Triple Take predictions, Week 10: This is almost it!

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Tyler Holmes and Wabash will try to keep the unbeaten run alive. (Wabash photo by Howard Hewitt)

Week 10. This is almost it.

For a handful of teams, this is it — their season will be over by Saturday evening. For another handful, this is it in the sense that the game that defines the season is this week. And for a few more, this is almost it — there’s one more shot next week, whether that shot is to score a win that influences the playoff selection committee, or just to head into the offseason on a high note.

With regional rankings out and selection Sunday nine days from now, Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I focus on the top end of Division III in this week’s predictions, as a field of 32 will be chosen from the 230 or so that are playoff-eligible. Here are our predictions.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: Ithaca at No. 15 St. John Fisher. The clashes at the top of the MIAC and NCAC are bigger games, but we have a Wabash grad and Minnesota resident here more qualified to handle those. We might overdo the Empire 8 in Triple Take every week, yet this one is huge because it’s the difference between winning the conference and possibly a couple playoff games, as E8 winners have been known to do, and missing the field entirely. Salisbury game aside, the Cardinals have been pretty solid in total defense (275 yards/game, 25th nationally). Ithaca (294/34th) isn’t far behind, and after allowing 38 points to Frostburg State, have allowed just three TDs in two games. To top it off, the past three Bombers-Cardinals clashes have been decided by three, four and three points.
Ryan’s take: No. 9 Wabash at No. 14 Wittenberg. As a Wabash grad, I feel no pressure to *have* to pick this game; fact is, I *want* to pick it. Not only is this one of the two top-25 clashes this weekend, but it also features two teams that have grown into the fiercest of rivals when it comes to talking about the NCAC. Only once since 2004 has a team not named Wabash or Wittenberg won the conference title, and even that was a co-champion situation in which Witt still got the automatic qualifier. The Little Giants and Tigers are at the top of most major statistical categories in the conference, including scoring offense and scoring defense. Makes you wonder what kind of game we’re in for this weekend, huh?
Pat’s take: No. 10 Bethel at No. 18 St. John’s. The first time I saw these teams play was on another cold Week 10 Saturday, 11 years ago when St. John’s coach John Gagliardi came in with 408 career wins and needed one more to surpass legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson to become the winningest coach in college football history. I don’t expect to see (or be) a member of the national media at this game, nor 14,000 people, but it still has the makings of a classic. The primary question in my mind is how well Bethel’s defense will contain St. John’s running back Sam Sura, and whether the Johnnies will continue to rip a page from the 2003 playbook and put their best receiver in the backfield in a big game. (I mean, if they’re going to throw the ball around 10 times per game, what else does Josh Bungum have to do?)

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: No. 13 Widener at King’s. For a 3-5 team, the Monarchs have pulled off some amazing feats, like managing to play both No. 19 Delaware Valley (24-21 loss last week) and 1-7 Misericordia (36-29 win) even. Three of King’s losses are by a touchdown or less, and they lost by two scores to Lycoming. All that bodes well for another game where they hang close to a superior team. Turnovers are even more key here than usual — Widener has just six giveaways all season, and King’s has 10.
Ryan’s take: Case Western Reserve at Thomas More. The newcomer vs. a PAC power. Case hasn’t been playing particularly well this season, but one bright spot is that they can handle an opponent’s run game reasonably well. That might not translate into a win against TMC, but it should keep the score somewhat in check.
Pat’s take: No. 25 Willamette at Pacific. Mostly because I don’t know what to do with this game and it should be mentioned. Willamette has to be favored, even though Pacific is in first place in the Northwest Conference at the moment. But Pacific needed overtime to beat Lewis and Clark last week and hasn’t played Linfield yet, so being in first place is cool for the program, but a little misleading at the moment.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 7 Hobart. The discrepancy between the Statesmen’s No. 7 ranking and St. Lawrence’s two votes is the biggest in this week’s conference-title toss-ups. If it weren’t for the Saints’ puzzling 10-7 loss to Norwich early in the season, we’d be billing this as a matchup of 8-0 teams. But what makes the potential for upset here real is that both teams are equally adept at the rare skill of good defense. Hobart has held five opponents to 13 points or fewer, and the three times a team has gone over, it’s needed to get there with a TD in the final minute after the outcome has been decided. St. Lawrence, meantime, is sixth nationally in total defense (219 yards/game, 10 TDs allowed), just ahead of No. 10 Hobart (234/11), and neither team has more than nine turnovers this season. To pull the upset, Mike Lefflbine and the Saints’ offense will have to figure out how to score on Hobart, which might not be likely, but it’s more possible than the disparate rankings might make it seem.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Hobart. St. Lawrence hasn’t been squeaking by most teams on the schedule; instead the Saints have been leaving few questions about who’s the best team on the field each week. SLU allows just 11 points a game — a mere 0.1 better than Hobart’s average in that category — and should be able to use its pass-leaning offense to keep the Statesmen on their toes. The winner of this will most likely end up being the Liberty League’s playoff representative. (Of course, if SLU wins, perhaps the LL would send two teams?)
Pat’s take: No. 21 Chapman. At some point we may well see Chapman take over the top dog spot in the SCIAC, possibly this year. But it’s easier to believe the previous champion will hang on to its throne, perhaps for one extra season.

