A week of rivalry and revelry

Week 10. Does it get any better?

If so, no other week weaves so many things that are great about college football -- renewals of rivalries, playoff possibilities, conference title implications and farewell games -- all into one.

Monmouth travels to rival Knox on Saturday to play for the Bronze Turkey, a second consecutive 10-0 regular season and the chance at a home game in the first round of the playoffs, since they've already clinched the MWC title and the accompanying berth in the field of 32. Of course, five other West Region teams are unbeaten, and if they all end up in the same geographic playoff bracket, the Scots could be 10-0 and on the road.

Meanwhile, about four hours to the northeast, Rockford and Maranatha Baptist will be playing to taste victory for the first time. Both programs, struggling through 0-8 seasons, have their best chance at avoiding a winless year, though each plays a .500 team in Week 11.

Albright visits Delaware Valley in a clash for the MAC lead. While the Aggies (5-0, 7-1) could clinch the conference title with a victory over the Lions (5-0, 8-0), Lebanon Valley (4-1, 7-1) will be rooting for the visitors to stay undefeated, leaving the potential for a three-way tie on the table in its Week 11 game at Albright.

Big games in the OAC (Otterbein at Mount Union and Capital at Ohio Northern), CCIW (Wheaton at Illinois Wesleyan), MIAC (St. Thomas at Bethel), NCAC (Allegheny at Wittenberg) and Centennial (Franklin and Marshall at Johns Hopkins) highlight the Week 10 slate.

With rivalries, races and seniors playing for the final time in several places -- or in some cases just playing their final home game -- there's no shortage of reasons to love Saturday's action. With so many bases to cover, let's dive right in:

Playoff primer

Whether it's your first time following this closely, or you've been on board since the NCAA expanded the field and added automatic qualifiers in 1999, it doesn't hurt to revisit the specifics of the five-week road to the Stagg Bowl that gets underway two weeks from Saturday.

Although our playoff FAQ is great for specifics, let's review some basics: Thirty-two teams will be broken up into four brackets that are commonly referred to as East, South, North and West, but are really organized with the intention of avoiding air travel when possible. For trips shorter than 500 miles, bus travel is required, and since the NCAA is picking up the tab for playoff travel, this takes precedence over "seeding fairness."

Of the 32 teams, 23 will be champions of automatic bid conferences (Pool A). Three will be teams from conferences without AQs or independents (Pool B). The remaining six bids go to runners-up in Pool A conferences or teams that weren't selected for one of the three Pool B bids (Pool C).

It is the final six bids at-large bids that tend to cause the most consternation. The selection committee, made up of Division III coaches and administrators, selects the 32 teams before beginning seeding or making up the brackets.

Straight from the championship handbook, here are the primary selection criteria:

Win-loss percentage against regional opponents.
Strength-of-schedule (only contests versus regional competition). SOS is weighted 2/3s Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OWP) and 1/3 Opponents' Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OOWP).
In-region head-to-head competition.
In-region results versus common regional opponents.
In-region results versus regionally ranked teams.

There are secondary critieria involving all games, not just regional contests, and more, but I'll let you visit the FAQ page or the handbook for those.

This is important to know because as we debate who should be in and out, or who should be seeded where and why, it's good for us to be discussing the same things the committee is discussing. No point in wasting keyboard strokes on top 25 rankings when we should be discussing regional rankings, etc.

Now you're ready to debate your team's Pool A, B or C worthiness in the items below.

Seniors' last game

When you're playing for the final time in front of your home crowd, or taking the field for the last time, period, it makes it seem like those four years went by awfully quickly.

The extremely lucky among us may get 60-game careers, but for most, that number is closer to 40. For NESCAC teams, it's a scant 32. Add in the fact that one or two or three of those years might be spent waiting in the wings for a chance to start, and a football season is one to cherish.

As Around the Nation often repeats, there are few opportunities in tackle football after the college days are done. Flag football doesn't quite simulate the game like a rec league might for ex-baseball or basketball players. A college football career is fleeting.

So take a second to enjoy it all as the last Saturday or two approaches. The last practice, the last tailgate, the last chance to drive in the morning of the game to see your son play. However you enjoy the Division III game, we hope you won't leave us for good, but we realize you might never be as close to the game as you are now. Although Division III players don't really do it for the recognition, now's a great time to tell someone you enjoyed watching them play or lining up alongside them. Any ex-player will tell you. The moments come and go.

Although the yearly turnover helps keep the college game from stagnating, it's cruel almost. As soon as you begin to master the game, your 40 chances are up, and graduation is here.

As you take the field (or your seats) on Saturday, remember -- enjoy.

Poll positions

Side by side, the D3football.com and AFCA polls look a lot more alike than they have at many points this season. Nobody in the top half of either poll is ranked more than two spots differently in the other, and although there's 11- and 12-spot disagreement on Alfred and Capital, they're among 23 teams are in both top 25s. D3football.com ranks Ohio Northern (No. 17) and Mississippi College (No. 23), while the 40 votes from the coaches favor Albright (No. 18) and Mount St. Joseph (No. 19).

Another way to look at how Division III teams rank, with more math than opinion, are Kenneth Massey's ratings. A version is used for the Division I BCS, but his D-III ratings also attempt to incorporate the NESCAC, which doesn't play non-conference competition. The top ten:

1. UW-Whitewater (ranked 147th in all of college football, including 120 Division I-BCS teams, 144 Division I-FCS teams and 169 from Division II).
2. Wesley
3. Mount Union
4. Williams
5. Amherst
6. Trinity (Conn.)
7. St. John's
8. St. Thomas
9. Delaware Valley
10. Central

In the East, which at one time featured its own smaller polls in New York and New England, the ECAC-sponsored Lambert poll recognizes top teams. The eligible territory is Pennsylvania and further Northeast toward New England, though teams like Wesley (in Delaware) and Thomas More (in Kentucky) qualify because at least half their schedule is played against eastern teams.

Award watch

Two Division III players are among the 16 finalists for the William V. Campbell trophy, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy and established 20 years ago to recognize excellent scholar-athletes.

Hardin-Simmons wide receiver ZaVious Robbins (3.90 GPA, marketing major) and Augustana tackle Blaine Westermeyer (3.94, biochemistry) join more well-known finalists like Colt McCoy of Texas (3.33) and Tim Tebow of Florida (3.66). By surviving the cutdown from 154 finalists in all division and NAIA, Robbins and Westermeyer have earned an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship, plus a trip to New York Dec. 8 for the presentation dinner.

Thirty-four Division III players were named semifinalists. Read more about the accomplishments of Robbins and Westermeyer here.

Nominations for the Gagliardi Trophy for Division III's outstanding player are due later this month (Nov. 18), with ten finalists named usually during the second week of the playoffs. That field is narrowed to four regional finalists in early December, and then the trophy is presented the Thursday before the Stagg Bowl.

The past two seasons, fans have been given a collective vote through D3football.com to round out the 35-member selection committee.

Without a definite favorite for this year's award, or even a handful of players ATN can definitely anticipate being nominated, this year's group of finalists could shine some light on some overlooked players from underappreciated programs.

There's about a month left for fans to vote for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, an award that takes great care in recognizing Division III. The fan vote is compiled with members of the college football hall of fame (including Mount Union's Jim Ballard, Plymouth State's Joe Dudek, Augustana's Bob Reade and Pacific Lutheran's Frosty Westering) and national media (including five D3football.com staff members) to help select the winner.

The current leaders in the fan vote include a couple of names we haven't seen in discussion for national awards often:

Pete Fredenburg - Mary Hardin-Baylor
Dan Garrett - Kean
Eric Hamilton - The College of New Jersey
John Troxell - Franklin and Marshall
John Gagliardi -- St. John's

Fredenburg might not consider this his best coaching job at UMHB, and Hamilton's Lions have fallen back, but Kean and Franklin & Marshall are in the mix for playoff spots, and Gagliardi's team is unbeaten and has been clutch late in games.

Gagliardi took the first Division III-specific award in 2007, and Larry Kehres won last year after going 15-0 with just a handful of returning starters.

And while we're on the discussion, here's my only chance to drop in a relevant Jurassic 5 reference. Check out the ultra-cool-voiced Chali 2na's YouTube spot for the award.

Pool A watch

Five of the 23 automatic bids were clinched in Week 9. Central (IIAC), Linfield (NWC), Monmouth (MWC), Mount St. Joseph (HCAC) and Thomas More (PAC) did the honors.

Here's are the 10 teams ATN believes can clinch bids this week: Mississippi College (ASC), Alfred (E8), Trine (MIAA), Delaware Valley (MAC), St. John's (MIAC), Wittenberg (NCAC), Mount Union (OAC), UW-Whitewater (WIAC), Hampden-Sydney (ODAC, with an R-MC loss) and DePauw (SCAC, with win and Centre loss).

