Triple Take: As many questions as answers

Mount Union Got a sense of the Division III landscape yet? Hopefully, now that we’re going into Week 5, the picture is getting a little clearer.

While we all see a lot, we don’t yet see it all. Folks might be unsure of whether Mount Union can again run the table in the OAC or whether Linfield’s debut loss was a fluke. We might also be wondering about the teams at the other end of the spectrum: Has the luster faded from Christopher Newport, or can Lebanon Valley salvage its season? We are armed with so many answers, but there are still many questions out there to target. Executive Editor Pat Coleman, Managing Editor Keith McMillan and Senior Editor Ryan Tipps have some things to say about the weekend ahead and which teams have something unique to watch out for.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Willamette at No. 16 Linfield.
The Wildcats began the year at No. 4 before falling unexpectedly in their opener to Cal Lutheran. Willamette, likewise, is a one-loss team that joins Linfield as the favorites in the NWC. This could turn ugly if Aaron Boehme is able to throw the ball with impunity against a Bearcats team that isn’t great against the pass. Willamette is keen on forcing turnovers, and giving their “fly” offense a short field will be important to ultimately taking control of the conference.
Pat’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas at No. 19 St. John’s. I am sure it’s alright if I pick the game I’m going to be at, considering that it’s likely that 15,000 people will be there with me. St. Thomas has lost 12 of these games in a row (also known as, hasn’t beaten St. John’s in the era), and although there have been a few close ones in that stretch, I’m not sure last year should be one of them. St. Thomas was out of the game when two fourth-quarter special teams mistakes by St. John’s got them back in. The 15-for-31 passing sounds better than it is — even completed passes were off-target and left receivers in no position to do anything after the catch. Good news for St. Thomas is the alternating quarterbacks thing is done, but the bad news is Ben Wartman has been banged up and hasn’t played an entire game this year. Last year some of the Tommies looked a little rattled by the massive crowd in Collegeville. Perhaps the experience of three playoff games, two on the road, will give St. Thomas some perspective to draw on. Looking at a defensive battle.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Ohio Northern at No. 2 Mount Union . According to the order set in my look at 12 of this weekend’s top clashes in Around the Nation, I should choose No. 18 UW-Eau Claire at UW-Stevens Point here (only because Tipps already took the No. 1 game). And clearly the Blugolds and Pointers have the most at stake. But for sheer talent on the field, and gravity of a potential upset, Alliance may be Saturday’s epicenter.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Elmhurst at North Park.
Define “surprisingly close” however you’d like, but the two-win Vikings won’t play into the CCIW whipping-boy role against Elmhurst. Not only is North Park winning some this year, but they’re just flat out playing better football. Undefeated Elmhurst is having a stellar year as well, but it’s easy to believe it could be caught looking ahead a little to the Wheaton game on Oct. 9.
Pat’s take: Carthage at No. 10 North Central (Ill.). I’ll stay in the CCIW here. Carthage has played really well on offense of late. North Central will provide a stiffer test on defense than Franklin, Lakeland and Concordia (Wis.) have so far, but Carthage has a good amount of offense to bring to the table.
Keith’s take: John Carroll at Otterbein. The Blue Streaks opened their season with losses to Case Western Reserve and Mount Union, making them look worse than they are. (they give up 433 yards a game, for instance). Otterbein, which beat Heidelberg by a point in its last game. began the season ranked.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 UW-Eau Claire.
Is this the easy pick as most any game between WIAC teams could go either way on any given Saturday? Perhaps. Aside from a Week 1 loss against Willamette, UW-Stevens Point has been charging ahead with a run-by-committee approach to offense. Eau Claire has clearly battle-tested itself against some great nonconference teams, but the “W” in Wisconsin will be fueled by how peppy the Blugolds feel after last week’s loss to North Central.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Montclair State. But wow, was I tempted to take a rare opportunity to put Mount Union in this space. When does one really have the chance to do that? I think, however, that Montclair State has drifted a little high in the rankings. Kean at home under the lights, looking to make up for its season-opening loss to Cortland State, has plenty of motivation, even if there’s no bad blood anymore.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Cal Lutheran. There are at least four top 25 teams who will lose clashes against other ranked opponents, and a couple more facing teams that are or should be receiving votes. The Kingsmen have a dangerous Redlands team to worry about, one led by sixth-year quarterback Dan Selway, who has not been sacked and hasn’t had his best game. The Bulldogs defense has given up 17 points in two games against decent opponents (East Texas Baptist, Whitworth).

