In Division III, make-or-break time truly comes during conference play. But for teams that have started either 0-2 or 2-0, Week 3 can become as much of a mental hurdle as anything else. Good teams across the country can find themselves on both sides of the fence.
Will teams in these situations turn a corner or stay the course this weekend? Pat, Keith and I look into our modern crystal balls — mostly consisting of keyboards and lots of numbers — to give you the skinny on what to expect come Saturday.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 Delaware Valley at No. 3 Wesley. Not to take anything away from these two teams, which have rolled through their first two games by combined scores of 54-7 and 81-6, respectively, but this weekend will really show that a Top 10 spot needs to be earned, not just given. Expect to see the defenses showcased (DelVal held its ranked opponent to minus-11 rushing yards last week), and we’ll see how adaptable Wesley’s replacement quarterback, Justin Sottilare, is under real pressure. This should be the toughest regular-season game for both teams.
Keith’s take: No. 19 Mississippi College at No. 9 Hardin-Simmons. Largely for the same reason Pat will use below, it’s nearly another early-season elimination game, as No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor also resides in the ASC, and we’ve only once seen a conference (the Empire 8 in 2007) send three teams to the postseason. The Choctaws are the defending conference champions, yet by virtue of reputation and stiff early-season competition, they’re third among ASC teams in our poll. The Cowboys’ start has been impressive, and the 575-mile trip from Clinton to Abilene is a serious one, so the Choctaws have their work cut out.
Pat’s take: No. 11 Ohio Northern at No. 18 Otterbein. The loser may well have to consider itself already out of the playoff hunt, having to run the table and beat Mount Union in order to finish 9-1. After last year’s playoff selection process left out every worthy 8-2 team and snubbed a 9-1 team with better numbers, there’s no real incentive. So congrats!
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Augustana at Adrian. Most years, good money would put a mid-level CCIW team heads and shoulders above a mid-level MIAA team. But Adrian has shown a lot of potential on defense, and Augie is coming off a difficult week where it couldn’t get anything going on the ground. If Adrian can keep the Vikings receivers from making too many big plays, the Bulldogs should be able to score enough to keep this close.
Keith’s take: Dubuque at No. 7 Central. Surprising only if you don’t follow the IIAC. From afar it might look like just another day at the office for a top-10, but a regular day for Central includes some fourth-quarter magic to pull out a close game, and this season (wins by six and five) has been more of the same. The Spartans have had a chance against the Dutch for three seasons now, although coaches and personnel have changed in that time. Dubuque — a.k.a. the guys on the other end of last week’s Play of the Week at UW-Platteville — surely had no trouble being hungry in practice this week, coming close but not tasting victory last week.
Pat’s take: Maranatha Baptist at Macalester. Maranatha has lost 26 consecutive games, and only one of those 26 has been less than a two-score game. But the Crusaders don’t have Principia or Blackburn to kick around anymore, and Trinity Bible isn’t on the schedle, so this may already be the last chance for a win this season.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 17 Trine. The question does say “most likely,” and playing against a WIAC team such as UW-River Falls is always a gamble. Plus, River Falls has been in the lion’s mouth twice this year, and though they’ve gotten chewed up both times, they won’t be the least bit intimidated by what Trine brings to the table.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Montclair State. There weren’t as many choices as usual, with six of the top 25 locked in head-to-head battles where one is guaranteed to lose, but it won’t be much of an upset. I’m not sure Rowan is the favorite heading north, but they have had two weeks to prepare since holding off Lycoming, 24-17. The Profs will also likely give more resistance than Westfield State, which the Redhawks beat 34-0 last Saturday. These Rowan-Montclair State games have a history of surprises though.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Central. I’ve been hesitant to pick any high-level upsets so far this season and Dubuque didn’t exactly light the world on fire last week, but these teams have played great games in recent years and if Central keeps letting teams hang around until the end, eventually someone is going to take the Dutch down.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: McMurry. Last year, this ASC team improved by four games under a new coach. This year, they’ve begun their season thumping on two subpar non-D3 teams, allowing only one score from their opponents while putting 105 points on the board themselves. But now let’s welcome them back to their regularly scheduled division, where they have to line up against conference powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor. They’ve had a lot of success throwing the ball, finding seven different receivers for touchdowns so far. Even a loss — if they keep the score close — would say a lot about how far this team has come.
