Triple Take Week 3: Big clashes and bigger road trips

Cartel Brooks and Heidelberg had their way with Alma in Week 1. This weeks opponent will be much more challenging. (Heidelberg athletics photo)

Cartel Brooks and the rest of the Heidelberg Student Princes had their way with Alma in Week 1. This week’s opponent will be much more challenging.
Heidelberg athletics photo

Late September in Division III is a special time.

In some places, conference play gets underway, and for those who aren’t quite there yet, it’s road trip time! No. 1 UW-Whitewater has a jaunt to New Jersey coming down the ‘pike, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor is cheesing on the way to Wisconsin, No. 6 Linfield is going back to Cali and Coast Guard is going to Farmville.

The weather cools off a bit, so players at least avoid seeing heat blur as it rises off the turf. That makes it a great weekend to take in a game quite literally from coast (at Mass. Maritime, against Maine Maritime in the 42nd Admiral’s Cup) to coast (at Cal Lutheran, against Willamette in Thousand Oaks, Calif., at its “work of art” stadium a few miles inland) and everywhere in between.

Here’s a rundown from Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I of which among the 244 teams most bears watching in Week 3:

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville at No. 5 North Central. Big games abound this week, but it’s difficult to look past a clash of top-10 teams. This matchup was such a letdown in last year’s playoff second round that it was the fifth mentioned in the eight-game roundup that week. This time instead of Stanek vs. Kelly, it’s Dylan Warden and Bryce Corrigan under center, and the defenses perhaps in the spotlight. The Pioneers have allowed just 314 yards per game in wins over Buena Vista and Dubuque, and the Cardinals allowed 195 last week against St. Norbert. It’s the first game at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium since the playoff clash, and it’s a 6 p.m. kickoff. Giddy up.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 UW-Platteville at No. 5 North Central. The year’s first matchup between top-10 teams hardly needs an explanation as to why it’s worth being the game of the week. The two teams average more than 500 yards of total offense a game, putting them at 18th and 19th nationally in that category. Even more interesting (and more of an “X” factor in this game) is that they each typically win the turnover battles against their opponents.
Pat’s take: No. 16 Heidelberg at No. 10 John Carroll. After last year, when we didn’t get to know how good either of these teams really were until November, we won’t have a Heidelberg Uncertainty Principle (go ahead, Google it) in 2014, at least now as to how these teams stack up against each other. Except that if Mark Myers doesn’t play for John Carroll … we’ll still end up with legitimate questions. “We’re planning on going without him,” JCU coach Tom Arth said in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s just too early to say. We’re kind of proceeding as if he will not be playing.”

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Morrisville State at St. Lawrence. New York is the home of the close game this week, according to us. Mine’s only a surprise to the naked eye, or those attracted to the 112 points QB Lemar Johnson and the Mustangs have scored in their 2-0 start. But the Saints (1-1) are fourth in the country in total defense (146.5 yards per game) and time of possession (38:17). So whether it’s stopping the Mustangs or keeping the ball away from Johnson’s offense, St. Lawrence has a chance.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 St. John Fisher at Brockport State. One of the best things Brockport State has going for it is its defense, particularly against the pass, and Fisher had nearly 300 yards through the air in the opener against Otterbein. Brockport will stay in this if they can neutralize Fisher’s Tyler Fenti-Nathan Nigolian connection. Brockport has already built up a 2-0 record, including a win over Cortland State, and appears to be a team with more potential to rise.
Pat’s take: Hartwick at No. 19 Ithaca. This offense vs. defense matchup probably favors the defense. Ithaca can almost certainly hold the Hawks under 40. And a little shout-out to North Carolina Wesleyan, which kept its game vs. Christopher Newport closer than most would likely have expected on Thursday night before losing, 31-28.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. Ol’ Chalky Coleman down below might end up being correct, but Ryan and I will show some guts and walk out on a limb. Hartwick has flashed impressive offense in its 1-1 start, hitting the 40-point mark and having nearly 500 yards of offense against Western Connecticut and Morrisville State. Wide receiver Tanner Williams had 13 catches for 255 yards and three TDs in the opener, and running back Greg Bell had 51 carries for 331 yards and three TDs last week. The Hawks also handed the Bombers one of their three losses last season, 21-9. Ithaca hung on against Union in Week 1, winning 21-16 when the Dutchmen’s 14-play drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth and goal, and was not in action last weekend.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Wheaton. I’m stepping up to own the pick I made in Kickoff, when I said UW-Eau Claire would pull off the most surprising upset of the season. The Blugolds fared very well against St. Thomas but then had got beaten big by St. John’s. Wheaton, in turn, wasn’t flexing a ton of muscle against Kalamazoo last weekend. There’s a lot of opportunity for UW-EC to make a statement here and not stumble winless into conference play.
Pat’s take: None. Among possibilities that would be true upsets (not Rowan/Wesley and certainly not the games between ranked teams), I would say Brockport State over St. John Fisher is the best possibility. But I like the chalk here.

