/columns/around-the-region/midwest/2011/attention-turns-to-conference-play

Attention turns to conference play

The CCIW enters league play after compiling an 18-6 record (.750) against nonconference competition.

Four of the teams are undefeated, and that doesn’t include No. 9-ranked North Central (2-1). The undefeated include No. 7-ranked Wheaton, Carthage, Illinois Wesleyan and North Park, all at 3-0. Three teams are 2-1, including North Central, Millikin and Elmhurst. The only CCIW team with a losing record is usually tough Augustana at 0-3.

When you take a closer look at the CCIW’s glossy nonconference record, some may point to its competition. CCIW opponents have a combined 11-28 (.282) record. Now to be completely fair, if you take out the CCIW opponents’ record against non-CCIW teams, the record is 7-22, for a slightly higher .318 percent. According to opponents’ records, North Park has played the toughest competition (4-6).

Speaking of North Park

Benedictine coach Jon Cooper sang North Park’s praises after the Vikings beat Benedictine 38-20 in Week 2. Cooper said he thinks North Park and its run-happy offense has a chance to have a very good season if they stay healthy.

“I’m not saying they are going to win the CCIW, but that’s a good football team,” Cooper said of North Park. “They have that offense that you don’t get the see a lot of and it took us a half to get adjusted. I won’t be surprised if they have a very good season.”

North Park is indeed off to its best start since 2005, when it opened the season 3-0. The Vikings sophomore quarterback Tyler Krebs has been impressive, averaging 116.3 yards on the ground. Krebs rushed for 203 yards in a victory over Aurora earlier this year.

The problem is that North Park plays in the CCIW. The Vikings have not won a conference game since 2000 – that’s 0-75 in conference play. The last time North Park won a CCIW game was a 31-21 victory over Elmhurst on Oct. 7, 2000.

Who does North Park play this Saturday? Elmhurst on the road. Are the stars finally aligning for the Vikings? It’s not my game of the week, but it will be I’ll be keeping my eye on. Last week, North Park had an impressive 13-10 victory over a Washington U. team that played No. 16 Wittenberg down to the wire before losing 20-17 a week earlier.

Happy for conference play?

While the CCIW may wax fondly about nonconference play this season, the Northern Athletic Conference enters league play licking its wounds a bit. One team, Maranatha Baptist, of Watertown, Wis., has a winning record at 2-1.

Concordia (Ill.) is 1-1 with one incomplete game. Preseason conference favorites Benedictine and Aurora both enter league play at 1-2 along with Wisconsin Lutheran at 1-2. Concordia (Wis.), Lakeland and Rockford are all 0-3.

But in league play, expect the favorites to rise again, starting with defending champion Benedictine traveling to Concordia (Ill.) Concordia has been knocking on the door with two second-place finishes and knows it has to beat the Eagles to have a legitimate shot. This game will be a critical role in determining the NATHC championship once the dust clears.

Game of the Week

Monmouth (3-1, 3-0 in Midwest Conference) at St. Norbert (3-1, 3-0). There is nothing surprising here with this game putting the winner in the driver’s seat to win the MWC and its playoff spot. Monmouth’s preseason All-American Alex Tanney seems to have found his groove after an opening season loss to No. 22-Wartburg.

Tanney is completing 73.3 percent of his passes (96-131) with one interception against 14 touchdowns. He is passing for 338 yards per game and has a quarterback efficiency rating of 193.78. He will face a St. Norbert defense that has given up just three touchdowns in the last three games and has sacked the quarterback 17 times in four games. This game, though, maybe decided on the ground, surprisingly enough. Monmouth’s running back Trey Yocum has been an impressive complement to Tanney, averaging 128.8 yards a game on the ground. St. Norbert, on the other hand, is only giving up 41 yards a game rushing. Something’s gotta give and that may determine the winner.

Game of the Week 2

Mount St. Joseph (3-0, 2-0 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference) at Franklin (3-1, 2-0): From 2004-2007, Mount St. Joseph owned the HCAC and made the playoffs again in 2009. The Lions will be trying to take conference supremacy back from Franklin, the defending HCAC champions. The Grizzlies have bounced back from big home loss to No. 1-ranked UW-Whitewater with comfortable victories over Bluffton and Defiance.

One more for good measure: No. 7 Wheaton (3-0) at Illinois Wesleyan (3-0).

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Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.
2003-04 columnist: John Regenfuss
1999-2000 columnist: Don Stoner

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