Ranking the conferences
|Parity is a little bit out of reach in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
UW-Eau Claire photo by Rick Mickelson
By Keith McMillan
Got a friendly bet to settle? Perhaps you’re wondering why certain teams get so much respect in the polls. Maybe you could use a little help speculating which teams might earn Pool C bids, be favored in a playoff matchup or win inter-conference games between teams with similar records.
Around the Nation’s conference rankings are back for the first time in two years.
Our purpose is simple. We are ranking the conferences according to their strength now, at this moment. This can change as soon as Saturday (perhaps when Salisbury and Shenandoah meet), and a conference in a down year (like the ODAC) could find itself a handful of spots below where it might normally rank.
Our criteria include out-of-conference performance, recent playoff performance and success of players at the professional level. We also take into account the feelings of D3football.com staff who see conference teams around the nation, and statistical computer ratings.
We think recent history is relevant in our rankings, not only because of trends that develop, but because some of the same players remain from last season’s playoff games. Likewise, the momentum from a league or nation championship can stay within a program for some time, particularly where recruiting is concerned.
Our rankings are meant to be subjective, in a way that a mathematical rating cannot be. We consider them definitive, but they are certainly subject to discussion in Post Patterns and elsewhere.
And we plan to continue updating these rankings every couple of years, because while tradition doesn’t graduate, players do.
Without further ado, let’s introduce you to our strongest conference, which some of you will undoubtedly find controversial:
1. WISCONSIN INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (WIAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: No. 2 of 27 (up one spot)
Why it’s ranked here now: It’s long been accepted that this is Division III’s most competitive conference, in that the strength of the worst WIAC team is much closer to the best in its conference than the worst team is to the best in most. It’s the league that embodies the cliché “anyone can win on any given Saturday.” Its top four teams are 3-2 in conference play right now, while the bottom four are 2-3.
But it’s not just the most even conference in the division. WIAC teams excel against out-of-conference competition. Of their five non-WIAC losses, three have come against Division II teams, and the other two against Linfield and Pacific Lutheran. Three of the losses (including Pacific Lutheran) have come at 2-6 UW-River Falls’ expense, so the other seven schools all have winning records and are 17-2 combined out of conference, with losses to the No. 7 team in Division II (South Dakota) and the No. 2 team in Division III (Linfield).
One mathematical rating system put the WIAC’s seven best teams among the nation’s 11 best, and marked UW-River Falls 25th. The Massey Ratings had this as Division III’s strongest conference as well, while Peter Wolfe’s ratings had it second behind the Empire 8.
The WIAC has a well-respected pro pedigree, as five of the 11 players on NFL rosters today hail from four conference schools. Kansas City linebacker Mike Maslowski and Tampa Bay wide receiver Bill Schroeder played at UW-La Crosse, Tennessee cornerback Tony Beckham is from UW-Stout, Pittsburgh linebacker Clint Kriewaldt wore UW-Stevens Point purple and Miami punter Matt Turk hails from UW-Whitewater.
The knock on the conference is its 2-6 playoff record since expansion to 28 teams in 1999, but even that can be explained. Three of the six losses came against St. John's and a fourth was against Mount Union, likely the two strongest teams in the division in the period. The two best WIAC playoff teams in that span, a 10-0 UW-Stout team in 2000 and last year’s 9-1 UW-La Crosse team ran into Stagg Bowl-bound squads. If not for geography, those teams may have been Stagg Bowl-bound themselves.
Aside from a national title in the past five years, this conference has it all: depth, players that go pro and the willingness to schedule tough opponents.
2004 out-of-conference record: 17-5
2004 signature results (a game or games we feel best shows a conference’s relative strength): UW-Eau Claire 30, St. John’s 28 (beating the defending champions at home in Week 1) and South Dakota 45, UW-La Crosse 44 (The Eagles were a blocked extra point away from matching what is now a Top 10 Division II team).
2. OHIO ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (OAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 1st (down one)
Why it’s ranked here now: The OAC has always been more than the home of Mount Union, given the playoff success of OAC teams when a second one has made the playoffs. But the reason it’s not Division III’s top conference is the lack of depth.
This year, four of the OAC’s 10 teams lost their out-of-conference game, though the defeats came at the hands of Wooster, Mt. St. Joseph, Hope and Adrian, teams who are a combined 26-6. John Carroll’s loss to Hope was by a point, and only Heidelberg’s 27-6 loss to Wooster was by more than 11 points.
And while the OAC’s bottom teams can hold their own against top teams from other leagues, they can’t against each other. The league is too top heavy to be our No. 1 this year. Mount Union, Capital, Baldwin-Wallace and Ohio Northern are all worthy of their Top 25 votes, but we don’t worry about them losing to any of the bottom four teams in the league. Until the OAC cellar-dwellers can catch up with the top teams, and we know this is a tall task, the OAC will simply boast the nation’s strongest half-league.
Buffalo linebacker London Fletcher (John Carroll) is perhaps the most significant Division III alum in the NFL today, in front of running back Jamal Robertson (Ohio Northern), who was returning kicks and the No. 2 running back before being cut this week. Mount Union cornerback Chris Kern and quarterback Rob Adamson and John Carroll quarterback Tom Arth have received NFL looks recently this year, with Kern cut from the Detroit Lions in September.
2004 out-of-conference record: 6-4
2004 signature results: Capital 49, Wittenberg 16 (Sept. 4); Ohio Northern 31, Westminster (Pa.) 0 (Sept. 4).
3. NORTHWEST CONFERENCE (NWC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 3rd (no change)
Why it’s ranked here now: The top four teams in the conference are 24-5 overall, with three of the losses coming to each other. The league’s elite are the nation’s elite, led by No. 2 Linfield, which cemented its status with a Sept. 18 win at then-No. 7 UW-Stevens Point. Willamette nearly won at Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Pacific Lutheran defeated the WIAC’s River Falls.
