At least among the top 25, Week 7 is one without many major clashes. But when it’s expected to do well, that’s when a team’s focus can wane. It’s human nature. The best teams avoid those lapses. Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan take a stab at which ranked teams will have a slip-up, which will get caught looking ahead to their Week 8 showdowns and which teams have to show everyone something against this week’s opponent.
Game of the Week
Ryan’s take: No. 9 Capital at John Carroll. How does a team like Capital bounce back from a punishing loss against the OAC’s big dog? Are they nursing their wounds or out for blood? The relatively overlooked Blue Streaks are 4-1 and probably wondering the same thing. John Carroll hasn’t been tested much in wins against three of the OAC’s bottom-rung teams, and Capital will certainly add a new dimension to JCU’s strength of schedule. Capital needs to rebound while John Carroll needs to prove it’s for real.
Pat’s take: No. 6 Wabash at Wittenberg. These teams have to be considered to be much closer together than their No. 6 vs. unvoted-on rankings would suggest. Wittenberg will need to be able to hold onto the football a little better than it did against Washington U., a 30-27 loss in which it turned the ball over four times.
Keith’s take: Ripon at Monmouth. Given third choice, I’ll go with a game in one of the conferences I write about the least. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that St. Norbert usually has things wrapped up by now. Maybe it just seems that way. The potential here for Ripon, a program with a proud history, to take a step toward a place it hasn’t been in quite some time is significant by itself. Then you throw in the possibility of a three-way race in the MWC, or that the conference could potentially make a run at its first Pool C bid, and we’ve got a game that bears watching.
Surprisingly close game
Ryan’s take: Johns Hopkins at Ursinus. Johns Hopkins is hot; Ursinus is not. While the Blue Jays have already matched their win total from last year and are looking at having their best season since 2005, the Bears are on a (lopsided) two-game slide. Atmosphere will be on Ursinus’ side in front of a Homecoming audience, but at seven weeks into the season, Ursinus is the only team in the Centennial not to have had an athlete named as a conference player of the week. But it’s a team effort, and the team — especially the defense — will be needed Saturday. This game shouldn’t be close, but it will be.
Pat’s take: Heidelberg at No. 1 Mount Union. I mean, surprisingly close in that it’ll be closer than the eight-touchdown game that seems to be expected.
Keith’s take: Mississippi College at No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor. After losing their first two games, plus star quarterback Adam Shaffer to a season-ending knee injury, the Choctaws have settled down under freshman Tommy Reyer and gone 2-1. The final score might not reflect it, but they could give the Crusaders a scare for a while.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset
Ryan’s take: No. 22 Carleton. The Knights are having something of a Cinderella season at the top of the competitive MIAC, but there are still lots of spoilers along the way, including Gustavus Adolphus this week. The Gusties have shown that they can move the ball on good teams, and Carleton’s defense took a big hit last week giving up 41 points. So confidence may be a factor. But the Knights also have a knack for winning the turnover battle and for a measured and balanced offense of runs and passes. The Gusties will need to disrupt that dance to win.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Capital. I’m thinking the Crusaders are in line for a little bit of a letdown after last week’s pounding at Mount Union, while John Carroll needs the win to stay anywhere near the playoff hunt. JCU has allowed just 14.6 points per game, though it will need to put some points on the board.
Keith’s take: No. 8 North Central. It’s not that I think the Cardinals are bad; I have had them ranked higher than their poll position for several weeks now. Choosing a top 25 upset is never easy, and if you’re the slowest â€œexpertâ€ to grab the file and you get third pick of the available games, it’s even harder. Carthage is talented enough to push North Central, which could be too eagerly anticipating its rivalry clash and potential defacto title game vs. Wheaton next week.
They’ll be on your radar
Ryan’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors are rallying hard this year under their new coach, having already beaten the MAC’s two most-talked-about teams from ‘07. Wilkes has carried its difficulties from last season with it into this year, opening the door for Lycoming to gain momentum going into a showdown against fellow conference kingpin Delaware Valley next week.
