January 8, 2007

2006 Year in Review

The journey was a heck of a ride, and D3football.com was in the house as the season started and finished. There were tons of places we weren't able to be, and players, fans, school employees and parents generally have the same problem: They can only get to one game each Saturday, if they're lucky, and follow one of the 234 teams that played Division III football this year.

So with the help of our crack staff, as well as a few fan suggestions from our blog, The Daily Dose, Around the Nation brings you our fifth annual year in review in three parts, combined into one long column.

We've already named our All-Region teams and All-Americans, and we did a midseason report for the first time in the Oct. 12 Around the Nation. So the year in review focuses on some of the things you may have seen and forgotten about, as well as some of the off-the-beaten path things you might have missed.

The memorable games and plays 

Remember the great regular-season 'under-the-radar' games
These are the contests that were overshadowed by games of bigger national or conference significance the day they were played, but shouldn't have been as overlooked as they were, because of how much fun they turned out to be.

Ohio Wesleyan twice makes the list, for giving up crucial TDs with one second left in back-to-back weeks. The Battling Bishops surrendered a tying TD to Catholic and then failed on a two-point conversion in overtime during a 34-33 Sept. 9 (Week 2) loss. The following Saturday, Bethany's Brent Owens found Matt Cruse from 9 yards out in a 34-28 Bison victory. Bethany had previously missed a conversion that would have tied it at 28 with :46 left, but it recovered an onside kick to get a second shot. Ohio Wesleyan, meanwhile, finished 3-7 and two seconds from .500. They may have even had a winning season if, after rallying from down 41-28 against Kenyon on Sept. 30 (Week 5), they hadn't given up a game-winning field goal with six seconds remaining.

Wartburg 20, Buena Vista 13, 2 OT, Oct. 28: The Knights, trying to stay in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference race after an earlier overtime loss to Central, were taking it on the chin from the Beavers, winners of four in a row coming in. The Knights rallied from a 13-3 deficit behind running back Dan Hammes and backup quarterback Nick Yordi to force overtime, when it really got crazy. The Beavers missed a 36-yard field goal wide right, but Wartburg lost a fumble in the first OT. In the second, Yordi slipped and nearly fell during a 6-yard scoring run, and then Josh Faaborg intercepted Buena Vista in the end zone on third down to end the game.

They started the season ranked last among the 234 Division III teams slotted in our Kickoff '06 preseason preview, but after a winless season that included six losses by 40 or more, plus a 28-20 defeat against Crown and a 13-6 loss at Trinity Bible, Principia had a shot at going out with a win. It happened during the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference's annual Dome Day, where the entire conference plays each other, with kickoffs from morning until night at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Seeking revenge in second game against the non-Division III Lions, in 2003 the subject of Keeping the Faith: In the Trenches With College Football's Worst Team, Principia fell behind 13-0. Jeff Gibbs blocked and ran 30 yards with a Trinity Bible punt in the third quarter, and Martin Buchanan found Schuyler Onderdonk from 7 yards out in the fourth to tie it at 13 (Trinity Bible had its first PAT blocked, and Principia missed their second one). In OT, with victory near for Division III's Panthers, they threw an interception at the 8-yard line and gave up a 2-yard Trinity Bible TD run. The Lions finished 2-7 with both wins against 0-9 Principia.

Remember the great games during the playoff push 
In Week 10, Rowan beat Cortland State 14-7 in overtime, Central beat Coe 31-28 in double overtime and Mary Hardin-Baylor scored in the final minute to prevail against East Texas Baptist 33-28. All three winners made the playoffs, as did Whitworth, which somehow beat Linfield 17-13 despite being outgained 329-85.

In Week 11, Cortland State rebounded to beat Ithaca in an extra period. Dubuque stunned Wartburg in overtime to knock the Knights out of the playoff picture, while Thomas More's 21-17 win against previously unbeaten Mount St. Joseph probably cost the Lions a home playoff game. Bethel trailed St. John's 13-0, but scored the first of its four unanswered TDs 12 seconds before the half. That led to a 28-13 victory that clinched the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and a playoff bid, and pushed the Johnnies into Pool C.

Remember the great playoff games 
Other classifications can't seem to figure out the benefits of a playoff system, while we got 10 games decided by a TD or less. UW-Whitewater and Rowan were each victorious in two close games, while St. John's and UW-La Crosse each split a pair of nail-biters. While there's plenty to argue about with regard to the best playoff games, Around the Nation's favorites were in the first round. Hobart bypassed a chance to tie Rowan on Nov. 18, getting a Shawn Mizro-to-Matt Duliba two-point conversion to go ahead 18-17 with 1:52 left. The Profs responded with a seven-play, 51-yard march and 32-yard Daniel Roberts field goal with 9 seconds left. Later that day, clear across the country, Whitworth's Joel Clark rolled out on a sprained ankle to throw a 1-yard, game-winning TD pass to Drew Griggs to hand Occidental its only loss of the season, 27-23.

Rowan's improbable second-round win at Wilkes, where the Profs botched a PAT in the final minutes but got another shot because of a fumbled Colonels' snap on their 22, was also noteworthy.

Although we didn't get any of the nailbiting nine (Mary Hardin-Baylor technically beat Washington & Jefferson by three in the second round, 30-27, but the Presidents scored a TD with 5 seconds left, which created the appearance of drama that actually didn't exist) in the semifinals or Stagg Bowl, our national champion won once in the playoffs by just a field goal and the runner-up did so twice, proving that earning your championship in a playoff is the most gratifying way to do it.

The nine nail-biters:
 First Round
Rowan 20, Hobart 18; Whitworth 27, Occidental 23; St. John's 21, Central 13; UW-La Crosse 28, Bethel 21

Second Round
Rowan 21, Wilkes 14; St. John Fisher 27, Springfield 21; UW-Whitewater 24, UW-La Crosse 21

Quarterfinals
UW-Whitewater 17, St. John's 14; Mount Union 17, Capital 14

Remember the great rivalry games 
On Nov. 11, the Cortaca Jug and Monon Bell games continued to make their cases for Division III's best rivalry. While Williams used Week 11 to manhandle rival Amherst 37-7 in the longest-running rivalry, Cortland State needed overtime to beat Ithaca 23-20, while Wabash retained the bell vs. DePauw by the same score.

The Little Giants outlasted the Tigers in a back-and-forth game with a furious finish in Crawfordsville, Ind., but we give the edge this year to the Red Dragons and Bombers, because of the overtime and the playoff implications. With its top two quarterbacks injured, 15th-ranked Cortland State went to a halfback pass for a 20-17 lead with five minutes left, but 25th-ranked Ithaca tied on a field goal with 36 seconds left. Bill Hauser intercepted the Bombers on the second play of their possession, but Ithaca's defense gave up just three yards, setting up a 40-yard attempt for the win. Junior kicker Matthew Mintz made the field goal for the Red Dragons' second consecutive OT win in the series. The loss was 7-3 Ithaca's third in four games against ranked competition, while at 9-1, the New Jersey Athletic Conference runner-up Red Dragons appeared to have a shot at the playoffs.

Remember the great upsets 
Among the Massey Ratings' 10 least likely results across all divisions, the top five were Division III games:

Carleton (4-6) 17, Bethel (9-2) 14, Sept. 23
Susquehanna (2-8) 17, Delaware Valley (8-3) 10, Oct. 21 
Ohio Wesleyan (3-7) 17, Wittenberg (7-4) 10, Oct. 21
Shenandoah (2-8) 20, Waynesburg (6-4) 10, Sept. 16
Alma (6-4) 33, UW-Eau Claire (3-7) 30, OT, Sept. 2

The records don't make the Alma-UWEC seem like an upset, especially since Gagliardi Trophy winner Josh Brehm piloted the Scots' victory, but anytime a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team loses to the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the computer ratings consider it an upset. The Wittenberg and Delaware Valley losses cost the Tigers and Aggies playoff bids, while Bethel's Week 11 upset against St. John's meant the Carleton loss didn't cost the Royals theirs.

Other upsets had big impacts on conference races:
Loras 32, Coe 30, Sept. 30 -- The Kohawks lost their starting quarterback before the season and still lost by only three each to IIAC powers Wartburg and Central. But the home loss to the Duhawks, who finished 4-6, kept those games from having more influence on the conference title and automatic bid.
North Carolina Wesleyan 46, Christopher Newport 34, Oct. 28 -- Battling Bishops scored 22 of the game's final 30 points after trailing 28-24 late in the third quarter; Loss meant Captains had to beat Averett and Ferrum to take USA South automatic bid.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 30, Cal Lutheran, 27 (2 OT), Oct. 14 -- In 2005, the Kingsmen went 8-1 with only a loss to Occidental, and they looked to be headed into the Tigers game in Week 9 with both team undefeated, until they stumbled against the Stags in Week 7. C-M-S scored on a 67-yard pass with 2:47 left to tie the game at 20 at the end of regulation.
Guilford 33, Bridgewater 28, Oct. 14 -- Eagles' loss broke open race in conference they'd dominated for six years, and later results set up Washington & Lee vs. Emory & Henry on Nov. 4 for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title.
Millsaps 34, Trinity (Texas) 12, Nov. 11 -- Another changing of the guard took place in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, where the Majors, led by former Alabama coach Mike DuBose, broke Trinity's 13-year stranglehold on the conference.

Remember the great comebacks 
There were undoubtedly great ones all around the country, but perhaps none saved a season like Occidental's rally to defeat Cal Lutheran 28-27 and eventually win the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. The Kingsmen scored the first 21 points and led 24-7 at the half, but the Tigers made the halftime adjustments and put together three second-half drives of at least eight plays and 65 yards each to seize the victory.

Remember the great early-in-the-year games 
There were a few early in the season that matched national significance and feisty competitiveness. Two West Region games stand out:

On Sept. 23, 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 and became the foundation for an 11-1 playoff season. The Blue Devils missed three field goals, including one in the first overtime, and its second-overtime PAT.

Also in Week 4, 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. The Cobbers, after 21 wins the previous two seasons, plummeted to 4-6.

Remember the wildest regular-season shootouts 
Sept. 30 turned out to be National Shootout Day in Division III, as Week 5 gave us the two games that best tested the scoreboard equipment.

Sul Ross State 60, Howard Payne 56 
There were no overtimes but 1,115 yards. The Lobos, who hadn't beaten the Yellow Jackets since 1988, trailed by 11 with eight minutes left. It was such a ridiculous back-and-forth, however, that you're better off referring to the press release from that day, lest I take up your entire screen describing the fireworks.

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 (yes, there are two teams with this nickname) quarterback Cedric Townsend threw an incomplete pass on the conversion attempt, while Fighting Scots signal-caller Justin Price kept the ball and scored the winning two-pointer to give Maryville the dramatic win.

For good measure, Alma tossed in a 58-36 win vs. Tri-State that day, Kenyon added its 44-42 victory against Ohio Wesleyan, Monmouth topped Grinnell 51-31 and Dubuque prevailed 51-34 at Luther.

Remember the surprising regular-season blowouts 
Ohio Northern was the lone team to beat Mount Union in 2005, winning 21-14 during the regular season in Alliance. The Polar Bears went back to the Purple Raiders' place this season Oct. 7 and were treated like most other Mount Union opponents: They were pummeled, in this case 49-7.

Remember the wildest playoff shootouts 
Defense might have been the word in the 32-team field this year, as there was only one game where each team scored 28 or more. And in Wheaton's first-round, 42-28 win over Mount St. Joseph, the Thunder scored the first 35 points and led 42-6 in the fourth, so it wasn't a true shootout. Digging into the ECAC Bowl matchups, however, reveals a shootout between a couple of almost-playoff-worthy teams. Alfred (8-3) trailed Rochester (7-4) in the fourth quarter 34-19 before rallying to tie, then scoring on the first play of overtime to win 40-34. And that came after the Yellowjackets missed a field goal in their half of the extra period.

Remember the great plays 
Certainly there were scores of great finishes, and scores finished in great ways each week. Beyond that, there were surely many moments in which something instinctive, or some attention to detail, affected a play, which affected a game, which affected a season.

If there was a play that saved a season, it came to start a game more than 1,100 miles from home against a top 10 opponent, with the team's most prolific player sidelined for weeks with a broken collarbone. Neil Mrkvicka collected the opening kickoff for No. 2 UW-Whitewater at Mary Hardin-Baylor (ranked sixth then, and finished the season ranked eighth), and shot up the middle for a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD. Little did we know then it would be the only points the Warhawks would score that day, or all they would need. UW-Whitewater left Texas with a confidence-building win, knowing it could gut out a W without star running back Justin Beaver, and if needed, with defense. The Warhawks' playoff run included a come-from-behind win against UW-La Crosse, where Mrkvicka again played a key role, catching a 53-yard go-ahead TD pass, and another three-point win against St. John's.

Remember the great individual regular-season rushing performances 
Although MacMurray's Peter Ereg had the regular season's high game, with 357 yards against Eureka Nov. 4, rushed for 331 the next week against Blackburn, and had rushed for 278 on Oct. 21 against Greenville, the combined mark of the teams he did it against was 9-23. Two rushing performances against playoff teams stand out clearly as 2006's best:

Springfield option quarterback Chris Sharpe rushed for 272 yards against Hartwick and 268 vs. Union, but it was his 280-yard, seven-TD game on Oct. 21 that was the real jaw-dropper. That day against St. John Fisher, the Pride cemented itself as an East Region force to be reckoned with.

Oct. 14 was nearly UW-Whitewater's day of reckoning, when the Stagg Bowl-bound Warhawks failed to get star back Justin Beaver out of the UW-La Crosse game in time. Beaver piled up 286 yards, but on his final carry of the day, the one on which he set the school record, a hard tackle left him with a broken collarbone. The injury cost him five weeks, but it may have strengthened Whitewater, who finished an unbeaten WIAC season and won at then-No. 6 UMHB without Beaver. The 5-8, 196-pounder returned for the playoffs and rushed for 87 yards in the Stagg Bowl.

Remember the great team rushing performances in the regular season 
Kenyon produced three 100-yard rushers (running backs Alby Coombs and Javier Arbolaez and quarterback Rafael Sanchez) in a single game, a 33-30 overtime win vs. Earlham, in which the Lords blocked an overtime field goal attempt then kicked an 18-yarder to win it.

Remember the great individual playoff rushing performances 
Mount Union sophomore Nate Kmic topped his 361-yard playoff game against Augustana from last season with a 42-carry, 371-yard day against St. John Fisher in the semifinals. Kmic, who'd had as few as six carries in a game while the Purple Raiders saved him for when he was needed most, produced 238 of those yards on 27 second-half carries. After so many runs, the sophomore said: "It's kind of like hit 'em or get hit. I'd rather be the one giving the blow."

Remember the most impactful play 
Jim Migliore's 21-yard overtime TD catch for Rowan vs. Cortland in Week 10 proved crucial on more than just the day it was caught. The Profs eventually won the New Jersey Athletic Conference's automatic bid and played three playoff games, while Cortland -- despite an overtime victory against rival Ithaca without its top two quarterbacks -- missed the playoffs at 9-1. Then, in an ECAC Bowl Game letdown, RPI thumped the Red Dragons 26-7.

Remember the great finishes 
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 Union's playoff hopes.

Remember the worst starts 
On Sept. 16, Otterbein trailed Mount Union 34-7 in the second quarter, although the Purple Raiders had run just five plays from scrimmage.

The Cardinals went three-and-out to start, and gave up a punt return to their own 27. On the Purple Raiders' second play, Pierre Garcon caught a 21-yard TD pass from Mike Jorris. Otterbein followed with three first downs, but botched its punt attempt, leading to a fumble recovery for a TD by Mount Union's Matt Kostelnik. The senior safety jumped the Cardinals' first pass after the kickoff and took it back 24 yards for a 21-0 advantage. 

Otterbein got three more first downs before punting, and Jorris connected with running back Justin Wray for a 67-yard score on the second play after the punt return. The Cardinals put together an eight-play, 82-yard scoring drive before Jorris hit Garcon for an 82-yard TD on the first play after the kickoff.

When Mount Union is accused of running up scores, games like this 71-14 win are cited. But what is coach Larry Kehres supposed to do when the game is effectively over, and your first-team offense has run five plays? With OAC opponents capable of beating them ahead on the schedule, don't the Purple Raiders need the work against live competition? When are you supposed to toss out the playbook and just run the ball? The Purple Raiders scored four TDs in the second half, three on runs and none shorter than 32 yards. They also attempted a 38-yard field goal in the fourth with the backup kicker, which I know is meant as an effort to not further run up the score, but always seemed to me to be just as effective at rubbing it in.

Remember the creative play-calling
 On Sept. 9, Muhlenberg ran two fake punts against William Paterson, and both went for 51-yard gains. The first did not lead to points, but the second was the game-winning touchdown, a pass from Ryan Sassaman to Matt Johnson on fourth-and-7 with the score tied at 17 and 9:12 to play. The Mules won 24-17. Sassaman, a high school Wing-T quarterback who punted for three years for Muhlenberg, finished his career 5-for-5 passing for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

Dickinson isn't 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 24-14 win, but it was a gadget play that worked and there aren't too many plays that send the tight end for 55-yard scores.

Remember the confusing score triangles 
UW-Whitewater 7, UMHB 3; Wesley 34, UMHB 20; UWW 44, Wesley 7
When the Warhawks, then No. 2 and destined to repeat as Stagg Bowl runners-up, went to Texas to take on then-No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor, we weren't sure what to expect. After all, these were two great rushing attacks and two offenses capable of scoring in bunches. Instead we got an exhilarating 7-3 defensive battle, and Whitewater's lone score came by returning the opening kickoff. 

In the playoffs, then-No. 3 Wesley hosted UMHB in the South Bracket final. The Wolverines gave up a score on an early fumble return, but dispensed with the running attack and passed all over the Crusaders (436 yards), building a 28-7 halftime lead that provided the needed cushion when UMHB made it competitive in the second half.

Seeing those two teams play UMHB relatively evenly seemed to logically indicate that Wesley at UW-Whitewater would be a good game, even if the same matchup in last year's semifinals produced a 58-6 result. Wesley was considered to be a year wiser, and the stories of them wearing the wrong shoes on Whitewater's grass field (the irony in the 58-6 game was that the Warhawks had turf shoes on, knowing how Wisconsin weather can freeze their field) were raised and dismissed.

And so were the Wolverines, who fell behind 31-0 in the first 18 minutes on the way to another disappointing end to a great season and long flight back to Delaware.

Other troublesome triangles:
St. John Fisher 34, Ithaca 10 (Sept. 23), Springfield 55, St. John Fisher 38 (Oct. 21), Ithaca 24, Springfield 7 (Oct. 28) -- Fisher solved this one with a 27-21 second-round win over Springfield in the playoffs.
Salisbury 32, Washington & Jefferson 14 (Sept. 2), Christopher Newport 23, Salisbury 17 (OT), Washington & Jefferson 27, Christopher Newport 23 (Nov. 18) -- Road teams won all three games. 

Most emphatic statements 
UW-Whitewater 44, Wesley 7, Dec. 9: In this Week 15 meeting of teams ranked No. 2 and No. 3 at the time, it was pretty much a repeat of last year's 58-6 semifinal lashing, to the surprise of some who thought the Wolverines would be a lot more competitive with a year's experience. 
Mount Union 38, Capital 12, Oct. 28: In Week 9, the top-ranked Purple Raiders hosted the No. 4 Crusaders, who never got going in the rain, sleet and snow. Nate Kmic rushed for 240 yards while Capital was held to minus-31, but the teams reprised the matchup in the national quarterfinals to the tune of 17-14. 
UW-La Crosse 17, South Dakota State 3: The Eagles' Week 1 victory over the Division I-AA scholarship Jackrabbits was the first indication that the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference would have two legitimate playoff teams. The Jackrabbits finished 7-4 and ranked 21st in the College Sporting News Coaches Poll and 22nd in the The Sports Network poll.
Springfield 55, St. John Fisher 38, Oct. 21: Expectations were high for this Week 8 battle of emerging powers in the East, but it's likely no one expected seven TDs and 280 yards from Pride quarterback Chris Sharpe. These teams also got together again in the playoffs, and Fisher's claims that they were missing three key defenders in the first meeting held water, as the Cardinals won 27-21.

Remember the great streaks that ended 
Dubuque's 6-4 finish, its first winning season since 1987, may have been the most remarkable. But plenty of streaks fell during the season. Here are some:

Millsaps broke Trinity (Texas)'s run of 13 consecutive SCAC championships.
Williams snapped Trinity (Conn.)'s 31-game winning streak in Week 5, 41-16. The NESCAC's Bantams don't participate in the playoffs and hadn't lost since playing Williams in the second game of 2002.
Concordia (Ill.) broke a 20-game losing streak with 13-3 win against Blackburn in Week 1, then won again later in the month, 41-12 vs. Eureka.
 Tri-State snapped a 16-game losing streak with a 21-7 Week 8 win vs. Olivet, then the MIAA's first-place team..

Remember the great streaks extended
Beyond the dozens of conference and regular-season streaks are others that are truly eye-catching.

Linfield's 6-3 season may have been a down year for Wildcats fans who've grown accustomed to the playoffs, but it extended their streak of winning seasons to 51. Central, meanwhile, last had a losing season in 1960.

Three schools have been ranked in all Top 25s since the D3football.com Top 25 poll began before the 2003 season.

Since we ran this stat midseason, Ohio Northern, Delaware Valley and Ithaca dropped out of the poll after appearing in at least 25 consecutive top 25s. Linfield fell to No. 24 after its loss to Whitworth in Week 10, but remained ranked all season.

Linfield 56
Mary Hardin-Baylor 56
Mount Union 56
Rowan 40 (Last unranked in 2004 preseason poll)
UW-Whitewater 39 (Last unranked in 2004 Week 2)

The memorable statistics
Ohio states its case 
Different year, same story for the Ohio Athletic Conference runner-up. Go as far as the bracket will allow before getting eliminated by Mount Union in a rematch. Capital finished ranked third, but was knocked out in the round of eight on a three-point loss to the Purple Raiders for the second season in a row.

Of the 14 champions and runners-up to make the playoffs since 1999, the OAC is 40-9 (.816). Five of the losses are head-to-head defeats against Mount Union, so OAC teams are 35-4 (.897) vs. non-conference playoff opponents.

In that same time frame, OAC runners-up are 11-1 (Ohio Northern 3-0 in '99/'00, John Carroll 3-0 in '02, Baldwin-Wallace 1-1 in '03, Capital 4-0 in '05/'06). That's a .917 winning percentage. Mount Union (vs. Rowan in '99, St. John's in '03 and Mary Hardin-Baylor in '04) has accounted for the other three losses.

Mount Union vs. conference opposition in expanded-era playoffs:
1999: vs. Ohio Northern: Won 56-24 in regular season, 56-31 in quarterfinals
2000: vs. Ohio Northern: Won 48-24 in regular season, 59-28 in second round
2002: vs. John Carroll: Won 35-16 in regular season, 57-19 in semifinals
2005: vs. Capital: Won 42-24 in regular season, 34-31 in quarterfinals
2006: vs. Capital: Won 38-12 in regular season, 17-14 in quarterfinals

Remember the statistical anomalies
Marietta scored 37 points vs. Baldwin-Wallace and 4-6 Otterbein managed 31 against the Yellow Jackets, for a total of 68 points. In Baldwin-Wallace's other eight games, including a 14-0 loss to 15-0 Mount Union, a 13-7 defeat against 6-4 Ohio Northern and a 17-7 win vs. 7-3 Augustana, the Yellow Jackets allowed just 68 more points.

Guilford was 2-0 in games where Josh Vogelbach threw five interceptions (at home vs. Greensboro 36-30, Sept. 30, and at Randolph-Macon 14-6, Oct. 28). Who says turnovers will get you beat?

Biggest disparity between offense and defense 
Kenyon's defense allowed a 250-yard rusher three times this season, but the Lords averaged 267.8 rushing yards per game to help offset the run-stopping woes. In all, Kenyon ranked third nationally in total offense with 451.4 yards per game. The defense allowed 458.3 yards, good for 227th among the 229 teams in the NCAA rankings. Not surprisingly, the Lords' won-loss record was fairly balanced too: 4-6.

Most offense, fewest wins 
Luther was expected to contend in the IIAC, but instead became one of the season's hard-luck stories, finishing 2-8 with two overtime losses, four by a TD or less and another by 11 points. That rendered the nation's No. 5 offense (445.5 yards per game) rather useless, as it moved the ball like mad on days its defense couldn't stop anyone, and struggled when its defense had good days. The Norse were also just No. 59 in scoring offense at 25.8 points per game, and subtracting a 60-0 win vs. Martin Luther in the opener, averaged 22 points per game.

Least bang for the buck 
Coast Guard 3, Maine Maritime 0, Oct. 28: With ties no longer permitted in college football, there's only one way to get a lower-scoring game. An 18-yard second-quarter field goal by junior David Lieberman accounted for this one's only points, but at least rain and severe winds on Ponobscot Bay in Castine, Maine -- one of the northernmost points in Division III -- were a viable excuse. When Mary Hardin-Baylor and UW-Whitewater, each top 10 programs, accounted for only 10 total points on the same Week 9 day, including three by both offenses, they played on a turf field on a clear, warm Texas afternoon.

Other nominees:
Ursinus 6, Susquehanna 0, Sept. 2
Ursinus 6, La Salle 2, Sept. 16
Lawrence 8, Knox 6, Oct. 14
Hamilton 12, Bowdoin 0, Oct. 14
Coe 12, Simpson 3, Oct. 14
Wartburg 10, Coe 7, Oct. 21 

Most bang for the buck 
We detailed some of our favorites under "Wildest Regular-Season Shootouts," but here a few points about some of our highest scoring tight games:

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.

The memorable players
Ten players who as a group rival the actual Gagliardi Trophy finalists 
Around the Nation has no beef with the selection committee, which seems to be a good mix of folks from many walks of life, most with Division III ties. And we realize everyone on the committee doesn't get to see as many games as Pat Coleman or myself, and didn't have the benefit of seeing the game we saw that greatly influenced who we both ended up putting No. 1 on our ballots.

Alma quarterback Josh Brehm was a fitting winner. Although his Scots team finished 6-4 and missed the playoffs, he put up huge numbers, and was a tremendous all-around candidate, with 3,448 passing yards, 30 TDs and a 3.78 GPA. However, his taking home the trophy signified what sort of year it was in Division III. There was no dominant player who was a no-brainer, like Linfield's Brett Elliott last season. Well, perhaps there was one, but when UW-Whitewater junior running back Justin Beaver missed five weeks with a broken collarbone, the race opened up.

With that in mind, here are 11 others (sorry, ATN couldn't settle on 10) whose play would have made them fine Gagliardi finalists:
Joel Clark, Sr., QB, Whitworth
Andy Collins, Sr., QB, Occidental
Pierre Garcon, Jr., WR, Mount Union
Nate Kmic, So., RB, Mount Union
Rocky Pentello, Sr., QB, Capital
Bryan Robinson, Jr., DE, Wesley
Mark Robinson, Sr., RB, St. John Fisher
Vance Schuring, Jr., RB, Central 
Chris Sharpe, Jr., QB, Springfield
Derek Stanley, Sr., WR, UW-Whitewater
Justen Stickley, Sr., DE, Mount Union

 The actual Gagliardi finalists (all seniors):
Tom Arcidiacono, RB, Union (East Region finalist)
Josh Brehm, QB, Alma (North Region finalist, eventual winner)
Ryan Kleppe DT, UW-Whitewater (West Region finalist)
Jordan Neal, QB, Hardin-Simmons (South Region finalist)
Also:
Tom Brew, LB, Case Western Reserve
Kirby Carr, LB, Bethel
Adam Haas, DT, Cortland State
Kam Kniss, QB, North Central
Tristan Murray, RB, Wittenberg
Chad Otte, S, Wilmington

Remember the best players
As we said in this space last year, it's such an undefined quality, what makes one player the best. No back excels without his line, and so, even though we've given this honor already to UW-Whitewater defensive tackle Ryan Kleppe and Mount Union running back Nate Kmic (When D3football.com named its All-American team on the day of the Stagg Bowl, it also chose an offensive and defensive player of the year), we should also extend it, in Kmic's case, to his line: Tackles Jason Lewis and Ryan Creachbaum, guards Tim Reash and Derek Blanchard, center Eric Safran and tight ends Anthony Antonucci and Chad Reynolds.

Together, these guys put together a rarity: a 2,400-yard season. And when looking at how few carries Kmic got in some games, one wonders if this could have been a a 2,500-yard or 3,000-yard year had Mount Union needed it to be.

Here's how Nate Kmic's 2,402-yard 2006 season compared to Justin Beaver's 2,420-yard 2005. The backs have compiled the second- and third-highest rushing totals in Division III history:

Their game-by-game breakdowns, with carries, yards and rushing TDs:

Beaver 2005
St. Norbert: DNP
St. Xavier: 13-110-2
Lakeland: 11-138-2
UW-Eau Claire: 32-193-2
UW-Stevens Point: 34-212-2
UW-La Crosse: 49-273-3
UW-Platteville: 24-123-3
UW-Oshkosh: 34-162-0
UW-Stout: 47-207-2
UW-River Falls: 30-145-1
Central: 32-182-1
St. John's: 34-168-0
Linfield: 34-197-3
Wesley: 24-185-2
Mount Union: 30-125-1

Kmic 2006
Averett: 17-73-1 (receiving TD as well)
Otterbein: 11-135-1
Muskingum: 6-61-1
Heidelberg: 12-126-2
Ohio Northern: 24-204-3
Wilmington: 13-74-2 (receiving TD as well)
Baldwin-Wallace: 35-215-1
Capital: 35-240-3
John Carroll 19-75-3
Marietta: 24-175-2
Hope: 6-43-1
Wheaton: 29-293-3
Capital: 38-169-0
St. John Fisher: 42-371-3
UW-Whitewater: 25-111-0

Both were sophomores when they had their big years, and Beaver's bad break in '06 leads us to spin the cliche anew: Junior jinx?

Here's where Kmic and Beaver rank -- after the Stagg Bowl -- in comparison to the all-time great rushing seasons, by total yards and with playoffs included (unlike the official NCAA records before 2002):

Ricky Gales, Simpson, 2,424 in 11 games in 1989
Justin Beaver, UW-Whitewater: 2,420 in 14 games in 2005
Dante Brown, Marietta: 2,385 in 10 games in 1996
Nate Kmic, Mount Union: 2,365 in 15 games in 2006
Chuck Moore, Mount Union: 2,349 in 14 games in 2001
Dan Pugh, Mount Union: 2,300 in 14 games in 2002
R.J. Bowers, Grove City: 2,283 in 10 games in 1998
Carey Bender, Coe: 2,243 in 10 games in 1994
Tony Sutton, Wooster: 2,240 in 12 games in 2004
Mark Robinson, St. John Fisher, 2,194 in 12 games in 2004

 If there were a statistical way to quantify what Kleppe meant to his team, perhaps Gagliardi voters would have put that up against Brehm's 3,448 passing yards, 30 TDs and three interceptions and made a different decision. Instead, Kleppe had to be satisfied with a second consecutive Stagg Bowl (which I'm sure he wouldn't trade for a Gagliardi, as nice as the trophy is) and a D3football.com Defensive Player of the Year acknowledgement. The 6-0, 290-pound senior did have 14.5 sacks, including one in the Stagg Bowl, and 24 tackles for losses, not to mention perhaps the moment of the year. When the entire right side of Mary Hardin-Baylor's offensive line, three big dogs in all, devoted themselves to blocking Kleppe alone on a play in the Warhawks' 7-3 win in Texas, it showed what a force the Warhawks' big man was.

Remember this year's great surprise players
He was no surprise to close followers of Springfield, since he established himself late last season. But from afar, Chris Sharpe's emergence as the nation's leading rusher (161.8 yards per game, 4.1 yards better than Kmic) and scorer (35 TDs and a two-point conversion, for 17.7 points per game) came as a surprise. The junior quarterback operated the Pride's triple-option offense to perfection, and helped a revival that included six more wins this season than last. His prowess as a scorer was so great that if you take away his seven-TD day against St. John Fisher in October, he and Kmic would have tied for the most TDs scored this season. That seven-TD game, by the way, produced a lengthy list of new records, presented on the Springfield Web site as The Sharpe Report.

Remember this year's unsung heroes 
We can't list them by name. We don't know all of their stories. If we did, they'd be sung heroes, right?

Still, it only makes sense to acknowledge the bit-part players alongside the big-time ones. Without everybody working in concert, each season -- and really the whole college football experience -- wouldn't have been what it was.

This is the item that gives it up for the players who switched positions so the team would be better off. The coaches who changed their schemes to fit personnel. Or noticed subtle details from the press box, or while watching video.

The wedge-breakers, up-backs and rocket men. The guy who hustled from the backside of the play to make a touchdown-saving tackle. The players blocking downfield. The letter-writing recruiter. The groundskeepers and stadium staff.

The fullbacks. The cut-blockers. The guys who play man coverage so you can blitz. The long-snapper. The holder. Whoever made your line calls. The guy who kept your huddle together. Or held you back when you wanted to lose it.

The workout wonder that was so far ahead of the pack when you ran, you had to push yourself just to keep it respectable. The tight muscle-shirt wearing guy who did the same for you in the weight room.

The guy who barely got on the field for four years and appreciated it more than some of the full-time starters.

Give it up for your unsung heroes. Don't forget about these guys.

Remember the comeback kids
We don't mean the guys who led rallies, but those who rallied to have a great 2006 after '05 was ruined by injury.

St. John Fisher running back Mark Robinson and Hardin-Simmons quarterback Jordan Neal were two of the best among those.

Robinson rushed for 1,570 yards and 24 TDs while sharing carries with James Reile, the back who stepped in last season when Robinson missed all but five games because of shoulder injuries. The duo, along with a Gene Lang-led defense, helped the Cardinals win the East bracket with a 31-0 blowout of Rowan. Robinson rushed for 110 yards and a TD in the semifinal loss to Mount Union, and finished his career with nearly 5,000 yards rushing. He was also an academic all-American.

Neal came back for a sixth year at Hardin-Simmons after a broken collarbone cost him 2005. The quarterback was ultra-consistent, passing for at least 225 yards in every game but one, with a TD pass and a completion of 30 yards or longer in each game. He was second to Wabash QB Dustin Huff in passing efficiency, and led his team to the playoffs with an 8-2 mark. Both losses came against quarterfinalist Mary Hardin-Baylor, while there might have been a ninth win if lightning had not canceled the Cowboys game at Louisiana College with Hardin-Simmons leading 28-12 in the second quarter.

The great story we never told
Cortland State safety Stef Sair, we figured, would be a good feature come playoff time. After all, he knows what it takes to excel in a tournament. He was the Division III 174-pound wrestling champion in '05-'06. Despite the Red Dragons' 9-1 finish, they didn't make the playoffs, and we waited too long on Sair's story. He was calm and humble, even though he was a force on defense, returning punts and even on offense -- his 25-yard run accounted for Cortland's only touchdown against Rowan. We would have liked to let you get to know Sair a little better, but with 234 schools and 11 weeks to tell their stories (16 if you make it to the Stagg Bowl), we can't do it all. 

Remember the Division III players who might represent us in pro football 
Whitworth's 6-7, 264-pound tight end Michael Allan hauled in Division III's first NFL combine invitation in three years. But no one from our division played in the Jan. 14 Hula Bowl.

Division III players are rarely drafted, and without a combine invite or post-season all-star game, a player's best hope is likely the seventh round or a post-draft free-agent contract. Cornerback Tony Beckham of UW-Stout was a fourth-round pick of the Titans in 2002, while Widener wide receiver Michael Coleman was a seventh-round pick of the Falcons that year. The Raiders took Gustavus Adolphus receiver Ryan Hoag with the last pick of the 2003 draft, and it's been all free-agent contracts, even for Gagliardi Trophy Winners like Blake (St. John's, Vikings) and Brett (Linfield, Chargers) Elliott, ever since.

Still, we've found that dozens of Division III players have at least caught a scout's eye, even if their NFL chances are a long shot. NFLDraftScout.com, a source used by USA Today, has at least a bare-bones listing for the following Division III players. Of course, many of these players won't even get into their rankings. 

Adrian LB Taz Wallace
Alma QB Josh Brehm
Anderson RB Denny Kimmel
Averett RB Kyle Wilson
Bethel RB Phil Porta
Bridgewater RB Winston Young
Bridgewater State DE Mike Sirignano
Brockport State DT Nate Bowerman, T Thad Loomis
Buffalo State WR Johnathan Allen
Carnegie Mellon SS Aaron Lewis
Carthage FS Brandon Fox and SS Donovan Moore
Centre WR Adam Clark
Cortland State FS Stef Sair, DT Adam Haas
Dubuque CB Walner Belleus
Earlham QB Justin Rummell
East Texas Baptist DE Chad Glover, RB RoShawn Johnson
Frostburg State G Frank Boca
Guilford WR Chris Barnette, K Travis Fisher, WR Micah Rushing
Hampden-Sydney G Paul Williams
Hardin-Simmons CB Will Galusha
Hobart RB Doug Blakowski
Howard Payne WR Brandon Tolbert
Illinois Wesleyan DE Mike Stephens
Kean CB Aharon Kiett
King's CB Craig Haywood
Lebanon Valley T Dave Zimmerman
Linfield DT Michael Greenberg, G James Holan, DE Mike Ketler, T Jake Lucey
Mary Hardin-Baylor P Hunter Hamrick, FS Josh Kubiak
Millikin RB Nathan Wallick
Millsaps WR Chris Jackson
Mississippi College P Jonathan Russell
Monmouth WR Evan Haffner
Montclair State CB Derrick Simmons
Moravian RB Chris Jacoubs
Mount Union T Jason Lewis, DE Justen Stickey (listed as an OLB)
North Central CB Tim Bellazzini
Occidental QB Andy Collins
Ohio Northern DE Jason Trusnik
Ohio Wesleyan FS Kyle Sherman
Puget Sound RB Rory Lee
RPI RB Jay Bernardo, TE Jon Branche
Rowan DE Keith Heimerl, QB Mike Orihel, CB Dawaine Whetstone
Salisbury CB Byron Westbrook
Shenandoah FS Joey Berry
St. John's WR Kyle Gearman
St. Thomas WR P.J. Theisen
Texas Lutheran FS Jake Robbins
Thiel FS Darious Thompson
Trinity (Texas) T Derek Farney
Union RB Tom Aricidiacono, WR Steve Angiletta
UW-Oshkosh DE Ryan Neff, P Tom Roszak
UW-Platteville WR Brian Gallick
UW-Stout WR Jesse Wendt
UW-Whitewater T Max Sakellaris, TE Pete Schmitt, WR Derek Stanley, QB Justin Jacobs (listed as WR)
Wesley QB Chris Warrick, FS Mario Harris
Whitworth TE Michael Allan, QB Joel Clark
Wilkes FB Matt Pizarro
Wittenberg T Ted Londot
Wooster T Rick Drushal

ESPN.com lists far fewer players, the limited pool perhaps a better indication of who might actually get draft-day consideration:
 Young, although ESPN has him on Bridgewater State, not Bridgewater (Va.)
 Belleus (listed as a return specialist)
 Collins
 Trusnik
 Heimerl (listed as OLB)
 Allan
 Stanley
 Wendt

The memorable coaches
We chose top coaches in each region, and Around the Nation stands by the D3football.com all-Region selections. But if anything stood out among this year's most successful coaching runs, it was the influence of stability.

At Carnegie Mellon, Rich Lackner has been part of 31 consecutive non-losing seasons as a starlinebacker and coach. Lackner joined the staff after graduating in 1979, and became head coach in 1986. Two men who were with him that season, offensive coordinator Rich Erdelyi and defensive coordinator Tim Bodnar, helped him guide this year's 11-1 playoff team.

Much was made of Bob Berezowitz's retirement from UW-Whitewater after 22 years, but big reasons why the Warhawks were Stagg Bowl-bound for a second consecutive season were longtime assistants. Stan Zwiefel, the book-published architect of the UW-W offense, had 16 seasons experience with the Warhawks while defensive coordinator Brian Borland had 13.

Wesley offensive coordinator Chip Knapp has been alongside defensive-minded head coach Mike Drass since the early 90s. And while Mount Union doesn't have as many longtime assistants as it once did, most of its staff is home-grown, with former players filling several roles.

It took 16 seasons, but St. John Fisher coach Paul Vosburgh brought the Cardinals from a club football program to a national semifinalist. Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg started the Crusaders program from scratch a decade ago.

The big coaching lessons this season seemed to be that the benefits of stability and longevity can be measured in victories.

Best excuse for not updating the team's Web site
We'd give Dubuque a harder time about still having a preseason article out front in January, but according to the fine print on the site itself, Vince Brautigam is responsible for both maintaining the site and coaching the team.

Brautigam excelled at the latter part of his job, improving from 2-8 to 6-4, with a season-ending win over Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference power Wartburg and a top-half finish in the IIAC. Dubuque was competitive in the second half of '05, bonded on a May '06 trip to Germany and then turned in the school's first winning season since 1987.

The six wins was more than the Spartans had from 2002-05 combined. Brautigam, hired before the 2001 season, was 7-43 before this year, but finally got the program on the track he wants it on.

So no rush on that website thing. 

(For the record, there are articles from the '06 season on the Dubuque site under Team News/Recaps)

Best excuse for missing the team bus
St. John Fisher defensive coordinator Blaise Faggiano gets kudos just for showing up to the Mount Union game, as he and his wife left for Guatemala on Tuesday of game week to complete the adoption of a 7-month-old boy.

Faggiano returned to Rochester, N.Y., on Friday night, long after the Cardinals had left for Alliance, Ohio. So, having done most of his scheming for the game on Sunday and Monday, he rode with Fisher alums and made it to Alliance in time to coach the biggest game in the program's history Saturday at noon. Holding the Purple Raiders to 24 offensive points may not have been enough to win, but only Baldwin-Wallace and Capital slowed Mount Union as much this season.

And their defensive coaches likely had less hectic weeks in which to prepare.

Why Larry Kehres keeps growing on us, even as his teams are whipping us
It would be a lot easier if we could just hate the guy.

Instead though, the more we get to know the man behind Mount Union's success, the more we like him.

Three moments from this season stand out:

 Many of you heard about this first one. Before Stagg Bowl XXXIV, Kehres had kind words for UW-Whitewater coach Bob Berezowitz, coaching his final game after 22 at the helm.

"He said to me 'If I have to get beat, I wouldn't mind getting beat today,’" Berezowitz recalled after the 35-16 loss. "I knew he didn't mean it though," the coach laughed.

There was no victorious riding off into the sunset for Berezowitz, who quarterbacked UW-Whitewater to an NAIA football championship in 1966, a year after he was a catcher on the Warhawks' baseball champion. Kehres coached for the 10th time in Salem since 1993, and took home the championship trophy for the ninth time.

 Not many know about these last two. Pat, Pat, Gordon, Ryan and the rest of the D3football.com crew have been showing up at enough games over the years to recognize a lot of coaches, and have them recognize us. As the playoffs whittle it down to teams we've usually seen before, we're often fortunate enough to be able to walk up to a head coach on the sideline before a game and get a last-minute update on injuries, the team mood, what they think about the weather, etc.

These are things we often use in the broadcast, to bring the listener closer to the game's site and its principals.

Talking to Kehres before the Stagg Bowl this year, he barely mentioned football. Kehres asked how my 2-year-old son was doing, recalling how he was yelling in the background when it was my turn to ask a question during the previous week's conference call. He complimented by my suit (and apparently he's seen us enough times to know sweaters and polo shirts are as nice as we get, at least until the championship game). And Kehres shared observations about the diverse state of Virginia, which he has taken an interest in as his friend and former defensive coordinator Don Montgomery has been head coach at Emory and Henry the past two seasons.

Here we were moments before the biggest game of the season, and Kehres is so prepared he's beyond worry. He's asking me about my kids, which is about the furthest thing from the Stagg Bowl.

 After the St. John Fisher/Mount Union postgame news conference, Kehres introduced a young man from the St. John Fisher student newspaper, and told us he had been contacted by him several times and that he was interested in journalism. You'd figure a coach who just won a national semifinal in somewhat of a struggle, would blow the guy off and go enjoy the win with family, players or fans. Instead, Kehres pulled us all together for a picture. We never did get to talk journalism with the guy, who appears from the paper's Web site to be Mike Spier (if you're out there, drop us a line), but we're frozen in time in that camera. Maybe it was nothing more than a funny moment, but hopefully it was a lesson to that student (as well as the rest of us) that there are nice guys at the top.

There are those who say Kehres has a fiery side, that he hates to lose, and isn't always a saint. But you've got to be a member of the Purple Raiders inner circle to see that. Quite frankly, behind closed doors is where most of those moments should stay.

For the rest of us, affiliated with the 233 schools that didn't win the past two championships or nine since 1993, we'll probably keep respecting a guy we can't find a way to hate.

Then again, all love and no hate -- what could be more Division III-appropriate than that?

The memorable teams
These might be the greatest honors, since football is pretty much the ultimate team game. No back can truly excel without a great line, and a great offense wins few games without a great defense. Football finds a role for fat guys and thin guys, fast and slow, tall and short, black and white, brutish and those more concerned with finesse. There are even roles for the young (players) and old (coaches, who are so crucial to success).

When we celebrate the memorable teams, we celebrate what all those individuals have sacrificed to bring everything together.

Remember this year's great surprise teams 
Coming off a 1-9 season, Emory & Henry gave itself a chance to win the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship, but lost 24-6 at Washington and Lee, and finished 6-4. But it was two playoff teams, Carnegie Mellon and Springfield, that register as the year's biggest surprises.

As the Tartans continued to win, questions were raised about the competition they played (and they were legitimate questions, as CMU won 10 regular-season games against precisely one team with a winning record). But they were rewarded for their 10-0 effort nonetheless, and with a home game to open the playoffs against Millsaps, the Tartans scored all 21 of their points in the second half during a shutout victory.

The Pride, as mentioned elsewhere, got a great season from quarterback Chris Sharpe and went from 4-6 to 10-2, bowing out in a playoff rematch against St. John Fisher, 27-21.

Notable steps forward 
Generally, the notable steps forward are taken by programs who seem to be headed in the right direction and aren't just one-year wonders. There's no way to know for sure what's really an indication of what, but we figure that Emory and Henry's five-win improvement to 6-4 and Springfield's six-win jump to 10-2 will mark returns to prominence for both programs. Bethany and Menlo, meanwhile, each improved significantly in the wins column, but were still subject to lopsided late-season defeats that indicated there's still a ways to go. Dickinson, which became an eight-win playoff team, may be a candidate to fall back to the pack as the Red Devils lose 19 seniors.

Puget Sound, with one win from 2001-03, was a seven-win team that might soon be a playoff contender. The same can be said of Rochester, which was competitive in losses to Union, Hobart and Alfred, and Kean, no longer a "gimme" in the NJAC.

To figure out who was moving and shaking, Around the Nation charted the increase and decrease in wins from last season for all 234 teams. This generally showed who was on the right track, but charting wins only can be deceiving, since teams didn't always play the same number of games they did in 2005.

Husson, for instance, surged to 6-4 after a 3-4 record in 2005. Three more wins, same number of losses, but odd circumstances were responsible. In 2005, the Eagles scheduled eight games, including a same-season home-and-home with Becker. Then NAIA Southern Virginia cancelled its game while Husson was heading south from Maine. The Eagles played a full 10 this year, and Southern Virginia was not among them.

More often, the postseason created a difference in the number of games played. Whitworth went to 11-1 after a 5-3 season, Their 12 games this season came from a 10-game schedule and two playoff contests. In '05, Whitworth had a nine-game schedule before Lewis and Clark cancelled, and the Pirates missed the postseason.

Without further ado, here are the biggest movers among the 234:

 21 had three more wins in '06 than in '05: Allegheny (6-4 in 2006/3-7 in 2005), Austin (4-6/1-9), Baldwin-Wallace (7-3/4-6), Bethany (4-6/1-9), Concordia, Wis. (10-1/7-3), Colorado College (5-5/2-8), Gustavus Adolphus (6-4/3-7), Husson (6-4/3-4), Illinois College (6-4/3-7), Kean (7-4/4-6), Massachusetts Maritime (3-6/0-9), Middlebury (6-2/3-5), Minnesota-Morris (7-3/4-6), Mississippi College (5-5/2-8), Newport News Apprentice (7-3/4-6), Puget Sound (7-3/4-5), Rochester (7-4/4-6), St. Lawrence (5-4/2-7), Wesleyan (3-5/0-8), Wheaton (10-2/7-3), Wilkes (11-1/8-3).

 12 had four more wins: Bethel (9-2/5-5), Dickinson (8-3/4-6), Dubuque (6-4/2-8), Franklin (9-1/5-5), Lebanon Valley (6-4/2-8) Menlo (4-6/0-10), Mount Ida (5-4/1-9), Rhodes (6-4/2-8), Springfield (10-2/4-6), St. John Fisher (12-2/8-3), UW-La Crosse (9-2/5-4), UW-Platteville (5-5/1-9).

 Three had five more wins: Nichols (5-4/0-9), Emory & Henry (6-4/1-9), Millsaps (7-4/2-7).

 Four had six more wins: Springfield (10-2/4-6), Coast Guard (8-3/2-7), Whitworth (11-1/5-3), Carnegie Mellon (11-1/5-5).

Notable steps backward 
Delaware Valley, Johns Hopkins, Lakeland, Linfield, Monmouth and Wabash were all playoff teams in '05 that dropped off by three or four wins in '06. Union did the same, going from 11-1 to 7-3, but still got in. Willamette has gone from '04 playoff team to 2-7 in '06, but theirs wasn't this season's most precipitous fall. 

Concordia-Moorhead had St. John's on the ropes again this season, but lost 14-12 to fall to 0-3. The Cobbers hobbled home 4-6, with a 35-point loss to St. Olaf the lowlight. That was a big difference from 2005, when Concordia-Moorhead was 10-2 and a second-round playoff team.

Thiel was a second-round playoff team in '05 as well, but lost a lot of offense. Quarterback Darrell Satterfield and receiver Brandon Chambers graduated, and an offense that averaged 32.9 points per game scored only 21.2. The Tomcats dropped from 11-1 to .500, though the losses were by 14, 10, seven, four and four.

Ferrum fell even further, from 9-1, leading the nation in rushing and in the playoffs to 2-7. The Panthers were competitive in early-season losses to Guilford and Bridgewater (Va.), the latter in overtime, before stomping Shenandoah 42-0. But the losses mounted, and November was unkind: They were outscored 110-21, in a 55-14 loss to North Carolina Wesleyan followed by a 55-7 defeat vs. Christopher Newport.

Those who fell: 
 Nineteen had three fewer wins: Adrian (5-5 in 2006/8-2 in 2005), Albright (2-8/5-5), Anderson (2-8/5-5), Augustana (7-3/10-2), East Texas Baptist (3-7/6-4), Johns Hopkins (5-5/8-3), Lakeland (5-5/8-3), Martin Luther (2-8/5-3), Monmouth (7-3/10-1), Moravian (4-6/7-4), Otterbein (4-6/7-3), Sewanee (2-8/5-5), Utica (3-7/6-4), UW-Eau Claire (3-7/6-4), UW-Stout (3-7/6-4), Wabash (8-2/11-1), Westfield State (1-8/4-5), Willamette (2-7/5-4), Worcester Polytech (3-6/6-3).

 Twelve had four fewer wins: Beloit (1-9/5-5), Bowdoin (2-6/6-2), Delaware Valley (8-3/12-1), Fitchburg State (4-5/8-3), Frostburg State (2-7/6-5), Hampden-Sydney (4-6/8-2), Linfield (6-3/10-1), Luther (2-8/6-4), Methodist (4-6/8-2), Ohio Wesleyan (3-7/7-3), Union (7-3/11-1), William Paterson (1-9/5-5).

 One had five fewer wins: Colby (2-6/7-1)

 Two had six fewer wins: Concordia-Moorhead (4-6/10-2), Thiel (5-5/11-1)

 One had seven fewer wins: Ferrum (2-7/9-2)

Notable steps in quicksand
Thirty-nine teams had the same number of wins as in 2005, including 14-1 UW-Whitewater, which returned to the Stagg Bowl, and 2-8 Cornell, which changed coaches and started 2-0.

Thirty-four teams won one fewer game than last season, including independent Huntingdon, which replaced N.C Wesleyan, Maryville and Westminster (Mo.) -- a combined 12-18 in '05 -- on its schedule with Ithaca, Wesley, Thomas More and LaGrange, a combined 26-18 in '06. The Hawks went 6-4 against the tougher opponents, after a breakout 7-2 season.

Twenty-nine teams won once more in '06 than they did in '05, including Mount Union (15-0/14-1) and Grinnell (2-8/1-9).

Twenty-nine teams also won twice more, including Wooster, which was a quiet 8-2 after a 6-4 season, and Concordia (Ill.), Juniata and Tri-State, who each stepped forward to 2-8 from 0-10. Macalester also went 2-7 after an 0-9 year.

Twenty-five teams lost twice more, including those who went from playoff-worthy to just above .500 like Cal Lutheran (6-3/8-1), Ohio Northern (6-4/8-2) and Salisbury (6-5/8-3) and those who took steps back instead of breaking the .500 barrier, like FDU-Florham and Knox (both 2-8/4-6).

Proof that wins are hard to come by 
Playing in the mighty Ohio Athletic Conference, Heidelberg finished its third consecutive 0-10 season. Senior Student Princes have to go back to their freshman year for memories of their only career win, which might make the rest of us realize that nothing is a given. Victories are to be cherished, never taken for granted.

Heidelberg's season-opening loss came 48-34 against Oberlin, who in 2001 snapped a 44-game losing streak and a 59-game North Coast Athletic Conference losing streak. The Student Princes turned over their staff after the season, and the new coaches will have to win a game next year to keep Heidelberg from passing Oberlin or some of the others who currently outdistance the Student Princes. Bates, playing eight-game seasons in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, lost 37 in a row from 1991-95. Marietta lost 41 in a row from 1981-84. And Macalester once lost 50 in a row in the '70s.

We tip the cap to Lewis & Clark for finishing out the string this year, one season after playing its non-conference games but canceling its Northwest Conference slate, and going 0-4. The Pioneers played five more games this season, but had the same number of victories. They gave up 70 in back-to-back October road losses and 61 three weeks later, but we acknowledge the toughness of the 42 Pioneers on the roster, including the 17 freshmen who fulfilled a commitment even when the future of football at the school looked a bit uncertain. Interim head coach Chris Sulages and assistants Scott Pierce, Ian Falconer and Jarrod Murrieta kept it together for the Pioneers, who have the support of the administration -- for now -- in rebuilding the football program.

Becker still hasn't won a game in its two seasons, while Eureka, Hiram and Wisconsin Lutheran all backslid from 1-9 records in 2005.

The longest current losing streaks in Division III: 
Heidelberg (36 consecutive losses, last win vs. Marietta, 21-13, on Oct. 4, 2003; 0-10 in 2006)
Lewis and Clark (18 consecutive losses, last win vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 27-11, Oct. 9, 2004; 0-9 in 2006)
Becker (18 consecutive losses, no wins in program history; 0-9 in 2006)
Eureka (16 consecutive losses, last win vs. Concordia (Ill.), 32-13, Sept. 24, 2005; 0-9 in 2006)
Hiram (16 consecutive losses, last win vs. Earlham, 7-2, Oct. 1, 2005; 0-10 in 2006)
Wisconsin Lutheran (16 consecutive losses, last win vs. Tri-State, 37-14, Oct. 1, 2005; 0-10 in 2006)

Look Mom, a new conference! 
There were several movers in 2006 that came in with mixed results. Coast Guard (8-3) won six more games in its first season in the New England Football Conference than it did in its last season in the Liberty League. Austin became a 4-6 team in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference after going 1-9 in the American Southwest Conference. Those made sense, as the Bears and Kangaroos each joined conferences considered to be weaker than the ones they left. But Menlo's jump to 4-6 as a member of the normally strong Northwest Conference was baffling following an 0-10 season as an independent. The Oaks were just 1-5 in NWC games, however.

Buffalo State, Plymouth State and Rose-Hulman saw virtually no difference in their new conferences, however. The Bengals were 3-7 in their first season in the New Jersey Athletic Conference after going 3-6 the last year in the Atlantic Central Football Conference. Plymouth State joined the NEFC and went 4-5, not much different from the 4-6 mark the Panthers put up in 2005 as an independent. And the Engineers may have engineered a move from the SCAC to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, but change was minimal: A 6-4 2006, after a 5-5 '05. Rose-Hulman was 3-4 in conference after a 2-4 SCAC mark, while Buffalo State was 2-5 in the NJAC after a 1-4 ACFC mark.

So for Colorado College (joining the SCAC next year) and other anticipated movers, the lesson is Be Like Menlo.

Remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same
A new year doesn't always guarantee a new result. Five Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams had same number of wins this year as in 2005, four with the exact same record. St. Olaf (8-2), Carleton (4-6), Hamline (3-7) and Augsburg (1-9) had no change year-to-year, while St. John's went 11-2 this season after an 11-1 mark last year. UW-Whitewater eliminated the Johnnies from the playoffs' West bracket each time.

The biggest stunner among the group may have been Carleton, which upset eventual MIAC champ Bethel 17-14 on Sept. 23 and earned itself an Around the Nation spotlight on Oct. 5. The Knights lost six of their last seven, however, including four times by five points or fewer, to end up with the same record as 2005.

Remember the first-half teams that went bad in the second half 
Carleton is one. Sul Ross State, which started 5-1 and was in the playoff picture, is another. Their lone loss through Oct. 21 was to eventual quarterfinalist Mary Hardin-Baylor, but the Lobos dropped games at Hardin-Simmons 56-14, vs. Louisiana College 35-28 and at Mississippi College 31-7 to finish 5-4. Steve Wright is still leading one of the great revivals in Division III football, bringing Sul Ross to a winning season from back-to-back 0-10s in 2002 and '03. But at 5-1, folks tend to think there might end up a way to describe the season beyond "winning."

Remember the good middle-season teams
Buena Vista had a crazy season, losing three, winning four straight from Sept. 30-Oct. 21, then losing its final three. The Beavers were 1-2 in overtime games, including two OT losses in the final three games. But considering they were outscored 78-20 in games at Bethel, vs. Central and at Coe (combined 26-6 record) to start the season, the finish was with a flourish. 

Remember the good second-half teams (The slow start, strong finish award) 
Hope began the year 0-3, with competitive losses at Central (24-13), at DePauw (23-14) and vs. Wheaton (35-21). Two of those teams made the playoffs, and the three of them had a combined record of 26-7. The Flying Dutchmen pulled off a 24-21 win vs. Albion and a 49-43 overtime victory against Alma on the way to a 7-0 roll through the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. However, the early losses didn't help when it came time to set the playoff matchups, and Hope had none, losing 49-0 at eventual champion Mount Union.

We conclude the three-part look back at the 2006 season with a glance at how preseason predictions panned out, D3football.com's year-end "awards" and other off-the-beaten-path miscellany.

Our memorable award-winners
The 'Wish you were here' award
Finally, we give this to a non-New England Small College Athletic Conference team, though 8-0 Williams probably would have been a deserving playoff participant if the NESCAC ever got off its high horse about the playoffs. Instead, Cortland State and Franklin, after going 9-1 with seven-point losses to their conference champions (Rowan and Mount St. Joseph), were stuck at home. In any other year to date, that would have been a solid resume for inclusion in the 28-team field, not to mention the 32-team bracket.

The 'Don't forget why we're here' award
After the national semifinal in Alliance, Ohio, Mount Union Sports Information Director Michael DeMatteis reminded reporters to interview players right away, even for features scheduled to run later in the week, or try to reach them by phone the next day. It was finals week, after all, for the Purple Raiders (and an important academic week for UW-Whitewater's Warhawks as well). That meant players had Sunday to study and two and a half days to take the fall semester's finals, unless they could be rescheduled for after Saturday's Stagg Bowl.

So Division III student-athletes studied for the game of their lives, while in some cases doing the same for the tests of their lives, in the same week. Meanwhile the dolts in Division I-A can't figure out how to set up a postseason that doesn't require a five-week break for finals.

The crazy schedule awards
Brockport State, often a staple here, played in four states and lost six times -- all to teams with seven wins or more. Buena Vista lost to five teams with six or more wins. UW-River Falls played the traditionally tough Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule, after opening up with three consecutive road games, against two recent Division III championship programs -- St. John's (2003) and Pacific Lutheran (1999), and following those with St. Francis (Ind.), the NAIA runner-up the past three seasons. Although the Lutes have fallen on hard times -- the Falcons won 24-17 -- it was still a significant road trip from River Falls, Wis. to Tacoma, Wash.

We give nods here to UW-Whitewater and Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Hardin-Simmons and Linfield, national powers who have scheduled each other for home-and-home series in '06 and '07, as well as St. John Fisher and Mount Union, who have done the same for '08-'09.

The crazy road trip award
Colorado College racked up the frequent flier miles even with six home games this year. The Tigers of Colorado Springs opened up with back-to-back trips to the Los Angeles area, then, before September was over, traveled to Pittsburgh to play Carnegie Mellon. Their fourth road game was in Memphis, against Rhodes. That will become part of a routine next season as the Tigers join the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.

Among conference games, we find Whitworth's jaunt from the Inland Northwest to the Bay Area to play Menlo to be admirable, just as Brockport's continued participation in the Atlantic Central Football Conference, where the New York school plays conference rivals from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Sul Ross State's season-ending trip from Western Texas to Mississippi College is a doozy as well.

The glass ceiling awards
We touched on the Ohio Athletic Conference's inability to get past Mount Union in Part 2, and that goes for the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin champions too. But not being able to beat the Purple Raiders is everyone's problem, and not exactly news. St. John's has twice run into UW-Whitewater in the West, and Occidental has lost at the Northwest Conference champion in consecutive years. 

Really, the most significant glass ceiling remaining, and one most in need of a breakthrough, is put up by East bracket champions in the semifinals. In the 1990s, East teams made six Stagg Bowl appearances, and Lycoming -- then of the South but now in the East -- made two more. But since Rowan won at Mount Union to get to the Stagg Bowl in 1999, the East bracket champion, whether by blowout (Widener lost 70-30 in 2000, Rowan lost 52-0 in 2004) or bad ending (Bridgewater's clock operator stopped the clock in mid-play with 0:01 left one snap before the game-winning touchdown in a 29-24 win against Rowan in 2001) is 0-7. And that includes 2002, when John Carroll of the North was sent to the East and won it, but lost to Mount Union in the semifinals. Although St. John Fisher represented the East well this year at Mount Union, just like Rowan did last season, the region won't shake the perception that it is the weakest of the four until it at least sends another team to the Stagg Bowl. We're not even asking the East to win one.

The constant turmoil award
DePauw seems to be good for a winning season no matter who's in charge, but it can't be fun for a school that had Nick Mourouzis as head coach for 23 seasons to go through three (Bill Lynch, Tim Rogers and Matt Walker) in the next three years. As far as ATN knows, Walker -- a Crawfordsville, Ind. native, for those who closely follow the Tigers' rivalry with Wabash -- will be back in 2007. ATN wonders if stability will help get DePauw over the hump and into the playoffs.

The 'We got love for Division III' award
Around the Nation occasionally provides a philosophical look at why we play in Division III and how significant that is. But in terms of sappiness, ATN has nothing on this web page , hosted by New Jersey's Richard Stockton -- not a football school -- featuring two odes to and by the Division III athlete.

The Pioneer award
There's a pretty legitimate argument, one that Division III fans should at least know about, claiming Tufts and Harvard played the first college football game in 1875, not Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Tufts, a current member of Division III's New England Small College Athletic Conference, and Harvard used rules that more closely resemble the football we now play.

On Oct. 14, the Jumbos, in their 132nd year, played their 1,000th college football game. That put the Medford, Mass., school in distinguished company, as Amherst, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, Mount Union, Ohio Wesleyan, Washington and Jefferson, Widener and Wittenberg are the other Division III schools to have passed the plateau.

Alumni awards
Division III alumni are everywhere, from the NFL (Wesleyan's Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini, and Sewanee's Phil Savage) to high places in business, politics, arts and science. When the NCAA named its 100 most influential student-athletes of all time, 15 from Division III schools made the list. Five had played football at a school that is currently Division III: Presidents Nixon (Whittier) and Reagan (Eureka), former U.S. Representative Jack Kemp (Occidental) and former U.S. Ambassador Michael Armacost (Carleton). Cedric Dempsey (Albion), the head of the NCAA from 1994-2003, also made the list.

Miscellaneous memorables
Most painful playoff score comparison
The early rounds of the playoffs often separate the glad-to-be-here from the truly elite, and each year that produces at least one string that makes you wonder what would have happened if certain teams had been paired up sooner. 

Millsaps lost 21-0 in the first round to Carnegie Mellon, which lost 37-0 to Wesley. The Wolverines beat UMHB but lost to UW-Whitewater 44-7 in the semifinals. The Warhawks, of course, were beaten 35-16 by Mount Union in the national championship game. So while the Majors weren't the worst team in the playoff bracket, they are at the bad end of the ugliest string of blowouts.

Second time's the charm
Two of the great playoff matchups of 2006 were ugly the first time around. UW-Whitewater was accused of -- and probably was -- running up the score in a 45-10 win against UW-La Crosse Oct. 14. (Although, in coach Bob Berezowitz's defense, he had reason to be extra skittish as the Eagles had engineered at least one miraculous comeback on him in the past). When the conference rivals met in the second round of the playoffs, it was one of the season's best games, with La Crosse leading midway through the fourth quarter before a 53-yard Warhawks scoring strike. 

Mount Union's second meeting with Capital was also much better than the first, a 38-12 regular-season loss. The Crusaders were tied at 7 with the Purple Raiders in the fourth quarter, and although Mount Union's Nate Kmic and Greg Micheli each went over 100 yards in the 17-14 win, it took them 62 carries to gain their 285 yards. "I was scared to death of this game," Purple Raiders coach Larry Kehres said afterward. 

If the second time produces the better game to watch (it didn't always, as Concordia, Wis. beat North Central 24-21 in double overtime early in the season, then lost 35-6 in the playoffs), one can only wonder what Wesley would have done with a second shot at UW-Whitewater, or the Warhawks against Mount Union.

Okay, maybe not.

Best postseason conference showing
The OAC did what was expected of them, and this was the WIAC's second consecutive year of putting up playoff results to match the conference's high regular-season status. The CCIW won two first-round games, as did the Empire 8, which was really the conference that shined. 

Even though St. John Fisher had to eliminate Springfield 27-21 in the second round, the Cardinals' 31-0 blowout of Rowan and respectable showing at Mount Union (26-14) meant that future Empire 8 champions can be considered legitimate Stagg Bowl contenders. The league finished with two top 10 teams, in the Cardinals and Pride, and the St. John Fisher run helped legitimize Alfred's 8-3 and Ithaca's 7-3 records in what was overall a great season for Division III football in New York.

Worst postseason conference showing
In a single afternoon, Curry and Concordia (Wis.) undid the idea that New England Football Conference and Illini-Badger Football Conference teams could win playoff games. While first-round blowout victims like Hope and St. Norbert could at least point to the fact that their opponents ended up in the Stagg Bowl, Washington and Lee did the ODAC's reputation no favors in a 42-0 loss to Wilkes, which lost the following weekend. 

The Liberty League, however, was the only league that lost both its playoff participants on the opening weekend. One year after Hobart and Union gained respect for the league with very competitive showings in the playoffs, the Statesmen lost on a late kick at Rowan and Union got blown out by St. John Fisher 49-21. And it wasn't even that close, as the Cardinals took a 42-3 lead into the fourth quarter.

Most uneven conference
The Middle Atlantic Conference, traditionally one of the strongest leagues in the East, had an uncharacteristic year, with Wilkes going undefeated in the regular season and Delaware Valley, Widener, King's and Lebanon Valley all posting winning records. Albright, Juniata, FDU-Florham and Susquehanna each brought up the rear, going 2-7 in the MAC and losing their out-of-conference game as well. It was a finish with a whimper for the MAC as an 11-team league, as Susquehanna joins the Liberty League next season, while Moravian and Juniata move over to the Centennial Conference. In sports besides football, the three schools are creating a new league, along with Catholic, Merchant Marine, Goucher, Drew and Scranton.

Most even conference
It's almost time to rename this "The Centennial Award," as the mid-Atlantic conference completed a sixth consecutive season where its champion did not go undefeated in conference play. Beyond Dickinson's 5-1 CC record was Ursinus, 4-2 in-conference, and five teams that had either two or three conference wins. The Red Devils and Bears were 8-3 overall while three teams were 5-5 and another was 4-6. The last place team, Franklin & Marshall, had a victory over the ODAC champion and had a margin of 14 points or fewer in seven of its games. Champion Dickinson had a margin of 14 or fewer in all of its regular-season games except a 16-point win against Gettysburg. The Red Devils must have been thankful they had clinched the league title by Week 11, when they dropped a 31-24 overtime game at Ursinus.

Best independent 
Minnesota-Morris, Northwestern (Minn.) and Rockford won more games, but Huntingdon is taking the steps to get legitimate Top 25 and playoff consideration by playing in 2006 at Ithaca and Millsaps, and hosting Wesley and Trinity (Texas). All of those teams won at least seven games in a conference.

Best hookup
When UW-Whitewater traveled to Texas to play Mary Hardin-Baylor, coach Bob Berezowitz called in a favor. His son Steve, the head football coach at Burlington (Wis.) High School, coached a fellow named Tony Romo in basketball at Burlington. Though Romo was making the transition to becoming the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback that week, he still arranged for the Warhawks to practice at the Cowboys' facility in Dallas before heading to Belton.

Best big-time acknowledgements
 ESPNews' Division III playoff selection show, featuring D3football.com's Pat Coleman on analysis.
 NCAASports.com videocasts of the semifinal games at UW-Whitewater and Mount Union were well-received.
 Sports Illustrated ran a photo of Colby and Bates gutting it out in the rain in its Football in America issue, and used a portrait of St. John's linebacker Jamie Steffensmeier in their Faces in the Crowd special edition.
 USA Today ran a full-page feature on Salem -- Division III's Titletown -- during Stagg Bowl week.
 Bob Davie mentioned Thiel during the Rose Bowl broadcast; Baldwin-Wallace got mention during the BCS Championship Game telecast, because of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's family history in Berea and with the school. 
 Owen Schmitt's story brought Division III some attention, as the West Virginia fullback left UW-River Falls to walk on with the Mountaineers.

Worst big-time acknowledgements
 USA Today columnist Ian O'Connor, in a column defending the BCS (Here's a vote for BCS madness, Nov. 14): "The playoff proponents still point to the tournaments that punctuate the seasons at sub-Division I levels, but those postseasons are often scored this way: The team with the fewest injuries wins." The point didn't help his column at all, which was otherwise well-argued, and proved that he had never heard of Mount Union or Grand Valley State, much less realized how they've built their dynasties. I can't think of one injury that greatly affected a Stagg Bowl outcome, although I can think of one ill-advised night of drinking in San Antonio. If uninformed generalities are all you have on the "sub-Division I levels," we prefer you do like most of your colleagues and ignore us. 

 In the Sept. 18 edition of ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, writer Gregg Easterbrook took another in a long line of shots at the school he has called "The Death Star of the college football scene." Witness: "Meanwhile Mount Union College -- year-in, year-out home of the worst sportsmanship in Division III -- relentlessly ran up the score on Otterbein, winning 71-14." We discussed this particular game, where the Purple Raiders led 34-7 after running five offensive plays, in Part 1 of the Year in Review. Around the Nation has often found the 'Mount Union as poor sports' conclusion to be one made only by people who have never spent any time actually following the Purple Raiders. It's a strange disdain, as Easterbrook, a Colorado College alum, does shine light on Division III schools in random ways in his column. Once this season, he highlighted Capital's student blogs, particularly April Haviland's "Stuff I Made In Jewelry-Making." He also seemed to lay off the Purple Raiders later in the season -- probably unrelated to Around the Nation's pointed e-mail -- highlighting this year's Stagg Bowl as a final Obscure College Score of the Week and not slamming Mount Union in the process.

In retrospect
Remember the preseason polls and rankings
It's easy to slap together a Top 25 based on last year's finishes and returning starters, especially if no one ever calls you on it. Around the Nation does just that, and there are always reasons to applaud and dis each poll or ranking.

Since Sports Illustrated dropped its preseason Division III Top 10 this year, and we could not locate the gameday insert Touchdown Illustrated, Around the Nation looked back at five preseason polls or rankings: D3football.com's Top 25 poll, Don Hansen's Weekly Football GazetteLindy'sStreet & Smith's and USA Today Sports Weekly (whose ranking, in the interest of full disclosure, was put together by our editor and publisher, Pat Coleman).

During the season, there are two polls, ours and the American Football Coaches Association's, and one ranking, the Football Gazette's. The AFCA does not take a preseason poll, so we use their first vote for our purposes here. Bridgewaterfootball.com assembles all the polls on one screen.

 D3football.com
Best ranking: Not ranking Trinity (Texas), Delaware Valley at No. 12. The Tigers' run of 13 consecutive SCAC championships was snapped, while Lindy's, Street & Smith's and the Football Gazette had the Aggies (8-2 but no playoffs) in the top six. Ten of the top 11 in this poll made the playoffs.

Worst ranking: Linfield at No. 7. The Wildcats lost a lot even after finishing '05 in the top 5.
Number of Top 25 teams in the 32-team field: 15
Where St. John Fisher began the season/first joined the poll: Unranked with 29 votes, or the equivalent of 35th. They joined in Week 3.
Mount Union/Whitewater 1-2 all season? Yes. The Purple Raiders had 22 first place votes and the Warhawks three all year except in Week 9, when Mount Union picked up one vote for one week after its 38-12 win against Capital.

 AFCA
Best ranking: For a while, the AFCA looked really smart regarding Cortland State, which started out No. 12 and rose as high as No. 6, but slower-to-get-on-board D3football.com ended up saving face. The AFCA's first poll (which came out Sept. 19) had St. John Fisher ranked 18th, which was higher than our poll had the Cardinals even at a similar time.
Worst ranking: With the benefit of as many as three games to sort things out, the AFCA's early missteps are a little different than those who took cracks at this in August. Still, the AFCA managed to move Ithaca as high as No. 8 -- they finished the regular season receiving one vote -- and had UW-Stout one spot outside the top 25. The Blue Devils finished 3-7 and fired their coach amid a postseason drug scandal.
Number of Top 25 teams in the 32-team field: 18
Where St. John Fisher began the season/first joined the poll: 18th
Mount Union/Whitewater 1-2 all season? Yes, with the Purple Raiders starting with a 35-5 split on first-place votes that grew to 36-4 by the end of the regular season.
(View the board of coaches that voted on this poll.)

 Football Gazette
Best ranking: Nothing particularly prescient that no one else saw. Putting St. John's third was unique, and the Johnnies did come within a field goal of UW-Whitewater after a 34-7 playoff loss to the Warhawks last season. The Gazette's final ranking had Wesley third, Capital fourth and St. John's fifth, however.
Worst rankings: Delaware Valley at No. 5, Linfield at No. 6 and Hardin-Simmons unranked.
Number of Top 25 teams in the 32-team field: 13
Where St. John Fisher began the season/first joined the poll: Unranked among 40 teams in the preseason, sixth at the end of the year. (Polls from midseason intervals are not available on the Football Gazette site)
Mount Union/Whitewater 1-2 all season? Started and finished that way, yes.

 Lindy's
Best rankings: Capital at No. 5, Central at No. 12. Crusaders and Dutch ended up third and 11th in the D3football.com final poll.
Worst rankings: No. 16 Wesley, No. 21 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Everyone missed on Bridgewater, Delaware Valley and Linfield, but the Wolverines and Crusaders, South bracket finalists, were top 10 teams from Day One. Also had 6-4 Ohio Northern ranked 10th.
Number of Top 25 teams in the 32-team field: 14
Where St. John Fisher began the season: Unranked
Mount Union/Whitewater 1-2? Yes

 Street & Smith's
Best ranking: Wilkes at No. 9. Street & Smith's best recognized the eventual MAC champions and East No. 1 seed. The Colonels finished 11-1, and only appeared in one other preseason ranking, at No. 23 for D3football.com.
Worst rankings: Rowan at No. 2, Delaware Valley at No. 4. UW-Whitewater was a no-brainer at 2, and the Aggies missed the playoffs entirely. Street & Smith's also ranked Adrian 20th (too high) and Capital 25th (too low).
Number of Top 25 teams in the 32-team field: 15
Where St. John Fisher began the season: 24th
Mount Union/Whitewater 1-2? No

 USA Today Sports Weekly
Best ranking: Washington & Jefferson at No. 17. The Presidents were in the Lindy's, Street & Smith's and Football Gazette top 10, but they were a first-round playoff winner that finished 10-2 and ranked 18th.
Worst rankings: Union at No. 7, Concordia-Moorhead at No. 9. The Dutchmen were a 7-2 team before getting blown out 49-21 in the playoffs, and the Cobbers plummeted from 10-2 to 4-6.
Number of Top 25 teams in the 32-team field: 14
Where St. John Fisher began the season: Unranked
Mount Union/Whitewater 1-2? Yes

Remember the best preseason predictions 
Those of you who ordered Kickoff '06 were privy to our "Predict This!" grid, where six of our most valuable contributors took a crack at answering 12 questions on our minds in the preseason. Here are those queries again, with a point awarded for each correct answer, and the expertest expert revealed afterward.

 National champion. Pat Coleman, Gordon Mann, John McGraw and I each took the easy/safe route and picked Mount Union. 1 point for us. Nada for Pat Cummings and Matt Barnhart, who were close-but-no-cigar with runner-up UW-Whitewater.

Yes, the questions do get a little more difficult.

 Winner of each playoff bracket. Everyone gets half a point for nailing Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, and no one picked St. John Fisher out of the East. So it comes down to the South picks, and five of us had Texas teams in the bracket Wesley won. Pat Coleman had Wesley as his East champion, so we'll give him .75 for this question, and the early lead. McGraw, Barnhart and I each thought the final four would be Rowan, Mount Union, UMHB and UW-Whitewater, and at least all those teams were alive into the final eight. Pat Cummings was the only one who managed to pick two teams that missed the playoffs entirely (RPI and Bridgewater) as regional champions. Yikes.

 Who will win the Liberty League? We thought there were three contenders in the preseason, and with Rochester giving the seven-team league a fourth seven-win team and St. Lawrence giving it a fifth winning season, it turned out to be more competitive then even we thought.

Although Hobart was more competitive in its first-round playoff game and had the better overall record, Union won the Liberty title with a 5-1 record that included a 31-14 win over the Statesmen. Those of us on the RPI bandwagon were disappointed in the Engineers' three losses by less than a TD each, especially since they finished with wins against Union and Cortland State.

Mann gets the only point. Coleman had Hobart and the rest of us had RPI.

 When will Nate Kmic pass his freshman season rushing total? Kmic led Mount Union in '05 with 1,219 yards, the majority of it (1,040 yards) in the five-game run through the playoffs. Kmic had 1,203 yards entering the last regular-season game against Marietta, and surpassed last year's total on the second play of the game, a 13-yard run on the way to blowing past 2,000 yards.

Somehow, both Pat Coleman and Matt Barnhart nailed it by picking Week 11. Cummings' pick of Week 6 vs. Ohio Northern was the furthest off.

 How many wins will LaGrange and SUNY-Maritime combine for? We omitted Morrisville State from this question because the Mustangs were converting to Division III from the junior college ranks, while the other two were first-year start-ups. LaGrange went 0-10, but both New York schools won a game. That's notable because I went with two, but one (Pat Coleman) was the correct answer to the question as we asked it. Barnhart and Cummings each predicted four. Maybe in '07. 
 Which opponent gets closest to Mount Union in the regular season? The end part of that question is key, because Mann had Baldwin-Wallace, which lost to the Purple Raiders by 14. McGraw and Barnhart went with Capital, who lost 38-12 in the regular season but got closer than anyone to beating the Purple Raiders in a 17-14 playoff loss. Cummings and I took Ohio Northern, which lost 49-7. Next question, please.

 What 2005 team has the worst falloff, recordwise? Linfield, Thiel and Lakeland were all expert picks, and all won fewer games than last season. But only one team regressed from nine wins to two, and Cummings and I each nailed Ferrum in this instance.

 Which team will be the most surprising playoff entry? Cummings and McGraw each correctly picked Washington and Lee, and Barnhart chose Wittenberg. Both were conference champions and first-round losers. My Averett pick came up short, but at least I didn't choose UW-Eau Claire (3-7, Coleman) or Brockport State (4-6, Mann).

Wins John Gagliardi ends the season with. The St. John's coach, the all-time wins leader in college football history, began with 432, and his team went 11-2. Although all of us were close, Mann was the only one to correctly pick 443.

 Record of the last team chosen in Pool C and who? It was widely suspected that that same St. John's team, ranked third in the nation until a regular-season finale loss to Bethel, was the 32nd team into the field. It was an extremely strong year for Pool C, so those of us who thought 2- and 3-loss teams would get at-large bids were very much mistaken. I'll award half a point here to Mann, whose prediction was a 9-1 RPI team (he was the only one to get the record right). Barnhart came close by picking Cortland State, who many believed was the first team left out, even though they were 9-1 as well.

 Available players Lewis & Clark ends the season with. Well, there are 42 players on the roster of the team that was too depleted to play its full schedule last year, and I think that roster is where I got my guess from. Although it's hard to believe no one quit the team all season, looks like I'll have to give myself a point.

 Regular season game you would most like to attend. Union/RPI and DePauw/Wabash were chosen, but three of us went with UW-Whitewater at Mary Hardin-Baylor. And since I was the only D3football.com staffer to pick that for my game and actually attend -- what do you know? -- another point for me.

The final tally, and winner of Kickoff '06's most expert-like expert:
Mann: 5 points
McMillan 4.5 (even those two freebies I threw myself at the end couldn't put me over the top)
Coleman: 3.75
Cummings, McGraw and Barnhart: 2.5 each

Were our sleepers napping or not?
Kickoff '06 featured Our Sleepers Aren't Napping, an article I wrote for the purpose of clueing folks into the landscape changes before they happened. The main part of it is picking five playoff teams that will miss the field and five new ones that will get in. Here's how those panned out:

Non Top-25, non-playoff teams from '05 who will make the playoffs in '06:
 RPI: No. The Engineers returned 11 offensive starters, making them a trendy pick to do well. They got behind the eight ball with an early seven-point loss to Hobart, and later lost to St. Lawrence by four and Rochester by six. RPI closed a 7-3 season with wins over Union, in the Dutchman's Shoes rivalry game, and Cortland State in an ECAC bowl.

 Howard Payne: No. The Yellow Jackets' first six games were decided by a touchdown or less, but they were just 3-3. A year after beating Mary Hardin-Baylor when the Crusaders were ranked No. 2, UMHB drubbed Howard Payne 55-7 in Week 11.

 Averett: No. But at least they made it interesting. My pick was that they'd lose badly to Mount Union and Wesley and still have a shot at the playoff by winning the USA South automatic bid. The Cougars (7-3) followed that script right up until a 41-31 loss to Christopher Newport in Week 10.

 Whitworth: Yes. Finally, I hit one. But, as I said preseason, the Pirates, with 10 defensive starters and star QB Joel Clark back, were built for this season. They won their first 11 games before St. John's bumped them in the second round of the playoffs.

 Bethel: Yes. This one was looking bad early when the Royals lost to perennial MIAC middle-of-the-packer Carleton. But after the three-point Week 4 defeat, Bethel didn't lose again until UW-La Crosse knocked it out of the postseason, 28-21. The run included a stunning 28-13 victory over MIAC power St. John's, which probably ended the playoff hopes of one of the two 9-1 at-large teams left out.

I went 2 of 5.

 There was also a list of teams I said could be back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. Christopher Newport, UW-La Crosse, St. Norbert and Wheaton all made the field, and Wartburg finished 8-2 with two overtime losses.

'05 playoff teams who will miss the '06 playoffs:
 Ferrum: Yes. The Panthers' slide from nine wins to two has been well-documented in the Year in Review.

 Thiel: Yes. Only Ferrum had a bigger slide, as the Tomcats were 5-5 after an 11-2 year. Losing key offensive studs made a big difference.

 Monmouth: Yes. The Scots went 7-3 as St. Norbert reclaimed its Midwest Conference perch with a 48-0 Week 6 win.

 Occidental: No. I have to admit, I felt strongly about the first three. With the last two I felt I could justify the argument, but I wasn't really sure I believed either group of Tigers would miss the playoffs. Oxy came pretty close, needing a 21-3 second half in a 28-27 win at Cal Lutheran and a 20-0 fourth quarter in a 34-30 win vs. 2-7 Whittier. The Tigers finished 9-1, while the Kingsmen and Poets finished with three and five SCIAC losses, respectively.

 Trinity (Texas): Yes. These Tigers did miss the playoffs, not winning the SCAC for the first time in 13 seasons. Millsaps rose from 2-7 to conference champion, dumping the Tigers 34-12 in Week 11 to clinch.

I went 4 of 5 there, with an Occidental rally ruining a perfect mark.

Teams who outperformed/fell short of their 1-234 ranking in Kickoff '06 
Pat Coleman and I spent way too many preseason hours looking at everything from Massey Ratings to returning starters to our own conference-strength rankings, then placing every team 1-234. It's an arduous task, but one that ensures we take some time to look at every team and where they're expected to fit in. If our rankings were perfect, there wouldn't be much point in playing out the season, now would there? Good thing they aren't.

There are the obvious teams we missed, highlighted in Part 2 using the chart that analyzed win differential from the previous season. No. 165 Millsaps (2-7 to 7-3) and No. 150 Carnegie Mellon (5-5 to 11-1) were a pair of prime examples.

Here are some other teams we underestimated:
No. 231 Nichols (improved by five wins to 5-4)
No. 173 Emory & Henry (became an ODAC contender after a 1-9 year)
No. 161 Dubuque (Was 6-4 for first winning season since 1987)
No. 145 Sul Ross State (Lobos had great turnaround too)
No. 116 Rochester (Yellowjackets were real Liberty League contender)
No. 108 Franklin (Went 9-1)
No. 99 Concordia, Wis. (Made playoffs)
No. 95 Hope (The ranking was fine, but we had MIAA rivals Adrian at 62, Albion at 72 and Alma at 93)
No. 83 Wittenberg (Won NCAC)
No. 70 St. Norbert (ranked 12 spots behind Monmouth)
No. 34 St. John Fisher (Cardinals made national final four)

Here are some teams we, and our Top 25 voters, overestimated:
No. 8 Linfield (championship contender in '05 missed playoffs in '06)
No. 12 Delaware Valley (G.A. Mangus and Adam Knoblauch were gone, and Aggies weren't quite as good)
No. 14 Augustana (went 7-3 after changeover from quarterback Matt Roe but lost to UW-Platteville and blanked by North Central)
No. 16 Concordia-Moorhead (21 wins in '04-05, four in '06)
No. 25 Thiel (Our voters gave them extra respect after the '05 playoffs)
No. 33 UW-Eau Claire (finished fourth in the WIAC, lost to Alma)
No. 35 UW-Stout (finished 3-7 and fifth in WIAC; late-game collapse against Whitworth probably didn't help)
No. 45 Brockport State (We're used to the Golden Eagles being better than 4-6)
No. 57 Ferrum (We knew they'd fall, but they weren't near the top 60 in '06)

Remember the season's turning point
Considering Mount Union and UW-Whitewater were on crash courses to meet in a Stagg Bowl rematch since day one, their victories vs. then-No. 4 Capital and then-No. 6 UMHB on Oct. 28 were convincing. The Warhawks won without star back Justin Beaver, lost to a broken collarbone Oct. 14. Each team had to survive at least one three-point playoff win to get to the Stagg Bowl, where a blocked punt return for a TD was that day's turning point.

Worst moments
Not all of our memories of 2006 will be of shining moments. Our worst:
Alfred tailback Julio Fuentes suffering a neck injury during a Week 2 kickoff against Thiel. 
UW-Stout firing coach Todd Strop, perhaps as the scapegoat for the arrest of players and former players in connection with steroids, marijuana and cocaine.
Three Guilford players, including an all-American, arrested in an assault authorities called a hate crime against two Palestinian students and their visiting friend.

Most over-dramatized "controversies"
 Folks in Texas are still mad about Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons' being paired up in the first round of the playoffs. Had the NCAA committee followed its seeds, No. 2 UMHB could have hosted No. 7 Millsaps, reportedly 491 miles away when properly using the approved software to determine whether or not a flight should be involved. When teams from 500 or miles apart meet in the playoffs, they must fly. The NCAA picks up the tab for playoff travel, and Division III does not generate the revenue to pay for it, so bus trips are preferred. Seeds can be adjusted (i.e. 2 vs. 5 instead of 2 vs. 7) to save money. This happens just about every year in Texas and on the West Coast, because of the scarcity of teams in those regions.

So folks in Texas should be used to it by now, right? Being used to it doesn't mean they have to like it, but UMHB and HSU weren't screwed as badly as fans claim. If the South bracket seeds had been followed, the No. 2 Crusaders (ranked No. 5 nationally heading into the playoffs) and No. 3 Cowboys (No. 6) would have met in the second round, assuming they'd won their first-round games.

But what really made the whining unbearable was that Occidental (ranked 10th) finished 9-0 for the second consecutive season and got sent to play the undefeated Northwest Conference champion again. Whitworth was 10-0, ranked 8th, and beat the Tigers 27-23.

Though there were zero losses between the Tigers and Pirates, compared with three for the Crusaders and Cowboys, few West Coasters whined about the matchup.

The bottom line is that in Division III, this happens. To win the championship, you have to beat top teams eventually anyway. That may not be much solace, but it also wasn't worth the amount of whining.

 Guilford had to know what it was doing when it admitted Dion Rich, a player who left Emory & Henry after playing 2005 in poor academic standing. Under NCAA and ODAC rules, players cannot be declared academically ineligible, transfer and be immediately eligible at the new school. Yet Guilford used Rich, a sophomore defensive back, for four games, and he made a more significant contribution than the principals in many ineligible player cases.

An ODAC committee reviewed the case, and the conference reported the matter as a secondary violation to the NCAA, but did not force the Quakers to forfeit games Rich had played in. The ODAC basically determined that Guilford did not know Rich was ineligible, and even if people on the ODAC committee didn't believe that, it would be virtually impossible to prove who knew what when.

Bridgewater fans, eager to get back into the ODAC championship picture after a 33-28 loss to Guilford, were particularly enraged, creating a firestorm on D3football.com message boards. In the end, it wouldn't have mattered, as Bridgewater lost to Emory & Henry, who lost to eventual conference champion Washington & Lee (who lost to Bridgewater, by the way, as well as playoff opponent Wilkes).

There were lots of darts thrown regarding honesty and integrity, and the complaining fans probably had some points. But a skeptic would say those fans generally cared less about integrity than they did the chance to get a cheap win by forfeit and possibly win the conference championship.

The lesson: Always handle your business on the field.

 There was definitely a lot of hurt when Lance Leipold replaced Berezowitz at UW-Whitewater. Longtime assistant and offensive mastermind Stan Zweifel seemed to be the logical candidate for the job, and as is often the case with coaching changes, players and those close to the program favor the candidate they're familiar with. When Leipold got the job, nobody came off looking good -- not Paul Plinske, the AD who made the decision, and not Leipold, Zweifel or Berezowitz. Character was questioned and backstabbing was brought up. Whitewater fans bickered for days about Zweifel being passed over, hardly mentioning the future of Warhawk football. All has since calmed down, and the focus is on the future for all involved. Feelings were legitimately hurt in the Whitewater community, but for the casual observer on the outside, it appeared to be much ado about something that happens often when there are coaching openings.

Biggest deja vu moment
The Matt Kostelnik/Matt Rees punt block return for a touchdown in the Stagg Bowl took place under darkness and on the same side of the field as as key moment in Mount Union's Stagg Bowl win vs. Bridgewater in 2001. Jason Perkins picked off a pass and returned it 44 yards for a score to give the Purple Raiders a 23-13 advantage on the way to a 30-27 win. This year, Kostelnik blocked a punt directly to Rees, who ran it back 34 yards for a score and a 28-13 advantage on the way to the win against UW-Whitewater.

Three off-the-beaten path things I will remember about this season
 Just because you were once able to run down deep spirals doesn't mean you're equipped to chase a toddler and carry a baby at a football game. I had left my children, then not quite 2 and 6 months old, with my wife on so many Saturdays this fall that she earned a weekend off. So I took my little ones up to see family in New Jersey during the Thanksgiving weekend, and -- not wanting to pass up a chance to see a game, drove them up to Wilkes. They had a good time, it seemed, but I looked like a damn fool asking a toddler to sit down for four quarters of football. I got a lot of sympathy, but I was being idiotic and I'm not sure I deserved it. In closing, never bring more kids to a game than you have parents. Man-to-man is required in the bleachers; save the zone defense parenting for enclosed areas at home.

 I'm fortunate to travel the country some, enjoying great football and the people that are a part of it each Saturday. Every now and then I see some strange but admirable things. At Carnegie Mellon for the first round of the playoffs, the scene was ultra unique. Gesling Stadium is surrounded on three sides by buildings, including two several-story white dormitories. You could watch the game from your room if you're a Tartan, but Millsaps fans had to make a heck of a trip from Jackson, Miss. The press box side of the field connects directly to a parking deck, and spotting Majors fans walking from their car -- implying they'd driven -- with purple, white and black camoflauge pants on was an indelible image proving that fan dedication is alive and well in Division III.

 D3football.com staffers all have regular full-time jobs. We squeeze this in our spare time. So the Stagg Bowl, while being the culmination of a great season, is also a time for D3football.com staff to spend time together and let loose a bit before we all go our separate ways until the next season. Most of the time before the game is spent selecting the All-American team or preparing for Game Day. So when we got to take it over to Mac and Bob's, a local Salem establishment, after Mount Union won a ninth title, that was really when D3 staff got to have a few minutes to kick back and enjoy everything. Fried foods from the late-night menu never tasted so good, as we watched highlights of the NBA's Knicks-Nuggets brawl and took in some arm wrestling. (Trust me, if you ever get to watch this cat Allen Fisher arm wrestle, do it. It's crazy entertaining.)

So long
At the end of a 22-year run as head coach, there was no victorious ride off into the sunset for Bob Berezowitz. He played for Warhawks legend Forrest Perkins, quarterbacked UW-Whitewater to an NAIA football championship in 1966 and was a catcher on the Warhawks' baseball champion a year later. Berezowitz led his team to the Stagg Bowl in his final two seasons, but Mount Union stood between him and the perfect career-capper. Still, we'll remember Berezowitz for his candid answers to our questions, long before the Warhawks were Stagg Bowl material and when D3football.com was less known and respected than it is today. The coach was fun to be around, helped us out with insight and seemed to genuinely care about his players, his institution and his game.

Best trend
Tailgating became a big deal, especially at the Stagg Bowl. D3football.com staff has always been partial to Stone Station, but there were several quality setups this year in Salem. But what really put the icing on the cake was the gathering that took place, where we were able to match faces with message board names and meet lurkers, folks who are big fans of the site but not active posters. We also met Derek Stanley's father and the Kleppe family in the parking lot before the game, and shot the breeze with graduated players like Brandon Wakefield (former Bridgewater quarterback) and Bret Page (former UMHB linebacker).

The gathering was enhanced by something that took shape on the D3sports.com boards during Stagg Bowl week. Die-hard fans traded T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats from schools like UW-Whitewater and Bridgewater, while the NCAA distributed free T-shirts in the lot, in addition to the traditional Stagg Bowl souvenir shirts.

The D3 gear trade is significant because as we all go our separate ways, the shirts we wear say a lot about the level of football we endorse. When St. John's gets shine in Virginia and Mount Union shirts show up near Madison, Wis., it just might intrigue someone enough to follow Division III football. If they end up getting out of it what we do, it will have been a great gift you've given.

Best reader suggestion
Frank Rossi submitted this during Stagg Bowl Week. And although we're not quite sure where to categorize it, we agree with most everything he says, so for one item, the professionals step aside and let someone else have at it:

"I'd call 2006 the year of the maturing Division III fan. The hype around certain games, the crowds, the higher availability of internet broadcasts, and the general interactivity this season seemed to lend to a burgeoning following of what was once kind of a niche arena. For once this year, we saw fans coherently discuss "Quality of Wins" Indices, Pool C, league-wide issues, and most of all, the student-athlete. Even as an announcer for Union College, I felt myself growing in appreciation for the Liberty League, the Empire 8, the entire East Region, and the whole of Division III. D3Football.com has been around for a good number of years, but its continued quality, when mixed with the fan impact this year, made for a much more fulfilling season that makes the average fan want more, even after their team is eliminated from contention. If you need proof, just look at "Post Patterns" and its postings after the end of the regular season. To quote Frank Sinatra, 2006, "[i]t was a very good year." And we still have one game to go!"

Next year, this should be brought back
The streaming video of the semifinals was a big hit. Perhaps next year an expanded package, like Division II's three live games on CSTV and 40 Internet videocasts, would be as well received. Around the Nation also likes the 4 p.m. kickoff and nighttime ending at the Stagg Bowl, if for no other reason than the game-ending fireworks look a lot better in the dark.

Next year, this should be changed
There is no support and no reason in Division III for the rules that significantly shortened games this season. (We blogged about their possible rollback this week.)

It might be too dramatic to say the rules robbed players of extra opportunity to play (some reports had offenses running about 12 fewer plays per game), but there was no reason for noon playoff games to be at halftime by 1 p.m. and such. Coaches and fans had mastered the old rules, and we much enjoyed the excitement clock management brought to games, especially late in close ones. We want that back, and we were fine spending three hours at the game.

You can discuss the year-in-review column on the Around the Nation thread of Post Patterns, on the D3sports.com message board. 

NOTE: Some of our categories from the three parts of the Year in Review were culled from ATN's midseason review (Oct. 12) and from fan suggestions on our blog, The Daily Dose, and via e-mail. Thanks to everyone who contributed, whether we were able to use your suggestions or not.

Contributing: Pat Cummings, Mike Falk (Muhlenberg SID), Dave Walters (Guilford SID), Mike Warwick (Ithaca SID)

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is D3football.com's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for D3hoops.com. He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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