Triple Take: Conjuring up the past

Heidelberg sack
The rare event this week is a battle of 25’s, as Heidelberg takes on Otterbein.
Heidelberg athletics photo

The saying is that history repeats itself. And we ask ourselves whether certain teams are doomed to stare down another upset.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps dive into the past to bring you analysis of the present. We cast a wide net to predict the fall of a Top 25 team, detail the game of the week and pore over some of the unusual nicknames in D-III.

Don’t hesitate to offer your comments below.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Otterbein at No. 25 Heidelberg.
Nope, that’s not a typo. If you’ve looked at our Top 25 this week, you’ll see these two OAC teams are tied for the 25th spot. They are both undefeated, and with the second-place OAC team often having an inside track to a Pool C playoff bid, this game holds worlds of value — and intrigue.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at No. 4 St. Thomas. This has been a good game in recent seasons already, with two teams who love to line up and smash-mouth it straight at each other. Ironically, both teams are led by talented sophomore quarterbacks, and Bethel, especially, has opened it up on offense a little more this season. The past three meetings have been decided by 19 points combined, with St. Thomas winning both of the regular season meetings. It’s likely to be another battle.
Keith’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville at No. 14 UW-Oshkosh. Wow, I pick third, and I still get two no-brainers to choose from. Much to the dismay of two of the most active Twitter followings in No. 2 UMHB and No. 21 Louisiana College, I went to Wisconsin with this one. In WIAC history, the spotlight rarely has shone on Oshkosh and Platteville — You’d have to go back to 1976 to find the last time UW-Oshkosh tied atop the conference, and 1972 to find their last outright title, an undefeated 8-0 WIAC season. For UW-Platteville, go back to 1980 for the tie, 1974 for the outright. Worse yet — before tying for second last season, the teams only had one season each in the past 30 years finishing higher than fourth in the WIAC, each finishing third once (Oshkosh in 2007, UW-P in 1990). In 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2008, the Titans and Pioneers were at the bottom of the standings. So that should put in perspective how big a game it is, with UW-P (4-1, 1-1) just a failed two-point conversion against defending national champion UW-Whitewater from being undefeated, and UW-O 5-0. A Platteville win could make the WIAC three-way tie territory, but either way, UW-Oshkosh at UW-Whitewater the following week is huge. Titans QB Nate Wara has got the name recognition, now let’s see if he delivers in a big game.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Concordia-Chicago at Concordia (Wis.).
The Illinois one will pound the rock over and over and over. It’s the only way they’ll find success. The Wisconsin one, on the other hand, should be able to air out the ball, especially against a Cougars team that at 5-0 has nonetheless been prone to giving up some big yards. And both teams like to put up points: The Cougars average more than 38 on the scoreboard, while the 3-2 Falcons emerged from a week of hanging 55 on their opponent.
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Whitewater at UW-Stout. I look at a combination of a few factors that will keep this game unexpectedly close. In addition to UW-Whitewater’s struggles on offense, they’re also traveling on the day of the game. That four-hour bus ride, mandated by the WIAC office, might leave them a little slow to start. The question will be whether Stout can put enough points on the board to make it close or if it will be like the Stevens Point/Whitewater game.
Keith’s take: Pacific at Pacific Lutheran. If you just remember the Boxers as the expansion team and the Lutes as the program with the championship pedigree, it might be time to take a closer look at the NWC. Pacific is 2-3, with a three-point loss to Whitworth (5-1) among the defeats. The Lutes’ 2-2 record might be deceiving, since all four of the teams they’ve played are solid (three were in the postseason last year, three are 4-1 or better this season). Kyle Warner is averaging 116 receiving yards per game and Kellen Westering 97, so the Lutes’ air attack will probably be too much for the Boxers, but expect Pacific to show some bite.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 St. John Fisher.
At what point can we excuse an Alfred team’s opening day loss to RPI? Is it after the Saxons beat the team that toppled UW-Whitewater? Check. Is it after they beat an undefeated conference opponent? Check. Is it after they hold an opponent to just 4 rushing yards? Check. Fisher is coming off a punishing game against Salisbury, and Alfred’s hot streak coupled with SJF’s bruises make the Cardinals a target again this week.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. So many ranked teams are playing each other this week that I feel forced to take a higher-ranked team playing on the road in a game that the rankings suggest is a toss-up. And I like what Bryce Corrigan did last week against UW-La Crosse after getting a full week of reps as the No. 1 starter at quarterback. But UW-Oshkosh is in a position where it can just run it right at Platteville. If you have not seen dual-threat quarterback Nate Wara for Oshkosh, do yourself a favor and watch the live video on Saturday. Defenses are hard pressed to bottle him up.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Birmingham Southern. Eight top 25 teams are playing each other, so toss those out. Two are picked above. The pickins’ are downright slim, and Trinity (Texas) is the only team I can see really pulling a stunner. The Tigers won last season when B-SC was a conference mate, but now that the Panthers have gone and split off, another win could be satisfying. To do it, Trinity QB Nyk McKissic has to keep making good decisions; with 11 TD passes and just one interception, he’s done it so far. Trinity’s D also rebounded with a decent game against Rhodes after allowing 111 points in consecutive weeks, against Sul Ross State and  I’m sure I’ll get some silly irate tweet from Alabama saying how wrong this upset pick is, but keep in mind the Panthers have never beaten Trinity. Maybe it’s B-SC who would be pulling the upset, should our rankings hold.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee.
This is about the time of year when we can accurately take stock of what’s happening in the ODAC. The conference is as balanced as they come, and it’s often difficult to stick by early-season predictions. But after starting the season with a loss, W&L is looking like the playoff-caliber team of the past two seasons. Their points have increased with each game (28, 34, 42, 45), but unfortunately for them, so have their opponents’ points. Three of the last five games are probably the toughest on the schedule, starting with this weekend against Randolph-Macon, the only other ODAC team that hasn’t lost a conference game yet. These two teams, plus Bridgewater and Hampden-Sydney, will make for a jumbled race at the top.
Pat’s take: Waynesburg. This has to happen eventually, right? The lack of churn at the bottom of the Top 25 has made it difficult for teams such as Coe, Concordia-Moorhead or Waynesburg to get their due in the Top 25, but I think Waynesburg deserves one of those 20-25 spots. After consecutive 5-5 seasons, Bethany is struggling out of the gate, at 1-4.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson, Concordia-Moorhead and Allegheny. Hey, I’ve got a big radar. The Presidents host Westminster (Pa.), playing their first home game since RB Tim McNerney was killed. The Cobbers shouldn’t have much trouble with Hamline, but I’m curious if they’ll be sluggish after last week’s ending, or sharp. The Cobbers are guaranteed to see two of their MIAC competitors lose, when Bethel and St. Thomas, and Augsburg and St. Olaf play. And Allegheny, following the upset of Wabash, beat Oberlin 15-3 and lost a non-conference game to Chicago, 10-0. I thought this year’s Gators might be a great defensive team keeping scores low, but with the 219th-ranked offense in the nation, that would not seem to be the case. The Gators haven’t exactly seized the opening, but with home games against DePauw and Wittenberg in back to back weeks, the AQ and NCAC title is still there for the taking.

