Triple Take Week 9: Season-ending seriousness is upon us

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

The time for pleasantries has passed. The everyone-across-the-nation-is-interesting window is rapidly closing. Tomorrow begins November, which means we’re focusing on conference-title chases, playoff-spot pursuit and the occasional season-defining rivalry game.

With that in mind, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I zoom in the focus from all 244 teams to the games (besides the one you’re already interested in) that most deserve your attention. Last week, teams lit up the scoreboard; we’ll tell you who won’t do it again. We’ve got insight on which top 25 teams are in danger, where conference races will tilt and which teams to keep on your radar, just in case something unexpected happens on Saturday. You’ll be able to say you saw it coming.

Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 16 UW-Platteville. The Warhawks didn’t partake in the scoring of the 70s like so many top-10 teams did last week. But they’ve been putting up silly numbers by preventing them. Since Franklin scored 13 on UW-W back in Week 2, just 17 points have been scored on that defense. Only UW-Eau Claire’s 19-play field goal drive came in the first three quarters, with the game still in reach. The Warhawks have the nation’s best scoring defense, and the Pioneers are 11th, at 11.3 points per game. UW-Whitewater’s push starts up front, where defensive linemen Mykaell Bratchett and Zach Franz are getting help from sophomores Brandon Tamsett and John Flood. Linebackers Jacob Zilbar and Andrew Belken need to have big days for the Pioneers’ defense. Offensively, QB Bryce Corrigan the UW-Platteville score 31.6 points per game, which in this era of high offense is just 73rd in the country.
Ryan’s take: Carroll at Macalester. Yup, I’m going off the top-25 grid here because at this point in the season, so much of the focus is on winning conferences and getting into the playoffs. This is one of those decisive games. Both of these teams are undefeated in the North Division of the MWC, and the winner should be able to round out the regular season with confidence and get a shot at the divisional championship game on Nov. 15 – and then a spot in the postseason.
Pat’s take: Howard Payne at Louisiana College. There have been so many entertaining games in this conference this season that I feel like I have to elevate one of them to Game of the Week status. Louisiana College has only been held under 30 points by Alcorn State and two top-five teams, while Howard Payne had a classic 54-53 win at East Texas Baptist two weeks ago. If you like defense, though, watch Keith’s Game of the Week instead.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Cowboys are surprisingly 5-1 and effectively 6-1, since they led Southwestern 28-7 in the third quarter in Week 1 before “persistent lightning” led to the game being called a no contest. The Cowboys’ only loss, however, came on their home field to Texas Lutheran the following week, 37-14, which explains why they aren’t getting any love in the poll. UMHB beat TLU 72-16 last week, so why would I pick this to be surprisingly close? Well for one, it only needs to be within 56 points to fit the definition, given the UMHB > TLU > HSU hierarchy to date. But it’s also because the Cowboys have a decent defense, and allow just 3.5 yards per carry. It’s not quite the 1.98 yards that UMHB allows, but given the history between the two Hardins, a reasonable final in the 35-14 range is possible.
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Christopher Newport. These teams are almost at opposite ends of the conference standings, but the Panthers are coming off a season-defining win against Huntingdon, so they’ll arrive in Newport News with some momentum. CNU certainly won’t let this game slide by, though, as the race for the USA South’s automatic qualifier could realistically go to any one of three teams right now. There’s a good deal at stake, and the Captains surely wouldn’t mind representing the conference in the postseason after missing it in 2013.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence at WPI. First of all, surprisingly distant for an East Region conference, where it’s nearly a six-hour drive. But also, looking for a fairly close game on the scoreboard in this one as well, especially for a game between a 3-4 team and a 6-1 team. St. Lawrence is built around defense, so I expect the score to be low, and close. Even though this game is perfectly positioned to be a trap game for St. Lawrence, right before the big showdown with Hobart, I also expect the score to be comfortably in SLU’s favor.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 Concordia-Moorhead. Having nominated St. Thomas as a potential upsetter (sure, that’s a word) of Bethel last week, I’m doubling down. But almost as much as it’s hard to believe the Tommies would pick up their third loss in a season for the first time since coach Glenn Caruso’s first there, in 2008, this is about the Cobbers. Concordia-Moorhead hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2005, but it’s been 8-2 the past two years, with an October loss to Bethel and an early-November loss to St. Thomas each time (they’ve actually lost six straight to the Tommies). The Cobbers, as you might guess, are 7-1 with a 27-17 Oct. 4 loss to Bethel the only blemish so far. It’s time for QB Griffin Neal, DE Nate Adams and the Cobbers to get the Tommie off their backs.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. As was pointed out in the ATN Podcast earlier this week, UW-Oshkosh’s record is deceiving because the first three opponents were non-D-III schools. The Titans are coming off of playing Whitewater closer than anyone else this season, and despite UW-SP’s marquee win over North Central early in the year, most of their games haven’t been blowouts. Just like with the game against Platteville, it’s possible that the talent of the WIAC will continue catch up with the Pointers this week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. I have to concur with my colleague here, rather than try to pick another one, and Ryan’s reasoning is sound. Part of the reason why Oshkosh was so “successful” against Whitewater, holding them under 100 yards in the second half, is because Jake Kumerow got banged up early in the game and they went really vanilla after that. So I think the Oshkosh score is misleading. However, UWSP simply can’t give the ball away as many times as it has and if the Pointers do that on Saturday, the Titans will make them pay for it.

Pinpoint a game that will change a conference-title chase.
Keith’s take: MIT at Endicott. The Gulls get 6-0 MIT at home this week, and face Western New England (6-1 after last week’s 35-34 loss at MIT) next week. One of these three teams is representing the NEFC in the playoffs, and fans of other Eastern teams should get behind Endicott. While the Gulls challenged themselves and lost to MASCAC leader Framingham State and LL leader Hobart in their first two games, a 9-0 MIT team would have to be a candidate to host in Round 1, provided it is eligible. Endicott leads the conference in scoring defense at 19.9 points allowed, and the Engineers lead it in scoring at 41.7 points per game, so there’s your matchup to watch.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton at Elmhurst. There will be no letdown for the Thunder after last weekend’s thrilling Little Brass Bell victory. Elmhurst has hung in the conference race – barely at times – and has gone 4-0 so far, but a future as a 5-2 CCIW team seems likely for the Bluejays. After Saturday, Wheaton should be all alone at the top.
Pat’s take: Centre at Hendrix. We had lots of talk about Hendrix in the first few weeks and then they dropped off the radar for a little while. But No. 1 quarterback Seth Peters is back after he missed the Wash. U. and Berry games (both losses) because of injury. Top running back Dayton Winn is back after missing the Berry game as well. Hendrix is very much in the SAA race and controls its own destiny.

Which team put up huge numbers last week that it won’t duplicate this week?
Keith’s take: Stevenson. I’m kind of mad at myself for writing this question. Because the longer I looked, the more I found teams that are probably going to put up big numbers again. I can’t trust Buena Vista’s defense to slow No. 6 Wartburg, or Wooster to stifle DePauw after a 59-point week, or Salve Regina to stop Maine Maritime’s running game. Stevenson, however, whitewashed FDU-Florham, 57-0, last week. Trey Lee scored three of his four touchdowns by halftime, when the Mustangs led by 37. This week the opponent is No. 12 Widener, which is also No. 12 nationally in total defense. The Mustangs scored eight touchdowns last week. The Pride has only allowed eight touchdowns all season.
Ryan’s take: Linfield. The Wildcats didn’t reach the 70-plus mark that other top-10 teams did in Week 8, but that’s certainly not an indictment on the talent the team has. This week pick isn’t an indictment, either. Willamette is more than five-scores better than Linfield’s opponent from last week, and I don’t expect the Linfield to play into a particularly drastic margin this week. Still, Linfield can probably hang 40-something on the Bearcats and win comfortably.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. The Saints have been back on cruise control the past three weeks after W&J caused them to downshift out of the tie for first in the PAC and the Top 25. They will not be putting up a 42-3/49.7/64-7 score against Waynesburg, to be sure, and they might not even put up a winning score.

The Empire 8 and ODAC are the toughest conferences to predict, but pick a winner from one anyway.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. Trying to figure out who’ll win when the Golden Eagles get a visit from Ithaca using past occurrences is an exercise in mental torture. (Hey, it is Halloween). Both teams are 5-2 and hoping to catch St. John Fisher in the Empire 8 race. One of the Bombers’ losses is to Frostburg State, which Brockport beat 46-0. But the Golden Eagles lost to Utica, which Ithaca handled, 27-10. The Bombers defense limited Salisbury’s often-outstanding triple-option rushing attack to just 74 yards in a 32-7 win last week. If we were going by just that, I’d say Bombers win easily. But Brockport counters with an offense that’s had 42 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, 11 in the past two games (h/t Brockport Sports Information). But even with those, three of the Golden Eagles’ wins are by five points or fewer. And in the nothing-makes-sense world of the E8 this season, one can only assume the result that seems more likely — Ithaca riding its dominant win over Salisbury to another win — is the opposite of what will happen.
Ryan’s take: St. John Fisher. The Cardinals will be going up against Buffalo State in what should be a competitive game between teams that have shown flashes of greatness this season. Fisher is four points away from being an undefeated team, and if I had to make a pick, I’d get behind Fisher to snag the E8’s automatic qualifier. But the Bengals will certainly have some fire in them, and pulling out the upset against the No. 15 team in the nation would put them right back in the mix for the postseason.
Pat’s take: Guilford. Thanks for leaving me an easy one. My alma mater has a really young team this year and just isn’t that good right now, and just in case one might be tempted to think they could still knock off Guilford, I’ll point out that it’s homecoming in Greensboro and that Catholic beat the Quakers last season, so it’s unlikely they’ll get taken lightly. Only question is if it will be close to the 62-14 win that Hampden-Sydney got at Catholic? Will Guilford go for style points to try to get itself more Top 25 votes?

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Ursinus. We’d be talking about the big showdown of undefeated teams with Johns Hopkins if not for the Bears’ 38-10 puzzler against Juniata a few weeks back. They had a momentum-killing turnover right before the half in the game, and settled for a field goal coming out of the half on a 12-play drive. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, and the Bears can forget about theirs if they play their best game against the No. 9-ranked Blue Jays.
Ryan’s take: Franklin. With a win this weekend, the Griz would be guaranteed to finish no worse than 7-1 in conference play, and they own the head-to-head victories over other potential one-loss teams. That means Franklin is poised to be the first team in 2014 to land a spot in the playoffs.
Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are still one of the one-loss teams afloat at the top of the USA South standings, while LaGrange and Air Raid Junior have struggled on offense the past four weeks (and on defense for three of those). The Panthers offense, expected to be prolific, has been ordinary, averaging 22 points the past four weeks. CNU has two games left and has its destiny in its own hands.

ATN podcast: Jumbled standings


If Wash U wins out, a playoff bid could be in the offing.
Hendrix athletics photo by Cody Usher

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Redlands ends Cal Lutheran’s 28-game SCIAC streak, while you’ve probably read about Morrisville State beating Rowan and W&J also made easy work of Thomas More. The MAC got complicated. More so than usual. Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman take a look at those conference races and others in this week’s Around the Nation podcast.

They also take a close look at Pool B, the way teams get into the playoffs when they don’t have an automatic bid to play for. We’re expecting three bids for those teams this year, so in addition to Wesley, there are a lot of contenders out there. We’ll run those down for you. Plus a lot more, of course.

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The tags below include the schools we talked about. Also, here’s your first look at the Postgame Show, with your D3reports and team interviews and highlight packages:

Triple Take: Conference clashes underway


In 2005, Kyle Gearman shocked Concordia-Moorhead with a 74-yard touchdown catch with under 30 seconds left. SJU hosts the Cobbers this weekend.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Almost every team in an automatic-qualifying conference will have a conference game under its belt by the end of the weekend.

For those teams off to a rough start in nonconference action, now is the time to refocus and use what was learned in previous weeks to try to make a mark in conference play and reach for the AQ. For many, it is, or was, a new beginning to the season.

