Triple Take Week 9: Season-ending seriousness is upon us

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

Carroll has a chance to get closer to the MWC title game, if not necessarily the Top 25. (Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

The time for pleasantries has passed. The everyone-across-the-nation-is-interesting window is rapidly closing. Tomorrow begins November, which means we’re focusing on conference-title chases, playoff-spot pursuit and the occasional season-defining rivalry game.

With that in mind, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I zoom in the focus from all 244 teams to the games (besides the one you’re already interested in) that most deserve your attention. Last week, teams lit up the scoreboard; we’ll tell you who won’t do it again. We’ve got insight on which top 25 teams are in danger, where conference races will tilt and which teams to keep on your radar, just in case something unexpected happens on Saturday. You’ll be able to say you saw it coming.

Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 16 UW-Platteville. The Warhawks didn’t partake in the scoring of the 70s like so many top-10 teams did last week. But they’ve been putting up silly numbers by preventing them. Since Franklin scored 13 on UW-W back in Week 2, just 17 points have been scored on that defense. Only UW-Eau Claire’s 19-play field goal drive came in the first three quarters, with the game still in reach. The Warhawks have the nation’s best scoring defense, and the Pioneers are 11th, at 11.3 points per game. UW-Whitewater’s push starts up front, where defensive linemen Mykaell Bratchett and Zach Franz are getting help from sophomores Brandon Tamsett and John Flood. Linebackers Jacob Zilbar and Andrew Belken need to have big days for the Pioneers’ defense. Offensively, QB Bryce Corrigan the UW-Platteville score 31.6 points per game, which in this era of high offense is just 73rd in the country.
Ryan’s take: Carroll at Macalester. Yup, I’m going off the top-25 grid here because at this point in the season, so much of the focus is on winning conferences and getting into the playoffs. This is one of those decisive games. Both of these teams are undefeated in the North Division of the MWC, and the winner should be able to round out the regular season with confidence and get a shot at the divisional championship game on Nov. 15 – and then a spot in the postseason.
Pat’s take: Howard Payne at Louisiana College. There have been so many entertaining games in this conference this season that I feel like I have to elevate one of them to Game of the Week status. Louisiana College has only been held under 30 points by Alcorn State and two top-five teams, while Howard Payne had a classic 54-53 win at East Texas Baptist two weeks ago. If you like defense, though, watch Keith’s Game of the Week instead.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Cowboys are surprisingly 5-1 and effectively 6-1, since they led Southwestern 28-7 in the third quarter in Week 1 before “persistent lightning” led to the game being called a no contest. The Cowboys’ only loss, however, came on their home field to Texas Lutheran the following week, 37-14, which explains why they aren’t getting any love in the poll. UMHB beat TLU 72-16 last week, so why would I pick this to be surprisingly close? Well for one, it only needs to be within 56 points to fit the definition, given the UMHB > TLU > HSU hierarchy to date. But it’s also because the Cowboys have a decent defense, and allow just 3.5 yards per carry. It’s not quite the 1.98 yards that UMHB allows, but given the history between the two Hardins, a reasonable final in the 35-14 range is possible.
Ryan’s take: LaGrange at Christopher Newport. These teams are almost at opposite ends of the conference standings, but the Panthers are coming off a season-defining win against Huntingdon, so they’ll arrive in Newport News with some momentum. CNU certainly won’t let this game slide by, though, as the race for the USA South’s automatic qualifier could realistically go to any one of three teams right now. There’s a good deal at stake, and the Captains surely wouldn’t mind representing the conference in the postseason after missing it in 2013.
Pat’s take: St. Lawrence at WPI. First of all, surprisingly distant for an East Region conference, where it’s nearly a six-hour drive. But also, looking for a fairly close game on the scoreboard in this one as well, especially for a game between a 3-4 team and a 6-1 team. St. Lawrence is built around defense, so I expect the score to be low, and close. Even though this game is perfectly positioned to be a trap game for St. Lawrence, right before the big showdown with Hobart, I also expect the score to be comfortably in SLU’s favor.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 18 Concordia-Moorhead. Having nominated St. Thomas as a potential upsetter (sure, that’s a word) of Bethel last week, I’m doubling down. But almost as much as it’s hard to believe the Tommies would pick up their third loss in a season for the first time since coach Glenn Caruso’s first there, in 2008, this is about the Cobbers. Concordia-Moorhead hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2005, but it’s been 8-2 the past two years, with an October loss to Bethel and an early-November loss to St. Thomas each time (they’ve actually lost six straight to the Tommies). The Cobbers, as you might guess, are 7-1 with a 27-17 Oct. 4 loss to Bethel the only blemish so far. It’s time for QB Griffin Neal, DE Nate Adams and the Cobbers to get the Tommie off their backs.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. As was pointed out in the ATN Podcast earlier this week, UW-Oshkosh’s record is deceiving because the first three opponents were non-D-III schools. The Titans are coming off of playing Whitewater closer than anyone else this season, and despite UW-SP’s marquee win over North Central early in the year, most of their games haven’t been blowouts. Just like with the game against Platteville, it’s possible that the talent of the WIAC will continue catch up with the Pointers this week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 UW-Stevens Point. I have to concur with my colleague here, rather than try to pick another one, and Ryan’s reasoning is sound. Part of the reason why Oshkosh was so “successful” against Whitewater, holding them under 100 yards in the second half, is because Jake Kumerow got banged up early in the game and they went really vanilla after that. So I think the Oshkosh score is misleading. However, UWSP simply can’t give the ball away as many times as it has and if the Pointers do that on Saturday, the Titans will make them pay for it.

Pinpoint a game that will change a conference-title chase.
Keith’s take: MIT at Endicott. The Gulls get 6-0 MIT at home this week, and face Western New England (6-1 after last week’s 35-34 loss at MIT) next week. One of these three teams is representing the NEFC in the playoffs, and fans of other Eastern teams should get behind Endicott. While the Gulls challenged themselves and lost to MASCAC leader Framingham State and LL leader Hobart in their first two games, a 9-0 MIT team would have to be a candidate to host in Round 1, provided it is eligible. Endicott leads the conference in scoring defense at 19.9 points allowed, and the Engineers lead it in scoring at 41.7 points per game, so there’s your matchup to watch.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton at Elmhurst. There will be no letdown for the Thunder after last weekend’s thrilling Little Brass Bell victory. Elmhurst has hung in the conference race – barely at times – and has gone 4-0 so far, but a future as a 5-2 CCIW team seems likely for the Bluejays. After Saturday, Wheaton should be all alone at the top.
Pat’s take: Centre at Hendrix. We had lots of talk about Hendrix in the first few weeks and then they dropped off the radar for a little while. But No. 1 quarterback Seth Peters is back after he missed the Wash. U. and Berry games (both losses) because of injury. Top running back Dayton Winn is back after missing the Berry game as well. Hendrix is very much in the SAA race and controls its own destiny.

Which team put up huge numbers last week that it won’t duplicate this week?
Keith’s take: Stevenson. I’m kind of mad at myself for writing this question. Because the longer I looked, the more I found teams that are probably going to put up big numbers again. I can’t trust Buena Vista’s defense to slow No. 6 Wartburg, or Wooster to stifle DePauw after a 59-point week, or Salve Regina to stop Maine Maritime’s running game. Stevenson, however, whitewashed FDU-Florham, 57-0, last week. Trey Lee scored three of his four touchdowns by halftime, when the Mustangs led by 37. This week the opponent is No. 12 Widener, which is also No. 12 nationally in total defense. The Mustangs scored eight touchdowns last week. The Pride has only allowed eight touchdowns all season.
Ryan’s take: Linfield. The Wildcats didn’t reach the 70-plus mark that other top-10 teams did in Week 8, but that’s certainly not an indictment on the talent the team has. This week pick isn’t an indictment, either. Willamette is more than five-scores better than Linfield’s opponent from last week, and I don’t expect the Linfield to play into a particularly drastic margin this week. Still, Linfield can probably hang 40-something on the Bearcats and win comfortably.
Pat’s take: Thomas More. The Saints have been back on cruise control the past three weeks after W&J caused them to downshift out of the tie for first in the PAC and the Top 25. They will not be putting up a 42-3/49.7/64-7 score against Waynesburg, to be sure, and they might not even put up a winning score.

