Triple Take: Will someone clinch?

Christian Bailoni has thrown just five interceptions in seven games. He’ll try to lead Kean past Cortland State on Saturday.
Kean athletics photo

Open the floodgates. After this week, no one can fault you for talking about the playoffs too early. Why’s that? Because, with a win, we might see the first playoff competition officially enter the field.

You’ll have to read below to find out exactly who we’re talking about.

But there is lots more than that to discuss. Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you upset picks, teams with losing records that are worth watching and other surprises.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Illinois Wesleyan at No. 9 North Central.
Can the Titans rebound after squandering a lead and losing last week to Wheaton? The fact is, last week’s game against Wheaton was arguably the first real test IWU faced this season – and they slipped up. Meanwhile, North Central has faced and toppled stiffer competition ever since the Week 1 loss against UW-LaCrosse. Both teams are statistically among the absolute best in the nation defensively. It will be interesting to see which team does the best job in motivating the offense to getting in the end zone. Both teams have been adept at not just putting points on the board after reaching the red zone but also actually getting touchdowns. But can IWU still do so without quarterback Rob Gallik? He’s out for the season with an ACL tear, and his backup’s only pass attempt last week resulted in an interception. That puts North Central heavily in control.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Cortland State at Kean. Cortland, which floated below the radar all season after losing at Buffalo State on Sept. 1, announced its return last week with a home win against Rowan. These two teams have taken the past two automatic bids from the league and are both unbeaten in NJAC play coming in. Remember the great game these two played last year? And it means more in Week 9 than it did last year in Week 3. Cortland is rolling up record numbers of points, while Kean has two offensive standouts as well in Darius Kinney and Deandre Fowlkes.
Keith’s take: No. 5 Wesley at No. 16 Huntingdon. Will someone clinch here? Technically, no, but effectively yes. This is a Pool B play-in game, in my opinion, because the Wolverines’ strength of schedule makes it a no-brainer if it finishes its games against D-III teams with just a seven-point loss to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor. On the flipside, Millsaps might finish with a better record than Huntingdon, but the Hawks’ last game, two weeks ago, was a 45-24 win against Millsaps. QB Neal Posey and RB Trevor Manuel power the high-octane Hawks offense (43.3 points, 444 yards/game) but Wesley’s been quietly good on defense (16 points per game, No. 24 against the pass). Much of the preseason talk about the Wolverines centered on QB Justin Sotillare, but Wesley’s getting contributions up and down the roster, on offense (five players, not including Sotillare, generating at least 53 all-purpose yards per game), defense (LB Sosthene Kaepepula, 9.43 tackles/game) and even special teams (Sean Hopkins, 19 yards per punt return). So many other games this week could fit the G.O.T.W. bill.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Carnegie Mellon at Washington U.
You have to go back to 2005 to find a matchup between these two teams that hasn’t been separated essentially by more than a touchdown. Entering this year with inverse 5-2 and 2-5 records, CMU is the clear favorite thanks to a nicely stacked backfield. Yet when the Bears play a good team, it’s amazing how much they step up into the role. Just ask Coe and Wabash. Wash U. may not get the win, but they’ll make it fun to watch.
Pat’s take: Westminster (Pa.) at No. 25 Waynesburg. Shoot, pretty much every Waynesburg game has been close and pretty much every Westminster game has been close as well. I’d actually think about this in the next category down, but Waynesburg has somehow found a way to be resilient.
Keith’s take: FDU-Florham at Misericordia. The first-year Cougars are basically a JV team playing against full-fledged varsity teams, and the results have reflected that. Their closest game was a 55-17 loss to King’s, which is 1-6 and lost, 30-14, to FDU-Florham. I wouldn’t suggest that Misericordia’s going to win, even though the 1-6 Blue Devils have been outscored 128-21 in their past three games and rank 200th or worse in 10 of the main 17 statistics tracked by the NCAA. But that’s just it; knowing they should win going in leaves an opening for the Blue Devils to be lackadaisical even when they should be hungry for a victory, and it might result in the best two or three quarters of Misericordia’s inaugural season before FDU-Florham gets serious and puts the game away.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: None.
End of story.
Pat’s take: No. 11 Wabash. I actually think Ryan is on the right track here, but I feel like I should pick someone. (Someone other than the Waynesburg pick I obliquely referenced earlier.) Wabash at least has a decent shot of losing, just because Ohio Wesleyan is playing better than it has in years, but if you look at the Around the Nation column we posted on Thursday, you’ll see the comparative scores don’t favor OWU.
Keith’s take: No. 19 Coe. Way too many great games this week to think the top 25 will get through unscathed. There are three top 25-on-top 25 matchups, and another six games where a top 25 team is playing a five-win team. Maybe they’ll all come through, but the odds aren’t in their favor. Based on common results against Simpson (a 20-19 Wartburg loss, a 47-7 Coe win), one wouldn’t suspect an upset. But the Knights allow just 48 rushing yards per game, while Coe depends on the ground attack for 233 of its 479 yards per game. Plus, an outright conference title and simple Weeks 10 and 11 seems so un-IIAC. Coe would put the league title in the bag with a win, but the IIAC seems like it’s always got a tiebreaker coming into play. I’m betting on that more than I’m betting against the Kohawks.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Millsaps.
The Majors go up against a Trinity team that has been up and down all year – convincing win over Texas Lutheran and narrower one over Birmingham-Southern; yet also big losses against Sul Ross State and Centre. Millsaps, on the other hand, is riding a 6-1 record into the stretch, and still has B-S lying in wait. A playoff spot isn’t out of the question if they can win out.
Pat’s take: Middlebury. This is a team with some talent, especially on offense. You should have read about quarterback McCallum Foote, especially in Kickoff, as well as tight end Billy Chapman in a Team of the Week this year and right tackle Ryan Moores, an NFL prospect. Playing at Trinity (Conn.) is about the biggest challenge you can get in the NESCAC in any given year. While last year the Panthers lost this game 42-7, Foote did not play.
Keith’s take: Heidelberg and Willamette. For simple reasons. The Student Princes have hardly been challenged, and we really have no idea if they’re a team that can give Mount Union a game — with the nation’s No. 11 scoring offense (42 points per game, behind No. 1 UMU’s 55.3), a team that can beat another league champion in the first round of the playoffs, or one that is going to stumble this week and against either John Carroll or Baldwin Wallace and miss the postseason entirely. Until I watch the SportsTime Ohio rebroadcast at 11 p.m. on Saturday night, I still won’t really have any idea how strong this Heidelberg team is. The stats (The Student Princes are the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, at a little more than eight points per game, behind No. 1 Mount Union, who’s got six straight shutouts) suggest a great game, but also that the OAC has been very poor challengers this season as well. Willamette I’m interested in because the loss to Pacific Lutheran puts a three-way tie on the table in the NWC with a win at No. 3 Linfield, which seems unlikely. The Bearcats also put the NWC’s chances at a second playoff bid, which once seemed strong, in danger with a loss.

