Triple Take: Can sour seasons turn sweet?

Sometimes rough starts get rougher when conference play begins. In the case of 0-3 UW-La Crosse, for example, No.2 UW-Whitewater awaits. In conferences like the ODAC, NJAC and MIAC, the only chance a stumbling team has to get it together is against a traditional conference power.

We guarantee there’s no stumbling in this all-staff edition of your weekly primer. Well, at least no stumbling over each other, as Deputy Managing Editor Gordon Mann, Publisher Pat Coleman and Columnist Keith McMillan are careful to each go their separate ways under each category. (For bonus points, try to guess who got first pick under each header by turning their answers in first! )

Check out which contests will be making waves on each coast and everywhere in between:

Game of the Week
Gordon’s take: No. 23 Willamette at Whitworth.
If the Bearcats are going to capture the NWC’s first automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs, they will have to win on the road. Linfield lurks in Week 8, but first Willamette has to beat the defending conference champ on homecoming.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Hardin-Simmons at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor. This game has the potential to be better than the rankings would suggest. The Crusaders have played two of the bottom teams in the conference since losing running back Quincy Daniels to injury but have been much better at the quarterback position than projected. But it’s still endemic upon Hardin-Simmons to stop UMHB, and while the Cowboys have improved over last season, they’ve still allowed 22 points or more in each game.
Keith’s take: DePauw at No. 13 Millsaps. It’s a shame it’s taken gaudy scores for voters to get on board with the Majors, but it’s happening, as they surged from No. 19 in last week’s poll. The Tigers haven’t scuffled as much as their last two finals might suggest, although they briefly trailed in the second half against Centre. The SCAC has been a three-way race in recent seasons, and for Millsaps to really grab voters’ attention, a home win against fellow unbeaten DePauw is essential.

Surprisingly close game
Gordon’s take: Lycoming at Widener.
The defending MAC champs open conference play by hosting an opponent with whom they’ve played some wild games. Lycoming hasn’t challenged for the conference crown in a couple seasons but already showed it can play on the road by hanging with Ithaca. Keep an eye on Warrior sophomore Josh Kleinfelter who is averaging 134 rushing yards per game.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Wartburg at Buena Vista. The Beavers have put a couple of good performances up the past two weeks.
Keith’s take: Trine at Hope. From afar, with the Thunder 3-0 and the Flying Dutchmen 0-4, it looks like a mismatch, but no one in the MIAA would be surprised by a close one. Perennial contender Hope reaches for the stars in its non-conference scheduling, while Trine has not played nearly as well on the road as they have at home. Each side considers the AQ its ultimate goal, so expect this one to be a lot more of a slugfest than the records would indicate.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset
Gordon’s take: No. 11 Washington & Jefferson.
[Pat chose first]. Shoot, I was going to pick UW-Eau Claire, too. He who hesitates picks someone else. And Washington & Jefferson, who plays at Geneva, is “someone else” in a week without a lot of upset candidates.
Pat’s take: No. 9 UW-Eau Claire. The Blugolds haven’t shown the ability to put points on the board. (They scored 28 against Hope, compared to Carthage scoring 70 and Wheaton putting up 47.) While they may well beat UW-Oshkosh 13-7, I think it’s more likely Oshkosh puts enough together to win it.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Muhlenberg. W&J is gone too, eh? Okay then. No. 2 UW-Whitewater is a tempting pick against rival UW-La Crosse, but the Mules haven’t been pushed too hard, nor have they been flawless in a 3-0 start. Johns Hopkins is playing its first home game in a month, and is coming off a 33-10 loss to the Mules archrival, Moravian. You think the Bluejays were focused this week in practice?

They’ll be on your radar
Gordon’s take: UW-Stevens Point.
The Pointers are 3-0 but it’s tough to know what to make of their three victories. Last week they beat Azusa Pacific who is usually solid and already beat UW-La Crosse. But we’ll know more if Stevens Point takes care of business on the road at UW-River Falls.
Pat’s take: Lycoming. Maybe it’s a bold pick, but even when Lycoming has been down in recent years, they have played Widener tough. I don’t see it being any different this week.
Keith’s take: Otterbein. With three wins under their belts, surrendering just seven points in each while scoring at least 37, the Cardinals are making bold statements. With Capital and Mount Union still a few weeks down the road, Otterbein must be consistently good against the OAC’s middle class. Another convincing win might catch some observing eyes nationally.

Who is more likely to sweeten a sour season — Bridgewater (vs. Hampden-Sydney), Bethel (vs. St. John’s) or Brockport (vs. Rowan)?
Gordon’s take: Brockport.
The Rowan teams from the early part of this decade probably beat this Brockport team by 20-plus points. But they would’ve beaten Bridgewater State and William Paterson by larger margins than the 2008 version did, too. Rowan is still the favorite but the long drive from southern New Jersey to western New York gives the Golden Eagles a better shot at the upset.
Pat’s take: Bethel. The Royals have had a couple of tough losses, one of which it seemed they clearly outplayed their opponent (Wheaton) but lost in a rainstorm on a punt return. They are out of the running at the moment for the MIAC title but can put St. John’s in the same boat with a win.
Keith’s take: Bridgewater. Looks like I get the Eagles. Not a terrible proposition, though, since Bridgewater owned Hampden-Sydney until last season’s 38-31 road loss. Falling behind 34-0 in last week’s 17-point loss to Lycoming was a low point few Eagles in recent memory have seen, and a defeat would give Bridgewater more losses than it’s had since 1999. The now-humbled Eagles know the Tigers well and have no problems getting up for H-SC. Perhaps Bridgewater reaches into the past and pulls back a ODAC-shaking upset.

Who scores more, Wheaton, St. John Fisher or Salisbury?
Gordon’s take: Salisbury.
The Sea Gulls didn’t win last week, but their triple-option offense was still impressive. Quarterback Ronnie Curley is one of, if not the, best quarterback I’ve ever seen at running this attack. I don’t envy Newport News who hosts a Salisbury team that is hungry for a bounce back victory.
Pat’s take: St. John Fisher. And I choose them not because Hartwick is the worst opponent but because the Hawks will likely put up some up points and force St. John Fisher to stay on the offensive a little longer than Wheaton will need to against North Park or Salisbury against Newport News.
Keith’s take: Wheaton. North Park, which is significantly less successful once the CCIW schedule begins, could be out of the game early. The Thunder might not be able to call off the dogs. Carroll of the MWC hung 55 on the Vikings.

Which surprise undefeated team stumbles?
Gordon’s take: MIT.
It’s tempting to pick Trine since its opponent, Hope, plays a hard non-conference schedule just to prepare itself for MIAA play. But the Thunder’s win last week over Franklin pushes the spotlight elsewhere. MIT plays at Mass-Dartmouth who needs a win to avoid falling two games behind NEFC Boyd frontrunner Curry. Beavers lose by the skin of their teeth.
Pat’s take: Carleton. While the Knights’ emotions will be running high after St. Olaf took it to them to the tune of 85-28 last season, emotions won’t be quite enough.
Keith’s take: Elmhurst. A 3-0 start after a late summer coaching change is encouraging, but Augustana will be a notch above in quality of play.