The Empire 8 and ODAC are the toughest conferences to predict, but pick a winner from one anyway.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. Trying to figure out who’ll win when the Golden Eagles get a visit from Ithaca using past occurrences is an exercise in mental torture. (Hey, it is Halloween). Both teams are 5-2 and hoping to catch St. John Fisher in the Empire 8 race. One of the Bombers’ losses is to Frostburg State, which Brockport beat 46-0. But the Golden Eagles lost to Utica, which Ithaca handled, 27-10. The Bombers defense limited Salisbury’s often-outstanding triple-option rushing attack to just 74 yards in a 32-7 win last week. If we were going by just that, I’d say Bombers win easily. But Brockport counters with an offense that’s had 42 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, 11 in the past two games (h/t Brockport Sports Information). But even with those, three of the Golden Eagles’ wins are by five points or fewer. And in the nothing-makes-sense world of the E8 this season, one can only assume the result that seems more likely — Ithaca riding its dominant win over Salisbury to another win — is the opposite of what will happen.
Ryan’s take: St. John Fisher. The Cardinals will be going up against Buffalo State in what should be a competitive game between teams that have shown flashes of greatness this season. Fisher is four points away from being an undefeated team, and if I had to make a pick, I’d get behind Fisher to snag the E8’s automatic qualifier. But the Bengals will certainly have some fire in them, and pulling out the upset against the No. 15 team in the nation would put them right back in the mix for the postseason.
Pat’s take: Guilford. Thanks for leaving me an easy one. My alma mater has a really young team this year and just isn’t that good right now, and just in case one might be tempted to think they could still knock off Guilford, I’ll point out that it’s homecoming in Greensboro and that Catholic beat the Quakers last season, so it’s unlikely they’ll get taken lightly. Only question is if it will be close to the 62-14 win that Hampden-Sydney got at Catholic? Will Guilford go for style points to try to get itself more Top 25 votes?

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Ursinus. We’d be talking about the big showdown of undefeated teams with Johns Hopkins if not for the Bears’ 38-10 puzzler against Juniata a few weeks back. They had a momentum-killing turnover right before the half in the game, and settled for a field goal coming out of the half on a 12-play drive. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, and the Bears can forget about theirs if they play their best game against the No. 9-ranked Blue Jays.
Ryan’s take: Franklin. With a win this weekend, the Griz would be guaranteed to finish no worse than 7-1 in conference play, and they own the head-to-head victories over other potential one-loss teams. That means Franklin is poised to be the first team in 2014 to land a spot in the playoffs.
Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. The Captains are still one of the one-loss teams afloat at the top of the USA South standings, while LaGrange and Air Raid Junior have struggled on offense the past four weeks (and on defense for three of those). The Panthers offense, expected to be prolific, has been ordinary, averaging 22 points the past four weeks. CNU has two games left and has its destiny in its own hands.

ATN Podcast: Welcome to October

Hobart football
Hobart has run out to a 5-0 start. And it’s too early to talk top seed, but we’ll do it anyway.
Hobart file photo by Kevin Colton
UW-Platteville slings
The sight of two gunslingers in slings is not a good one for UW-Platteville
Photo by J. Jensen, D3sports.com

With Mount Union firing on all cylinders on offense, crushing it on defense and by the way, also doing so on special teams, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Purple Raiders are going back to the Stagg Bowl. And we’d have agreement on the Around the Nation Podcast … except that the Around the Nation guy does his best Lee Corso impression.

Is it too fast, my friend? Perhaps. But there are other teams that look like they could have the stuff to reach Salem, even if UW-Whitewater isn’t one of them at the moment.

Pat and Keith talk about that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. Plus the revolving door playing the role of “No. 2 team in the OAC,” the three key two-point conversion attempts that could have sunk Top 25 teams and the two that saved one of them. The thought of the top seed in the East makes its first appearances, as does that word “clarity.” And Pat, who has now seen UW-Whitewater play three times, gives us his most important takeaways from the three-time defending champs.

Plus we talk about the late comeback by Hanover, the surprise win by Catholic, Mississippi College’s choosing Division II and what that does to the American Southwest Conference and 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.

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

Triple Take: Driving the season home

Washington and LeePlayoff roads are being paved across the country as we enter Week 10.