Pinpoint a game that will decide a conference race this weekend
Keith’s take: No. 21 Chapman at Redlands, SCIAC. If Chapman wins, the conference would be wrapped up with a tidy bow. Redlands, however, can delay the crowning another week, because next week’s opponent, Occidental, isn’t eliminated yet, despite a 59-21 loss to Chapman in October. Redlands has been off the national radar since being outscored 72-3 in season-opening losses to No. 2 UMHB and No. 11 Linfield, which beat Chapman 21-14. The Panthers, who run for 253 yards a game and pass for 211, could lose and still end up winning the tiebreaker (Rose Bowl rule?) anyway. They could bypass the complications with a win.
Ryan’s take: Franklin at Defiance, HCAC. After misreading the schedule last week, I feel obligated to renew the spotlight I put on this game. The Grizzlies are undefeated in conference play and hold tiebreakers over every one- and two-loss team in the HCAC. Not that it will come to that. A win this weekend means that Franklin is in the playoffs no matter what happens elsewhere in the conference. Consider the conference decided.
Pat’s take: Illinois Wesleyan at Wheaton (Ill.), CCIW. This isn’t a winner-take-all game and probably won’t be much of a battle. But with a win, Wheaton will pick up its ninth victory for the first time since 2010 and clinch its first playoff bid since then as well. Illinois Wesleyan has struggled to find a quarterback this season, and Wheaton appears to have found its signal-caller.

Pinpoint a conference race that will not be decided this weekend
Keith’s take: ODAC. Guilford must win at Hampden-Sydney this week and Emory & Henry next weekend to win the conference title. The Quakers, who lost 47-31 to Shenandoah a few weeks ago, are no more likely to get it done than the Tigers, who were cruising through the conference before a 34-9 loss to Bridgewater last week. H-SC needs to beat Guilford and rival Randolph-Macon in Week 11 to take the crown, while E&H has home games against Shenandoah and then Guilford, but lost 49-27 to H-SC in October. If it feels like every conference team still is in the mix somehow, well, duh, it’s the ODAC.
Ryan’s take: ECFC. Husson appears in control of the conference, being undefeated and cruising convincingly through most of its games. But the Eagles’ real challenge to their postseason hopes won’t come until Week 11 when they travel to Mount Ida, which has just one conference loss. Both Husson and Mount Ida play 0-8 teams this weekend, so there’s every reason to expect that they’ll remain on track for their final-week collision.
Pat’s take: MWC. We might not even know immediately on conclusion of the games on Saturday who will be playing in the Midwest Conference title game and tiebreakers might be required. In the North Division, if Macalester defeats St. Norbert, they win the division and play for the title next week. If St. Norbert wins and Carroll beats Beloit, then there’s a three-way tie and it comes down to how many quarters each team led. (If St. Norbert wins and leads all four quarters in the process, they play for the automatic bid). In the South Division, Cornell plays Illinois College for a share of the title. If Illinois College wins, it plays for the title. Cornell can  force a tie with a win and Monmouth can make it a three-way tie with a win vs. Knox. (Monmouth has not lost a game to Knox in the history of D3football.com.) Look for teams to take an early lead and keep trying to score.