Which upset of the past will have a different outcome this week?
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at No. 3 Linfield.
When you go four straight seasons undefeated in conference play, with a national championship sprinkled in, expectations are always high. But at some point, the bubble does burst. That happened in 2006 for Linfield, when a Whitworth team that amassed just 85 yards of total offense — but also forced five fumbles — went on to topple the 15th-ranked home team 17-13. Fast-forward to 2012, and Linfield is earning win after hard-fought win. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and the Pirates are following an aching loss to Willamette. This game may be as close as the ’06 matchup, but Linfield will keep its 20-game NWC win streak alive.
Pat’s take: No. 15 Wabash at Washington U. In 2010, Wabash came in unbeaten ranked No. 19, and Wash U came in 2-2, with its wins against Knox and Westminster (Mo.). Nonetheless, Wash U. came away the 24-20 victor. For history to repeat itself, Wabash would have to have significant breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and I don’t see that happening. Wash U has been held to 17 points or fewer by every team not named Kenyon this season in starting off 1-4.
Keith’s take: Trine at Adrian. The Thunder had won 18 MIAA games in a row, won in the playoffs, given UW-Whitewater a challenge and developed a Gagliardi Trophy winner. Then Trine lost, 26-7, at Adrian in last year’s MIAA, and nationally, we kind of stopped paying attention. Trine (4-2) and the Bulldogs (4-1) face off again Saturday, and the stats say Adrian (No. 7 defense in the country) is the favorite this time around. Before you get confused, let’s review: The upset of the past was Adrian over Trine. So this time around, Trine gets some payback. The Thunder hasn’t been a great offense overall, but quarterback Ryan Hargraves has been heating up over the past three games, and Myron Puryear, who had a touchdown on defense last week, is a threat in the return game.

Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Red of Wittenberg.
Timed at any other point in the season, and we’re looking at a Chicago team that would be competitive with Wittenberg. But following Witt’s loss at home to Wabash, the Tigers have to know that they need to be perfect from here on out to have any shot at the postseason. Witt will be on a mission and more than ready to put these pesky one-score margins behind them.
Pat’s take: Blueboys, of Illinois College. They’ll get right back on the winning side this week after a loss to Lake Forest in Week 6. Beloit, the Blueboys’ opponent, has been a surprise winless team this season. Not that we expected huge things out of the Buccaneers, considering we ranked them No. 192 in the preseason, but even that was ahead of Lawrence, Cornell and Knox, each of whom have beaten Beloit head-to-head this season.
Keith’s take: Green of … Nope, sorry. Red of Muhlenberg. Hey I looked for some Green Knights I could get excited about, to keep it balanced. I even considered the all-green Plymouth State-Endicott game. But I’d rather give you one extra upset pick, just outside the top 25, and a test of whether it’s important to have the human element in game insight. The computer ratings love Gettysburg. I like the Bullets, but see three of their wins (over start-up Misericordia, hapless Juniata and 0-5 McDaniel) as no great shakes. You’re supposed to beat those teams, and they did, so there’s that. But Muhlenberg brings a lot more defense to the table than most of the Bullets’ opponents so far. The Mules are coming off a loss to Susquehanna, which Gettysburg beat, which makes this pick slightly illogical. But, hey, at least there’s not much riding on it. Just a potential showdown of CC unbeatens next week, oh, and the future of man vs. computer. No pressure, Mules.

An unusual nickname you like.
Ryan’s take: Moravian Greyhounds.
Moravian has been a Centennial seesaw team the past few seasons, with records of 8-3, followed by 2-8, then 7-4, and back to 2-8. This season, they’ve already tied last year’s win total, and there is clear potential yet to notch two or three more wins in the books. And that means doing what it can to keep forcing turnovers and pressuring quarterbacks. As of late, Susquehanna has been finding its groove on both sides of the ball, which means Moravian will need to channel the quickness of its namesake in order to come away with a victory. (Want more of the unusual? Check out Moravian’s ambidextrous rugby-style punter in Around the Mid-Atlantic.)
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire Blugolds. But do you need me to say something about the game as well? I’m confused. They host UW-La Crosse this week in sore need of a win. In fact, both teams need a win badly, as La Crosse hasn’t lived up to the credit some gave it in the WIAC after it knocked off North Central in Week 1.
Keith’s take: Los Lobos, of Sul Ross State. Mostly I just wanted to name-check the ‘La Bamba’ band. But also we have what could be an epic shootout on deck. Sul Ross State is fourth in the country in total and scoring offense, with 545 yards and almost 49 points a game. Texas Lutheran is 50th in the nation, with a mere (!) 416 and 30. But here’s the real eye-opener. The Lobos are 233rd in D-III in pass defense, and the Bulldogs are 226th. Buckle up.

Around the Nation Podcast: A crushing finish

Players on the field
In this photo, you can see the Concordia-Moorhead defender just about to control the fumble, with players already well out onto the field.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes.

It’s destined to go down as one of the great finishes in Division III football history, and while it doesn’t have a catchy nickname like the Mississippi Miracle or the Miracle in the Mud, the way Concordia-Moorhead’s loss to Bethel went down is going to be talked about for a long time.

If you have not watched this game yet, watch Bethel’s archive now. If you just want to skip ahead to the final couple of plays start at the 2:24:00 mark.

Pat and Keith talk about that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. It was a sad weekend on both the campuses of Washington and Jefferson and Bates, where young men who played football each died last week. There were also two other games between Top 25 teams and a game that is normally good for the North Coast Athletic Conference title. But will Wabash and Wittenberg do so this year? Pat and Keith point out that it’s not so clear.

We also get a first-person look at Widener, talk about midwest and east coast conference races and much more.

You can subscribe to the Around the Nation Podcast in iTunes. You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast

Postgame shows

Here’s this week’s D3football.com reports and highlight packages, including Bethel-Concordia highlights.

And this week’s photo galleries from our friends at d3photography.com:

Triple Take: Battles of midway

Willamette
Josh Dean leads Willamette, which has gone from the Fly to being the top passing team in Division III.
Willamette athletics photo

Can you believe we’ve already reached the midpoint of the regular season?

We’re entering Week 6 in the 11-game season. Most teams already have their bye week behind them, which means lots and lots of football will be played down the stretch.

At the moment, 29 teams that play nonconference games are still undefeated, and amazingly, the same number of teams are currently winless.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you some nuggets of insight to chew on in this week’s Triple Take. And if you’ve got something to say, don’t hesitate to voice your comments below.

