ATN Podcast: Past performance not indicative

Huntingdon's Tyler Robinson
Tyler Robinson caught two TD passes for Huntingdon in a win at Hampden-Sydney.
Huntingdon athletics file photo

As much as the Division III landscape was turned upside down last week, it reset this weekend, with Buffalo State losing big to Alfred, Brockport State losing at Kean and UW-Whitewater winning big. But the struggles by Wesley to win at Louisiana College and the occasional offensive woes from Whitewater make us reconsider what we believed about their preseason quarterback situation. Why do we like Justin Sottilare and Lee Brekke so much in 2012 based on what they did in 2010? And then contrast that with Mount Union, which isn’t going with its 2010 quarterback at all.

Plus we talk about Wabash’s surprise loss, Huntingdon jumping into the Top 25, Mary Hardin-Baylor’s season, Widener’s 90-point drubbing of Wilkes, Western Connecticut’s near upset and much more.

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

Plus, here’s this week’s D3football.com reports and highlight packages.

Triple Take: Coming into focus

Nate Oropollo
Aaron Terrell-Byrd is the new face at running back for St. Thomas, which has had significant changes on offense from 2011.
By Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Teams — their strengths and weaknesses — are coming into shape after two weeks of play. And for many of them, they’re still in the walkup to the start of conference play, where the path to the playoffs is largely traveled.

Perhaps most captivating nationally are the battles between Top 25 teams, but that is not the end-all of Division III. Not by a long shot. And there are still dozens of teams with a shot of playing their way into the rankings and into the postseason.

