A playoff run through Iowa
About once a season, Keith McMillan hits the road and files
a column about what it's like in a Division III corner of the
country that many readers may never have a chance to visit. This is
his experience last weekend in Iowa, where the goal was to catch
four teams in three hours.
Part 1: Saturday, approx. 7:30 a.m. Central Time
You have no idea how good a warm Cinnabon tastes this time of day. Well, maybe you do. For me at the moment, sitting in the Chicago O'Hare Airport something-or-other restaurant, it's the closest thing to happiness, which right now would be under the covers, at home in our king-sized bed.
When you give up your Saturdays for Division III football, Friday night becomes family time. Early Saturday morning becomes travel time. Sleeping on your own shoulder, at least on those trips that don't involve driving solo, becomes a refined skill.
Believe it or not, readers have actually demonstrated an interest in how all this works. There's no better time to show just how strange you have to be to do this than on this week's trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, trying to catch a half a game each at two sites. I prefer to make the column about the games and not us, but for those of you bolted down to a single team and stadium each Saturday, occasionally wondering if it's just as much fun elsewhere in Division III, this week's Around the Nation will share with you our impressions of Cedar Rapids and the IIAC.
Expectations for the Hawkeye State, no matter how hard one tries not to stereotype, involve vast expanses of cornfields. On the IIAC Post Patterns board, which I have frequented this season since doing the conference's preview for Kickoff '06, Cedar Rapids was referred to as "the ghetto." Early in the season, posters had been characterizing the conference's fields, and Coe got that distinction -- leading me to predictably wonder how "ghetto" any part of Iowa can be.
I've done enough traveling to know things never quite turn out to be what you expect, and have sort of learned not to have expectations because of that. (The cornfields and the ghetto stuff, open lay-ups as far as cheap jokes go. Had to take 'em).
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3football.com
What really sparks my curiosity, and begins to explain why
a grown man would traverse half the country for college football
games between schools he has no connection to, is how the IIAC fits
into the Division III landscape. We know what we know based on
comparative scores, past playoff performance and the like, but
nothing replaces being there. As Pat and I discussed Thursday
night, the IIAC is one of the last remaining conferences where I
haven't seen a game. (Pat has seen Central and Coe in the playoffs.
At some point, we may blog our stadiums- and teams-seen lists and
counts. After years of doing this, we have been surprisingly many
places, and still have more than enough to go.)
So today I will get a look at Wartburg, Coe and Central to see which will be the IIAC's playoff representative. Cornell is competitive under first-year coach and former star quarterback Matt Dillon, and while I don't want to disrespect the Rams, I didn't come to see them. But that just opens the door for them to surprise/draw attention. And surprises aren't that uncommon in the IIAC.
The big question is whether the conference champ, which will probably enter the playoffs ranked in the teens somewhere, can get out of the first or second round in the West Region. The Northwest Conference champion might be beatable this year, and the WIAC champ might be avoidable. St. John's and Occidental might be unfavorable first-round matchups should the conference champ enter with a loss. So long story short, I'm ready to get a feel for the IIAC on the field, in terms of strength, and off the field, in terms of hospitality. I am encouraged in both directions.
While in line for my Cinnabon (long gone by the way), I got the call from photographer Ryan Coleman. He says he's running late out of the Twin Cities. My flight for Cedar Rapids doesn't leave Chicago until 10, but both of us see dark skies or rain. My amateur meteorology skills tell me that weather moves west to east, but I still have visions of standing on Cornell's sideline, drenched. In the interest of traveling lightly, I went with jeans, sneakers and the Old Navy short-sleeve polo shirt on top, Target-brand Under Armour underneath in case of cold weather.
I did not anticipate rain.
Part 2: At gate C2, 8:20 a.m
More things that came to mind while waiting:
What I was getting at above: Part of my mission today is to see if any of these teams could beat Whitewater. The stock answer is no, of course, as the Warhawks are probably the nationally ranked 1a. in most observers' minds.
But our job is to be ahead of the game, at least a little bit. Last year, before Whitewater beat then-defending champion Linfield and made the Stagg Bowl, Pat and I saw them midseason. We were impressed enough to think they could give Linfield a run in the West bracket.
So today I gauge the IIAC. Find out how good Vance Schuring is, and Central's defense. And Wartburg's defense. And Coe's offense, even if Neil Suckow and Andy TeKippe aren't playing.
I'm surprised I can even think about football at this point. I was fine when I was driving to BWI airport after a midnight-to-2 nap, blasting old-school Ice Cube.
I've never understood why they build moving walkways and then regular sidewalk five times as wide. When I want to stand still and ride the walkway (carry-on bag was hella heavy), everyone wants to pass. I know it's socially acceptable to stand to the right, but I think walkers should use the sidewalk and sleep-deprived lazy people ride the walkways.
You get a nice cross-section of people at the airport. You can't help but overhear some annoying conversations, especially if you wouldn't mind dozing off. And anyway, why do they put Gate C2 all the way at the end of the concourse? Just to mess with you. You see the two and think "great, short walk" and then get there and the way to your gate looks longer than the Mall on Washington?
And I'm so early my gate still says "Pittsburgh."
Football in Iowa seems a long way away right now. So does my bed at home. Sure do miss it.
Part 3: Initial impressions of Iowa
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3football.com
So I've always been curious about planes and
transportation, but I've never heard of the kind of plane I rode to
Cedar Rapids: Embraer 170. Then again, I wouldn't expect them to
fill a 737 heading to Eastern Iowa.
Although cornfields are the stereotype, Iowa touches Minnesota, so I wonder if evergreens and lakes have sneaked across the border.
I've been to some mid-sized airports (Spokane, Madison, Richmond), but this was more mid-sized than them all. I am the only person renting a car. They didn't even have someone in a booth at the end of the lot checking out rental cars.
On the road to Mount Vernon, home of Cornell, I immediately noticed cornfields and a farmer on a tractor in the rain, but also a state park, some evergreens and the mighty Cedar River. Entering town, there are some oddities, like a full-scale Ford dealership across the street from single-family houses, but once in town, Mount Vernon has the classic Main Street brick-and-churches look of an old Pennsylvania town.
Cornell's campus looked nice even on a rainy day, though the stadium, visible from the street, hardly looks like the same level of football should be played there as at sprawling Perkins Stadium, where I was at the week before watching UW-Whitewater. Parking seems to be on the baseball practice field.
Part 4: Nearing kickoff at Cornell
People love to say before games 'you couldn't ask for a better day.' Today, we could have. It's not just raining here in Mount Vernon, it's a cold rain. But it is, as every coach I ever had used to say, a great day for football.
Cornell wins the toss and defers. Central returns this kick to the 42, and Schuring's first run is for 19 yards, during which he ditches two tacklers. On the second play, no one goes with the tight end, and the Dutch complete a pass to Cody Huisman for 21 yards to the Cornell 18.
Central looks to have the size advantage, especially on the offensive line. (Do they call those guys 'hosses,' everywhere, or just in Virginia?) Again, I'm thinking bigger than today. Can these guys gain yards against St. John's, Whitworth or UW-La Crosse? While I write that sentence, the Dutch score. It's 7-0 at 12:41. I think about heading over to Wartburg-Coe a little early, but only in jest.
I will say this about Cornell: It's a horrible day to be here, and their fans are out, their dance team and cheerleaders are here (although wisely in full-length black sweatsuits, and not normal cheer attire). Purple and white umbrellas dot the bleachers. This may not be a big-time Division III stadium, but I've never had my window squeegeed in any other press box.
Cornell is mounting a decent first drive against Central's vaunted D, mixing in straight-on runs and play-action passing. The Rams have a third-and-2 at the Central 20, and get the first with another rollout and completion in the flat. A Union Pacific freight train passes by in the background, giving a toot -- for the fans, I guess.
Rainy day strategy often involves misdirection runs and short passes. Any way you can get the defense reacting and possibly losing their footing usually proves wise.
Cornell, though, was mostly straight ahead on its run plays, as Travion Hardman finishes a 15-play, 67-yard, 7:43 drive to tie it at 7.
The IIAC can be a pretty even conference on a normal weekend; an upset today wouldn't shock me at all.
We are going to brave the elements and walk the sidelines.
Part 5: In the press box, where it's dry
Yeah, not sure why we did that. Ryan has to shoot photos from the sidelines, but me … days like this are what press boxes are for. I am freezing.
Going down to the sideline did help me opine to Ryan: "Playing in games like this is awesome. Standing here sucks."
No sooner did I also say this had the look of a game in which no one scores for a while after both notched TDs on their first drive, than Central uses a 42-yard screen to Schuring and a 20-yard TD pass to tight end Jon Haugen to go up 14-7.
In all honesty, in these elements, it's hard to tell how good either team is. Sopping wet grass fields tend to slow the game down, negating any noticeable speed advantages or disadvantages. The ball gets weighted down, and fielding punts or completing deep passes are almost completely out of the picture, eliminating a couple measures of a team's strength in comparison to teams I've seen play on dry days.
But we're here, so we might as well get (and give) something out of it.
With the rain and Ryan's car trouble conspiring to slow the trip over to Coe down, I figure we'd better bail with about five minutes left in the first half if we want to see equal parts Coe-Wartburg.
I just now realize (mid-second quarter) that I've got Central playing a purple-clad team in the mud. For someone, this must bring back memories of the Miracle in Mud against Linfield in the 2000 playoffs.
Ryan calls and says he has hot chocolate for me. Plus-1 karma!
On the walk to the car, I see a fan holding a scruffy white dog on a leash. Wait … that's a real Ram, with Cornell shirt on and all.
Part 6: Catching the second half at Coe
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3football.com
It's 7-7 early in the third when we pull up at Coe, but by
the time we get parked and situated in the press box, it's 10-7.
There's still about eight minutes left in the third at that point,
and little did we know we missed all of the scoring.
I spend most of my time at Coe on the air with Lonnie Zingula and Jerry Kiwala on KMRY. I'm so involved in that, I barely get any insight on the game expect that Suckow is playing and Ashton Northern, Coe's other offensive stud, is much bigger than I expected him to be. Northern finished with 166 yards on 22 carries, including a 65-yard TD run for the Kohawks' only points.
I'm not sure there was much to miss, as teams in the mud -- and the field is in much worse condition here than it was at Cornell -- generally don't resemble themselves on a dry day. No matter how many balls you try to rotate into the game, they become waterlogged. Slants look like shot puts, and deep posts like javelin throws. I'm not sure I saw a spiral at either game.
I sort of feel for the Kohawks, since their passing game was almost completely neutralized. They may have been playoff-worthy, but I make the point on-air that you might get a playoff game in this kind of weather, and good teams have to be able to adapt and win in any condition.
Still, as strong as the Wartburg defense has been this season, I would have liked to see them go head-up with Coe on a dry day. But that's football.
Part 7: Spending the night in Cedar Rapids
There is no postgame press conference, which is probably the case at more than half of the non-playoff games in D3. Of course today, no coaches or players are in the mood to linger very long on the field. I exchange a few works with a very pleased Eric Koehler, the Wartburg coach who still seems to be riding the high from the game.
It occurs to me that I've come all this way, and the football I came to see kind of went by in a blur. Augustana is only about 90 minutes away, as are some other IIAC schools, but alas, there are no night kickoffs.
