Triple Take: Top 25 clashes

Some conference races are becoming clearer, and three pairs of top 25 teams will meet on Saturday. With several one-loss teams still dotting the landscape and clusters of teams bunched at the top of conferences like the Centennial, the New Jersey and the Southern Collegiate, there is still plenty to watch and cheer for out there. Pat, Keith and I again break down some of the games that will play a role in the big picture — as well as noting a couple that aren’t as a big a factor as the early indicators suggested.

— Ryan Tipps

Game of the Week

Ryan’s take: No. 14 Capital at No. 10 Otterbein. The OAC’s No. 2 team is typically a lock to get selected for the playoffs — and this will be the likely decider for that honor. Expect the offenses to be at full throttle on Saturday, so far averaging 443 and 434 yards per game for Otterbein and Capital, respectively. But those same offenses will be testing the strongest facets of their opponent’s defense. As if playoff hopes, morale and pride weren’t enough to play for, would it help to be reminded that these Columbus-area rivals are but 20 minutes apart and have played each other 89 times during their histories? The series between them is nearly tied.

Keith’s take: No. 3 Wheaton at No. 13 North Central. Wow, I got third choice this week, and I feel like it’s a steal. I thought the Little Brass Bell game would be first off the board. Here’s why: It matches two top 15 teams who are CCIW title contenders and playoff possibilities. It’s a rivalry game. It’s been on the front page once already this week. And the Cardinals and Thunder have split the past four games, with each team winning once at home and once on the road.

Pat’s take: No. 6 Linfield at No. 17 Willamette. Can Linfield stomach losing three years in a row to the Bearcats? After giving up 429 yards of total offense to Pacific Lutheran, Willamette will need a better game on defense to beat the Wildcats. Linfield isn’t exactly La Verne or Lewis and Clark, two of the teams Willamette has put up big numbers on offense against.

Surprisingly close game

Ryan’s take: No. 24 Delaware Valley at Lycoming. The Warriors will be able to stay in this game if they find a way to spark even a little bit of offense. They match up well on defense against DelVal’s solid run game, but so far this season, opponents have been putting up more impressive numbers on the scoreboard than Lycoming has been able to generate.

Keith’s take: No. 11 Washington and Jefferson at Westminster and No. 23 Thomas More at Thiel. It’s important to remain in the moment. As a coach would say, the biggest game of the year is this week’s game. In the case of St. John’s (mentioned below) the challenge is not to look backward, but here’s it’s not looking ahead. The road game before an all-the-marbles conference clash is a danger spot. The Presidents and Saints each prevail, but not without some consternation.

Pat’s take: Wartburg at Dubuque. The two teams are headed in opposite directions right now, with Dubuque coming off a win against Simpson and Wartburg having lost to Coe last week. Slowing down Michael Zweifel (11 receptions, 137.6 yards per game) will be key for Wartburg, as will getting a better game from Nick Yordi (12 for 27, three interceptions, four sacks in last week’s loss).

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset

Ryan’s take: None. If we’re talking upsets by non-top 25 squads, then I think the teams on the poll run a clean sweep of their opponents.

Keith’s take: No. 5 St. John’s. I don’t know that the Johnnies will really lose at home to 3-3 St. Olaf, which has been competitive in losses to No. 16 St. Thomas, Bethel and Carleton. But after having vanquished its two toughest MIAC challenges in the Royals and Tommies, St. John’s must guard against overconfidence as they finish out.

Pat’s take: No. 22 Franklin. Mount St. Joseph has plenty of players who remember what it was like to be the top dog in the HCAC and be a playoff team. A victory on Saturday would put them in the driver’s seat for a return trip

They’ll be on your radar.

Ryan’s take: Wooster. The Scots might be 4-2, but they are still undefeated in conference play and face the big dogs down the stretch — No. 18 Wabash, Allegheny and No. 21 Wittenberg. Wooster might not be the same team people were predicting it to be at the start of the season, but a few good bounces and the ability to continue forcing turnovers could keep the Scots in the spotlight.

