post

Triple Take: Let’s get this 2015 thing started

It’s been a long time since we last saw a Division III game that counted. The Stagg Bowl was way back on Dec. 19, a mere 258 days ago. It’s been a longer wait for the 240-odd teams whose seasons ended before Salem, and still longer for McMurry, which returns to D-III after leaving following the 2011 season. Belhaven comes over from NAIA, and has never played a D-III game; Neither has Finlandia, which plays its program’s first game Saturday against Alma.

There are six Thursday night games, 12 on Friday and 92 on Saturday. Subtract the seven non-D-III opponents, and 195 of the record 247 teams that will play D-III football this season are in action on opening weekend.

Enjoy it. Whether you’re playing, watching or involved in game day some other way, it’s a three-hour break from everything else in the world. It’s a chance to see old friends and make new ones, to watch some players dig deep and pull out something from inside that they didn’t even know they had. It’s a chance to watch student-athletes who won’t forgo the first part of that deal.

I played tackle football for 13 consecutive seasons, between Pop Warner in Somerville, Mass., high school in Runnemede, N.J. and at Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va. In that picture below, which was taken in one of my first seasons writing for D3football.com, I’m 23. Which reminds me that I’ve now not been playing football for more consecutive autumns than I played. All of which is to say, this weekend, if you’re a player, coach, parent or fan, take it all in and savor it. It goes by quickly. Teams only get eight to ten game days a season, unless they play really well and advance through the playoffs. But as those accustomed to playing 15 weeks would tell you, greatness happens one game at a time (a UW-Whitewater standard) and starts with respecting your opponent (something I’ve heard more than once at Mount Union).

Respect the game. Enjoy it. Savor it. Finally, it’s back.

— Keith McMillan

Triple Take is our weekly predictions column. Typically it appears on Friday morning, but with games kicking off on Thursday night, we’re presenting it a few hours early.

Game of the week

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 19 St. John Fisher at No. 23 Thomas More. You can’t really go wrong with a clash of ranked teams to kick things off. There’s lots to see here; The Saints (that’s Thomas More, not the school with ‘Saint’ in its name) opened with Wesley last year and stood up to the national power in a 35-21 loss. This game will be a challenge as well, and maybe one the Saints can pull off on the way to a PAC title. But TMC will have to do it without graduated All-American running back Domonique Hayden. SJFC is among the best in an expanded Empire 8, and the Cardinals will have a rough game nearly every week. They can’t afford to start 0-1.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 10 Wabash at Hampden-Sydney. As a Wabash grad, I’m coming out of the Triple Take gate playing the homer card. Wabash will probably be a better team than it was in 2014; Sydney is projected to be down a little. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of this matchup. As I talked about last year in my preseason Around the Nation column, the meeting between them is historic, as Wabash and H-SC are the only two D-III schools that abide by an all-male classroom atmosphere. And this is the first home-and-home series between them on the gridiron. I had talked with coaches and administrators at the schools as far back as 2008 about something like this taking place, and I’m excited that their enthusiasm translated into reality. Last year finished with a 34-21 Wabash win in Indiana. Kudos to both schools for putting a challenging nonconference game on their schedules. (Also, this is where I’ll be spending opening weekend.)
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Rowan at No. 12 Widener. There are a lot of good games this week, right out of the chute. I like this one, in part because it’s now Rowan’s only non-conference game, and I wouldn’t mind at all if these teams played every year. There’s reason to have at least a couple of questions about Widener this year, based on who graduated, but I’ll also be intrigued to see how Rowan’s retooled offense works out. Goodbye spread, hello power offense. Should be interesting. Rowan would like nothing more than to slip back across the Commodore Barry Bridge with a signature win.

Surprisingly close game

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: MIT at WPI. The Engineers … oh wait, they’re both Engineers. MIT had a magical undefeated season last year, but they pulled out multiple close wins, and that will be difficult to replicate, especially with five of the first six games on the road. I think they do it once more in this Week 1 Friday nighter, even though Zach Grasis and WPI will grind it out and make MIT earn it.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Augustana. I’m not ready yet to buy into this Lions team as being one of the better ones of recent years — we’ll see in a few weeks if they’re competing for the HCAC’s title. They lost a lot of starters and will have to break in a new (potentially young) quarterback. Last year, Mount St. Joseph showed no mercy against Augustana, being up 37-17 going into the fourth quarter before surging to a 58-25 win. Augustana has a new coach and is tailoring its offensive approach, giving them room to put more points on the board this time around.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Alma at Finlandia. I mean, Finlandia isn’t surprisingly close to anyone in a geographic sense. Alma is the closest in-state rival and the Scots will still need to take a seven-hour bus ride to get to Finlandia. (I’m closer and I live two states away.) I’m hoping for a good game in Finlandia’s first-ever football game. A win might be too much to ask for but Alma (six wins in four seasons) hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire of late.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No. 12 Widener, against Rowan. Considering Thomas More over St. John Fisher would be fudging, this is the only logical option. The Profs bring back their star on offense, might find a role for a former star from Lafayette, and will take a short trip over the bridge, possibly bringing along the support a home team would have. Rowan isn’t favored against a Widener team that was in last season’s final eight, but they have a shot.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Bethel. There’s not much jumping out in the inaugural week of college football as a safe — or even likely — bet for this category. Bethel graduated its conference MVP-winning quarterback, so if there’s ever going to be rust on the wheels that a team like UW-Stout could exploit, it’s going to be in Week 1.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: None. And considering this is the first week, and the first-week poll always has the most questions, that’s saying something. I’ve mentioned Widener above and there’s another team out there who tends to struggle with its Week 1 opponent but honestly, they always win when I pick against them so it’s time to stop trying. Chalk in Week 1.

Which team that finished strong in 2014 is going to have the biggest Week 1 letdown?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Curry. The Colonels won their final three after an 0-7 start, but it was slightly misleading, because two of the wins were against 1-9 Nichols and 3-6 Maine Maritime. To start 2015 off right, Curry must win under the lights on Friday night at Bridgewater State, which brings back seven on each side of the ball from a 5-5 team. The Colonels have about the same number of starters back, and the benefit of unfamiliarity; The schools, not far from one another in Massachusetts, south of Boston, did not play last season.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Rowan. The Profs ended the last regular season with three straight wins, a share of the NJAC conference title and a trip to the playoffs. But also like last year, they’ll kickoff another season going up against Widener. The thoroughly battle-tested Pride are shaping up to be just as formidable as they proved to be in 2014, and the Profs are going to have a tough go of it right from the start.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Morrisville State (vs. St. Lawrence). This is the week we’ll get to find out how much of the Mustangs’ 2014 surge was the Lemar Johnson show. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence has legitimate reasons to think it can contend for the playoffs, and not in a 5-5, manage-to-snag-the-automatic-bid way. SLU slipped early last season but isn’t likely to let that happen again.

Which lopsided matchup would you most like to be more competitive?

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: No.13 Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon. In Week 1 last year, my alma mater was a seven-win team with its star quarterback back, going up to face the perennially ranked Blue Jays. They lost, 42-3. The quarterback is now a member of the coaching staff. And Johns Hopkins is still ranked 13th. Do I need more than that?
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Greensboro. I’m certainly not begrudging Guilford for stepping up its game and showing on the field that it is ready and determined to make a playoff run this fall. But this crosstown rivalry represents something more than just a W or an L for the teams — it’s also charity event known as the Gate City Soup Bowl. People who come get their admission fee waived if they bring canned goods to donate. Success of the food drive means getting people to the stadium; getting them to the stadium means presenting them with an exciting game to watch. Guilford has owned most of the history of this series, capped with last year’s 52-0 victory. It would be fun to see these two teams grind out a close matchup in this 19th meeting, but I fear that may not come to pass.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Bethany at No. 2 Mount Union. I mean, just for variety’s sake. Let’s see the new Mount Union offense put through its paces for more than a couple of quarters. Not expecting anything outlandish, but wouldn’t it be nice to see the Machine need to disengage the cruise control?

Pick a color: Green or yellow

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: Yes. We’ll be watching to see if Illinois Wesleyan (green) is a CCIW challenger, in its opener against usually-the-class-of-the-HCAC Franklin (yellow). Since I’m supposed to choose, give me our preseason No. 59 IWU, with its eight returning starters on offense and nine on D, in a mild upset over No. 50. Kickoff projected the Titans to go 8-2 off a 4-6 2014.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Green, of Belhaven. Good riddance to the NAIA and welcome to Division III! And, of course, welcome back to D-III Coach Mumme. It’s likely the Blazers will begin their tenure here with a win.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Green. With St. Norbert, under a new coach again, its third in three years, hosting Carthage, which has fallen so far that they’re a unanimous pick to finish behind North Park, the CCIW’s doormat of the decades.

They’ll be on your radar

Keith McMillan
Keith’s take: McMurry. Both teams in the St. Lawrence-Morrisville State game intrigue me, but since Pat touched on that one above, and Ryan mentioned Belhaven, let’s go with the War Hawks. I’m curious about what kind of team they’ll field after recruiting scholarship athletes in Texas for a few years, only to lose some of them when they moved back to a non-scholarship model.
Ryan Tipps
Ryan’s take: Stevenson. The Mustangs made some noise en route to their best performance in the MAC ever. But can they sustain having improved their record so drastically? Moreover, can they really make the surge count and compete for a title spot (or at least a Pool C bid)? The opener against N.C. Wesleyan is winnable, but it’ll be more challenging this year to put up 40 points like in 2014.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Also green, and yellow (OK, really it’s gold). And those things I said about what Widener lost over the offseason go triple for Del Val, which lost an NFL prospect wide receiver, one of its best-ever quarterbacks, and basically starts over in terms of returning starters. But Montclair doesn’t have the type of offense that will let them run away and hide from people, so I expect the Aggies to hang in this game and keep it close longer than one might otherwise expect from them this season. Should be an interesting year in Doylestown, Pa.

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.

post

Around the Nation Podcast: A near-miss

Sean Hopkins and Leon Jones celebrate Hopkins' first-quarter fumble return for a touchdown. (Wesley athletics photo)

Sean Hopkins and Leon Jones celebrate Hopkins’ first-quarter fumble return for a touchdown. (Wesley athletics photo)

Wartburg got so close to giving many Division III football fans what they’ve been begging for: a chance to see someone else in the Stagg Bowl. But in the end, Whitewater did what Whitewater has done before — come up with a big fourth quarter to pull ahead and advance.

Pat and Keith hand out their game balls for Saturday, plus talk to people who were on-site covering all four of the quarterfinal games, to get more of a feel of what it was like and help you find out what you need to know about the wins by Linfield, Wesley, Mount Union and UW-Whitewater.

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

post

Triple Take: Down to the quarterfinals

Linfield's most recent cross-country run wasn't particularly successful. Will the Wildcats be more successful this time? (Photo by B. Scott Presley, d3photography.com)

Linfield’s most recent cross-country run wasn’t particularly successful. Will the Wildcats be more successful this time? (Photo by B. Scott Presley, d3photography.com)


We’ve reached the final eight, and there are nothing but standouts in the bunch. That makes it a thankless job trying to pick between the cream of the crop and the creamiest.
Yet even at this level, there’s Wartburg, John Carroll, Hobart and Widener trying to reach that semifinal level, hoping to earn a game next week with a chance to break through to UW-Whitewater and Mount Union’s level. Linfield and Wesley are frequently alive this deep into the postseason, so there should be no surprises in these picks and minimal hurt feelings.
Pat, Ryan and I each make our predictions — this week, with explanation — without knowledge of what the others are writing, and then share it with you to set the national expectation. Anything that goes against the picks you see below is probably history in the making, something that will be talked about on campus and beyond for years to come. Clear off some space on your smartphone, as you’ll want to take some video to remember this day.
It’s put up or shut up time. No player on any of these teams will graduate wondering what could have been if they’d only had a chance. This is the chance. Most of the other 236 Division III teams look on this Saturday in envy of the opportunity. The joy of the playoffs is history is written on the field this weekend. Will somebody break the mold, move up to a new level, write a new chapter in school history? We can’t wait to find out.

