Triple-take: Could be a clincher

Keith McMillan and I and a guest each week run down the games to watch in several categories — some standard, some off the wall. But this is just the start of the conversation, as we open up the Daily Dose for your thoughts and comments.

This week’s guest is back to the top of the rotation, as Gordon Mann,’s deputy managing editor, rejoins us.

Continue along with us here on the blog and on the message boards on game day, especially if you can’t make it to a game yourself, and then we’ll be back Monday with our weekly podcast, wrapping up the previous weekend’s action.

Game of the week
Gordon’s take: Last week we had “de facto championship games,” but this week we have a team who can actually clinch a playoff spot when St. Norbert hosts Ripon. If the Green Knights win, they are MWC champions and the first team officially into the 2007 playoffs. A Red Hawks’ victory wouldn’t be quite as definitive but it would give them first place with games against Grinnell (2-5) and Lawrence (2-4) remaining. If last year’s game was any indication, this also has the potential to be a very entertaining game. In 2006 the teams had a see-saw battle swing in favor of St. Norbert when Zach Behnke returned a blocked punt to give the Green Knights the lead for good.

Keith’s take: Pacific Lutheran (5-1) at Linfield (3-2). It’s among a handful of games Saturday with conference title and playoff implications. I like this game best because of the rivalry that’s developed between the two recent national champions (Lutes, 1999; Wildcats, 2004) and the fact that the “Catdome” should be rocking for this one. Northwest Conference teams are behind the 8-ball in the Pool B picture, so the loser here is virtually eliminated from playoff contention.

Pat’s take: Bridgewater (5-1, 1-1) at Emory and Henry (4-2, 1-1). What could be better than a league’s old guard and new guard playing for their playoff lives in front of an unbelievable number of fans? Emory and Henry lost at Randolph-Macon last week but faces Washington and Lee, Catholic and Guilford to close the season. If the Wasps can get by this game, they still have a shot at the automatic bid. Bridgewater just held Guilford 23 points below its season average, but then again, Emory and Henry doesn’t pass nearly as often.

Surprisingly close
Gordon’s take: No. 7 Central at Dubuque is interesting, but we can’t be surprised when the Dutch play a close game. So I’ll go with the Rhine River Cup battle where No. 5 Capital travels to Otterbein. This has all the makings of a trap game — rivalry game, favored team on the road with a huge match-up next week, injury plagued-offense. Capital is 27-5 since the beginning of the 2005 season, with four losses to Mount Union and one to Otterbein. Maybe quarterback Wade Bartholomew has a bit of a let down coming off last week’s three touchdown showing against Ohio Northern. Maybe the Cardinals keep it close early and gain confidence as the game goes on. That doesn’t mean the Crusaders won’t win. But I don’t think they do so by more than two scores against a .500 team.

Keith’s take: Mt. St. Joseph at Manchester. When your season points toward one game, as the Lions’ has, and you lose it, a hangover is difficult to avoid. The 3-3 Spartans are in the midst of a good season, but this is a game 5-1 Mt. St. Joseph shouldn’t lose. They won’t, but it might take a few quarters to realize this is an opportunity to get back on track and stay near the top of the conference in case Franklin stumbles rather than a meaningless game.

Pat’s take: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Mississippi College. Admittedly, the Choctaws have given up a fair amount of points to the good offenses they’ve seen, and the Crusaders have more than just a good offense. And yes, Mary Hardin-Baylor has won 18 consecutive American Southwest Conference games. And they only allowed 14 points to Hardin-Simmons, on the road, while MC allowed 45 at home. So before I talk myself out of it, yes, this is a game that might actually be worth the $8.95 to watch it on the Web. After you get done watching the Springfield/St. John Fisher game on D3Cast for free, of course.

Most likely Top 25 team to lose
Gordon’s take: No. 22 New Jersey has held every opponent to 15 points or less this year, but they’ll have their hands full with Western Connecticut. The Colonials are scoring 26.7 per game this year including showings with 44, 41, 27 and 26 points and running back Wayne Neal leads the NJAC in rushing yards per game. If Western Connecticut turns this into shoot-out can the Lions’ offense keep up?

Keith’s take: It’s hard to go against No. 8 St. John Fisher in a game that looked like it would be much bigger than it’s turned out to be, but Springfield is still dangerous, especially on its home turf. With the Pride and the Cardinals joining Hartwick a loss behind Alfred in the Empire 8 race, it’s do-or-die for both teams here. If the Pride, who played five of their first six on the road, have any, this could be a toss-up.

