There's just something about football
Photo by Matt Milless for D3sports.com
With difficult times in the real world becoming the norm, and
the politics of fear and division taking up space on the airwaves,
isn't it nice to have football as an oasis?
Even amidst literally stormy weather, as was the case last Saturday in the mid-Atlantic, one can find a cold bleacher perch and marvel at the beauty of movement (a guard pulling on a trap), scenery (the changing colors in the leaves) and togetherness. Rarely have I seen the old and young, rich and poor or white and black converge around anything like they do a football field on a Saturday afternoon.
And lest you think I hit the tailgate party a little too hard last weekend, I can assure you I came up with all that important-sounding stuff while completely sober.
Making football sound like the solution for America's ills is trite, no doubt. But there's a real aura about the sport, something that draws us in and brings us back to places we'd otherwise forget about, to spend time with folks we'd normally have little in common with.
I found myself Saturday standing in the rain, staring through a fence for an end-zone view of my alma mater's homecoming game with Frostburg State. I stood at the fence with a gentleman older than I, and another younger. None of us played for the same coaches or ran the same offensive and defensive schemes. But we'd all taken that same field at one time or another, our varying backgrounds and life stories and divergent paths taken since football briefly intersecting through a shared experience.
Each day, I get further from campus and the years I spent there, but it takes just a snapshot to bring me back in time. When coaches used to say they'd love to switch places with a player and suit up again, I understood then, but I didn't really understand. Having played the game, or having spent several dozen Saturdays close to it, leaves a sum total we rarely stop to consider. It took a Daily Dose post and a Post Patterns thread for me to realize I've seen 100 Division III teams play and have been to 61 stadiums (trailing publisher Pat Coleman in both categories, ever so slightly). That's quite a bit of time spent watching players run around and crash into each other.
Different roads led most of our D3football.com readers here. Some are longtime observers and ex-players who have watched many more games than I have, in some cases all involving a single team. Some of you are current players just beginning your journey in this game. Still others are parents, girlfriends, coaches, casual observers. We hail from coast to coast and most places in between, and for some reason our roads intersect on Saturdays at the field.Saturday brought me together with football alumni I hadn't seen in years. It was my 10th reunion, which makes me still a whippersnapper to some and ancient to others, and I'd always known the people I played alongside were the reason I enjoyed it so much. Perhaps the best realization from thumbing through a book of news clippings from our years is how our memories of those games were shaped by the vantage point we took them in from. To a player whose only role was long-snapping, a game we failed to win turned on his one errant repetition. Yet I remember the same game for the game-changing interception I didn't make. After 10 years, the details that stood out were those that most reflected our personal experience, with the news clippings left to tell the general, unchanged story.
Different games, ones in which I really didn't play, my memories were mostly of what I wore on the sidelines, or the defensive package I was assigned to play in but was never used.
It's funny how time can reshape the memories of the same event, while vantage point can change how the story is told.
In the end though, a common thread runs through each of our tales: That on a given Saturday, football was our oasis from the real world.
Tell Around the Nation what draws you to the game, and share your best memories on the ATN Post Patterns thread.
A lot of our focus this time of year is devoted to the pursuit
of playoff bids, and rightfully so, since the 32-team tournament
crowns our national champion. And since it's often a foregone
conclusion who that champion will be, sometimes the first-round
Saturday with 16 playoff games and ECAC Bowl action in the
background is the height of the season.
But postseason play is a reality for a select few teams, as somewhere close to 200 won't play any games other than the ones they had scheduled in August. And a lot of players on those teams know the playoffs aren't in their future.
If the unofficial Division III motto is 'play for the love of the game,' then we owe a head-nod (or tip of the hat, if you prefer) to every player and team still out there competing just to compete. The goal will always be to win, but there's something to be said for pushing to get the most out of yourself. We'd also be wise to remember that we're playing a game each weekend … so take it easy on the life-and-death stuff, and the beef with this official and that coach, will you?
From the quarterback to the stats crew, anyone who's giving it their all deserves our appreciation.
Observational dinks and dunks regarding Week 8 happenings and
what's ahead in Week 9:
1. Playoff fanatics, see the Daily Dose for the playoff selection committee's first set of regional rankings. These rankings are intended to give an idea of where teams stand in the playoff picture, based on the listed criteria, as of now.
2. For those who think voting in a poll should be easy, here's an example of what voters need to make sense of: St. John Fisher beat Ithaca 37-6, Ithaca beat Lycoming 17-16, Lycoming beat Delaware Valley 10-7 and Delaware Valley beat Salsibury 41-27. So clearly St. John Fisher is much better than Salisbury, right? Wrong. The Sea Gulls beat the Cardinals 58-52 in four overtimes. Arrgh.
3. Here's more proof that score strings are only as helpful as one wants them to be: Northwestern (Minn.) beat UW-River Falls 41-34, and UW-RF beat UW-Stevens Point, 36-30. UW-SP just knocked off defending national champion UW-Whitewater, 17-16. So obviously Northwestern should now be considered a national championship contender, no?
4. The top three teams in the D3football.com Top 25 are North Region teams, which means No. 2 North Central and No. 3 Wabash could fail to earn No. 1 seeds and get stuck in the same bracket with No. 1 Mount Union. There's more detail under ‘Poll Positions' below, and I wouldn't raise too much of a stink just yet since there are a handful of solid top-seed candidates (see item below). But I'm sure being No. 3 in the nation and a third seed in a particular bracket would be less than ideal.
5. Division I, BCS Washington recently revealed plans to let Tyrone Willingham go at the end of the season. After building his reputation at Stanford, he left for a short stint at Notre Dame. Now seemingly out of chances as a head coach, he'd be a great candidate for a Division III head job, in the mold of Millsaps' Mike DuBose, the former Alabama coach. If only someone would go after him. It doesn't pay like the big boys do, and who knows if he'd be interested, but a Division III job where the pressure to win ranks behind the pressure to succeed seems like a perfect fit for a principled man like Willingham.
6. A voter could nearly fill his top 25 with unbeaten teams if he chose. But there are probably a handful of prominent cases where a team with one close loss might be just as tough as an unbeaten team who hasn't played another top-flight opponent. Here are a few:
Montclair State, 6-1 with a 23-17 loss to 7-0 Cortland State
Rowan, 6-1 with a 27-20 loss to 7-0 Cortland State
Franklin, 6-1 with a 30-27 loss to 7-0 Trine
UW-Whitewater, 6-1 with a 17-16 loss to 6-1 UW-Stevens Point
Hardin-Simmons, 6-1 with a 20-18 loss to 6-1 Mary Hardin-Baylor
Cal Lutheran 5-1 with a 31-17 loss to 8-0 Willamette
Redlands, 5-1 with a 28-15 loss to 6-0 Occidental
Worcester Polytech, 6-1 with a 35-21 loss to 6-0 RPI
Wheaton, 6-1 with a 44-21 loss to 7-0 North Central
Hartwick, 6-1 with a 69-42 loss to 6-1 Ithaca
Christopher Newport, 5-1 with a 38-21 loss to 7-1 Salisbury
Hampden-Sydney, 7-1 with a 33-21 loss to 6-1 Catholic
Curry, 7-1 with a 28-17 loss to 7-1 Plymouth State
7. Worst loss for a one-loss team: Mount Ida got one of its two wins by a 24-7 score against Plymouth State, which is likely headed for the NEFC title game and the playoffs. Catholic, UW-Stevens Point and Mary Hardin-Baylor are the only others to have lost to teams with losing records.
8. Pure speculation here, but what if Wesley and Salisbury were invited to join the MAC as football-only members, and Frostburg State was asked to do the same in the PAC? That would give both conferences an even 10 members, like the NJAC, and would fill nine of the 10 dates on the schedule. Salisbury and Frostburg could still play their Regents Cup game, but the three big conferences in New Jersey and Pennsylvania would all be able to satisfy each other's early open dates, assuming the conference schedules generally filled Weeks 2 through 11, with a bye. The problem is the Empire 8, which becomes the empire six after Norwich leaves next season, who needs teams. Their automatic bid would be in jeopardy if it falls below seven teams and stays that way. The ACFC, whose teams have left for the USAC, NJAC and even Division II over the years, could cease to exist, and Newport News Apprentice could play as an independent.
9. Regarding Lycoming and Rowan agreeing to a four-year scheduling deal, it may be about a decade too late, but at least both programs are taking the steps to play tough competition. The next agreement I'd like to see is RPI and Curry each give the other a key non-conference game to fill out traditionally weak non-conference schedules and give football in the Northeast an early-season marquee game. Washington & Jefferson playing Mount Union would seem to make geographic and competitive sense too.
10. Division III's two finalists for the Draddy Trophy were announced: Mount Union quarterback Greg Micheli and Carnegie Mellon tackle Brian Freeman are among the 15 still in the running for the so-called Academic Heisman.
In a week where No. 2 UW-Whitewater, No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor,
No. 4 Wheaton, No. 18 Hampden-Sydney, No. 21 Capital, No. 22
Delaware Valley, No. 23 Linfield, John Carroll (among others
receiving votes, at No. 27) and unbeaten Curry (No. 29) and all
fell, the new top 25 was bound to look nothing like the old
So much re-evaluation was in order that the top 25 our 25 voters produced might not have looked like any one ballot in particular. Certainly some of the results, like Franklin surfacing at No. 24 and Trine at No. 25 despite the Thunder's head-to-head win against the Grizzlies, make little sense. (In fairness, Franklin's played five road games against .500 competition, while Trine has four wins against teams with two wins or fewer and needed a two-point conversion to outlast 2-6 Kalamazoo, 36-35, on Saturday)
But while the last four No. 1 votes obviously gravitated from Whitewater to Mount Union, the big question was who would settle in at No. 2.
I believe the D3football.com poll got it right with North Central, but it's easy for me to say because the Cardinals have been No. 4 on my ballot since Week 5, and my Nos. 2 and 3 lost, so it didn't require major shuffling on my part.
But with Muhlenberg and Wabash beginning the week ranked higher in the poll and winning, they had legitimate hopes to lay claim to the spot, and maybe unbeaten Millsaps, Cortland State and Washington & Jefferson would factor into the mix as well.
Although it tends to be a polling truism that winning teams move up when those ahead of them lose, defeating a tough opponent at the right time can also influence voters. North Central, No. 7 last week, took a 30-7 lead on last week's No. 4 team, Wheaton, in a convincing 44-21 victory. Pollsters seemed to respond.
The victory was important, because by another simple measure, opponents' won-loss record, Wabash outpaced North Central and Muhlenberg. Here are those marks for most of the nation's 16 undefeated teams (most are 7-0, so subtract 7 if you want the opponents' records against other opponents only):
Willamette, 24-27 in eight wins
Cortland State, 21-28
North Central, 18-32
Case Western Reserve, 17-33
Washington & Jefferson, 16-35
RPI, 15-28 in six wins
Trinity, Texas, 14-35
Occidental, 12-22 in six wins
Mount Union (21-29) is a common-sense exception to whatever the opponents' record is. And we can't very well put Monmouth (30-32 in eight wins) or Trine (18-33), whose conferences tend to be weak, at No. 2 just because they're unbeaten. And who knows what to do with NESCAC leader Trinity, Conn. (15-21)?
Stats geeks feel free to figure out the winning percentages; the point is clear; taking conference reputation out of the equation wouldn't help the cases of some teams whose schedule strength has been questioned.
But conference reputation does, and likely should, play a role. North Central can get away with scheduling Benedictine and Olivet, a 1-6 local rival and a playoff team from last season that is 1-7, because of the constant competition in the CCIW, which was 19-5 non-conference this year. Washington & Jefferson, for instance, doesn't get that same benefit of the doubt for its games against 2-5 Oberlin and 2-5 Frostburg State because of the middling performance of PAC (15-11 against non-conference teams).
But North Central also played Ohio Northern, which at 3-4 in the OAC is likely much tougher than 4-3 Denison, a Wabash opponent, despite the appearance to the contrary based on records alone.
Perhaps we overanalyze.
AFCA voters took a simpler approach, moving Muhlenberg up from No. 4 to No. 2 and letting Wabash, North Central, W&J, Cortland, Millsaps and Trinity, Texas follow without any breaks in the order.
In the D3football.com poll, North Central surged from No. 7 to No. 2 after the Wheaton win, followed by Wabash (No. 6 to 3), Muhlenberg (5 to 4), Millsaps (8 to 5), UW-Whitewater (dropped from No. 2 to 6), Cortland (10 to 7), UMHB (dropped from No. 3 to 8) and W&J (held steady at No. 9).
Who knows which poll has the right method or which will turn out to be more accurate in the end? It's moot anyway, because the real concern is spots in the playoffs, which can be earned automatically by all of the above, except Case Western Reserve.
But as top 25 polls go, frankly, I have a hard time believing Wabash is the nation's third-best team or that UW-Whitewater wouldn't beat Muhlenberg. But it's expected that solid unbeaten teams will move ahead of teams who lose to unranked opponents. And although a team can only prove itself against who it has scheduled, and isn't necessarily responsible for their opponents fortunes, a well-timed game against a highly ranked team certainly resonates with voters.
With Week 8 in the books and three Saturdays left before the
playoffs, speculation season is upon us. At this point it's
probably tough to try to forecast entire brackets, because what's
left to be decided -- knowing we have a committee who will take
advantage of the ability to move top seeds -- involves so many
moving parts that one teams' fortunes in one region could have a
ripple effect across the entire national bracket.
What might be more prudent at this point is to look at potential No. 1 seeds in each bracket.
Washington & Jefferson
I don't see Mary Hardin-Baylor as a potential top seed because there are too many unbeaten candidates in the south. Although the non-division loss won't damage them in a major way, it will be taken into consideration as part of their in-region record (or rather, as not part of it, same with the Southern Nazarene game). So if Muhlenberg is 9-0 in-region with a win at Union, Millsaps is 8-0 in-region with a win against Birmingham-Southern and an NAIA victory, and UMHB is 8-0 with a 1-1 NAIA record, UMHB could be a No. 3 seed. The Majors and Crusaders also have a common opponent in Mississippi College.
If Cortland State wins out, I think they get the Easternmost bracket named after them. Same with Willamette in the West.
That leaves possibly three North unbeatens and three South unbeatens for two spots. Someone's not going to be happy.
The Pool B candidates have held steady, with Case Western
Reserve, the Wesley/Salisbury winner, the Huntingdon/LaGrange
winner and Northwestern (Minn.) still jockeying for three
Tenth-ranked Wesley plays at No. 16 Salisbury this week. Huntingdon should move to 8-0 against Principia, with a visit from 6-1 Hampden-Sydney set for Week 10. Lost in the Pool B speculation is the fact LaGrange is 7-1 after losing all 20 of its games the past two years. … Northwestern, which has beaten UW-River Falls but lost to Simpson, could stack up favorably against another one-loss Pool B team, but ATN is reluctant to project a Week 11 win against 5-2 St. Thomas.
For more Pool B insight, visit Post Patterns.
It never hurts to again note that 23 of the 32 playoff spots are
determined automatically by the champions of Pool A conferences, the criteria
listed here is used to select the three Pool B (independents
and non-AQ conferences) and six Pool C (at-large) teams.
The competition for the at-large bids, which includes any Pool B overflow, is expected to be fierce as usual. Right now, it's hard to envision a two-loss team with a chance at one of the six spots with so many potential one-loss runners-up:
Mount Union/Otterbein loser
Montclair State/Rowan winner
Washington & Jefferson
Ithaca or Hartwick
RPI or Hobart
It's quite possible that teams like Washington & Jefferson, RPI and Trine will capture their conferences' automatic bids, and it wouldn't be a shock to see UW-Whitewater do the same. There are three or more teams running neck-and-neck in the Empire 8 and SCIAC races, so there's still a lot of sorting out to do.
There are also quite a few one-loss teams among the 29 right now who will either win their conference or pick up their second loss (Ferrum and Christopher Newport, and Rose-Hulman and Franklin are some examples).
It might be easier to look at Pool C in terms of teams who can't afford to pick up a second loss (Hardin-Simmons, UW-Whitewater, Ithaca, Hartwick, Hobart, Redlands, Hampden-Sydney, Curry) and undefeated teams who haven't lost, but could fall behind a conference rival if they did (Mount Union/Otterbein, Trinity/Millsaps, RPI, Occidental, Trine).
Of the 29 current one-loss teams, not all are Pool C candidates. Four are in Pool B, and another is Amherst, whose conference does not participate in the playoffs. Of the remaining 24, there are at least three head-to-head games which will knock a team out of the mix (CNU/Ferrum, RHIT/Franklin, Montclair State/Rowan). Other games, like RPI/Hobart, W&J/Thomas More and Occidental/Cal Lutheran, have the potential to bring a new team into the mix, and the scheduled clashes of unbeaten leaders in the OAC and SCAC are guaranteed to bring another team in.
If all that seems like garble, let's boil it down to a simple point: Unless we see some unexpected defeats in the three remaining weeks, it's going to be awful hard to shoehorn all of the one-loss teams into the six available spots. Pool C doesn't look like a guaranteed path for very many teams at all right now.
For additional Pool C insight, visit Post Patterns.
The 16 unbeaten teams mentioned in Poll Positions plus Huntingdon make up this group. Seventeen unbeaten teams is almost enough to make a top 25 by itself, but it's still a small sliver (7%) of 239. Two conferences, the SCAC and OAC, have a pair of unbeaten teams set to square off soon.
Usually the number of unbeatens is pretty similar to the number
of winless teams, but this season there are just nine teams who
have yet to win. Massachusetts Maritime, Cornell, McMurry and
Principia are 0-8, while Maranatha Baptist, Hope, Lawrence and St.
Lawrence are 0-7, and Colorado College is 0-6.
Lost seasons come in all shades, but there are some common threads among the struggling nine: All but one play in a conference ranked 13th or lower in the latest ATN ranking of the conferences, and five reported below-average turnouts when Kickoff '08 asked how many players started camp. With just 30 and 32 players respectively, Principia and Maranatha Baptist were expected to struggle just to field teams each week. Colorado College (55), Lawrence (62) and Cornell (69) don't have ideal depth either. But among the programs who reported 100 or more players to camp there were units replacing quite a few starters (Hope had just two returning offensive starters among its 180 in camp and McMurry had four on offense among 155).
Sometimes teams are just unfortunate. Hope has played the nation's fifth-most difficult schedule to date, according to NCAA statistics.
No. 5 Millsaps (7-0, 5-0 SCAC) at No. 14 Trinity, Texas
(7-0, 4-0): It's a sexier 7 vs. 8 matchup by the AFCA
poll, but the Majors have earned their ranking by winning each game
by at least 20 points, with an average margin of victory of 31.5.
The Tigers' average margin of victory is a not-too-shabby 21.6, and
they've pitched two shutouts. It's a significant road trip for
Millsaps, and all that jazz, but the underlying subtext here, that
Trinity stole the game, the SCAC title and a playoff bid last
season with the Miracle in Mississippi, makes this that much more
compelling. Around the Nation plans to be there to see it.
No. 10 Wesley (5-1, 2-0 ACFC) at No. 16 Salisbury (7-1, 1-0): Unless some of the other Pool B contenders lose a game somewhere, this could function as a playoff elimination game, and the players on both sides must know it. Not that the Route 13 rivals need any more incentive to get up for what is essentially the biggest challenge on either schedule the last half of the season. The Wolverines have settled in with Shane McSweeny under center, but perhaps more impressive is the 40 points they've allowed in five games since a 25-22 loss against Delaware Valley. The Sea Gulls are scoring 44 points a game but might not have many wrinkles that Wesley hasn't seen before, so scoring, as it has been in the past two meetings, might be down.
No. 9 Washington & Jefferson (7-0, 3-0 PAC) at Thomas More (6-1, 5-0): The Saints can punch a ticket to the postseason with an upset of the teams so dominant they named the conference after them. Okay, that's not true, but it's more or less been the Presidents' Athletic Conference in football most years, and since Thomas More joined, they haven't given W&J trouble. But rushing for 262 yards per game out of the spread offense might change that. The Presidents feature a typically explosive offense, led by quarterback Bobby Swallow, that has twice been “held” as low as 34 points. Because games against transitioning member Geneva and second-year St. Vincent aren't yet counting in the PAC standings, W&J would need another win after this week to officially clinch its playoff bid.
No. 20 Occidental (6-0, 3-0 SCIAC) at Cal Lutheran (5-1, 3-0): The Tigers play their fourth consecutive road game, while the Kingsmen look to make it six consecutive wins since a 31-17 loss to Willamette, now 8-0 and ranked 11th. They're helped by the nation's No. 1 pass efficiency defense, No. 2 pass defense and No. 4 overall defense (221.2 yards per game). That might not rattle Occidental, which is rushing for 218 yards per game with an almost perfect run-pass balance. Quarterback Justin Goltz hasn't thrown an interception. The potential fallout from a Kingsmen win is, just like last season, major. A three-way tie also involving Redlands is possible, giving the Rose Bowl-rule advantage to Cal Lutheran.
Union (3-3, 2-2 LL) at No. 22 RPI (6-0, 4-0): So this one doesn't have quite the same appeal as a clash of unbeatens, but it would if you were there. Rivalry season starts a bit early this year as The Dutchman's Shoes game makes its last stop at RPI's '86 Field. (The Engineers are building a new athletic complex). The game is televised live on local cable in the Albany, N.Y. area, and there's an annual media luncheon, lest you fail to understand the significance of the Shoes game to the locals. Union handed Hobart its only loss, 38-35, two weeks ago, so even if RPI were tempted to take their rivals lightly, they have a reminder not to. The Engineers are balanced, ranking among the nation's top third in nearly every statistical category, including No. 6 in turnover margin. Union features the LL's leading rushing in Chris Coney, who had a 243-yard day in the Hobart win.
Also keep an eye on: John Carroll at No. 1 Mount Union, Illinois Wesleyan at No. 2 North Central, No. 4 Muhlenberg at Dickinson, No. 19 UW-Eau Claire at No. 6 UW-Whitewater, No. 15 Wheaton at Elmhurst, Rose-Hulman at No. 24 Franklin, Luther at Wartburg, Worcester Polytech at Hobart, Kean at Rowan, Amherst at Trinity (Conn.), Albright at Lebanon Valley.
Check Friday morning's Daily Dose for Pat, Keith and a guest's ‘Triple Take' primer on Week 9's games.
Tracking Division III against competition from other
Southern Oregon scored a big blow for the NAIA, knocking off then-No. 3 Mary Hardin-Baylor, a fair repayment for UW-Oshkosh's Week 3 victory over then-NAIA-No. 2 Ohio Dominican. UMHB, to be fair, is decimated in its backfield and traveled from Texas to Oregon. Like Oshkosh was, Southern Oregon (3-5) is unranked. The Raiders also played two in-state Division III opponents on the road, Willamette (a 31-23 loss) and Linfield (14-7 loss).
Trinity Bible fell to 0-3 against Division III when St. Scholastica earned the program's first win, 47-8, last Saturday. Also, last week's column at first reflected Minot State-Bottineau, a junior-college (NJCAA) independent, under NAIA, whose Minot State in Minot, N.D. is a member of the DAC-10. Crown beat Bottineau 52-20.
This week's slate is nearly non-existent. Newport News Apprentice hosts NAIA Webber International, which has a 23-21 loss to UW-Stevens Point and a 42-13 loss to Wesley on its resume.
vs. Division I, FCS (0-0 in Week 8, 4-5 in 2008)
vs. Division II (0-0 in Week 8, 3-5 in 2008)
vs. NAIA (2-1 in Week 8, 26-12 in 2008)
Webber International at Newport News Apprentice
Corrections: On Wednesday, the column listed conflicting sites for
the Dutchman's Shoes game under Five Games to Watch. It is at RPI.
Also, Wheaton was added to the list of Pool C teams and Millsaps'
potential regional record was clarified to include a game against
conference rival Colorado College, but exclude provisional Division
III member Birmingham-Southern.
Reader feedback the past few weeks has been very good. Around the Nation encourages your opinions on the playoff picture, moments to remember for the year-in-review and other selected topics linked throughout the column. Readers can always get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). E-mail correspondence can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or submitted with our feedback form.
Sports Information Directors: Around the Nation is interested in contacting Division III's all-time and single-season leading rushers and passers to ask them one brief question for a future column. Any help you can provide in reaching Mount Union's Chuck Moore and Dan Pugh, Grove City's R.J. Bowers, Marietta's Dante Brown, Coe's Carey Bender, Simpson's Ricky Gales, Redlands' Danny Ragsdale, Westminster's Justin Peery, etc., would be appreciated.
Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use Keith@D3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.