Triple Take, Week 2: Welcoming the fashionably late

As noted in this space last week, 195 of the 247 Division III teams kicked off in Week 1. Among those who did not were quite a few prominent teams, including third-ranked Linfield and 22nd-ranked Chapman, who open up against one another this week, plus No. 1 UW-Whitewater, No. 5 Wesley and No. 13 North Central.

Of the 195 seasons that got underway, 97 started with a loss, which makes Week 2 a chance to wipe away the disappointment of Week 1. There are some top-25 clashes, intriguing non-conference matchups and more, and we’ll get you prepared for it all.

With so many games each week, Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I boil it down, independently providing our seven-point primers for games to focus on, where to watch for upsets, and other assorted predictions. Then in Monday’s podcast, we run back where we were right and where we were way off. If you’d like to play along, leave your picks in the comments below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 22 Chapman at No. 3 Linfield. It’s a toss up between this and Wartburg-Bethel. And the last game of the weekend, Pacific Lutheran at Cal Lutheran, is an equally intriguing NWC-SCIAC clash. But there’s just so much at stake when the Panthers visit the Wildcats. D-III’s West Coast and Deep South “island” teams are pretty much guaranteed to match up with one another in the first round of the playoffs, unless an odd number of them make the field of 32. (This map is out of date, but will help you visualize how concentrated D-III schools are). So Chapman and Linfield, even if one goes undefeated and the other ends up with only Saturday’s loss, are basically playing for the chance to host in the first round of the playoffs. In their opener. Which is absurd, but reality. Last season, Chapman hosted and led in the second half of a 21-14 loss to Linfield, won every other game and in Round 1 road game, lost to the emotionally charged Wildcats, 55-24.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 22 Chapman at No. 3 Linfield. It’s opening day for both of these teams. Linfield lost a lot from last year, but the Wildcats are a team that perennially reloads rather than rebuilds. With All-American Alex Hoff on the defensive line and dual-threat quarterback Sam Riddle driving the offense, McMinnville will be a hard place to win. Chapman graduated its quarterback but is replacing him with a player who is already 3-0 as a starter — dating from a stint in the middle of 2012. The Panthers, like Linfield, lost a lot, but they don’t likely have the same depth to overcome such a hit.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wartburg at No. 19 Bethel. They’re probably expecting me to take this game anyway, and since it’s practically in my backyard, that’s even better for me. But neither team looked invincible in Week 1. Wartburg needed a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter to beat Augsburg, a team which is further down the MIAC ladder than Bethel is (last year’s Week 11 result notwithstanding), while Bethel showed some weaknesses on defense at UW-Stout that, if nothing else, last year’s Wartburg team would just destroy them for. Bethel had three buses of students at Stout so you know they’ll show up at home. Should be interesting.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Ursinus at Gettysburg. At first glance, this seems like a team always knocking on the door at the top of the Centennial against one usually in the middle of the pack. After Week 1, when the Bullets put up 678 yards and 49 points on Bridgewater (a team it lost to last season), and Ursinus couldn’t score until overtime, this becomes a more intriguing matchup. The Bears beat D-II Millersville in the opener, though, and handled Gettysburg, 31-14, last season. I see it more like a one-score game this time around.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at Whittier. Should we Fear the Poet, as Whittier hopes? The SCIAC doesn’t always match up well against the NWC, but Whittier is returning most of its defense and has a lot of players competing for the right to start in key positions on offense.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Susquehanna at No. 11 Johns Hopkins. Sure, I’ll bite on the possibility that Susquehanna, which defeated Lycoming last week, has a shot to make this a good game vs. the Blue Jays, who have won 39 of their past 40 Centennial Conference games. If nothing else, just impressed with Tom Perkovich’s debut as Crusaders head coach and hoping to get more info on Susquehanna.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Muhlenberg. No. 18 Texas Lutheran has a tough challenge, but the Mules are most vulnerable, against Franklin and Marshall, which returned 17 starters and put up 501 yards and 42 points in Week 1 (while allowing 540 and 37 to Lebanon Valley). The Mules had no such problems, allowing fast-paced Wilkes to convert just 6 of 26 third and fourth downs in their 35-7 Week 1 win, but I’ve got to pick someone. The rest of the top 25 looks liable to cruise to victory, or is in a situation where a loss would hardly be an upset, so I guess I’ve earned a spot on Muhlenberg’s bulletin board/dartboard.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Muhlenberg. The Mules dropped this one at Franklin and Marshall in 2013, and the question is whether lightning will strike twice in that span. Both teams had good Week 1 wins, so this will be an exciting matchup to take in.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 18 Texas Lutheran vs. Hardin-Simmons. I actually feel pretty similarly to last week, where I expect a lot of chalk in the Top 25, but Hardin-Simmons intrigues me. (Although I got an e-mail this summer asking me, “how Hardin-Simmons continues to get mention in preseason polls despite the fact they haven’t finished in the top two in the ASC in so many years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008?”) Bottom line on that is that we still think the ASC is capable of having more than one or two good teams. One thing in TLU’s favor is that HSU will have to go from playing a bottom-25 team to playing a top-25 team in consecutive weeks and that’s not an easy transition. Nor is stopping Marquis Barrolle.

