The Pride has four road wins already, which should reduce the effect of having to travel to Williamsport, and Lycoming is the team that can’t afford to stumble again.
Ryan’s take: Castleton State. The Spartans are going up against Husson, the only team who has a perfect record in conference play so far. I expect Husson to keep it that way. Week after week, the Eagles, who are 4-1 overall, have been more convincing than are the Spartans. Castleton State could have position itself for a postseason opportunity with a win here, but the teams just appear to be going in different directions.
Pat’s take: The University of Chicago. Chicago has the better record, by a significant margin, but Washington U. has played a much tougher schedule and will definitely come in prepared. This is a rivalry game, to boot, and kicks off the University Athletic Association portion of the teams’s schedules. But the Maroons cannot afford to take another loss.

Which team won’t be playing for any titles this season, but will win by 10 points or more?
Keith’s take: UW-River Falls. The Falcons have shot themselves in the foot more than any team in the country this season, with a national-worst 25 turnovers (12 fumbles, 13 interceptions). But they face the least-prolific offense in the nation in UW-Eau Claire (three touchdowns and three field goals in six games). Considering the UW-RF defense has held St. John’s, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Platteville below 30, it shouldn’t take a career day to outscore the Blugolds. But it would help if they hang on to the darn ball.
Ryan’s take: DePauw. The Tigers picked up conference loss No. 2 last weekend, effectively knocking them out of any playoff or title discussions. But as any fan of rivalries knows, seasons can be salvaged by that Week 11 game. But before then, there’s still a lot of football to play, and I see nothing slowing a DePauw team when it lines up against floundering Allegheny this weekend. The Gators have lost by more than 10 in each of their defeats this season, so it seems likely that DePauw will be able to use Allegheny as a way to take out some frustrations.
Pat’s take: Heidelberg. Perhaps an obvious choice, but a week after the Berg pulled Cartel Brooks from the game after eight carries vs. Mount Union, they’ll be looking to get him as many carries and yards as possible against Marietta. 10 points or much much more.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Centre. Neck and neck with Carroll, also 6-0, for least-talked-about undefeated team, the Kentucky Colonels get a visit from 5-1 Rhodes this week. Two of the more alliterative and efficient quarterbacks in D-III face off in Centre’s Heath Haden and Rhodes’ Blake Box. But the big-picture interest here is how each team needs to beat the other for a notch on its playoff resume, and how Centre’s continued success could affect Pool B, which also features unbeaten Wesley and Texas Lutheran and 5-1 Framingham State, whose only loss is to Rowan.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury. The E8 is notoriously hard to get a handle on, and Salisbury’s performances have a big role to play in that. Mix a big loss to Wesley and a close loss to Buffalo State with wins over St. John Fisher and Utica, and we now have a team that might be climbing out of the hole it dug for itself early in the season. No team is spotless in the conference, meaning Salisbury has a real shot to claw into the postseason if it can extend its three-game win streak.
Pat’s take: Macalester. The Scots are likely to improve to 6-1 this week as they host Lawrence. They aren’t going to win by 60-plus points like Carroll did last week because Mac isn’t trying to impress anyone, but they should win and set up the showdown next week with Carroll for the lead in the Midwest Conference North Division.

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.

Around the Nation podcast: Surprises?

W&J athletics photo by Martin Santek photography

W&J athletics file photo by Martin Santek photography

It’s not a surprise that Washington and Jefferson beat Thomas More, but the margin of victory? Definitely surprising. And perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Salisbury beat St. John Fisher, considering the Sea Gulls had done so in each of the five previous meetings.

Those various elements of surprise open the Around the Nation podcast. Meanwhile, Pat and Keith each give out their game balls, look beyond the obvious games to some underappreciated highlights and much more.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your phone or portable 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

Plus, all the highlights and interviews from around Division III in the postgame show: