In previous seasons, we have taken as many as three weekly
columns to break down conference races as we approach the stretch
run. This year we'll devote October columns to ATN's Run to the
Playoffs tour, which means we'll make our midseason report shorter
and sweeter. I think you'll like it this way, especially if you've
liked our Year in Reviews in the past. Pat Coleman and Gordon Mann
helped break down the conference races, and Around the Region
reporters Pat Cummings and Adam Johnson chimed in as well, as we
spotlighted some moments you may have missed so far and things you
should look forward to in the season's second half.
Although by no means comprehensive, here is Around the Nation's look at the season through Week 6:
GAMES AND PLAYS
Best games so far
We've had a couple so far that match national significance and feisty competitiveness. Ohio Wesleyan has also lost three that deserve consideration here, but instead of picking on the Battling Bishops (there's plenty of time for that later), two West Region games stand out:
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3football.com
UW-Stout pitched a shutout for 59:57. But Whitworth scored
to cap a 76-yard, final 1:06 drive which led to the visiting
Pirates' 14-13 overtime victory. The Blue Devils missed three field
goals, including one in the first overtime, and its second-overtime
Concordia-Moorhead led St. John's 10-0 early in the fourth quarter and watched the lead go up in smoke in less than three minutes, beginning with another long Kyle Gearman TD reception. Gearman caught a 74-yard pass to beat the Cobbers in Moorhead last season, and caught an 87-yarder on the same field just 35 seconds after Concordia had extended its lead, on the way to the Johnnies' 14-12 victory.
There are certainly plenty of nominees here, including any of the few dozen overtime finishes. But Union-Worcester Polytech gets our nod because of the way it suddenly became a crazy game. In the final 9:18, the teams combined for 31 points, and each scored a touchdown and went for two in the final 1:24. WPI coach Ed Zaloom called for his conversion trailing 28-27, but the Dutchmen's Doug Davis intercepted Rob Pantalone to preserve the Liberty League win and probably Union's playoff hopes.
Maryville 50, North Carolina Wesleyan 48 (4 OT)
N.C. Wesleyan took a 24-3 lead into the fourth quarter before Maryville scored 21 points in the final 7:18 to force overtime. The teams each hit 40-yard field goals in the first overtime, scored on short touchdown runs in the second overtime, scored TDs with the required two-point conversion in the third overtime and each scored in the fourth overtime. Battling Bishop quarterback Cedric Townsend's pass attempt on the conversion was no good while Fighting Scots signal-caller Justin Price kept the ball and scored the winning two-pointer to give Maryville the nailbiting win. -- Pat Cummings
1. Alma 33, UW-Eau Claire 30, OT
2. Carleton 17, Bethel 14
3. Loras 32, Coe 30
4. Sul Ross State 60, Howard Payne 56
Most bang for the buck
1. Sul Ross State 60, Howard Payne 56: Tied for the highest combined score in all of college football this year.
2. Hampden-Sydney 46, Guilford 43: A redux of last year's 47-45 Tigers win.
3. Earlham 49, Manchester 35: The point total was dwarfed by last year's 69-62 game, but Justin Rummel threw for 502 yards and another seven TDs.
4. Kenyon 44, Ohio Wesleyan 42: The Battling Bishops scored twice in the final six minutes to go up 42-41, but gave up a 63-yard kick return and lost on a field goal with :01 left.
Least bang for the buck
1. Ursinus 6, Susquehanna 0
1a. Ursinus 6, La Salle 2
Dickinson isn't often known for a stock of gadget plays, but one worked to perfection against Muhlenberg in Week 6. Quarterback Matt Torchia tossed to wide receiver Chris McEnerney on the end around, who then flipped to freshman "receiver" Ian Mitchell (an oft-praised quarterback in his high school days in the Philadelphia area), who proceeded to throw a 55-yard touchdown strike to tight end Ryan Stereatt. It gave Dickinson a 14-0 lead in an otherwise uneventful game, but it was gadget play that worked and there aren't too many plays that send the tight end for 55-yard scores. -- Pat Cummings
Most emphatic statements
1. St. Norbert 48, Monmouth 0
2. Mount Union 49, Ohio Northern 7
3. UW-La Crosse 17, (Division I-AA scholarship) South Dakota State 3
4. Wilkes 37, Lycoming 7
5. St. John's 37, St. Olaf 21 (Johnnies led 37-7)
1. Williams snaps Trinity (Conn.)'s 31-game winning streak in Week 5, 41-16
2. Concordia (Ill.) snaps 20-game losing streak with 13-3 win against Blackburn in Week 1.
3. Juniata snaps 17-game losing streak with 34-9 win at Susquehanna in Week 6.
4. Menlo snaps 15-game losing streak with 14-0 win over McMurry in Week 1.
5. Massachusetts Maritime snaps 14-game losing streak in 19-0 win at MIT in Week 2.
Most surprising fast starts
1. Ursinus 5-0
2. Carnegie Mellon 5-0
3. Sul Ross State 3-1
4. Carleton 3-2
5. King's 4-1
6. Middlebury 3-0
T7. Bethany 3-2
T7. Menlo 3-2
T7. St. Lawrence 3-2
T7. Kean 3-2
Ursinus and Carnegie Mellon are good choices. So is Franklin, who has already equaled their highest win total over the last eight years (five) including a win over a preseason Top 25 team (Wabash). -- Gordon Mann
Most stunning slow starts
Rowan's offense. The Profs are 3-1 and ranked in the Top 10, but their offensive struggles have been very surprising. They had minus-19 yards total against Robert Morris. Scholarship program or not, that's a stunning number. TCNJ held Rowan to 14 points, their lowest regular season output against a Division III team since Montclair State held them to 13 in 2000. And even that is deceiving since once Rowan score came on a two-yard interception return. -- Gordon Mann
Also, Linfield's 0-2 start and Concordia-Moorhead's 2-3 first half have been stunning. -- Adam Johnson
Preseason No. 51 Redlands, 0-4
Preseason No. 53 East Texas Baptist, 1-5
Preseason No. 56 John Carroll, 1-4
Presesaon No. 55 Luther, 1-5
Preseason No. 105 Carroll, 2-4
1. Central has two overtime wins in the past two weeks, and is 5-0 without scoring more than 24 points in any game. The Dutch have not allowed more than 13.
2. Hobart is 4-0 with wins by three, four, seven and five.
3. Springfield is 5-0, fortunate because its first four games and five of the first six are at home.
1. Ohio Wesleyan lost to Catholic after failing on a two-point conversion in overtime when the Cardinals tied it in regulation with a TD with one second left, to Bethany on a last-second TD pass, the Bisons' second in the final 46 seconds, and to Kenyon on a field goal with six seconds left after rallying from down 41-28.
2. Tri-State: Though winless in 15 games, they're oh-so-close. Four of their five losses are by a TD or less, inlcuding one in overtime this past weekend and two to HCAC co-leaders Franklin and Defiance.
3. UW-Stout: Three consecutive losses by seven total points, to teams who are a combined 12-4. Plays in the final three minutes of each game hurt the Blue Devils.
So close, yet so far
Concordia-Moorhead and St. Olaf can't seem to get over the St. John's hurdle, although the Cobbers at least keep it close.
The open-up-a-can award
In the WIAC's annual beat-on-a-Wisconsin-private-school game, UW-Whitewater topped Lakeland 75-14, a year after winning 73-12. The national runner-up played its starters until halftime, when it led 48-7.
No. 5 Wesley has mainly flown under the radar, stomping their first five opponents. Freshman tailback Aaron Jackson deserves some love for his 127.5 yards per game that accounts for more than 30% of the team's total yards per game (393.0). -- Gordon Mann
Springfield figured to be an also-ran in the Empire 8. Instead the run-happy Pride are led by Quarterback Chris Sharpe whose 162.8 yards per game and 14 touchdowns has them right in the conference race. -- Gordon Mann
Comeback player of the half-year
Running back Mark Robinson has returned from injury with a vengeance -- 725 yards, 10 touchdowns, 7.3 yards per carry. Best yet the Cardinals are undefeated and ranked in the Top 15. Here's to you, Mr. Robinson. -- Gordon Mann
Most eye-popping stat line
Dubuque's Walner Belleus against Luther. Belleus, a senior, amassed 331 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns to go along with nine tackles and an interception in Dubuque's 51-34 victory over Luther. He had six receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown, returned two kickoffs for 105 yards including an 88-yard touchdown and returned one punt for a 73-yard touchdown. Belleus returned the interception 22 yards, had one carry for 8 yards and forced a fumble. -- Pat Coleman
The first half in photos
Images shot by D3football.com staff and contributing photographers:
Photo by Tom Wilson, Rowanfootball.com
Rowan vs. Western Connecticut, Sept. 30
Photo by Josh Bowerman, D3football.com
McMurry vs. Austin College, Sept. 9
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3football.com
RPI vs. Hobart, Sept. 23
Photo by Larry Radloff for D3football.com
St. Norbert vs. Grinnell, Sept. 9
Alfred tailback Julio Fuentes suffering an neck injury with which he remains hospitalized during a Week 2 kickoff against Thiel.
Most competitive state
New York edges Iowa here, based on upsets ranging from St. Lawrence's win over RPI Saturday to Hobart and Union winning as usual, but all in close fashion.
Weather forced one Sunday game in the OAC in Week 5, the same week a meningitis scare forced another. Also in the weird dept.: Hardin-Simmons playing to a 28-12 second-quarter lead against Louisiana College before the game was called after two lightning delays. The game was cancelled and stats were wiped from the books; the game made it to just before the half.
Changing places -- the good
Since joining the NEFC, Coast Guard has outscored opponents 149-79. Plymouth State is 2-0 in the NEFC Boyd. From sub-500 to playoff contender. -- Gordon Mann
Changing places -- not so good
Buffalo State is 0-3, 1-4 in its first season in the NJAC.
Rose-Hulman 0-3, 3-3 in its first season in the HCAC.
Austin is 0-2, 2-4 in its first season in the SCAC.
Why they call it 'from scratch'
LaGrange, Morrisville State and SUNY-Maritime are 1-15 so far, with the lone win coming when Morrisville beat Maritime.
Anticipated second half games (rivalries not included)
1. UW-Whitewater at Mary Hardin-Baylor, Oct. 28
2. UW-La Crosse at UW-Whitewater, Oct. 14
3. Occidental at Cal Lutheran, Oct. 28
4. Whitworth at Linfield, Nov. 4
5. Cortland State at Rowan, Nov. 4
If the playoffs started today
Carnegie Mellon in.
Delaware Valley out.
Johns Hopkins out.
Washington & Jefferson in
Mary Hardin-Baylor in.
Hardin-Simmons on the bubble with Sul Ross State.
WIAC two bids
USAC one bid
HCAC two bids
NCAC one bid
SCIAC two bids
CCIW one bid
Best potential playoff problem
The selection committee could get stuck with three Texas teams and no way to ensure they all play each other, meaning a Texas team could play its first playoff opener against an out-of-state opponent for the first time since Hardin-Simmons played Wittenberg in 2001 and Wesley went to Trinity in 2000. There could also be two SCIACs, two NWCs, two WIACs and two IIACs, making for some interesting possibilities out West and in half of the South. Perhaps (and I'm totally making this up just to see how it sounds) Cal Lutheran at Hardin-Simmons, Linfield at Central, UW-La Crosse at Whitworth, Occidental at UW-Whitewater, St. Norbert at St. John's and Trinity as usual at UMHB.
More likely SCIAC and NWC would stay matched up, as would two of the Texas teams.
Proof that it's way too early to speculate.
Sub-.500 team with the best chance to make the playoffs
Hope is 2-3 overall but 2-0 in the MIAA. They have wins over Alma and Albion and get Adrian (also below .500) at home. Their biggest test may be Olivet, the only other team who is unscathed through two weeks of conference play. As long as they keep scoring like they have, the Dutchmen have reason to Hope for a playoff spot. Get it? Hope?
Waynesburg (2-0 in PAC) could win the PAC but they have three regional losses and are out of the Pool B hunt. Plymouth State (2-3 overall) could run the table and win the NEFC, but I doubt it beats Curry. -- Gordon Mann
Undefeated team with the best chance to miss the playoffs
Outside the NESCAC, Concordia (Wis.) is 6-0 and 3-0 in the IBFC. But if they slip at defending champion Lakeland (3-3, 3-0), they will likely finish second in a conference with a very slim chance at getting multiple bids. -- Gordon Mann
It's theirs to lose
The Wolverines have only played one conference game so far, but are head and shoulders above everyone else and have Brockport State at home, where Wesley presumably should know what shoes to wear. -- Pat Coleman
ASC (Mary Hardin-Baylor)
The cancellation of the Hardin-Simmons / Louisiana College game throws a monkey wrench into this league for the second year in a row. UMHB not only is the only unbeaten team in the league standings, but Hardin-Simmons is an extra half-game behind after losing the game from its schedule. Sul Ross State also has one loss but fell to UMHB 45-2. Louisiana College hosts UMHB this week but even with a win would still be an extra half-game behind the Crusaders. -- Pat Coleman
MWC (St. Norbert)
With apologies to Ripon (5-0 in-league) and Monmouth and Illinois College (4-1), this league is always St. Norbert's to lose. Nobody has succeeded in doing more than renting the title for a season. -- Pat Coleman
OAC (Mount Union)
Yes, Capital has a chance to beat Mount Union for the title. But the Crusaders nearly lost to John Carroll and have to play ONU this weekend. Plus Mount Union usually demolishes their closest competitor in games like this one. This conference is always Mount Union's to lose. Even when they lose a game as in 2005, they don't lose the conference. -- Gordon Mann
PAC (Washington & Jefferson)
The Week 1 non-conference loss to Salisbury didn't derail the season, and after beating Thiel 27-23 last week, the Presidents should be playing for playoff seeding. Doesn't mean they will, however, but four consecutive home games and a finale at Bethany sets it up about as well as W&J could ask.
This looks like a wide-open race, especially considering Rhodes gave up 21 points to Huntingdon and 20 in its other four games. But Trinity (Texas) beat those same Hawks on the road 24-13 last week, and its one-loss start came against a much tougher schedule. Having already dispatched DePauw 26-15, it's really up to Millsaps, which has played well in each week since its opener, to knock off the Tigers Week 11. It's been 13 years in a row now, and someone would have to break character to keep Trinity from 14.
You could make the same point here as in the MAC (below), with Springfield and St. John Fisher battling it out, Ithaca playing the role of Del Val and Alfred as the dark horse. I think Springfield has a better chance at winning the Empire 8 than the King's does the MAC. The Pride and Cardinals hold their own destinies, so call it a two-horse race with Ithaca needing some help. -- Gordon Mann
Concordia (Wis.) and Lakeland will meet again for the title, as they have the previous two years. Greenville is one game behind the pair and appears to be building on last year's success but has already lost to Lakeland this season and is likely playing for third place. Concordia has given up just 60 points all season, while Lakeland gave up 75 just to UW-Whitewater in the opener. The numbers are disparate but the teams are pretty even. -- Pat Coleman
This conference could be decided, a two-team race or a three-team race depending on how you look at it. Wilkes has beaten three contenders already (Widener, Delaware Valley and Lycoming), putting them in the driver's seat. King's (4-1, 4-0) still has to play Widener and Delaware Valley before finishing with Wilkes. Given the thrashing they took from St. John Fisher, it's unlikely the Monarchs will run the table. But they are the only other team that controls their own destiny besides Wilkes. Delaware Valley could factor in a tie-breaking scenario if they beat King's and King's beats Wilkes to force a three-way tie at the top. Dark horse Widener could spoil that scenario by beating King's or Del Val. -- Gordon Mann
It's always a two-team race because there's actually a conference title game. But Week 7's Curry at Endicott and Coast Guard at Bridgewater State games should decide the Boyd and Bogan Divisions respectively, or at the very least provide a pair of front-runners for the conference title game bids.
Although this league now has seven teams, it won't have an automatic bid because Menlo is an associate member, meaning the league has a two-year waiting period. (Pacific, which had an action plan for adding football for 2007, could have given the NWC an automatic bid if it had followed through.) But for now, Linfield and Whitworth are battling each other for the title and Pool B bids. -- Pat Coleman
Although everyone but Randolph-Macon has one conference loss or fewer and Bridgewater has dominated the conference for years, Around the Nation sees it as a two-team race. The Eagles won only 17-13 at Washington and Lee last year, and Frank Miriello's bunch might finally be legit. We'd still bank on Bridgewater, but after getting gashed for 493 rushing yards in an overtime squeaker against Ferrum, perhaps the Eagles are vulnerable. The Generals travel to Bridgewater in Week 9.
All signs point to Thousand Oaks, where on Oct. 28 Cal Lutheran will try to do better than 41-9 against Occidental, the only team to beat the Kingsmen last season. With no one else really looking like a contender, it should come down to these two for the SCIAC title. A close game might even make it a two-playoff-bid league for the first time.
Their conference opponents look easy after the schedules Averett and Christopher Newport opened up with. Their overall records notwithstanding, they should meet in Week 10 with an automatic playoff bid on the line.
UW-Whitewater hasn't missed a beat since its run to last year's Stagg Bowl, UW-La Crosse was the only team that gave them trouble last regular season. The unbeatens meet Saturday to produce a clear conference front-runner. The WIAC has grown less wacky over the past year and a half, but UW-Oshkosh's 17-3 loss to Whitewater in Week 4 and UW-Platteville's 28-21 defeat against La Crosse in Week 6 makes both more than just spoilers. No matter who wins at Whitewater Saturday, an intense competition for a second playoff bid will break out, and Oshkosh, Platteville, Stout and Eau Claire are all capable of factoring into that chase.
Franklin hosts Mt. St. Joseph this week in a battle of unbeatens, both overall and in conference play. But Defiance, which hosts Mt. St. Joseph and Franklin in consecutive weeks and was 4-2 in the league last season, is unbeaten in conference play as well. Hanover doesn't look like a contender this season but could play spoiler at Franklin in Week 11. -- Pat Coleman
Although St. John's is a prohibitive favorite with Concordia-Moorhead's having slipped back to the pack, Bethel and St. Thomas are still alive with one loss apiece and games remaining against the Johnnies. St. John's travels to St. Thomas and hosts Bethel in the final two weeks of the season. -- Pat Coleman
The Rowan-Cortland game on Nov. 4 more than likely decides this one. Montclair State is still alive, too, but they lost to Springfield and I think the Pride are below the Red Dragons and Profs. The only things preventing me from calling this a two-team race officially is 1) Rowan's offensive struggles and 2) Cortland's penchant for losing games it shouldn't (Buffalo State in 2005). -- Gordon Mann
Still up in the air
Dickinson leads Ursinus by one-half game very early in the Centennial Conference season and the Bears are undefeated. But recent seasons (see five-way-tie in 2004) have shown that anything can happen in this conference. Muhlenberg (0-2) is probably the only team on the fringe of being eliminated and even they could run the table. -- Gordon Mann
Too close to call. Wheaton and Augustana are unbeaten in league play, with Carthage, Elmhurst, North Central and Millikin tied with one loss. More will be cleared up this week when Wheaton plays at Augustana and Elmhurst at North Central. -- Pat Coleman
Central, Coe and Wartburg were supposed to be the contenders, but it's the Dutch and Loras Duhawks on top at the moment, with the Kohawks and Knights a game back. Wartburg's overtime loss to Central and Coe's two-point home defeat against Loras shows how close the top four are. There are spoilers present in the bottom half of the standings, although all but Dubuque are struggling offensively. Loras goes to Wartburg this week, Wartburg goes to Coe the following week and Loras goes to Central on the 28th, which should settle the picture some.
Looks like another season without an independent in the playoffs, with Rockford the only hope. The Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, which is not a D-III member conference, looks like it will have Rockford against the Minnesota-Morris/Northwestern (Minn.) winner in its title game, but no automatic bid goes to the winner. -- Pat Coleman
Now that RPI has lost twice, this race comes down to Hobart and Union, right? Not so fast. Union barely beat WPI and Hobart hasn't blown anyone out. St. Lawrence and Rochester have shown they will be competitive and RPI will definitely be up for the Dutch Shoes game with Union. -- Gordon Mann
Olivet and Hope are on top at 2-0, but the three A schools (Adrian, Alma and Albion) are still in it at 1-1. Hope would seem to have an advantage having been competitive in a tough early schedule and beating Albion and Alma already, but typically in the MIAA nothing is settled until the last week or two. The games between contenders so far have been decided in overtime or by field goals, so buckle up for another long haul.
With four teams still undefeated, an unbalanced schedule in which some contenders don't meet and some very weak teams that others can feast on, this is too wide open to call. Wabash is the preseason favorite but has given up a lot of points. Wooster is 4-1, but already lost to Wittenberg. The Tigers could take control of the race by beating Wabash. Kenyon is a dark horse since, for the fourth consecutive year, they play neither Wabash nor Wittenberg. -- Gordon Mann
We're a week away from the midpoint of the eight-week NESCAC season, but it appears Trinity (Conn.) is unlikely to repeat and Middlebury's challenge for the top spot is real, following a 7-3 win against Amherst. Tufts is 3-0 with a schedule about to get difficult, while Williams established itself as the favorite with the convincing win at Trinity. Upsets could get the Bantams back in the picture or make the annual Ephs-Lord Jeffs rivalry game a factor in the title chase, but it's a little early to speculate.
Conference play begins this week and continues through the end of the month. Certainly Carnegie Mellon's 5-0 start makes them the team to beat, but the schedule hasn't been overwhelming by any means, so it may be misleading. Then again, none of the other UAA teams have overwhelmed against the tough competition on their schedules.
Defacto title games
Week 7 (Oct. 14): UW-La Crosse at UW-Whitewater
Week 8 (Oct. 21): Concordia (Wis.) at Lakeland, Springfield at St. John Fisher
Week 9 (Oct. 28): Washington & Lee at Bridgewater , Occidental at Cal Lutheran
Week 10 (Nov. 4): Cortland State at Rowan, Whitworth at Linfield , Averett at Christopher Newport
Week 11 (Nov. 11): Wilkes at King's
Dark horse teams
Alfred, Empire 8
Least-talked about conference leader
Possible changings of the guard
Well, this is more like a re-establishing of the guard. Although Monmouth won the league last year (like Lake Forest did in 2002), stealing the title from St. Norbert appears to be a one-year deal. A loss to Ripon, however, in Week 8, could break the title chase wide open. -- Pat Coleman
I'd like to see if Cortland can beat Rowan -- which they'll have to do in Glassboro -- before we pronounce Rowan's NJAC run over. An easier choice would be Wilkes, who has already cleared three major hurdles with wins over Widener, Delaware Valley and Lycoming. Barring an upset, the last roadblock to the Colonels' first conference title is next door neighbor King's, who still has to play Delaware Valley and Widener. If the Monarchs lose both of those games, Wilkes may not even need a win against King's in the regular season finale to win the MAC. And that would be the Colonels first conference title since 1993. -- Gordon Mann
Regular departments Streak Watch, Unbeaten Watch, Winless Watch, My 26-35, But Don't Quote Me and Press Coverage will return next week.
For print, radio and internet journalists
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