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: FDU-Florham.
The Devils aren’t a team that I notice a lot on an annual basis, but here they are, 3-0, already with as many wins as they’ve had in any season since 2005. A big test will come this weekend when they open conference play against Widener. Florham is the only undefeated team in the MAC. It’ll be interesting if they can stay that way.
Pat’s take: Birmingham-Southern. The Panthers aren’t yet eligible for the SCAC title or a playoff bid (or the Top 25) but they are 3-0 heading into a home game against Trinity (Texas).
Keith’s take: Ripon. The Red Hawks’ triple-option has hummed to the tune of 322 yards per game in a 4-0 start, while Saturday’s opponent, Knox, isn’t in the nation’s top 200 in any offensive or defensive category. Ripon shouldn’t lose, but part of being a conference leader is putting away the teams you should beat.

Which conference race will get the most clarity after Saturday?
Ryan’s take: The ODAC’s.
Emory and Henry hosts Randolph-Macon, and both enter 4-0. On paper, few teams come across as more evenly matched. Offensively and defensively, E&H and R-MC are among the top three statistically in the conference. And they have similar lopsided scores against a common opponent. As I pointed to in this week’s Around the Mid-Atlantic, the ODAC is living under the perception of parity. With two undefeated teams squaring off, we’ll see how that perception plays out.
Pat’s take: The OAC. Well, I mean, it’s certainly possible Mount Union doesn’t win the league outright. It’s happened in current players’ lifetimes. But even if it doesn’t happen, we’ll know the road map a lot better after the Mount Union-Ohio Northern game.
Keith’s take: The NEFC. The CCIW and ODAC pictures will clear up a bit, but both sides of the NEFC have surprise leaders in big clashes this weekend. In Kickoff ’10, I thought Endicott might usurp Curry in the Boyd, and they each head into their meeting this week at 3-1. The Colonels might not yet be ready to end their run of dominance; they’ve allowed just seven points against D-III teams, while the Gulls have played three close games. On the Bogan side, favored Maine Maritime is rushing for a national-best 488 yards per game but gave up 46 points last week in a surprising loss to Fitchburg State, after winning their first two by shutout. The Mariners try to bounce back against Worcester State, a bit of a surprise at 3-1. Framingham State is also unexpectedly 3-1, and faces 2-2 Mass. Maritime.

Which team with a conference loss can help itself the most?
Ryan’s take: Norwich.
The Cadets dealt the Empire 8 its first loss of the season in nonconference play and then fell in the ECFC opener by one point to Mount Ida. Too many drives died before they even got started. This weekend at Becker starts a stretch of four games against teams that are currently a combined 1-13 against Division III opponents. Using this time to shore up their game and eliminate mistakes will open up opportunities before they line up against SUNY-Maritime.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys can’t let down against an East Texas Baptist team that has already taken down UW-La Crosse and came out and surprised McMurry last week. Yes, last week’s loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor probably puts the Cowboys out of the ASC race, but there’s still a lot of season left and Hardin-Simmons needs to win the final six games.
Keith’s take: Lewis & Clark. The Pioneers aren’t ready to contend, but hosting Pacific, in its first year back on the field, is an opportunity to pick up a second win this early for the first time since 2003. As the program begins a rise, it can’t really afford to fall to the Boxers.

What team really needs a morale win this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Both Christopher Newport and Shenandoah.
And these teams happen to play each other on Saturday. The Captains are off to the worst start in the young history of their program. And for a team that has spent a lot of its seasons in the playoffs, 2010 has to be hard to digest. But the win they need isn’t necessarily the win they’ll get. Even in CNU’s best years, Shenandoah has historically played this game tough. The Hornets were thought to be entering a season of improvement over last year, when they lost six games by a field goal or less. However, SU, as well as CNU, are winless this season, and both are coming off a bye week to get their act together.
Pat’s take: Hamline. I’m not going to say our expectations for Hamline were high this year but we did picture a .500 season. Instead, the Pipers are 0-3 and after getting trashed at home by Carleton last week, a team that had lost to Crown, a loss to Macalester has to be considered a distinct possibility.
Keith’s take: Occidental. Interim coach Eric Bergstrom has the Tigers off to a 1-1 start, but coach Dale Widolff is suspended until Oct. 10 and the team hasn’t played since Sept. 11. In the Myron Claxton’s Shoes Game vs. Whittier, Occidental could very much use a victory to rally around. Limiting the Poets’ run game (269.5 yards per in a 1-1 start) is a key.