October 15, 2009

There's life after losses

It's hard to believe that a certain playoff-free sect of the college football world still champions a system that allows a single blemish to virtually ruin a season.

Here in Division III, where playoffs still allow the cream to rise to the top -- no champion since at least 1983 has had more than one loss or tie -- losses add great texture to an already thrilling regular season. In the cases of Redlands, St. John Fisher and Randolph-Macon, those defeats can be painful yet not devastating, largely due to the automatic qualifier system.

Redlands lost a 27-24 overtime heartbreaker to SCIAC co-favorite Occidental last Saturday, one in which fans actually saw quarterback Dan Selway cross the goal line with the winning touchdown to cap a 98-yard drive at the end of regulation, only to have the score negated by an illegal formation penalty. The Bulldogs got a 30-yard game-winning field goal attempt blocked, then gave up a sack in overtime to push them out of game-tying field goal range. Redlands now trails the Tigers in the SCIAC standings and hopes for help from Cal Lutheran or another conference rival.

In the cases of St. John Fisher and Randolph-Macon, despite two non-conference losses each, everything they'd hoped for (short of an undefeated season) is still in front of them. Both are off to good starts in conference play and are in hot pursuit of the automatic playoff bid that accompanies their conference championship.


Redlands was taken down this past weekend, but still has something to play for.
Redlands athletics photo by David Payton

So even though no one likes them, there’s life after losses.

“The only way a loss stays a loss is if you don’t correct your mistakes,” says Redlands coach Mike Maynard, who was clearly bothered by his team’s failure to finish at Occidental, but wasn’t ready to let it sink the Bulldogs’ season.

So when Redlands reconvened on Monday, coaches addressed the issue with the players. Some, said Maynard, were still taking the defeat hard.

The kicker whose field goal was blocked blamed himself, Maynard said. But so did the quarterback who completed 28 of 41 passes for 354 yards, but had two incompletions, took a sack and threw an interception in overtime. And so did the special teamers who allowed a point-after and a field-goal attempt to get blocked. So did the player who lined up incorrectly on what would have been the game-winning touchdown, and so did the left tackle who gave up the sack in overtime. Even the coaches thought maybe they didn’t work enough on certain scenarios or techniques in practice.

“Every mistake interconnects us as a team,” Maynard said. “That bonds us.”

That also provided the fodder to get back on the field for two of the most demanding, physical practices of the season, Maynard said on Wednesday. “Hard work always overcomes those disappointments.”

And although the Bulldogs know they can only prepare for and play one game at a time, Maynard encouraged his players to imagine what can happen if they don’t give up on their season.

“We need some help,” Maynard said frankly. But Redlands needs to go back only to 2007, when it lost 28-21 at Occidental, then ran off five consecutive victories, including a 38-17 win at Cal Lutheran in the regular season finale. Occidental, which had stumbled, 43-25, at Cal Lutheran two weeks before, lost 67-61 to Whittier later that night, allowing Redlands to earn the conference’s automatic playoff bid.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Maynard said. “We set three goals at the beginning of the year; to have a winning season, to win the conference championship and to make the playoffs. We feel like there’s still three great opportunities in front of us. But our backs are against the wall.”

St. John Fisher, on the other hand, was humbled right away, 52-10 by No. 1 Mount Union, in the season opener. It followed the 42-point loss with a 48-point win against Buffalo State, a Courage Bowl rivalry win over Rochester and a 38-20 loss at Salisbury, eight hours from home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Usually such an up-and-down start would be the mark of an inconsistent team with little hope for postseason play. But the Cardinals can take games against the Purple Raiders and Sea Gulls precisely because of one thing.

“Wins in our conference mean everything,” coach Paul Vosburgh said. “We like to go one game at a time, but when you look at the playoffs, it’s all about the Empire 8 for us.”

His team grasped that concept and responded with a resounding 40-17 win at perennial Empire 8 power Ithaca in its conference opener. Now a team that dropped off the top 25 radar because of its early losses still has a chance to prove it is one of the country’s best teams. Four more Empire 8 wins would lead to a playoff bid and an opportunity to again go against some of the nation’s best teams.

