We realize the public banter has mostly been about how
Mount Union will fare in the much-maligned East region, but there
are 32 teams in the mix and many more angles
By the way, we really did have the committee figured out. D3football.com editor and publisher Pat Coleman and deputy managing editor Gordon Mann not only predicted all 32 teams before the bracket was released last year, they nailed the seed on 23 of them. Even the matchups had become fairly easy to figure out. Variations have been built into the selection process from Day 1, but very rarely had a committee put them to use. This committee took full advantage, and outside of Spokane, Wash., it’s a bracket that’s been met with mostly positive reaction. Mount Union lording over the East (or perhaps not) while leaving its North Region brethren in UW-Whitewater’s capable hands, while the committee finally took the ‘select the four No. 1 seeds, then build around them’ idea to heart, should make for five weeks of fanatical football fun.
I mean, seriously, even if we all have a pretty good idea who’s going to hoist the Walnut and Bronze, who says we can’t enjoy the ride? And isn’t it nice to know? To be certain that if your team doesn’t go all the way, it’s because of something they did or didn’t do on the field?
Eleven weeks of football culminate in a five-week rush to Salem. Without further ado, let’s tackle the third year of the biggest college football playoff known to man.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3sports.com
It’s easy to say West No. 1 Central getting a visit
from Olivet and No. 2 Bethel hosting Concordia (Wis.), since the
road teams are the only four- and three-loss teams in the field.
The Comets have won six of seven and the Falcons seven of eight,
but each team’s loss in the string came against a team far
below the quality of the Dutch or Royals. I hate to slander any
playoff team, but these might not be close.
Biggest first-/second-round matchup disparity
There are a bunch that jump out. A Wesley-Salisbury rematch in the second round, Mary Hardin-Baylor possibly going to W&J or the TCNJ/RPI winner getting Mount Union in the second round. But if St. John’s gets past Redlands, the Johnnies – who beat Central in last year’s postseason – will be a much stronger test for the Dutch than Olivet.
Toughest path to Salem
Hobart gets 9-1 St. John Fisher, a semifinalist last year, in Round 1, then could follow with Hartwick, who beat Fisher, then Mount Union, then Central or Bethel or St. J … well, do I really need to go on?
Longest road to Salem
Redlands could find itself doing quite a bit of back-and-forth if it wins. Minnesota, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia would be the likely travel schedule for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions.
Easiest path to Salem (Book now)
I debated this one, so it’s not just a cheap shot at the East. But even if Whitewater were to skate through its bracket, they are looking at probably a tougher semifinal matchup than Mount Union would be. So I say Purple Raiders. But seriously, not to placate, these are some of the most balanced brackets we’ve ever seen. You’ve got one dominant team, a few elites and a whole bunch who could make a run.
The committee nailed
The top seeds. The idea of building four brackets around the top seeds, as opposed to giving one of the West Region teams the shaft, puts this committee in high esteem. Until the next item, anyway.
The committee blew
I just can’t figure out the Whitworth deal. Sure, they lost two games like four Pool C invitees did, and UW-Eau Claire edged them on the SOS criteria, but most of the rest of the primary and secondary selection criteria was a wash. So while there was no overwhelming factor the committee missed in favor of Whitworth, a playoff without the Northwest Conference champ, especially since its only D3 loss was to a playoff team in Redlands, seems sort of wrong. Won’t happen again though, as the NWC’s automatic bid kicks in for ’08.
Road team most deserving of a home game
Redlands probably had a right to host, but since their prayers from the bubble were answered with Whittier’s wild win against Occidental, the sun-loving Bulldogs aren’t complaining about going to Minnesota in mid-November. Salisbury is probably the answer here. Though the middle of their schedule was soft, the Gulls proved their worth in a 20-13 loss to Wesley, a two-seed and the nation’s No. 6 in the D3football.com poll. In a stacked South bracket, however, where national No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor is seeded fourth in its bracket, Salisbury’s home game was shot when Mount Union was moved to fill out the East.
Home team least deserving of a home game
I don’t have a big problem with any of the 16 hosts, although St. John’s and Wabash nearly played themselves onto the road in Week 11. RPI was lucky not to have in Week 10. I do back the undefeated teams from weaker conferences (Curry, St. Norbert and Case Western Reserve) getting to host. They’ve earned it. You can’t ask a team to do anything more than win all of its games, and if any of Division III’s seven undefeated teams didn’t get a home game this year, they never really had a shot.
We would have liked to see
There isn’t much to quibble with. The seeds held in Central’s bracket, and were shuffled in Mount Union’s to avoid RPI-Hobart and St. John Fisher-Hartwick rematches in the first round. We understand that Widener to Whitewater is flying distance, so sending them to Case Western works, especially since they think they should’ve been a seven-seed anyway. Same with UMHB and Trinity, that could very easily be a 3-6 or 4-5 game, so why beef? It doesn’t seem fair the quality of Central’s first-round opponent vs. Whitewater’s, but looking at potential opponents deeper in the playoffs, it still seems like the Warhawks’ move to the North is a reward. So, I guess I would have liked to see Whitworth in UW Eau-Claire or Ithaca’s spot.
Played themselves in during Week 11
The aforementioned Bombers laid a whoopin’ on rival Cortland State and came from off the radar to the playoff epicenter. Bethel couldn’t afford to lose, Redlands had to win to force its Pool A scenario and both RPI and Hobart needed their own win and each other’s to get in.
Played themselves out during Week 11
Wartburg was again an overtime loss to Central from making the field, although their mid-season loss to Augsburg was the real killer. Wheaton had everything in front of it, despite key injuries, but lost their last two. And there was only one scenario in which Cal Lutheran could miss the playoffs, when a win vs. Redlands (they lost 38-17) would have clinched a spot.
Best first-round matchup
There are a bunch to like. The most talent will probably be on the field in Capital at Whitewater. Hobart’s won seven in a row heading to Fisher, having scored 30 or more in each of them. The 4-5 games at Franklin and St. John’s should be good, and Salisbury-Muhlenberg, the game Pat and I are broadcasting, could be a real grind. But for some reason, I like the idea of either Curry (and the NEFC) or Hartwick getting their first playoff win in history.
The thanks for playing award
Sorry Ithaca, you must be tired of the talk of impending doom by now. But given that Mount Union hasn’t allowed a touchdown since Sept. 15, giving up three points in its final eight games, a couple TDs would be a moral victory.
If this is 2004, we’re sitting home
This is probably the last time I should bring this up, since the 28-team field with only three at-large bids has been old news for three years now. But for the record, in a 28-team field, UW-Eau Claire, Ithaca, Hobart and Capital have turned in the pads.
The 33rd team award
Goes to Whitworth, for reasons mentioned above and on the Daily Dose.
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:
This one is so mean. St. Olaf and Wheaton could replace Olivet and Concordia (Wis.). Whitworth probably beats Case Western in a play-in for a spot. Wartburg in, maybe, Curry out. Oh, who knows? This one is for fans to speculate on. Surely some of you think the third and fourth teams from your conference could knock off the champ from another.
The ‘sorry for the false hopes’ award
Yeah, uh, Whitworth, we’d apologize but the Northwest Conference championship tends to come with playoff hopes attached. So it wasn’t like we alone beefed you up. A wise team once said ‘Leave no doubt.’
Historical performance of the projections
2007: 2005: 31-for-32: We projected Whitworth; the committee preferred UW-Eau Claire. We are still not sure why.
2005: 31-for-32: We projected Alfred; the committee preferred Wilkes, which lost to Rowan 42-3.
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).
Coleman: Salisbury may be misplaced as a fifth seed here. They can win the first-round game and their performance at Wesley in October suggests they are capable of winning there too.
Mann: When Salisbury had one quarterback (Ronnie Curley) running the option and another quarterback (Bobby Sheahin) available to throw the ball, the Sea Gulls looked like one of the rare option-oriented teams who could make a deep push into the playoffs. Maybe they still can, but it’ll be more of a surprise if Sheahin can’t play and the team is dependent on its running attack.
McMillan: Speedy N.C. Wesleyan could cause Washington and Jefferson some trouble. The Battling Bishops are tested (Wesley, Widener) and won’t be an easy out. They would be the first No. 8 seed (of only 12 total) to advance. Heck, most haven’t even kept close.
Coleman: It was suggested to me earlier in the week that I would probably pick Washington and Jefferson, again. Then I look back and see I haven’t picked them as a disappointment since 2004. Since they’re on the same side of the bracket as Mary Hardin-Baylor, it’s a natural.
Mann: I don’t think it’ll happen (see below), but it would be a big disappointment if Mary Hardin-Baylor fails to get past Wesley again this year. All year we’ve treated the Crusaders as option 1A or option 1B in the “who has a chance against Mount Union” debate. But they have to find a way to win in Dover, Del., first or we’re going to look kind of silly for ranking UMHB ahead of the Wesley team who has ended their season twice in a row.
McMillan: Wesley's past two teams have set the bar almost impossibly for this year's team. After consecutive national semifinals, the hope is to go further -- to Salem -- even though there are some stiff challenges (Salisbury, UMHB, W&J) within the region.
Coleman: I think Mary Hardin-Baylor beats the Rte. 13 champ.
Mann: Washington & Jefferson is untested. Wesley’s offense has struggled on occasion. At some point Salisbury is going to have to throw the ball, at least a little, to win. Muhlenberg has a nice defense but it’s not a lock they’ll even get out of the first round. So Mary Hardin-Baylor is the pick.
McMillan: I like UMHB too -- they were dominant before the Whitewater game -- and I have not yet learned my lesson from Wesley’s consecutive playoff wins against the Cru.
Coleman: Hmm. I can see North Central winning a first-round game on the road. I can see Wabash winning two. Neither overly qualifies as a surprise. Capital is out there begging to be picked but unless they found another year of eligibility for Rocky Pentello or Marty Assmann has a magic recovery I don’t think they can score enough points to beat Whitewater. If they protect the ball I think they need 21, but score 13.
Mann: As a top-seed UW-Whitewater theoretically shouldn’t play its closest game in the first round of its bracket. But don’t be surprised if the Capital defense gives the Warhawks their toughest fight until the national semifinals.
McMillan: There’s an opening on Wabash’s half of the bracket for someone unknown to make a run. Case Western is playing with confidence not having lost this year. The opposition might be looking past them, since the UAA isn't one of the might conferences, but that could be a mistake. Tom Brew, top 10 in Gagliardi Trophy voting last season, leads a defense allowing 14.1 points per game.
Coleman: Case Western Reserve is seeded out of place compared to its schedule. Wabash at 9-1 was a better No. 2 seed.
Mann: Franklin played third-seeded Wabash very close in Week 2 (35-33 loss) and they finally got over the Mt. St. Joseph hump this year to make the playoffs. But it’ll be very tough for them to beat a North Central team that is peaking at the right time. The Cardinals have 20 interceptions and 34 sacks, which should make the Grizzly offense wary. And North Central is coming off back-to-back victories over Carthage (7-3) and Illinois Wesleyan (7-3) by a cumulative score of 79-17.
McMillan: Capital can’t help but disappoint given its matchup, key injuries and recent postseason history.
Coleman: UW-Whitewater, with a slightly easier time of it than in previous years.
Mann: I was going to pick UW-Whitewater because they have the best individual player (Justin Beaver), home field advantage and the most playoff experience. But instead I’ll pick them because they have a slide show that makes me want to break out my “Techno Dancing for Dummies” book.
McMillan: UW-Whitewater. I see maybe one team that could give the Warhawks some serious problems.