The rest of you will have to wait until Week 11.

Pool B watch

Case Western Reserve, Huntingdon and Wesley are the favorites for the bids. Looks like three and three only, maybe even if one were to stumble.

Pool C watch

The discussion surrounding the six at-large bids is complex and quite interesting, and there are still enough variables in the final two weeks to keep me from venturing many predictions just yet.

But it does appear that there might not be room at the inn for two-loss teams like Ohio Northern and Capital, especially with their head-to-head meeting coming Saturday. Although our top 25 voters are pretty convinced that the No. 13 Crusaders and No. 17 Polar Bears are better than a good bunch of teams that will make the playoff field, that won't help either team overcome losses to No. 1 Mount Union and No. 15 Otterbein. Both teams were tied with or ahead of the Purple Raiders and Cardinals in the second half.

Bethel, if it wins Saturday against St. Thomas, is the other two-loss at-large to watch, With last-second losses to No. 4 St. John's and No. 12 Wheaton, their strength of schedule might be enough to vault them ahead of an otherwise comparable one-loss team.

Strength of schedule

SOS comes in different forms.

There are the OWP/OOWP calculations that the playoff selection committee will use, which favor Delaware Valley (.664 OWP), Huntingdon (.635), Illinois Wesleyan (.619), Wheaton (.589) and Mississippi College (.575) at the moment. The playoff contenders with the best OOWPs right now are Wesley (.659), St. John's and Albright (.619), UW-Whitewater (.614) and Alfred (.604)

The NCAA statistics package allows you to sort SOS three ways, and features a top five of Augustana, Delaware Valley, Rochester, UW-Oshkosh and Lycoming when the full season to date is taken into account. Each of those teams played at least one non-conference game (Coe, Wesley/Kean, Alfred/Case, Huntingdon and Rowan/Susquehanna) against a team in the playoff picture.

At the other end of the spectrum, playoff contender Case Western Reserve has played one of Division III's ten easiest schedules among the 200 rated.

Streak watch

The NCAA's streaks package has Mount Union (23 consecutive wins) leading four teams with nine wins in a row and eight more with eight. But there are other interesting ways to sort.

The OAC's Purple Raiders have won 25 in a row in conference, followed by Monmouth (20 MWC games), Trine (12 in the MIAA) and St. Johns (11 in the MIAC). They've won 23 straight at home in Alliance, with Albright and UW-Whitewater (nine consecutive) the next most successful teams on their home fields. Mount Union has also won 22 in a row on the road, followed by Case Western Reserve (14), Whitewater (13) and Monmouth (11).

While it's easy to sort out the super successful, it's also easy to view who's fallen on hard times. Maranatha Baptist's 22-game losing streak is rivaled by Olivet and Becker (16 each), Sewanee and Bluffton (15 each), Texas Lutheran (11) and Mass-Dartmouth (10).

In conference, North Park is listed with a 40-game CCIW losing streak, though by hand I count 66 in a row dating from a win against Elmhurst in 2000. I count Cornell for 34 IIAC losses in row, not the 27 they're listed at, dating from a defeat of Dubuque in 2005. I've got Lewis & Clark for 31 NWC losses in row, dating from 2003, not 15 … but you get the picture.

According to the package, Cornell hasn't won in 13 home games and Buffalo State hasn't won in 14 road trips.

Winless watch

With two weeks or fewer left to play, there are those so far from the playoff chase that they'd like to win just once. And it's sort of natural to root for them, isn't it?

Somehow ECFC mates Anna Maria and Becker managed not to play each other this season, despite being six miles and a 14-minute drive from each other. The winless Massachusetts schools probably wish they had faced off, as the Hawks close with Husson on Saturday and the AmCats' inaugural season ended Oct. 31.

And while it might be understandable for a first-year program to go winless (remember LaGrange went 0-10 twice before last year's nine-win season), St. Vincent is one home loss to Bethany away from going 0-10 in its third season, and moving to 1-29 since the program's revival. The Bearcats' only victory to date came against Gallaudet, 23-22, in the second week of 2008.

Teams still angling for a victory:
0-9: Anna Maria, Becker, Mass-Dartmouth, Olivet, St. Vincent
0-8: Bluffton, Frostburg State, Hiram, Maranatha Baptist, Rockford, Sewanee, Texas Lutheran
0-7: LaVerne, Puget Sound
0-6: Bates

Unbeaten watch

We tend to be well aware of who the unbeaten teams are, but it's sometimes interesting to see how many there are deep into the season. What really is a special accomplishment turns out to not be all that rare. Fifteen teams still haven't lost, although by Dec. 19, if we still have one unbeaten, we'll be impressed.

