September 8, 2013

Snap judgments

Kenyon beat Allegheny at home last year en route to a 6-4 season, and doubled down with a dominant win at Allegheny to open 2013.
Kenyon athletics file photo

This season, instead of waiting for Thursdays for Around the Nation, we'll break up the features and the discussion and opinion, starting with Sunday's feature, snap judgments.

Everybody's interesting in Week 1. Defending national champion Mount Union needed a fourth-quarter game-winning drive to avoid losing a season opener for the first time since 1997 1987 and a home game for the first time since 2005. Wesley got a 510-yard passing outing from a quarterback making his first start. Mary Hardin-Baylor went out to California and soundly beat Redlands, and it barely caused a ripple.

That's because it's not just the top five that's intriguing at this point in the season. Everyone is full of hope, uncertainty and/or eager optimism. Kenyon beating Allegheny 37-7 is just as eye-opening as some of the top teams' accomplishments, if only because it shows that the Lords' dalliance with an NCAC title last season might not have been a fluke.

Along the same lines, 2012 surprises Waynesburg and Ohio Wesleyan were up to more of the same, the Yellow Jackets using a 23-yard Carter Hill-to-Bernie Thompson touchdown pass for 22 seconds left to beat Muskingum 21-17 and the Battling Bishops beating Bluffton, 37-20.

There were great games way off the radar, like Nichols beating Westfield State in overtime when the Owls missed a point after on the last play of the game. Guilford and Greensboro were never separated by more than a touchdown in the Quakers' 31-28 win in The Gate City Soup Bowl.

Anyway, here are some things I think we learned in Week 1:

● The more things change, the more they stay the same for Hardin-Simmons, who can still schedule and score with the best of them, but can't stop a soul defensively. The Cowboys finished last season ranked second in the nation in total offense and 236th in total defense.

● Kevin Burke, despite having zero of the players who started with him on offense in the Stagg Bowl back, looks as good as ever for Mount Union. I wouldn't read too much into the fact that the Purple Raiders were pushed to the brink. It means something -- like that we don't yet know if Mount Union will be one of the elite teams as is standard, or just pretty good -- but Burke calmly directed the game winning drive. The big play was a 31-yard scramble in which Burke eluded a sack and darted up the middle and then to the sideline. Two plays later, he threw a touch pass to Sherman Wilkinson to the 1-yard line.

● Hendrix was a winner in its first D-III game, while Southwestern and Berry, playing tougher competition, were not. I don't know that it means Hendrix is the furthest along of the three, or just that Westminster (Mo.) was more beatable than Texas Lutheran and Maryville, respectively.

● The return leg of a long road trip is usually about as enjoyable as the result. Lose, and there's no laughing on the bus or plane. But MIT, which flew back to Boston after winning at Pomona-Pitzer, and Pacific, which beat Adrian in Michigan, I'm betting had two of the week's best trips. Meanwhile, Lewis & Clark, which got blown out at Utica, had a long trip home from New York to Oregon.

● Michael Bates and Cecil Brimmage will be names D-III national followers get to know well, if they don't already. The Illinois College quarterback and running back led an assault on Hanover in Week 1, with five total TDs from Bates, a junior who has starred since his freshman year, and Brimmage with 146 rushing yards and two scores on just 12 carries.

● Defense can get overlooked in the focus on silly offensive numbers. St. John Fisher might be silly good on defense. The Cardinals didn't just shut Otterbein, an 8-2 OAC team, out. They did it after a long road trip to Ohio, and they did it in stifling fashion against a team that won eight games last year, allowing just 14 rushing yards and 145 total yards.

● Likewise, Wesley's defense (eight sacks, 0 points allowed in second half) might have its performance overlooked while Steven Kodossou was hauling in 17 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns. But the comeback against Widener, which led 21-7 after 21 minutes, is not possible without the D getting it together.

● Same goes for the defenses of UW-Oshkosh, Christopher Newport and Delaware Valley, who did their parts while the offenses rallied to wins over Central, Salisbury and Rowan in the second half.

● Add UW-Whitewater's defense in here, not so much for the rally, but for the fact that for everything their offense isn't compared to the dominant Warhawks teams, they still smother offenses. Wash. U. had 195 205 total yards in a 17-7 loss.

● It's going to be one of those ridiculous numbers years for Springfield and its triple option. The Pride rushed for 469 yards and had five players run for TDs against Western New England, but still needed Matt Berni's 70-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal the win.

● Misericordia, which lost to Gettysburg last year in the program's first game, 70-0, led at halftime this time around. The 29-26 lead became a 62-40 loss, so while Gettysburg deserves the shine for winning, Misericordia gets a hat tip for progress. The Cougars had 31 first downs, rushed for 587 yards and got a five-TD day from quarterback Jeff Puckett. That's a team we're now keeping an eye on for more signs of growth.

● For all the talk about first-time coaches, Vince Kehres pulled a savvy move for Mount Union, giving six carries to Mason Minnich on the Purple Raiders' game-winning drive after the running back fumbled twice in the second half, helping keep Franklin in the game.

● The 25 teams I voted for in the preseason ballot went 12-5 with eight DNPs. All the losses were pretty respectable -- Wittenberg to I-AA Butler, Franklin and Widener to top-5 teams, Rowan to Delaware Valley and Salisbury to Christopher Newport. Teams I voted for this week that I didn't in the preseason: Willamette, Delaware Valley and St. John Fisher. And almost CNU.

Join Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman on the Around the Nation podcast on Monday mornings.

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is's Senior Editor and began as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011, has worked on the preseason Kickoff publication since 2006 and has covered the Stagg Bowl in Salem for more than a decade. Ryan, a Wabash graduate, worked in newspapers as a writer and editor for 15 years before his current full-time job as editor of a magazine in Virginia.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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