Which team won’t have a great season, but will have a great week?
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist. The Tigers have Millsaps, trips to Texas Lutheran, Louisiana College and Hardin-Simmons, and a season-ending home game with No. 2 UMHB ahead. That’s five likely losses unless they play better than they have in recent seasons, but this week’s clash with Southwestern is an opportunity to shine. ETBU already had its get-right game, beating Austin 43-27 after giving up 98 to Texas A&M-Commerce. The Tigers are home under their lights against the Pirates, who spent some time this week in the spotlight after earning their program’s first victory. RB Toi Glover, a 1,000-yard back last year, averaged 8.4 yards per carry last week. If he and the Tigers can’t beat Southwestern, the order of things in Texas will be shaken up.
Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley. The Aggies should have a good season, but with Widener and Lycoming being the ones I feel in the driver’s seat of the MAC, Del Val won’t end up with the kind of season the team considers great. This week, Wilkes is on the slate. While the Colonels did win last week, they also got slammed in a shutout loss to Muhlenberg in Week 1. This will be a win for Del Val and should give them some momentum with a few meatier games around the corner.
Pat’s take: Manchester. The Spartans gave up 60 points to a team that took a seven-hour bus ride to get there last week in Buffalo State. That’s not a sign of a team that’s going to play in the postseason. However, Manchester hosts in-state HCAC rival Earlham this week, which has been outscored by 63 points over the first two weeks.

Which team or player has a breakout game this week?
Keith’s take: Billy Beecher, Case Western Reserve. The Spartans quarterback had been a bit-part player in the past, and took over as the starter in the opener against Carnegie Mellon. In the 30-0 win, he passed for 301 yards and two TDs and rushed for another, so that was probably his breakout game regionally. St. Vincent has allowed 841 yards and 79 points in its opening two losses. Beecher has a chance to put up numbers that garner national attention in this matchup.
Ryan’s take: Mason Blaschke of Trinity (Texas). Rarely in this space do we get to highlight individual players (so thank you for the opportunity, Keith!). Coming off of a wrist injury last season, Blaschke hasn’t really excelled yet this fall. The Tigers are 0-2, and his passing outings have been 208 yards against Howard Payne and just 89 yards against Willamette. There’s more to Blaschke than he’s showing us. He has the right guys to throw to, and sacks haven’t been a particular burden. This week, Trinity plays Sul Ross State, the team that handed Southwestern its first win in the modern era. If Blaschke and the Tigers aren’t dominating here, then we’re looking at a mess of red flags.
Pat’s take: Matthew McDaniels, Merchant Marine. Actually, this is hard, because I kept looking at games and the players that came to mind had already had their breakout games this season. But McDaniels has been somewhat held in check this season. Last week, when he ran for 174 yards as the Mariners’ option quarterback, the team still lost. But a cross-river rivalry like SUNY-Maritime should be more than enough motivation.