Coe's campus really impressed me -- it had a more modern feel than a lot of D3 campuses -- and I'm not just saying that because I stayed at their on-campus Alumni House. (By the way, this is a great idea. If your school doesn't have a place where you can both house guests and hold banquets, it should. Then again, maybe my alma mater already does and I've just never made a healthy enough donation to be allowed to see it.)
I get situated in our room, which resembles a classy hotel, and immediately Ryan and I pull out Ethernet cables, get online and check scores. My jaw literally drops when I see that Chris Sharpe scored seven TDs in Springfield's 55-38 win over St. John Fisher.
We rest. We eat, with great hospitality shown by Coe locals, and good food. I even get a taste of home (my real home) when I catch glimpses of Rutgers improving to 7-0 by beating Pitt.
Cedar Rapids isn't so small-town that there's nowhere to go. Granite City Food & Brewery (apparently these are hotspots across the Midwest) is packed. It's early, but I pass on the nightlife. I'm so tired I actually didn't write this part until Wednesday afternoon.
I fall asleep with LSU-Fresno State on TV. I wake up to a Penn State-Illinois replay.
When I head off to the airport, there's not a soul on the city's streets. I see maybe a handful of cars on the 20-minute trip to the airport. Cedar Rapids, as expected, is not very "ghetto" at all.
Part 8: At Eastern Iowa Airport, Sunday 5 a.m.
So here I sit at 5 a.m., until recently just one of three passengers in the airport. Not three waiting for my flight, mind you. Three as in the same number of passengers in the whole place as there were working at the United Express ticket counter. (Note to self: In small Midwestern cities, no need to arrive an hour and a half before departure.)
I figure it's dangerous to judge a city by what you see on the way to and from the airport, so I won't purport to know Cedar Rapids, but it looks like a classic American city on the river. The residential areas don't look all that different from, say, South Jersey. Although I still don't quite get Cedar Rapids' "City of Five Seasons" motto.
So how to wrap up this trip? I didn't really get a feel for the speed of the Coe offense, for example, or star Neil Suckow. At least for backs like Coe's Ashton Northern, Wartburg's Dan Hammes (16 carries, 96 yards Saturday) and Schuring, a muddy day is a time to execute impressively tough runs. For the offensive line and defensive front seven, well, I admit I could barely tell who was who. That's what happens when you do your work in the trenches and the trenches are filled with mud, inches deep.
I didn't get a true feel for game day atmosphere at either school, due to the rain, but I did gain some perspective. When you can pick the brains of the locals, see the games in person, it's definitely a start.
IIAC fans with no connection to Pella are in a tough spot. Do they root for Central to lose (they play Coe Nov. 4) and possibly let their team back into the conference title race, or do they root for the Dutch to run the table, get a home playoff game and bring the conference some more respect in the postseason?
Next week it's Texas on the Around the Nation's Run to the Playoffs.
Poll positions/My 26-35
Taking a look at our newest Top 25, I still spot some things I don't like about it. And with Top 25 teams biting the dust each week, the voting actually gets harder, not easier (as you might think it would with more information available).
I can't get on board with ranking Mary Hardin-Baylor ahead of Christopher Newport since the Captains beat them head-to-head. That's pushed CNU up into my top 10, while still keeping them a few spots behind Rowan. Seems logical to me, but both the D3football.com poll and the AFCA poll disagree, with the Captains ranked 18th (D3football.com) and 20th, and the Crusaders ranked No. 6 and No. 9. The Crusaders have basically gotten a free pass for being on the road in their opener and not finishing. Of course, with a win at home this week, they'll deserve every part of their No. 6 ranking and more.
I also can't get with Wheaton being ranked ahead of Augustana. Despite the Vikings having two losses, they aren't against common opponents, and they've beaten the Thunder. And ahead of both is Baldwin-Wallace, which is playing Ohio Northern for third-place-in-the-OAC status this week, but beat Augustana 17-7 in the opener.
The consensus top two, Mount Union and UW-Whitewater, have taken all of the first-place votes in both polls all season. The D3football.com split has been 22-3 in favor of the Purple Raiders from Day One. In the AFCA, the count, 36-4 most weeks, briefly flipped a fifth first-place vote to the Warhawks after the UW-La Crosse win, but they were back down to four this week after Mount Union beat Baldwin-Wallace 14-0.
Photo by Ryan Tipps, D3football.com
Other big poll oddities:
Springfield moved from 20 to 15 in AFCA with their 55-38 win over St. John Fisher, and took Fisher's No. 14 spot, from No. 17, in D3football.com. The Cardinals dropped from 14 to 19 in D3 and from 9 to 20 (behind Ithaca) in the coaches' poll.
Linfield moved into the coaches' poll at No. 25, behind St. Norbert, but is up to 16th in D3.
Cortland State had no movement after a 41-3 win against Montclair State, staying at sixth in AFCA, and 13th in D3football.com.
The AFCA is ranking Concordia (Wis.) and St. Norbert, while D3football.com has Union and Wartburg, but the other 23 teams in both polls are the same, and the top 5 (Mount Union, Whitewater, St. John's, Capital and Wesley) are identical.
My overflow teams include Augustana at 26th and Bethel at 27th, and then in no particular order: Trinity (Texas), St. Norbert, Curry, Sul Ross State, Wheaton, Dickinson, Alfred and Washington and Lee. I'm watching North Central, Washington and Jefferson, St. Olaf, Coe and some others, but I don't think any of them are going to play their way back into the top 25.
I did rank three new teams this week, with Bridgewater and Ohio Northern and UW-Platteville dropping out. With the losses, Baldwin-Wallace actually moved up on my ballot, a credit to what their defense did against Mount Union.
Tough-luck Tri-State finally ended its losing streak (at 16 games, it was the second-longest in the nation, although half as long as Heidelberg's heading into Week 8). The Thunder did it in style too, upending Olivet, which had been 3-0 in the MIAA and leading the conference. The Comets only scored on a punt return, as the Tri-State defense pitched a shutout and intercepted passes to end Olivet's final four possessions.
Lewis and Clark is finishing the football season this year, and we applaud that. We hope consecutive opponents scoring 70 on the Pioneers won't have them revisiting the thought of abandoning football.
Division III's longest win streaks
Mount Union (15 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 7-0 in 2006)
St. Norbert (15 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Monmouth, 28-20, Sept. 17, 2005; 8-0 in 2006)
Williams (11 consecutive wins, last loss at Trinity (Conn.) 34-6, Oct. 1, 2005; 5-0 in 2006)
The longest active losing streaks
Heidelberg (33 consecutive losses, last win vs. Marietta, 21-13, on Oct. 4, 2003; 0-7 in 2006)
Becker (14 consecutive losses, no wins in program history; 0-6 in 2006)
Lewis and Clark (15 consecutive losses, last win vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 27-11, Oct. 9, 2004; 0-6 in 2006)
Eureka (14 consecutive losses, last win vs. Concordia (Ill.), 32-13, Sept. 24, 2005; 0-7 in 2006)
Hiram (13 consecutive losses, last win vs. Earlham, 7-2, Oct. 1, 2005; 0-7 in 2006)
Framingham State (13 consecutive losses, last win vs. Massachusetts Maritime, 27-20, Oct. 1, 2005; 0-7 in 2006)
Wisconsin Lutheran (13 consecutive losses, last win vs. Tri-State, 37-14, Oct. 1, 2005; 0-7 in 2006)
Augsburg (11 consecutive losses, last win vs. Hamline, 19-13, Oct. 15, 2005; 0-7 in 2006)
Eighteen unbeatens remain after only St. John Fisher fell over the weekend. Rowan is 5-1, but unbeaten against Division III teams.