Though the league boasts a 6-1 record against SCIAC foes, its bottom two teams have struggled to play up to the level of the big four. Puget Sound (4-4) is on its way up, but Lewis and Clark (1-6) is still having trouble.
Menlo (alum Nate Jackson plays for the NFL’s Denver Broncos) will join the league, expected to start play in 2006. In the meantime, the Northwest is a conference with a strong two-thirds at the top, but still not as complete as the WIAC despite the NWC’s two head-to-head victories.
2004 out-of-conference record: 19-5
2004 signature result: Linfield 46, UW-Stevens Point 35 (Sept. 18)
4. MINNESOTA INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (MIAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 6th (up two)
Why it’s ranked here now: After last season’s St. John’s championship, the MIAC was certain to move up some. The talent isn’t just in Collegeville though, as Gustavus Adolphus’ Ryan Hoag was just released by the NFL’s Vikings this week, though Johnnie Blake Elliott remains with the team on the injured list. Bethel has also joined St. John’s in the playoffs in three of the past five seasons.
But this year, the emergence of a new power has strengthened the conference’s standing. Concordia-Moorhead has eclipsed the seven wins of the past two seasons with its 8-0 start and No. 4 ranking. St. Thomas, an outside Pool C contender, is one of three MIAC teams with six wins. St. John’s and St. Olaf are the others.
With Macalester gone on hiatus until at least 2007, the nine-team MIAC’s bottom half isn’t as weak. Teams at .500 or with losing records have held their own against top teams from the IIAC, MWC and CCIW. Last-place Carleton (1-7) stayed within a touchdown of Lake Forest, 8-1 in the MWC, while 2-6 Augsburg did the same against North Central, 5-3 in the CCIW.
This is also the last of four leagues, what we might call our top tier, where the leader is traditionally championship-caliber.
2004 out-of-conference record: 9-7
2004 signature results: Lake Forest 16, Carleton 10 (Sept. 4); North Central 31, Augsburg 24 (Sept. 18)
5. COLLEGE CONFERENCE OF ILLINOIS AND WISCONSIN (CCIW)
2002 D3football.com rank: 4th (down one)
Why it’s ranked here now: This has also been a top-half, bottom-half league, but its top four are as good as just about any. This year, Augustana, Carthage and Wheaton are each 7-1, and 19-1 overall when games against each other are factored out. North Central and Elmhurst should both finish with winning records for the second consecutive year.
CCIW teams have had little trouble with teams from the IBFC and even some in the IIAC and MIAC.
What’s been a traditionally strong league scheduled strong and performed strong out of conference this year. Its playoff teams have often done so also until meeting Mount Union.
2004 out-of-conference record: 17-7
2004 signature results: Augustana 38, Central 7 (Sept. 4); UW-Platteville 25, Augustana 23 (Sept. 25)
6. AMERICAN SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE (ASC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 8th (up two)
Why it’s ranked here now: The 10-team ASC rose a couple of spots with good reason. The programs were young when we last ranked them, and since, ASC teams have acquitted themselves well against strong out of conference competition, if not deep in the postseason.
Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons have been Top 25 fixtures, and a third team — Howard Payne, East Texas Baptist and this year Texas Lutheran — has consistently become a playoff contender. This year’s out-of-conference slate includes two losses to SCAC power Trinity (Texas) and an overtime win over Willamette. Hardin-Simmons and Sul Ross State played each other twice, and we aren’t counting either game as an out-of-conference matchup.
The ASC has a couple of programs in its bottom half that need to make up ground to be competitive, which could give the next few leagues on this list reason to think they should be ranked higher.
2004 out-of-conference record: 4-4
2004 signature results: Mary Hardin-Baylor 25, Willamette 22, OT (Sept. 11); Trinity (Texas) 41, Texas Lutheran 32 (Sept. 11)
7. MIDDLE ATLANTIC CONFERENCE (MAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 7th (no change)
Why it’s ranked here now: This season has marked an interesting shift in power in the 11-team MAC. Lycoming, Widener and King's have been the league’s past three playoff representatives, but none are in the league’s top three this year, and only the Pioneers have a winning record. Delaware Valley is the front-runner for the MAC automatic bid, followed by Moravian, Wilkes and Albright. Susquehanna could also finish with a winning record.
But in a league this deep with just a single opportunity to play out-of conference games, not everyone can be a winner. The non-conference opponents are mostly weak, aside from Lycoming’s 49-7 loss at Ithaca and King’s defeat against St. John Fisher. Juniata also lost to Dickinson, while the wins have come over Ursinus (twice), Gettysburg, William Paterson and Frostburg State, teams with a combined mark of 6-26. Moravian (rival Muhlenberg) and FDU-Florham (Husson) have yet to play their non-MAC game, while Wilkes had to schedule 10 conference teams and not count the Lycoming game in league standings to even off the odd number.
Still, the MAC should send a team deep into this season’s playoffs, and rivals the following two conferences we ranked as the best in the East.
2004 out-of-conference record: 5-3
2004 signature result: St. John Fisher 28, King’s 21 (Sept. 4)
8. EMPIRE 8
2002 D3football.com rank: 15th (up seven)
Why it’s ranked here now: This conference has a radically different membership than it did the last time we ranked it. It took the best team (Springfield) from 2002’s 16th-ranked league, the now defunct Freedom Football Conference, before it broke up. They also added Norwich, which is 6-2 this season.
Those additions, coupled with Ithaca’s continued power and the rise of St. John Fisher (8-1) and Alfred (7-1) rise make the E8 a seven-team football league with five winning records clinched.
If the rankings were done at the end of the season, the league could move up to fifth or sixth among top conferences. We’re not quite sure how strong the top teams in the conference are relative to other top squads in the East, but we’ll surely find out in the postseason.
The out-of-conference record is boosted a 6-2 mark against Husson, Mount Ida and Plymouth State, but even the Empire 8’s cellar-dwellers, Hartwick and Utica, are 3-4 in non-conference games and 0-8 in the conference. Ithaca’s loss to Brockport State is the only non-conference loss by the E8’s top five teams.
