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Triple Take, Week 7: Approaching a turning point

Shreve Rohle and the Hampden-Sydney defense don't get nearly as much of the spotlight as the Tigers' offense does.

Shreve Rohle and the Hampden-Sydney defense don’t get nearly as much of the spotlight as the Tigers’ offense does.

Past the season’s halfway point, many of us have seen enough to think we know something about this year’s teams. That can lead to griping with the poll results, overconfidence before this weekend’s games and the kinds of surprises that make Saturdays in the fall so much fun.

Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I try to make sense of the several dozen teams in action, as the leaves turn colors and Division III teams reach their turning points.

— Keith McMillan

Game of the week
Keith’s take: No. 22 St. John’s at Gustavus Adolphus. Although the setting in Collegeville, Minn. is more iconic, this is the biggest game in St. Peter in years, with the 6-0 Gusties taking on the 4-1 Johnnies. There’s history between the two, starting with the quarterback, as Pat points out below, and last season’s game, a 23-20 double-overtime Gustavus win. One has to reach back that far, however, to find the Gusties’ last victory against a pretty good team. They’re averaging 46.0 points per game (amazingly only tied for ninth nationally) but their undefeated start has come against teams that are 7-19 so far. The Johnnies game starts a run against teams that are 16-4, and if Gustavus proves it is for real, that makes five contenders in the MIAC (along with Bethel, St. Thomas and Concordia-Moorhead).
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Washington and Jefferson at Bethany. It seems like every week, whether in Triple Take or on the ATN Podcast or on the message boards, we’ve talked about the surprise undefeated teams out there. While Bethany isn’t undefeated, I have no reservations talking about the Bison as a surprise this season. At 5-1, they’ve already matched their best win total since 2001, and it’s tough to fault them for their lone loss, which came against Mount Union in Week 1. The winner of this one will be the only team that remains undefeated in conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Stevens Point at No. 14 UW-Platteville. I’ll throw out the classic term “elimination game” on this contest, because even though both are unbeaten in the conference, neither has played UW-Whitewater yet. I’ll have to caveat this by saying Stevens Point could be a candidate at 8-2 with a win vs. North Central and potential losses to UW-P and UW-W, but the committee is too unpredictable from year to year to really give a two-loss team hope as an at-large.

Surprisingly close game
Keith’s take: Heidelberg at No. 3 Mount Union. Let’s be clear. Against the Purple Raiders, who have won their first four games by an average score of 64-4, anything resembling a normal football score is “surprisingly close.” Mount Union has allowed three touchdowns this season, none with the margin tighter than 38. Heidelberg comes in scoring 51.2 points per game and will become the first team to score on Mount Union in the first half this season. It might even lead in the game. The Student Princes, who were not competitive in a 43-16 loss to John Carroll earlier this season, lost 44-34 to Mount Union last year, and 30-13 the year before. Those would be surprisingly close, grading on the UMU scale.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Wittenberg at Wooster. I think Witt has inched up a little too high in the Top 25, and last week’s seven-point win over a middling Denison squad didn’t do a lot to reaffirm faith in the Tigers. I don’t think Witt is vulnerable to all-out losing this one, but I think it’ll be closer than it should be for a 15th-ranked team. Wooster has played two tough teams already, so they shouldn’t be in for any surprises lining up against a team like Wittenberg.
Pat’s take: Occidental at Chapman. Chapman is on the verge of the Top 25, and perhaps could be ranked higher than Pacific Lutheran based on how they both played Linfield, but that’s neither here nor there. Going out on a limb because Occidental isn’t really back yet based on the results to date: edging Puget Sound and losing at Austin College outside of conference play. One wouldn’t expect a particularly close game here, so expect something a little closer.