Which team with a losing record has the most left to play for?
Ryan’s take: LaGrange.
Besides any team with a Week 11 rivalry? (DePauw, Mount St. Joseph, Williams, I’m look at you guys.) Aside from a rivalry game, the other great factor is a conference championship, and LaGrange is actually in the driver’s seat for the USA South’s automatic qualifier. The team’s only conference loss is against Averett, which is at the bottom of the conference and is no threat to compete for the AQ. In their first year in the USAC, the Panthers took down perennial conference power Christopher Newport and now enjoy a 3-1 conference record, despite being just 3-4 overall. Methodist is this week, but it’s Ferrum and a rising Greensboro that will be the biggest challengers to LaGrange.
Pat’s take: Marietta. It is just pride that they’re playing for, but this is one of those times where a team should really look further down the schedule. Baldwin Wallace and Otterbein come up next, but the season-ending game against Muskingum is where Marietta needs to peak. The Pioneers haven’t gone winless since 1991, and this young team needs to pull together with its eyes on avoiding that.
Keith’s take: St. John’s. You’ve got to dig through the record book to find the last .500 (4-4-1, 1986) or sub-.500 (3-5, 1967) team coached by John Gagliardi. You don’t become the all-time winningest coach (487) or program (.705 winning percentage, per a claim on the Johnnies’ website) by having many of those. At 3-4 currently, coming off a bye since a win that followed a four-game losing streak, the Johnnies finish their home slate with Gustavus Adolphus, before playing at Hamline and at Bethel to end the season. Given that the final two weeks are probably a win and a loss, this week marks the difference between 5-5 and 4-6. Below .500, or the lack of a strong three-week finish, could make the calls for Gagliardi to finally retire grow louder. I’ve never heard John say anything that would suggest he would ever hang them up without being forced to, but I’m not sure how much he calls his own shot in that regard. Winning couldn’t hurt, and so the Johnnies, who have scored 21 or more in all but one game this year, welcome Gustavus, who averages less than 20, to town for a clash, to, oh, preserve the Johnnie legacy, keep its legendary coach in place and simply win.