– Tipps

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Salisbury at No. 9 St. John Fisher.
This is the kind of matchup I anticipated most when Salisbury joined the Empire 8 last season. Though the Gulls won the conference, Fisher got an at-large bid to the 2011 postseason – both went on to overcome two opponents and make it to regional finals. As usual, SU has one of the best rushing attacks in the country (whether dynamic quarterback Dan Griffin will be back in the lineup after Saturday’s injury is unclear). They will be tested against Fisher’s defense and sacking capabilities. Both teams are Top 10. I like the Gulls for the win, but I also expect this one to be tight.
Pat’s take: Washington and Jefferson at Thomas More. I can’t imagine what the four and a half hour bus ride from W&J to suburban Cincinnati will be like for a team that has to be reeling emotionally after the loss of its senior captain and running back. But on the field, I am sure the memory of Tim McNerney will be an inspiration to the Presidents. Conventional wisdom might expect W&J to come out flat but in my opinion they will be anything but.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Birmingham-Southern at No. 6 Wesley. There’s at least as much on the line in No. 8 Cal Lutheran at Redlands and No. 16 Wabash at Wittenberg, but with only one Pool B bid guaranteed, the round robin between B-SC, Wesley and Huntingdon looms large. The Wolverines play both Alabama teams this month, and the Panthers have already scored a 45-38 win over the Hawks that wasn’t as close as the final would have you believe. If the Wolverines keep winning, they’ll earn the Pool B bid. But with a loss to No. 2 UMHB in the books, another would be pushing it. B-SC is rushing for 250 yards per game, scoring 42 points per and has the nation’s third-best pass efficiency defense. The Wolverines are unlike any team B-SC has faced so far, talent-wise. If Wesley’s defensive line can control the line of scrimmage, B-SC is going to struggle.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Louisiana College at East Texas Baptist.
ETBU comes in as the underdog, no question about that. But both have experience against some good teams, and the Tigers have the benefit of practicing against a strong passing game, an element that will translate well when they host the No. 21 ranked Wildcats.
Pat’s take: No. 16 Wabash at Wittenberg. Wittenberg has had a great deal of success at home in recent years, and the Tigers haven’t lost a home game since Wabash came to town in 2008. That’s the one thing which gives me pause about this game. It’s also one of those games where the AFCA poll and our poll disagree. Our poll suggests Wabash should win at Wittenberg. While the AFCA poll does rank Wabash higher, it’s only by one spot and I wouldn’t think that’s enough to overcome home-field advantage. On a neutral field, I’d take Wabash for sure. At Wittenberg, however, I think it will be close.
Keith’s take: Northwestern (Minn.) at St. Scholastica. The surprising part is only if you’re far from UMAC country but are familiar with the Saints from last season’s playoff bracket. The Eagles won nine games in 2008 and one in 2010, and are back in the mix for a conference title, at 4-1, with only a loss to St. John’s. Since allowing 28 in a season-opening loss to Whitworth, St. Scholastica has given up 26 points total in four wins. So it’s the UMAC’s best defense, any way you slice it, against the conference’s best scoring offense and most efficient passing attack, led by QB Josh Balzer. One of these teams will likely end up in the playoffs.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 North Central.
Yes, I know one of my colleagues picked on North Central last week, too, but when you play in a conference as good as the CCIW, every week will be treacherous. A 3-1 opponent like Millikin that played Illinois Wesleyan to the bone will be no exception.
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel. Yes, I know I picked Bethel to play surprisingly close last week, but that came through, actually. This is the middle of three big games for Bethel, as the Royals host Concordia-Moorhead this week, which is receiving votes in the D3football.com Top 25, then travel to St. Thomas next week. Concordia-Moorhead doesn’t have the dynamic playmaker that Augsburg has on offense, but is undefeated and also coming off a bye week.
Keith’s take: No. 9 St. John Fisher. I wasted a bunch of time looking at the numbers on Concordia-Moorhead and Bethel before I noticed that Pat took that game. With so many top 25 teams playing their best opponents of the season, I could pick games that are technically upsets but not surprises. And that’s what I ended up doing. Having seen it before, the Cardinals will defend the Salisbury option better — the Sea Gulls might not hit their average of 319 yards per game. Yet Fisher has let inferior opponents hang close, so there’s a good chance Salisbury runs away with it (pun acknowledged, but not intended). With practically the whole top 25 playing tough opponents, there just weren’t any limbs I felt comfortable going out on. So you get a not-shock as the pick.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Gallaudet.
With a rushing offense that averages 230 yards a game, and solid division of special teams players, has anyone else noticed that the Bison are creeping their way through a one-loss season, with that lone loss coming against undefeated Otterbein? Sure Mount Ida and Norwich and a couple of other ECFC teams could upend Gallaudet, but the team is on its way to a remarkable season after only a couple of years into restarting its varsity program. The checklist for the next three weeks involves Husson, Norwich and Becker.
Pat’s take: Willamette. The Bearcats are 4-0, with two wins against the American Southwest Conference, one against the Southern Athletic Association and one against fellow NWC member Pacific. No offense to Pacific, but this will be the first serious NWC challenge the new-look Bearcats have faced this season. And while Whitworth is 5-0 itself, the Pirates haven’t played anyone on the level of either Hardin-Simmons or East Texas Baptist. The top passing team might be slowed, but not enough to stop the unbeaten run.
Keith’s take: Millsaps. Off to their best start since the Mike DuBose years, the Majors have a major challenge in a visit from No. 24 Huntingdon. The Hawks are averaging 452 yards and 43 points a game, slightly more than Millsaps’ 442.5 and 41. So basically first team to play defense, or get a few turnovers, wins. The radar-worthy interest is so that I can figure out whether to start taking the Majors seriously as a playoff threat again. And if so, what an awful year for the SAA to give up its automatic bid.