Keith’s take: Union. The Dutchmen’s route to 5-1 has not been without risk; They’ve won by 10, seven, four and by three twice. The season’s longest road trip, for a non-conference game that has no bearing on Union’s pursuit of a playoff spot, against a Salisbury team whose triple-option attack had it ahead 31-6 in the fourth quarter of a 38-20 win against St. John Fisher a few weeks back, will be an interesting test. I’m also keeping an eye on Alfred (at St. John Fisher), Mount St. Joseph (at No. 22 Franklin) and Plymouth State (at Curry).

Pat’s take: McMurry. In a game that McMurry would be favored in, the former Indians have a chance to get back to .500 at 4-4 this week against Texas Lutheran, heading into a home game next week against struggling crosstown rival Hardin-Simmons. Just something to keep in mind.

By the end of Sunday, how many conferences will have at least two teams in the Top 25?

Ryan’s take: Eight. There are seven conferences right now sporting at least two teams on the poll, and I think a good showing by UW-La Crosse against UW-Stevens Point could cause them to bump out No. 25 Centre if they don’t play well against Millsaps.

Keith’s take: Six. Let’s say North Central, Willamette and Wabash (at Wooster) each picks up its second loss and drops out, leaving four (the OAC, ASC, MIAC, PAC) and Franklin does too, but Mount St. Joseph doesn’t garner enough votes to move in. Redlands is unconvincing in a game it should win but Alfred is, and the Saxons leapfrog in. All those things are imaginable, but not necessarily likely, so I split the difference.

Pat’s take: Eight. I picture Redlands coming in after the Franklin loss cited above. I don’t know about UW-La Crosse. A win would help but would also be perhaps unexpected after the past two weeks.

Which lost-its-luster game would you just as soon avoid?

Ryan’s take: Carthage at Augustana. The bubble has burst on these two teams’ playoff hopes despite promising starts in the early part of the season. Instead of vying for first place in the CCIW, this game will be a better indicator of fourth or fifth place. Which isn’t to say that’s without respect in a conference this tough, but it will get overshadowed by the more impactful matchups on the slate.

Keith’s take: Trinity (Texas) at DePauw. Are we dissing teams now? It’s not that the shine is completely off the ol’ Tiger-Tiger matchup, because it isn’t. But it has competition for biggest SCAC game of the day, which was unanticipated earlier in the year. It’s hard to believe that if the results break right, with Centre beating Millsaps and DePauw winning, that the Colonels could have the conference virtually won in Week 8.

Pat’s take: Montclair State at New Jersey. New Jersey’s oldest small-college rivalry looked like it was going to be a significant NJAC showdown, clash of styles, etc. But with TCNJ losing two of its last three, including last week’s game at William Paterson, it’s now more a curiosity, an offense vs. defense battle.

Which result will be least like last year: Cortland State at William Paterson; King’s at Lebanon Valley; Plymouth State at Curry; or Muhlenberg at Franklin and Marshall?

Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg at Franklin and Marshall. Last year the Diplomats were struggling to scrape together a .500 season and suffered a low-scoring loss to the Mules. Fast forward to ‘09, and the 5-1 Diplomats will see their playoff hunt stay alive after this weekend, which promises to showcase a punishing pass offense led by sophomore John Harrison, who averages 312 yards a game. The air attack will also give the Dips the ability to sidestep Muhlenberg’s still-tough run defense.

Keith’s take: King’s at Lebanon Valley. If you couldn’t remember why last year’s Cortland State (31 first-half points in 38-0 win) or Lebanon Valley (34-7 road win) results were significant, don’t feel bad, I didn’t either. As for this season, if we get the King’s team that beat Randolph-Macon and Widener and led Lycoming by 11 with six minutes left, and not the one that gave up 57 to Springfield, scored six against William Paterson or let the Warriors game slip, then that final should be more interesting than 34-7.

Pat’s take: Plymouth State at Curry. This isn’t to say that I think Plymouth State won’t win again — I actually do think it will. But this year it won’t be nearly as much of a surprise.