— Keith McMillan

John Carroll (11-1) at Mount Union (12-0), Noon ET

Keith’s take: It’s hard to imagine these two dominant defenses (Mount Union allows 204 yards/game, John Carroll 238) getting gashed, but it’s hard to imagine QBs Kevin Burke and Mark Myers being held down either. In the teams’ past two meetings, JCU fell behind big, rallied and threw a scare into the Purple Raiders. In Week 11, JCU did a lot of its damage when it buckled up and ran right at Mount Union. If it can duplicate those results without first falling behind three scores, this could be a game for the ages. Mount Union’s offense features a QB whose line barely lets him get touched, and is a threat to run even if you do get near him. They are also three RBs and five WRs deep. Nobody has that many DBs who can win in man coverage, so look for a soft umbrella and room for Mount Union to run and hit quick throws over the middle. I wouldn’t be stunned if JCU won, but the Purple Raiders haven’t missed a semifinal round since 1994, so predicting a Blue Streak win would be predicting shockwaves rippling through the D-III landscape. Mount Union 31, John Carroll 28.
Ryan’s take: We again get to see two of the best quarterbacks in D-III square off against each other. Both UMU’s Kevin Burke and JCU’s Mark Myers have more than 3,000 yards passing this season and have thrown for the same number of touchdowns, 38. Burke, however, holds a significant edge because of how dangerous he can be when he scrambles with the ball. While the last meeting between these two teams was very close and nearly got pushed into overtime, Mount Union’s ability to dominate has really shone through in the postseason. Shutting out Pete Coughlin and his Washington and Jefferson teammates is as convincing of a game as a team can have. John Carroll, on the other hand, failed to put up very many points against Wheaton and was a field goal away from getting knocked out of the tournament. Mount Union is doing what it always does in the playoffs, and we’ll see more of that on Saturday. Mount Union 28, John Carroll 17.
Pat’s take: Generally the Purple Raiders do better when playing an opponent for a second time in the same season. And if Mount Union needed some help figuring out how to slow John Carroll, they certainly got a blueprint from Wheaton last week. Mount Union has more weapons on offense than Wheaton does and John Carroll won’t shut down Kevin Burke’s running game as readily as it did to Johnny Peltz last weekend. Mount Union 42, John Carroll 20.
Hobart (12-0) at Wesley (11-1), Noon ET

Keith’s take: Even the guys who complain every week about the Statesmen, who have been ranked no lower than 12th since the preseason, getting “no respect” have to admit the jig is probably up here. This deep into the playoffs, everyone has talented skill-position players and games are won and lost on the lines. Hobart needs Tyre Coleman and Marcus Jamison to get pressure on D-III’s second-most efficient passer, Joe Callahan. The Statesmen also need Ali Marpet and his fellow O-linemen to pave the way for the Statesmen’s running game while keeping Peyton Rose and Aamir Petrose off Patrick Conlan. Even if Hobart matches the Wolverines up front, Wesley’s team speed is such that it would take a turnover- and penalty-filled outing for the visitors to pull the upset (or come as close as they did in 2011). Wesley 42, Hobart 24.
Ryan’s take: I haven’t picked Hobart to win yet in the postseason, and while the team has shown grit in getting through the first two weeks, it seems unlikely that they can get past the massive offensive and defensive performances that the Wolverines dish out. The national statistics spell out that Wesley dominance: fourth in total defense, 14th in total offense and first in turnover margin. I don’t know yet what my picks will be next week, but this is a Wesley team that has a legitimate shot at earning a seat in Salem. But not to get ahead of myself, this week is first and foremost on the agenda, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wesley gives the Statesmen defense far more than it can handle. Wesley 38, Hobart 14.
Pat’s take: The Wolverines will face their toughest playoff test and toughest D-III test of the season, perhaps. But Wesley has handled all of its D-III opponents with the ease of … whatever a wolverine does. Wesley might not score on its first six possessions of the game this weekend, but Hobart’s late heroics will come too late and too little as well. I would like to see Tyre Coleman take on that Wolverines offensive line with his eyes on getting to Joe Callahan. Wesley 41, Hobart 20.
Wartburg (12-0) at UW-Whitewater (12-0), Noon CT