Perhaps no one grasps the opportunity the automatic bids provide better than Randolph-Macon, which was off to a 2-4 start last season, but rallied to take the ODAC’s playoff spot with a 31-21 win at rival Hampden-Sydney. The win gave the Yellow Jackets the edge in a four-way tiebreak with the Tigers, Catholic and Emory & Henry.

After starting this season off with a six-point loss against King’s and a four-point loss at Johns Hopkins, Randolph-Macon could be reliving 2008, having reeled off four consecutive wins. Though Hampden-Sydney (6-0) again appears to be the class of the ODAC, the Yellow Jackets could set up a third consecutive winner-takes-bid rivalry game with the Tigers by beating 4-1 Emory & Henry on Saturday, and following with wins at Guilford (1-4) and Bridgewater (3-2).

Fisher’s Vosburgh knows there are differing schools of thought on playing extra-tough competition early, or teams you think you can beat. But for his program, there’s a key to staying motivated.

“We try to treat wins and losses the same,” Vosburgh says. “If you win a game, once it’s over, what are you going to do? Go on to the next week. If you lose a game, once it’s over, what are you going to do? Go on to the next week.”

The future, Vosburgh likes to say, is a bunch of nows.

Staying in the present is key for Maynard’s bunch as well. They can’t go back and fix their mistakes against Occidental. But they can take responsibility for their shortcomings, and take that internalized pain from losing and turn it into energy used on improving.

“You can really use a loss to rally around,” Maynard says, joking that he has perhaps too much experience with that theory.

But to be honest, Mount Union’s Larry Kehres, he of the 280-21-3 career mark, might say he has too much experience losing. Because for any coach or player, once is too much.

Why anyone would want to rob a team of its greatest chance to grow, and leave it without a reason to stay motivated, is beyond me. Championships are what we all play for, and four Stagg Bowl winners – UW-Whitewater 2007, Mount Union 2005, Pacific Lutheran 1999 and Ithaca 1991 – have overcome a loss. Four more – UW-La Crosse 1992, Allegheny 1990, Dayton 1989 and Augstana 1986 – went undefeated but overcame a tie.

The automatic qualifier (AQ) system, in place since 1999, provides teams that stumble once or more chances to pursue those dreams. It keeps players and fans engaged. For a team like Capital, which led the top-ranked Purple Raiders in the fourth quarter last Saturday before losing 28-21, the path to the playoffs and a potential rematch is clear: Win the rest of the OAC games, and a Pool C (at-large) playoff bid is likely.

Redlands, which outgained Occidental 539-299 and briefly got to experience the joy of scoring that winning touchdown, is quite honestly just as strong a team as the Tigers are. At 8-1, they’d have a good case for an at-large bid as well, even if help doesn’t arrive like in 2007.

And although St. John Fisher tries to treat every game the same, the reality is that they play two seasons; their non-conference schedule and their Empire 8 games.

“We could’ve won that Mount Union game and it didn’t guarantee us anything,” Vosburgh said. “But we win the Empire 8, and we’re in the playoffs.”

For Maynard’s Bulldogs, the focus really reverts to the only thing they can control: Playing better.

“That way, if at the end things work out,” Maynard says of a chance to make the playoffs, “We will have deserved it, and we’ll be ready.”

Ten Best

As part of Around the Nation’s celebration of 10 years of D3football.com, let’s delve into recent history with another top 10 list.

Randolph-Macon emerging from last season’s four-way tie in the ODAC goes down as one of the most memorable conference races of the past 10 seasons. While more furious finishes are certainly possible this season, let’s revisit some of our favorite races.