Which “state of mind” are you drawn to?
Ryan’s take: Cortland State.
The Red Dragons will clinch a playoff berth with a win over Kean this week. How can we not be drawn to that? But, since I’m the first of our trio to make his Triple Take picks, it’s possible one of my colleagues will have already mentioned Cortland higher up. Sooooooo, Castleton State, which lines up against a Gallaudet squad that’s playing better than ever, is also a good one to watch.
Pat’s take: Illinois College. This week’s game at Monmouth should be interesting, because Michael Bates hasn’t come back since the game in which he got injured against Lake Forest. I’d really like to talk about the state of Defiance, but I don’t see them beating Franklin.
Keith’s take: Framingham and Bridgewater States. The Rams (No. 4 total defense nationally) have a lower yards-per-play (3.3) than anybody but Mount Union (2.12) and have won seven in a row since a seven-turnover opening-week debacle against Endicott in which the Gulls returned two interceptions for scores. Coast Guard, a surprising 4-3, hosts Framingham State, while Bridgewater State (No. 9 total defense nationally) hosts punchless Maine Maritime (0-7) hoping for a stumble and a chance to sneak back into the Bogan Division race. The Bears only loss came 16-0 at home against the Rams, so they’d be pulling for Worcester State (5-3) the following week if Framingham State does stumble. The Rams’ name to know is Melikke van Alstyne, a running back rushing for 148 yards per game.

Which game are you surprised means as much as it does at this point in the season?
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Hampden-Sydney.
With Guilford having swept through Bridgewater and Randolph-Macon over the past two weeks, the team that was 2-8 last season could put themselves in prime position with a win over Hampden-Sydney this week. H-SC may be slightly down compared with recent year, but I emphasize “slightly.” The Tigers are still going to take advantage of opponent miscues as well as come up with creative play-calling. The Quakers probably won’t emerge from this with a win, but just the fact that they’re in a position to compete for the ODAC title in Week 9, that’s an impressive stride over their recent seasons.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Heidelberg at No. 1 Mount Union. And this is not just because the two teams are unbeaten, although that’s obviously a big part of it. This is also bigger than expected because neither team has particularly been challenged this season, because Ohio Northern is unexpectedly 2-5 and Capital has struggled. (By the way, on the opposite side, surprised that Concordia-Chicago at Benedictine doesn’t have more riding on it. Would not have expected Benedictine to be 1-3 in the league.)
Keith’s take: No. 11 Wabash at Ohio Wesleyan. Let’s be real. There are probably some team Moms, videographers and backup linemen that didn’t expect a 7-0 start for the Battling Bishops, who haven’t finished above .500 since 2005. The national praise has been slow to come because of Ohio Wesleyan’s competition; If we’re all waiting for them to beat a serious opponent, they don’t come much more serious than the Little Giants. Defensive linemen James Huddleston and Johnathan Valentine have propelled OWU to the top of D-III in sacks this season, Miles McKenzie leads the nation in field goals and QB Mason Espinosa is top 15 in passing. If OWU pulls off the upset, it’s not only in the driver’s seat for the NCAC automatic bid with two games to go, it makes Coach Tom Watts a favorite for the North Region coach of the year and puts the 2002 Hanover graduate on the short list of young D-III coaches on the rise.

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