2004 out-of-conference record: 20-5
2004 signature results: Brockport State 21, Ithaca 20 (Oct. 16); Alfred 23, Washington and Lee 8 (Sept. 11)
9. NEW JERSEY ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (NJAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 5th (down four)
Why it’s ranked here now: We may have been a little strong on the NJAC last time, coming off a 2001 season in which both Rowan and Montclair State made the postseason, and in the midst of a 10-0 regular-season for the Profs.
We’re not as sold as we once were on the Stagg Bowl potential of the NJAC’s best teams. The top two, Rowan and The College of New Jersey this season, might both make the playoffs. Cortland State will look to make it three in a row against archrival Ithaca of the Empire 8 on Nov. 13. The Red Dragons, Montclair State’s Red Hawks and Western Connecticut mean five NJAC teams could finish .500 or better, but Kean and William Paterson don’t help the overall strength of the league.
The out-of-conference schedule almost features more visits from Division I-AA, II and NAIA teams than Division III teams, making it harder to gauge the NJAC’s relative strength. Rowan’s Division II opponents account for two of the nine non-NJAC losses, and the two cellar-dwellers account for five more. Cortland also lost to SUNY brother Brockport, while Rowan recently defeated the Golden Eagles in overtime.
At seven teams each, one might be able to closely compare the strength of the NJAC and Empire 8, but until the Cortaca Jug game, all we have to go on is Springfield’s win over Western Connecticut.
2004 out-of-conference record: 12-9
2004 signature results: Rowan 33, Christopher Newport 32 (Sept. 4); Springfield 56, Western Connecticut 27 (Oct. 9)
10. PRESIDENTS ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (PAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 20th (up 10)
Why it’s ranked here now: A 10-spot rise in the rankings looks impressive, but really the PAC just heads what we’d call our middle tier, a group of perhaps eight conferences which are as tightly squeezed as any.
Washington and Jefferson (9-0) might be back in powerhouse mode, while the finishes at Waynesburg and Westminster (Pa.) could give the six-team conference four winning records.
Thiel (7-2) has become an outside Pool B candidate, but its losses to W&J and UW-Platteville were convincing.
Winless Bethany doesn’t help the overall strength of the group. Neither does Westminster’s 21-14 OT loss to the NCAC’s Allegheny or Waynesburg’s 34-31 loss at Hanover of the HCAC, but W&J beat both of those teams on the road by at least two scores. Grove City has losses to Wooster, Muhlenberg and Alfred, three teams with opportunities to win their automatic qualifiers.
Because the PAC’s top team has the potential to go deep into the postseason, it inched past a few of the leagues in this tier.
2004 out-of-conference record: 15-10
2004 signature result: Washington and Jefferson 76, Emory and Henry 28 (Sept. 25)
11. IOWA INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (IIAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 10th (down one)
Why it’s ranked here now: In what really seems like a down year for the conference, the IIAC landed not far from where it was in 2002. Though the nine-team league might not be a contender for multiple playoff spots like it often is, it does have five winning marks and a sixth at .500.
Matched against the Midwest’s top teams, IIAC teams generally held their own.
Four teams still have a shot at the league title, making it deeper than some of the other conferences in this tier, even in a year where a first-round playoff exit might be likely.
2004 out-of-conference record: 10-8
2004 signature results: Bethel 34, Buena Vista 24 (Sept. 4); Marietta 13, Dubuque 8 (Sept. 4)
12. SOUTHERN COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (SCAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 11th (down one)
Why it’s ranked here now: In the two years since our last ranking, not much has changed. Trinity (Texas) still has a stranglehold on the SCAC, as its 12th consecutive title appears to be locked up. If Trinity were still at its Stagg Bowl level from 2002, we might be inclined to believe DePauw (which lost by one to the Tigers this season) is ready to give this conference as second Top 25 threat. But a 23-0 home loss to UW-Stout probably indicates the Tigers aren’t there yet.
Rhodes is a consistent winner, Centre won eight last season and Rose-Hulman is on a slow rise. Still, as evidenced by league losses to Hampden-Sydney, Washington & Lee and Emory & Henry, the SCAC can’t stray too far from the ODAC in this tier.
Much like the PAC, the SCAC has a single team capable of going deep into the playoffs and gets credit for that.
2004 out-of-conference record: 14-11
2004 signature result: DePauw 35, Hope 14 (Sept. 11)
13. ATLANTIC CENTRAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE (ACFC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 22nd (up nine)
Why it’s ranked here now: The emergence of Salisbury and resurgence of Wesley make the ACFC stronger than it’s ever been, now that it stretches into New York state. Newcomers Brockport State and Buffalo State have filled out the league’s midsection.
The Golden Eagles’ losses to Salisbury and Wesley, coupled with strong performances against Rowan, Cortland State, St. John Fisher and Ithaca, prove the top of the ACFC is for real.
The New York state teams have also incurred five of the league’s out-of-conference losses, while Newport News, technically not a Division III school, but one we track because it is in this league, has given it three wins.
All eyes will be focused on Winchester, Va., on Saturday, when Salisbury hopes it can avoid a repeat of last season. The Sea Gulls brought an 8-0 record into the Hornets game, lost 23-22, and lost the finale against Frostburg State.
2004 out-of-conference record: 13-10
2004 signature results: NNA 20, Randolph-Macon 15 (Oct. 9); Carnegie Mellon 24, Wesley 10 (Oct. 2)
14. USA SOUTH ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (USAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 27th as the Dixie (up 13)
Why it’s ranked here now: The USAC changed its name, added new faces and dropped Chowan, but it’s also improved its reputation, which we said would happen in our 2002 rankings. Christopher Newport won in last season’s playoffs and has beaten Bridgewater (Va.) twice in the regular season, and nearly knocked off Rowan this year. The rest of the conference has proved the Captains not so scary, as Shenandoah beat CNU, while Methodist and Averett have shown flashes. Even first-year North Carolina Wesleyan has won three games, lost one by a point and another in overtime.