Often going beyond the Top 25 are Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps in this week’s Triple Take (look for hashtag #3take on Twitter). As always, we’re happy to hear your comments.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 10 Cal Lutheran.
I see these two teams in very different lights: the visiting squad is one that I’ve had a lot of enthusiasm about entering this year and that should have a huge target on its back; the other is one that needs to prove itself as a national competitor without the benefit Jake Laudenslayer taking snaps. We’ll get a better handle on that after Saturday, and these two teams should have fresh memories and be primed to duke it out. In 2011, these teams played two very competitive games — one in the regular season and one in the postseason — with the Wildcats emerging on top both times. Lining up together, they rarely disappoint.
Pat’s take: The Tommie-Johnnie game. What it’s doing on Week 3, however, is beyond me. I know some conferences feel the need to shuffle their schedules evenly over time but there are other conferences who do that and still make sure the rivalry games get played at the end. With No. 6 St. Thomas having beaten St. John’s by a hideous score last year, expect the Johnnies to come out extra motivated, in front of a home crowd that’s likely to be at least 15,000. And how often can you say that? Both teams had to rally to beat UW-Eau Claire, both had an easier game as well. St. Thomas has had quarterbacks fold in this game before but the new Tommie quarterback, Matt O’Connell, faced some pressure in Week 1, so the only thing new will be the crowd.
Keith’s take: No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 3 Wesley. Oh, cool, I get the slam dunk. And honestly, there isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said here. The two South Region powers have played six times in seven seasons, with Wesley winning four. In the UMHB game notes, Coach Pete Fredenburg makes reference to the whole country watching, and in this case, it’s not an exaggeration. Respect for these guys scheduling this game early. A well-played loss won’t hurt in the top 25, and it will have a limited impact on playoff chances.  What would be interesting is if these teams play again in the playoffs, but with experience against each other. UMHB outgained Kean 517-180, with 313 yards rushing, 165 from Darius Wilson. Wesley has been statistically underwhelming, but has given up only 21 points in road wins. This game is as big as they get in the regular season, and might be decided along the lines, by players we’ve heretofore never heard of.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Sewanee at Maryville.
There are only three Division III football teams in Tennessee, and two of them are lining up Saturday. Why are Sewanee and Maryville not meeting every single year? This situation is primed for a rivalry, but these two teams haven’t played each other in seven years. Sewanee is playing better ball that Maryville right now, but the Scots will be fighting for some in-state pride.
Pat’s take: No. 11 Trinity (Texas) at Sul Ross State. This is a new opponent for Trinity and a bit of a trip as well. Sul Ross has been competitive with Division II programs each of the first two weeks and transfer quarterback A.J. Springer has the offensive clicking. (And Ryan, I’d say it’s for the same reason Sewanee and its SAA mates broke away from the SCAC — wanting to play so-called “like-minded institutions.” Sewanee surely sees itself as not in the same class as Maryville academically.)
Keith’s take: TCNJ at Brockport State. Behind Joseph Scibilia, the Golden Eagles are 2-0, passing for 317 yards per game, and allowing only 28.5 rushing yards per game. They’re attracting top 25 attention. But TCNJ, at 1-1, has gained 521 yards per game, just a shade better than Brockport’s 518, and there could be a bunch of points put on the board. Justin Doniloski has 244 rushing yards in two games, so the matchup against the Golden Eagles’ run defense bears watching.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 23 Centre.
The jury is still out on whether this Centre team is as good as last season’s. If it is, the Colonels will beat Washington and Lee. But W&L is 1-1 and has played opponents that are better than those that Centre has lined up against. That’ll be the biggest advantage the Generals have over the Kentucky competition.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Redlands. Each team has one game under its belt. Pacific Lutheran was tied with Cal Lutheran at half before falling last week, and I like the Lutes’ chances.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Hobart. The Statesmen have given up just 230 yards and seven points in two wins, but Utica’s hung 40 and 45 points on its two opponents. The Pioneers, led by Andrew Benkwitt, are ready for a breakthrough win, but they can’t expect to keep gaining yards at a 500 per game clip. Playing at home should help, and I wouldn’t expect Hobart to make it easy. If it happens, it could be a low-scoring affair where turnovers play a part. No. 13 North Central at UW-Stout was also an option here.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Gettysburg.
Statistically, the Bullets are first in the country in rushing offense and are eighth in total defense. Gaining yards and putting up points is nothing new for Gettysburg, but this is an enviable place defensively for Gettysburg to be in as it wends its way toward some of the tougher teams on the Centennial schedule. There are a handful of conference opponents that will bring a pretty good arsenal to the table.
Pat’s take: John Carroll. It’s been a little while since they’ve played, but they open their North American and Ohio Athletic Conference schedule with a home game against No. 15 Baldwin Wallace. We’ll see how good their transfer quarterback is.
Keith’s take: William Paterson. Kickoff ’12 hipped us to the possibility that it could finally be these Pioneers’ turn atop the NJAC. Running back Dawys German is supposed to be a star, but the 9-3 Week 1 win against King’s was underwhelming. The defense impressed, but so did Rowan in the Week 1 upset of Delaware Valley. But with the Profs humbled at D-II Merrimack last week, they won’t be going easy on William Paterson, so this is a big prove-it game for the Pioneers. Or else we just go back to thinking they’re a mid-pack also-ran.

Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Franklin.
While I understand that the Grizzlies have taken on Mount Union and Division I-FCS Butler to start the season, they’ve been blown out in both of those matchups. This team — deservedly or not — has some great cred nationally to still be in the Top 20. This week’s opponent, Manchester, which has also begun its season 0-2, will not pose a problem for Franklin, which truly is more potent than its record indicates. Expect to stop paying attention to this game by halftime.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons. I don’t need to know much about Texas College, which is 0-3 against an interesting spread of opponents, to take the D-III team here.
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley. Stevenson’s coming close, with a 10-point loss followed by an OT loss. The Aggies have a chance to salvage their high expectations for the season, but it has to start right away, and they need to generate some offense. Stevenson has allowed 419 yards per game, while Del Val has gained 382. The Aggies’ problem hasn’t been turnovers — they have four, but an even margin. They just haven’t finished drives. They have 10 punts, four turnovers and four touchdowns. The Aggies need to take advantage of Stevenson’s defense early and regain their confidence.

Which saint sparks your interest?
Ryan’s take: St. Vincent.
Over the years, the Bearcats have climbed up from the conference depths, going 1-29 in its first three seasons. But last year brought forth a much more refreshing 6-5 outing, including a visit to an ECAC bowl game. But so far, St. Vincent hasn’t turned a corner in 2012, dropping its first two games. This week, the Bearcats face Waynesburg, the PAC’s only 2-0 team. Is Waynesburg for real? Is St. Vincent really lacking? Clarity is right around the bend.
Pat’s take: St. Olaf, which gets its first real challenge of the season after pulling out a close game on a short trip to Luther and winning handily on a long trip to DePauw. Concordia-Moorhead coming to town is by far the most impressive opponent so far.
Keith’s take: St. John Fisher. It’s the final Courage Bowl with Rochester. Having attended one of the cooler young rivalries in D-III, mixing charity and on-field competitiveness, I’ll be sad to see it go. Rochester, which has lost all seven Courage Bowls, is ending the series, which moves back to campus, at Fisher, after two years downtown.

If you’re picking a winning team based on faith, which would it be?
Ryan’s take: Albright, affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
The Lions have come out of the gate with two wins, including one that knocked Kean off its preseason perch. But Albright needed overtime to beat conference-mate Stevenson, and the slate only gets harder, starting with this Saturday against Wilkes. Remember this matchup last year? Sixty-five points for the winning Albright, 575 passing yards, school records broken. There’s little doubt there’ll be some excitement going into this year’s game.
Pat’s take: Salve Regina, which is a Catholic school. The Seahawks face Fitchburg State. When I was working at my alma mater, Catholic U., the head coach wanted to put together a “conference” like the ECAC in style, with all of the Catholic schools playing Division III football. It was a great idea but I wasn’t going to run it. However, picture a postseason bowl game featuring the top team from eastern Catholic schools against the top available western Catholic school. Because so many Catholic schools made the playoffs last year (St. Thomas, St. John Fisher, Thomas More, Benedictine) you might end up with Salve Regina or St. Vincent against St. John’s or St. Norbert. Just food for thought.
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist. Willamette gained 727 yards in its opener, and has had two weeks to prepare. And they’re at home. But the choices among the Baptists were limited, so I’ll have to lean on ETBU’s experience in the opener against Wesley for my pick.

Triple Take: Blemished and battling

Trevor Manuel
Trevor Manuel leads Huntingdon with 177 all-purpose yards per game.
Huntingdon athletics photo

By the time Week 5 rolls past, the Division III landscape usually still has many unbeatens fighting toward the postseason. At this point in 2008, ’09 and ’10, a total of only two teams made the D3football.com Top 10 with a blemish on their records.

This year alone, we have three.