Which team will continue to defy preseason expectations?
Ryan’s take: Albion.
Albion is a 3-1 team with a win (albeit a close one) over Wheaton. They’re on my ballot for the Top 25 poll, but clearly many people are still skeptical of how good this Britons squad is. It’s hard to think they can be this good the year after Chris Greenwood graduated and went to the NFL. Well, Albion lining up against Trine this weekend should help do some convincing by coming away with a win.
Pat’s take: Rowan. The Profs have definitely outplayed the expectations, with their only loss coming to Merrimack, a Division II program that is 2-2 against fellow D-II schools in a not-so-great conference. Montclair State has definitely underplayed even the modest preseason expectations for a team that lost a large senior class.
Keith’s take: Redlands. By this I mean I don’t think a playoff team last season expects to be 1-3 after the first week of October, but the Bulldogs are staring at the very real possibility of this, at home against No. 8 Cal Lutheran. Redlands is 213th nationally in passing yardage allowed, at 258 yards per game, and the Kingsmen are passing for 295.

Which team is going to soar?
Ryan’s take: The Owls, of Westfield State.
After a 1-4 start to the season, there doesn’t appear to be a lot working in favor of Westfield State. Rusher Kevin Parnell, who does good work on special teams, too, is the team’s bright spot. But this week, their NEFC Bogan pride is on the line as they go up against winless Maine Maritime. Both teams are riding a four-game skid, and someone’s got to break it. Despite the losses, the Owls, compared with the Mariners, have simply been playing better, more competitive games as of late.
Pat’s take: The Bombers, of Ithaca. It will be interesting as Ithaca’s schedule gets a little harder here. For a team that has had such upheaval at the quarterback position, the offensive numbers are impressive, but the defense will have its hands full dealing with an Alfred team that dropped 40 on Buffalo State two weeks ago.
Keith’s take: The Eagles, of UW-La Crosse. Turnover generation has been key for UW-La Crosse, which is hosting UW-Platteville, which was without its top two QBs in much of last week’s game. In other words, backup QBs vs. a team that has forced six more turnovers than it has allowed, against good competition, is a recipe for trouble. It’s also the first home game for the Eagles after four on the road in their 2-2 start.

Which team needs a win for morale purposes?
Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney.
For the past several years, the Tigers have rightfully seen themselves as strong contenders for the ODAC title. But last week, Catholic had other things in mind. The conference, though, isn’t too far removed from the 2008 season, when four teams shared the conference title with 4-2 ODAC records. All is certainly not lost for H-SC, and a win this weekend against undefeated Bridgewater will again put the team back on its intended track. But this will be one. tough. fight.
Pat’s take: St. John’s. But whether the Johnnies will get it, with a trip to Augsburg on the docket, is another matter.
Keith’s take: Knox. I was going to go with Wilkes here, after losing by 90 to Widener, but the Colonels already bounced back and won, 37-27, against FDU-Florham. Wilkes plays first-year Misericordia, while Knox, which had a quarterback pass for 736 yards in Week 1 and hasn’t won since, gets a visit from 0-5 Beloit. The Buccaneers are averaging less than 10 points per game, good for 233rd in the nation in scoring offense, giving Knox a rare advantage. They average more than 22, factoring in the 55 they scored in the Week 1 loss to Eureka. And, making my answer four times as long as Pat’s, St. Vincent (0-4) could use a morale-boosting win when it gets a visit from Thiel (1-4.)