Four teams (Curry, Concordia (Wis.), St. John's and St. Norbert) are 8-0, 11 (Capital, Carnegie Mellon, Central, Cortland State, Mount Union, Mount St. Joseph, Springfield, UW-Whitewater, Wesley, Whitworth and Wilkes) are 7-0, two (Hobart and Occidental) are 6-0 and one (Williams) is 5-0.
Five teams left the group over the weekend, narrowing those without a win to a pack of 13. Denison, FDU-Florham, Frostburg State, Tri State and William Paterson each notched its first victory. The Big Red beat Hiram, which remains on the list, while the Devils beat Albright and Pioneers beat Buffalo State.
Becker travels to SUNY-Maritime on Saturday, guaranteeing the first win in program history for one of these schools.
Still without a win in 2006: LaGrange and Principia (0-8); Augsburg, Eureka, Framingham State, Heidelberg, Hiram and Wisconsin Lutheran (0-7); Becker, Lewis and Clark (0-6); Bates, Bowdoin, SUNY-Maritime (0-5).
Five games to watch
In contrast to some recent weeks, we hardly need to look outside the Top 25 this week to find five games worth watching. Four of the top six teams play each other.
No. 4 Capital (7-0) at No. 1 Mount Union (7-0)
Last week was the first time anyone held the Purple Raiders to a pedestrian score, when they beat Baldwin-Wallace 14-0. Capital led in the fourth quarter of both games last season, the second a 34-31 loss in the national quarterfinals. Since Mount Union is outscoring opponents 383-37 and outgaining them 531-126, and Capital is 284-55 and 426-206, the numbers against others can't possibly foreshadow how they'll match up with each other. The fact that Mount Union beat Ohio Northern by 42 and Capital won by 7 probably doesn't tell us as much as we think it would. Jim Collins and staff have figured out how to score enough to beat the Purple Raiders, although they'll have to do it this year with Derrick Alexander as its best receiver, not Lewis Howes. Rocky Pentello might have to be the best player on the field to make it happen, and the Crusaders could use turnovers or a timely defensive stop if they lead in the fourth quarter on Saturday. Curiously, of the 37 points Mount Union has allowed, 31 were scored in the second quarter. Offense may provide the names we know in this battle, including Mike Jorris, Nate Kmic and Pierre Garcon, but defense will probably decide it.
No. 2 UW-Whitewater (7-0) at No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-1)
Having seen both of these teams play this season, I think they'll find they're a lot alike. The Warhawks and Crusaders are physical, run-based teams who can pass and play defense. Each has also been tested already this month against a then-top 10 team and passed. I'll write a separate story about this game that you should check back for on Friday.
No. 14 Springfield at No. 20 Ithaca
Ithaca begins its crucial three-game stretch while Springfield may not be tested again and could move to the front of the line for a No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a win (although Cortland State, if unbeaten, would have Ithaca as a common opponent). The Bombers are allowing only two yards per rush; The Pride is gaining 6.7. Ithaca has allowed just five rushing TDs, Springfield, with its triple option attack, has rushed for 37. Something will give in Saturday's Empire 8 clash. If the Bombers win, the East playoff picture gets all kinds of crowded. If not, Ithaca may end up being a definitive win for three or four teams.
No. 17 Hobart at Alfred (6-1)
Alfred's final three games are nearly as unenviable as Ithaca's, but at least people are taking the Bombers seriously. This Empire 8/Liberty League tussle may have no Pool A implications, since it doesn't affect either conference's title race except for deep within three-way tiebreakers, but it definitely has Pool C meaning. Should either team not win its conference, a possibility since Alfred has already lost to Springfield (41-34 Sept. 23) and Hobart hosts Union Nov. 4, a loss here would severely damage hopes for an at-large bid. The Saxons have the No. 16 defense in the nation, allowing 216 yards per game. The Statesmen have good balance, and won their past two games by 11 and 20 after winning their first four by a touchdown or less.