It suggests an anything-can-happen season, but there’s potentially deeper insight into it for those willing to explore on a national scale.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps are here to help you analyze. Saturday is closing in fast, and that means more upsets may be in the making.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Wittenberg at Huntingdon.
The Hawks come in as a one-loss team averaging more than 37 points a game in very consistent offensive performances. And, they’ve already taken down a team that’s been in the Top 25 this season, Hampden-Sydney. Statistically, Huntingdon doesn’t stack up well against the pass, and Witt has a signal-caller who’s thrown for 1,500 yards and has a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio. But these stats were familiar in the H-SC game, too, and Huntingdon found a way through turnovers to overcome their shortcomings and win. (Is it an omen that both Witt and -Sydney are nicknamed the Tigers?) With has an opening-week win against Capital, a team that’s shown glimmers of skill, Witt proved it can win when it counts. It’ll be a long ride from Montgomery back to Springfield if they don’t.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Cortland State at No. 11 Montclair State. Truthfully, I probably would’ve picked Ryan’s game, but his reward for working up the post each week is first choice. This NJAC clash will do, however, because it will provide needed clarity in what is right now potentially a five-team race. Or maybe it won’t, since last season finished in a three-way tie. In any case, I watched Dan Pitcher carve up Rowan a couple weeks ago to the tune of 315 passing yards, and the statistics say Montclair’s been vulnerable to the pass (151st nationally). But the Red Hawks are usually stout on defense, and last season Cortland needed to score 10 points in the final 11 minutes of a 10-9 win. Already this year the Red Dragons and Red Hawks have two common opponents (Buffalo State and Morrisville State), with each winning one by blowout. Cortland’s played the tougher schedule so far, and comes in with a loss to Kean. The lack of any real idea what’s going to happen, though I’d lean Cortland right now if forced to choose, makes it a classic Game of the Week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Wartburg at Dubuque. I don’t think I can consider this as a team likely to be upset, since the teams are so close together in the voting … and not even in the same order on my ballot. My thinking is that if Coe’s Jared Kuehner caught nine passes for 115 against Wartburg a couple weeks ago, what will Mike Zweifel and Demacus Fleming do through the air for Dubuque?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Franklin at Rose-Hulman.
While the Grizzlies are a one-loss team, they can be excused for their blemish, having come at the hands of defending national champion UW-Whitewater. This week’s opponent, Rose-Hulman, stands at just 2-2, but the Engineers have been able to find success if they balance their offense and not slough off when getting to the ball on defense. Perhaps most critical for Rose to pull an upset will be to stop Franklin on third down. The Grizzlies have a knack for converting the down and keeping drives alive.
Keith’s take: Mount Ida at Anna Maria. It stands to reason that any team that’s lost the first 23 games in its history might be a pushover, even for a 1-3 team like Mount Ida. But the AmCats are on the cusp, coming off a 56-52 loss to rival Castleton State and a 48-40 four-overtime loss to Gallaudet in which they led 34-13. Perhaps, since the Mustangs have played four close games a fifth wouldn’t be a surprise, but it should be close. And Anna Maria might finally win.
Pat’s take: Hobart at Union. I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here, as Union has been on the wrong side of a couple of surprisingly close games. But the Dutchmen have turned their close losses into close wins the past two weeks, which gives me a reason to make this pick. Union lost in a close one on the road at Hobart last year, starting their season-ending tailspin. With the home field, Union could turn that around.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Delaware Valley.
After a slow start to the season, Wilkes has scooped up victories against Widener and FDU-Florham, the former of which stands at 4-1 this season. Wilkes has seen improving play from quarterback Alex George, and the team is coming off a week in which two of its players earned MAC weekly honors. The Aggies, on the other hand, may have the defense to at least slow Wilkes’ nearly 500-yard-a-game average. Swallowing up Zach Tivald along with George should be a priority. If that happens, DelVal may be lucky enough to earn a repeat of its first two games.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Kean. We finally gave them some Around the Region love; that’s the kiss of death. In all seriousness, I could be reading the TCNJ and Western Connecticut results wrong, but the Cougars don’t seem all the way dialed in every week, and eventually that bites a team. I don’t know that I’d expect Buffalo State to pull the upset, but Kean could use a convincing win to keep from finding itself in this space again.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Salisbury. A lot of the talk around the game centers around the two triple-option offenses of Salisbury and Springfield but considering these defenses see the triple-option on a regular basis, I think we could see more of a defensive battle than initially pondered.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Pacific Lutheran.
The Lutes came into 2011 with some seriously depleted ranks and real uncertainty about whether they’d come close to a repeat of last year’s 8-1 season. So far, they stand at 2-1, which looks good on the surface. Yet those two wins come against teams that are a combined 0-8 this year. The Lutes’ only challenge was their failed comeback attempt in a 28-17 road loss to Cal Lutheran. Pacific Lutheran may not repeat last year’s success, but a win this week against Whitworth means they won’t have slipped to the NWC’s basement.
Keith’s take: Augsburg. The Auggies have been consistent on the scoreboard, averaging 32 points per game without scoring fewer than 28, and defensive linemen Edmond Smith and Aaron Perry have them among the nation’s leaders in sacks and tackles for losses. I don’t expect them to beat No. 3 St. Thomas, but I would like to find out if we can expect them to be competitive the next two weekends, at Concordia-Moorhead and against St. Olaf. Or will a promising 4-0 start morph into 4-3 in a few weeks?
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints have a chance to go unbeaten and need to win every week in order to avoid a first-round playoff road trip to a top seed. Northwestern has certainly seen more success in past years, but is 3-1 in the league and certainly not out of the hunt yet.

