Three clashes between ranked teams take place this weekend, and a handful of other games involve undefeated schools. That gives us a lot to talk about and to look forward to on game day.
Conference races will be clarified, and, harder for some teams to swallow, playoff hopes will erode.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps bring you a rundown of some of these make-’em or break-’em matchups. And, as always, we welcome comments from readers. Give us your perspective on games we missed or predictions you think we have backwards. We want to hear from you.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 Wheaton at Illinois Wesleyan. What I love about the CCIW is how it’s more than just an impressively strong conference, it’s also an unpredictable one. Three different teams have been in the playoffs the past two seasons, and two of those teams are currently undefeated Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan. Both come into Saturday playing a so-so nonconference slate that leaves many questions to be sorted out. Is IWU as strong against the pass as they seem? Will Wheaton bring more to the table than just offense? It’s a game worth watching — and watching closely.
Keith’s take: No. 13 Redlands at No. 20 Cal Lutheran: Based on their non-conference results against North Central, Linfield and Pacific Lutheran, I’m bullish on the SCIAC powers. If the Kingsmen defend the brand new turf at William Rolland Stadium, it could be a boon for the conference. Two playoff bids could be in the offing. Wins at East Texas Baptist and against Whitworth weren’t enough for Redlands to overcome a 24-22 loss to CLU last season. But an 8-1 finish this year with a win against North Central, assuming the Cardinals finish strong, should get the Bulldogs in. If they win in Thousand Oaks, of course, they’ll be the front-runner for the automatic bid and not chasing an at-large. More on this game in ATN.
Pat’s take: No. 19 Louisiana College at No. 4 Mary-Hardin Baylor. I think these teams are much closer together than their 15 spots’ distance in the rankings suggests. I would favor Louisiana College at home, would think about it on a neutral field, and would not be at all surprised if the Wildcats pulled off the road win. The tests have been getting better for Louisiana College in the past week but the issue in my mind is whether they can protect the ball.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Guilford at Washington and Lee. The Quakers are standing with just a 1-2 record, but that’s not because teams have been able to run all over them. And that’s what W&L does: Run. A lot. And then some more. Best of all for Guilford is that they should be able to respond and put some points on the board, keeping this matchup against the defending ODAC champion within reach.
Keith’s take: Mount St. Joseph at Franklin. The Grizzlies have become the face of the HCAC, and get the national attention. They’re even one of the best at filing D3Reports. The Lions’ 3-0 start, however, has barely been mentioned. So allow me to rectify that. Beating Wilmington, Anderson and Bluffton isn’t overwhelming, but they’ve done it by rushing for 246 yards a game, leading the nation in kick returns and generating turnovers. Franklin has scored 49, 49 and 52 aside from being shut out by No. 1 UW-Whitewater, so MSJ’s defense has its hands full. The Griz would seem to be a big favorite, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they won by seven or 10.
Pat’s take: St. John’s at St. Thomas. You have to figure the Johnnies come in fired up for this game. If not for two plays at the end of the game … or St. John’s inexplicable failure to go for two on its touchdown in the final minute … the Johnnies’ season would have a different look about it. The last three games in this series have come down to the final play, and even in a 3-7 season in 2003, the Tommies nearly derailed the Johnnies’ dream season, one which ended in an unbeaten run and Stagg Bowl near-rout of Mount Union. This game won’t disappoint, at least not neutral fans.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: Trine. Adrian and Trine each enter Saturday’s game with an undefeated record. The difference, though, is that a Thunder victory isn’t as much of a foregone conclusion as it’s been in the past. In fact, I’d say the 20-game winning streak comes to an end. Trine’s not bad this year, but they’re also short of the greatness they’ve gotten used to. That shortcoming is going to prevent them from breaking through the defense that has gotten Adrian so far already this season. The Bulldogs are top in the conference in sacks and will put pressure on Trine quarterback Ryan Hargraves, essentially nullifying his impressive accuracy. The conference race will be decided Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 7 Wheaton. The choices are cruddy. Toss out the six teams playing other top 25 teams; those are hardly upsets (although No. 24 Ohio Northern beating No. 2 Mount Union would be a shock). Then you’ve got teams playing Thiel, Kenyon, Oberlin, Morrisville State, Cornell, Juniata. No disrespect, but not exactly a murderer’s row to top 25 teams. So I’m left with really the only unranked team I think has a good chance at an upset: IWU, which has given up points in just 1 of 12 quarters so far (1st nationally in scoring defense). The Titans will have to figure out how to slow down the Thunder (484 yards a game so far; 437 in a 29-19 Wheaton win last season.)
Pat’s take: No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. I gave my reasons above and I don’t usually repeat games like this but it’s my best bet.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Muskingum. How can they not be a team to talk about after toppling Ohio Northern last Saturday? The question is: Did the Muskies (highlighted in this week’s Around the Great Lakes) just get the better of ONU that day or is this the start of something bigger and better for the team out of New Concord? They are off to a 3-0 start, and it’s likely to continue through this week’s game with Wilmington. But the back end of the conference schedule will be their toughest.
Keith’s take: Centre. I’d like to see UW-Platteville be competitive against Whitewater, but I’m more curious about the Colonels. They’ve scored nearly 42 points per game in a 3-0 start, rushing for 201 yards per game and passing for 177. DePauw, meanwhile, is down after a 1-2 start, able to score less than 16 points per game. Centre can continue building its case for national recognition by putting a hurting on a team that was often atop the SCAC.
Pat’s take: Albright. Or at least, they could be. They definitely have the opportunity, coming into a game at Lycoming at 4-0. Even a close loss qualifies them for the radar because it might bode well for the following games against Lebanon Valley and Delaware Valley.
Team most likely to salvage a bad season.
Ryan’s take: Hardin-Simmons. We all had our eye on HSU after their opening-week win over Coe. Even without graduated quarterback Justin Feaster and his go-to guy ZaVious Robbins, the Cowboys galloped past their first two opponents convincingly. What followed were two big losses and with them, gone was any hope of a trip to the playoffs. HSU has four games (including this week against East Texas Baptist) to rebuild their confidence and their focus before finishing with the McMurry rivalry and with ranked Louisiana College. The salvaging starts Saturday.
Keith’s take: St. John’s. No need for a long explanation here. No. 3 St. Thomas is no easy W. But I never dreamed of the day the Johnnies could have three losses on Oct. 1, and I’m sure no one recruited to play in Collegeville did either. If there’s any soul, any Johnnie pride left, they’ve got to somehow go into a more talented team’s home and win. Would add a chapter to the storied rivalry.
Pat’s take: Wesley. I mean, a Division I FCS opponent isn’t supposed to have an impact on a team’s playoff hopes, but with just one Pool B bid available and a loss already on the books, Wesley doesn’t have any margin for error. Charleston Southern is 0-4, including a loss to D-I non-scholarship Jacksonville. Wesley can take these guys.
Conference race most likely to get some clarity.
Ryan’s take: SCIAC. Because of the conference’s shorter-than-usual schedule, we haven’t seen as much from either Redlands or Cal Lutheran as we’d like. But there have been some solid glimmers of excitement, not least of which was Redlands’ win over North Central. It’s unlikely that any SCIAC opponent can challenge these two teams, making this matchup a big one in terms of foreshadowing the conference’s playoff representative.
Keith’s take: CCIW. Conference play begins with four teams at 3-0 and three more at 2-1. Beyond Wheaton-IWU, North Central goes to Carthage in a matchup of a team that’s scored 156 points in its past two wins (that’s not a typo; 70 and 86) against a team that’s allowed three in its past two.
Pat’s take: IIAC. The Coe-Central game is an intriguing one, with two programs with playoff experience who have their back against the wall. Central has beaten an ordinary team handily, lost to two Top 40 teams and beaten Augustana by eight (a last-minute touchdown made that closer). Coe’s resume is pretty well known. One of a handful of games that is needed to get this conference race figured out, but a Coe win will essentially end Central’s chances of winning the league.
Quarterback most likely to pass for 400 yards.
Ryan’s take: Wittenberg’s Ben Zoeller. The senior signal-caller hasn’t topped 400 yards since his team’s win over Capital in Week 1. But up strides Oberlin, a team that’s improved this year but not enough to slow Zoeller and his favorite receiving pair of Michael Cooper and Josh McKee. Wittenberg is famously dangerous at home, and that’s right where they’ll be Saturday.
Keith’s take: Illinois College’s Michael Bates. There’s a shootout brewin’ in Appleton. Bates, a freshman, has passed for 1,257 yards in four starts. His per-game average of 314 puts him two spots behind MWC conference cohort Alex Tanney (Monmouth), and two in front of Lawrence sophomore Luke Barthelmess. He’s Bates’ opponent Saturday, and although he’s got a shot at hitting 400 himself (IC is 3-1 despite being 214th nationally in pass efficiency defense, 219th in total defense and 229th against the pass, at 306 yards per game), his defense probably won’t help much. Lawrence could actually be more porous, at 221st in pass efficiency defense and 236th in total defense.
Pat’s take: Travis Lane, Hampden-Sydney. Unless Catholic’s defense got completely revamped over the bye week, the Cardinals will be in trouble. There won’t be a fourth-quarter comeback this time, but Catholic and Greg Cordivari will score enough points to keep the Tigers in a passing mode, where Lane will have his share of success.