Pat’s take: St. Olaf. Maybe the Oles have slid a bit high, at No. 13, after the losses around them the past couple of weeks. Bethel is hardly reduced to playing spoiler at this point — after all, the Royals (Bethies?) are still unbeaten in the MIAC and host St. John’s at the end of the season. This league has three-way tie potential still — and by the way, that’s what we projected in Kickoff.

They’ll be on your radar
Gordon’s take: Albright, who has barely registered a blip on the national radar at 5-1. On one hand, the Lions haven’t beaten anyone with a record better than 2-4. On the other, they were unlikely to be in this situation after last year’s 2-8 performance. Sophomore quarterback Tanner Kelly seems like an All-American in the making (1,561 yards, 13 interceptions) after his stellar freshman campaign. But he and Albright will have the toughest test of this year against All-American in the present Kyle Follweiler and a Wilkes defense that is still very good.

Keith’s take: The IIAC top four. Finally some clarity in one of the nation’s most muddled conference races. Central goes to Dubuque, after both teams beat Coe by a touchdown, while the Kohawks attempt to save face at Wartburg, who has already beaten Dubuque. We could emerge from Saturday with a three-way tie at the top of the conference, or we could emerge with a clear leader, with Central at Wartburg still looming Nov. 10. Montclair State at Cortland State is also worth watching for the help it’ll provide in figuring out the NJAC race.

Pat’s take: Illinois Wesleyan. The Titans face three serious tests in their final four games, though facing Elmhurst at home might be the least painful of the three. (The others: at North Central and home against Wheaton.) If they don’t win this game, it could be a painful downward spiral and a .500 finish, but a win, followed by a presumptive win at North Park, puts IWU at 6-2, 5-0 heading to Naperville on Nov. 3.

Smallest margin of victory — Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor or UW-Whitewater?
Gordon’s take: I picked Baldwin-Wallace as the team most likely to keep No. 1 Mount Union in check in the preseason but the Purple Juggernaut’s offense has me thinking otherwise now. Mississippi College gave up 42 and 34 to Hardin-Simmons and Louisiana College, both of whom got stomped by Mary Hardin-Baylor. So I guess that leaves me with the Warhawks for the smallest margin of victory.

Keith’s take: On paper, the nation’s three top-ranked teams face tough conference tests. Before giving up 62 points to Heidelberg and Muskingum the past two weeks, Baldwin-Wallace looked like a defensive juggernaut that might give Mount Union some trouble. Looking at the margins of victory for the three teams, using their average score (60-4 for MUC, 55-13 or UMHB and 30.5-14.5 for Whitewater) and the Warhawks are the only pick here, especially since they play No. 20 UW-Stevens Point.

Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor. UW-Stevens Point has had a great season so far but their three non-conference opponents (Webber International, Iowa Wesleyan and Waldorf) are a combined 3-18, and their three conference wins are each by three points against 2-4 teams. That game won’t be as close as the previous three UWSP conference games.

Playoff hopeful who sees its bubble burst
Gordon’s take: Springfield still has a faint chance at the postseason, despite its 3-3 record. But the combination of a Pride defense that’s giving up lots of points and a St. John Fisher offense that’s scoring them doesn’t bode well. They’ll join UW-La Crosse as a team ranked in the preseason Top 10 who will the playoffs. I also give No. 13 St. Olaf the edge at home in a game that would end Bethel’s chances at postseason return.

Keith’s take: Plymouth State. With the Panthers and NEFC heavyweight Curry each undefeated heading into Saturday’s game, the loser falls behind in the Boyd Division and will likely miss out on an invite to play Coast Guard in the NEFC title game. The winner of that game gets the NCAA bid, while no NEFC team has been an at-large selection.

Pat’s take: Wilkes. Despite being 2-4 overall, the Colonels are 2-1 in the MAC. It’s just not clear what kind of team is going to show up for Wilkes this weekend.

Winless team most likely to change fortune
Gordon’s take: King’s (0-6) had a nice comeback against Albright last week when third-string quarterback Blaine Fox gave the Monarchs a spark. Lebanon Valley (1-5) has to be pretty disappointed with how 2007 has shaped up, considering the Flying Dutchmen hoped to build on last year’s 6-4 finish with at least an ECAC appearance. King’s has been close to a W three times this year and I think they break through here.

Keith’s take: Hiram (0-6) goes to Denison (1-5) coming off an encouraging performance at Wooster, where the Terriers lost 24-17. I also like 0-6 Bluffton to get over the hump against Anderson (1-5) after a pair of 7-point road losses.

Pat’s take: Averett (0-6, 0-3 USA South). The Cougars travel to Greensboro (1-5, 0-3), who might be more fired up than they were in a 33-7 loss at Shenandoah. Regardless, it’s hard to believe Averett, even losing as much as it did from last year’s team, is still winless.