Triple Take: All conferences a go

Lousiana College
Louisiana College is looking for a chance to gain some national respectability.
Louisiana College athletics photo

For the first time all season, teams from every conference around the country will be competing. That’s because, on Saturday, we get to welcome teams from the NESCAC to the field. Those 10 schools play only an in-conference schedule.

We’ll take a look at some of them as well as other teams from coast to coast. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you the breakdown.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 21 Hardin-Simmons.
There’s no question that, on a national scale, this is one of the most anticipated in-conference games each and every season. And HSU is coming off a surprising lopsided loss to Mississippi College last week. If the Cowboys are looking for a game to renew their spirits, this one won’t be it. HSU probably doesn’t have the run defense to stop UMHB’s 271-yard-a-game ground attack. The Cowboys will need a few big plays through the air to win Saturday’s shootout and will need to learn how to better stop its opponents in the red zone.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Thomas More at Washington & Jefferson. There are games matching more exciting teams perhaps, but nothing with more on the line this week. For all intents and purposes, the winner of this game wins the PAC and goes on to the playoffs. That’s how it’s been nearly every year since the Saints joined the Presidents’ conference. The games were 29-21 last year and 14-7 the year before, both in favor of Thomas More but close enough to irk W&J. The Saints bring a 42.5-point-per-game offense powered by RB Kendall Owens into the game, while the Presidents counter with QB Matt Bliss and a defense that’s played well for three games.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Mississippi College at Louisiana College. The Choctaws have to avoid a letdown after their big win last weekend at home against Hardin-Simmons. Meanwhile, Louisiana College is looking for a little respect after a triple-overtime win against NAIA Belhaven and a shellacking of Millsaps last week. The Wildcats offense certainly came alive last week in its second game since the graduation of quarterback Ben McLaughlin and if they can take care of the ball better than Hardin-Simmons last week, they should have a chance to be successful.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Randolph-Macon at Frostburg State.
It’s been four years since Frostburg won this matchup, and while the Bobcats have given up a lot of points so far this season, they may be able to zero in on how to stop Macon. That’s because R-MC has been surprisingly one-dimensional this year. Past years showed them to have the most balanced offense in the Old Dominion, but this year, they’ve struggled in the pass game (only 57 such yards last week). Over the past two weeks, R-MC hasn’t been able to really get out in front of its opponents, something that will need to happen to ward off a strong effort by Frostburg late in the game.
Keith’s take: Hobart at St. John Fisher. Hard to know what to make of these upstate New York teams from different conferences. Each is unbeaten, though Fisher’s wins are by 5 and 49 against seemingly the same level of competition. Hobart started out with a 33-9 win at Dickinson. Here’s the deal though: Where they once were near equals, the Empire 8’s reputation has gone through the roof the past five years, while the Liberty League just sent a 5-5 conference champion to the postseason. So you’d expect the top-flight E8 team to put a hurting on the LL team, especially at home, but I see a strong effort from Hobart and a tight finish.
Pat’s take: Coe at No. 10 Wartburg. This game has certainly lost its luster since the season began and now Wartburg has to be considered a favorite, but Coe and senior quarterback Brad Boyle have to sense the opportunity to give their conference title hopes a big boost. The Kohawks also need a win or a surprisingly close performance to remain the No. 2 team in the conference, rather than slipping behind Central and even Dubuque in the IIAC pecking order.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 24 Cortland State.
If the Red Dragons hope to rebound after last week’s loss to Kean, now’s the time to do. Though I’m really still waiting to see what Cortland State opponent Rowan is capable of this season. The Profs certainly haven’t yet hit their stride (where’s the offense?), so this game means as much to them as it does to Cortland State staying alive in the playoff hunt.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Wabash. Less a Little Giant dis than it is finally recognizing Dee Brizzolara and the Chicago Maroons. Every few years the UAA pushes out a team that’s playoff-worthy and good enough to beat top 25 teams, and this year’ Maroons have that feel.
Pat’s take: No. 14 Montclair State. I might be guilty of underanalyzing this game, but coming off of last week’s respective games, Buffalo State and Montclair State seem to have differing levels of momentum. I remember a particular Montclair State-Buffalo State we broadcast in 2000 that went to two overtimes — in addition, this was the last season Buff State had a national profile. If the Bengals win this one, they’ll be back on the scene for more than just blowing out Western Connecticut a couple times.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Allegheny.
Why? Because I’m impressed the Gators are standing at 2-1 and have found a solid balance of both rushing and passing on offense. They’ve proven in the past two games that they can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but the biggest test by far comes this weekend when they go up against conference kingpin Wittenberg. A good showing here will go a long way, and Witt is not invincible.
Keith’s take: Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers have looked dominant in a 3-0 start, but there are questions about the defense and the level of competition. A trip to Alabama to face Huntingdon (2-1, 37.3 points per game) should give us some answers.
Pat’s take: Dubuque. It’s been a long time since the Spartans beat Central (1987) but this is a good opportunity for Dubuque and the Zweifels. Other than last year, games recently have been close, including the three-overtime classic in 2007.

Which NESCAC game are you most looking forward to?
Ryan’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Colby.
The Bantams are always a part of the NESCAC discussion, and this year, they should be able to harness their offensive strengths to again make a run at the conference title. The NESCAC is a pass-heavy conference, so seeing whether Trinity’s young defensive backfield can slow Colby (and ultimately other opponents this season) will be interesting.
Keith’s take: Williams at Bowdoin. I’ve got the Ephs in the top 25, but I need to see an indication that they deserve it. Just beating the Polar Bears might not be enough, and that’s a shame because any team can look shaky in its opener, and Bowdoin looked improved last season.
Pat’s take: Middlebury at Wesleyan. Having taken a step forward under Mike Whalen, the Cardinals have a change to get this season off on the right foot and perhaps break out of the middle of the nESCAC pack, where they have been the past two years.

Which team could get caught looking ahead?
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve.
Next week, Case faces Allegheny (who I discussed a couple of questions ago), but this week is Denison, which has proven itself to be a competitor above and beyond years past. The Big Red haven’t played the toughest teams, but they’ve won the past two games by wide margins and played another to within a field goal. The Spartans can’t look past this one, otherwise they’ll find themselves looking back on it next week and shaking their heads.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Alfred. Next week’s clash with St. John Fisher will help determine if the Saxons are headed back to the playoffs, or at least will have a shot at winning the Empire 8. But they have to deal with 2-0 Springfield and the nation’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense (491 yards/game) first.
Pat’s take: No. 3 St. Thomas. The Tommies host St. John’s net week and while I’d like to give Glenn Caruso’s team the fullest benefit of the doubt, they do have to go to Concordia-Moorhead, and it’s not a great trip. The Cobbers are the best team St. Thomas has played so far this season. They might not get completely caught but another slow start like the ones against St. Norbert or UW-River Falls could have greater consequences. In considering this I looked at a whole bunch of teams who couldn’t get caught looking ahead — Mount Union playing Wilmington this week with Ohio Northern next week.

Game most likely to be decided by a 2-point conversion.
Ryan’s take: Puget Sound at Whittier. Both teams pass waaaaaay better than they run the ball. Note to defensive backs: Stay on your heels for the whole 60 minutes. Both teams enter this contest winless, and aside from it likely ending up a close-scoring game, look at it, too, as the last nonconference hurrah for them. Who’s bringing some momentum into conference play?
Keith’s take: Salve Regina at Endicott. Both teams are off to good starts, with the only blemish being Salve’s loss to top-25 Montclair State. When the Seahawks play, points could be scarce, and plus it took a 20-point fourth quarter Gulls rally for a 29-28 victory last year. The only way to top that is to have this year’s game in Newport, R.I. come down to a conversion attempt.
Pat’s take: McDaniel at Ursinus. I suggest this game because it’s likely to be a back-and-forth kind of game, one that could lead a coach to go for two. And the way McDaniel has given up fourth-quarter points, Tim Keating might want to stop the bleeding with a two-pointer.

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