Most likely Top 25 team to be upset
Keith’s take: No. 25 Hampden-Sydney, vs. Emory & Henry. As a Randolph-Macon grad, trust, I feel icky praising either of these teams. But it’s deserved. The Tigers should win, especially at home, where their attendance is behind only St. John’s and UW-Whitewater in D-III. But they have had a midseason stumble against a lower-rung ODAC team the past two seasons. The Wasps are 5-0 and revived under Curt Newsome, but it can be tempting to think of a team that most experienced H-SC players are used to beating handily as another lower-rung squad, and that’s when upsets happen.
Ryan’s take: None. This is perhaps the hardest question of the week, and it’s the one I’m filling out last. I think there could be a handful of teams (Wooster, Utica, Bethany, Gustavus Adolphus and Emory and Henry) that hang with their Top 25 foes early on, but I don’t see any of them following through for all four quarters to grab the win.
Pat’s take: No. 22 St. Johns, at Gustavus Adolphus. Yep, alright, gonna roll the dice here. Keith and I have been talking about Gustavus Adolphus as a potential 6-0 team since August … and then as a potential 6-4 team. But let’s see if these Gusties and their golden-boy quarterback, Mitch Hendricks, can pull off the upset. Gustavus beat St. John’s last year, and for those of you who don’t know, Hendricks is a former Johnnie, having transferred to Gustavus.

Provide an underranked team and predict how they’ll perform in Week 7.
Keith’s take: No. 20 Washington & Jefferson. The two most underranked teams, Texas Lutheran and Buffalo State, are off this week. The only other ones I have much lower than their ranking are Pacific Lutheran and the Presidents, who travel to Bethany. It’s a huge game for the Bison, who opened up with Mount Union and have seen top talent before. But even in Bethany’s five consecutive wins, they haven’t been so suffocating defensively that I can envision them stopping W&J’s 52.2-point per game offense, so I see the Presidents taking control of the PAC race.
Ryan’s take: Ithaca. It’s hard to figure out who’s underrated enough to register significantly (the only team in which there’s a big gap between my ballot and the actual Top 25 is Buffalo State, which has a bye week). But in keeping with the Empire 8, I think it was a bit drastic to drop Ithaca completely out of the poll after losing to Buff State. Ithaca was ranked No. 13 the week prior, so a lot of other one-loss teams leapfrogged them in the top 25. Ithaca is still on my ballot, and I think this week against Frostburg State will be a relatively easy one, especially considering the poundings the Bobcats have been taking so far in conference play.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Widener. It is so much easier for me to think in terms of overrated teams, but of course, for every overrated team there has to be an underrated team, right? So let’s go with Widener beating Wilkes. It won’t be 90-0, but if you get 90, think about taking the over.

Pick a team that put up big numbers last week and tell us if they’ll do it again.
Keith’s take: Delaware Valley, at Stevenson. The 52 points Lycoming “held” the Aggies to last week was their lowest point total since 30 in Week 1 against Montclair State. Stevenson brings a pretty legit defense into the game, as they allow just 14 points a game and are 31st nationally in total defense. They’re even better against the run (22nd, 95 ypg), and are coming off a bye week. I’m not sure it’ll matter much against the high-powered Aggies, especially since Stevenson’s 230th-ranked offense won’t be able to keep up with QB Aaron Wilmer and Del Val’s 50.2-point per game unit. Stevenson’s last time out, a 31-10 loss to Lycoming, showed us that the Mustangs aren’t quite ready to gallop with the MAC’s big horses yet.
Ryan’s take: Concordia (Wis.), at Trine. Once Concordia got rolling in the second half last week against Aurora, there was no stopping them. The end result was 62 points on the scoreboard, 754 offensive yards and a quarterback, Austin Damaschke, getting four touchdowns. Trine, which is 4-1 and has a solid red-zone defense, isn’t going to give up that kind of yardage or that kind of score. At the very least, we can expect Trine’s offense to stay on the field longer, severely limiting the damage Concordia can do with its own O. To answer the original question: No, Concordia won’t do it again.
Pat’s take: Castleton State, at Mount Ida. Would have said Washington U. here, but instead of playing Maranatha Baptist, Wash U. has an unexpected bye. Apparently the Sabercats have just 22 healthy players. Guess I’m not sure why Maranatha couldn’t have given a little more warning on pulling out of games. Instead I’ll take the Spartans, who have turned it around after last year’s lost season.