Which team that did not play in Week 1 turns in the most impressive Week 2 win?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 North Central. The sense of urgency should be there for the Cardinals, who open up this week against 1-0 Trine and play No. 25 UW-Platteville and No. 5 Wesley the next two weeks. Trine, under new head coach Troy Abbs, was a 38-14 winner in Week 1, rushing for 403 yards against Manchester. It will be Jeff Thorne’s first game as NCC head coach, and although he has a ranked team and 16 starters back to work with, holding the Thunder under 100 rushing yards in a win would be impressive.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Ohio Northern. Any time you can take down an Empire 8 team that finished 7-3 last season, it’s a quality win. The Polar Bears play Utica, and this will give us a good barometer for what heights ONU might be able to ultimately reach in the conference standings.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 3 Linfield. Cats roll. They’re on an even playing field since No. 22 Chapman didn’t play last week either. No big fancy analysis for me here — I just think Linfield is helmet and shoulder pads above Chapman, if not perhaps the best team in all of D-III football.

Which non-conference clash will have the biggest ripple effect?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 18 Texas Lutheran. In 2013, the Bulldogs’ only loss was a Week 10 73-44 shocker at Hardin-Simmons. TLU returned to the site of that beating in Week 2 of last year and won, 37-14. Finally, they get the Cowboys in Seguin. After a Week 1 win in which they were tied with Sul Ross State at 27 to start the fourth, the Bulldogs have every reason to be amped. HSU hung 77 on Southwestern in Week 1, but if they can’t hang a loss on TLU (which plays Louisiana College and No. 4 UMHB, among others, before finishing with their three SCAC opponents), it could have wide-ranging effects. ASC and SCAC are both angling for the one Pool B bid guaranteed to non-automatic bid conferences, so anyone else in Pool B is going to want to see those teams beat up on one another.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Trine at No. 13 North Central. In Kickoff 2015, I pegged Trine to surge this year, and cutting their teeth this early in the season against a power like North Central will be telling. And these two teams aren’t annual foes, so there could be surprises on both sides of the ball.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Albion at Augustana. Here we have two teams who had impressive Week 1 performances. Albion put up 65 points in a win vs. UW-Stevens Point and reminds us that the Britons are one of the big dogs in the MIAA despite all the buzz about everything Olivet has returning. Augustana rolled out its new offense after taking more than a decade to painfully back away from the Wing-T that helped define the program during its heyday and beat a Mount St. Joseph team that would like to think it can win the HCAC this season. I’ll be interested to see how these two end up after Saturday.

