With all due respect to the pinnacle that is the Stagg Bowl, Week 11 is the most fun Division III can have, considering its all-inclusive nature. From the top-10 OAC clash to the multiple teams in the conference championship mix in the NACC and ODAC to Anna Maria facing Becker with each team vying for its first and only win of the season, there’s something on the line almost everywhere. If teams aren’t playing for a playoff spot outright, they’re playing for a bell or a jug or some other proof that they’ve beaten their rival. Some teams are just playing to go into the offseason on a positive note.
Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I make sense of this week’s slate, with a clear slant towards games with playoff implications. We’ll be here until the Stagg Bowl, of course, but if this is your last time joining us for predictions, thanks for enjoying another 11-week rush of a regular season with us.
— Keith McMillan
Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 6 John Carroll at No. 3 Mount Union. If we’ve spent the season making almost no predictions about these two teams because they’ve made their wins look comically easy — the Purple Raiders are outscoring opponents by an average of 64-6, and the Blue Streaks 55-7 — then it’s only fair to thrust the spotlight on them now. Not only have they earned the recognition, but there’s actual intrigue when they’re facing one another. The teams met under similar circumstances last year, and Mount Union took a 35-13 lead on the way to a 42-34 win. The Blue Streaks, with six home games already in the books, play at Mount Union for the second year in a row because of the OAC’s normal schedule reshuffling. It’s a matchup of the nation’s No. 1 and 2 scoring offenses and total defenses (UW-Whitewater is wedged between the two in the top 3 of scoring defense). And on top of all that, the most accomplished player on either team, Mount Union QB Kevin Burke, tweeted midweek that the social-media yapping can stop, because the game is won on the field Saturday. While it’d be interesting, for the sake of change, if Mount Union lost and went on the road in the playoffs at some point, we’ve been conditioned to expect regular-season win No. 93 in a row for UMU.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Delaware Valley at No. 12 Widener. It helps my thinking that I profiled this game in this week’s Around the Nation column. The bottom line is that these two Keystone Cup rivals have never come into this game both being 9-0. The winner is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, but the loser is as close to an at-large lock as one could imagine. These two teams have dominated the MAC over the past decade, and both are averaging more than 40 points a game this season. This is Division III at its best.
Pat’s take: Also No. 6 John Carroll at No. 3 Mount Union. There aren’t enough words to describe how much we’ve been waiting for this game. But also, John Carroll really needs to play this game. It’s the first big test for the Blue Streaks since they lost at home in the first round of the playoffs last season and they have floated to No. 6 on the strength of other teams’ losses and their own pasting of overmatched opponents. The OAC has a bunch of really young programs (to put it mildly) who have proved to be no match for the two at the top and John Carroll has to perform well to be taken seriously in Week 12.
Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: No. 16 Washington and Jefferson at Waynesburg. Nobody’s talking about this game because the PAC has been clinched, and effectively over for weeks. Waynesburg is 7-2, however, with five games decided by seven points or fewer, including a one-touchdown loss to Thomas More last week. The Presidents are third nationally in total offense (553.4 yards/game) and sixth in scoring (47.7 points) and could use this as a tune-up for the postseason. But if they get caught looking ahead, it could be more of a struggle than they’d prefer.
Ryan’s take: Hendrix at Sewanee. The Tigers are coming off one of their best weeks of the season, while the Warriors have lost two in a row. The Warriors, at 5-4, should be favored, but I think Sewanee is carrying some positive momentum with them to make this a good one.
Pat’s take: Any of a dozen East Coast games. Keep an eye on the weather and the snow cover at any of a bunch of games in the Mid-Atlantic, where a storm front that dumped up to 16 inches of snow near St. John’s was making its way late this week. Schools in the Midwest know how to deal with this snow a little better and had an extra day to clear it, plus St. John’s is playing two hours south, at St. Olaf, where the snow cover was minimal. Some sets of seniors are going to get to go out with some pretty cool (if not pretty cold) memories and weather tends to keep the scoring down, so there could be some unpredictability.
Most likely Top 25 team to lose:
Keith’s take: No. 4 Wesley. The Wolverines have their best team since the 2011 squad that nearly won at Mount Union to advance to the Stagg Bowl, and they beat Charlotte 35-28 last year, in that program’s first season. This time around, the 49ers are a different beast. They’re 3-6, but with five losses by eight points or fewer. And they haven’t been playing the dregs of FCS either — last week’s loss was to Coastal Carolina, who’s No. 1 and No. 2 in the FCS polls, and the week before, ranked James Madison beat them, 48-40. Most D-III teams have a handful of players who could be on scholarship in FCS or D-II; Charlotte has at least 85 such players. As big a point of pride as it was for Wesley to have beaten a scholarship program last season, it had to be that humbling for the 49ers. Coming off six straight losses and hungry for a win, and not likely to take the little ol’ Division III team lightly this year, Charlotte is going to be quite the mountain for Wesley to scale. The good news: The Wolverines have had two weeks to prepare, and won’t be knocked out of the D-III playoff picture with a loss.
Ryan’s take: No. 22 St. Thomas. We all expected to see Gustavus Adolphus slide at the end of the season, but the slide hasn’t been that drastic on the scoreboard. Yes, the Gusties are in a three-game skid to St. John’s, Bethel and Concordia-Morehead, but not one margin has been by more than 10 points. Common-opponent comparisons lend weight to what can happen on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 15 UW-Platteville. The UW-Oshkosh Titans have been served notice by the West Region committee that they are not simply playing out the string this year, that they have a chance at a playoff bid. Oshkosh is making its longest trip of the conference season and while it’s a long drive from northeast to southwest Wisconsin, they also get to escape the snow zone and should have a nice, dry surface to play on. Now, those elements probably favor an offensive-minded team such as Platteville, but Oshkosh has to see it has a chance to play on. This may be an elimination game for both teams, but Oshkosh is trying to prove that it is worthy of playoff consideration after losing three consecutive games to scholarship schools to open the season.
Which team can play itself into the postseason in Week 11?
Keith’s take: Emory & Henry, against Guilford. The Wasps may need to give the Yellow Jackets a buzz to call in a favor, but with a win against the 7-2 Quakers and a Randolph-Macon upset of Hampden-Sydney in The Game, first-year coach Curt Newsome and his team are playoff-bound. If the Wasps and Tigers both win, Hampden-Sydney gets the automatic bid by virtue of its head-t0-head 49-27 victory in October, and the Wasps are 9-1 but on the fringe of the Pool C picture. With a .478 strength of schedule (anything below .500 is not good) that should rise a bit after playing Guilford, and no wins over regionally-ranked opponents, they’d have a shaky case for an at-large bid when put up against other possible 9-1 teams like Wabash, the Mount Union/John Carroll loser, the Delaware Valley/Widener loser and perhaps Texas Lutheran. Guilford, with one of its losses coming to Hampden-Sydney, is basically blocked from getting in.
Ryan’s take: Husson, against Mount Ida. Husson (6-0 in conference play) owns leadership of most of the conference’s offensive stats and is second defensively allowing just 17 points a game. The one crucial spot where Mount Ida, which has just one conference loss, could gain an edge is if the Mustangs are able to win the turnover battle. That has proven effective for much of the season. Barring that, however, it looks like the Eagles should be able to punch their ticket to the playoffs and avoid a messy three-way tie at the top of the ECFC.
Pat’s take: Centre, at Birmingham-Southern. I mean, I have to believe this is still possible, despite the utterly bizarre way in which the South Region’s regional advisory committee ranked them. Surely the national committee will correct that error if Centre goes 10-0. Perhaps Centre will feel like it needs to beat the Panthers with style points in order to convince the committee it’s a legitimate 10-0 team. It’s not like we’re talking about Westminster (Mo.) 1999, folks. 10-0 against a representative Division III schedule belongs in the playoffs already. Why the drama?
Which team can play itself out of the postseason in Week 11?
Keith’s take: Texas Lutheran, against Southwestern. The Bulldogs should Marquis Ba-ROLL over the 1-7 Pirates. (Ugh, I can’t believe I typed that). Given Wednesday’s regional rankings, TLU looks like a good bet to get that playoff spot it missed last season, no doubt partially because it scheduled UMHB this year. The reward would be another trip to UMHB, and a chance to avenge a 72-16 Oct. 25 loss, but the Week 11 win has to come first. With Centre and Framingham State each breathing down the Bulldogs’ necks in Pool B, behind Stagg Bowl contender Wesley, there’s no margin for error. Regarding the Bulldogs, Colonels and Rams, the national committee is in a precarious position either way. TLU played UMHB, Framingham State played Rowan and Centre (208th-best strength of schedule, .441, this week) played no one that’s regionally ranked. So it might be reasonable to believe that if the Colonels had, they’d have the same blemish on their unbeaten record. If you look at who the three actually beat, only TLU has a win over a regionally ranked team, and none play a team of consequence in Week 11.
Ryan’s take: Wabash, against DePauw. I have to find a way to get a mention of the Monon Bell game in here, right? Bottom line is that DePauw has no chance of making the playoffs, but Wabash does. That kind of dynamic has made this game interesting in years past because rivals love nothing more than winning the trophy game – and spoiling the other’s playoff chances can be the perfect cherry on top. Even though the Little Giants lost last weekend, I like their playoff chances as a 9-1 team because of the Week 1 win over Hampden-Sydney. That’s a far more quality win than 2013’s win over Hanover; that year, Wabash finished 9-1 but was left out, in part, because of a weak strength of schedule. Wabash has more than just the bell at stake this weekend and needs to make this one count if the team hopes to play past Saturday.
Pat’s take: Ithaca, against Cortland State, hear me out. Here’s why — Ithaca can’t be excluded from the postseason if it loses on Saturday, it already has an automatic bid. But the Bombers can play themselves out of having a winnable playoff game if they lose to Cortland State. That would leave Ithaca 7-3, and they are driving distance to Wesley and Mount Union. Beating Cortland State gives Ithaca a chance at a winnable first-round playoff game as well as the Cortaca Jug.
Keith’s other take: Pacific, against Linfield. Sorry, couldn’t publish this without acknowledging the chance the Boxers have to do the improbable. Despite getting through September with only two losses and a cancellation, Pacific is 6-0 in NWC play, and has to go through the mighty national power to become a playoff automatic qualifier. The teams’ results against Willamette, which upset the Wildcats, then lost last week to the Boxers, makes this a believable possibility. I find it hard to believe the Wildcats would lose a clincher at the Catdome; For more on this game from a Linfield perspective, I recommend this post over at CatdomeAlumni.com, even though it takes a swipe at “national pundits” right in the middle of it.
Which team can play poorly in Week 11, but survive to play next week?
Keith’s take: Rowan, on Friday night at TCNJ. The NJAC’s tiebreaker is different than it was the last time it had three teams in the mix for a bid on the final week, and the Profs need only win to cash in some old chips. Even a 3-2 victory against one of D-III’s worst offenses (TCNJ is tied for 234th at 11 points per game, and 236th in total offense at 221 yards per game) would get it done. Because it held first-half leads in a 31-0 win over Morrisville State and a 20-16 loss to Montclair State, the two teams it is tied with atop the conference, Rowan is playoff-bound with any kind of win Friday. With a loss, Montclair would need only beat 2-7 Kean to get in. Morrisville State, 8-2 and off this week, needs two 2-7 teams to pull upsets to receive the automatic bid.
Ryan’s take: No. 4 Wesley. We haven’t said hardly a word about Wesley in weeks because the second half of their schedule was loaded with non-Division III opponents. Wesley is the caliber of team that we should be talking about each week, but until next year when the Wolverines join the NJAC, there’s just not much to say. Frankly, the games they are playing these last couple of weeks matter less to the D-III world than the other 100-plus games out there each week. Wesley wraps up the regular season playing Charlotte, a team that played Wesley well last year. Hopefully, that means Wesley will get a little better battle-tested this week than it has against, say, College of Faith or Menlo in the past month.
Pat’s take: Mount Union. I don’t expect the Purple Raiders to play poorly, but they are the one team I am sure can lose on Saturday and not suffer a significant impact to their playoff chances or their first-round opponent next week. The way the committee ranked teams this week, I don’t have a lot of optimism for other teams in the same situation.
They’ll be off the playoff radar, but on yours
Keith’s take: Wilmington and Tarrell Starckey. It’s kind of tough for me to care about any Week 11 game with no playoff implications unless it’s a rivalry game. But there are 217 teams in action this weekend in 110 games, and most of them are neither. Way on the other end of the spectrum are players like Starckey, a junior who averages 10.5 tackles per game for his career, and plays on a team that’s 0-9 this year but has a chance to finish with a win against 2-7 Muskingum. There are players like this who might never get a moment on the front page of D3football.com (and some who have, like Thomas More’s Domonique Hayden and Heidelberg’s Cartel Brooks, who are are also among the career leaders and are probably playing their last game) but who exhibit as much heart and represent “For the Love of the Game” as much as a Gagliardi Trophy winner.
Ryan’s take: The bye week of Thomas More and Mount St. Joseph. As an alumnus of a school with a great rivalry, I hate seeing any rivalry game get passed over, especially one that is so geographically sensible and is established enough to have a trophy. I miss you, Bridge Bowl.
Pat’s take: Union and RPI. Union leads the Dutchman Shoes rivalry 47-17 and the series with RPI, 80-27-4 or 81-26-4. That depends on whose records you believe for the 1886 game. However, RPI has won nine of the past 20 and has evenly split the past 10 meetings. This is a rivalry that has gotten much more competitive in the past two decades and is worthy of Week 11 status.
We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the picks that were prescient and off base.