With help from Ryan Tipps and Gordon Mann, here are the …

Ten most memorable conference races of the D3football.com era:

10. MAC 2008.
Says Gordon Mann: “Last year's MAC race was interesting in that there was the potential for a four-way tie for first with all four teams playing each other (Lebanon Valley/Lycoming and Albright/Delaware Valley). Del Val beat Albright to deny the Lions the title outright but Lyco beat Leb Val to take the NCAA bid through a three-way tie with Albright and Del Val ... it made for an exciting final 30 minutes as both games ended within a half-hour of each other.”

9. MIAC 2008.
Early St. John’s losses against Concordia-Moorhead and at Bethel seemed to knock the perennial front-runners out of the race. And given Carleton’s rise, Augsburg’s offensive power and St. Thomas’ return to decency, just about every conference team was contending. St. Olaf wasn’t an easy win, and with two weeks to play, it was a four-way tie between Gustavus Adolphus, Concordia, Carleton and St. John’s.

In the end, of course, the Johnnies prevailed even in the season they were most ripe for the picking. Carleton, St. Thomas and Concordia finished a game back at 5-3 in MIAC play, and three other teams were 4-4 in-conference.

8. CCIW 2007.
In 2004, the CCIW began to earn its reputation as a power conference, sending Wheaton and Carthage to the playoffs. The following year, it sent North Central and Augustana. And the year after, when North Central, Wheaton and Augustana tied at 6-1 in 2006, the Cardinals and Thunder made the postseason while the Vikings were left out.

Frequently having multiple teams in the mix didn’t prepare anyone for 2007, which was Wheaton’s race to lose after a 5-0 start in CCIW play. And lose it did, dropping one-score games to Carthage and Illinois Wesleyan in the final two weeks. Carthage had a chance to preserve at-large playoff hopes and knock North Central from the top spot in Week 11, but it lost to the Cardinals 56-10. That, coupled with Illinois Wesleyan’s win at Wheaton, gave the AQ to North Central, which had fallen to third place after an early loss to Wheaton and IWU’s 5-0 in-conference start.

7. OAC 2005.
When Ohio Northern shocked Division III with a 21-14 win at Mount Union, snapping the Purple Raiders’ 110-game regular-season win streak that dated to 1994 against Baldwin-Wallace, the door swung open for several rarities. OAC rivals could finally see a path to a conference title, and the national elite were salivating at the prospect of forcing Mount Union to go on the road for a playoff game.

The OAC’s problem that season was it was too good. ONU improved to 6-1, 5-1 after the Mount Union win, but Capital, John Carroll and Otterbein were all contenders too that season. ONU lost at home to Capital, 16-14, a week after beating the Purple Raiders, but early losses at Mount Union and Otterbein kept the Crusaders from taking over the top spot. After losing to the Purple Raiders by 70, John Carroll beat ONU by 25 and Otterbein by 24. Then they lost to Capital and Baldwin-Wallace in the final weeks. Otterbein couldn’t follow its early win at Capital, losing to MUC, ONU and JCU.

What resulted were 6-3 conference marks for John Carroll and Otterbein, 7-2 marks for Ohio Northern and Capital and an 8-1 mark for Mount Union, which meant even when a team scored the rare win, the OAC still couldn’t keep the Purple Raiders from taking the top spot.

6. WIAC 2002.
UW-Stout had a chance to pull into a three-way tie at 5-2 in WIAC play with UW-Eau Claire, who it had beaten 39-14 in September, and UW-LaCrosse, who it was attempting to beat in Week 12, the final week of the ’02 regular season. But instead of opting to tie and win in overtime, the Blue Devils put their playoff and conference title hopes on a single two-point conversion attempt.

As described in ATN’s 2002 year-in-review, for which this earned best play:

“Hosting UW-La Crosse, with the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and automatic berth to the NCAA playoffs on the line, UW-Stout attempted a two-point conversion after they pulled to 28-27 on a Luke Bundgaard touchdown run with 37 seconds to play. The Blue Devils had just heard other WIAC results announced over the PA system that cleared the path for them to win the title, but with their regular holder sidelined, they passed up on a point-after attempt. Stout quarterback Nick Ohman rolled left and dove toward the end zone, but La Crosse's Jeremy Nickolotti and Deke Stanek stopped him a foot short, and the Eagles advanced to the playoffs, WIAC title in hand.”

5. ASC 2003.
Led by junior linebacker Greg Washington, whose Army Reserve unit was called to active duty in Iraq in December, shortly after the season ended, East Texas Baptist briefly broke the Mary Hardin-Baylor/Hardin-Simmons stranglehold on the ASC. But it took a unique three-way tiebreaker to fend off those two teams and send ETBU to the playoffs.

As described in 2003’s ATN year-in-review, where this was awarded “best play that seemed meaningless at the time:

“I guess we should call it a non-play, since, by rule, Hardin-Simmons did not attempt a PAT after scoring in overtime to beat East Texas Baptist. But the 20-14 win came back to haunt the Cowboys, because ETBU beat Mary Hardin-Baylor 28-21 in overtime, and UMHB beat Hardin-Simmons 43-36. Since margin of victory in head-to-head games was the American Southwest’s three-team tiebreaker, ETBU got the automatic playoff bid due to its plus-one margin of victory in games among the three. UMHB had a seven-point win and seven-point loss, so they were even, and HSU was down one point — the PAT they didn’t kick in overtime because they elected to play defense first and held ETBU! What kind of reward is that? The only way they guarantee a chance to kick the PAT is by electing to go first, and since they won the toss, they had that option. But who would think of something like that when the coin is flipped in overtime?”

4. SCAC 2005.
This year’s race was memorable not because of the number of teams involved, but because of the circumstances. As soon as Trinity (Texas) and DePauw canceled their Oct. 1 game in San Antonio because of the expected fallout from Hurricane Rita, everyone who closely watched the SCAC knew what that might mean.

And it came to pass. Trinity and DePauw each finished with 5-0 marks in SCAC play. Since the teams were one season removed from Trinity’s 9-yard pass on fourth-and-goal with 10 seconds left gave it a 29-28 win, they were evenly matched again. But with no head-to-head result to help the SCAC figure out who to award its automatic bid to, the conference AQ went to the team with the best overall record. Trinity, at 9-0, earned a first-round game against UMHB (a 35-6 loss). DePauw got punished twice for playing a strong non-conference schedule. The Tigers’ 31-26 loss to Wesley and 17-14 loss to Wabash, both ranked teams, meant it lost out on the automatic bid by virtue of its 7-2 overall record, and then weren’t strong enough to get in in Pool C, partially because they needed a win over a strong team like Trinity in their 10th game.

3. Liberty League 2007.
As described in 2007’s ATN year-in-review:

“The Liberty League was still a four-way race with two weeks to play, with each of the four playing its final two games against teams in the race. After Week 10's results, each team had to win its own game, plus it had a rooting interest in the other matchup, like so:

Hobart: Needed to win at Rochester and have Union beat RPI
Rochester: Needed to beat Hobart and have RPI beat Union
RPI: Needed to beat Union and have Hobart beat Rochester
Union: Needed to beat RPI and have Rochester beat Hobart

Hobart and RPI won and made the playoffs, but each was eliminated in the first round. In the end, the balance in the league was superb, but nobody ever really took charge. Without a dominant team, it was a short stay in the postseason.”

2. ODAC 2008.
What made this four-way finish, mentioned above in the main item, was partially that Randolph-Macon, the team with the worst overall record, emerged victorious in the tiebreaker. The Yellow Jackets rallied from a 2-4 start, won their rivalry game with a second-half comeback and earned a chance to play Mount Union in the first round of the playoffs. (That did not end well, as you might imagine.)

Catholic and Hampden-Sydney each finished 8-2, but with 4-2 ODAC records including losses to R-MC. Emory & Henry and Macon each finished with 4-2 records in conference play as well. So the four-way tiebreaker was record against the three other tied teams. H-SC’s two losses were to Catholic and R-MC, while E&H went 6-4 overall, with conference losses to CUA and H-SC. So even though they beat Randolph-Macon, the Wasps had a 1-2 record against the other tied teams, as did Hampden-Sydney. Catholic and R-MC, each 2-1 against the tied trio, then were separated by their head-to-head result, a 32-20 Yellow Jacket win back in September.