Which muddled conference race gets less muddled this week?
Keith’s take: NWC. Linfield, the perennial favorite, is already in control here, with a win over perennial challenger Pacific Lutheran and as one of only two NWC teams without a conference loss. But with Whitworth coming off a 61-45 win at Willamette, their game with Linfield might show us if there’s a second challenger in the NWC or if the Wildcats will run away with it. Pacific Lutheran goes to Pacific as well, and at the bottom end, restartup George Fox gets one of its two chances for a win this season against an improved Puget Sound. Even if all the results play out as expected, folks far from NWC country pay attention, because the presence (or not) of a second NWC team in the postseason picture has trickle-down implications for the entire 32-team bracket. (Because of geography, and playoff travel cost restrictions, for the uninitiated)
Ryan’s take: ODAC. I’ll play the Virginia card and pick the game that involves a school two hours to the east of me (Hampden-Sydney) and another about two hours to the southwest (Emory and Henry). E&H has certainly elbowed its way into the ODAC discussion with an unblemished record, and Hampden-Sydney, despite a nonconference loss, is showing itself to be every bit the conference threat of recent years. Behind Nash Nance, Hampden-Sydney likes to throw the ball — and it does so well. The Wasps, however, have the best pass defense in the conference. The way these opponents balance each other out makes this particularly interesting.
Pat’s take: MIAC. I mean, I’m contractually required to pick this, right? Assume one of the two guys ahead of me who still lives in Virginia will take the ODAC, but we also start unraveling the knot at the top of the MIAC this week with Gustavus hosting St. John’s. Of the five teams with zero or one MIAC losses at the top of the conference standings, Gustavus has yet to play any of them, while St. Thomas has only played St. John’s. Concordia-Moorhead has beaten SJU and lost to Bethel. St. John’s has played two of the four. So in short, a lot of key games left to be played.

They’ll be on your radar
Keith’s take: Morrisville State. Rowan is receiving only one vote in the poll, but one might not even be the number of teams who are going to challenge the Profs for the NJAC title. Montclair State has won four straight since a 10-point loss to Del Val, but it’s the Mustangs who are most intriguing. Quarterback Lemar Johnson is rushing for more than 130 yards per game over his past four, and is coming off a 302-yard passing, one-big-highlight day against Kean. If they can get enough from the defense, after allowing 31 points three times and 40 once in its 5-1 start, we could have a conference race to watch.
Ryan’s take: East Texas Baptist. A week after losing to Texas Lutheran, I’m eager to see if there will be a hangover at ETBU when the team lines up against Howard Payne. Fun fact: Howard Payne’s last game was also against Texas Lutheran.
Pat’s take: Tufts. Again. This week the 2-2 Jumbos have a legitimate shot of knocking off Williams. And six weeks ago, let alone three years ago, that would have seemed like fantasy.

Pay for play? Here’s one coach’s take

Mike Clark, Bridgewater head coach, has plenty of Division III and Division I experience. He’s chaired the Division III football rules committee. He played at Cincinnati and was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech. So his take on one of the hot topics of the day in college athletics comes from experience on both sides.

Michael Clark
I am using this as a forum to get an opinion and information out relative to the “pay these players” ideas that have hit a lot of the national media outlets. Mind you I am not a Division I “hater” having played and coached for 14 years at that level. I am well aware of the differences in Saturday afternoon at Bridgewater vs. Blacksburg (I have coached at both) in the fall. BCS football does make millions of dollars for their respective programs, I believe there is some hidden guilt in the million-dollar coaches club, but the notion that Division I football players are unable to eat hamburgers or go on dates because of stretched finances needs to be looked at a bit closer.

