There’s always a lot of talk about how much teams improve between their first and second games. New skill players are broken in; the men up front learn a little about how to jell; and teams learn the basics of what’s going to be effective this season. And often we get to see how those improvements translate against teams that had a bye last week.
Will a week of seasoning make a big difference for such teams as Delaware Valley or UW-Oshkosh? After all, they both have some tall tasks ahead of them.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and I again give you our thoughts on that and other things to look out for over the weekend:
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Washington and Jefferson at No. 10 Delaware Valley. The Aggies were the only MAC team to notch a win last week, though it didn’t scream “domination.” The Presidents, on the other hand, have to open their season this week, and I can think of at least 200 opponents I’d rather face right out of the gate than DelVal — especially without having my offense rest on the skilled shoulders of graduated All-American Bobby Swallow. I’ll fess up that I don’t have W&J on my Top 25 ballot now, but a win or even a very strong showing would likely change that.
Pat’s take: Ursinus at Franklin and Marshall. This is what the expanded Centennial has led to — conference games in Week 2. And it should be a good one. F&M tuned up with a rout of Washington and Lee last week while Ursinus picked off three passes and broke up six more in a win against Albright. Winner gets a little taste of front-runner status headed into its game with Johns Hopkins later in the year.
Keith’s take: No. 13 Willamette at No. 14 Hardin-Simmons. That they’re top 25 teams is nice. That the Bearcats travel a long way to Abilene is even more interesting. But what does it for me is the stakes, knowing both these teams, coming off big wins in Week 1, need to keep the momentum going because the route to the playoffs via winning the NWC or ASC’s automatic bid is far from guaranteed.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Rose-Hulman at DePauw. These two teams are meeting for the first time since Rose bolted from the SCAC ahead of the 2006 season. Each school is debuting this week and is replacing a quarterback who was among the school’s best ever. That means a lot will be said for what happens in the trenches on Saturday, whether there’s protection and pressure. Typically, DPU is at least a two-touchdown favorite, but I think things will be a little closer than that this time around.
Pat’s take: No. 15 Thomas More at Hanover. We had already given Hanover a big jump in our Kickoff rankings this fall, moving the Panthers up 71 slots, one of the biggest upward moves of the year. But Hanover outdid even our optimism last week with a win at Centre. They’re playing their first game, while Thomas More is making its season debut. Then again, Thomas More will have some Hanover video to work from.
Keith’s take: Christopher Newport at Salisbury. Neither team looked to be its typically powerful self on offense in Week 1, scoring 6 and 13, respectively. I think both units get on track, producing a game that’s surprisingly high-scoring, yet close.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 19 Johns Hopkins. Opponent Randolph-Macon has the benefit of a game already under their belt — and in the walloping doled out last week, it’s clear that the veteran-laden Yellow Jackets are firing on all cylinders. Where does that leave the Blue Jays in their first game of the season, without last year’s All-America running back? 0-1, that’s where. (Apologies to Keith for snagging a chance for him to dote on his alma mater. R-MC.)
Pat’s take: None. Although I think Johns Hopkins has drifted very high considering what’s back, traditionally we try not to repeat each other. So consider this an additional vote for Johns Hopkins, while I’ll also note that a game featuring No. 13 at No. 14 is really a toss-up, so I wouldn’t think that’s upset-eligible either.
Keith’s take: No. 9 St. John’s. The Johnnies and Blugolds have a history of tight matchups, and playing under the lights at Carson Park should be a comfortable atmosphere for UW-Eau Claire. I’m not sure what we can take away from St. John’s’ Week 1 56-10 blowout of Northwestern, but the Blugolds rushed for 220 yards in a 35-31 win against NAIA Bethel (Tenn.) Whether they can run half as well against the Johnnies will be a factor.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Franklin and Marshall. The Diplomats’ matchup against Ursinus could very easily be the de factor title game for the Centennial Conference (and it’s only Week 2!). Both teams have a game under their belt, but F&M’s competition that first week wasn’t the most primed team. Seeing how they perform against a team like Ursinus will go a long way to showing their true potential. While the Dips are without All-Region receiver George Eager this year, quarterback John Harrison proved last week that he has plenty of targets at his disposal, hitting four players at least three times each.
Pat’s take: East Texas Baptist. Coming off a win against UW-La Crosse, the Tigers have a chance to go 2-0 with a home game against Redlands. That would be a welcome change of pace after going 3-7, 3-5 in the ASC last year. And by the way, F&M is already on my radar. They were on my preseason Top 25 ballot, and nobody else’s.
Keith’s take: Occidental. The 42-25 loss to Menlo was surprising, and I can’t imagine the Oaks’ switch in classification suddenly made them a great team. The Tigers were more likely affected by the preseason turmoil surrounding their coach. If it was just Xs and Os and poor execution, then maybe Puget Sound starts off 2-0. I’ll be watching the Tigers to see how they rebound from a tough start.
Team playing its opener that you’re most curious about.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton. The perennial CCIW power has a slew of new faces among its starting ranks, but I’m most interested in seeing how they’ve settled in at the quarterback position with a trio of players all in the mix. Not to mention that Wheaton scrimmaged my alma mater, Wabash, last weekend, so I’d like to see how the notes from that matchup translate to real-world play.
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor. It seems like the Cru lost its way a little bit last season, getting away from what it does best on offense. If they still rotate between LiDarral Bailey and Kyle Noack, perhaps they’ll have a better plan in Year 2 on how to best use them at quarterback.
Keith’s take: Union. Ithaca is at home and has the dreaded already-played-once advantage (a 33-3 win against St. Lawrence). With the Liberty League’s defending champion now playing in another conference, we’d like a hint as to who’s going to contend. Union might be one of the usual suspects, but beating the Bombers could move them to the top of the LL-teams-to-watch list.
Who will win the challenge, PAC or MAC?
Ryan’s take: MAC. Clearly the MAC didn’t have a great opening week, but top to bottom, I have a lot of respect for the conference’s strength. They should win more than half their games against the PAC.
Pat’s take: MAC. Pretty close, though. I have King’s beating Bethany but that’s a big toss-up. If Bethany wins the PAC could tie with wins by Geneva, Waynesburg and St. Vincent.
Keith’s take: MAC. The balance from top to bottom sets the MAC up well for a handful of wins among the middle teams. I like this concept a lot though, especially in getting W&J and Del Val an early-season challenge, and one a win to pad its playoff resume.
Which team will bounce back from a Week 1 loss?
Ryan’s take: Hope. The Dutchmen had a tough draw in their opener against Illinois Wesleyan, and to be sure, Wisconsin Lutheran is not going to be a pushover. But what we saw in that week was a defense that shut down the Titans for the entire first half, coupled with an offense that was able to move for more than 400 yards. If Hope can keep from tiring late in the game, they should be able to break their nonconference losing streak that dates to 2004.
Pat’s take: Widener. The Pride couldn’t take too much of it in the season-opening shutout loss to Alfred but should have a good shot to bounce back against Thiel. Turning the ball over fewer than six times would be helpful here.
Keith’s take: Monmouth. The ineffectiveness of the Scots’ offense against Wartburg was one of the big surprises of Week 1, and Grinnell won under a new coaching staff. Monmouth beat the Engineers 59-0 last year, and Alex Tanney and Co. will be eager to wash the taste of being dominated from their mouths.