Triple Take: Conference clashes heat up

At only the midpoint in the season, it’s still hard to dub any matchup as a de facto conference title game, but at least half a dozen on Saturday can make strong cases to that claim. The CC (Johns Hopkins at Dickinson), CCIW (Wheaton at Augustana), MWC (St. Norbert at Monmouth), OAC (Mount Union at Capital), ODAC (Hampden-Sydney at Emory and Henry) and SCIAC (Redlands at Occidental) all feature competing teams at the top of their conferences, making this a fun week to keep an eye on the scoreboard.

–Ryan Tipps

Game of the Week

Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney at Emory and Henry. The Tigers are bringing a keen offense down to Emory, Va., (where I’ll be on Saturday) and have been blowing out opponents by impressive margins. The Wasps, on the other hand, have come down to the final minute to eke out two of their four wins — making me wonder if that’s a testament of their grit for 60 minutes of play or a stroke of good luck. These undefeated teams are solid in their core (H-SC on offense; E&H on defense), but this game will be especially interesting because of how well both teams are playing on their margins. Curious, too, is whether the thunderstorm prediction will dampen H-SC’s passing game at all.

Keith’s take: No. 22 Redlands at No. 24 Occidental. I’ll stay up for the late game. I can’t remember the last clash of ranked SCIAC teams, and as outlined in this week’s Around the Nation, an Occidental win could open the door to the SCIAC being a two-playoff-bid conference. And that could have a ripple effect across the potential playoff brackets, as three West Coast playoff teams mean someone’s got to take a flight. If Redlands wins and stays on course to go unbeaten, it could have the effect of kicking another potential high West seed North, and a North team East … making Saturday’s faceoff truly the “national” game of the week.

Pat’s take: St. Norbert at No. 12 Monmouth. This is a rarity in the Midwest Conference — it’s a game for the title between two programs that both have playoff experience. In the current pundit parlance, they’re “teams which know how to win,” but to me, it’s teams who won’t be intimidated by what’s at stake. Last year St. Norbert lost 31-22 at home, but then again, that Green Knights team finished 7-3 and was not on the same level as the teams which set the gold standard for the league over the previous decade. Worth watching the free video on the Midwest Conference site.

Surprisingly close game

Ryan’s take: No. 1 Mount Union at No. 21 Capital. Hard to decide what defines “close” when talking about the Purple Raiders, but I’ll just say that it’ll be closer than the 30-0 shutout that Mount pitched last weekend.

Keith’s take: No. 19 Cortland State at Montclair State. Only those who watch from afar, and see that the Red Hawks aren’t receiving any top 25 votes despite the same record as the Red Dragons, would be surprised if this is close. And even though the numbers don’t particularly bear this out, this one smells like a defensive struggle to me, with both offenses having been held to 10 points last time they faced an above-average team.

Pat’s take: UW-Stout at UW-Stevens Point. Stout has been looking for respect for its start, which now has reached 4-0. While Stevens Point is just 2-2, this is a chance for the Blue Devils to earn a little, since it’s the best opponent they’ve faced so far.

Most likely Top 25 teams to get upset

Ryan’s take: No. 10 Case Western Reserve. There’s lots of talk about the weak-ish schedule that the Spartans play, but while a factor, their Saturday opponent, Wooster, can’t boast much better. But Wooster has been improving on defense, which is still the bread and butter of this Scots squad.  Wooster is good against the pass, and can force teams to turn the ball over, something that should make Case nervous.

Keith’s take: No. 4 Wheaton and No. 20 Ithaca. I would still mark the Thunder and Bombers as favorites against Augustana and St. John Fisher, especially at home, but it’s hard to tell from the uneven starts whether either team is overranked on name recognition. Upsets wouldn’t stun me.

Pat’s take: No. 15 St. Thomas. The Tommies’ game against Concordia-Moorhead has the classic trappings of … well, a trap game. It’s right in front of the St. John’s game, and, honestly, what else is necessary to qualify?