Predict the outcome of a game outside the playoff picture
Keith’s take: Trinity (Conn.) at Wesleyan. Amherst has already locked up best-team-in-the-NESCAC honors, and is aiming to finish 8-0 by beating 2-5 rival Williams. There’s maybe more intrigue in Tufts going for its fifth win this season at Middlebury, after not winning a game from 2010-13. But the Cardinals got drubbed by their Bantam rivals last season, so that’s all the story line needed for this one. It’s the final game for Wesleyan DB Jake Bussani, the active career leader in interceptions (17) and passes defensed (38), and a big reason why the Cardinals are top-five nationally in pass efficiency defense. The player behind Bussani on the career interceptions list, UW-Whitewater’s Brady Grayvold (16), plays almost as many games in two seasons (30, for the frequent Stagg Bowl participants) as Bussani has had in his four-year career (32). It’s only fitting that he makes one final big play and helps Wesleyan avenge last year’s loss.
Ryan’s take: Kenyon at Wooster. The season really derailed for the Scots midway through October, and the best chance they have at a rebound is this game. It certainly should happen. Yet without a win here, Wooster will almost certainly be riding on fumes when it visits Ohio Wesleyan in the season finale.
Pat’s take: Alfred State at Washington U. Not difficult to predict the Bears will win this game, but I just wanted to bring this game to the radar and give some kudos to Alfred State and Wash. U. for making the most of a bad situation. Both teams got dropped by Maranatha Baptist this season when the Bearcats couldn’t reliably field a football team, but rather than have Alfred State swallow its airfare, they continue to travel this weekend and end up in St. Louis instead of Watertown, Wis. As for Maranatha, there’s a lot of recruiting to do this offseason to get up into the 40s or 50s instead of opening the season with 30 players and dropping to the low 20s.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Montclair State. An afterthought coming into the season because it totaled nine wins in 2012 and ’13, wins No. 8 and 9 this season would clinch the NJAC and potentially a winnable first-round home game against a team from New England in Round 1. Before they get that far ahead though, the Red Hawks have to get past 7-2 Morrisville State, which has come close a couple times in recent seasons, but hasn’t beaten Montclair State.
Ryan’s take: Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs’ placement in the NCAA’s regional rankings compared with Centre have me curious about a 9-1 team getting picked ahead for Pool B over an undefeated team. It’s a bit unexpected, but that makes TLU’s game against a 5-3 Austin this week all that much more crucial.
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh. The Titans won’t lose this weekend, and although their strength of schedule will drop, they’ll likely stay in the regional rankings until next week, when they face UW-Platteville.

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 those that were terribly off base.

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Triple Take Week 4: A mix of wackiness and rivalries

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

Chapman goes on the road to face a team that put up a ton of yards against a fellow SCIAC school last week.

By the first week of October, almost everybody is playing conference rivals weekly. Which leaves this weekend, the last in September, as the last time we see so many matchups against non-Division III teams like Bacone (mmm, Bacone) and Southwestern Assemblies of God (or as I like to refer to them, SWAG). This week is also one of the last for halfway-across-the-country non-conference games like Pacific at Chicago, or Pacific Lutheran at Trinity (Texas).

