Week 6: There’s excitement to be had, if you just know where to look

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Buff State’s defensive side of the ball will need to come through vs. Ithaca. (Buffalo State athletics photo)

Not every week is filled with top-25 clashes and rivalry games when we look for intriguing matchups across the nation. But with more than 200 teams in action on a given weekend, we usually end up with our fair share of dramatic finishes, milestones and outstanding performances. Some can be anticipated if you know where to look.

That’s where Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I come in. We’ll take you on a quick whirl around the country so you know which games to keep an eye on while you’re doing what you normally do on Saturdays, and we’ll keep it from feeling like a whirlwind.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran. It’s between this and the Lyco-Del Val game for me, and this matchup of ‘others receiving votes’ teams gets the nod because of the potential for fireworks. In the most amazing stat of the year possibly, ETBU, after allowing 98 points to a scholarship-level opponent in Week 1, is 3-1 and already back in the positive point differential for the season, on the strength of the country’s fourth-best offense. Yet TLU hasn’t scored fewer than 37 points in a game itself. ETBU QB Josh Warbington has 12 TDs, 3 INTs and three 350+ yard passing games. TLU RB Marquis Barrolle is rushing for 181 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns. But the clincher is the playoff implications; In a conference with No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor, ETBU needs every win in case it has to make an at-large case for a postseason spot. In Pool B, even at 5-0, Texas Lutheran remembers being shunned last season with just one loss. It’s an under-the-lights clash we can all take an interest in for the potential big numbers and the trickle-down effect.
Ryan’s take: Buffalo State at No. 13 Ithaca. Were it not for Buff’s narrow loss to Alfred a couple of weeks back, we’d be seeing two undefeated teams squaring off here. Despite a slow start in the opener, Ithaca has excelled in conference play, giving Utica its only loss and beating Alfred. On paper, the edge goes to Buffalo State, but the reality is that Ithaca hasn’t been giving up the kind of big points that the Bengals have been. And if the Bombers’ offense happens to be slumping at the half or in the third quarter, a good defense is always going to keep them in the game.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Lycoming at Delaware Valley. These MAC elimination games are going to be a brutal slog and this sounds like it’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Delaware Valley can score in bunches (49.8 points per game), while Lycoming hasn’t allowed more than 14 in a game all season. Lyco probably would like to have one more season of Tanner Troutman just for this game alone, to cover Rasheed Bailey, who is an electrifying receiver, by all accounts. Would love to see which contrast in styles wins out here.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Chicago at Trinity (Texas). The Maroons are 4-0. The Tigers are 1-4. And while that would normally make for a pretty straightforward winner, they move in completely different D-III circles. Chicago’s wins are against teams we ranked 84, 89, 213 and 217 in the 1-244 ranking in Kickoff. The Tigers losses are to teams we ranked 19, 37, 50 and 179. Preseason rankings don’t tell the whole story, but neither does just glancing at a record. Trinity’s talent should match up better with Chicago than it did with, say, Pacific Lutheran. That means the Maroons will have to keep playing outstanding defense. They’re currently allowing just 190.3 yards per game, third nationally behind Mount Union and UW-Whitewater.
Ryan’s take: Crown at Greenville. I felt like going deep into the conference rankings to find this week’s game, which is a great example of misdirection. Greenville sits at 4-1; Crown is winless. Those records seem to be in complete opposite directions until you consider that Greenville’s wins come against teams that are a combined 4-16. The Panthers’ one loss came against a 2-2 CCIW team. Crown, on the other hand, has played teams that are a combined 20-4, including an undefeated MIAC team. I expect the Storm to be able to hang right with Greenville, and I’d even wager they’ll pull off the upset.
Pat’s take: Texas Lutheran at East Texas Baptist. Actually, I just think this will be an awesome game and didn’t have room for two game of the week picks. Expecting an entertaining back-and-forth game worthy of two Little 12 teams, even if only one of them is still in the American Southwest Conference.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wartburg. Coe, Saturday’s host, is off to a 2-2 start, with losses to teams currently ranked No. 16 (UW-Stevens Point) and No. 18 (Wheaton). More importantly than what might be a deceptive record is the idea that they simply have Wartburg’s number. The Knights haven’t beaten the Kohawks since 2010, after Coe rallied from down 17-0 to win by a field goal in 2011, won by four touchdowns in 2012 and scored 24 second-half points last year to become the only team besides Bethel to beat Wartburg. It’s a new year, and the Knights are 4-0 with a great defense (12th nationally at 11.3 points per game) and the Royals already in the rear-view mirror. Coe QB Josh Rekers had success passing against both Wheaton and UW-SP and will be a challenge though.
Ryan’s take: No 8 Hobart. Springfield always brings a good bit of quality to the table, but, since being in the LL, the team has yet been able to get over the hump against Hobart. The Statesmen have look good this year, but not flawless. Dickinson was able to play its way back into the opener; Endicott, too, scored the bulk of its points in the fourth quarter. A cushion going into the final period would help Hobart here, because high-scoring fourths are not foreign to the Pride.
Pat’s take: No. 13 Ithaca. I don’t have a strong feeling about anyone this week but perhaps Buffalo State can be the team to score more than 16 points on the Bombers. They will definitely need to if they want to win at Butterfield Stadium.