Keith’s take: Nobody look up the history of Triple Take picks in this round. I’m such a sucker for believing that the upstart can crash through to old-guard blockade. And every year I’m wrong, to the point where I’ve learned my lesson. All that said, we’ve probably undersold nationally what a threat Wartburg is. They’ve beaten Bethel, St. Thomas and St. John’s and have a win over a WIAC team as well, so they’ve earned their No. 5 ranking. Whitewater has won four of the past five national championships and loses their coach to University of Buffalo at the end of this run. That can go either way — The Warhawks can play loose, knowing any loss will be blamed on the coaching staff’s early-week distraction. Or they can play uncharacteristically, trying to send their coaching staff out on a high note. It was my experience, though, that external factors vanish after a series or two. The high from the pregame speech wears off. You can’t really hear anything anyone in the crowd is yelling. You’re not thinking about anything abstract. You’re locked in on what’s happening between those white lines, and if the Warhawks find Wartburg to be a team that can’t be pushed around up front, Matt Behrendt can loft a pass up to 6-foot-5 Jake Kumerow and take his chances. The Knights have a dangerous offense of their own with QB Logan Schrader, RB Brandon Domeyer and WR Taylor Jacobsmeier. CB Brady Grayvold and LB Justin Dischler will have to have big games. What sets UW-Whitewater apart is being excellent at simple stuff: They run the ball, play rugged defense and have converted turnovers into 254 points this season while allowing opponents only three points off turnovers. UW-Whitewater 28, Wartburg 20.
Ryan’s take: With Jake Kumerow back, the Warhawks have too many offensive weapons for them to be slowed, let alone stopped, this weekend. The sort of Cinderella season that Wartburg has had will wrap up, but not before the Knights have a bucket-load of bragging rights over the MIAC. Wartburg put itself on the national map early this season, and it’s fitting that if that run had to end that it ends against none other but the defending national champions. Whitewater continues to play at another level, and that likely won’t stop until the team gets to Salem. UW-Whitewater 31, Wartburg 21.
Pat’s take: Distraction? Sure. I mean, the head coach and basically everyone’s coordinator announced this week that they were leaving. But that won’t be enough to knock Whitewater out of the tournament – yet. I don’t think Matt Behrendt is going to be thinking about Lance Leipold’s Monday announcement (or his Wednesday one) when he’s being pressured by the Wartburg defensive front. Jake Kumerow will be out there for him regardless. Where I think this comes down to is special teams, and the question as to whether anyone in Division III can cover Kumerow. UW-Whitewater 34, Wartburg 30.
Linfield (10-1) at Widener (12-0), Noon ET

Keith’s take: There’s a lot of unknown here, and that makes this matchup intriguing. With a tempo offense and an aggressive defense, the Pride are great fun to watch. Widener is at once the No. 1 run defense in the country and the only defense left in the playoffs outside the top 20. (They’re 40th, Wartburg is 17th and everyone else is in the top 12). On a dry day, that would probably mean Linfield tries and fails to establish the run, then lets Sam Riddle wing it all over Quick Stadium. With a 90 percent chance of rain in Chester on Saturday, I think both teams still try to run the ball to avoid having to throw so much, even though they do that well. After an early feeling-out process, it could go any which way. Ultimately, I believe the Wildcats are bigger, faster and stronger, and they’re playing with obvious inspiration that should wipe out any road weariness. (Linfield also made the cross-country trip on Thursday to negate the effect of kicking off at what would be 9 a.m. Saturday in Oregon). Fittingly, the Wildcats put up 35. Linfield 35, Widener 27.
Ryan’s take: The Wildcats played their toughest game of the bracket last weekend and emerged victorious. Linfield was able to make big plays against Mary Hardin-Baylor when needed and force four turnovers, including the game-sealing red-zone pick. By all accounts, though, the stats didn’t tell the full tale of how significantly Linfield dominated UMHB, and there’s little reason to think that the Wildcats won’t bring the same pressure to Pennsylvania against Widener. The Pride rallied to eke out a first-round win against Muhlenberg and played well enough against Christopher to move on, but neither of those teams compare to what Linfield has in store. This week should mark another road playoff win for the Wildcats. Linfield 41, Widener 21.
Pat’s take: Back at the beginning of the playoffs we talked about Linfield possibly being able to ride the wave of emotion all the way to the semifinals. This is the week they do that. Widener has a couple of weapons that will provide a challenge but Anthony Davis can’t do everything. Linfield might not have an Anthony Davis but has more options on offense and while this could be a repeat of the Delaware Valley game, instead, Linfield has a better defense and will do a better job keeping Widener in check. Linfield 38, Widener 17.
We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below, or tweet at us at @D3Keith, @NewsTipps and @d3football. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks and the most recent round of playoffs.