Out-of-conference, USAC teams are 5-1 against Chowan and 11-6 against everyone else. This look could look a lot stronger after Saturday’s Shenandoah-Salisbury game, or if the USAC representative performs in the playoffs.
2004 out-of-conference record: 16-7
2004 signature result: Rowan 33, CNU 32 (Sept. 4); Salisbury 7, Methodist 3 (Sept. 18)
15. CENTENNIAL CONFERENCE (CC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 13th (down two)
Why it’s ranked here now: The drop wasn’t that the Centennial’s become weaker, it’s more because other leagues have added teams or depth. Even in McDaniel’s heyday as Western Maryland, the conference couldn’t get two playoff wins in the same season, and we don’t see the Centennial champion going that far this year either.
However, the depth in seven-team conference is impressive, with four winning records and one at .500. McDainel’s beaten Bridgewater, Franklin and Marshall has beaten Hobart and Johns Hopkins could make noise with a win against Hampden-Sydney on Saturday.
Gettysburg and Ursinus have struggled against all levels of competition.
Against the USAC, the Centennial has a weaker non-conference record and its second-place team, McDaniel, lost to the second-place team in that conference, Christopher Newport, by three.
It’s no surprise the Centennial is in the middle of the middle tier of conferences.
2004 out-of-conference record: 14-11
2004 signature results: McDaniel 14, Bridgewater (Va.) 11; Franklin & Marshall 35, Hobart 14 (Sept. 18)
16. OLD DOMINION ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (ODAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 9th (down seven)
Why it’s ranked here now: The ODAC is not nearly as balanced or deep as it was two years ago. In our last rankings, we acknowledged that all but one conference team had won eight games or more in a recent season.
This season, there’s a huge drop off after Bridgewater and Hampden-Sydney, who account for five of the conference’s eight non-ODAC wins and the only winning records.
Washington and Lee is steady around .500, but Randolph-Macon is in transition, Emory and Henry is trying to rebound from down years. Catholic and Guilford, 0-8 this season, have a long way up.
For the foreseeable future, it’s a two-team race for the playoffs and five programs that have a lot of catching up to do.
2004 out-of-conference record: 8-18
2004 signature results: Bridgewater (Va.) 35, Shenandoah 13; Bridgewater (Va.) 72, Hanover 24
17. NORTH COAST ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (NCAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 12th (down five)
Why it’s ranked here now: Like the ODAC, the bottom end of this conference really drags its overall standing down. That’s probably something we didn’t factor in enough when the NCAC came in at No. 12 last time.
Kenyon, Hiram and Oberlin are a combined 1-23 this season, but Wooster is ranked fifth in the country.
We’ve grown accustomed to the three Ws (Wittenberg and Wabash are the others) being competitive, and Allegheny swept its NCAC slate last season.
Worth noting are 5-3 Denison and 4-5 Earlham, who have each eclipsed their win totals from last year. Ohio Wesleyan (4-4) has won four in a row and was competitive in all but one of their losses, including a three-pointer to Thiel. If the middle of the conference pack were more consistent, the NCAC could get more respect. Those teams have absorbed 64-, 57- and 46-point losses, however.
At the moment, the overall non-conference record is too awful to rank it near the top of the middle tier, but a Wooster playoff run could impress.
2004 out-of-conference record: 11-18
2004 signature results:Allegheny 21, Westminster 14, 2 OT (Sept. 11); Capital 49, Wittenberg 16 (Sept. 11)
18. LIBERTY LEAGUE (LL)
2002 D3football.com rank: 14th as the UCAA (down four)
Why it’s ranked here now: The changed membership actually diluted the conference following RPI’s impressive final four run. Coast Guard, Kings Point and Worcester Polytech are 2-13 in LL games, but they’ve only accounted for four of the 12 non-conference losses. League leaders Hobart and Union each lost to a Centennial Conference team that might not make the playoffs, and those two may wind up as the only teams with winning records.
2004 out-of-conference record: 8-12
2004 signature results: Muhlenberg 23, Union 18 (Sept. 18); St. John Fisher 38, Rochester 34 (Sept. 11)
19. MICHIGAN INTERCOLLGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION (MIAA)
2002 D3football.com rank: 18th (down one)
Why it’s ranked here now: It’ll be interesting to see how strong Alma, 7-0 against Division III teams, really is. That might not happen in the playoffs however, as the Scots close with 6-2 Albion and 5-3 Hope.
Great Lakes writer Ryan Briggs doesn’t see a whole lot of difference between the MIAA and the PAC, so this may be where the middle tier truly ends.
Albion, a 40-0 loser to UW-Oshkosh, is a long way removed from its 1994 Stagg Bowl championship, but the MIAA has five teams with winning records (including Olivet and Adrian) and three that are 1-7.
2004 out-of-conference record: 12-12
2004 signature results: Hope 21, John Carroll 20 (Sept. 11); Alma 45, Aurora 0 (Sept. 18)
20. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (SCIAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 25th (up five)
Why it’s ranked here now: This was the first season the SCIAC allowed teams to have the same number of preseason practices as everyone else in D-III, and frequent games against NWC powers don’t help its overall rank either. Two recent playoff performances, a seven-point Redlands loss to St. John’s and an eight-point Bulldogs defeat against Linfield, have moved the league to the top of what might be our fourth tier.
Pomona-Pitzer surprised Trinity (Texas) last season as well, but top-half SCIAC teams still get blown out too often in out-of-conference meetings.
2004 out-of-conference record: 7-12
2004 signature result: Whitworth 52, Redlands 49 (Sept. 11)
21. MIDWEST CONFERENCE (MWC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 17th (down four)
Why it’s ranked here now: Despite the continued in-league dominance of St. Norbert and the emergence of Monmouth and Lake Forest (all 8-1 this season), this conference hasn’t shown the strength to consistently challenge for a second playoff spot.
With a chance to make a statement against the strongest out-of-conference opponent played this season, St. Norbert lost 41-9 at UW-Whitewater. Carthage beat Carroll 52-14 and Macalester earned its only win against an MWC team, but conference teams have shown the ability to beat independents and teams from the Illini-Badger.
Last season’s playoff victory by St. Norbert over IIAC runner-up Simpson was something of a milestone, but the conference is 1-5 in the 28-team playoff system. We can really only expect a victory this year given the right matchup or a very strong performance by the league champion in the first round.
2004 out-of-conference record: 5-3
2004 signature result: Monmouth 52, Concordia (Wis.) 39
22. HEARTLAND INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (HCAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 19th
Why it’s ranked here now: Hanover was in the middle of an undefeated season when we last ranked conferences. The HCAC has won one playoff game but none since, and this year Mt. St. Joseph carries the flag with an unbeaten record. The rest of the conference is either sitting at .500 or winless; only Hanover adds a winning record at 5-4. Conference members have had 60-plus points dropped on them four times, Franklin twice. And if you take out Mt. St. Joseph, which is allowing a sterling 11.9 points per game, the rest of the conference is giving up 31.4.
2004 out-of-conference record: 10-16
2004 signature result: Olivet 63, Franklin 62 (Sept. 11)
23. UNIVERSITY ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION (UAA)
2002 D3football.com rank: 26th (up three)
Why it’s ranked here now: It’s almost unfair to consider this four-team contingent in with full leagues, but its teams have more impressive out-of-conference wins than the 14-team NEFC. The conference has many fine institutions, New York University, Brandeis and Emory among them, but only four football programs. Rochester maintained dual membership in the UAA and UCAA (now the Liberty League) until last season but is now committed to the LL full-time. Washington U. is traditionally competitive, Carnegie Mellon has been solid on a regional basis, Case Western Reserve has been up and down (now down again) and Chicago is often a decent team but has struggled the last two years.
2004 out-of-conference record: 10-12
2004 signature result: Maryville (Tenn.) 16, Case Western Reserve 0 (Oct. 9)
24. ILLINI-BADGER CONFERENCE (IBC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 21st (down three)
Why it’s ranked here now: This conference’s best non-conference win all season comes from MacMurray hosting and beating Thomas More, a 4-4 independent, 35-20. That alone puts it ahead of the NEFC; otherwise the conferences are very similar — no postseason wins, two winless teams. This is a conference that couldn’t get a postseason bid under the old playoff setup even when its champion went undefeated. Benedictine is riding a 12-game losing streak, while Concordia (Ill.) has lost nine in a row and 21 of its last 23. Coaching turnover has hurt as well, as Bob Frey left MacMurray after consecutive playoff bids to go to Tri-State and Jeff Hynes left Concordia (Ill.) after one season to become the school’s dean of students. Hynes had come to the school from Lakeland, another IBC school.
2004 out-of-conference record: 5-15
2004 signature result: UW-Oshkosh 67, Concordia (Wis.) 20 (Sept. 11)
25. NEW ENGLAND FOOTBALL CONFERENCE (NEFC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 23rd (down two)
Why it’s ranked here now: This league won’t get respect until it can win a playoff game, but Curry might be the team to do it. The NEFC is 0-5 in the NCAA playoffs since expansion, and in almost every case, the representative has either been blown out in the first round or lost to a team that got blown out in the second round. The conference has 14 teams but just 10 non-conference games, as some schools play just a nine-game slate, six against their own division and three crossover games. Curry was one of the teams without a non-conference game. The two teams the NEFC beat out of conference are Husson and Plymouth State. The NEFC is hurt by a lack of institutional support (the majority of schools do not even have a full-time head coach). Curry and second-year program Endicott seem to be the programs with the best chance of becoming competitive regionally.
2004 out-of-conference record: 2-8
2004 signature result: Western Connecticut 31, Fitchburg State 17 (Sept. 3)
Unranked: NEW ENGLAND SMALL COLLEGE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (NESCAC)
2002 D3football.com rank: 24th
Why it’s ranked here now: Considering that the NESCAC’s 10 teams don’t play out-of-conference games, not even in the postseason, we really had no business ranking them last time. It was a guess, and maybe not a good one if football can at all be translated to the conference’s success in other sports. However, it made sense to keep NESCAC close to the other New England league, the NEFC.
It’s frustrating for the competitors in all of us to not know where the NESCAC may rank, but we just don’t know.
What we do know is that football is played in this conference for the love of the game, as it is in all of Division III.
2004 out-of-conference record: 0-0
2002 D3football.com rank: n/a
Why it’s ranked here now: If the 19 independents were a conference, they’d rank near the bottom, with just six winning records among them. Two of the teams with winning records have been outscored, as have both of the .500 teams.
None really contended for a playoff spot this year, and among the teams who are now independent, Menlo and Thomas More are the only ones who have seriously contended for a spot in a 28-team field, with Thomas More winning a first-round game against the Illini-Badger champ as a 2002 unbeaten.
2004 combined record: 60-91
2004 signature results: Chapman 31, Occidental 28 (Sept. 11); Eureka 27, Rockford 21, 2 OT (Sept. 4)
Thirteen entered the week unbeaten, and 10 left as Amherst, Moravian and Wheaton each lost their first game.
That leaves No. 1 Mount Union, No. 2 Linfield, No. 3 Hardin-Simmons, No. 4 Concordia-Moorhead, No. 5 Wooster, No. 7 Washington & Jefferson, No. 12
Delaware Valley and No. 13 Salisbury as the eight ranked undefeateds. Mount St. Joseph and Trinity (Conn.) are also without a loss.
Three teams have at least one loss, but none against Division III competition. Both of Rowan’s losses came against Division II teams, while Alma lost to Tiffin and Trinity (Texas) fell against Azusa Pacific.
Unbeaten teams in Pool A conferences will surely take their automatic bids, while Linfield, W&J and Salisbury appear to have played their way into Pool B even if they lose one of their final two.
There were 14 last week, though this group lost three this week and is guaranteed to lose three more on Saturday.
In a battle of winless teams this past week, Muskingum beat Heidelberg 21-12 to get out of the group and keep the Student Princes in it. Concordia (Ill.) and Benedictine each enter the season finale at 0-9, and only one can win their matchup. Catholic and Guilford meet this week with eight losses each, while 0-7 Defiance visits 0-8 Manchester.
Juniata exited the group with a 14-7 win over 2-6 Lycoming, a playoff team last season. Knox knocked Illinois College back to 5-4 with a 13-10 win in what the Massey Ratings determined to be Division III’s biggest upset this season.
Bethany, Framingham State, Hiram and Oberlin join the ’Berg at 0-8 overall.
Eye-opener of the week
Running the ball isn’t dead, at least not in Division III. Seven receivers are averaging 115 yards or more per game, while 27 running backs are doing the same.
Poll beef of the week
This week’s D3football.com and AFCA polls dealt with massive upheaval pretty well. Each recognized Augustana as the CCIW’s top team after Carthage’s win over Wheaton, and moved the Redmen into the poll without dropping the Thunder from top 5 to out of the Top 25.
Both polls have been forced to put teams in the top five that may not necessarily belong there, and I still think the coaches aren’t recognizing strength of schedule by making 7-1 Hampden-Sydney No. 11 and 7-2 Bridgewater (Va.) No. 24 (They’re 19 and 17, respectively, in the D3football.com poll).
The coaches may have a better handle on the OAC, by keeping Baldwin-Wallace, Ohio Northern and Capital together (at 22, 23 and tied for 24th), but both polls seemed to recognize that the Polar Bears are much improved since their 31-3 loss to the Yellow Jackets Sept. 18
Five games to watch
No. 10 UW-Eau Claire at UW-Stout: Just another all-important WIAC game. All eight teams have the conference title within reach.
Wilkes at No. 12 Delaware Valley: After losing last weekend, Moravian will certainly be hoping the MAC’s third-place team can win on its front-runner’s home turf. That would bring the tiebreaker back into play, and given the way things are going in Eastern Pennsylvania already (with the Centennial), that wouldn’t surprise us in the least.
No. 13 Salisbury at Shenandoah: The game might end up being a good playoff preview for both, especially since it means little to the Hornets, who need only to beat Methodist Nov. 13 to clinch the USAC AQ.
No. 24 Ithaca at Alfred: One will end up with its second Empire 8 loss, and if it’s Ithaca, that sets up a playoff-bid showdown when St. John Fisher visits the Saxons Nov. 13.
No. 25 Whitworth at Willamette: Looks like a Pool B elimination game, though Willamette still has Northwest Conference title hopes.
Also keep an eye on: Wittenberg at No. 5 Wooster, No. 11 Augustana at North Central, No. 19 Hampden-Sydney at Johns Hopkins.
Who are those guys?
NAIA Webber International visits Huntingdon, Minnesota-Morris plays Waldorf and Crown travels to Azusa Pacific, which also qualifies as our road trip of the week (1,920 miles from St. Bonaficius, Minn., to Azusa, Calif.)
Here are your responses to questions we’ve asked, and of course some unsolicited notes, quotes and pleas for certain teams to get votes:
Regarding connection to your school:
“Concerning your question of whether I feel connected to my alma mater, the answer is a very strong YES! I graduated in 1976 from Wartburg College as a 4-year letterman in football and follow the Knights rabidly from my home in Kingwood, Texas, a suburb of Houston. I’ve even turned on some of my friends from church that went to Augsburg and Texas Lutheran to D3football.com as well. We all love our schools and support them in any way we can.
Also, I follow the Knights as my son is a senior on the Knights’ other football team — the 2004 Iowa Conference Soccer Champions, the first regular-season soccer championship by Wartburg.
To answer another question and make a comment about some of the comments you published from readers of D3 Football: My son made a decision to go to Wartburg based on their academics first and their soccer team second.
He was recruited by Trinity in San Antonio, a D3 soccer power, but felt he could excel at Wartburg academically and on the soccer field. He also thought he could be a part of building a program and get more opportunities to play. Things have worked out well for him and the soccer program. Last year they won the conference soccer tournament and qualified for the NCAAs and hope to again qualify this year. Building the program is something he and his teammates wanted to accomplish and they have. Concerning the comment about an athlete having to pay out hefty sums to attend college instead of attending a public school, I would remind everyone that most private schools have very strong financial aid programs that provide some form of assistance. My son received one of Wartburg’s highest academic awards and the cost to send him there is basically the same as if I were sending him to a public university in Texas.
I love to read D3 Football and keep up the good work. Would like to invite you to attend a Wartburg football game in our new stadium — Walston Hoover, the site of the 2005 DIII NCAA Track and Field Championships. Come at Homecoming and I’ll buy you a beer at the Octoberfest!”
— Dale T. MacNaughton
I really enjoy your column. I am writing in correspondence to the gentleman who said that he chose to walk on at D1 LSU rather than play at a D3 school. I just thought it was interesting to mention that a former H-SC player, Cole Downer transferred after the 2003 season to walk on at Clemson, where he had to sit out a year and now he is seeing significant playing time at tight end. Many of the top caliber D3 players all have a story to tell. Everyone that plays D3 at one time or another has said what if. Cole did not want to say what if, he knew he could excel at D3 but chose to try and tackle a bigger obstacle by going to D1 to see exactly what he had. Just an interesting point I thought you might like to know. Keep up the good work.”
— Patrick Comarose, Richmond, Va.
Regarding conference rankings:
“I think the E8 is probably top 5 now. While I would definitely hesitate to put it even in the same league as the OAC or even the WIAC, the E8 has three strong teams (St. John Fisher, Ithaca, Springfield) and two others in Alfred and Norwich who can knock off many teams if they aren’t prepared.
— Matt Taylor, South Portland, Maine
Regarding last week’s column:
“Just a little nitpick. Rhodes is flying to Trinity, not driving. When I was there, they made us drive for baseball, but still flew us for football. They still do that, so it’s not that bad, particularly since they get down there on Friday morning.”
— Clinton Randolph
My response: Clinton, I appreciate the heads-up. I usually use the driving distance just to give us all an idea how long a trip it might be, in a format we can all relate to. I’m not really able to say who is actually flying or driving.
Thanks for mentioning Hobart in your Around The Nation article. I played there and graduated in 2001 (not a star, but loved it no less) and get frustrated when I see stories about St. John Fisher, Univ. of Rochester and even St. Lawrence, but not Hobart. I haven’t checked the actual data, but I feel pretty confident anecdotally speaking when I say that Hobart’s program is as good as any in New York State over the last 8-10 years or so since Coach Cragg has been here as head coach (he was an assistant under Maxwell previously). They have beat Ithaca twice in the last five years and done very well against both Union and RPI, including last year’s finale. In addition, we used to beat Brockport in preseason scrimmages all the time (loosely played, however, relative to regular season).
I had to express this a little, but wanted to thank you for getting us some publicity. Keep up the good work.”
— Sean McGlynn ’01
Thanks for answering my question last week. I was heartened by your answer. It isn’t about rank. It is about the playoffs.
Hobart is this year’s sleeper/dark horse team. The game against Union will be tough as will Rochester. I’m confident that we’ll prevail. The Statesmen are on a steamroller.
Union and Rochester are two teams that have historically given Hobart many sleepless nights. Then again, in my four years at Hobart, RPI was cause for much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Now it’s just another game to win.
I’m really looking forward to Hobart making the playoffs.
By the way, if any former Statesmen are reading this, please come to the Rochester game because a lot of us are coming back for the Alumni activities, and it would be good to see everyone there.”
— Matt Smith, Norwich, N.Y.
“F&M has lost two close games to Johns Hopkins and Dickinson (whom they outplayed). They beat Hobart soundly (whom you view as an outside playoff contender) and last weekend beat McDaniel (ranked 16th in one poll). With basically and underclassmen team and a chance to have their best season in years it would be nice to see coach Sean Halloran get a mention in your excellent column. F&M is a team to watch for next year!”
— Geoff Hornbeck’67
My response: Geoff, you just gave Coach Halloran his mention.
“Why no ink for CNJ? They lost only to Rowan and had them down at half. They also beat D1 LaSalle at their homecoming, beat Cortland who very nearly beat Rowan and beat West Conn. The NCAA ranks them 4 in the East yet you have them not in the top 25? And never ink.
I hope they finish strong.”
— Mike Taylor, Hamilton, N.J.
My response: Mike, we mentioned TCNJ as a Pool C candidate two weeks ago in Around the Nation, and I wouldn’t count a win over LaSalle (or a scrimmage against club team George Mason) as anything better than winning a conference game. And don’t forget, with 230 schools in Division III, getting into our Top 25 is roughly equivalent to getting into Division I-A’s Top 12. It’s pretty elite. TCNJ came in this week at what would be our 31st spot, and was tied for 24th in the coaches’ poll.
“I just read your Around the Nation article, and I’d just like to say thanks for finally giving Texas Lutheran some coverage. I played for them last year but decided not to this year, but it is good to see my friends getting some coverage because I feel they have earned it. They have improved a lot this year, and continue to do so. Keep up the good work.”
— Eric Massey
“Regarding the top six teams that have a shot at the playoffs that nobody is talking about, I’m just curious why Lake Forest is mentioned but Monmouth is not. Monmouth beat Lake Forest head-to-head this year and stands to be the larger contender in the conference than Lake Forest. If Lake Forest beats St. Norbert, all teams are 8-1 in conference, most likely.
Monmouth would probably go to the playoffs because of conference rules of quarters led during the season.
This would be considering St. Norbert would lose a few quarters in the loss to Lake Forest. Monmouth only trails two quarters to St. Norbert as of 10/26 while Lake Forest trails St. Norbert by 6 quarters. If Lake Forest does lose, they finish 8-2 overall compared to a possible 9-1 Monmouth team. Also, did I mention Monmouth beat last year’s IBC champ and current contender Concordia-Wis. in its non-conference game while Lake Forest played perennial MIAC cellar dwellers Carleton. I think that it is also fair to mention Monmouth’s three shutouts in a row this year, one of which came against Lake Forest.
— T.J. Gordon
“You accurately point out that Lake Forest has the opportunity to cause a three-way tie in the Midwest Conference by beating St. Norbert this weekend in your latest article. So what about Monmouth College who is also 8-1 and shut out the Foresters in their meeting earlier this season 14-0? It is my understanding that in a three-way tie in the MWC the tiebreaker is most quarters led in which case Lake Forest currently sits behind both St. Norbert and Monmouth. Unless a 1-7 Knox College team upsets Monmouth, how does Lake Forest advance into the playoffs even if they win Saturday at St. Norbert? They will share equal conference records with Monmouth and St. Norbert and be behind both in the tiebreaker. Your thoughts?
— Eric Hanson, Galesburg, Ill.
My response: T.J. and Eric, you guys were both on top of the tiebreaker, and I wasn’t. That’s perhaps something we should add to the individual conference pages for quick reference. Oh, and T.J., I’m not impressed by the out-of-conference competition either Monmouth or Lake Forest scheduled when St. Norbert took on UW-Whitewater.
Editor’s note: To update, the current three-way tiebreaker has St. Norbert leading in 29 quarters, Monmouth in 26 and Lake Forest in 22. If Monmouth loses to archrival Knox, and Lake Forest beats St. Norbert head-to-head, then Lake Forest advances. If St. Norbert defeats Lake Forest, St. Norbert advances. If Lake Forest beats St. Norbert, then the quarters-led tiebreaker comes into play. Monmouth only goes to the playoffs if it wins, leads in all four quarters against Knox; and Lake Forest beats St. Norbert by leading in all four quarters.
“Once again you rate a 6-2 Bridgewater team ahead of a 6-2 Christopher Newport team that beat Bridgewater. It wasn’t luck the better team won. Of CNU’s two losses, one came against the No. 9 team and if CNU didn’t miss three extra points they would have beat Rowan. The other loss came on the road when they were flagged for nine penalties and the home team two in a 5-point loss. Nothing like home cooked officials.
It looks like they will not make the playoffs which will be a shame this year because they are better than Bridgewater and equal to Rowan. They would have won more than one game in the playoffs this year. They still can hope for Shenandoah to get upset in the final game but it probably won’t happen.”
— Charles Stivason
My response: As far as the poll, I’m only one voter, and I have Rowan rated higher than they are ranked, and I keep that and the Eagles-Captains games in mind when voting for CNU and Bridgewater.
But there’s no way you can blame the Captains’ loss to the Shenandoah on the officials. CNU was stuffed three times from the 1-yard line in a 14-10 loss, led most of the game and controlled the middle quarters. Even their coaching staff I’m sure would admit that missed opportunities contributed more to that loss than officiating. Same with missed PATs, though I get your point there. Those are points teams generally expect to have, and beating Rowan was certainly possible.
Another thing that’s very possible is Christopher Newport going to the playoffs. It would only take a Methodist win over Shenandoah in the finale, not out of the question by any means.
“I love your site. It is by far the best source for fans of Division III football. I am surprised at the loss Wittenberg had to Ohio Wesleyan and by their overall performance this year. I figured it might take them a year to reload, but this is the second straight year that they will miss the playoffs after a great run of making the playoffs and being highly ranked. Do you guys expect to see them back soon? I’ve noticed that you guys had them rated lower than the coaches all year. Nice job. An upset of Wooster might still salvage a respectable season, but the playoffs are the minimum expectation for Tiger fans.
— Tom Suppa, White Plains, N.Y.
My response: I don’t expect Wittenberg to be far from the playoffs at any point in the next few seasons, but I don’t know if the playoffs will be automatic anytime soon either.
The recent success of Wooster and Mount St. Joseph will make recruiting for top prospects even tougher in a state where Mount Union, Ohio Northern, Baldwin-Wallace and Capital are already among those competing for the top players.
Questions and Answers
If my responses above weren’t enough, here are some direct questions and answers:
Q: “After an embarrassing loss to arch rival HSU, what chance does UMHB have to get a Pool C bid for the playoffs? Historically “they” have not been likely to put three Texas teams in the playoffs, so with Trinity and HSU both ranked higher, is there a chance at all?
— Jonathan Blundell, Editor, The Belton Journal
A: I would say Mary Hardin-Baylor is one of the strongest Pool C candidates there is, especially if Willamette, who the Crusaders beat, wins one or both of their final two games, even though that game is out of region.
Since two Texas teams are in line for automatic bids, three teams would force the committee to make some tough decisions. They could match UMHB and Trinity up in the first round (as they did in 2002) and give Hardin-Simmons a bye. They could also move one Texas team to another bracket, which happened to HSU in 2001 when Wittenberg journeyed south from Ohio.
Q: “Keith, Thanks first of all for listing us as undefeated. I appreciate it. Secondly, now that the Lions have secured their spot in the playoffs, I have a question. I understand how the playoffs work — 28 teams, the Pool A, B, and C thing. But when are the playoffs, and who plays who? Do certain conferences play each other or is it just luck of the draw? And where are they held? I’m just curious, and I thought you might have the answers. Thanks!
— Erin Edge
A: Erin, the playoffs begin Nov. 20, and games tend to be on campus of the higher-seeded team, kicking off at noon local time. Four teams will get byes this year, but next year all 32 teams will be in action on the first weekend.
The matchups are neither luck of the draw nor matchups between certain conferences. The committee splits teams into four brackets of seven, and seeds the teams based on several factors, including in-region record and strength of schedule (see our index link along the left-hand side). Geography is taken into account when necessary, as the NCAA picks up the tab on all playoff travel, including trips requiring flights. So while it can seem like certain conferences always meet each other, there is no rule that says they have to.
For Mount St. Joseph, it could be interesting. In Cincinnati, you could find your Lions within driving distance of the OAC, NCAC, MIAA, PAC, CCIW, NWC, IBFC, WIAC, ODAC and Centennial champions. Representatives from any of those leagues could be your first-round opponent.
Other people with basic playoff questions should check out our Playoff FAQ, linked on the front page of the site and on the left-hand rail under “FAQ.”
Q: “Just found the website and really enjoyed the reading. DIII football is so very enjoyable. A question. Considering the OAC’s current situation of three teams tied for second place with two losses and the probability that the season may end that way, do you see any other OAC teams getting into the playoffs? Ohio Northern played three strong quarters against Mount and defeated a strong Capital team. Right now, the Polar Bears look like they are building a critical mass at the end of the season (and, I offer that knowing that BW and Capital are both fine teams.)
— Jerry Grabowski, Solon, Ohio
A: At the moment, it doesn’t look likely. With two losses each, Baldwin-Wallace, Capital and Ohio Northern are each sitting in line behind prospective one-loss teams like Mary Hardin-Baylor, Moravian, Hampden-Sydney, TCNJ, St. Thomas, Carthage, Wheaton and perhaps even teams from the Midwest Conference.
You might be able to make the case that those three teams are as strong or stronger than some of the teams on this list, but I don’t know if it’ll hold up against the playoff criteria.
Your questions for next week
Now that we’ve updated our conference rankings, we’re sure you’ve got disagreements. We know, we know, your conference is too low. Anyone think their conference was too high?
We also want to know what you think about the benefits of turf, as opposed to grass? With the advent of new types of turf, and with the costs of maintenance more suited to a Division III budget, is turf better than grass?
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