The NESCAC starts this week. Give us any prediction.
Keith’s take: Wesleyan struggles for a half, then pulls away from Middlebury. Here are the five NESCAC games; right away, two of the four teams that had losing records last year will get that taste out of their mouths, since 0-8 Hamilton faces 0-8 Tufts and 2-6 Williams hosts 3-5 Bowdoin. But there’s intrigue at the top, too. Preseason favorite (at least according to the Nothing but NESCAC crew who did our picks in Kickoff ’14) Wesleyan has 20 starters back from a 7-1 team. Middlebury was 7-1 last year too, but there’s no more McCallum Foote to lead the way. The Panthers’ eight returning defensive starters can help keep it close for a while, but not forever.
Ryan’s take: Five NESCAC teams will win on Saturday. What? Too easy? Okay, how about Bates will play Amherst neck and neck? The past four meetings between these two teams have seen the Bobcats outscored 119-13. But Bates has shown improvement the past two seasons and has the “problem” of having had some solid competition for its starting spots – as well as some depth. This will be a much better game than people are used to seeing between these two.
Pat’s take: Tufts’ long losing streak continues. I’d have said otherwise if Dave Murray hadn’t been hired at Hamilton over the summer. Murray didn’t have a lot of time to recruit for the Continentals this season but will put a little spark into the program.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Rose-Hulman. Duh. After a 40-spot in Week 1 and 74 in Week 2, I’m intrigued by the offense. Defensively, after allowing 68 points and 745 yards to Illinois College, they’re understandably the 220th-ranked defense in the country. This week’s opponent, Hanover, manages to rank worse at 225th, allowing more than seven yards per play, 558 yards per game and 40 points in an 0-2 start against Centre and Thomas More. The Engineers’ equipment manager may want to pack some scoreboard lightbulbs to give to Hanover in case Austin Swenson and the RHIT offense burn them out.
Ryan’s take: Hiram. The Terriers are third in the nation in turnover margin (thanks, in part, to six picks against Denison) and occupy the lone spot atop the NCAC. Well, part of that is because most of the NCAC hasn’t played two games yet like Hiram has, but don’t take this away from them. Hiram paid its dues for many, many, many years in the lower rungs of a middle-of-the-road conference (16th this year in Kickoff). Allegheny is a beatable opponent, which could lock in the team’s best season in years just three weeks into 2014.
Pat’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs have started off 2-0 and if they can beat Lebanon Valley, they’ll be in the best possible shape as they start running this MAC gantlet. Four of their next five games will be against Albright, Lycoming, Delaware Valley and Widener.

Around the Nation podcast: Playoff picture takes place


Hardin-Simmons wasn’t a threat to Linfield, Willamette or UMHB but crushed Texas Lutheran.
Hardin-Simmons athletics photo

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

So let’s see, John Carroll beat Heidelberg, handily, and Wittenberg handled Wabash. Meanwhile, Hardin-Simmons delivered a reality check to Texas Lutheran and Wesley beat a D-I FCS team. (You know, the level known as Division I-AA.) Did John Carroll play its way into the playoffs? Or perhaps we should give them more than just lip service next week vs. Mount Union. Keith talks about what he saw when he watched the John Carroll-Heidelberg game.

Keith and Pat look at the remaining 10 automatic bids and what it will take to win them. Plus a long look at Pool B and another long look at Pool C. That and Continue reading

Triple Take: Penultimate picks


Either Wabash or Wittenberg will clinch the NCAC automatic bid Saturday.
Wabash athletics photo by Howard Hewitt

The long-awaited regional rankings are here, and we can expect to see at least a couple of teams clinch their conferences and their paths to the playoffs. All that on top of another week in which we see four games between Top 25 teams — dramatically narrowing the choices of Pat, Keith and Ryan for “Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.”

But there are plenty of other categories for them to spread their wings (bird reference; we’ll circle back to that later) here in the Week 10 Triple Take predictions:

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Wittenberg at No. 13 Wabash.
Playing the homer card here, because as expected, this matchup is poised to determine which red-and-white-clad “W” team gets to go to the playoffs. The Little Giants have been rolling week after week, logging three shutouts this season already. But have they been tested? Not significantly. That has made their No. 3 statistical ranking in total defense and their top spot in turnover margin seem exaggerated. But, to be sure, there has to be talent and depth to get to these numbers against any collegiate competition, so while the schedule has been favorable, Wabash’s place in the poll isn’t necessarily unjustified. Wittenberg is a bit in the same boat, though the Tigers can boast having faced at least one very solid team in Butler, a nonscholarship Division I-FCS squad that beat the Tigers badly. Witt is ninth nationally in total offense, and 19th in defense. For more than a decade, this has been a marquee NCAC matchup. That doesn’t change on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Heidelberg at No. 14 John Carroll. I’m going to say this out loud right now, and this is rare for me — this is a matchup I think the AFCA poll has right and we don’t. They have John Carroll ranked higher than Heidelberg. Although this requires a leap of faith to do so, I agree with them.
Keith’s take: No. 4 North Central at No. 19 Wheaton. Guess that leaves me this game. Honestly, I’d have taken the ‘Berg at John Carroll, but it’s Week 10 and I wrote down 25 games of interest in my pre-Triple Take exercise. There’s GOTW candidates everywhere. The weird thing about this one is, in light of North Central’s 46-17 win over Illinois Wesleyan, and the Titans’ 30-19 win over Wheaton, the Thunder are 40 points down in the three-way tiebreaker formula. But with a win, they can stay in the Pool C picture — which in my opinion is currently Heidelberg/John Carroll winner, UW-Platteville/UW-Oshkosh winner, Wittenberg/Wabash loser, Pacific Lutheran, Concordia-Moorhead (which faces St. Thomas this week), Illinois Wesleyan and the fourth Pool B team. For five spots. Wheaton would need to slow down NCC QB Spencer Stanek and the nation’s fifth-best offense (527.8 yards/game). The Cardinals’ balance (NCC rushes for 251 and passes for 276.8/game) will make it next to impossible.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Washington University.
Both teams have had moments of epic floundering this fall, while both have also showed signs of brilliance. As a few prominent Pool B teams picked up extra losses recently, Washington could be on the bubble of a playoff spot, especially if their only two losses remain those to undefeated UW-Whitewater and to two-loss Coe. The Bears have a lot to play for, and previous seasons have consistently shown their game against the Spartans to be a defensive struggle.
Pat’s take: Randolph-Macon at Bridgewater. The Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak, one that was pretty ugly, last week. With archrival Hampden-Sydney looming next week, perhaps Randolph-Macon is vulnerable here, and perhaps Bridgewater is going to play like the conference favorite we somehow thought they would be. (Although the conference coaches’ poll had them just three points out of first as well.)
Keith’s take: Franklin & Marshall at Johns Hopkins. This will be surprisingly close on the national scene, but those who closely follow the Centennial Conference remember that the Diplomats won this game in a similar situation last season, and Johns Hopkins still went on to win a first-round playoff game, 42-10. The Blue Jays are 8-0 and dominant offensively — No. 4 nationally at 529 yards a game, including 271 rushing. They’re also a top 25 defensive outfit in several categories, and they’re home at Homewood. So why F&M? It’s scored 35 or more four out of five weeks, it allows less than 50% of third downs to convert and knowing they’ve beaten the Blue Jays recently, they won’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Ithaca.
Prior to last week, the Bombers had been the only Empire 8 team to have beaten Salisbury since the Gulls entered the conference. Both teams have a playoff spot that they are struggling for — meaning everything is on the line here.
Pat’s take: No. 18 St. Thomas. This is just a bookkeeping upset, really. I think there are some voters who have St. Thomas still ranked highly anticipating this game and thinking the Tommies can beat the Cobbers and justify where they’re listed. As down as the Tommies have appeared this season, though, they are still just a missed kick from being 9-1 and shoot, they were in the game at Bethel a heck of a lot longer than I would have thought. I went right picking St. John’s in this spot last week and now I’m giving the other side of that rivalry the business as well, I suppose.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Millsaps. The unbeaten Majors are at home against 6-2 Centre, a team that has had wild swings of effectiveness this season. When the Colonels are on, they can put up numbers; they average 462 yards of offense a game, including 190 on the ground. RB Harry Meisner will have quite a task in upstaging Millsaps RB Mike Barthelmy. An upset, however, would set off a race between the Colonels team bus or flight back to Kentucky, and all the thank-you letters coming in from Framingham, Mass., Dover, Del. and other hometowns of teams on the Pool B fringe.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Moravian.
In case you missed Around the Mid-Atlantic this week, Moravian has sloughed off a 12-game slide and now has won two in a row, with Juniata (also the subject of an ATMA column earlier this season) on tap. A win here for the Greyhounds could breathe new life and momentum into their Week 11 rivalry game at Muhlenberg.
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. That’s if they can deal with the 10-hour bus ride to Greenville, that is. This is a winner-take-all game for the UMAC and while it would be further off most people’s radar to take Greenville, I like the Saints here.
Keith’s take: Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs, on the heels of their win over Lousiana College, are a lock for a Pool B playoff spot if they finish the season with wins over Hardin-Simmons and Howard Payne. Saturday’s game against the Cowboys is a lock for 900 yards and 90 points between the teams. QB Brent Peavy going against the HSU defense (235th-best in scoring, allowing 45.5 points/game) could mean those are distributed 60-30, and 600 yards to 300. But I’ll have it on my radar in case it gets in 47-43, 470-yards to 430 territory. The Cowboys average 445 yards and 39 points themselves, but could be demoralized after a 63-7 loss to No. 3 UMHB was followed by a loss to previously winless Sul Ross State.