1. Centennial 2004.
There might never be a conference race better than the tie among Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Johns Hopkins, McDaniel and Muhlenberg. Only Gettysburg and Ursinus couldn’t call themselves co-champions that season. The five 4-2 records in CC play led to the unprecedented, but the most unique part is that the conference’s first three tiebreakers failed to break the tie, leaving the NCAA’s SOS index to do the trick. That left D3football.com's then-Mid-Atlantic columnist Pat Cummings railing against the idea that non-conference games against Liberty League teams essentially decided the Centennial champion. Muhlenberg, much like in the ODAC’s tie above, went on to get drilled, 31-3, at St. John Fisher in the first round of the playoffs.

As for how it stood with two weeks to go, how many things had to happen for it to fall into place, ATN can’t really do it justice. So we refer you to Cummings’ genius breakdown.

I’m sure we missed some great races here, so your feedback on this Ten Best is encouraged. Maybe a great race in the MIAA, NJAC or MIAC? Maybe a different season of the LL, CC, IIAC or CCIW? They don’t have to be races that ended in massive ties as long as they were interesting the whole way through.

React to this week’s list or make submissions for the upcoming lists by using our message board, Post Patterns, on the Around the Nation thread under general football. You can also send e-mail to Keith@D3football.com or use our feedback form.
Coming soon: Ten most successful post-D3 careers, 10 most memorable moments, 10 program turnarounds, 10 low points, ranking the 10 Stagg Bowls, best to least-best.

Poll positions

Frank Rajkowski, who covers St. John’s and the MIAC for the St. Cloud Times and was also a contributor to Kickoff ’09, recently revealed the top 10 teams on his D3football.com Top 25 ballot.

Coupled with short explanations, it’s an interesting insight into the mind of a voter, especially here in Division III, where there are nearly 30 conferences to track and not nearly enough time or opportunity to get to know the 100 or so teams contending in those races.

With Frank’s permission, I decided to reveal my top 10 as well, contrasted alongside his. Since our top 10s aren’t all that similar, it’s perhaps even more revealing as to what goes into a ballot. I usually spend about 30 minutes a week on mine, trying to hold fast to my rule of having a solid reason for slotting each team where it is. That often makes me one of the last to turn my ballot in each Sunday, as I kick around different thoughts.

Both Frank and I will be the first to tell you polling is an inexact science ... or art. There are different ways to examine the nation’s top teams, and it might be that there is no right way. As yet, both individual ballots and the overall poll’s top 10 are all believable. From the bottom up:

D3football.com poll’s No. 10 team: Wabash
Frank’s No. 10: Wabash
Keith’s No. 10: Linfield
Frank’s reasoning: “Wabash is a program with a strong history and is off to a 5-0 start. The Little Giants (great nickname) face 5-0 Wittenberg this week, a game that will likely decide whether they continue to be ranked in the top 10.”
Keith’s reasoning: I can’t buy into Wabash this high. They’re in my group of teams, along with Case Western Reserve, Hampden-Sydney and Washington & Jefferson, who are off to unbeaten starts, but belong ranked below Delaware Valley, which has a loss to 5-0 Wesley and three wins against four- or five-win teams. None of the four I mentioned has played more than one four-win team. As for Linfield, the win at No. 18 Occidental is impressive, and convincing wins against traditionally strong Hardin-Simmons and Whitworth (both 2-4) are probably better than records would have you believe.

D3football.com poll’s No. 9 team: Washington and Jefferson
Frank’s No. 9: Washington and Jefferson
Keith’s No. 9: Capital
Frank’s reasoning: “I’ll admit to not knowing much about Washington and Jefferson, other than that the team is off to a 5-0 start and has been good in past seasons. This is about where W&J has been falling in the poll, so as a voter, I’m just following along with the rankings, which is my default position when I don’t know anything else that would sway me either way.”
Keith’s reasoning: Frank’s candidness is appreciated, and although the Presidents went deep in the playoffs last season, that was with Bobby Swallow and a host of other senior contributors on board. I’ve tried not to give them the benefit of last season. Capital’s been holding in high teens for me this season, and having Mount Union trailing in the fourth quarter is worth taking note of, even if the Crusaders actually lost. None of Capital’s other results says much about them top 25-wise, and it comes at No. 16 in the poll, up from No. 21 before the Mount Union loss.

D3football.com poll’s No. 8 team: Central
Frank’s No. 8: Linfield
Keith’s No. 8: St. Thomas
Frank’s reasoning: See below.
Keith’s reasoning: I have a habit of latching teams I believe are evenly match to each other until I see some evidence otherwise. St. Thomas, since its 12-9 loss to St. John’s last season, has virtually matched the Johnnies stride for stride. Since the Tommies’ early schedule is filled with decent teams at best, none of which has come within double digits in the 5-0 start, this ranking is largely in place until I see how the Tommies do against the Johnnies on Saturday. If I believe the two teams are even, or have some data to prove it, then I can also use the Johnnies’ results to date to influence my ranking. Frank has St. Thomas 12th, by the way, and the poll has them 15th.

D3football.com poll’s No. 7 team: Linfield
Frank’s No. 7: Central
Keith’s No. 7: St. John’s
Frank’s reasoning: “I’m familiar with both [Central and Linfeld], having run into them several times while covering St. John’s in the postseason. Both are unbeaten. What made me go with Central is that the IIAC power also has a 22-21 win over Wisconsin-Stevens Point on its resume this fall. The 3-2 Pointers beat Whitewater in the regular season last year. Linfield did beat Occidental, which is ranked No. 18 this week. But I see the WIAC as a tougher conference than the SCIAC where Occidental plays.”
Keith’s reasoning: I have Central at No. 11 and largely agree with Frank on them. The Dutch have also beaten four-win Coe in their 6-0 start. I often have St. John’s ranked lower than the poll does, as no one this side of W&J benefits more from name recognition brought on by its perennial regular-season success (although Rowan used to). This season, the Johnnies have beaten two teams from the nation’s strongest conference, the WIAC, and topped four-win Bethel as well. The conference-rival Royals went to the wire with top-ten Wheaton as well. St. John’s has earned every bit of its respect this season, and with a win over the rival Tommies, could vault into my top five.

D3football.com poll’s No. 6 team: St. John’s
Frank’s No. 6: Wesley
Keith’s No. 6: Wheaton
Frank’s reasoning: See below.
Keith’s reasoning: The Thunder survived tests against Bethel and Augustana, and obliterated two of their other opponents. I’ll find out much more about them with back-to-back four-win CCIW opponents ahead in Millikin and North Central.

D3football.com poll’s No. 5 team: Wesley
Frank’s No. 5: St. John’s
Keith’s No. 5: Monmouth
Frank’s reasoning: “I do see the Johnnies every week, but that can work both ways: I see areas where they might not be playing as well that don’t necessarily show up in the final score. In this case, I put St. John’s No. 5 because the Johnnies have what I think is a better historical track record in the postseason, though Wesley did reach the second round last year and St. John’s exited in the first. But the Johnnies played Wisconsin-Whitewater in the first round, and in 2006, the Johnnies tested the Warhawks before falling 17-14 in the quarterfinals while Whitewater routed Wesley 44-7 in the semifinals. That was awhile ago, I know, but sometimes a voter doesn’t have much more to go on.”
Keith’s reasoning: The Scots, who both Frank and the overall poll have at No. 11, have made my break my usual reliance on strong non-conference scheduling for high rankings. MWC opponents only have one non-conference date, and playing Loras really doesn’t tell us much. The Scots topped the best team on their schedule, St. Norbert (which beat Wartburg), 52-20, last Saturday. That can be viewed as a verification of this ranking, but I’ve had Monmouth here for a few weeks. I actually go back to last season, recalling that Monmouth lost by two to Wartburg in the playoffs, and Wartburg was within three of national runner-up UW-Whitewater in the fourth quarter. So despite weak competition, given that the Scots have star quarterback Alex Tanney and most of last year’s team back, I believe they belong. They’re a candidate to get leap-frogged by Wheaton and St. John’s/St. Thomas as they play stronger opponents, but unlike a team that changed over major pieces from last season, I think you can get a little mileage out of the old results when there is not much current to go on, elite-opponent-wise.

D3football.com poll’s No. 4 team: Wheaton
Frank’s No. 4: Wheaton
Keith’s No. 4: Wesley
Frank’s reasoning: “Having watched Bethel play, and knowing how good the Royals are, the Thunder’s 29-26 victory on Sept. 12 makes them worthy of the No. 4 spot in my book. A 24-17 win over 3-2 Augustana (a team with a good reputation) last Saturday helps as well. They have Millikin (4-1) and No. 14 North Central (4-1) the next two weeks, so that will be a good test of whether their ranking is right.”
Keith’s reasoning: I guess I’ll invoke the ‘having seen Wesley’ phrase here … Having seen Wesley, there’s no doubt they are as talented this season as the national semifinal teams from 2005 and 2006. There’s speed to burn, a defense that attacks, an elite receiver, a cadre of offensive backs and a quarterback who lays it on the line to lead. If not for two very convincing defeats against UW-Whitewater on those deep playoff runs, I might even say this team has Stagg Bowl-caliber talent. In any case, the Wolverines are as talented as any team I’ve seen. Their question is if they can stay focused and stay motivated through the remainder of a schedule that might have them blowing teams out.

D3football.com poll’s No. 3 team: Mary Hardin-Baylor
Frank’s No. 3: Mary Hardin-Baylor
Keith’s No. 3: Mary Hardin-Baylor
Frank’s reasoning: “A perennial national power, Mary Hardin-Baylor has settled into the No. 3 spot and will remain there in my poll until the Crusaders (5-0) suffer a loss. They beat Louisiana College 54-20 Saturday.”
Keith’s reasoning: We all agree here. Nobody’s played the Cru close this season, and if history is a judge, few teams do. If UW-Whitewater (4-0) has UMHB’s number, and Mount Union has Whitewater’s, then No. 3 is where these guys belong.

D3football.com poll’s No. 2 team: UW-Whitewater
Frank’s No. 2: UW-Whitewater
Keith’s No. 2: Mount Union
Frank’s reasoning: “The Warhawks have played Mount Union for the national title the past four seasons and are off to a 5-0 start as well. Whitewater is a slam dunk at No. 2.”
Keith’s reasoning: I started the season with the Purple Raiders in the second slot and haven’t seen anything to make me want to change that, though I don’t think we’re necessarily being fair to Mount Union. Anyone else who scored 14 fourth-quarter points to beat a top-25 team would be getting praise. The Purple Raiders have set the bar so high over the years that it’s seen as a sign of vulnerability. Another example of how high the bar is? Losing the NCAA’s all-time most efficient passer in Greg Micheli and its leading rusher in Nate Kmic from last year’s team dropped them all the way to No. 2(!) on my ballot. And I think the rally against Capital might have been a big step forward for new quarterback Kurt Rocco.

D3football.com poll’s No. 1 team: Mount Union
Frank’s No. 1: Mount Union
Keith’s No. 1: UW-Whitewater
Frank’s reasoning: “To me, the defending champion should remain No. 1 until somebody beats them, whether they look as impressive as they have in past seasons or not. And anyone who follows Division III football knows the Purple Raiders usually manage to find their way into the national championship game regardless.”
Keith’s reasoning: The Warhawks absolutely went toe-to-toe with Mount Union in last season’s Stagg Bowl, and graduated one superstar, linebacker Jace Rindahl, to the Purple Raiders’ two. That and UW-Whitewater’s young team growing with experience was enough to convince me to start the season with the Warhawks on top. They have looked worthy, outscoring opponents 42-5 on average, and having allowed more points (14) Saturday against UW-Eau Claire than they had the four games prior (13).

A chance to tell your story

Really surprised there was not a better response on this. All I’m looking for is short stories, blurbs and vignettes for a later ATN. It’s your chance to take you D3 experiences to the masses.

Send to Keith@D3football.com.

Last week’s pitch: Longtime readers might notice that since I took over the Around the Nation column in 2001, I’ve missed exactly one week. In 2004, when I got married, Pat Coleman wrote about Wittenberg.

Well, I’ve got a five-year anniversary to celebrate, and since this is the same woman that once stood in the rain with me while I watched Hiram play Gallaudet, I allowed her to let us celebrate during the season. But instead of turning the column over to Pat again – good Lord, the man has enough stuff to do – I thought it would be a great opportunity to hear from readers.

So I’d like the Oct. 28 column to feature a handful of short vignettes from ATN followers. The only request is that they involve something that took place in 1999 or more recently. It can be a father’s tale about watching his son, or a player’s description of what it feels like at the bottom of the pile on fourth-and-goal with the game on the line. It can be about a road trip, an on-air moment, a coaching decision … the choice is yours.

Keep them as brief as possible – I’d rather not set a word count, but 800 is too long – and I’ll edit and choose the ones I think ATN readers would most enjoy. It’s a great opportunity to share the perspective from your corner of the Division III world with all of us, so I hope you take advantage.

Streak watch

Most consecutive victories
20 -- Mount Union
13 -- Trinity (Conn.)
10 -- Centre
7 -- St. Thomas

Courtesy of Gene McGivern, St. Thomas SID

Who are those guys?

Since it’s hard enough to keep track of the 238 teams and 27 conferences we follow, ATN keeps a watchful eye on Division III’s record in out-of-classification competition:

Lake Erie, a week after beating up Newport News Apprentice, 36-3, gets another dose of D3. Salisbury can avenge its conference-mate's loss in one of only two games this week.

vs. Division I, FCS (0-0 in Week 6; 2-6 in 2009)
None

vs. Division II (0-1 in Week 6; 6-8 in 2009)
Salisbury at Lake Erie (independent)
Texas Lutheran at Incarnate Word (independent)

vs. NAIA (0-0 in Week 6; 22-10 in 2009)
None

Games of the week

For a breakdown of this week’s games to watch and why, see Friday morning’s Triple Take, featuring a look at what to watch this week by D3football.com’s Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and myself, on our blog, The Daily Dose.

The press box

Readers: ATN is looking for particular feedback on best post-D3 careers, famous Division III alumni (players, coaches and entertainers/politicians, etc.). ATN is also interested in talking with former players about their experiences in pay-for-play postseason all-star games.

ATN is also devoting one October column to best Division III memories of the past 10 years. We’ll pick a handful of your best stories, about anything on or off the field, so long as they’re well written in about 500 words or fewer.

Also seeking feedback on Ten Best (top 10 of the past 10 seasons), moments to remember for the year-in-review and road trip suggestions for October and November (ATN especially likes non-Saturday afternoon kickoffs that can be paired with a game at a traditional time).

Around the Nation always encourages general opinions on the column. Readers can best get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). Send e-mail to Keith@D3football.com or use our feedback form.

Follow Around the Nation …
1. … When the column publishes on Thursdays.
2. … Throughout the week on Twitter. This is ATN’s first season tweeting. Follow @D3Keith.
3. … Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.
4. … Whether ATN travels or observes from the home office, Saturday’s Gameday post on The Daily Dose is where you can find D3 staffers and fans from all over the country blogging highlights.
5. … Further discussions raised here on Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board.

Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use Keith@D3football.com, or mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

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Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

Previous Columns

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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