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ATN Podcast: Let the speculation begin

Lots of good showdowns this weekend to talk about, and we hit on a bunch, but that’s just the beginning.  What we’re really here to do is talk about the playoffs! Where do we know more about automatic bids? Which at-large teams have a good shot as it stands right now? Who might get the No. 1 seeds? There’s still three weeks left but it’s time to get in the swing of things. Plus, which are the teams on the rise? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile device. 
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
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Triple Take, Week 5: October is here, and so are conference rumbles

Believe it or not, the first month of the season has gone by. And as the calendar flips from September to October, the Dubuque at Pacific and Wesley at North Central matchups turn to the more familar: Central at Wartburg, Washington & Jefferson at Thomas More and the like.

Of course, as the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, NACC, NWC, ODAC, SCIAC, USAC and the WIAC get conference play underway, there are some unfamiliar matchups as well. In the ASC, which along with the MWC has had just one league game played, Belhaven at Mary Hardin-Baylor is a conference clash. Rowan at Christopher Newport is now an NJAC game.

The four-team SCAC aside, league games in Division III’s 28 conferences will be underway as of this week. It’s not normal to follow that many conferences, so our abormal prognosticators — Around the Nation columnist Ryan Tipps, editor and publisher Pat Coleman and I — provide our seven-point primers in hopes of making sense of it all. Add your picks in the comment section below.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 13 Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. The WIAC clash could earn top bill here, but that has more of a defined favorite, and less on the line, since UW-Platteville has already scored a big non-conference win. The PAC teams might have more at stake; Thomas More missed the playoffs at 9-1 in 2013. It then upgraded the schedule by adding Wesley, lost, and missed the field at 8-2 last season. Both years included big losses to W&J (45-21 and 51-28). This season, if the Saints still can’t stop the Presidents, they at least look like a better bet to keep pace. You might know TMC from their All-American running back the past few years, but QB Jensen Gephardt is the nation’s third most-efficient passer. Look for his throws to Goose Cohorn, and either team’s defense generating turnovers as the difference in the game.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 13 Washington and Jefferson at No. 12 Thomas More. The Saints, which average almost 60 points a game, have the second-best scoring offense in the nation. But W&J isn’t far behind on the list with 43 points a game. This will be a game that has the potential to see some wild offense come alive, and it would be of little surprise for it to be a back-and-forth slugfest. TMC holds the edge going into this one with more muscle and more balance on both sides of the ball. Yet all it takes is a well-timed turnover to shift the momentum of a matchup.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: What they said. But also No. 14 UW-Platteville at No. 1 UW-Whitewater. Just to get in some info on another game here. Last week’s game couldn’t have come at a better time for Whitewater. The adjustment in terms of speed of game and quality of opponent for Whitewater last week was pretty necessary to prepare the Warhawks for the conference schedule. It took a while for the passing game to come around, but if Whitewater comes out ready to fire on Saturday, they should be in good shape. On the other hand, Platteville has to come out with a lot of confidence after the success it had in the non-conference schedule, and the Pioneers have had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 Ithaca at Utica. While the Bombers have the ranking and the name recognition, the Pioneers are still under the radar. (See what I did there? Bombers. Radar. Eh?) The case for Utica is that they’re 2-2, but with seven-point losses at Ohio Northern and at Cortland State surrounding an impressive win against Morrisville State. The Pioneers are back at home, and while Ithaca’s scores might lead one to believe they’re a little more offensively inclined than usual, Utica can keep pace, and Ithaca is still top 10 in passing efficiency defense and top 20 in rushing defense. Plus, it’s the Empire 8, so anything can happen.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 18 Hardin-Simmons at Trinity. I’m high on Trinity’s potential this year, but the reality of it is that the Tigers haven’t been tested much. Trinity’s opponents are 1-10 this season, and the margins haven’t been what we’d expect to see from a team that can compete with the top of the ASC. What could keep Trinity in this one, though, is the defense — with pick-master Jai Boatman in the secondary, Luke Packard coming off D3football.com Team of the Week honors and linebacker Julian Turner averaging 14 tackles a game. Confidence should be high that they can at least slow this HSU squad.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Any game in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. The potential of torrential rain makes this weekend interesting on the field. (And please, everyone, be safe off of it.) Rainy weather will favor the teams which run the ball well and play good defense, and if you need a real-world reminder, just review the UW-Whitewater/Morningside game. Option teams will have less of an advantage because of the way they pitch the ball around. Keep an eye out for results that look odd on paper. Paper is hard to read when it gets wet.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 18 Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys sneaked into the top 25, largely because of their Week 2 win at Texas Lutheran. But we don’t really know how good they are. Weston Garner, Jessie Ramos and company have another chance to prove it Saturday at Trinity (Texas), which is surprisingly 4-0. As Pat remarked on the podcast, this takes us back to the early 2000s when these two teams were national powers.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. If only because the top of the MIAC is so good that teams are vulnerable week after week. Opponent Concordia-Moorhead’s only blemish is to St. John’s, while Bethel has a loss only to Wartburg. No matter who comes away with the victory here, it’ll be the team’s first upper-tier win of the season.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 11 John Carroll. Not to keep sounding this horn week after week. I’ll just leave the team name here and hope that I don’t need to say anything else.

