Game day from the madness

I’m in Naperville, Ill.; Keith McMillan is in Westerville, Ohio; John McGraw is in Geneva, N.Y.; and Frank Rossi is in Belton, Texas. And there are photographers elsewhere and of course, your eyes are everywhere.

Twelve weeks into the Division III football season, and while us Triple Takers were fairly unanimous with our first-round predictions, there are still lingering questions.

We all think Wheaton will win, but here’s what Trine has on its side. Trine has a 10-game home winning streak going and hasn’t lost at Shive Field since a 21-7 loss to Hope on Oct. 28, 2006. That’s another era in Trine/Tri-State football, to be sure.

We all picked Hardin-Simmons to lose to Mary Hardin-Baylor. I know I looked at the last meeting and took into account that Mary Hardin-Baylor is really banged up. But we all picked the home team to lose, and that’s a red flag. This game is too close to call, and I think our scores reflected that. That’s also why we sent a broadcast crew, since we think this is going to be a great game.

Plus, there’s the weather. It should hold scores down across the North Central and Mount Union bracket. Is it enough to prompt an upset? There aren’t many games being played on grass today, but the ball will still be affected.

We’ll update. You’ll update. It’ll be a great time. Madness on!

D-III from the other side

Thirty-two teams are preparing for NCAA playoff games and a handful of others are readying for other postseason experiences. Others headed for the offseason with a warm feeling from beating an archrival in the final game, or breaking a streak of losing seasons, finishing on a hot streak or any of a bunch of ways to gather some momentum going into the offseason.

And then there’s a fairly large group at the other end as well, teams whose seasons ended on a down note. That doesn’t include just RPI, Redlands, Montclair State and the others who played their way out of a likely playoff bid with Week 11 losses, but teams who were quickly out of the playoff running altogether.

Or winless, even.

Such was the fate of Colorado College, along with McMurry, Principia, Maranatha Baptist, Massachusetts Maritime and Cornell. And if you remember from early on in the season, Colorado College freshman Chris Jarmon was writing on his blog, The D3 Experience, about the season.

Reading back on it now, you can sense the frustration. This was from a post heading into the final game:

We’re 0-8 now, and just saying that feels strange. It’s hard to believe that with all of the talent and confidence we entered the season with, we’ve been unable to win a single game. I feel especially bad for our seniors, who have busted their tails for four years and deserve better.

For all of those out there who feel that pain, good luck this offseason. Don’t give up. It can get better. But college football, at any level, is hard work.

Triple Take: Final Exam

Pride is on the line in some of the division’s best rivalries, and 18 of the 32 playoff bids need to be sorted out and earned. What do we really need to say to get you hyped up for Week 11?

We brought in a former Thomas More quarterback, Kevin Niehus, to take snaps along with Triple Take regulars Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Here’s what the trio thought you’d be wise to look forward to on Saturday:

Game of the Week
Kevin’s take: 50th Annual Cortaca Jug Game, Ithaca at Cortland State.
Barring an upset of St. John Fisher, Ithaca needs this win to stay in the conversation for a playoff bid. Standing in their way is a SUNY-Cortland team looking to cap off an undefeated regular season at home, and put itself in position for a regional top seed. Incredibly, nine of the past 11 games have come down to the final two minutes of the game and this year’s version should be more of the same.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at Carleton. The former quarterback against his former coach. A team whose strength is throwing the ball, against a team whose strength is defending the pass. The Johnnies just faced a team with a lot of offensive weapons and handled them well, defeating Augsburg 28-21. Except Carleton won’t completely abandon the rush. The all-time series is unanimous in St. John’s favor, a perfect 25-0, with scores of 56-14, 55-7, 64-7 and 70-7. This will not be like those games. Carleton is certainly in uncharted territory, however, with its destiny in its own hands in Week 11.
Keith’s take: No. 17 Ithaca at No. 7 Cortland State. Pandemonium describes Cortaca Jug even in an off year. This is anything but. The 8-1 Bombers are playing for their playoff lives. The 9-0 Red Dragons are already in the 32-team field, but can keep their rivals out and cap an undefeated regular season at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Which rivalry game will be the most exciting?
Kevin’s take: Bridge Bowl — Mount St. Joseph at Thomas More.
It’s hard to pick against a game that is expected to draw 12,000 people (Monon Bell), but these are two schools are bitter, close rivals — separated by 11 miles and the Ohio River. If you live, have lived or spent time in Cincinnati, you know there’s a natural rivalry between residents of Ohio and Kentucky. Heck, they put the Greater Cincinnati Airport (CVG as Pat knows it) in Northern Kentucky! Both teams are coming off surprising losses last week, and with the Lions missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003, this is the postseason for MSJ. Thomas More Head Coach Jim Hilvert helped lead Mount St. Joseph to the top of the Heartland Conference as defensive coordinator and his team won the PAC in this, his second year.
Pat’s take: The Monon Bell game, DePauw at Wabash. I’ve been lucky to be at a lot of games with big crowds this year, but I expect this one to take the cake. This might be my only chance to see this game because I usually have to stay close to home in Week 11, so it better be a good one. But even if it isn’t a great game on the field, it’s better than watching it in a sports bar in Alexandria, Va., like the last time I saw it live. It’s the 115th meeting, and Wabash leads 53-52 with nine ties. DePauw has the Bell after upsetting Wabash 24-21 last season. Looking forward to it.
Keith’s take: The Game. Cortaca Jug, Muhlenberg-Moravian and Monon Bell should all be right up there. But the idea of Randolph-Macon spoiling Hampden-Sydney’s Pool C hopes and backing into the playoffs (with a Catholic loss to Bridgewater as well) is sure to have the classy-but-crazy crowd at H-SC in a frenzy. Conversely, the Tigers, often jobbed out of Pool C spots either because of weak schedules or the misfortune of being a shallow team in a deep pool, finally earning an at-large bid would be nice to see. Begrudgingly, of course. (Who am I, and what have I done with that R-MC graduate, you ask?)

Surprisingly close game
Kevin’s take: Washington & Jefferson at Waynesburg.
Waynesburg has not played up to expectations in 2008, for many reasons. A win against W&J would move much of the disappointment to the background. There has been some talk among fans of W&J about the Presidents not playing well in pressure situations. They have the loss to North Carolina Wesleyan in Round 1 last year and Thomas More this year to point to. The Presidents must win and then hope for some help to even get in on the discussion of the playoff committee. No doubt, this is another pressure game.
Pat’s take: No. 2 North Central at Elmhurst. I say this because Elmhurst has had a pretty good season and with former North Central coordinator Tim Lester at the helm, the Bluejays have a shot to at least get into the playoff conversation on Saturday night. At the beginning of the season, with a late coaching change, who’d have thought that Elmhurst would be gunning for an 8-2 record?
Keith’s take: Austin at Trinity (Texas). As we saw last week’s it’s not easy to keep the intensity up after your conference title hopes are dashed. I don’t think the Kangaroos are going to win, but Trinity could have a little trouble getting ramped up.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset
Kevin’s take: No. 13 UW-Stevens Point.
The last three games for the Pointers have been decided by a total of three points, including a 34-33 OT win at home against UW-Oshkosh, who’s 1-5 in the WIAC entering the final weekend. The run has to come up “snake eyes” at some point, doesn’t it?
Keith’s take: No. 14 Otterbein. There are quite a few dangerous games for ranked teams this week, from No. 2 North Central at Elmhurst to No. 25 Redlands hosting Cal Lutheran. Forced to choose, the possibility of the Cardinals pulling a Wheaton/Trinity and going from unbeaten playoff lock to out of the field with consecutive losses is real. John Carroll beat Thomas More and Capital during a 5-1 start, and is now trying to salvage a season barreling toward .500. These teams played a triple-overtime thriller last season, but a better reason to pick the Blue Streaks? In Kickoff ‘08, yours truly pegged Otterbein as the most unlikely playoff teams. So yeah, sorry about the jinx guys.
Pat’s take: No. 7 Cortland State. Ithaca just has too much to play for, and although the Bombers’ health is in question, motivation will not be. Not with the playoffs on the line. Not with the Cortaca Jug at stake. Not with a chance to make the bracketologists’ night hellish.

They’ll be on your radar
Kevin’s take:
Ohio Northern (for next season). The Polar Bears’ first three opponents have a combined record of 26-1 going into week 11. Not only did they lose these three games, but they also had to deal with some key injuries. After starting out 0-4, the players have responded to Dean Paul’s staff and if they beat a Wilmington team that lately has been playing pretty good football of their own, Ohio Northern will finish third in the OAC. The players coming back from injury will help create some depth, a very important part of a good OAC team and the team could build on a very positive ending to 2008.
Pat’s take: Washington U. The Bears tried to get on the radar earlier in the season with a win at Wittenberg, but threw it away with three consecutive losses. Now at 5-4, the Bears haven’t had a non-winning season this decade, and Wash. U. can also clinch a share of the UAA title with a win and spoil any shot Case has of a home game in the playoffs.
Keith’s take: UW-La Crosse. You thought the 3-6 Eagles ceased to be relevant after their dreadful 0-5 start? Joke’s on you, Jack. Against No. 13 UW-Stevens Point, a team that’s won three consecutive games by a point and six by three or fewer, La Crosse carries with it the hopes of playoff teams from coast to coast. Redlands, RPI, Washington & Jefferson and Hampden-Sydney will all be big fans on Saturday. An Eagles defeat of the Pointers could give UW-Whitewater the WIAC title, which would open up an extra spot in Pool C. Also, I’ll be watching Whittier to see if it can duplicate the 67-61 Week 11, last-game-of-the-regular season-literally.

Who will have the least momentum entering the playoffs?
Kevin’s take:
I hate to say it and I’m probably going to take some flak for this, but.. Potentially, it could be Thomas More. They lost on the road to an average Geneva last weekend, after clinching the PAC title the Saturday before. This week will tell us quite a bit about the Saints. Thomas More beat an undefeated MSJ team in 2006’s regular season finale — so it’s happened before during this series. Rod Huber’s Lions would love to return the favor on Saturday. If the Saints don’t beat Mount St. Joe, Coach Hilvert and his staff will have their hands full trying to build this team back up in time for a road playoff game.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Wesley. Coming off back-to-back games against first-year program Lake Erie and No. 232 Gallaudet, it’s tough to be prepared for a playoff game.
Keith’s take: Cortland State. Least momentum? Whichever team loses on Saturday? Barring that, whichever one has the majority of players who helped earn a bid healthy. Forced to choose, and with the obvious options either locked in via Pool A or a possibility not to make it in Pool C, Cortland is all that’s left. There aren’t too many teams who can lose this weekend and go into the postseason cold.

Which conference frontrunner is most likely to play itself out of the postseason?
Kevin’s take: Ferrum.
Despite Christopher Newport’s lack of a passing game (they average 107 yards through the air/per game), Ferrum will have their hands full in Newport News. Fixing the Panthers’ defense a week after giving up 600 total yards and 41 points on Senior Day and having to face Christopher Newport in a playoff atmosphere at POMOCO Stadium is too much to expect Ferrum to overcome.
Pat’s take: St. John Fisher. Barring a massive retooling over the bye week, St. John Fisher has a lot of question marks. How did they give up 35 at home to Springfield? How did they only score 17 on Utica? Why am I asking you all these questions?
Keith’s take: Albright. It’s tough to pick against frontrunners; that’s why they’re frontrunners. And a team that is not yet in can’t really play itself out; but I get the point. No one leading their conference has a tougher assignment than winning at Delaware Valley, bottom line.