We’ve seen the landscape change over the past two months. There have been break-downs and wrong turns by many along the way, but others have found the route to be direct and relatively free of bumps.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps present their latest gridiron map to help you navigate your way through Saturday.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 North Central at No. 15 Wheaton.
There’s barely anything that needs to be said about the magnitude of this matchup. Not only have both teams spent most of the season in our Top 25, they are currently in the first and second spots on the NCAA regional rankings. That means the winner could nab a top seed come playoff time. And what’s not to love about two teams that average 426 and 415 offensive yards per game in one of the country’s toughest conferences.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Wabash at No. 9 Wittenberg. The regional rankings make it fairly clear this is a playoff elimination game, as neither is in line for an at-large bid. Wittenberg’s Ben Zoeller leads Division III in passing efficiency, while Tyler Burke has made just two starts after the Little Giants lost Chase Belton. Burke threw two picks against Oberlin after coming off the bench but has gone 36-for-63 in his two starts. This game doesn’t have the luster I’d hoped for when I booked my flight a few months ago but the NCAC title is still on the line. (If it wins, Wittenberg would still have to beat Wooster next week to stay out of a three-way tie scenario.)
Keith’s take: No. 13 Wartburg at No. 17 Central. Here, and in No. 19 Hampden-Sydney at Washington & Lee, are third leg of the triangle games. And ones we’ve been waiting on for weeks. While the Tigers need to win to force a showdown with Randolph-Macon next week, in the IIAC, Coe has already beaten Central (37-28 in Week 4) and Wartburg has beaten Coe (31-21 in Week 7). Both the Knights, who can win the IIAC outright, and the Dutch, who can force a three-way tie, rush for more than 200 yards per game and have held four oppoents under 10 points. Rushing and defense as the formula for a November win in Iowa makes sense, but something has to give when the Central (75 rush yards allowed per game) and Wartburg (108) rushing defenses face the opponents’ ground attack.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Redlands at Whittier.
The 6-1 Bulldogs won’t get off easy against the 2-5 Poets. This could get interesting because, statistically, the teams cancel each other out on several fronts, most notably with Redlands’ passing attack and Whittier’s run game. That could mean that the team with the most dynamic plays or that commits the fewest turnovers (something that works against Whittier) will be the team that can walk away the victor.
Pat’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at UW-Oshkosh. UW-Oshkosh struggled a little bit on the road at UW-Eau Claire last week but the team with the toughest schedule, at least anecdotally, in Division III, won’t be intimidated by a home game against the top-ranked team in the country. The Titans represented themselves well against No. 2 Mount Union back in Week 2. The difference: UW-Whitewater will be tougher on defense and knows what its run game is all about, where the Purple Raiders didn’t have that figured out in their opener. Still, I expect a game that’s less than four touchdowns.
Keith’s take: Louisana College at McMurry. This matchup of the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 passing offenses might be surprisingly close for those who’ve followed from afar. Since the Wildcats started 1-3 and McMurry has put up big numbers against the ASC’s big-name opponents, the latter has garnered most of the publicity. But since LC has won four in a row, both teams are 5-3, pass for more than 380 yards per game and more than 13 yards per completion. LC’s Ben McLaughlin leads the nation in total offense, as does the team, because they also rush for 140 yards per game. McMurry’s Jake Mullin, he of the two seven-TD games, has passed 330 times with just two interceptions. With 53 (LC) and 45 (McM) touchdowns on the season, if this one is close, at 45-44, that would seem about right. Surprisingly close would be 14-13 or 24-21.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 2 Mount Union.
Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t bet much more than a nickel on this happening. But Baldwin-Wallace has been a team that has surprised a lot of folks this year since its lackluster debut against Wooster. And B-W can probably be seen as one of the two or three teams this season with a chance at knocking off The Machine in the regular season. We saw against Marietta that while Mount still earns our utmost respect, this year’s team is young — and it has weaknesses and inconsistencies. In B-W’s stronger years, they’re often able to play Mount close. I’m interested about what can happen in a year when the Yellow Jackets are up and the Purple Raiders are (relatively speaking) down.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Hampden-Sydney. I don’t think I’m surprising anyone in suggesting that Washington and Lee could well win this game on Saturday. While W&L could well have snuck up on Randolph-Macon, they haven’t snuck up on anyone since. And with a playoff bid on the line, one would have to expect (hope?) that more than 780 show up in Lexington this time around. The challenge for Hamdpen-Sydney will be getting the ball back. W&L held the ball for more than 40 minutes last week at Catholic (although the Generals haven’t dominated time of possession nearly as much in any other game this season).
Keith’s take: No. 10 Thomas More. No. 5 North Central, No. 9 Wittenberg and No. 13 Wartburg could all lose, but it’d be tough to classify those as upsets. If Waynesburg, even at 6-2, pulled the stunner against the Saints, it would definitely be one. Thomas More leads the PAC in nearly every statistical category and gave up 45 points — total — in five October games. If Yellow Jackets quarterback Brad Dawson, the PAC passing leaader, is outstanding and the rest of the team realizes what’s at stake — a Week 10 win against Thomas More and one in Week 11 against Washington & Jefferson would make Waynesburg a playoff team — it could happen. It’s unlikely, but some years, once November arrives, surprises are sprinkled across the national playoff picture.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Kean.
The Cougars have not fared well against the trio of NJAC powers, but they’ve had a lot of success plowing through the middle of the conference pack. This week they take on 4-4 New Jersey before hitting the road and becoming Wesley’s last obstacle to a likely No. 1 seed. It’s also easy to get excited to see Jason Gwaltney in his final two regular season games. The running back may not be at West Virginia anymore, but he is still the kind of player who makes an impact on the field. This year, he’s averaging 161 yards a game — which, by the way, puts him third-best in the country in that regard.
Pat’s take: Hanover. Look for the Panthers to continue Mount St. Joseph’s season of struggles and set up a Victory Bell showdown with Franklin in Week 11 that is for a little more than pride and a trophy, namely, the HCAC title.
Keith’s take: Case Western Reserve. Before last week’s 24-20 loss at Chicago, folks were considering the Spartans a lock for a Pool B playoff spot. Now they might not even win the UAA. Back at home against Wash. U., CWRU is on display. If the team has enough heart, and plays well, we’ll see a bounce back. The Bears are 6-2 and riding a five-game win streak that includes a victory against No. 25 Wabash.