So which teams can turn things around, and which ones are out to prove that they’re more than just their nonconference record? Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps walk you through some of the best this weekend has to offer.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Hope at Illinois Wesleyan.
I’m veering off the Top 25 pack a bit this week, but both teams are undefeated, with the Titans getting a fair number of votes in the poll. More significantly, though, is that each of these teams have been putting up some wild numbers against the competition, with neither team scoring fewer than 37 points in their five combined victories. And no opponent has been within 20 points at the end of four quarters. What does this mean? Well, each team is facing its stiffest test of the season, and this could be a breakout moment for one of them.
Keith’s take: No. 11 Wesley at Birmingham Southern. This is the first time in the history of Triple Take I’ve filled out all the below categories first, while skipping over Game of the Week to come back to it. It’s that kind of week. I nearly went with Cortland State at St. John Fisher or Pat’s game below in this slot, but it’s been a long time since the Wolverines were beaten so thoroughly in a regular season game, and the fate of the top 25 and Pool B rests on how they respond. B-SC is 3-0 and along with Huntingdon and Louisiana College is a deep south team that’s had its shot to beat the Wolverines but hasn’t been able to close the deal. All three of those teams are in the ‘can win 7-8 games and occasionally make the playoffs’ tier, and B-SC is the latest to get a chance at national recognition. The host Panthers have a shot because they can score — 143 points in three wins — but they’ve only been able to outscore in 2013 — they’ve allowed at least 32 points in each game, and Wesley brings a caliber of athlete B-SC hasn’t faced since a 26-17 loss in Delaware last season.


Hope has started off 3-0, but faces a more significant test this week in Illinois Wesleyan.
Hope College photo by Tom Renner

Pat’s take: Concordia-Moorhead at No. 21 St. John’s. This series has had a recent history of tight games and dramatic finishes. And St. John’s has had a particularly recent history of both, having won its three games this year by a TOTAL of eight points. All the signs point to a great game. Will it be a letdown for the Johnnies after the big win last week?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Washington at Centre.
The Colonels are riding a three-game win streak, while the Bears are just 1-2. However, WashU hasn’t let opponents get out of reach (and that includes UW-Whitewater), and that striking distance could work out to their benefit. Centre has a defense that can be taken advantage of at times, and WashU can be in the game if they spot those times.
Keith’s take: Olivet at North Park. The more I looked at the slate, the more I found games I want to be tight but I think are going to be surprisingly not close (like Illinois College at Ripon, Montclair State at Rowan, or Williams at Trinity, Conn.). The Comets are 3-0, the Vikings 0-2. But Olivet is new money — at 1-39 the previous four seasons, they aren’t used to going on the road and winning. North Park (7-31 from 2009 to 2012) earned its only win last season, 46-21 in Michigan. This time around Olivet is making the three-hour bus ride to Chicago, and North Park is coming off a bye week.
Pat’s take: Stevenson at No. 22 Delaware Valley. Pretty sure Stevenson has never started a season 4-0. Stevenson had only won four games in the entire history of the program before the season started. I could consider picking this game in the next category down, as well. If you haven’t paid that close attention the first couple of weeks this year, you might get caught unaware of where the Mustangs have come, and there are enough questions about the Aggies to give one pause, that’s all.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None.
On paper, this appears to be an easy week for the Top 25, as long as one of the teams at the top doesn’t get caught sleeping….
Keith’s take: No. 16 Johns Hopkins. Since it wouldn’t be much of an upset if Concordia-Moorhead beat No. 21 St. John’s or Lycoming beat No. 24 Widener, I’ll ride the Mules. The Blue Jays are still favorites, and for the upset to happen, Muhlenberg would have to figure out how to score on Johns Hopkins, which has given up no more than 14 points in each of its three games. The Mules have hung a 59 and a 58 on the score board this season, but against its only quality opponent, they scored 21 (in a loss to Franklin & Marshall).
Pat’s take: No. 11 Wesley. This probably comes from seeing the Wolverines dismantled by Mary Hardin-Baylor last week, but I’m a little concerned about Wesley in this key Pool B clash. Without the diversity on offense … or even a lot of success last week, Wesley looked a little ordinary and could be in trouble this week.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist.
If you read this week’s Around the South column, you know that ETBU has been lighting things up through the air, with a nation-leading 435.5 yards per game passing. However, the opponents from the Tigers’ first two games are currently winless. Not so with Saturday’s opponent, Willamette. The Bearcats gave up a lot of points in their wins, so ETBU (which posted 50-plus in its two outings) might be able to run away with this one. Let’s just see which quarterback they use most.
Keith’s take: The Cleveland area. My friends Lacy and Kipp are heading to Cleveland for other sporting events this weekend, and asked me a few weeks ago how good the Otterbein at John Carroll game would be, since they were going to go. That, plus a tweet that noted that No. 1 Mount Union and No. 2 Linfield will be playing on miles apart on Saturday, got me intrigued. Someone interested in seeing a bunch of competitive D-III teams on one day — a WesleyDad of the Midwest, as it were — could catch six without leaving the Cleveland area. Linfield is at Case Western Reserve at noon, Muskingum is at Baldwin-Wallace at 2 p.m., and then the aforementioned Cardinals face the Blue Streaks at 7 p.m., which leaves just enough time for dinner in between Games 2 and 3.
Pat’s take: Huntingdon. Yeah. I’m a week late to this party. Keith was all over this last week. Struggling Ferrum makes the trip to Alabama for the first time to see the Hawks and I don’t expect the southern hospitality to extend between the lines.

Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Wooster.
Hiram is coming off its first shutout win in nearly two decades, and Wooster has Wabash on the horizon in Week 5. The Scots would do themselves a favor to make sure they focus on the task at hand rather than the beast that lies beyond.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes’ game at Linfield is by far the most compelling matchup of Week 5, and of the other teams that have big games next week, most don’t have games they could possibly lose this week. There’s Wesley, which plays Birmingham Southern and then Huntingdon, but after being humbled more or less in consecutive weeks, there’s no way they look ahead. I don’t expect PLU to lose, but it’s all I got.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes travel to UW-Eau Claire, a team St. Thomas beat 52-7. Pacific Lutheran has Linfield next week. That, plus the trip a little over halfway across the continent could spell trouble for Pacific Lutheran if not handled well.

Which undefeated team is going to pick up its first loss?
Ryan’s take: Merchant Marine.
While the Mariners are an impressive 3-0, they’ve hardly been getting in the victory column in convincing fashion. And that bodes poorly when lining up against a Top 10 team like Hobart.
Keith’s take: Juniata. So far the Eagles are one of my favorite stories of the season, so if they win at Franklin & Marshall, I will eat crow for all the long-suffering Juniata fans. The Diplomats — I couldn’t decide if they were historical peoples, a joke you’ll understand in a few paragraphs — are 1-2, but nearly won the opener at defending ODAC champion Washington & Lee, and beat Muhlenberg before losing at Ursinus. So the slate is a little tougher than what Juniata has faced so far — Thiel, Dickinson and Gettysburg are 2-7, and the records coming in could be misleading. It’s about to get real for Ward Udinski and the Eagles anyway; If they win at F&M, they should enjoy it. Johns Hopkins, Ursinus and Muhlenberg are the next three opponents.
Pat’s take: UW-Stevens Point. A trip to North Central isn’t really a good sign the way things are clicking for the Cardinals right now. North Central has run through the middle-to-bottom of the WIAC the past couple of weeks and there isn’t much reason to think this will be different.

Which historical peoples is most intriguing?
Ryan’s take: The Pioneers of Grinnell.
Grinnell is hunting for its first win and is clearly not the same kind of team offensively in the wake of injured quarterback Sam Poulos. Last week, especially, the defense was tasked with keeping the team in its game against MWC leader Lake Forest, and the unit was largely successful – evidence of how senior-laden the team is on that side of the ball. If the Pioneers can manage a game when both sides are clicking, they can log wins this weekend against Beloit and onward through the season.
Keith’s take: The Saints of Thomas More. One of my favorite parts of Triple Take each week is scrolling down to see what Ryan has picked as the last question. Waynesburg’s visit to Kentucky is intriguing because the Yellow Jackets, 3-0 this season, have won 14 of their past 15 games. But during that stretch, they haven’t had to win a big game on the road. Muskingum, Bethany, Geneva and Thiel were all three-win teams last season, St. Vincent was 0-10 and the Yellow Jackets’ road win this year was at 1-2 Frostburg State. Thomas More is 2-0, back in the top 25 and hasn’t surrendered a point. So for both sides it’s the first test of how legitimate a contender each will be, and the winner gets a leg up in the PAC title race.
Pat’s take: The Colonials of Western Connecticut. I’m very interested to see how the Colonials do against Framingham State. Western Connecticut has started the season 2-0, but has done so against teams that were a combined 3-17 last season. Here they’ll take on the MASCAC favorite and we’ll find out how close Western is to actually contending for the MASCAC title. We already knew they would be competitive in the new league, where they were not competitive in the NJAC. But while Rowan held Melikke Van Alstyne to 63 yards, Western Connecticut may not be so lucky.