Pat’s take: Chapman. But with the Panthers’ home game against No. 24 Occidental kicking off at 10 p.m. ET, they may not be on your radar until sometime on Sunday. Chapman has fared well against a schedule that is comparable to Occidental’s.
Keith’s take: Thomas More. I thought about Cal Lutheran, WPI, Plymouth State and Wooster in this spot, but none of them have more to prove than the 4-1 Saints, who face 4-2 Grove City with a chance to stay unbeaten in the PAC and establish itself as a playoff darkhorse. Defense has been the specialty of late, with none of the past three opponents scoring more than 12 points. The Wolverines represent perhaps Thomas More’s most significant challenge since a season-opening loss against John Carroll.
What’s the better rivalry-type game this year: UW-Oshkosh vs. UW-Whitewater (100 meetings), St. John’s vs. St. Thomas (77 meetings), Wabash vs. Wittenberg (11 meetings) or Trinity, Texas vs. DePauw (nine meetings)?
Ryan’s take: Wabash vs. Wittenberg. It feels strange after spending so much of the season with loyalty blinders on that I now balk at hyping an important game involving my alma mater, Wabash. But I know the intensity of this game — and the series, which at 6-5 means that just one win in Wittenberg’s favor separates the two teams. A rivalry has tradition and meaning to it, and the 2002 regular season upset of Wittenberg in overtime was the start of a fall for the Tigers, and they haven’t won a playoff game since. But on the line is often the North Coast automatic playoff bid, which this game has decided in each of the past three years. The twist for ‘08 is that Wabash is still breaking in a new coach, who brings a playbook full of new schemes on offense and defense. For Witt and ‘Bash, neither side will be fully aware of what the other is capable of.
Pat’s take: Wabash-Wittenberg. Enough said.
Keith’s take: That was going to be my choice too, over the Minnesota face-off. It’s a huge achievement for the winner, to emerge from the game favored among three contending NCAC teams. The Little Giants and Tigers have a history that seems to befit a rivalry longer than 11 years.
Which team stumbles on the way to next week’s big matchup, Delaware Valley, Lycoming, North Central, Wheaton, Linfield or Willamette?
Ryan’s take: North Central. Carthage’s win over Illinois Wesleyan in Week 5 proves that the Red Men have the chops to take down tough competition. But they’re not necessarily riding high at the moment after a loss last weekend. However, you don’t blow leads in the fourth quarter without learning something, and Carthage will be looking to pluck the feathers off a North Central team that has feasted its way to an undefeated record by playing teams that are only a combined 5-21.
Pat’s take: Lycoming. Wilkes on the road screams out as a classic trap game. Wilkes hasn’t played poorly but is 1-4, with three of the losses by one score.
Keith’s take: Willamette. There’s a chance none of them falter, and yes North Central was my pick to stumble while looking ahead under an earlier category. But in the interest of diversity, Pacific Lutheran seems as likely an opponent to pull off an upset as any of the others we have to choose from. The Lutes returned just eight starters, and have been competitive in losses to three teams with three wins each (St. Olaf, Cal Lutheran and Gustavus Adolphus). It’s time the young players grow into their roles.
With a win this weekend, which unbeaten team will most deserve a place in the Top 25: Curry, Monmouth, Trine or RPI?
Ryan’s take: Monmouth. It’s not just that the Scots have already beaten the Nos. 3 through 6 teams in the Midwest Conference, it’s that in most instances, they’ve manhandled the bunch. Ripon is Monmouth’s last big threat — and a win here against the 5-1 Red Hawks would give Monmouth an impressive win and vote of confidence toward the Top 25.
Pat’s take: Trine. I wouldn’t cast a ballot for any of the other three, since they haven’t played anyone in my current Top 40 so far this season. But RPI has the best chance later in the season.
Keith’s take: Trine. You could make a pretty good case for all of them, to be honest, but if the Thunder improves to 6-0, it will include a win over then-No. 14 Franklin and the defending MIAA champ/playoff representative in Olivet.