Which matchup of in-state opponents intrigues you most, and who wins?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley at Wilkes. There are lots of better games that are mentioned elsewhere or are a state border away from fitting here (Cortland State-Framingham State; Lycoming-Stevenson; Rose-Hulman-Illinois College). I’m intrigued by this one following Del Val’s 27-24 season-opening win against Montclair State. Duke Greco led the Aggies to a win despite just two starters back on offense and nine overall, and I’m interested to see more of the new Del Val. Meantime, Wilkes can get a lot of plays off (they ran a record 113 against the Aggies last year), but it hasn’t translated into many points. I’ll pick Del Val.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Berry. We’re only in Week 2, and already a state title is about to be decided. What’s not to like? While Berry is on the road upward as its fledgling team gets older and gains more experience, I’ll give the nod to LaGrange in this matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Cornell at Coe. It’s hard to tell just from last week’s blowout at the hands of Wheaton exactly how good or bad Coe is in 2015. But one thing we do know, in addition to the 52-14 loss, is that Coe started camp with just 85 players, which is a low number for them. (I know, Cornell started with even fewer, but that’s their status quo.) Cornell last beat Coe in 1999, and that’s a long time to lose to your rival. Readers of Kickoff got Coe’s take on this rivalry game. It will be interesting to see if these teams, which were 79 spots apart in our preseason ranking, are any closer than that.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Christopher Newport. Facing what seems like a weaker-than-usual Hampden-Sydney team might not tell us much about what the Captains will look like against NJAC competition, but I’ll be watching anyway. CNU dominated the first half of a 31-21 Week 1 win at TCNJ, while H-SC played a top-10 team in Wabash. I’ll also be watching the Secretaries’ Cup and Coe-Cornell for rivalry purposes, as well as Albion-Augustana and Rose-Hulman vs. Illinois College. Those last two combined for 142 points in last year’s clash, reminding us that epic D-III games can come from anywhere, and was the subject of a Kickoff ’15 prediction question about how many they’ll combine for this time. I’ve got 67.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Cal Lutheran. In reading Kickoff 2015, there was something about Cal Lutheran that intrigued me, something that made me feel they’ll improve significantly over last season. Maybe it’s just that their young team is older and wiser, or that there isn’t a clear front-runner in the SCIAC, or that their first opponent (Pacific Lutheran) is going through a rebuilding year. If the Kingsmen can end the day Saturday (which will be Sunday on the East Coast) with a win, be prepared to see a team making noise once again.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Coast Guard at Merchant Marine. Not sure I need to say much more — this is a great rivalry between two of our maritime academies and I’m looking forward to a couple of years from now when these teams are both in the NEWMAC and this rivalry game can be pushed back to Week 11 where it belongs. A decade ago, when Coast Guard abandoned ship on the Liberty League and set sail for the smoother waters of the NEFC, this game was sandwiched into non-conference play, which hurts the exposure of this great matchup.

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: Getting to their goals

Williams' Sam Krieg
When Williams and Trinity (Conn.) meet, usually the game has NESCAC title implications, even though it’s always the second game of their season.
Williams athletics photo

Some weeks, our perceptions are shaken; other times, they’re only slightly stirred.

This year, we’ve seen Top 10 teams fall, and many others earn just the narrowest of wins. But that’s not an indictment on the higher-polled team. Rather, it’s a testament to the underdogs’ “leave it all on the field” mentality — that which pushes them forward even when the odds are stacked against them. Isn’t that the heart of competition? Isn’t that the reason the players play and fans cheer on Saturdays? Isn’t that why we love football?

And the best part is that any team, from any conference, can bounce back the following week. Some teams play with the goal of the postseason, but many others play for pride or simply to do better than the year before. Ask undefeateds Ohio Wesleyan and Salve Regina and Whitworth if this was the kind of season they realistically saw ahead of them. Conversely, ask McDaniel, DePauw and St. Vincent if they expected to still be on the hunt for win No. 1 at this point in the year.