Pick a team that faces much better competition this week than last, and tell us how it fares.
Keith’s take: Berry. The Vikings won the first game in program history, 29-23, last week against Wash. U. This week they face Centre, which hung 50 on that same Bears group two weeks ago. The Colonels have outscored opponents by a 38-17 average in its 4-0 start, and rush for 244 of their 443 yards of weekly offense. Berry will likely have to wait for its first win streak.
Ryan’s take: Willamette. The swing is big if you’re going up against football newbie George Fox one week and then turning around to face Whitworth the next. Whitworth bested its weaker foes but is on a two-game skid against some tougher teams. I’m not sure that a win here would be enough to lift the Bearcats into the Top 25, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of voters will bump Willamette up a spot or two after winning.
Pat’s take: No. 3 Mount Union, at Ohio Northern. I was reviewing old Top 25 polls this week — the coaches poll, mind you — in helping a school out on a research project and was reminded that in 2005, when Ohio Northern won at Mount Union, the Purple Raiders actually fell to No. 9 in the AFCA Top 25. It’s hard to imagine the Purple Raiders ever being just the ninth-best team in Division III. We’re in our tenth season since then and Mount Union has barely skipped a beat. One beat at most. They won’t skip a beat this week. (For the record, Mount Union fell to No. 6 in that week’s D3football.com Top 25.)

Which one of the surprise unbeatens remains that way?
Keith’s take: Luther. The Norse haven’t beaten Central since 2008, and they’re hosting in front of a homecoming crowd that doesn’t really know what it’s like to cheer for a 4-0 team. So not only should it be a wild atmosphere, but the Norse seem up to the challenge. Josh Vos and DB-turned-QB JJ Sirios are each rushing for more than 100 yards per game, and Central hasn’t been great at run defense (166 yards per game). Luther’s rushing offense is No. 2 nationally, sandwiched between more familiar option teams Maine Maritime and Springfield. It’s the Norse and the Dutch, so why wouldn’t one side make history?
Ryan’s take: UW-Stevens Point. Then again, the Pointers are going up against the only team in the WIAC that is currently winless, UW-Eau Claire. UW-EC has had one of the toughest schedules to date in Division III: They started off against St. Thomas, then played St. John’s, Wheaton and UW-Platteville. Had Eau Claire not gotten pasted against Platteville, I might think they’d have the spark to play a spoiler role. Instead, Stevens Point will have one last opportunity to work out the kinks before going on the road to Platteville next weekend.
Pat’s take: Bridgewater (Va.). It’s an unexpected battle of unbeatens between Bridgewater and Emory and Henry, and if this were 2000, this would be front-page news. But since both programs have been down for the better part of a decade, at least, it’s slipped well under the radar. I like Bridgewater at home, but E&H has played three road games out of four, so the road won’t be unfamiliar.