It is a fact that both men’s football and basketball because of the demographic they deal with will deal with a higher level of needy students than men’s lacrosse or women’s soccer at the division I level. However, one issue that is never added to the discussion is that a need-based student who qualifies for Federal Pell Grant money receives that money in addition to being on a full scholarship. That scholarship includes tuition/fees/room-board/books and at BCS schools more “swag” (warm-ups, shirts, shoes, gear) that you could wear, give away, or sell (see Ohio State) in your time there. These grants could be as low as $555 per year (family of four with one child in college, income under $50,000) or up to $5,550 per year (family of four with one child in college, income under $20,000). To me a budgeted young man can go out a time or two on this stipend. Actually, it is our tax dollar that helps these kids with the incidentals involved in their college experience.

In addition, the NCAA itself provides need based opportunity grants to needy student athletes at any level to help them with some of the hidden, sudden, and necessary expenses involved with college. These grants involve paperwork, and it is usually the NCAA institutions at the higher levels that have administrative staff to focus on these that pull in the lion’s share of this money. Any student (scholarship or not) would be able to take out a Federal Stafford Loan up to $5,500.00 (interest deferred if you are poor) which could be used to cover total cost of education.

Think back about 6 years ago where legislation was passed allowing scholarship student athletes to work while being on scholarship. This was the financial problem solver then, but ask any ACC or SEC coach if they have kids working part-time during the school year and be prepared to get that “how stupid are you … yeah, right,” stare.

If a school abides by the mandatory time limits that the NCAA dictates on the activity of scholarship athletes, that job in itself pays anywhere from $26 to $52 per hour (out of state), according to a Penn State study. I have a nephew who co-ops as a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at Ohio State who wishes he earned that much.

Education is an investment in you and the college experience should be a springboard where some personal equity in it (even if that includes a loan) is not a bad thing. I do not deny any accountant could go to Virginia Tech and figure out that the football program makes millions and these players are a critical part of that. However, those millions support almost every other program that also involves a lot of scholarship athletes whose sports will never have revenue-generating potential. Think of the Title IX implications if cash starts going out. From a federal point of view there is no value difference in the quarterback or a setter in women’s volleyball.

As a college freshman in 1975 I was in the last class that every month with my full scholarship got a $25.00 “laundry money” check as it was called then to cover incidental expense. On that Friday in the offseason we also gave blood for $15.00 and the next two weekends were set. I was a middle income full-scholarship athlete (there are a lot of them out there) and I do not remember using the money for laundry. To think that cash to athletes will prevent another Ohio State or solve cheating issues which unfortunately will always be around is naïve. There is a little glass in everybody’s house at all levels of college football and money to players at the BCS level is a Pandora’s Box.

Although it is debatable at times, we need to keep the education component hooked in college athletics. I see kids at my level who are just as passionate and committed as those at the BCS level. They were not big or fast enough at the high school level to get the opportunity to play, get educated, and set you up for life with your college experience debt-free. There really is very little entitlement at the Division III level which is one of our strengths. To get them to spend for this opportunity we have to sell the college experience as a game-changing investment for life. This is also true at the BCS level and its added value should be sufficient in addition to the scholarships without the cash.

Triple Take: As many questions as answers

Mount Union Got a sense of the Division III landscape yet? Hopefully, now that we’re going into Week 5, the picture is getting a little clearer.

While we all see a lot, we don’t yet see it all. Folks might be unsure of whether Mount Union can again run the table in the OAC or whether Linfield’s debut loss was a fluke. We might also be wondering about the teams at the other end of the spectrum: Has the luster faded from Christopher Newport, or can Lebanon Valley salvage its season? We are armed with so many answers, but there are still many questions out there to target.