There is still lots of time left on the field for teams to reach their goals. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps will walk you through their own unique views of the weekend at hand.

— Ryan Tipps

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: Carnegie Mellon at No. 17 Wabash.
The Little Giants experienced a fall from grace last week after a surprising loss against Allegheny. Can Wabash rebound in front of its home crowd? Carnegie, which sits undefeated, will provide a much tougher matchup than the Gators were for Wabash, which should give Wabash pause. CMU quarterback Rob Kalkstein leads the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown for more than 1,000 yards in just four games. The Little Giant secondary will have to be on its toes, and the defense will need to showcase its ability to force turnovers.
Pat’s take: No. 4 UW-Whitewater at No. 13 UW-Platteville. At least it better be, since it’s nearly a five-hour drive each way for me. The Warhawks’ struggles on offense were somewhat put behind them last week in a 34-7 win against UW-Stevens Point, putting together three long scoring drives though Lee Brekke was just 12-for-30 passing. Now, UW-Platteville, on the other hand, has averaged more than 53 points against overmatched competition, including a 49-19 win against UW-Eau Claire. If John Kelly can have anywhere near the kind of success against UW-Whitewater as he did against Eau Claire, the Whitewater I saw the first two weeks is going to have a hard time keeping up. The Warhawks may need to make some significant changes on offense.
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn). at Williams. There’s nothing on the line here but Saturday night pride, and perhaps a shot at the NESCAC title in November. And that’s what makes it so appealing — that and a couple of very good defenses. With no playoffs and little top 25 recognition because they don’t accept bids and start so long after everyone else (it’s NESCAC Week 2), there are but a few opportunities for the spotlight games that bring out the best. The Bantams allowed 120 yards in Week 1, making theirs the nation’s No. 1 defense. The Ephs weren’t far behind, with 149 yards and a No. 3 national ranking. It’s not uncommon for NESCAC teams to rank that high, espscially after one game — Amherst is fifth — but it could make points hard to come by. Williams QB Adam Marske was 22 of 27 for 277 yards in a 41-7 win over Colby. Trinity got 146 yards from RB Evan Bunker in the opener. These two teams, plus Amherst, are your main title contenders here, and someone is going to get eliminated on Saturday. Honorable mention, Elmhurst at No. 11 North Central (see below) and No. 2 UMHB at Sul Ross State.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Spingfield at Union.
Averaging nearly 375 yards a game on the ground, Springfield has rightly earned respect for its ground game. But 1-3 Union has been able to limit its opposition to less than half that per outing, and the Dutchmen’s opposition has been more consistently challenging than that of the Pride, which carries a 3-1 record into its second week of conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel at Augsburg. If you didn’t hear me on the Around the Nation podcast this past week, Augsburg quarterback Ayrton Scott intrigues me. He’s a speedy and shifty runner — my only question is whether that’s going to be enough against Bethel, which will feature a much better defense than Hamline did last week. First-year starting quarterback Erik Peterson has completed 74 percent of his passes and throws for an average of 225 yards per game, but Buena Vista and Carleton haven’t provided much competition either.
Keith’s take: Juniata at Johns Hopkins. I’m going way out on a limb in this one, but the Eagles deserve a little notice.  They’re predictably 1-3, aren’t outstanding at any one thing and have the recent history that would make Blue Jays players take them lightly. But Juniata lost by just a touchdown to Dickinson and Franklin & Marshall, and led Gettysburg early in a 28-7 loss. With the right combination of Johns Hopkins apathy and continued improved play by the Eagles, including sophomore QB Ward Udinski,who had 371 yards of total offense against Dickinson, this could be a close game into the second half.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Baldwin Wallace.
I’ve been high on the Yellow Jackets since the beginning of last year, thinking they’ve been on the cusp of some really great things. A low-scoring overtime win against Muskingum last week, though, has my faith in BW rattled. Opponent Otterbein has yet to earn a blemish this season, but the Cardinals are saddled with a litany of ifs and buts. The Yellow Jackets need to find their momentum soon if they want to be playing deep into November.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Illinois Wesleyan. Going out on a limb here because I don’t think Millikin is actually quite ready to do so this year. I might come back to this in 2013 when it makes more sense, but this is my super upset special for the week.
Keith’s take: No. 11 North Central. I might as well hop all the way on the Elmhurst bandwagon. With the nation’s No. 2 rusher (Scottie Williams, 193 yards per game), No. 2 turnover margin (plus nine) and No. 3 scoring defense (Loras and Chicago were shut out, Trine scored 13), there’s a lot to like. But the Cardinals are at home, and have played a power schedule in the first few weeks. They’ll be ready for Elmhurst. The question is whether the Bluejays redefine the CCIW narrative, or stick to the script.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Widener
. I can’t help but think to a game earlier this year, where Wartburg thumped an opponent 73-0. The following week, the Knights failed to score even once against a tougher competition. Coming off a 90-0 win, Widener reminds me of that. The Pride won’t be able to steamroll Lebanon Valley (3-1) the way they have their previous opponents, but a win should help validate Widener’s ranking.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley. Sorry, Ryan, I’m going in the opposite direction. A win would definitely validate Widener’s ranking, though, that’s true. Lebanon Valley will be a much tougher opponent than anyone Widener has faced (Widener’s first four opponents are currently 2-12). Lebanon Valley has pulled itself out of the doldrums it was in a decade ago and is now a contender for the conference crown. A win here would secure that.
Keith’s tak: Rhodes. The Lynx have more than just one of D-III’s coolest mascot names. They’ve got wins over Wash. U. and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and a very respectable 16-2 loss to nationally ranked Birmingham-Southern. Their next three games are on the road, but Macalester and Austin could be easy wins nonetheless. This week at Trinity (Texas), a team coming off consecutive humbling weeks, is the one time before late October we get to see if Rhodes is for real, or just had a fortunate first few games.