Which player put up huge numbers in Week 5 and will do it again this week?
Keith’s take: Satiir Stevenson, safety for Guilford. Ryan turned his answers in first and yoked my original pick. (Fun fact: I’m told it’s cog-lin, not cough). The Quakers might seem like they’re all offense, but Stevenson’s 22 tackles last week against Washington & Lee were the second highest single-game total in D-III this season. This week’s opponent, Shenandoah, happens to be the ODAC’s best rushing offense, at 289 yards per game, so they’ll need another big tackling effort to slow down the Hornets and 5-9 all-purpose threat Cedrick Delaney.
Ryan’s take: Pete Coughlin, quarterback for Washington and Jefferson. Last week, the big numbers (383 passing yards, six touchdowns) really mattered because the game was against rival Thomas More and is generally the matchup that yields the PAC’s playoff contender. It would be of little surprise to see him fling around those kinds of numbers again, with winless Grove City on the docket. The only limiting factor will be if Coughlin sits out most or all of the second half.
Pat’s take: Withler Marcelin, Rowan running back. Good category because I was feeling bad about him not having a spot for him on the D3football.com Team of the Week last week. He ran for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, with scores of 28, 54 and 75 yards vs. Cortland State and if Rowan needs him to, he’ll have a big game vs. William Paterson.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Thomas More. It’s deflating to lose the conference matchup that often defines the season, so I’m interesting in seeing how the Saints get up to face Geneva. Thomas More seemed like it had the makings of a playoff-bound team when I saw it in Week 1, but after the W&J loss, it’s out of their hands. The Wesley loss means at-large is probably out too, which means they’ll have to get some help. But you can’t take advantage of help if you don’t take care of your own business first.
Ryan’s take: The Trine at Olivet matchup. I know we usually pick a single team here, but the MIAA has been next to impossible to get a handle on this fall. It’s nice that the two teams with the best overall records are meeting so early in conference play. We’ll get a bit of clarity in Michigan after Saturday.
Pat’s take: Gustavus Adolphus. This is the end of the 6-0 run we’ve been talking about since the preseason. St. Olaf won’t be able to stop the Golden Gusties’ offense.

Triple Take, Week 5: Let the conference rumbles begin

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at Linfield. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

Linfield has lined up against Chapman and Redlands so far, and now PLU will get its crack at the Wildcats. (Photo by Dan Harris, d3photography.com)

If it hasn’t already where you’re from, conference play begins in Week 5. From the ASC to the WIAC (and places in between — the CCIW, ECFC, IIAC, MIAA, ODAC and SCIAC get underway, while all but one game has yet to be played in NJAC and NWC), the games against familiar rivals are on deck. Twenty-four of the 28  conferences come with an automatic bid, so even though it’s too early to talk postseason, it’s never too early to consider playoff implications. Saturday’s games mean something long term.

In short, though, we have a doozy upon us this weekend. Pat, Ryan and I sift through which of the 244 teams are most worth keeping an eye on, via seven categories.

 — Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead at No. 12 Bethel. The game in Washington, Pa. is more likely to be a defacto conference title game, but the one in Arden Hills, Minn. has even more on the line, and could feature the best-played football in the country on Saturday. The Cobbers and Royals each practice the lost art of playing defense, ranking in the national top 20 in total (averaging 263 and 241 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (a shade under 13 points per game each). Although Bethel is already on thin ice because of its season-opening loss to Wartburg, the MIAC has sent two teams to the playoffs nine times since the expansion in 1999, and this might end up a preview of this year’s duo. On top of all that, this insane thing happened last time these teams met at Bethel, and the specter of that game hangs over this one.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Linfield at No. 14 Pacific Lutheran. I’m filing my take early, so I don’t get to see what Pat and Keith have written, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose this game, too. Never mind the fact that it’s a matchup between top-25 teams, but it has also grown into a marquee conference clash over the past few seasons. And it’s almost becoming a tradition for these two squads to meet twice in the fall, once in the regular season and then again in the first round of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, both are undefeated, and both have stout defenses. And because Linfield is excelling offensively with the pass while PLU is doing so with the run, these two teams would be candidates for the “contrasting styles” question farther down in Triple Take, if they weren’t so highly ranked, that is.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Thomas More at Washington and Jefferson. While all of those conferences listed above are getting started, the PAC is deep into its conference schedule, which started in Week 1 because of the conference’s expansion to include Carnegie Mellon and Case. With Thomas More already having taken a loss and the committee having passed over 1-loss PAC teams in the past because of strength of schedule, there may only be room for one PAC team in this year’s playoffs. Barring a later upset, the winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat to get that spot.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Gallaudet at Anna Maria. The Bison won nine games, made the playoffs and had an NFL prospect last season. The AmCats are in their sixth football season, and have six wins total. But you can expect this one to be surprisingly close, if only because neither side can really score. Anna Maria has seven touchdowns in three games this season, but that’s seven more than Gallaudet, who have been outscored 50-2 so far. They’re part of the reason why, in contrast with conferences like the ASC, OAC and ODAC, where teams average more than 33 points per game, the ECFC is the nation’s lowest-scoring conference, at 15.41 points per team per game. There will probably be some success for both offenses on Saturday, but the casts have changed since last season, so don’t expect a playoff team vs. doormat blowout.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps at Hendrix. I’m looking forward to seeing this showdown happen. After the Majors got blasted by East Texas Baptist last week, there are a lot of questions hanging around for a team that was 9-1 last year but starts 2014 at 1-2. Tackling needs to improve; turnovers need to stop. ETBU’s 715 yards of total offense is a scary thing, and Millsaps should be scared if the team can’t keep those kinds of numbers in check going forward. But while Millsaps is a team on the slide, Hendrix appears to be one on the rise. A 3-0 start is something for the Warriors to be very happy about, and the fact that they were able to have their offense step up in games, as well as the defense to shine, shows how versatile this second-year program can be.
Pat’s take: Washington U. at Berry. One could play the comparative scores game because already this year, Rhodes has played both Berry and Wash U. But I just expect this to be close because it’s a bit of a trip for the Bears and Berry is getting better. They only lost to Rhodes 12-0 and lost 28-27 at LaGrange.

Most likely top-25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 UW-Platteville. I ruled out the top-25 clashes as picks here, and the luster is off games like Salisbury at No. 7 St. John Fisher and No. 8 Wartburg at Central. Even Louisiana College at No. 4 Wesley isn’t as exciting as it first appeared. So to truly go out on a limb, I’ll take 0-3 UW-Eau Claire, playing at Carson Park in the WIAC opener. The Blugolds have only scored 24 points this season, which makes this an even more risky pick, but they’ve played three perennial midwest powers  St. Thomas, St. John’s and Wheaton. UW-Platteville makes four current top 25 teams in four weeks for UW-EC, and if the Blugolds are not demoralized, they could catch the Pioneers sleeping. Last year, Eau Claire led at halftime and after a 98-yard third-quarter kick return before Platteville scored the final four TDs. UW-P this year has been a bit of an enigma, winning by 60 in Week 1 and squeezing past Dubuque in Week 2, and it’s had two weeks to stew over a 28-7 loss to North Central. So the upset is no small task.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Thomas More. While this qualifies for this category because the Saints are in the Top 25, it barely counts as an upset when the opponent is undefeated conference rival Washington and Jefferson. Not to mention that both are statistically in the top 10 in total offense in the nation.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Lycoming, I suppose. The MAC unbeaten teams will start to knock each other off this week. In order to believe Stevenson can beat Lycoming, however, one has to think that Stevenson is ready to make a big leap forward. The Mustangs were fairly dominant in Week 1 vs. North Carolina Wesleyan but have won the next three games by a touchdown apiece, so they’re barely hanging onto this 4-0. They won’t be able to get away with 4-for-18 passing this week.

Pick a team that will open conference play in dramatic fashion
Keith’s take: Willamette, vs. George Fox. The dramatics for the Bearcats might be of the record-setting variety as opposed to the last-second type. Willamette rushes for 285 yards a game, has had two weeks since a 42-28 win at Cal Lutheran, and faces first-year George Fox, which has allowed 1,028 yards in its two losses. The real curiosity might be finding out just how many NWC contenders there are, which means you’ll have to pay attention to Linfield-PLU and Whitworth-Pacific as well this weekend.
Ryan’s take: Redlands, at Pomona-Pitzer. An 0-2 record doesn’t tell us much if those two games came against No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 5 Linfield. The Bulldogs were expected to lose both of them (maximum chalk). But this week is Redlands’ chance to show what they learned from those experiences and put the lessons into action. Opponent Pomona-Pitzer should be a great way to make sure everything is clicking, to earn a win – and be set for the following week against Cal Lutheran and later against the rest of the SCIAC.
Pat’s take: Augustana, vs. Elmhurst. The CCIW opens this weekend with the potential for three blowouts, while this game, between teams expected to be in the middle of the conference, has the potential for some heroics. It matched a couple of players who have already had standout individual performances this year: Augustana defensive back Tim Maroder (four interceptions vs. Loras) and Elmhurst running back Josh Williams (306 rushing yards at Olivet).