D3football.com Executive Editor Pat Coleman, Managing Editor Keith McMillan and Senior Editor Ryan Tipps have some things to say about the weekend ahead and which teams have something unique to watch out for.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 15 Willamette at No. 16 Linfield.
The Wildcats began the year at No. 4 before falling unexpectedly in their opener to Cal Lutheran. Willamette, likewise, is a one-loss team that joins Linfield as the favorites in the NWC. This could turn ugly if Aaron Boehme is able to throw the ball with impunity against a Bearcats team that isn’t great against the pass. Willamette is keen on forcing turnovers, and giving their “fly” offense a short field will be important to ultimately taking control of the conference.
Pat’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas at No. 19 St. John’s. I am sure it’s alright if I pick the game I’m going to be at, considering that it’s likely that 15,000 people will be there with me. St. Thomas has lost 12 of these games in a row (also known as, hasn’t beaten St. John’s in the D3football.com era), and although there have been a few close ones in that stretch, I’m not sure last year should be one of them. St. Thomas was out of the game when two fourth-quarter special teams mistakes by St. John’s got them back in. The 15-for-31 passing sounds better than it is — even completed passes were off-target and left receivers in no position to do anything after the catch. Good news for St. Thomas is the alternating quarterbacks thing is done, but the bad news is Ben Wartman has been banged up and hasn’t played an entire game this year. Last year some of the Tommies looked a little rattled by the massive crowd in Collegeville. Perhaps the experience of three playoff games, two on the road, will give St. Thomas some perspective to draw on. Looking at a defensive battle.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Ohio Northern at No. 2 Mount Union . According to the order set in my look at 12 of this weekend’s top clashes in Around the Nation, I should choose No. 18 UW-Eau Claire at UW-Stevens Point here (only because Tipps already took the No. 1 game). And clearly the Blugolds and Pointers have the most at stake. But for sheer talent on the field, and gravity of a potential upset, Alliance may be Saturday’s epicenter.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Elmhurst at North Park.
Define “surprisingly close” however you’d like, but the two-win Vikings won’t play into the CCIW whipping-boy role against Elmhurst. Not only is North Park winning some this year, but they’re just flat out playing better football. Undefeated Elmhurst is having a stellar year as well, but it’s easy to believe it could be caught looking ahead a little to the Wheaton game on Oct. 9.
Pat’s take: Carthage at No. 10 North Central (Ill.). I’ll stay in the CCIW here. Carthage has played really well on offense of late. North Central will provide a stiffer test on defense than Franklin, Lakeland and Concordia (Wis.) have so far, but Carthage has a good amount of offense to bring to the table.
Keith’s take: John Carroll at Otterbein. The Blue Streaks opened their season with losses to Case Western Reserve and Mount Union, making them look worse than they are. (they give up 433 yards a game, for instance). Otterbein, which beat Heidelberg by a point in its last game. began the season ranked.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 18 UW-Eau Claire.
Is this the easy pick as most any game between WIAC teams could go either way on any given Saturday? Perhaps. Aside from a Week 1 loss against Willamette, UW-Stevens Point has been charging ahead with a run-by-committee approach to offense. Eau Claire has clearly battle-tested itself against some great nonconference teams, but the “W” in Wisconsin will be fueled by how peppy the Blugolds feel after last week’s loss to North Central.
Pat’s take: No. 17 Montclair State. But wow, was I tempted to take a rare opportunity to put Mount Union in this space. When does one really have the chance to do that? I think, however, that Montclair State has drifted a little high in the rankings. Kean at home under the lights, looking to make up for its season-opening loss to Cortland State, has plenty of motivation, even if there’s no bad blood anymore.
Keith’s take: No. 23 Cal Lutheran. There are at least four top 25 teams who will lose clashes against other ranked opponents, and a couple more facing teams that are or should be receiving votes. The Kingsmen have a dangerous Redlands team to worry about, one led by sixth-year quarterback Dan Selway, who has not been sacked and hasn’t had his best game. The Bulldogs defense has given up 17 points in two games against decent opponents (East Texas Baptist, Whitworth).

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: FDU-Florham.
The Devils aren’t a team that I notice a lot on an annual basis, but here they are, 3-0, already with as many wins as they’ve had in any season since 2005. A big test will come this weekend when they open conference play against Widener. Florham is the only undefeated team in the MAC. It’ll be interesting if they can stay that way.
Pat’s take: Birmingham-Southern. The Panthers aren’t yet eligible for the SCAC title or a playoff bid (or the D3football.com Top 25) but they are 3-0 heading into a home game against Trinity (Texas).
Keith’s take: Ripon. The Red Hawks’ triple-option has hummed to the tune of 322 yards per game in a 4-0 start, while Saturday’s opponent, Knox, isn’t in the nation’s top 200 in any offensive or defensive category. Ripon shouldn’t lose, but part of being a conference leader is putting away the teams you should beat.