They’ll be on your radar

Ryan’s take: Ursinus. The Bears have a chance to bounce back from a lackluster ‘08 outing, and by being 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 1996, they’re off to a good start. The past two games have each showcased different sides of the ball — a shutout against Juniata; and 55 points and the win against Gettysburg. Now they face Franklin and Marshall, a team has been adept at putting up lots of points on opponents. It’ll be a good indicator for the bears.

Keith’s take: Union. The Dutchmen haven’t looked very dominant despite playing the role of Liberty League front runner. Normally, Hobart is as good a test as any LL team will see, but this also doesn’t seem like a normal season in The League.

Pat’s take: Montclair State. Remember the Week 1 radar? And Week 2, actually, where Montclair lost to Wilkes. This is the Red Hawks’ chance to get back on the radar, hosting a Cortland State team that had to bring quarterback Alex Smith out of retirement for this weekend, just in case.

Which team is most likely to get caught looking ahead to next weekend?

Ryan’s take: No. 15 St. Thomas (against Concordia-Moorhead). The stats definitely favor the Tommies in this game, and the team is riding a strong, high-scoring wave right now. But conference favorite St. John’s looms next week, and it’s easy to get caught up thinking about that game. Saturday’s opponent, Concordia-Moorhead, is coming off competitive back-to-back losses against St. John’s and Bethel, and the Cobbers will be hungry for a win — and capable of disrupting St. Thomas’ perfect season.

Keith’s take: Nobody. This is dangerous territory, trying to guess a team’s mental state without really knowing it intimately. But as a former player (and human familiar with human nature), I can tell you this does happen. There are logical candidates like Mississippi College and Coe, who need to play their best games of the season next week against No 3 UMHB and Wartburg in Week 7, and are off Saturday. There are others, like DePauw, St. John’s and Wittenberg, who could be looking ahead, but shouldn’t have trouble with Rhodes, Hamline and Earlham even if they are.

Pat’s take: Christopher Newport. This week, Averett. Next week, North Carolina Wesleyan. Don’t take Averett lightly, despite a 5-15 record the past two seasons. And Christopher Newport is coming off an emotional win against rival Shenandoah last week.

Among the big conference clashes in the CC, MWC and SCIAC, who will emerge as winners?

Ryan’s take: Dickinson, Monmouth and Redlands. At least that’s who I have favored on my Top 25 ballot.

Keith’s take: Dickinson, Monmouth and Redlands. I’d love to vary it up, but that’s not who I think will win.

Pat’s take: Muhlenberg, Beloit and Cal Lutheran. Or did you mean not those clashes? None of these teams is exactly out of it, though admittedly, they don’t have the inside track for the conference titles.

The ATN Podcast this week was all about the picking the Top 25. Which team has dropped the furthest on your ballot, and how will they fare this weekend?

Ryan’s take: Hardin-Simmons. If you bought Kickoff ‘09, you know that I had picked the Cowboys to wrangle every team in the South Region en route to the national semifinals. They were No. 3 on my early ballots, before injuries snagged their star quarterback and key receiver. Now they’re unranked. If HSU wants to salvage the rest of the season, it will have start this weekend against a down East Texas Baptist team. Despite the Cowboys’ tough schedule, they hold the edge is just about ever statistical category and should be able to improve upon their 1-4 record.

Keith’s take: Capital. Oh man. I’ve wiped a handful of teams, from Willamette to Cortland State, clean off my ballot in the first five weeks. There always seems to be some movement on mine; even last week when the top 25 went 25-0, I had two that lost (Bethel, Wilkes) and a DNP (Alfred). Among teams I’m still voting for, the Crusaders are one I’m keeping an eye on. I think you can guess how I think they’ll fare; If it were anything different, that’d be interesting.

Pat’s take: Well … I also have Hardin-Simmons high, fourth. But if the point is to spotlight more than one team in this spot, I should point out I had Ithaca in my Top 10 as well. Should be a good game for the Bombers against St. John Fisher, but I expect Ithaca to still come out on top.