Which undefeated team is going to pick up its first loss?
Ryan’s take: Millikin.
It’s very possible that the CCIW, which currently has three undefeated teams, will have just one left after the weekend is over. Millikin lines up against Illinois Wesleyan, neither of which have a blemish on their 2012 record. But I like the Titans for this because I like what they bring to the table defensively: seventh in the nation in total defense, allowing just 65 and 135 yards from rushing and passing, respectively. Illinois Wesleyan should be riding high going into the second half of its season, and that moment starts with Millikin.
Pat’s take: Millsaps. I like what Millsaps has done so far this season, don’t get me wrong. But I think the top of this five-team SAA is going to be pretty competitive and all three will take a loss at some point, perhaps two.
Keith’s take: Ithaca. The Bombers put their 229-yard a game defense against Utica’s 459-yard-per-game attack. Andrew Benkwitt is completing six passes per game to Jeremy Meier, and more than three each to Paul Smith, Matt Dunn and Jamie Murphy. As good as the Bombers have been statistically, not many teams have the personnel the Pioneers land.

Team most likely to salvage a bad season.
Ryan’s take: LaGrange.
An 0-3 start is not what the Panthers were hoping for, but the USA South slate should be much more favorable than the nonconference opposition, which has combined to go 10-1 this year. Don’t count LaGrange out for a .500 season just yet, and this week against N.C. Wesleyan will be a good tell as to where they could end up.
Pat’s take: DePauw. And there is a lot of salvaging to do for this reeling program. But scoring 28 against Carnegie Mellon is a nice start, and Wash U, which travels to Greencastle, Ind., doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of the Tartans.
Keith’s take: Redlands. As a playoff team last season, the Bulldogs didn’t expect an 0-2 start. But what’s done is done. The SCIAC slate opens against an Occidental program that’s fallen on hard times, with the 233rd-ranked turnover margin and just 12 points scored. Time for QB Will King, who didn’t start in the opener, to impress.

Which predator is ready to feast on the opposition?
Ryan’s take: The Panthers of Chapman.
Chapman will be squaring off against Whittier, and both carry a 1-1 record into the matchup. On the surface, they pair quite well: Both have had high scoring wins against Puget Sound, both had narrow losses to Whitworth and both have pretty impressive statistical rankings because of these games. But Chapman brings a run game that is going to grind the ball and be too much for the Poets to contain.
Pat’s take: The Pirates of Whitworth. I was taught in my high school bio class that humans were the top predator on the planet. Who’s with me? Whitworth has gone 4-0 so far without facing a program really capable of putting up a challenge, and unfortunately, I don’t think Pacific is there either.
Keith’s take: The Lobos of Sul Ross State. They might not beat the No. 2 team in the country, but you can bet A.J. Springer’s gang is going to sling it around, making UMHB’s defense work for its stops. Springer is fifth nationally in passing efficiency and has already thrown 14 touchdown passes

Triple Take: Driving the season home

Washington and LeePlayoff roads are being paved across the country as we enter Week 10.

We’ve seen the landscape change over the past two months. There have been break-downs and wrong turns by many along the way, but others have found the route to be direct and relatively free of bumps.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps present their latest gridiron map to help you navigate your way through Saturday.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 North Central at No. 15 Wheaton.
There’s barely anything that needs to be said about the magnitude of this matchup. Not only have both teams spent most of the season in our Top 25, they are currently in the first and second spots on the NCAA regional rankings. That means the winner could nab a top seed come playoff time. And what’s not to love about two teams that average 426 and 415 offensive yards per game in one of the country’s toughest conferences.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Wabash at No. 9 Wittenberg. The regional rankings make it fairly clear this is a playoff elimination game, as neither is in line for an at-large bid. Wittenberg’s Ben Zoeller leads Division III in passing efficiency, while Tyler Burke has made just two starts after the Little Giants lost Chase Belton. Burke threw two picks against Oberlin after coming off the bench but has gone 36-for-63 in his two starts. This game doesn’t have the luster I’d hoped for when I booked my flight a few months ago but the NCAC title is still on the line. (If it wins, Wittenberg would still have to beat Wooster next week to stay out of a three-way tie scenario.)
Keith’s take: No. 13 Wartburg at No. 17 Central. Here, and in No. 19 Hampden-Sydney at Washington & Lee, are third leg of the triangle games. And ones we’ve been waiting on for weeks. While the Tigers need to win to force a showdown with Randolph-Macon next week, in the IIAC, Coe has already beaten Central (37-28 in Week 4) and Wartburg has beaten Coe (31-21 in Week 7). Both the Knights, who can win the IIAC outright, and the Dutch, who can force a three-way tie, rush for more than 200 yards per game and have held four oppoents under 10 points. Rushing and defense as the formula for a November win in Iowa makes sense, but something has to give when the Central (75 rush yards allowed per game) and Wartburg (108) rushing defenses face the opponents’ ground attack.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Redlands at Whittier.
The 6-1 Bulldogs won’t get off easy against the 2-5 Poets. This could get interesting because, statistically, the teams cancel each other out on several fronts, most notably with Redlands’ passing attack and Whittier’s run game. That could mean that the team with the most dynamic plays or that commits the fewest turnovers (something that works against Whittier) will be the team that can walk away the victor.
Pat’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at UW-Oshkosh. UW-Oshkosh struggled a little bit on the road at UW-Eau Claire last week but the team with the toughest schedule, at least anecdotally, in Division III, won’t be intimidated by a home game against the top-ranked team in the country. The Titans represented themselves well against No. 2 Mount Union back in Week 2. The difference: UW-Whitewater will be tougher on defense and knows what its run game is all about, where the Purple Raiders didn’t have that figured out in their opener. Still, I expect a game that’s less than four touchdowns.
Keith’s take: Louisana College at McMurry. This matchup of the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 passing offenses might be surprisingly close for those who’ve followed from afar. Since the Wildcats started 1-3 and McMurry has put up big numbers against the ASC’s big-name opponents, the latter has garnered most of the publicity. But since LC has won four in a row, both teams are 5-3, pass for more than 380 yards per game and more than 13 yards per completion. LC’s Ben McLaughlin leads the nation in total offense, as does the team, because they also rush for 140 yards per game. McMurry’s Jake Mullin, he of the two seven-TD games, has passed 330 times with just two interceptions. With 53 (LC) and 45 (McM) touchdowns on the season, if this one is close, at 45-44, that would seem about right. Surprisingly close would be 14-13 or 24-21.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 2 Mount Union.
Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t bet much more than a nickel on this happening. But Baldwin-Wallace has been a team that has surprised a lot of folks this year since its lackluster debut against Wooster. And B-W can probably be seen as one of the two or three teams this season with a chance at knocking off The Machine in the regular season. We saw against Marietta that while Mount still earns our utmost respect, this year’s team is young — and it has weaknesses and inconsistencies. In B-W’s stronger years, they’re often able to play Mount close. I’m interested about what can happen in a year when the Yellow Jackets are up and the Purple Raiders are (relatively speaking) down.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Hampden-Sydney. I don’t think I’m surprising anyone in suggesting that Washington and Lee could well win this game on Saturday. While W&L could well have snuck up on Randolph-Macon, they haven’t snuck up on anyone since. And with a playoff bid on the line, one would have to expect (hope?) that more than 780 show up in Lexington this time around. The challenge for Hamdpen-Sydney will be getting the ball back. W&L held the ball for more than 40 minutes last week at Catholic (although the Generals haven’t dominated time of possession nearly as much in any other game this season).
Keith’s take: No. 10 Thomas More. No. 5 North Central, No. 9 Wittenberg and No. 13 Wartburg could all lose, but it’d be tough to classify those as upsets. If Waynesburg, even at 6-2, pulled the stunner against the Saints, it would definitely be one. Thomas More leads the PAC in nearly every statistical category and gave up 45 points — total — in five October games. If Yellow Jackets quarterback Brad Dawson, the PAC passing leaader, is outstanding and the rest of the team realizes what’s at stake — a Week 10 win against Thomas More and one in Week 11 against Washington & Jefferson would make Waynesburg a playoff team — it could happen. It’s unlikely, but some years, once November arrives, surprises are sprinkled across the national playoff picture.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Kean.
The Cougars have not fared well against the trio of NJAC powers, but they’ve had a lot of success plowing through the middle of the conference pack. This week they take on 4-4 New Jersey before hitting the road and becoming Wesley’s last obstacle to a likely No. 1 seed. It’s also easy to get excited to see Jason Gwaltney in his final two regular season games. The running back may not be at West Virginia anymore, but he is still the kind of player who makes an impact on the field. This year, he’s averaging 161 yards a game — which, by the way, puts him third-best in the country in that regard.
Pat’s take: Hanover. Look for the Panthers to continue Mount St. Joseph’s season of struggles and set up a Victory Bell showdown with Franklin in Week 11 that is for a little more than pride and a trophy, namely, the HCAC title.
Keith’s take: Case Western Reserve. Before last week’s 24-20 loss at Chicago, folks were considering the Spartans a lock for a Pool B playoff spot. Now they might not even win the UAA. Back at home against Wash. U., CWRU is on display. If the team has enough heart, and plays well, we’ll see a bounce back. The Bears are 6-2 and riding a five-game win streak that includes a victory against No. 25 Wabash.