Pick a team that will win a shootout

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 23 Guilford, at Washington & Lee. The nation’s No. 4 passing offense (the Quakers average 384.7 yards a game) and No. 3 total offense (639.3) meet the No. 1 rushing offense (509.7) and No. 10 total offense (562.3). Those numbers should come down a bit as the ODAC rivals face tougher competition in one another, but they do what they do. Guilford QB Matt Pawlowski will complete passes to Adam Smith, Daniel Woodruff and Rontavious Miller, and W&L counterpart Charlie Nelson will hand off to Duncan Maxwell or one of three other ballcarriers or keep it himself as the Generals whiz past in every direction. Whichever team can muster enough defense to slow the other probably pulls this one out.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mass-Dartmouth, at Framingham State. The MASCAC hasn’t been known for defense this fall, and shootouts seem to be commonplace. That will be no less likely when the conference’s only 3-1 teams meet. The Corsairs average more than 500 yards a game, while the Rams are just behind that with 472. The Rams’ weakness, though, is that their offense is one-dimensional — lots of passing, little run. The Corsairs will be more likely to make Framingham’s defense work for the win by spicing up the offensive approach and keeping the Rams guessing.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: No. 17 UW-Oshkosh at UW-Stout. Stout has proven the ability to put points on the board this season against good teams (see Bethel, Wartburg) and UW-Oshkosh will score as well. As long as Stout’s offense remains healthy, it’ll be able to put up points against a good number of teams. Last year, that group was so debilitated that you can’t judge the Blue Devils based on those results.

Pick a team that will win a defensive battle

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 15 Rowan, at Christopher Newport. Pat and I had the same idea, except what I would put in this category he used under surprisingly close (although I don’t know what’s surprising about unpredictably close games in hurricane weather). In the interest of singling one team out, the Profs are already strong defensively — they’ve allowed just 20 points in three games, two on the road and two against teams that won eight or more games last season. Rowan is on the road again, in Newport News, which might not get the brunt of the hurricane, but will be sloppy by the time the game kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday, if it stays on schedule. Look for Darren Dungee, Josh Popper and Anthony Rizzolo to add to their defensive stats in a low-scoring affair.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: RPI, vs. Merchant Marine. Both teams are coming off shaky games and will be looking to re-establish themselves on the field. Not only are both of these teams’ strengths in their defensive units, but their offenses leave a little to be desired. RPI should pull this one out, but it would be no surprise to see a finish in the vicinity of 17-13.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Pacific, vs. Pacific Lutheran. PLU has only played twice in the first four weeks of the season, while Pacific has an extra game under its belt. I’m looking for this game to qualify as a low-scoring one. What qualifies as low-scoring in college football these days?

Which team will win a challenging conference opener?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater. If we’re being totally honest, the Warhawks are ranked No. 1 because of what they’ve accomplished under Lance Leipold. However, new coach Kevin Bullis is off to a 3-0 start, including an impressive win over then-NAIA No. 1 Morningside. Now we’ve got a WIAC opponent, and a tough one at that. But if we’re being totally honest, the Pioneers are fortunate to be undefeated, as North Central had them on the ropes and just didn’t deliver the knockout blow. So it’s a bit of a prove-it game for both, and since Bullis (a longtime WIAC assistant) and his charges are no stranger to what they’ll be facing, and the Warhawks get to play at The Perk, one has to assume they’ll do what they do. But in a wise bit of scheduling, Mike Emendorfer’s team has had two weeks to prepare for UW-Whitewater.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Finlandia, vs. Maranatha Baptist. I know I’m stretching the definition of “conference” since the independents aren’t technically one. Regardless, the upstart from the Upper Peninsula has been throttled week after week — opponents have put up 272 points; the Lions have scored just nine. Finlandia did notch  its first touchdown of the season last week, so that’s a perk. Going into this week, the team can expect to see something totally different than what it’s dealt with in recent weeks — a team not from the WIAC. In fact, if Finlandia has a winnable game on its schedule, it’s this one against Maranatha Baptist. The Sabercats haven’t been through the meat grinder against the kind of competition Finlandia has faced, so if Finlandia is healthy, they should be prepared for this one. But, I also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that every game in a startup’s season is going to be challenging.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Adrian, at Olivet. One of the key games of the MIAA season is this one, right out of the gate. There’s not much in the way of common opponents to judge these teams on, so I’ll be taking the team that has played the stronger schedule so far, even if that’s picking against the team that has the home-field advantage.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Widener. So I’m still not sure what to make of the Pride, but at 2-2 and 2-1 in the MAC, they have to have this game at Wilkes, which aside from its 12-7 upset of Delaware Valley has lost every game. What’s surprising is Widener is second in the nation in passing yards allowed, seventh in getting off the field on third downs and top 2o in total defense. It is also even in turnover margin, so either the stats are lying or Widener is a breakout team lying in wait. Which means now against the Colonels and next week against Misericordia are the times to show it, because 4-0 Stevenson follows them.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Centre. The Colonels had won 14 straight regular-season games, and there were high hopes for another sweep through the SAA. Chicago ruined that streak with a 49-30 outing last weekend. But the test of a good team is how well it bounces back after defeat. Centre’s opponent, Hendrix, is 2-1 to start the season, and both teams have quarterbacks who excel — expect a lot of offense. I’ll be on site in Danville, Ky., on Saturday to personally see how this one plays out.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Hendrix. I’m actually going to take the opposite side of this game from my colleague. Hendrix is on the upswing here and will go as far as quarterback Seth Peters can carry them. What the program lacks so far, though, is an ability to win on the road. They can put that struggle behind them in a memorable way on Saturday. But if they don’t, it will still be one more step on the road to growing a program.

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.

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Around the Nation: Big games and close calls

We might question whether some teams are as good as we think, and some Top 25 voters might be asking the same questions. Other teams are right where everyone thought they would be. And in some places, there’s new excitement and new life for football. We look at those teams, plus, which are the teams on the rise? What key highlights happened below the radar? Pat and Keith answer those questions, plus hand out their game balls, on this week’s Around the Nation Podcast.

The Around the Nation Podcast is a weekly conversation between Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan covering the wide range of Division III football. It drops on Monday morning weekly throughout the season.

Hit play, or subscribe to get this podcast on your mobile device. 
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