Which team lost badly last week, but will bounce back?
Keith’s take: Southern Virginia, at Kean. Since these teams lost 47-7 to No. 4 Wesley and 73-7 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday, facing each other should be a relief. Both teams are 0-3. The Knights have a significant road trip to North Jersey ahead, but they’ve faced three high-powered offenses in Methodist, Guilford and Wesley. Kean has managed just 49 points total this season. (Millsaps, facing Hendrix after a 68-15 loss to ETBU, is a candidate here as well.)
Ryan’s take: Williams, at Bates. Sure, it’s tough to come off of a 38-0 loss to Trinity (Conn.), but if Williams can channel some of the success it found two weeks ago in its opener from quarterback Austin Lommen and running back Alex Scyocurka, then there’s a good chance that the Ephs can look sharp this weekend against Bates.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh, vs. UW-Stout. The Titans had a bye this past week, but they are 0-3 coming into this game, having not played a single Division III school. Getting to play UW-Stout will be better than playing South Dakota State, that’s for sure.

Pick a winner in a matchup of contrasting styles
Keith’s take: LaGrange, at Maryville. The Panthers contrast with themselves, much less the other team. LaGrange, behind QB Graham Craig, has the nation’s fifth-most-prolific passing offense and the 227th-best passing defense. They keep it interesting though, scoring between 28 and 35 each time out, allowing between 27 and 37, and having a two-point loss, a one-point win and two overtime wins. Across the way, Maryville brings a 286-yard-per-game rushing attack (11th-best nationally) and a scoring average of  get this  28.8 points per game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford, vs. Washington and Lee. Well, it’s almost unfair when I look at the contrast between the Quakers and Generals. Guilford has one of the best passing games in the nation, and, just as importantly, it is third statistically in turnover margin. Washington and Lee, on the other hand, slots in at No. 168 in turnover margin, being negative-2 on the season. And they have almost no pass game to speak of, relying on their ground attack  which isn’t close to where it’s been in recent seasons. Sure enough, these two teams contrast each other, just not in a flattering way.
Pat’s take: Illinois College, vs. Ripon. After two losses in a row, the Blueboys need to get well, and fast. The good thing is that neither of those games counted against IC’s conference record in the Midwest Conference South Division, and this week’s game vs. Ripon won’t, either. The run-heavy Red Hawks are also 1-2, but with the only win vs. Rockford. Meanwhile, most people should know Illinois College likes to throw the ball.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Bethany. Taking it on the chin from Mount Union in Week 1 perhaps was a wise strategy. The Bison have three wins since, including two on the road, and a 33-27 victory against Waynesburg last week. After 35 carries for just 75 yards in a 58-7 loss to the Purple Raiders, Bethany’s ground game has been stout. They’re running the ball an average of 46 times per game for almost 200 yards a week, with a three-headed attack: Running backs Jalen Holmes and Brandon Hill, and quarterback Brian Vales. Case Western Reserve has only allowed 83 yards per game rushing, so this clash will be worth watching.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I’m owning up to my mistake from last week, when I wrote about this game a week before it was to happen. So a cut-and-paste from that, which still applies today: I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles’ competition has been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: The Rhodes-Chicago winner. This is a key Pool B game on Saturday, a matchup of unbeatens. Rhodes put up 41 on Chicago in Memphis in 2013, winning 41-34, but expect a lower-scoring game.

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Josh Yoder has the Linfield offense clicking as well as the Wildcats have their defense clicking.
Linfield athletics photo

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Mount Union answered a big challenge on Saturday but that was not the only question we had this week, nor was it the only question you had this week either. So when we put out the call for questions, we got a lot of interest in regional rankings, some questions about specific teams and some about potential at-large bids. Plus we talked about the other key Top 25 games and Continue reading