A team that will clinch a share of the conference title on Saturday.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Trine.
The way Trine has been, erm, thundering through its conference slate, I don’t see anything short of another MIAA title coming to fruition. This week, Kalamazoo will be on the receiving end of a team that has averaged 45 points a game this season. Kzoo’s record isn’t where they’d probably like it to be, but they do have a solid passing attack that could make a dent against Trine. However, the Hornets’ strength on offense is also the Thunders’ strength on defense. That should be a good test for Trine ahead of Albion and a likely playoff run around the corner.
Pat’s take: No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor. The hardest part about playing Sul Ross State is getting to Alpine, Texas. UMHB should be on our Pool A list by about 4:45 ET on Saturday. But not back on campus before midnight.
Keith’s take: St. Norbert. The also-rans of the Midwest Conference had a prime opportunity to crack the dominant hold the Green Knights and the Monmouth Scots have had on the top spot for most of the past decade, as each team lost early, and lost again in October. But despite a three-point Week 2 defeat at Beloit and a one-point setback in Week 6 against Illinois College, St. Norbert is atop the MWC again, because everyone else has at least three conference losses. And with the Green Knights playing their season straight through with no bye, a home win against Lake Forest on Saturday will wrap up a conference title and a West Region playoff game at somewhere other than St. Thomas, which played in DePere in Week 1. Not bad for going 7-3; two years ago, that was good enough for third place behind Monmouth and Ripon.

Which season turnaround has been the most interesting?
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee.
The Generals started the season 1-2, a record that seemed to indicate that W&L was on track to match the 4-6 seasons of 2008 and ’09. What has emerged is a season that’s a lot more special than those. A win against Hampden-Sydney would send W&L, which is rooted in an ODAC-record-setting ground attack, back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly half a decade. A loss, though, doesn’t count them out yet either because H-SC still has to play one-loss Randolph-Macon, which W&L beat earlier in the year. With how good both the Tigers and Generals are, there’s nothing certain about the results come Saturday. And the fact that both are in such enviable positions of being in control of their playoff destinies is exciting to watch unfold.
Pat’s take: Muhlenberg. After a 3-7 season last fall, and Johns Hopkins, F&M, Ursinus and Susquehanna entering the season with reason to be seen as Centennial Conference contenders, the Mules weren’t given much thought. Although they gave up a lot of points (by Muhlenberg standards) early in the season, the defense has been more locked in of late and should give Ursinus plenty to think about on Saturday.
Keith’s take: St. Lawrence. Either way you qualify turnaround — from a rough start to this season, or reversing a program’s poor history — the Saints fit. Under former Ithaca defensive coordinator Mark Raymond, St. Lawrence lost its first three games of the season, but has since won four of five — the same number of games it won the past two full seasons — to take control of the Liberty League race and put itself in position for a playoff spot.

What team not in the playoff hunt has a lot to gain?
Ryan’s take: Susquehanna.
Any way you cut it, the Crusaders will have had the steepest dropoff, record-wise, of any 2009 playoff team. Their new conference, the Centennial, has not been kind to them. They went 1-8 on that front and haven’t had a win since the second week of September. We talk a lot about moral victories. Toppling former league-mate WPI on Saturday would certainly fit that bill.
Pat’s take: Wilkes. Following last week’s big home win against Lycoming, the Colonels have a chance to finish the season 7-3 by winning out and earn a trip to an ECAC bowl game, which would have to be pretty satisfying after a 1-2 start.
Keith’s take: Pacific. The Northwest Conference had not been kind to the Boxers, in their first season of the program’s revival after a two-decade absence. In a three-week stretch of October, Pacific lost by 48, 62 and 52 points. The past two games, a 24-12 defeat against Whitworth and a 42-31 loss to Puget Sound, aren’t wins, and got closer late in the fourth quarter, but they weren’t 50-point losses either. At 0-7, the Boxers aren’t going to be the champions of anything, but finishing strong, against top 25 Pacific Lutheran Saturday and Menlo next week, will get the ball rolling toward a crucial offseason of program-building.