Which conference game has the potential to change the race or throw us for a loop?
Ryan’s take: Heidelberg at Muskingum. Raise your hand if you saw these two teams being a combined 7-1 and vying for the upper-echelon of the OAC. There might be a hand raised way in the back of the room, but that’s about it. These standings are nothing to scoff at. Together, the Student Princes and the Muskies have taken down Ohio Northern, Otterbein and Capital — you know, the kinds of teams we’ve gotten used to hearing about even into the postseason. Often, the No. 2 team in the OAC gets a playoff bid, and if these teams hope to be in the discussion at the end of the season, they need to keep winning. The victor on Saturday will have earned itself a boost.
Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh at UW-Eau Claire and Ripon at Monmouth. Double bonus for faithful TT readers! The Blugolds (that’s UW-EC) have beaten both UW-Stout and UW-River Falls by multiple touchdowns in their 3-1 start, but the Titans whomped those teams even worse. With a win against Central and a loss to No. 2 Mount Union, Oshkosh seems made to contend, but we need to see it against a respectable WIAC team. Meanwhile, in the MWC, four teams are 4-1, 3-1, and two face off on Saturday. Ripon bring the nation’s No. 4 rushing offense (349 yards per game) to Illinois to try to outscore Monmouth’s No. 6 passing offense (332.6/game). The Scots have played better defense (17 points allowed the past three games) and have put up the more convincing conference results, so a Ripon win would be a major upset.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley at Albright. We need the result of this game in order to see if Albright will be in position to challenge Delaware Valley for the conference lead next week. The Lions stubbed their toe last week at Lycoming and another loss likely eliminate them from the conference race. If not Albright, Wilkes (this week), Widener and Lycoming have a shot left.

Tigers, Lions or Bears?
Ryan’s take: Tigers.
But this is almost cheating because the Tigers of Sewanee are playing at the Tigers of Trinity (Texas). This game should belong to Trinity, but the best part is that each of these teams are rebounding. Last year, Trinity had its first losing season in roughly two decades; now, they’re sitting tied atop the SCAC with an undefeated record. Sewanee on the other hand, has hobbled through a zero-win season and a couple of one-win seasons in recent years. But here, they’re not just sitting at 2-3, but they’re playing teams competitively. The worst loss was against Washington and Lee, which is coming off a conference-title season. But losses to 5-0 Birmingham-Southern and 2-3 Millsaps have been much closer. Compared with last season, fortunes have smiled on both of these schools.
Keith’s take: Tigers. I took a look at some Bears — Bridgewater State has played three close games in a row. I checked out some Lions, but Pat already mentioned Albright. Truth is, Tigers are playing this week’s most interesting games, from East Texas Baptist trying to catch No. 19 Louisiana College hung over from its loss at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, to Hampden-Sydney facing one-time ODAC power Bridgewater and Wittenberg making its trip to Alabama.
Pat’s take: Tigers. Bengals, to be specific. Buffalo State has a shot at Kean this week, which is coming off back-to-back weeks of unimpressive performances, at least by Top 25 standards. After struggling the first two weeks offensively, Buffalo State has put it together, thanks in large part to the emergence of running back Rich Pete, who has averaged 104.3 yards rushing the past three games. Recommend punt protection if they’re going to upset the Cougars.

Which team needs a win for morale purposes?
Ryan’s take: Greensboro.
Or, for that matter, their opponent Averett. The two teams have a total record of 1-7, an indicator of the overall struggles that the USA South has encountered this season. But the Pride need this win more because they haven’t played any Division III teams close this season. Even being within striking distance of a win will be a morale boost.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut at Morrisville State. Apparently I’m trying to make sure the NJAC is mentioned in response to *every* question … but both of these teams could use a life. The Colonels are in the midst of a fairly inexplicable 15-game losing streak; they’ve lost three games by 37 or more, yet were 10 points behind 10th-ranked Kean in the fourth quarter. Morrisville lost its first two games, to Hartwick and Montclair State, by a total of four points, but is 0-4 because it doesn’t do anything particularly well. The offense is a big culprit, putting up just 14 points per game (210th nationally). Somebody’s going to win here, and it’s going to be a big lift for some kids who have to be struggling to believe right now.
Pat’s take: Aurora. This week’s midseason battle with Benedictine for what could be supremacy in the NATHC took a wrong turn for the Spartans with last week’s loss to Lakeland. Aurora is still looking for a conference win and is 1-3 overall, where Benedictine at least picked up a win against Concordia (Ill.) after losses to North Park and Kalamazoo, traditionally bottom feeders in the CCIW and MIAA.