Triple Take: Beyond midway

If the season was condensed down into a week, we would have just gotten over hump day (a term I think is particularly lame but does illustrate the point). The playoff picture is becoming clearer in some instances, and the first installment of the NCAA’s regional rankings is right around the corner. Welcome to the beginning of the regular season home stretch.

— Ryan Tipps

Game of the Week

Ryan’s take: Wittenberg at No. 10 Wabash. It looks like the Little Giants will be playing this one without starting quarterback Matt Hudson, but that won’t matter. I say that not because of Wabash’s capable talent waiting in the wings; I say it because this is just going to be Wittenberg’s year — no matter who would be under center for their opponent. Wittenberg boasts one of the stingiest defenses in the country, especially against the pass, and though Wabash is less one-dimensional than past years, the Tigers are hungry for a big feast. No matter how it plays out, both of these undefeated teams are primed for a postseason run.

Keith’s take: No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Mississippi College. Honestly, I think it’s the Tommie-Johnnie game, but in the interest of variety, I’ll look south. And with the Cru going on the road to face the high-scoring Choctaws, and giving freshman LiDarral Bailey another start at quarterback, it could live up to the billing. Then again, UMHB averages 44 points per game and has allowed just 49 all season.

Pat’s take: No. 15 St. Thomas at No. 6 St. John’s. The Wabash grad takes the Wabash game and the Catholic guy from Minnesota takes the Tommie-Johnnie game. But I have a game where the winner could be a No. 1 seed that makes it possible for the committee to move UW-Whitewater out of region in the playoffs. And I’ll have 10,000 people in the stands at my game. Listen on the Game of the Week. But about the game, it’s St. Thomas with the No. 1 total offense in the MIAC … and tops with 259.2 rushing yards per game against St. John’s, which allows 97.2 yards per game.

Surprisingly close game

Ryan’s take: Wilkes at No. 23 Delaware Valley. Sure the Colonels are seeing their season unravel after two straight losses, but the fire is still there, and Delaware Valley isn’t yet the overwhelming team it has the potential to become.

Keith’s take: Concordia (Ill.) at Lakeland. In the Northern Athletics Conference, the 2-3 Muskies are at home against the 4-1 Cougars. Yet they’re likely the favorite, given their history of success, and that their three losses are against teams (Central, Mount St. Joseph and Carthage) that are a combined 15-1. Concordia is the upstart, and after a 56-7 loss to the Muskies two seasons ago, expect this year’s game to more resemble last season’s 35-32 Cougars victory.

Pat’s take: No. 2 UW-Whitewater at UW-Stout. Marcus Ball was clearly back at full strength last week at defensive end for Stout, recording three and a half tackles for loss and two fumbles against UW-Stevens Point. Whitewater running back Levell Coppage will be facing a defense that allows an average of 111 rushing yards per game, and that includes 224 by UW-River Falls, which needed 52 carries to do it.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset

Ryan’s take: No. 4 Wheaton. It’s easy to think that the Thunder would roll through this weekend, en route to a CCIW title matchup against North Central next weekend. But Saturday’s opponent, Millikin, is 4-1 and coming off a win against previously unbeaten Illinois Wesleyan. The Big Blue are in a good position to play spoiler in the conference, though with just one loss, maybe “contender” is a better title for them.

Keith’s take: No. 16 Capital. Losses by No. 6 St. John’s, No. 10 Wabash or No. 11 Monmouth would technically be upsets, but not be completely surprising. But if the Crusaders, perhaps feeling good about themselves after pushing No. 1 Mount Union to the brink, get caught napping against a John Carroll team that lost at Wilmington two weeks ago, that’d be eye-opening. And yet in the upper-middle tier of the OAC, it’s always a possibility.

Pat’s take: No. 10 Wabash. I say this not knowing whether Matt Hudson will be able to play at quarterback, but with the expectation that he won’t. While Wittenberg’s strength of schedule is legendarily low (literally, with an OWP of .208) Wabash’s offensive edge will be lessened if its No. 1 quarterback can’t go. That won’t affect the Little Giant defense, which features a quick front seven, and while Wittenberg can put up points on Hiram, Earlham and Wash. U., that doesn’t necessarily translate.

