Triple Take: Yet to see the field

Mary Hardin-Baylor gets started this week.

Many got to take a deep breath after Week 1, knowing the opening day jitters for their teams are past.

Yet many people don’t have that luxury. Lots of teams across the country have yet to take a regular-season snap. It could be even more worrisome if one’s opponent already has a game under its belt. How much does one team improve between games one and two? We’re sure to find out on Saturday.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you a breakdown of many of the matchups set to take place.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: UW-La Crosse at No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor.
It’s a good sign for UW-L that in its opener against Whitewater, it held the defending national champs to just a field goal on four drives. (It could have been worse.) But on the other side of the ball the Eagles failed to rev up their own offense. That pattern won’t fly against UMHB. The Crusaders are making their season debut, but, especially playing at home, it would be silly to suggest anything short of the team being fully prepared to win.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Cal Lutheran at No. 7 Linfield. The West Coast powers clash for the third time in 12 games, after the Kingsmen opened last season in California with a 47-42 upset and the Wildcats returned the favor in Oregon, 42-26, in the first round of the playoffs. CLU rushed for 252 yards in its win and Linfield 197, so I’d point at supplementing the passing game by establishing the run again as a factor. Then again, offense wasn’t the problem in either game, and though there are 19 and 16 starters back, it’s a new season. I wonder if the Wildcats can generate a pass rush with Eric Hedin graduated, and if they can cover WR Eric Rogers.
Pat’s take: No. 1 UW-Whitewater at No. 21 Franklin. Despite protestations to the contrary in Kickoff about how difficult it is to swap in a new quarterback to replace the franchise name, Franklin did start strong last week. What a game with Valparaiso, which is D-I in name only, means, not sure. Jonny West did go 32-for-51 passing and threw for five TDs and Ethan Cook had a good day running the ball in a 49-35 win, but UW-Whitewater, not-yet-jelled offensive line and all, will be a much stiffer test.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hanover at No. 10 Thomas More.
Last year, this was a 56-12 shellacking during which everything went right for the Saints. So my baseline is that anything under a 44-point margin is surprisingly close, right? This year’s final will be well below that. Hanover’s defensive core is at the line of scrimmage, and the Panthers will make sure to disrupt some of Thomas More’s fluid run game.
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley at Washington & Jefferson. The Aggies won, 27-0, in the marquee game of the MAC-PAC challenge last season, but needed late heroics to beat Muhlenberg, 10-9, in Week 1. Meanwhile, W&J smashed Juniata, 40-0. The Aggies’ win over the Presidents last year wasn’t even as close as it looked, as W&J couldn’t muster a first down for three quarters. While most of the Aggies’ defense is back, and looked in form last week, they have almost an entirely new offense. Plus, thunderstorms are in the Pittsburgh-area forecast for Saturday, which means this one could be an ugly, points-are-hard-to-come-by affair.
Pat’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas at UW-River Falls. Expect Matt Walker’s Falcons to be more prepared than you might expect for a team playing its first game. Without a wealth of tape to go on against a program under a new head coach, St. Thomas will have to be ready to adjust on the fly.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 17 Alfred.
This may not be because I’m high on RPI but instead because there are too many question marks surrounding Alfred. A returning starting quarterback Tom Secky is great to have, but does he have the supporting cast to put points on the board? RPI and the Liberty League should also be looking to redeem itself after a dismal 2010 season.
Keith’s take: No. 25 St. John’s. It wouldn’t be a major shock to have UW-Eau Claire and the Johnnies go to the wire, after an overtime game last season and three lead switches in the final 3:50 the year before. The Johnnies are coming off a 34-0 win in their opener, and the Blugolds a game where they gave up two TDs in the final six minutes to lose.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Hardin-Simmons. After a Week 1 in which each team had mildly surprising results, I just wonder if Hardin-Simmons has its way as easily with an opponent that didn’t bus 17 hours to go there. Instead, it’s the Cowboys with the long trip, to Willamette. Not that they’re busing to Oregon, mind you.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Birmingham-Southern.
Five picks. Five sacks. A rusher who went for 193 yards. If stats tell stories, then the Panthers are on their way to writing a novel for 2011. This Saturday, Birmingham hosts in-state rival Huntington, which is also coming off a lopsided win. With the SCAC logging Week 1 wins from Centre, Trinity and B-S, it’ll be interesting to see which of these conference-title contenders separates itself over the next few weeks.
Keith’s take: Pacific. The second-year Boxers led 21-10 in the third quarter before causing a lot of their own problems in a 36-28 loss to Simon Fraser. Turnovers, penalties and poor special teams caused Pacific to unravel. The 11th game since the program’s revival could be its first win, if it cleans up the mistakes. The talent at former D-III member Menlo tends to vary wildly, suggesting it’s not out of the question for the Boxers to match up with the Oaks.
Pat’s take: Greenville. Likening this franchise to a little engine that could, as one of the favorites in the chase for the first UMAC crown. Last year this game took place later in the month and Millikin won by 10, but this year it’s Greenville’s sole non-conference game — the only chance for the team to impress outside of the league schedule.

Team playing its opener that you’re most curious about.
Ryan’s take: Wabash.
Opponent Wooster isn’t as frail as it seemed in a shutout loss to open the season. And Wabash is set to prove that with several stars back this fall, the Little Giants deserve to be in the Top 15 or 20 nationally. The Scots can make this interesting if they can do some things they weren’t able to do a week ago, namely, hang onto the ball and protect the backfield. It doesn’t sound easy, and it’s even harder to put that into practice. Wabash will bring pressure for 60 minutes and rattle Woo’s cage the whole way through.
Keith’s take: Montclair State. I think the Red Hawks have a good chance at being the first East Region in four seasons to earn a No. 1 seed and relegate Mount Union to its own bracket in the North. But, one step at a time, and Salve Regina is no pushover. Montclair State’s excursion into the NEFC couldn’t have gone any better last season, in a 34-0 win against Westfield State. This time around, points could be at a premium. I’ll be watching closely to see if the Red Hawks can take the first step toward being that banner-carrier for the East.
Pat’s take: Mount Union. Who isn’t? Especially after UW-Oshkosh held on to beat Central last week. The Titans also have a week of practice up on the Purple Raiders, but note that I didn’t put this game as surprisingly close.

Which team will bounce back from a Week 1 loss?
Ryan’s take: Ursinus.
The Bears surely learned after last week that what began in one half may not necessarily carry over to the next. There are things for Ursinus to build off of: posting almost 200 yards passing, picking off opponent Albright twice and having two players reach double digits in tackles. This week’s competition, Gettysburg, pushed an exciting game against Ursinus last season. No reason not to expect the same again — with Ursinus again coming out on top.
Keith’s take: No. 15 North Central. The Cardinals seem an obvious choice, as they were expected to be one of the nation’s elite teams before a loss at Redlands last week. They play another night game, but this one in front of the home crowd in Naperville. Bethel (Tenn.) pulled out a victory against UW-Eau Claire last week, but it will find a talented and eager-to-avoid-starting-0-2 team tougher to defeat.
Pat’s take: McDaniel. There have been some questions going around this week as to which team last week’s Widener-Moravian game more accurately reflects. (Widener won 44-6.) McDaniel took a tough loss in its opener against Catholic and both McDaniel and Moravian have show the propensity to give up points. But only McDaniel showed it can put them on the board as well.

Whose long road trip will turn out the best?
Ryan’s take: Ithaca’s.
The Bombers are traveling down to Maryland — a 6.5-hour trip — to play Salisbury in the Gulls’ first conference game as a member of the Empire 8. While Ithaca struggled last week against a lower tier NJAC team, Salisbury hardly earned the automatic upper hand this week after blowing out non-D-III opponent Newport News. Why Ithaca may do well on the road is because the Bombers bottled up Brockport State’s run game something fierce last week. Including QB sneaks and sacks, Brockport gained a mere 40 yards on 27 attempts. Ithaca will need to bring this mentality to do well on Saturday.
Keith’s take: Hamline’s. The Pipers have been looking for a breakthrough win for a while now, and a weakened Pacific Lutheran (10 starters back) is ripe for the picking. New coach John Pate debuts an option-based offense, and as it’s more rare these days, players have even less experience to draw on when trying to stop it.
Pat’s take: Illinois Wesleyan’s. The Titans got a great performance last week from someone who wasn’t supposed to be in a position to contribute this year, and wasn’t even in the school last year. But Tate Musselman, a transfer from North Central, found himself high on the depth chart after injuries at wide receiver and responded with 34- and 82-yard touchdown catches. The IWU defense will face a bigger test at Alma than it did at home against Hope, but should come out well.

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