A team that will clinch a share of the conference title on Saturday.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Trine.
The way Trine has been, erm, thundering through its conference slate, I don’t see anything short of another MIAA title coming to fruition. This week, Kalamazoo will be on the receiving end of a team that has averaged 45 points a game this season. Kzoo’s record isn’t where they’d probably like it to be, but they do have a solid passing attack that could make a dent against Trine. However, the Hornets’ strength on offense is also the Thunders’ strength on defense. That should be a good test for Trine ahead of Albion and a likely playoff run around the corner.
Pat’s take: No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor. The hardest part about playing Sul Ross State is getting to Alpine, Texas. UMHB should be on our Pool A list by about 4:45 ET on Saturday. But not back on campus before midnight.
Keith’s take: St. Norbert. The also-rans of the Midwest Conference had a prime opportunity to crack the dominant hold the Green Knights and the Monmouth Scots have had on the top spot for most of the past decade, as each team lost early, and lost again in October. But despite a three-point Week 2 defeat at Beloit and a one-point setback in Week 6 against Illinois College, St. Norbert is atop the MWC again, because everyone else has at least three conference losses. And with the Green Knights playing their season straight through with no bye, a home win against Lake Forest on Saturday will wrap up a conference title and a West Region playoff game at somewhere other than St. Thomas, which played in DePere in Week 1. Not bad for going 7-3; two years ago, that was good enough for third place behind Monmouth and Ripon.

Which season turnaround has been the most interesting?
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee.
The Generals started the season 1-2, a record that seemed to indicate that W&L was on track to match the 4-6 seasons of 2008 and ’09. What has emerged is a season that’s a lot more special than those. A win against Hampden-Sydney would send W&L, which is rooted in an ODAC-record-setting ground attack, back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly half a decade. A loss, though, doesn’t count them out yet either because H-SC still has to play one-loss Randolph-Macon, which W&L beat earlier in the year. With how good both the Tigers and Generals are, there’s nothing certain about the results come Saturday. And the fact that both are in such enviable positions of being in control of their playoff destinies is exciting to watch unfold.
Pat’s take: Muhlenberg. After a 3-7 season last fall, and Johns Hopkins, F&M, Ursinus and Susquehanna entering the season with reason to be seen as Centennial Conference contenders, the Mules weren’t given much thought. Although they gave up a lot of points (by Muhlenberg standards) early in the season, the defense has been more locked in of late and should give Ursinus plenty to think about on Saturday.
Keith’s take: St. Lawrence. Either way you qualify turnaround — from a rough start to this season, or reversing a program’s poor history — the Saints fit. Under former Ithaca defensive coordinator Mark Raymond, St. Lawrence lost its first three games of the season, but has since won four of five — the same number of games it won the past two full seasons — to take control of the Liberty League race and put itself in position for a playoff spot.

What team not in the playoff hunt has a lot to gain?
Ryan’s take: Susquehanna.
Any way you cut it, the Crusaders will have had the steepest dropoff, record-wise, of any 2009 playoff team. Their new conference, the Centennial, has not been kind to them. They went 1-8 on that front and haven’t had a win since the second week of September. We talk a lot about moral victories. Toppling former league-mate WPI on Saturday would certainly fit that bill.
Pat’s take: Wilkes. Following last week’s big home win against Lycoming, the Colonels have a chance to finish the season 7-3 by winning out and earn a trip to an ECAC bowl game, which would have to be pretty satisfying after a 1-2 start.
Keith’s take: Pacific. The Northwest Conference had not been kind to the Boxers, in their first season of the program’s revival after a two-decade absence. In a three-week stretch of October, Pacific lost by 48, 62 and 52 points. The past two games, a 24-12 defeat against Whitworth and a 42-31 loss to Puget Sound, aren’t wins, and got closer late in the fourth quarter, but they weren’t 50-point losses either. At 0-7, the Boxers aren’t going to be the champions of anything, but finishing strong, against top 25 Pacific Lutheran Saturday and Menlo next week, will get the ball rolling toward a crucial offseason of program-building.