9-0: Central, Monmouth
8-0: Albright, Case Western Reserve, Hampden-Sydney, Linfield, Mount St. Joseph, Mount Union, St. John's, Thomas More, UW-Whitewater, Wesley, Wittenberg
7-0: Alfred
6-0: Amherst

Ten best

Around the Nation is celebrating 10 years of D3football.com, with series of top 10 lists.

Originally intended for the column I wrote Oct. 22, before Week 8's games, here's the introduction I wrote then:

D3football.com's top 25 voting software features a drop-down menu with all 238 teams. For each ranking, you key in a few letters to speed up surfing through the list, and select your team.

Sometimes, in the course of looking for, say, Mary Hardin-Baylor, a voter will accidentally select Marietta, or mis-hit a letter entirely and end up ranking Macalester in the top 10. Whenever I do that, I always chuckle at how absurd it seems. "I'd never rank those guys there," I think as I replace the mistake with the proper team.

The top 25 I submitted last week would've looked like I mis-hit quite a few keys if I'd submitted it in the early half of this decade. It included Monmouth, Capital, North Central, Delaware Valley and Case Western Reserve, all of whom won just two games in 1999 and three a year or two later. It included Mississippi College, Otterbein and St. Thomas, who each went 3-7 as recently as 2003.

Change, of course, is supposed to happen. Here are the ...

Ten most significant program turnarounds of the D3football.com era:
10. Lebanon Valley.
I considered not putting the Flying Dutchmen on here because, as in places like Carleton, Augsburg and Rochester, I don't think the turnaround is really complete. (Going from a string of losing records to conference champion/playoff contender is pretty much basic criteria). But I gave Lebanon Valley a pass, because it's rallied from three consecutive 1-9 seasons (2001 to '03) to six wins in '06 and '08 and a 7-1 start this year under the same coach. Jim Monos, returned for a second stint leading the program in 2004 and, as noted in the list from the is now in his 17th season (ATN, Sept. 9).

9. Kean.
The Cougars are the only other team on the list that hasn't made the playoffs or won a conference title in its turnaround, which began when Montclair State grad Dan Garrett was hired in 2006. That could change in Week 11, as Garrett's 7-0, 7-1 team is pointed toward a showdown with his alma mater for the NJAC title. After four wins in three seasons (1999 to 2001) and three in a 21-game stretch a few seasons later, Kean surged to seven wins in 2006 behind QB A.J. Roque, that season's NJAC offensive player of the year. A seven-win 2008 followed.

8. Plymouth State.
One of New England's top small college programs in the 80s had eight wins in 1999 and went 7-3 in the Freedom Football conference before starting a 26-game slide that lasted into 2004. By then the FFC had folded, the Panthers were an independent and new coach Paul Castonia was in the midst of going 1-19 in his first 20 games. But the program, which joined the NEFC in 2006 and had the same four wins it did in its last independent season, stuck with its only full-time coach (ATN, Sept. 17). That paid off with a 9-1 2007 and a 10-2 2008 that put the Panthers back in the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

7. Trine.
I wrote last season about the program formerly known as Tri-State's journey from reviving a dormant program in 1995 to NAIA power from 1998 through 2003 to 0-10 in Division III in 2005. Coach Matt Land's from-the-ground-up strategy was interesting after the Thunder's first nationally significant win early last season, and since then, the only losses have been in the playoffs to final four-bound Wheaton, and 30-29 in the rematch with Franklin this season. Trine is 17-2 and 13-0 in the MIAA since the start of last season, a remarkably quick turnaround for a team that surrendered 48 points a game in 2005.

6. Franklin.
Speaking of the Grizzlies, their records from 1999 through 2003 go like this: 4-6, 4-6, 3-7, 2-8, 2-8. The annual end-of-season clash for the Victory Bell had become an easy victory for rival Hanover. But it was the Panthers who lost assistant coach Mike Leonard to Franklin in '03, and in 2005, the Grizzlies won the Victory Bell for the first time since 1993. After a pair of .500 seasons overall and in-conference, Franklin was left out of the playoffs at 9-1 in 2006, a seven-point loss to Mount St. Joseph the only blemish. In 2007, the Grizzlies left no doubt, taking the HCAC AQ, and in 2008, their 11-2 run to the final eight was one of the season's great stories, as they earned national respect for a formerly downtrodden conference. Now, with the run of losing seasons in the past, Franklin features a fan website, a top-notch tailgate, an annual awards banquet and a Franklin Touchdown Club-sponsored Golf Scramble in the spring.