Which conference race will get the most clarity after Saturday?
Ryan’s take: The ODAC’s.
Emory and Henry hosts Randolph-Macon, and both enter 4-0. On paper, few teams come across as more evenly matched. Offensively and defensively, E&H and R-MC are among the top three statistically in the conference. And they have similar lopsided scores against a common opponent. As I pointed to in this week’s Around the Mid-Atlantic, the ODAC is living under the perception of parity. With two undefeated teams squaring off, we’ll see how that perception plays out.
Pat’s take: The OAC. Well, I mean, it’s certainly possible Mount Union doesn’t win the league outright. It’s happened in current players’ lifetimes. But even if it doesn’t happen, we’ll know the road map a lot better after the Mount Union-Ohio Northern game.
Keith’s take: The NEFC. The CCIW and ODAC pictures will clear up a bit, but both sides of the NEFC have surprise leaders in big clashes this weekend. In Kickoff ’10, I thought Endicott might usurp Curry in the Boyd, and they each head into their meeting this week at 3-1. The Colonels might not yet be ready to end their run of dominance; they’ve allowed just seven points against D-III teams, while the Gulls have played three close games. On the Bogan side, favored Maine Maritime is rushing for a national-best 488 yards per game but gave up 46 points last week in a surprising loss to Fitchburg State, after winning their first two by shutout. The Mariners try to bounce back against Worcester State, a bit of a surprise at 3-1. Framingham State is also unexpectedly 3-1, and faces 2-2 Mass. Maritime.

Which team with a conference loss can help itself the most?
Ryan’s take: Norwich.
The Cadets dealt the Empire 8 its first loss of the season in nonconference play and then fell in the ECFC opener by one point to Mount Ida. Too many drives died before they even got started. This weekend at Becker starts a stretch of four games against teams that are currently a combined 1-13 against Division III opponents. Using this time to shore up their game and eliminate mistakes will open up opportunities before they line up against SUNY-Maritime.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys can’t let down against an East Texas Baptist team that has already taken down UW-La Crosse and came out and surprised McMurry last week. Yes, last week’s loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor probably puts the Cowboys out of the ASC race, but there’s still a lot of season left and Hardin-Simmons needs to win the final six games.
Keith’s take: Lewis & Clark. The Pioneers aren’t ready to contend, but hosting Pacific, in its first year back on the field, is an opportunity to pick up a second win this early for the first time since 2003. As the program begins a rise, it can’t really afford to fall to the Boxers.

What team really needs a morale win this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Both Christopher Newport and Shenandoah.
And these teams happen to play each other on Saturday. The Captains are off to the worst start in the young history of their program. And for a team that has spent a lot of its seasons in the playoffs, 2010 has to be hard to digest. But the win they need isn’t necessarily the win they’ll get. Even in CNU’s best years, Shenandoah has historically played this game tough. The Hornets were thought to be entering a season of improvement over last year, when they lost six games by a field goal or less. However, SU, as well as CNU, are winless this season, and both are coming off a bye week to get their act together.
Pat’s take: Hamline. I’m not going to say our expectations for Hamline were high this year but we did picture a .500 season. Instead, the Pipers are 0-3 and after getting trashed at home by Carleton last week, a team that had lost to Crown, a loss to Macalester has to be considered a distinct possibility.
Keith’s take: Occidental. Interim coach Eric Bergstrom has the Tigers off to a 1-1 start, but coach Dale Widolff is suspended until Oct. 10 and the team hasn’t played since Sept. 11. In the Myron Claxton’s Shoes Game vs. Whittier, Occidental could very much use a victory to rally around. Limiting the Poets’ run game (269.5 yards per in a 1-1 start) is a key.