Boyer took last year to get his feet wet, and now he is primed and ready to lead the Bobcat rushing attack. Averaging 4.3 yards per carry last year, Boyer showed his potential, so expect this to be a big year for him. With quarterback Patrick Dugan ‘16 gone, expect to see Boyer take on more of the workload until Sandy Plashkes ‘19 settles in under center.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Mark Upton ’17
A team captain this year, Upton started all eight games last year at middle linebacker. He was the engineer of this defense and finished second in the NESCAC in total tackles (71) and tackles per game (9). He has led the conference in forced fumbles (3) for two years straight and also led the Bobcats in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (8) last year, illustrating his natural instincts for pursuing the pigskin. He was also named to New England Football Writers DIII All-New England team and won the Stephen B. Ritter Academic Award (top-10 cumulative grade point average). Very active on the ball, expect Upton to raise his level of play again this year as he steps onto the gridiron for one more season.
Biggest Game: October 29th vs. Colby
The first game in Bates’ CBB title defense kicks off when Colby comes to Lewiston. I think this is going to be their biggest game because of the gritty battle these two had last year that ended in a margin of victory of just a single point. Expect Coach Harriman to come out trying to implement the same kind of defensive strategy he did against them last year, but know that Colby will come out swinging as they look for revenge. Expect a run-first defensive game that will come down to the final possession. I believe Sandy Plashkes will be the X-factor in the game, as Bates will depend on his efficiency in order to spread the field and open up the rushing attack for the Bobcats.
Best Tweet: It’s hard to go wrong quoting Belichick.
“Mental toughness is doing the right thing for the team when it’s not the best thing for you.”
Even though Bates did not finish last season with a great record, the Bobcats feel that there is a lot of promise for this season. A lot of key guys who were once the young guns are now the seasoned veterans, which bodes well for Bates. Depth is not an issue, which means Coach Harriman can get experimental with players at different positions if need be.
One of the things the team wants to emphasize this season coming off of last season is turning margin of error into margin of victory. Last year, four of the Bates’ eight games were decided by 12 points or less. Throughout preseason, the leaders on the team have been harping on perfecting the “little things,” such as understand the situation in a game or where to be positioned on the field. In an eight-game season, the little things often decide how well you do in the NESCAC. For the Bobcats to see success they have to do a better job in the red zone, both offensively and defensively, something that hurt them in critical moments of games last year.
One of the biggest questions is the quarterback spot. Patrick Dugan ‘16 is a big loss, so it will be interesting to see how the season unfolds with sophomore Plashkes taking over. He should be pretty comfortable behind center with a veteran line that has captain James Fagan ‘17, three-year starter Mitch Hildreth ‘17, and Sean Lovett ‘18 anchoring the front. In regards to the skill positions on offense, Bates is deep and boasts good slot receivers in Noah Stebbins ‘18 and Marcus Ross ‘19, who came onto the scene late last season as a freshman.
As for the defensive unit, almost every starter is returning from 2015, so the Bobcats should show improvement through experience in this respect. The hard-hitting Upton will lead the unit with classmate Brandon Williams ’17 who led the team with six total takeaways. Sam Francis ’17, who ranked third on the team with 49 total tackles, is another leader on this team who will make a big impact on this side of the ball.
The Bobcats will rely on the front seven to take pressure off of the defensive backs, who allowed almost 250 passing yards per game last season. The secondary will be thrown right into the fire when they face Trinity on opening day, so we will see where Coach Harriman’s team stands on Saturday.
Well, the best that can be said about this weekend’s match ups is that three of the following four games feature teams within one game of each other in the standings. I know, I’m supposed to be a salesman and get you excited for the rest of the article, but I’ve already got your click, so I really don’t care….
I do care, of course, and even though none of the game’s below will factor into the Championship race (barring the upset of the millenium – and I mean that), there’s still a lot of intrigue around these games, and it definitely means something to all of the senior playing their last game of football on Saturday.
No more clichés need be wrought about the sentimental value of this weekend’s games, so let’s get into the meat of the matter.
Four to Watch: Senior Edition
Bates Defensive Lineman Tucker Oniskey ’16
Oniskey has been possibly the Bobcats’ best lineman three years running. The big man has gone from 23 tackles and nine pass break ups in seven games in 2013 to 26 tackles and five break ups in seven games a year ago to 37 tackles and four break ups in his first seven games this year.
Oniskey’s ability to get in the face of the opposing quarterback will be important against Hamilton, which likes to air the ball out downfield. We saw last week how a good secondary can take advantage of Hamilton QB Cole Freeman ’19, who was picked off four times by Middlebury last Saturday. The Bates secondary has been exploited at times this year, although CB Trevor Lyons ’17 has had a pick-six in two straight games. If Oniskey can get pressure on Freeman, Lyons might just get his third INT TD of the season.
Williams WR Mark Pomella ’16
Pomella had been exclusively a quarterback in his first three years in Williamstown. He had hoped to be the team’s starter last season until BC-transfer Austin Lommen ’16 beat him out for the gig. Head Coach Aaron Kelton hinted in the preseason that Pomella could switch roles because of his athleticism, but it took three games for Pomella to finally make the switch. Between Weeks 3-7, Pomella has 33 catches (6.6/game) for 421 yards (84.2/game) and one TD. Pomella has been the team’s clear top option since Week 3. He’s also served as the team’s punt returner, especially with RB Connor Harris ’18 out. He will need a monster game in Week 8 to help the Ephs upset Amherst.
Colby D-Linemen Ryan Ruiz ’16 and Harry Nicholas ’16
Bowdoin’s top three running backs are out for the year, and the Polar Bears rushed for negative six yards last week. They’ve broken 63 yards rushing just once this year. By default, Bowdoin has to throw the ball. Ruiz and Nicholas have a combined eight sacks this year. Bowdoin QB Tim Drakeley ’17 is back in starting lineup, but he hasn’t really played since Week 3, which will provide Ruiz and Nicholas a chance to capitalize and have one of their best games.
Tufts RT Justin Roberts ’16 and LT Akene Farmer-Michos ’16
I’m not sure about this, but I think Roberts and Farmer-Michos are the only offensive linemen we’ve ever featured as players to watch or X-factors, and now we’ve done it twice. Apologies to all the other great O-linemen out there around the league.
Roberts and Farmer-Michos are big reasons why RB Chance Brady ’17 is running his way towards history, and the Jumbos need to run well on Saturday to beat Middlebury. The Panthers have been very hit or miss against the run defensively, surrendering 301 yards on 59 carries (5.1 ypc) against Wesleyan, 190 yards on 49 (3.8 ypc) against Amherst and 204 yards on 61 carries (3.3 ypc) at Bates, while also allowing just 33 yards on 31 carries (1.1 ypc) against the vaunted Trinity attack. Inside LB Tim Patricia ’16 will have to make a lot of stops this weekend, and per usual he is leading Middlebury in tackles. If he can’t, Roberts and Farmer-Michos will be opening up some wide lanes for Brady to bounce through.
Maybe you’ve never heard of Elo Ratings. I hadn’t until very recently. But recently a little NbN fairy whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and now we have Elo Ratings. If you want the history of what Elo Ratings are, read here. If you want to know about the mainstream sports applications that inspired this fairy to do some great statistical work on NESCAC football, check out FiveThirtyEight.com. If you are averse to clinking on links that may take you to strange places, I’ll give you the rundown here.
Elo Ratings are a system that quantify the gains and losses to each team after each contest. Wins produce gains in ratings, and losses produce reductions in ratings. In our system (again, I can’t take any personal credit for this work), margins of victory compared to expected winning margin also effect the changes in Elo Ratings. At the end of each season, team ratings are regressed towards the mean, which makes sense because in college athletics there is often a lot of turnover between seasons, so teams have to prove it both on the field and in the Elo Ratings.
Our timeline currently stretches back to 2005. In our ratings, all teams begin with an “average” rating of 1500, meaning that at the beginning of our timeline, teams were very closely clustered together. I’ll spare you the math – because I don’t want my brain to start hurting – but trust me when I say that there is a way to convert each team’s Elo Rating into their probability of winning their next game, and by comparing two teams’ win probabilities and putting them into some kind of magical/mathematical cauldron, you can conjure up a spread for every game. It’s also important to note that home teams are allotted a four-point advantage throughout the spreads.
Below is a graph that depicts each team’s Elo Rating from the beginning of the 2005 season through Week 7 of the 2015 season. This should give you some idea of how each team’s stock has risen and fallen over the past decade.
What’s the point of showing you this? Well, if you’re a stat nerd, the value is obvious. This is pretty cool. Secondly, though, this week we are sharing the spreads for each game in our predictions and discuss the spread a little bit. In the information you will see which team is giving points this week.
Bates (2-5) (-10) at Hamilton (1-6), Clinton, NY, 12:00 PM
Despite the ugly records, both of these teams are on the upswing. Bates is coming off of two straight wins and a CBB title, the program’s third in the past four years, making the 2016 class the first since 1900 to claim three outright CBB titles in its tenure. A win will also make the 2016 class 16-16, which would tie last year’s class as the winningest since 1983. Finally, Hamilton is the only program which Bates holds the series advantage over, with the Bobcats currently in the lead 19-18.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has returned to relevance this year. Not only did the Conts get their first win in over three years at Williams, but they’ve been very competitive, losing to Tufts by three in double OT, Wesleyan by five, Bowdoin by 10, Colby by five and Middlebury by five. With a lot of young players making impacts, specifically on defense and at QB Cole Freeman, there is a lot of hope for this program next year.
As for this year, though, the focus for both teams is finishing on a high note and giving its seniors a great last memory. When analyzing a Bates game, the first thing to ask for its opponent is whether they can stop the run. In Hamilton’s case, they’ve done a pretty good job of that this season. Tufts, Wesleyan and Trinity put up big rushing totals, but they also ran the ball around 50 times against Hamilton, and on the season the Continentals are allowing 3.28 yards per rush. Not exactly 1980’s Steelers, but passable, and I actually think that practicing against Hamilton’s new Wildcat read option will actually have prepared the Continentals to stop the Bates attack. If Hamilton can force QB Pat Dugan ’16 to the air, it will be a long day for Bates. No one besides Bats WR Mark Riley ’16 scares you in the passing game.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, need to step up their pass defense. Hamilton, as a team, has the highest yards per completion average. They don’t necessarily complete that many passes, though. Freeman and Chase Rosenberg ’17 have combined for a 43.9 percent completion rate. DB Brandon Williams ’17 will be on alert and trying to add to his league-best five interceptions.
The Continentals won a big game two weeks ago, and are still feeling good about themselves after taking Middlebury to the wire. They’ll be good enough to cover the spread, but the final decision goes to Bates.
Prediction: Bates 24 – Hamilton 21
Amherst (7-0) (-22.5) at Williams (2-5), Williamstown, MA, 12:00 PM
If you take a peek at the Elo Rating chart above, you might notice that Amherst is currently at the highest it’s ever been, and Williams is at the lowest. The spread of (-22.5) is actually lower than last year’s (-24), but it definitely feels like more of a lopsided matchup this year. That’s what I meant when I said it would take the upset of the millennium for the championship hunt to be impacted this weekend. Williams would have to cover a 22.5 point spread and beat Amherst in order to give Trinity a shot at sharing the title.
On paper, this game is clearly a blowout. The Jeffs have played some competitive games, but none have really ended up that close besides the 16-7 win over Trinity a week ago. The next closest margin was a nine-point win over Wesleyan in Week 5 in which Amherst needed a five-plus minute drive late in the fourth to clinch the win. The only question for Amherst is which QB Reece Foy ’18 will show up? The efficient, dual-threat Foy, or the clumsy turnover-prone Foy? He’s had five picks the last three games after having one pick in the first four. All he has to do is get the ball near his awesome receivers, including WR Jackson McGonagle ’16, who is a big play threat when Foy is able to hit him downfield, and rely on the bruising rushing attack lead by Kenny Adinkra ’16. As an entire team, Amherst is averaging 4.7 yards per rush. Enough said.
If Williams has one thing going for them, it’s experience. Five starters on offense and five on defense are all seniors, so they won’t shy away from the daunting task ahead of them. DE James Howe ’16 has had massive expectations heaped on him the past couple of seasons, but teams have been able to neutralize him much of the time by scheming for him, but he’s been productive this season with two sacks, and has opened the door for fellow D-lineman Jack Ryan ’16 to get 3.5 sacks of his own.
Despite Williams’ significant series lead (71-53-5), Amherst is expected to win its fifth straight contest against their rivals and clinch not only the NESCAC title, but also its 32nd Little Three title, which we’ve barely even talked about because it’s seemed like a formality for awhile now. And yes, I think they cover that massive spread.
Prediction: Amherst 35 – Williams 7
Colby (1-6) (-0.5) at Bowdoin (1-6), Brunswick, ME, 12:30 PM
This game is basically a pick ’em, and that’s all I can do, because I don’t know what to think about either team. For the most part, it’s been a lot of meaningless second halfs for these teams this season. Bowdoin has no running game right now, and Colby is afraid to throw the ball and might have a QB battle in camp next season.
The Mules’ rushing attack has been solid after a slow start though, thanks to RB Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 and the heavy lifting of FB Robert Murray ’16. They just can’t do anything through the air. QB Gabe Harrington ’17 has one touchdown and 11 interceptions, and Christian Sparacio ’18 has gotten time in spurts, but he’s completed less than half of his attempts and is more like a Wildcat QB with the ability to throw right now. Defensively, LB Stephen O’Grady ’16 has been a workhorse, leading the team in tackles.
It’s going to be a challenge for Tim Drakeley to be effective in the passing game for Bowdoin with no rushing threat. He’ll be looking to find WR Dan Barone ’16 early and often, and there will be a lot of pressure on All-NESCAC C Matt Netto ’16 and his squad to keep Drakeley upright. On the defense, it will have to be a big day for LB Branden Morin ’16 and companion LB Phillipe Archambault ’19, who’s stepped right in and tallied 49 tackles in six games.
It’s going to be low-scoring, with neither team able to move the ball quickly. With that being the case, I have to tip the scales in favor of Colby, who will be able to move the ball on the ground and get after the passer on third and longs. It’s going to be a sad Senior Day in Brunswick.
Prediction: Colby 23 – Bowdoin 17
Middlebury (5-2) (-6) at Tufts (5-2), Medford, MA, 12:30 PM
When was the last time this game was relevant? Probably 2008, when the Panthers beat Tufts 38-24 to finish 5-3, ahead of the 4-4 Jumbos. Tufts hasn’t beaten Middlebury since Nov. 10, 2001. That’s 5,116 days. However, for the first time in a long time, Tufts and Middlebury come into the game with the same record, and in all honesty, I’m not sure Middlebury deserves to be favored in this game.
We’ve talked a lot about the injuries to the Panthers, and that is a big reason why they’ve played some close games recently and I’m feeling like Tufts can pull this off. Early in the week, though, Head Coach Bob Ritter was hopeful that some of his offensive linemen would be healthy by Saturday, which was probably directed at C James Wang ’16, though Ritter didn’t say for sure. Wang’s been dealing with a lingering leg injury all season, which is pretty much par for the Panthers’ course.
I still think the Middlebury passing attack will be productive. In the finale of two brilliant careers for QB Matt Milano ’16 and WR Matt Minno ’16, don’t be surprised to see those two connect early and often. Very often. Minno is chasing history, needing two touchdowns to become the all-time TD reception leader in Middlebury history and 40 yards to reach second in receiving yards for a career. Those two milestones are pretty much a lock. Elsewhere, TE-turned-slot receiver Trevor Miletich ’16 should have a big game, too. When he’s been healthy this season he’s been a favorite target for Milano.
I’ve already discussed the need for Tufts to run the football, but will they be able to move the pigskin through the air? If so, they’ll need to attack the corner opposite boundary CB Nate Leedy ’17. PSA to NESCAC teams: Don’t throw at this kid. Leedy picked off two balls a week ago, and if every team challenged him like Hamilton did he’d have two picks per game. He is also probably the hardest hitter on the Panther defense. Sometimes his shoulder-first launches result in missed tackles because he doesn’t wrap up, but it actually happens less than you’d think. When he connects, the ball carrier goes down. Hard. So, if Tufts QB Alex Snyder ’17 is smart, he’ll try the other side of the field, putting pressure on CB Andrew McGrath ’18 if he’s healthy, but more likely CB Matt Daniel ’19. Safety Dan Pierce ’16 will be a huge factor in plugging up the run, as well.
Maybe it’s just too hard to pick against my team in the last game of my classmates’ careers, or maybe I’m jaded because I’ve watched the Panthers trash Tufts for the last three seasons, but in either case, I’m taking Middlebury even though they’re (-6). There are a lot of Midd haters out there right now because they’ve played some close games against teams that they “should” have blown out. But they’ve still won those games. And that kind of resiliency and winning attitude will play the difference in this one-touchdown game.
On October 24 in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, ending the 30 Years’ War. More importantly, the treaty established the principle known as Westphalian Sovereignty, which means that all countries are equal in international law and all countries have sovereignty over all affairs within their own borders. It is widely regarded as crucial in developing the system of nation-states in Europe for the rest of the millennium.
That has nothing to do with NESCAC football, but I include it in the article to remind you that nothing done on Saturday during a NESCAC football game will be remembered in 377 years like the Treaty of Westphalia. In 377 years people will look at football the same way we look at Renaissance Fairs. Not that the games don’t matter – of course they do. Enjoy them, imbibe in them, and tell all your friends at the game to read Nothing but NESCAC. Enough with the rambling, onto the actual analysis.
Four to Watch
Wide Receiver Charles Ensley ’17 (Hamilton): I was able to see Ensley close up last Saturday against Bowdoin. Obviously, I came away impressed as he had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. Honestly he could have had even more yards than that, but the Hamilton QBs missed him on a couple of throws down the field. Ensley regularly got behind Bowdoin’s defensive secondary. Ensley seems to be a favorite of Cole Freeman ’18, who came on to replace Chase Rosenberg ’17, at the end of the second quarter: all of his catches came after Freeman entered the game.
Cornerback Tim Preston ’19 (Tufts): Despite not playing in the opening game, Preston (whom I incorrectly called a linebacker last week) is tied for the league lead in interceptions with four. Every week his statistics and play-making has become better and better. Last week was his official coming out party with two interceptions which he returned for 55 total yards. An even 6’0″, he is taller than most NESCAC cornerbacks, and this picture shows perfectly how he uses that height to his advantage. Preston will get plenty of action against the pass-happy Ephs.
Linebacker Philippe Archambault ’19 (Bowdoin): Another freshman defensive player making a big impact after a slow start is Archambault. He entered the starting lineup against Tufts in Week 3, and in the two games since he has 19 tackles. More impressive is that he has three sacks in two games. Archambault plays middle linebacker, and both of his sacks against Hamilton came on delayed stunts where he came free. Trinity’s offensive line gives the French-Canadian another new challenge to take on.
Quarterback Patrick Dugan ’16 (Bates): Dugan had a game to forget against Williams two weeks ago going 1-14, but he bounced back against Wesleyan throwing for 204 yards on 14-30 passing. I would still like Bates to be more unpredictable in throwing the ball on early downs, but allowing Dugan to throw the ball 30 times is still encouraging. He is never going to be a high completion percentage type, and the offense is never going to revolve around him throwing the ball. Still, getting the ball downfield in order to gain big chunks is a must.
Colby (0-4) at Hamilton (0-4): 12:00 PM, Clinton, NY
A winless team will get on the board. Assuming Freeman starts at QB, the Continentals will have their third different starting QB this season, and the running game for Hamilton has not gotten going. Against the experienced defensive line led by Ryan Ruiz ’16, that won’t change very much. I was expecting more from the Continentals last week frankly, but they were dominated for three of the four quarters by the Polar Bears.
The statistics for Colby last week against Amherst are truly shocking. The Mules outgained the Jeffs 400-307 and also had the advantage in first downs 23-15. Most unbelievable, Colby held the ball for 36:48. Even though they never seriously threatened Amherst, for the second straight week they showed that they are capable of playing quality football. Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 has cemented himself as one of the best running backs in the league. The long drive to Hamilton scares me, but I’m going with the Mules
Prediction: Colby over Hamilton 13-10
Bowdoin (1-3) at Trinity (4-0): 1:00 PM, Hartford, CT
The Bantams looked oh so mortal last week, in large part because of their own mistakes. They had five turnovers and a crazy 13 penalties for 144 yards. They also somehow went 2-12 on third down even though they had 523 yards of total offense. Those are all fixable things, and the Bantams didn’t come into the game doing any of those things particularly poorly. Linebacker Liam Kenneally ’18 is quickly taking up the mantle of Bantam linebackers, finishing with 11 tackles last week. Even though the defense gave up 323 yards, they still held Alex Snyder ’17 to 11-30 throwing the ball. Through four games, opposing QBs have a completion percentage of 41.7 percent (53-127) and are averaging 138.5 YPG through the air.
Quarterback Noah Nelson ’19 had as fine a debut as one could have hoped for, but the sequel will have trouble matching that success. Nelson did a great job finding the open receiver and trusting his guys to make plays in one-on-one match-ups. The windows in the defense will be smaller and the jump balls might not be completed, and he won’t have as much time in the pocket as he did last week. Of course, Nelson can play loose as a daisy: nobody is expecting him to beat Trinity in the Coop in his second college start. Tim Drakeley ’17 will be back healthy next week, and the Polar Bears will reevaluate their QB situation then. Nelson could win the job permanently if he plays well, but he won’t necessarily lose it if he has a sub-par performance.
As for the game Saturday, Trinity plays better at home than they do on the road, the Bantams need to get everything working right before they begin their tough three-game final stretch. Still, remember that Bowdoin led Trinity 10-3 entering the 4th quarter last year…
Bates has now lost three games in a row by single digits. That sucks, plain and simple. The defense has been decent at not giving up points, but they still allowed 447 yards last week and are giving up an average of 424.5 per game. Even though some players like Brandon Williams ’17 and Sam Francis ’17 have quickly become important pieces of the puzzle, there is still enough inexperience that the defense has difficulty getting stops.
Matt Milano ’16 is going to put up big numbers this week, I can bet that, but how efficient will he be doing it? He was 20-41 against Williams, but he also was below 50 percent against Williams last year. He then used the Bates game as a springboard to his eye-popping second half. The Panthers can still grab a share of the NESCAC title. As long as their run defense, the second-worst in the league giving up an average of 171.5 YPG, isn’t completely exposed, they will pull this one out.
Prediction: Middlebury over Bates 24-13
Tufts (3-1) at Williams (2-2): 2:00 PM, Williamstown, MA
These two have had three common opponents: both beat Bowdoin handily, squeaked by Bates, and lost to Trinity. Tufts obviously played the Bantams closer (Williams lost 24-0 compared to the 34-27 overtime loss for Tufts). Playing the comparative opponent’s game can be tricky, so I’m going to mostly disregard it. The Ephs defense completely ran out of a gas in the second half against Middlebury, allowing 27 straight points to finish the game after Williams went up 14-9 in the third quarter. Things get a little easier against Tufts. Not that much, though, with Chance Brady ’17, the leading rusher in the NESCAC, transforming the Jumbos into a more ground-heavy attack.
The Jumbos defense’s greatest weakness is against the pass; Williams loves to throw the ball, so advantage Ephs there. Austin Lommen ’16 just has to stop throwing bad interceptions; he has six, the second the most in the league. The Ephs defense doesn’t scare you with any player in particular, as impact players have missed time with injury. They are still a good defense though, so long as you don’t put them on the same scale as a Amherst or Trinity. This is the hardest game to predict this week. One potential difference-maker for Tufts is if they can break a long return since the Ephs have allowed two crucial returns for touchdowns. When in doubt, go with the home team.