They’ll be on your radar

Ryan’s take: Randolph-Macon. The Yellow Jackets are squaring off against an Emory and Henry team that’ll be looking to rebound from last week’s loss. E&H will be fired up to remain in the at-large playoff hunt, but more noticeably, R-MC has been carefully keeping itself in contention to win the ODAC after opening the season with two nonconference losses. The Yellow Jackets made it to Week 12 last year a little slyly through the back door, and a win here is imperative if they want to accomplish that again.

Keith’s take: Christopher Newport. It’s hard to know what to make of the perennial USAC top dogs. Two of their three wins came in multiple overtimes, perhaps demonstrating impressive resolve, but they also lost the opener 34-0 to No. 5 Wesley. North Carolina Wesleyan has an identical 2-0, 3-2 record, with a 55-23 loss to No. 18 Hampden-Sydney and, like CNU, a close win against Salisbury. The Captains are playing for control of the USAC, though Maryville might be trouble later. I’m curious as to what they’re made of.

Pat’s take: Coe. I just might be prepared to say they’ll shock the IIAC by defeating Wartburg on Saturday. That will make the Kohawks 5-1, 3-1 in the conference, and who knows? A win against Augustana helps the ol’ Pool C resume.

Which team that lost for the first time last weekend will have the most impressive rebound on Saturday?

Ryan’s take: St. Norbert. Carroll is in the unenviable position of having to line up against St. Norbert a week after the Green Knights were pasted by Monmouth in one of the key indicators toward the MWC’s automatic qualifier. This conference hasn’t made the grade before in the Pool C hunt, but an impressive run down the stretch — starting against Carroll — can give St. Norbert some recognition.

Keith’s take: UW-La Crosse. After a loss at UW-Platteville took the wind from under the Eagles’ wings, they’ve likely humbled themselves to take UW-River Falls very seriously. Though 0-2 in the WIAC, the Falcons lost at Stout in overtime and by two at Oshkosh. La Crosse’s rebound won’t be impressive in margin of victory, but as an accomplishment.

Pat’s take: Redlands. A home game against Whittier is a good cure for what ails you, even if the Poets have already won twice as many games as last season and are coming off a strong win against Chapman. Now, Capital, on the other hand, needs to guard against a post-Mount Union letdown. Just thought I’d throw that in.

Which of the nation’s statistical Top 10 defenses will be put to the test on Saturday?

Ryan’s take: No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Mississippi College has been averaging 45 points a game already this year in one of the nation’s toughest conferences. Quarterback Adam Shaffer has a plethora of receiver options, which will push the speed and depth of UMHB’s secondary. If the Crusaders can keep the points down, there will be little denying how talented this team is.

Keith’s take: No. 11 Monmouth. It’s easy to assume the Scots passed their toughest MWC test by beating perennial power St. Norbert last Saturday, but it might be 5-1 Ripon that pushes them most. With the nation’s 14th-best rushing offense, rolling up 263 yards per game on the ground, the Red Hawks will put Monmouth’s 17th-ranked rushing defense (73 yards per game) to the test.

Pat’s take: No. 14 North Central. The Cardinals rolled up some gaudy defensive numbers against Benedictine, Olivet, Millikin and North Park. I think it’s fair to suggest that Carthage is a different animal. Consider the following: North Central gave up 402 yards of total offense to Ohio Northern in Week 1. It has given up 187.5 yards per game on average to the other four.

With a win this weekend, which unbeaten team most deserves a spot in the Top 25?

Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney. Sorry to trot out another ODAC team in Triple Take, but the Tigers started getting votes from me this past week. As balanced of a team as they are this year, a place in the Top 25 should emerge soon.

Keith’s take: Albright. You mean of the teams that aren’t ranked already? I’ve voted for Alfred and Hampden-Sydney for a couple weeks now, and Wittenberg would definitely attract votes with a win over Wabash. But few have made mention of the Lions, whose resume is similar to several of the unbeaten ranked teams that have yet to face their toughest opponents. Scoring 34 a game and holding three opponents to single digits is definitely worth considering.

Pat’s take: Alfred. The Saxons don’t even need a win this weekend to merit their spot. (That’s good, because they have a bye.) They’re far more qualified for a Top 25 slot than Ithaca was entering last week, for example.