Which team will clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Gallaudet.
The 8-0 team has already beaten the second- and third-best teams in the ECFC. For a school that dropped its team to club in the ’90s and slowly returned it to collegiate form, history will be made when the Bison clinch Saturday afternoon.
Pat’s take: Franklin. Such are the days of the Grizzlies’ lives. It’s only because Rose-Hulman hasn’t lost any other conference games since losing to Franklin. The Grizzlies are an immovable force, at least within the HCAC.
Keith’s take: UW-Whitewater. Too bad Ryan mentions St. Lawrence-Hobart below, I wanted to make reference to the ‘bart stars here. I’ll go with the sixth-ranked Warhawks, who will be able to pound the rock against a game UW-Stevens Point team that has already faced No. 4 North Central, No. 8 UW-Oshkosh and No. 11 UW-Platteville, which it only lost to by one point. The UW-W title was no forgone conclusion as the season kicked off, but as it stands, the WIAC title might not be the last it wins.

Which regionally ranked team will see its fortunes change?
Ryan’s take: St. Lawrence, No. 10 in the East.
Only because the Saints will be getting bounced out of the regional rankings after this week’s game against Hobart. A close game won’t help them. A loss, and they’re gone.
Pat’s take: Washington U., No. 8 in the South. The Bears have been banged up at running back and have been just squeaking by. Nearly losing to Macalester makes it difficult for me to like their chances vs. Case.
Keith’s take: Hope, No. 10 in the North. There’s more than regional rankings to worry about in Holland, Mich., but Flying Dutchmen can gain a lot of ground during their Week 10 bye. For starters, MIAA leader Albion (4-0, 6-2) travels to Adrian (3-2, 6-3), and a not-that-unlikely-upset won’t change the status of the Week 11 Hope-Albion clash — but it could soften the Britons up before the Flying Dutchmen get their crack. Also, in the North, regionally ranked teams face off in the NCAC, OAC and CCIW, so a slide up the NCAA’s rankings by next Wednesday is possible as well.

This one’s for the birds.
Ryan’s take: The Hawks of Huntingdon.
The Hawks finish out their season with two of their toughest conference matchups — Methodist and Maryville. Win out, and Huntingdon will be in the playoffs in just its first year in the USA South. But I’m not sure Huntingdon can pull it off. A win this weekend is a sound bet; a win in Week 11 isn’t something I’d put my money on.
Pat’s take: The Blue Jays of Johns Hopkins. That’s where they’ll be clinching the Centennial Conference automatic bid to the playoffs for the fourth time in five season.
Keith’s take: The Cardinals of Wesleyan. Amherst-Williams is known as the littlest big game in America, but it’s not even the biggest in the NESCAC this week. The Cardinals, a one-win team as recently as 2008, aim to finish off their first 8-0 season since 1969. Wesleyan is already Little Three champs, having beaten Amherst and Williams, but their rival a half-hour down I-91 (or the Connecticut River, for those inclined) is the thing that stands in the way of perfection. And to make it better, Trinity has been the NESCAC power for a decade. It hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2001, but after a 5-0 start lost close ones to Middlebury and Amherst. The game is in Hartford, and Wesleyan allows 239 yards a game, with nobody scoring more than 14 on them this season. The chance is there to cap perfection by smothering a geographic rival and conference powerhouse on its own field.