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.

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

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.

Triple Take Week 4: A mix of wackiness and rivalries

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

By the first week of October, almost everybody is playing conference rivals weekly. Which leaves this weekend, the last in September, as the last time we see so many matchups against non-Division III teams like Bacone (mmm, Bacone) and Southwestern Assemblies of God (or as I like to refer to them, SWAG). This week is also one of the last for halfway-across-the-country non-conference games like Pacific at Chicago, or Pacific Lutheran at Trinity (Texas).

Of course, some Tommies and Johnnies will spend Saturday acting like anything but saints when they face their most disliked rival. And whether you’re celebrating your stadium’s 100th birthday or just hoping a few hundred fans are in the stands, Triple Take cares. Pat, Ryan and I look at all 244 teams and highlight the Week 4 games (besides yours, of course) worth paying attention to.

– Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 17 Ithaca at Alfred. Assuming Pat plays the faithful Minnesooooootan, and takes Johnnies at Tommies, I find myself in New York for an Empire 8 clash. I bombed my Bombers pick last week, and at 2-0 with one dicey win and one dominant one, Ithaca hits the road for 3-0 Alfred. The Saxons have scored 34, 34 and 29, but last week, the Bombers barely allowed an inch for Hartwick’s offense to maneuver. In a conference where St. John Fisher, Salisbury, Brockport State and others plan to contend, wins are at a premium.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Johns Hopkins at Muhlenberg. The Mules have flown a bit under the radar while building toward their 3-0 record, but they’ve been anything but quiet in doing so. While I understand Muhlenberg’s opponents aren’t the year’s most notable bunch, Muhlenberg has been appropriately convincing in its victories, with the narrowest margin being 34 points in a shutout of Wilkes. This will likely be the Blue Jays’ stiffest test untilNov. 22.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at No. 10 St. Thomas. Make fun all you want but this game will have more people in attendance than the other two combined. Last year, St. Thomas was coming off a Stagg Bowl appearance and two wins by a combined 77-14 score before the rivalry reminded us that anything can happen. St. John’s took a 14-11 lead at halftime and intercepted Matt O’Connell twice in the second half, then dodged a bullet when the Tommies’ kicker missed a short field goal at the final gun. So after that … we’re back in anything-can-happen mode.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Baldwin Wallace at No. 8 John Carroll. This is a bit of a stab in the dark, since the Blue Streaks could not be coming off a more dominant performance against Heidelberg. After games like those, it’s human nature to start feeling yourself — you get really confident until you have reason not to be. John Carroll has to guard against overconfidence, and Baldwin Wallace has to get theirs back after allowing the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left in a 37-35 loss to Ohio Northern. Both teams are among the nation’s top eight in time of possession (36 minutes plus), so something has to give there. John Carroll is the national leader in getting off the field on third downs, and I think after a few quarters of even play, they turn it on for the home crowd under the lights and pull away.
Ryan’s take: Averett at LaGrange. The Cougars have been all over the place in how well they do against the pass – they gave up big against Randolph-Macon but held Maryville to small numbers (the ground game from the quarterback was a whole ‘nother story). LaGrange likes to throw the ball; with Graham Craig under center, who wouldn’t want to play that out? Yet the Panthers’ 2-1 record is deceitful since every game has been achingly close. If Averett can contain an offense that appears to be one-dimensional (much like the team did against run-heavy Washington and Lee), then this will be a close one.
Pat’s take: Chapman at Whitworth. A SCIAC contender and an unbeaten team, just like you would have pictured it in, say, 2010. Whitworth has done it against three lower-level west coast teams and now Bryan Peterson, who threw for nearly 600 yards last week after only getting the start because of injuries, has to try to do it against a team which held Linfield to 21 and is one of the SCIAC favorites.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 16 Pacific Lutheran. It’s the Lutes’ second game and Trinity’s fourth. That’s really my only reason. Well, that and the other choices stunk. The Tigers (1-2) haven’t played all that well, but they’ve played, and early in the season, that seems like a big deal. The game is in Texas, and PLU’s nice fourth quarter helped it to a 35-28 home win over Cal Lutheran in Week 2.
Ryan’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. No. 19 Ithaca. There are a lot of teams in the top-notch Empire 8 that could dethrone one of the undefeateds, but pitting two with perfect records is cause to pay attention. Alfred has been giving up a lot of points this season, and the team is going to do the most damage if it can find a way to clamp down on defense. Ithaca, in turn, will succeed if it keeps doing what it’s been doing on the field.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Heidelberg. Ohio Northern might be able to break through in this game. If not, they might be able to keep it close. If not, well, it won’t be the first time I’ve picked Ohio Northern erroneously in the past decade. I like ONU in this matchup because of the opposite directions of the teams’ momentum.

Which winless team gets its first victory?
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Nobody in D-III has been harder-luck losers in their first two games, when the Red Dragons, trying to run out the clock in Week 1, ran backwards and put Buffalo State in range for the tying field goal with 1 second left. In Week 2, down three and on the 1-yard line vs. Brockport, the game ended with a false-start penalty and 10-second runoff. With a week off to forget about that, the Red Dragons head to Morrisville State, which scored two TDs in last week’s opening 16 minutes against St. Lawrence, then was blanked the rest of the way.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. 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 have 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: Alfred State. And for Alfred State, this would be its first win against a Division III school, as the Pioneers host Castleton State on their homecoming weekend. Alfred State won one game that counts last year, vs. Apprentice School.
Who it won’t be: Concordia-Chicago. The Cougars were scheduled to play Maranatha Baptist this week, but the Sabercats were unable to keep the contract because of injuries. And by NCAA rules, this is a no-contest, not a forfeit, so CUC remains winless.

Which team plays like animals this weekend?
Keith’s take: The Bantams of Trinity (Conn). You might have to be smart enough to get into a NESCAC school to know that bantams are a small variety of chicken. Williams’s Eph mascot is a purple and yellow cow, so an animal wins either way. In this year’s installment of a game that used to be the non-rivalry highlight of the NESCAC schedule, Trinity’s rushing attack — 289 yards in the opener, including a 25-134-3 line from Chudi Iregbulem — scores the first points on Williams this season, and then some.
Ryan’s take: The Panthers of Middlebury. No way Middlebury isn’t going to slough off the turnovers of its debut last weekend, get its claws out and start down the path toward a 7-1 season. Colby’s offensive line better be ready to protect against a big rush.
Pat’s take: The Muskies of Muskingum. Problem is, fish aren’t particularly well-suited to play football, and I think the Crusaders of Capital are in best position to take this game.

State your case for a state school, or one with a state in its name
Keith’s take: Illinois College. St. Norbert may well win this MWC clash, but since Norbachusetts isn’t a state, and I already burned up “Cortland State,” allow me to use the Blueboys to highlight this matchup. Simply, IC scored 42 points after halftime of its last game. SNC allowed 45 unanswered last time out, including 42 in the middle quarters. Neither team won, or played last week. So they’ve had plenty of time to get their defenses right. The Blueboys bring in the nation’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Michael Bates, at 682 yards a game, but stats are easily skewed this time of year. St. Norbert DL Austin Prusha has seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks already, but almost all of that came against Carthage, not North Central.
Ryan’s take: Brockport State. The first half wasn’t pretty last week for the Golden Eagles, but adjustments after the break proved somewhat successful against St. John Fisher. It’s something to build one after being stacked against a Top 10 team. This week, Utica is riding an undefeated streak and will be stiff competition. But I don’t see Brockport giving as much ground to the Pioneers and should come away with the win.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. As our former USA Today colleague, Devin Clancy, would say, “Alfred isn’t a state!” So I can’t use that team here. That being said, I like Del Val’s chances in this game that I basically see as a toss-up. Definitely not your average unbeaten vs. winless matchup. Del Val has enough diversity on offense to get it done, but the question will be whether it can stop Leb Val.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Chicago. The best defense in Chicago isn’t the Bears. Relatively speaking, anyway. The Maroons are 3-0 and allowing 160 yards per game, best in D-III. Pacific, 0-2 by a total of seven points, was pretty solid itself defensively last week at Dubuque, allowing just 321 yards and 16 points. Before we start crowning these descendants of Stagg worthy of making the playoffs, let’s see how they fare in this midseason stretch. After Pacific and before their three UAA rivals, they face Rhodes, Trinity (Texas) and Bethel. With a good performance in that stretch, and a Pool B playoff spot awaits.
Ryan’s take: Centre. I thought last year was going to be the Colonels’ season to make the playoffs. Though they finished a respectable 7-3, it wasn’t playoff-worthy. They lost some skill players and a good chunk of their defense, but they are off to a 3-0 start nonetheless. Like last year, Washington U. is Game 4 and threatening to derail the perfection they’ve had so far. Getting over this hump will go a long ways toward potentially rolling in to November undefeated and making a case for a Pool B spot.
Pat’s take: Carroll. Sticking with the C’s here for a very much under-the-radar 3-0 team in the Midwest Conference that defeated Lake Forest last week, facing 2-0 Monmouth. The secret? The return of is-he-playing-or-isn’t-he Lamont Williams, who has alternately been in and out of the Pioneers’ preseason roster over the past couple of years. He scored three second-half touchdowns in last week’s victory.