Of course, some Tommies and Johnnies will spend Saturday acting like anything but saints when they face their most disliked rival. And whether you’re celebrating your stadium’s 100th birthday or just hoping a few hundred fans are in the stands, Triple Take cares. Pat, Ryan and I look at all 244 teams and highlight the Week 4 games (besides yours, of course) worth paying attention to.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 17 Ithaca at Alfred. Assuming Pat plays the faithful Minnesooooootan, and takes Johnnies at Tommies, I find myself in New York for an Empire 8 clash. I bombed my Bombers pick last week, and at 2-0 with one dicey win and one dominant one, Ithaca hits the road for 3-0 Alfred. The Saxons have scored 34, 34 and 29, but last week, the Bombers barely allowed an inch for Hartwick’s offense to maneuver. In a conference where St. John Fisher, Salisbury, Brockport State and others plan to contend, wins are at a premium.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Johns Hopkins at Muhlenberg. The Mules have flown a bit under the radar while building toward their 3-0 record, but they’ve been anything but quiet in doing so. While I understand Muhlenberg’s opponents aren’t the year’s most notable bunch, Muhlenberg has been appropriately convincing in its victories, with the narrowest margin being 34 points in a shutout of Wilkes. This will likely be the Blue Jays’ stiffest test untilNov. 22.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at No. 10 St. Thomas. Make fun all you want but this game will have more people in attendance than the other two combined. Last year, St. Thomas was coming off a Stagg Bowl appearance and two wins by a combined 77-14 score before the rivalry reminded us that anything can happen. St. John’s took a 14-11 lead at halftime and intercepted Matt O’Connell twice in the second half, then dodged a bullet when the Tommies’ kicker missed a short field goal at the final gun. So after that … we’re back in anything-can-happen mode.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Baldwin Wallace at No. 8 John Carroll. This is a bit of a stab in the dark, since the Blue Streaks could not be coming off a more dominant performance against Heidelberg. After games like those, it’s human nature to start feeling yourself — you get really confident until you have reason not to be. John Carroll has to guard against overconfidence, and Baldwin Wallace has to get theirs back after allowing the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left in a 37-35 loss to Ohio Northern. Both teams are among the nation’s top eight in time of possession (36 minutes plus), so something has to give there. John Carroll is the national leader in getting off the field on third downs, and I think after a few quarters of even play, they turn it on for the home crowd under the lights and pull away.
Ryan’s take: Averett at LaGrange. The Cougars have been all over the place in how well they do against the pass – they gave up big against Randolph-Macon but held Maryville to small numbers (the ground game from the quarterback was a whole ‘nother story). LaGrange likes to throw the ball; with Graham Craig under center, who wouldn’t want to play that out? Yet the Panthers’ 2-1 record is deceitful since every game has been achingly close. If Averett can contain an offense that appears to be one-dimensional (much like the team did against run-heavy Washington and Lee), then this will be a close one.
Pat’s take: Chapman at Whitworth. A SCIAC contender and an unbeaten team, just like you would have pictured it in, say, 2010. Whitworth has done it against three lower-level west coast teams and now Bryan Peterson, who threw for nearly 600 yards last week after only getting the start because of injuries, has to try to do it against a team which held Linfield to 21 and is one of the SCIAC favorites.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 16 Pacific Lutheran. It’s the Lutes’ second game and Trinity’s fourth. That’s really my only reason. Well, that and the other choices stunk. The Tigers (1-2) haven’t played all that well, but they’ve played, and early in the season, that seems like a big deal. The game is in Texas, and PLU’s nice fourth quarter helped it to a 35-28 home win over Cal Lutheran in Week 2.
Ryan’s take: No. 19 Ithaca. No. 19 Ithaca. There are a lot of teams in the top-notch Empire 8 that could dethrone one of the undefeateds, but pitting two with perfect records is cause to pay attention. Alfred has been giving up a lot of points this season, and the team is going to do the most damage if it can find a way to clamp down on defense. Ithaca, in turn, will succeed if it keeps doing what it’s been doing on the field.
Pat’s take: No. 23 Heidelberg. Ohio Northern might be able to break through in this game. If not, they might be able to keep it close. If not, well, it won’t be the first time I’ve picked Ohio Northern erroneously in the past decade. I like ONU in this matchup because of the opposite directions of the teams’ momentum.

Which winless team gets its first victory?
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Nobody in D-III has been harder-luck losers in their first two games, when the Red Dragons, trying to run out the clock in Week 1, ran backwards and put Buffalo State in range for the tying field goal with 1 second left. In Week 2, down three and on the 1-yard line vs. Brockport, the game ended with a false-start penalty and 10-second runoff. With a week off to forget about that, the Red Dragons head to Morrisville State, which scored two TDs in last week’s opening 16 minutes against St. Lawrence, then was blanked the rest of the way.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo. I picked Benedictine in Kickoff to perform better this season than it is, and because the squad has stumbled each week, we’re now staring down a game between two winless teams. K-zoo has faced decent opposition as a whole, and the Hornets have shown that they are more able to hang with the team on the other sidelines. The Eagles competition have been good (their opponents are a combined 8-1), but nothing says trial by fire like K-zoo’s game against Wheaton. I think the Hornets will be better prepared for this one.
Pat’s take: Alfred State. And for Alfred State, this would be its first win against a Division III school, as the Pioneers host Castleton State on their homecoming weekend. Alfred State won one game that counts last year, vs. Apprentice School.
Who it won’t be: Concordia-Chicago. The Cougars were scheduled to play Maranatha Baptist this week, but the Sabercats were unable to keep the contract because of injuries. And by NCAA rules, this is a no-contest, not a forfeit, so CUC remains winless.