Keith’s take: Franklin & Marshall. Following a 10-7 loss to Ursinus, it’s tough to get on this (Conestoga band-)wagon. And Dickinson, normally tough, is coming off a 38-7 loss at Hobart, so it’s tough to know what to make of the Red Devils either. But a solid win by the Diplomats, who held the Bears to 3 points through 53 minutes last week and gave up just two of 14 third-down conversions, would again make them a team to watch and a playoff dark horse.
Pat’s take: St. John Fisher. The Cardinals could be a little underrated so far, but this game, and then the one following against Hobart, will tell us a lot more than the games against Brockport State and Buffalo State have so far.
Which surprise 2-0 team is least likely to go 3-0?
Ryan’s take: St. Scholastica. It’s exciting to see such a new program jump out to a fast start, but it will experience a pretty big hiccup on the road at Concordia (Ill.). Concordia is the conference favorite in the NATHC and is likely seething after a hefty loss to in-city rival Chicago. If the Cougars get back into their groove with both passing and rushing, they will surely be about the stiffest competition St. Scholastica faces all season.
Keith’s take: McMurry. The uh, notIndians, have started about as well as possible, outscoring opponents 105-6. But a win against ASC power Mary Hardin-Baylor would be a major, major shocker. And the Crusaders hit teams where it hurts — or where it’s most difficult for a program on the rise to find good talent in Division III — along the lines.
Pat’s take: Chicago. It’s been a great two weeks so far, but winning at Elmhurst is a taller order than winning at home against Concordia-Chicago.
Which 0-2 team will earn its first win?
Ryan’s take: Wooster. Assuming Wooster can keep Oberlin quarterback Josh Mandel and his passing game in check, there’s no reason the Scots can’t break into the “W” column this week. As far as 0-2 teams go, there’s little shame in having such a record against the likes of Baldwin-Wallace and Wabash. Plus I have some history on my side: Wooster far outgunned Oberlin 52-7 last season. That’s a pretty big swing to overcome in just 12 months no matter how many new faces are on the field.
Keith’s take: Millsaps. Tough-luck losers so far (27-23 to rival Mississippi College and 27-21 in overtime at LaGrange), the Majors return home with finishing a game on their minds. Austin is 2-0, but no longer has the advantage of being unknown, as Millsaps’ head coach is also new, and there are two game videos out there on each team now. The Majors have outgained their first two opponents, held the ball longer and have limited them to 6 of 27 on third downs. Against the Kangaroos, the Majors just need to figure out how to turn that into a victory.
Pat’s take: St. Norbert. It’s almost impossible to fathom St. Norbert at 0-3 considering they’ve lost three games in a season just once since 1998. Last week, the team reacted to the one-game suspension of coach Jim Purtill by dropping a tight one at Beloit. If the Green Knights go 0-3, who knows what might happen next?
Which upset winner from last week will have the biggest letdown?
Ryan’s take: Grinnell. While there are a bevy of reasons why the Pioneers beat Monmouth last week, the injury of the Scots’ All-America quarterback is a big one. Don’t expect Ripon this week to put Grinnell on a similar fast-track to victory. Ripon is adept at finding the end zone and has a ground game that Grinnell is unlikely to stop. Not to mention that Ripon leads the MWC in turnover ratio. Sorry, Grinnell, but this isn’t going to be your weekend.
Keith’s take: Cal Lutheran. I don’t know that they’ll lose at Pacific Lutheran, but on the heels of a program-altering victory like the one the Kingsmen scored against Linfield last Saturday — with an overpowering second half — it can be very difficult for a team to humble itself and get back to work, especially if the next opponent isn’t a major threat. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cal Lutheran have another rough first half before waking up late and pulling out a victory.
Pat’s take: Baldwin-Wallace. It’s a nice 2-0 start to the season for Heidelberg but the ride gets a little bumpier here for the Yellow Jackets.