No. 21 Mount St. Joseph (7-0) at Defiance (6-1)
Rarely does the Heartland attract this much attention, but the top three teams have two losses between them; Defiance's 25-13 season-opening defeat against OAC member Otterbein, and MSJ's win over Franklin (6-1) last week. With the Yellow Jackets hosting the Panthers next week, they control their fate beginning Saturday. The Lions would virtually clinch a third consecutive HCAC title with a victory. The teams are 1-2 in the conference in every major defensive category, so don't expect a shootout. The Lions are sixth and Yellow Jackets 13th nationally in total defense.
One thought each on 10 other games, many of which have conference title, three-way tie and Pool B or C implications:
No. 3 St. John's (8-0) at St. Thomas (5-2)
Unless the Tommies upset their rivals, the winner of the Week 11 Bethel/St. John's game is MIAC champ and automatic playoff rep.
No. 9 Occidental (6-0) at Cal Lutheran (5-1)
The only two SCIAC teams with above-.500 records meet, but the Kingsmen blew a chance to make it a matchup of unbeatens when they lost to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in two overtimes Oct. 14.
Augustana (5-2) at North Central (5-2)
Wheaton may have the best overall record of any CCIW team, but Augustana is in control of its championship and playoff destiny. A North Central win brings a three-way scenario into play, since the Thunder have beaten the Cardinals and lost to the Vikings.
Sul Ross State (5-1) at Hardin-Simmons (5-1)
The Lobos' 45-2 loss against Mary Hardin-Baylor is keeping Around the Nation from thinking the nation's best revival will have a happy playoff ending. The chance to prove doubters wrong awaits in Abilene on Saturday.
Washington & Lee (6-1) at Bridgewater (Va.) (5-2)
The Eagles, suddenly the hunter for the first time since 2000, could throw a wrench in the Generals' playoff plans and make next week's W&L/Emory and Henry clash the ODAC title game.
Delaware Valley (5-2) at King's (5-2)
The Monarchs need the win to keep the focus on Nov. 11, when a clash with crosstown rival Wilkes could still decide the MAC championship and AQ berth.
Waynesburg (4-3) at Washington & Jefferson (6-1)
The Yellow Jackets are 4-0 in the PAC to the Presidents' 3-0, and though dealing W&J an L could spur Waynesburg on to a conference title, it would not make them a playoff contender. It might even leave the PAC without a playoff representative, as Pool B (non-AQ) leagues are not guaranteed a spot among the 32 for their champion.
Carnegie Mellon (7-0) at Washington U. (5-3)
The Tartans' unbeaten start has come against teams that are a combined 13-35 (.271). The Bears are the only CMU opponent that currently has a winning record.
Greenville (5-2) at Concordia (Wis.) (8-0)
A three-way tie is still a possibility in the IBFC if the Panthers can beat the Falcons in Mequon, Wis. Lakeland, which has beaten Greenville and lost to Concordia, would be the third team in the mix.
Wooster (6-1) at Wabash (5-2)
The NCAC standings look messy, with five teams with one conference loss, and Wittenberg has beaten both of these teams but lost to Ohio Wesleyan. That means the hopes of either the Scots or Little Giants go down on Saturday, while they pray for Oberlin's Yeomen to knock off the Tigers.
Dickinson (6-1) leads the Centennial, a conference which hasn't had too much trouble with the ODAC this season. But the Red Devils, who have finished with between four and six wins the past seven seasons, lost 66-27 at home against Hampden-Sydney last season, their third consecutive defeat against the Tigers. H-SC (3-4) has almost matched its loss total from the past three seasons (five from '03-'05) and is not quite as prolific offensively as they used to be. But they are unbeaten at home, and we suspect the Tigers can make it four in a row with this week's upset special (which also wouldn't affect the Red Devils' playoff hopes).
So far this year: 4-2, after Millsaps (now 4-3) knocked off DePauw (now 5-2) as predicted.
Surprisingly good game
Salisbury is 3-4 and No. 5 Wesley hasn't struggled with a single team this season. But the Sea Gulls have had their moments, including a 32-14 win at Washington and Jefferson and an overtime loss to Christopher Newport. The Wolverines are allowing 13 points per game and Salisbury has twice scored just three. But the teams are familiar with each other and the Sea Gulls should be jacked up to host a team that not long ago was considered its peer, not a national top-five team. Don't expect Salisbury to win, but they are capable of making it interesting, which would be more than I could say for the Wolverines' opponents in their last two home games.
So far this year: 4-2, counting a correct pick last week after Manchester closed to 14-12 on Mount St. Joseph with 4:09 left in the third, before the Lions had a 20-point fourth quarter.
Also keep an eye on -- Elmhurst (5-2) at No. 25 Wheaton (6-1), Alma (4-3) at Olivet (4-3), Coast Guard (6-1) at Maine Maritime (5-2), Monmouth (5-3) at Illinois College (6-2), Nichols (4-3) at Curry (8-0), Ohio Northern (4-3) at Baldwin-Wallace (5-2), Wittenberg (4-3) at Oberlin (4-3), Tufts (3-2) at Amherst (4-1).
Who are those guys?
Frostburg State beat NAIA Union (Ky.) by returning a blocked punt for a TD with 2:03 left last week, marking the Bobcats' first win of the season and Division III's 20th against NAIA teams this season.
First-year Brevard of Division II beat first-year LaGrange 35-27, while Salisbury kept it close but lost by three against Division I-AA St. Peter's last Thursday night.
A small slate again this week:
vs. Division I-AA (0-1 in Week 8, 6-7 in 2006)
Husson at La Salle
vs. Division II (0-1 in Week 8, 4-9 in 2006)
vs. NAIA (1-0 in Week 8, 20-7 in 2006)
Southern Virginia at Newport News
But don't quote me …
Reactions from Week 8 and thoughts on Week 9:
Last Saturday featured mostly the expected blowouts among our top 25 teams, whether they were 48-17 like Wesley or 26-0 like Capital. Some interesting results though.
Top 25 teams tend to get one free pass for an unexpected tight game, or sometimes even a loss. Rowan has pretty much made a season of it. In most cases, that leads voters to think the team isn't that good. But in the Profs' case, that might just be how they're built this season. They've had the No. 1 defense in the nation for much of the season, and in a 16-12 win over Kean, who has been improved this season, they allowed just 192 yards, zero rushing. It looks like the Profs' m.o. is to have just enough offense to lean on their stellar defense. Pulling out close victories could come in handy during the playoffs.
In Mount Union's case, it's time playoff opponents start locating the Baldwin-Wallace game films and copying the Yellow Jacket defense. After Saturday's 14-0 game, which ATN foreshadowed by looking at the low-scoring history of Yellow Jacket/Purple Raiders games, Mount Union is averaging just 20.6 points against B-W over the past six meetings, all in victories.
Springfield on the other hand is clicking offensively. When a team, in this case St. John Fisher, scores 38 and loses by 17, it was a tough day for the defense.
UMAC Dome Day, with 10 teams kicking off five games from 9 a.m-9 p.m., is one of Division III's more unique setups. We will have photographers in the house, as usual.
WPI Worcester Polytechnic Institute) plays RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) this week. For some reason, that amuses me. The Transit Trophy is on the line.
Your playoff questions
Our blog, the Daily Dose, now has a thread called Your Team's Playoff Chances, specifically for you to ask about the team you root for and where it stands as of now in the playoff picture. Also featured there are links to our playoff FAQ, which should help any of you confused by mentions of Pools A, B and C, in-region games and Quality of Wins Index. The NCAA's regional rankings were released this afternoon and are on the blog as well.
On Post Patterns, there are also threads called Pool B and Pool C for those curious about the playoff chances of teams who are not looking like automatic qualifiers.
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 email@example.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.
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