Which team plays like animals this weekend?
Keith’s take: The Bantams of Trinity (Conn). You might have to be smart enough to get into a NESCAC school to know that bantams are a small variety of chicken. Williams’s Eph mascot is a purple and yellow cow, so an animal wins either way. In this year’s installment of a game that used to be the non-rivalry highlight of the NESCAC schedule, Trinity’s rushing attack — 289 yards in the opener, including a 25-134-3 line from Chudi Iregbulem — scores the first points on Williams this season, and then some.
Ryan’s take: The Panthers of Middlebury. No way Middlebury isn’t going to slough off the turnovers of its debut last weekend, get its claws out and start down the path toward a 7-1 season. Colby’s offensive line better be ready to protect against a big rush.
Pat’s take: The Muskies of Muskingum. Problem is, fish aren’t particularly well-suited to play football, and I think the Crusaders of Capital are in best position to take this game.

State your case for a state school, or one with a state in its name
Keith’s take: Illinois College. St. Norbert may well win this MWC clash, but since Norbachusetts isn’t a state, and I already burned up “Cortland State,” allow me to use the Blueboys to highlight this matchup. Simply, IC scored 42 points after halftime of its last game. SNC allowed 45 unanswered last time out, including 42 in the middle quarters. Neither team won, or played last week. So they’ve had plenty of time to get their defenses right. The Blueboys bring in the nation’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Michael Bates, at 682 yards a game, but stats are easily skewed this time of year. St. Norbert DL Austin Prusha has seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks already, but almost all of that came against Carthage, not North Central.
Ryan’s take: Brockport State. The first half wasn’t pretty last week for the Golden Eagles, but adjustments after the break proved somewhat successful against St. John Fisher. It’s something to build one after being stacked against a Top 10 team. This week, Utica is riding an undefeated streak and will be stiff competition. But I don’t see Brockport giving as much ground to the Pioneers and should come away with the win.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. As our former USA Today colleague, Devin Clancy, would say, “Alfred isn’t a state!” So I can’t use that team here. That being said, I like Del Val’s chances in this game that I basically see as a toss-up. Definitely not your average unbeaten vs. winless matchup. Del Val has enough diversity on offense to get it done, but the question will be whether it can stop Leb Val.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Chicago. The best defense in Chicago isn’t the Bears. Relatively speaking, anyway. The Maroons are 3-0 and allowing 160 yards per game, best in D-III. Pacific, 0-2 by a total of seven points, was pretty solid itself defensively last week at Dubuque, allowing just 321 yards and 16 points. Before we start crowning these descendants of Stagg worthy of making the playoffs, let’s see how they fare in this midseason stretch. After Pacific and before their three UAA rivals, they face Rhodes, Trinity (Texas) and Bethel. With a good performance in that stretch, and a Pool B playoff spot awaits.
Ryan’s take: Centre. I thought last year was going to be the Colonels’ season to make the playoffs. Though they finished a respectable 7-3, it wasn’t playoff-worthy. They lost some skill players and a good chunk of their defense, but they are off to a 3-0 start nonetheless. Like last year, Washington U. is Game 4 and threatening to derail the perfection they’ve had so far. Getting over this hump will go a long ways toward potentially rolling in to November undefeated and making a case for a Pool B spot.
Pat’s take: Carroll. Sticking with the C’s here for a very much under-the-radar 3-0 team in the Midwest Conference that defeated Lake Forest last week, facing 2-0 Monmouth. The secret? The return of is-he-playing-or-isn’t-he Lamont Williams, who has alternately been in and out of the Pioneers’ preseason roster over the past couple of years. He scored three second-half touchdowns in last week’s victory.

ATN podcast: A week for the rest of us


The first night home game in Brockport State history was memorable for more than the large crowd and lights.
Brockport State athletics photo by Matt Yeoman

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The games involving the elite teams were generally snoozefests, blowouts without much to write home about. Thankfully, it was a week in which there were some great stories to talk about elsewhere, however, including some involving teams which are playoff contenders and others who might have just had their big moment for the year. Pat and Keith talk about some of the interesting stories in this week’s Around the Nation podcast.

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The tags below include the schools we talked about. Also, we’re bringing back your first look at the Postgame Show, with your D3reports and team interviews and highlight packages: