November 16, 2006

Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments

The party most of us have been waiting for is finally upon us. Whether you see the playoffs as “let’s see how far my team can go” or “who is going to play Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl?” there’ll be plenty more drama over the next five weeks than there ever will be waiting on a bunch of computer-savvy math professors and know-it-all sportswriters. Division III gets it done on the field, although there are always questions about the field. This year’s 32-team bracket is no more perfect than any other, so here are five in-depth answers to common queries about the postseason:

1. Is the Texas matchup a major travesty or minor flaw? 
I don’t even know anymore, because I am numb to it. Texas teams have met in the first round for the past five seasons, so a sixth comes as no shock. We’ve accepted that this is how it has been done and this is how it will be done, despite the fact that there seemed to be a way to follow the seeds and split Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons this season while maintaining just the one first-round flight in that bracket, as Pat Coleman and Gordon Mann laid out in their Nov. 11 playoff projections.

If you operate with the logic that a team headed for a national championship will eventually play the best teams anyway, there might be some consolation for American Southwest Conference fans. If the seedings were followed and held, South No. 3 HSU at South No. 2 UHMB would have been a second-round game. So the most that’s been lost here is a chance for each team to say it’s won a playoff game and an extra game for one of them. Definitely not right, but also not a major travesty.

2. Did Cortland State get the short end of the stick?
Yes. But someone had to. There were nine legitimate Pool C teams for seven at-large slots. Most of them came from conferences who have had recent playoff success, and many of them played at least one difficult non-conference game.

Cortland’s omission is not an endorsement of the Empire 8 or Liberty League over the New Jersey Athletic Conference, which had a strong year. It’s a case of having more deserving teams than could be accommodated. If Cortland and Franklin hadn’t been left out, another team who only lost to its conference champion would have been.

With margin of victory not to be considered, which makes sense because doing anything but trying to win with class isn’t something the playoffs are meant to encourage, the credentials of Capital, Hardin-Simmons, Hobart, St. John’s, St. John Fisher and Wheaton don’t look all that different. And while UW-La Crosse lacks a win over a regionally ranked opponent, the Eagles’ win over I-AA scholarship South Dakota State, which is 7-3 and about to play for its conference title, had to turn some heads on the selection committee.

With those kind of credentials, the committee can’t lose, but it also can’t win. Inevitably, the 33rd and 34th teams will be displeased.

For Division III fans, be glad this isn’t 2004, when we would have had nine worthy teams for three Pool C spots. Be glad it isn’t 1998, where a four-per-region, 16-team bracket was in place. That would have left one of the five unbeaten conference champions in this year’s West at home before the discussion even reached Bethel or St. John’s.


In retrospect, Cortland State's playoff hopes ended here, when No. 1 quarterback Alex Smith tore his ACL and was carried off the field at Western Connecticut. Cortland's offense was strong thereafter but managed just seven points at Rowan.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3football.com

Clearly, since D3football.com’s poll has Cortland well into the top 20, we think they’re one of the 32 best teams in the country. But the playoffs are set up for fair access, not to be a fair assessment of the 32 strongest teams.

Any 9-1 team with a legitimate schedule whose only loss is in overtime on the road to the automatic qualifier should be in. That’s a textbook Pool C case. But Cortland is out, and you can’t blame the selection committee.

Cortland had its shot on the field. That, by definition, is “fair access.” That fact that one overtime touchdown knocked them from possible top seed in the East to out of the field is admittedly hard to grasp.

The committee lays out its at-large criteria well in advance. If they stuck to it, they should be admired, not slandered.

When the selection criteria benefited Cortland’s 8-2 team last year, Red Dragons fans certainly didn’t voice any problems with the system’s fairness.

In all, it’s not a perfect system, but it is explained in advance, and it’s much, much better than the alternative.

3. What about Franklin then? Didn’t they deserve to be in?
In a different season they would have been. A 9-1 team with a 7-point loss to the conference champion is usually a money pick in Pool C (see the history under question No. 4). 

The win against Wabash (8-2) probably helped, but Mt. St. Joseph losing on the final weekend did not. But Franklin still had a QoWI of 10.400, which was marginally better than 13 playoff teams, including UW-La Crosse (10.286) and St. John’s (10.200), not to mention Cortland State (10.222).

In D3football.com’s mock regional rankings (the selection committee declined our request to reveal its final rankings), Wabash was in the North Region top 10, so Franklin would have been 1-1 against North Region regionally ranked opponents. Here’s how the other Pool C contenders stacked up in QoWI and vs. RROs:

Hobart: No. 4 QoWI (11.667); beat Alfred, lost to Union
St. John Fisher: No. 8 QoWI (11.100); beat Alfred, lost to Springfield
Hardin-Simmons: No. 10 QoWI (11.000); lost to Mary Hardin-Baylor
Capital: Tie No. 11 QoWI (10.900); beat Wittenberg, lost to Mount Union
Wheaton: Tie No. 11 QoWI (10.900); beat North Central
Franklin: No. 20 QoWI (10.400); beat Wabash, lost to Mt. St. Joseph
UW-La Crosse No. 26 QoWI (10.286); lost to UW-Whitewater
Cortland State: No. 27 QoWI (10.222); lost to Rowan
St. John’s: No. 28 QoWI (10.200); beat St. Olaf, lost to Bethel

Since the committee said St. John’s graded out ahead of Cortland State in the primary criteria, we can only assume that the Red Dragons’ victory in Week 11 knocked Ithaca, which also lost to Alfred and St. John Fisher, out of the No. 10 slot in the East Region rankings. Wartburg’s loss, on the other hand, may have opened up a spot for St. Olaf to move in at No. 10 in the West, giving the Johnnies an edge.

With Franklin and St. John’s at 1-1 each, and Franklin with the better QoWI, I’m not sure what would separate the two. St. John’s was ranked second in the West after Week 10, so presumably they stayed in the West rankings. Historical performance is not supposed to be considered, so we can’t blame it on the past performance of the HCAC vs. the MIAC.

The bottom line is that Franklin had playoff-worthy credentials, just in a year when there were plenty of other teams that also did. If Cortland had finished off Rowan before overtime, the Profs would have been replaced in the field by the Red Dragons. If St. John’s had beaten Bethel, the Royals would have had two losses and no place in the tournament. Franklin fans can blame those two games, or the Grizzlies themselves. They were tied in the fourth quarter with Mount St. Joseph before losing 21-14.

4. So does that make this the best Pool C ever then? 
As far as getting into the pool, yes. But St. John’s (2000) and Mary Hardin-Baylor (2004) have both dried themselves off in Salem, so there’s a long way to go before this is the best ever. In the seven seasons of expanded playoffs and the pool system, Pool C teams are 25-25 with two Stagg Bowl appearances, a John Carroll loss to Mount Union in the ’02 semifinals, and quarterfinal losses to the Purple Raiders by Ohio Northern in ’99 and Capital in ’05.

Here are past Pool C qualifiers, their regular-season records and how many playoff wins they combined for:
2005 (Seven teams went 4-7): Capital, 8-2; Central, 9-1; Concordia-Moorhead, 9-1; Cortland State, 7-2; Hobart, 9-1; North Central, 9-1; Wilkes, 8-2.
2004 (Three teams went 6-3): Christopher Newport, 8-2; Mary Hardin-Baylor, 9-1; Wheaton, 9-1.
2003 (Three teams went 1-3): Baldwin-Wallace, 9-1; Bethel, 9-1; Simpson, 9-1.
2002 (Three teams went 5-3): John Carroll, 9-1; Wartburg, 9-1; Wittenberg, 9-1.
2001 (Three teams went 0-3): Bethel, 9-1; Mary Hardin-Baylor, 8-1; Montclair State, 9-1.
2000 (Three teams went 6-3): Bridgewater, 9-1; Ohio Northern, 8-2; St. John’s, 9-1.
1999 (Three teams went 3-3): Central, 9-1; Ohio Northern, 9-1; UW-Stevens Point, 9-1.

5. What about the ECACs? Should I care?
If your team is playing in one of the six second-chance bowl games, why not? It’s no different than the NIT in major college basketball, except without a bracket or a chance to advance. It’s a lot of fun if you’re involved, but it means little to the rest of the nation focusing on the big playoff.

Here are a few reasons why:
1. It involves a very small swath of Division III, which as you know, stretches geographically from coast to coast.
2. A limited number of teams, even within the Northeast, play in the games. Some conferences ban postseason play, and other schools refuse to apply for an ECAC game even if they have the credentials.
3. We have heard reports in the past of a team not taking the game seriously. If seniors prefer not to play, or the coaches want to use the game to get a jump on next season, that’s their prerogative. Some teams with playoff aspirations may not feel comfortable being “rewarded” with a second-chance game. Certainly many teams are playing to win, for pride and leaving it all on the field, but if anyone is not, it begins to damage the competitive credibility of the entire operation.
4. The best teams are generally already in the 32-team tournament.

Still, a chance to play one more game is usually a gift in and of itself. This year’s ECAC bowl slate:
Northeast: RPI (6-3) at Cortland State (9-1)
Northwest: Rochester (7-3) at Alfred (7-3) 
North Atlantic: Bridgewater State (7-2) at Coast Guard (8-2) 
South Atlantic: Salisbury (5-5) at Delaware Valley (8-2) 
Southwest: Widener (6-4) at Ursinus (8-2) 
Southeast: King’s (6-4) at Kean (6-4) 

Bracket reactions
Last year, D3football.com publisher Pat Coleman and I added our snap reactions to Around the Nation’s traditional look at the playoffs. We brought back the same categories for this season as a way to provide extra insight on the bracket. Later in the week, on the blog, The Daily Dose, we’ll also repeat something we did last year: picking final scores for all 16 first-round games. We’ll wait, so you can make your own picks in our traditional playoff Pick ‘Em first. But the scores, which were pretty successful at last season, will at least give you a clear picture of what’s expected to happen, so you know a playoff stunner when you see one.

Reactions to the 32-team bracket and road to Salem:
Toughest first-round draw
Coleman: The Texas matchup, as always. But after that, Central’s reward for going 10-0 is a home date with St. John’s? Yikes.
McMillan: Bethel won one of the half-dozen top conferences in the nation and got sent on the road in the first round, to WIAC runner-up UW-La Crosse. Other teams may have more difficult opponents, but the Royals got the toughest draw.

Easiest opening game
Coleman: Mount Union/Hope.
McMillan: Wilkes hosts ODAC champion Washington and Lee, which lost by two touchdowns or more three times, including to 3-7 Franklin & Marshall and 5-5 Case Western Reserve.

Biggest first-/second-round matchup disparity
Coleman:In which direction? The Texas winner should by all accounts have an easier time in its second game.
McMillan: Capital, which hosts Wittenberg, a team it’s outscored 111-7 the past two regular-season openers, could follow its first-round game with North Central, which the Crusaders defeated 21-19 in last year’s playoffs. 

Toughest path to Salem
Coleman: At a glance, it seems like Bethel might face the most ranked teams out of any underdog with a decent chance.
McMillan: The St. John’s/Central winner gets the Whitworth/Occidental victor – those four teams have one loss between them. If that weren’t enough, the team would likely have to go through UW-Whitewater and Wesley or Mary Hardin-Baylor to get to the Stagg Bowl. Good luck with that. 

Longest road to Salem 
Coleman: Occidental. Didn’t I pick them last year? So let’s try Millsaps (fly to CMU, fly to Wesley, dri … sorry, fly to Mary Hardin-Baylor, fly to Whitewater).
McMillan: Millsaps flies to Pittsburgh for its opener, and would likely head back to the "Northeast" (Dover, Del.) for round two, even though it’s the South Region. While advancing further may be unlikely, if the Majors did, Virginia, Texas or another trip to Pennsylvania would be next up. A semifinal appearance would probably also mean a road trip. As a No. 7 seed, the Majors could go from Mississippi to California, Washington state or Iowa, among other places.

Easiest path to Salem (Book now) 
Coleman: Too late. I’m sure many Mount Union fans booked hotel reservations in August. They’re refundable but I doubt that will be an issue.
McMillan: I’d be willing to bet there are Mount Union fans who have already booked rooms at the Roanoke Clarion and/or Wyndham. And with a team it already beat 38-12 the most formidable standing in its way, I can’t blame them.

The committee nailed 
Coleman: The selections and almost all the pairings.
McMillan: The West bracket. With the distances to be traveled, this is never an easy region to piece together. But the committee managed to stick to their seeds and keep the West Coast teams matched up against each other. A No. 6 seed may seem low for an unbeaten Occidental squad, but considering they didn’t play a non-conference team that finished with a winning record and had to rally twice from double-digit deficits in the final three weeks, I won’t insist they’re being shorted like they were last year in a first-round matchup at Linfield.

The committee blew 
Coleman:The gas budget on moving Dickinson out of region to play at Wesley instead of putting Dickinson at Wilkes. Sixty miles longer. Just food for thought.
McMillan: The entire South bracket. Full of logical matchups (Washington and Lee at Christopher Newport, Washington and Jefferson at Carnegie Mellon, low seed Millsaps at either high seed, Hardin-Simmons or UMHB), the selection committee managed to produce none of them. Then, on top of that, the Texas teams were paired to save a flight, except that Millsaps has to fly in the first round anyway. What the Texas and West Coast subbrackets really appear to be all about is eliminating powerful teams that might require multiple flights in the second round and quarterfinals. Imagine if No. 2 seed UMHB hosted No. 7 Millsaps and won, and No. 3 Hardin-Simmons hosted No. 6 Washington and Jefferson and won. Then the two Texas teams would play each other in the second round. Wait! That’s way too logical!

Road team most deserving of a home game 
Coleman: Hardin-Simmons.
McMillan: Mount St. Joseph probably would have hosted if it had not blown a Week 11 game against Thomas More. Occidental, Curry and St. Norbert are undefeated teams on the road, but Bethel is the champion of a power conference on the road against a runner-up and Hardin-Simmons is a No. 3 seed playing at a No. 2.

Home team least deserving of a home game 
Coleman: I don't have a good answer here. Christopher Newport is the only lower-four seed getting a home game and they lost two games but did beat UMHB.
McMillan: Carnegie Mellon might not beat all of the road teams in the South Region, but they’ve earned a home game. St. John Fisher is a runner-up hosting a league champion, but Union lost its finale. Wheaton backed into a home game when MSJ lost, as did UW-La Crosse when Bethel beat St. John’s. Christopher Newport lost twice, but one was an out-of-region game, so the Captains graded out as home-game worthy.

We would have liked to see 
Coleman: Hardin-Simmons vs. Occidental and Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. Whitworth. Come on, switch things up once in a while.
McMillan: Logic applied to the South bracket. And Cortland State in the field somewhere, especially with such a good defense.

Played their way in during Week 11 
Coleman: Bethel, to Cortland State's dismay.
McMillan: Bethel, NEFC title game winner Curry and the Pool C teams … except Cortland State. Hobart’s win over Rochester was big, but couldn’t seal a home game for the Statesmen.

Played their way out during Week 11 
Coleman: St. John’s. But they got in anyway.
McMillan: Wartburg blew a chance to be considered alongside nine other one-loss Pool C teams by losing at home to Dubuque in overtime, 17-14.

Best first-round matchup besides national No. 6 Hardin-Simmons at national No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor
Coleman: Carnegie Mellon/Millsaps. It doesn’t have the most meaning to the title picture but it seems like a fun game.
McMillan: The West bracket may have the three tightest games on Saturday, with the South and East also having a couple really good-looking matchups. The Concordia-North Central rematch could be appealing as well. Forced to choose, Bethel and star RB Phil Porta going up against a UW-La Crosse run defense still smarting from giving up 286 yards to UW-Whitewater’s Justin Beaver could produce a barnburner.

The thanks for playing award 
Coleman: Hope, which won’t improve the MIAA’s playoff record.
McMillan: Hope, Wittenberg and Washington and Lee, be sure to take pictures. Unless you prefer happier memories. Yes, I know this is officially bulletin board material. I still don’t think it’ll help vs. Mount Union, Capital and Wilkes.

If this is 2004, we’re sitting home 
Coleman: Oh shoot, you name it. Hobart, UW-La Crosse, St. John’s ... anyone not named Hardin-Simmons, St. John Fisher or Wheaton.
McMillan: It’d be hard to pass on Capital, Hardin-Simmons and St. John Fisher if there were only three Pool C spots open like there used to be. In that case, Hobart, St. John’s, UW-La Crosse and Wheaton could have been watching from the sidelines.

The 33rd team award 
Coleman: Cortland State.
McMillan: Has to be Cortland State at No. 33, a year after we felt they were the 31st team into the first 32-team field. Franklin would get the No. 34 award, with 8-0 Williams of the high-and-mighty NESCAC taking No. 35 and our “You shoulda been there, man!” honor.

The 32 best awards 
If this year’s playoffs matched the top 32 teams regardless of conference affiliation, here’s who we’d kick out and invite:
McMillan: Apologies to Washington and Lee, Wittenberg and Hope, all three-loss teams, and two-loss Dickinson. Those four could be replaced with Cortland State, Ithaca, Baldwin-Wallace and Alfred for an improved field. Franklin could go in too, although Millsaps, winners of seven in a row despite their three losses, definitely deserves its spot. Concordia (Wis.), Curry and St. Norbert do too.

The ‘sorry for the false hopes’ award 
McMillan: With the selection committee’s criteria available to the public, anyone with a computer and a keen eye can take a good guess at the field. But D3football.com bracketologists Pat Coleman and Gordon Mann outdid themselves this year. Their projection not only nailed all 32 teams, but correctly projected 22 of the seeds – 23 if you count Washington & Lee being an 8 seed in the Wilkes (East) Bracket, not the Wesley (South) Bracket as predicted. The other seeds were off by no more than one spot, except for Rowan, a 4 seed which was projected as a 6. Then of course, there’s the South Bracket matchups they put together that make far more sense than what the committee came up with.

Historical performance of the projections
2006: 32-for-32.
2005: 31-for-32: We projected Alfred; the committee preferred Wilkes, which lost to Rowan 42-3.
2004: 28-for-28.
2003: 27-for-28: We projected UMHB; the committee took Simpson, which lost in the first round to St. Norbert, still the Midwest Conference’s only NCAA playoff win since the 1999 expansion.
2002: 27-for-28: We projected Hartwick; the committee took Washington and Jefferson, which beat second-year Christopher Newport and got routed at Trinity (Texas).
2001: 25-for-28: We picked Menlo and Linfield in Pool B; the committee took Whitworth (0-1) and Ithaca (advanced to regional final). In Pool C, we chose UW-Eau Claire; the committee took Montclair State (0-1). 

Surprises and disappointments
As has become tradition each year since 2001, D3football.com assembles its top analysts and, instead of giving you a simple list of winners and losers, goes in-depth by predicting who could surprise, disappoint and come out victorious in each bracket.


Tom Andreopoulos surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau for Wilkes despite carrying fewer than 20 times per game.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3football.com

WILKES (East) BRACKET 
Surprises 
Coleman: Rowan. The Profs are at least firing on some cylinders now, and that’s scary. Coach Jay Accorsi told me after Friday night’s game that even more would be added to the offense, which looked about 50% Classic Prof against William Paterson.
Mann: W&L stays within seven of Wilkes at the half. The Colonels have generally started slowly but seem to get stronger as the game goes on with their wearing, physical style.
McMillan: I think it’s a mistake to assume that Hobart will lose at Rowan, but I’ve been pondering a bigger surprise for a few weeks now. In a bracket where the top six are pretty even, No. 7 seed Curry is overlooked. We hardly ever mention the Colonels, who just keep winning (40-5 since 2003). They were competitive against Delaware Valley in last year’s playoffs, leading 14-7 midway through the third quarter of a 37-22 loss. I’m not sure Springfield is ripe for upset, but Curry can play defense. It’s certainly possible that a disciplined, sure-tackling group can slow down an option attack.

Disappointments
Coleman: Springfield. They should beat Curry, but will they catch lightning in a bottle for a second time against either Union or St. John Fisher? Seems unlikely.
Mann: Springfield. With a run-heavy offense and a pass defense that’s giving up almost 200 yards a game, I could see a very lopsided regional final between the Pride and Rowan.
McMillan: With a pair of road games, the Liberty League could quite easily go two-and-out after taking serious steps forward with the same two teams last year.

Champion 
Coleman: Rowan, with the Wilkes game the most competitive.
Mann: Rowan. As disappointed as Cortland State fans are at the Red Dragons’ near miss against the Profs, I suspect many other East region teams will soon feel the same way. There’s something to be said for mystique. A fantastic defense and great quarterback doesn’t hurt either.
McMillan: Defenses shine in the playoffs, and Wilkes and Rowan both have the pedigree to snuff out talented offenses. It might come down to which offense can generate 13 or 14 points in the second round. The Profs’ defense is as good as any, but the Colonels (8.3 points per game) are right there, and the rest of the team has been more consistent.

MOUNT UNION (North) BRACKET
Surprises 
Coleman: With apologies to Concordia (Wis.), North Central would not have lost the regular-season meeting if it had had a game under its belt like Concordia did. If you make your biggest improvement between the first and second game, the way most coaches say, then CUW had made its improvements and North Central hadn’t had a chance yet.
Mann: That the IBFC has a representative in Concordia (Wis.) that actually makes people pause about picking against them in the first round, especially after the Falcons beat North Central earlier this year.
McMillan: With Mount Union and Capital blocking the route to the quarterfinals, a semi-surprise I could actually see happening is if Mt. St. Joseph of the HCAC and Concordia of the IBFC each defeat a CCIW opponent and win for the less-respected leagues of the North Region.

Disappointments
Coleman: Anyone who plays Mount Union. This part of the bracket is far less likely to give the Purple Raiders trouble than it was last year.
Mann: HCAC fans will be disappointed if Wheaton (Ill.) blows out Mt. St. Joseph in the first round. Franklin missing the playoffs despite better mathematical criteria than Cortland State and St. John’s hints that the Heartland is considered relatively weak. Mt. St. Joseph needs to be competitive, if not win, on Saturday to improve the conference’s chances at getting future at-large bids.
McMillan: The rematches are disappointing. We’ve already seen Wittenberg-Capital and Concordia-North Central, not to mention Wheaton-North Central, a second-round possibility. There was a chance to get creative with this bracket, but travel didn’t dictate it, the seeds held, and the fans will have to get excited about second chances.

Champion
Coleman: The aforementioned 800-pound gorilla in the region.
Mann: Mount Union.
McMillan:Capital knows the Purple Raiders as well as anyone, and they’d still need to play a perfect game to upset Mount Union.

WESLEY (South) BRACKET
Surprises 
Coleman: Millsaps, at least enough to get the Majors through the first round.
Mann: Millsaps will probably be the en vogue pick. But I picked Hardin-Simmons to win this bracket in the preseason so let’s go out in a blaze of glory with the Cowboys again.
McMillan: Everyone seems to have forgotten that No. 5 seed Christopher Newport has already beaten No. 2 seed Mary Hardin-Baylor. A rematch would be in central Texas, not southeastern Virginia, but the Captains remind me a lot of Wesley last season. There’s speed all over the offense and on special teams, at least enough to make another game of it against the American Southwest survivor and against the Wolverines themselves.

Disappointments
Coleman: Too easy to take Carnegie Mellon here. Or the map readers. Or Wesley’s choice of footwear. But based on what I’m picking below, I would have to say Wesley.
Mann: None. How could Carnegie Mellon be disappointed if they finish at 10-1? Or Mary-Hardin Baylor should they lose to a very respectable rival? Is there even a favorite who could be disappointed in the CNU-W&J game?
McMillan: Clearly the early matchup of Hardins is going to lead to another disappointing first-round ending for a Texas team. State squads have met in the first round each year since 2001, and HSU and UMHB played in the second round in ’04. It stinks that two top-six teams meet this early, but we expect it, and the Texas teams must be used to it by now.

Champion 
Coleman: Mary Hardin-Baylor, where the revenge could well be sweet for last year's early dismissal.
Mann: Wesley. While Mount Union and UW-Whitewater have deservedly earned kudos for blowing out just about everyone on their schedule, the Wolverines have quietly done the same with the third-largest margin of victory among Top 10 teams.
McMillan: I’m pretty torn on this one, as I see four teams that can win the bracket and a co-favorite that could go to the Stagg Bowl or be bounced in the first round. Forced to choose, I like the UMHB team that played UW-Whitewater at the end of October. The defensive speed can match up with this region’s fast offenses.

UW-WHITEWATER (West) BRACKET
Surprises 
Coleman: Can I take Bethel here? It seems odd picking a team with no playoff wins but the buzz is positive for this team, if Phil Porta is healthy.
Mann: Largely ignored by pollsters all year (myself included), Bethel gives UW-La Crosse a scare behind Ben Wetzell, Phil Porta and a ball-control offense.
McMillan: Normally a No. 2 seed isn’t your surprise, but Central is getting little respect. The Dutch are tested in close games (three overtime wins), they dominated most of their second-half opponents and they’re at home for at least the first two weeks. So even if their opponents are the toughest first two any high seed will face, they have the defense (9.9 points per game) to hang with the best in this bracket.

Disappointments
Coleman: Whitworth. Although their defense has been strong, I’m not confident their offense can hold up against a strong playoff defense, though they’ll have to win a game before they to see one.
Mann: The biggest disappointment would be if UW-Whitewater didn’t at least reach the regional finals here. But they will. Meanwhile, Central has been living on the edge all year. The luck runs out against St. John’s on Saturday.
McMillan: St. John’s could have one of the most precipitous falls in history, going from a 9-0 start and No. 3 national ranking to consecutive losses and an early playoff exit, which would nix a chance Johnnies fans have waited since last year for: a rematch against UW-Whitewater.

Champion 
Coleman: UW- uhh ... when is Justin Beaver coming back? Whitewater.
Mann: UW-Whitewater to set up a rematch with Wesley in Wisconsin. Rowan heads to Mount Union. Pat Coleman posts “Déjà vu” as the headline following the regional finals.
McMillan:Toughened by midseason adversity and road-tested against an elite team, UW-Whitewater has the stud defense to win this bracket, and perhaps the whole thing if their offensive parts are all healthy.

Season in review
Around the Nation will begin accepting brief suggestions from readers (and players, coaches and school-affiliated professionals) for our 2006 Year-in-Review, due out in January 2007. Use last year’s review (linked at the top right-hand corner, posted Jan. 25, 26 and 27) as a guide for which categories we’re looking to fill, or make up your own. ATN cannot promise public credit for your suggestions this year, and we may or may not use them. 

But if you think Sul Ross State was the surprise team of ’06 or Luther was the biggest disappointment, let us know (contact information, as always, is below). We’d like to hear your games of the year, plays of the year, players, coaches and things, but most importantly, your off-the-beaten path nominations and suggestions. Things we haven’t covered much or would have no way of knowing about are where you can help most.

Feedback
Around the Nation is largely interactive, and since its inception has made reader feedback a part of the column. We keep a running board on Post Patterns (under general football) to discuss issues raised in the column, and we’ll share feedback and answer questions there, as well as in the column occasionally. 

What the eyes can see 
Around the Nation is searching for video of playoff teams in order to help us handicap the field. Anyone with access to footage, please send an e-mail to keith@d3football.com for more
information. Games against tough opponents, especially other playoff teams, are preferred.

We are always looking for video of anything Division III football-related. That means we’d like to get our hands on documentaries, local cable broadcasts and re-airs, links to archived broadcasts and coaches’ tapes. Arrangements can be made to not share coaches’ footage or to pay fans for shipping and materials. 

For print, radio and Internet journalists
Keith McMillan is available, by appointment, on Thursdays and Fridays to talk Division III football. For more information, e-mail Keith.

Attention SIDs
As always, Around the Nation requests media guides and any other aids in helping us cover your school or conference this season. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at keith@d3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Links to online media guides are now preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on our front page and your team’ s page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher and editor Pat Coleman at info@d3football.com. Thank you.

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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.

Previous Columns

September 17, 2014
Startups come back for seconds
The three teams that started up Division III football programs last season are now in the midst of...
September 14, 2014
Snap judgments: These underdogs brought some bite
There were some near-upsets on Saturday, but in the end, almost all of the higher-ranked teams came...
September 11, 2014
Monarch linebacker forced to follow his heart
Forced from the middle of the action to a supporting role on the sidelines, Methodist linebacker...
September 7, 2014
Snap judgments: Right/wrong foot
There are two ways to start the season -- with a win, or a loss. Now, not every win necessarily puts...
September 2, 2014
Division III football: A gentleman's game
Hampden-Sydney and Wabash, two all-male schools, are squaring off in football this weekend for the...
March 3, 2014
Analyzing the NJAC and E8's big moves
Wesley and its Capital Athletic Conference brethren join forces with five New Jersey schools to form...
November 24, 2013
Look who stole the show in Round 1
Many of those who shined in the first round of the 32-team playoffs weren't the nationally elite...
November 21, 2013
Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments
ATN assembles a team for an annual look at who might surprise and disappoint us in the 32-team...
November 16, 2013
On this day, they were all big games
Keith McMillan has instant reactions both inside and outside the playoff picture on the final day of...
November 13, 2013
A pre-regional rankings primer
Keith McMillan introduces the committee and their roles, analyzes Pools B and C and takes reader...
November 10, 2013
Snap judgments: Seen from the other side
Millsaps may well have a story for the ages out of Saturday's win vs. Centre, as will Cornell and...
November 7, 2013
Poll positions: What to make of regional rankings
If you haven't seen regional rankings before, or your team hasn't been a contender in recent years,...
November 3, 2013
Snap judgments: The aftermath
With so many games featuring two ranked teams, we should see a lot of movement in Sunday's Top 25...
October 24, 2013
Poll positions: Doing some number crunching
The Top 25 doesn't exist to steal anybody's joy. It is merely a prism through which to view...
October 20, 2013
Snap judgments: Cycling up
Maryville and TCNJ are atop their respective conferences, the John Carroll defense isn't the only...
October 13, 2013
Snap judgments: A blurry picture developing
Not literally -- we get great pictures from our associated photographers and SIDs, but that won't...
October 8, 2013
Poll positions: Streaking up the rankings
Keith McMillan looks at why one computer ranking is making the case for a blue team No. 1, and not a...
October 6, 2013
Snap judgments: Bounceback seasons
Olivet, St. Lawrence, North Park, Husson, Western Connecticut ... the list of improved teams this...
October 3, 2013
Re-ranking the conferences
With September's games, and the vast majority of non-conference play in the books, Around the Nation...
September 29, 2013
Snap judgments: Look away from the Top 25 scores
At first glance -- like say, the scores page, with the top 25 scores the initial finals that catch...
September 26, 2013
History lesson: Engineering rivalries
Week 4 is perhaps the most odd Saturday on the schedule. There aren't many great rivalries, but...
September 24, 2013
Poll positions: How the voters reacted
A kick going wide left produced a wide variety of reactions, but when Wesley got taken down a peg,...
September 22, 2013
Snap judgments: Week 3
The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry is back, UMHB's defensive line is pretty darn good, the MIAA has a better...
September 19, 2013
History lesson: Wesley vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor
Now that longtime rivals Wabash and DePauw are both in the North Coast, and Mount Union and...
September 18, 2013
Poll positions: There's some movement coming
The top of the poll didn't change much last week but Saturday's games could have a significant...
September 17, 2013
Off the beaten path
Just because a team isn't in the Top 25 running or mentioned in the podcast or doesn't have a Play...
September 11, 2013
Poll positions: Why teams shuffle
In Around the Nation, Keith McMillan discusses a nonstandard way of assembling the ballot after Week...
September 8, 2013
Snap judgments
Keith McMillan's Around the Nation column returns. You'll see ATN several times a week, including on...

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