5. Millsaps
The Majors bounced from 2-8 in 1999 to 6-4 in 2001 back to 1-9 in 2003. But they were never realy a factor in an SCAC dominated for nearly 15 years by Trinity (Texas). The big turnaround came in 2006, when after an 0-3 start, Millsaps ran off seven wins in a row, including a conference-title clinching 34-12 win against Trinity. They lost at Carnegie Mellon in the first round of the playoffs that season, but had established itself as a nationally prominent program by then. Set back by the 15-lateral miracle finish on their home field against Trinity in 2007, leading to an 8-2, no-playoffs finish, the Majors returned with a vengeance in 2008, outscoring teams 43-16 in an 11-1 season, and surging into the top five in the poll.

4. North Central.
After a 2-7 year in 1999 and a 3-7 2001, the Cardinals became a regular winner. But it was a leap in 2005 that took them from the seven-win class to a regular bet for at least nine wins to and a playoff appearance. A last-second TD pass got them past Franklin in the first round in 2007, a memorable moment among three consecutive seasons with at least one playoff win. After rising as high as No. 2 in the country in 2008, an second-round exit against Franklin might have made 11-1 a disappointment, but it's a far cry from 10 years ago, when one couldn't count on anything approaching national powerhouse from the Chicago-area school.

3. Capital/Otterbein
The rivals from the Columbus area probably haven't made a dent in Ohio State's fan base, but they've gone from back-to-back losing seasons in the early part of the era to consistently challenging for playoff spots, and sometimes being Mount Union's biggest hurdle. Capital had double-digit wins in 2005 and 2006, but both seasons ended with three-point losses to the Purple Raiders deep in the playoffs. This season, the Crusaders led before giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Otterbein hasn't been nearly as successful as Mount Union, which it plays Saturday, but at 7-1, its playoff hopes are in better shape because of a 35-34 comeback victory over Capital a few weeks ago. Regardless of how good the Buckeyes are, the Crusaders and the Cardinals are the ones bringing playoff excitement to town.

2. Delaware Valley.
Hardly any turnaround could be more dramatic than the flip that the one the longtime MAC also-rans, 10-30 from 1999 through 2002, made when Steve Spurrier disciple G.A. Mangus took the wheel in 2003. After surging to 9-2 and then a pair of 12-win seasons, the Aggies are back in the spotlight under Jim Clements and quarterback Mike Isgro. No longer complaining about having the worst facilities in a power conference or struggling to get players to make the trek to rural Doylestown, Delaware Valley is proving that its turnaround has staying power.

1. Bridgewater.
The Eagles' turnaround was practically complete when D3football.com got off the ground, and the move from 0-10 in 1998 to Stagg Bowl participant in 2001 was well chronicled. But no other turnaround team has been as far as the national semifinals, in which the Eagles defeated Rowan in the controversial clock game in 2001, and lost to Mount Union 66-0. The Eagles' turnarond is so complete they've actually reverted already to 4-6 last season, though they're back on the winning side at 6-2 this year. And that doesn't even take into account Bridgewater's long history as a doormat before the website launched, something that makes the active tailgate and noisemaking crowds even more impressive. Unless a team had gone from 0-10 to winning the Stagg Bowl, which the Eagles nearly did in their primetime 30-27 loss to Mount Union, no better turnaround story could be written.

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. Stay tuned to the Daily Dose throughout the postseason. As we near the national championship game, ATN will rank the 10 Stagg Bowls, best to least-best.

Who are those guys?

Since it's hard enough to keep track of the 238 teams and 28 conferences we follow, ATN keeps a watchful eye on Division III's record in out-of-classification competition.

In a snapshot of how conference-dependent Division III has become, only Wesley, still stuck in the four-team ACFC, is playing a non-division opponent in Week 10.

vs. Division I, FCS (0-0 in Week 9; 2-6 in 2009)

vs. Division II (0-1 in Week 9; 6-11 in 2009)
Lake Erie (independent) at No. 3 Wesley

vs. NAIA (0-2 in Week 9; 24-13 in 2009)

The Massey Ratings, which uses a slightly different group of teams to make up Division III than we do, features an inter-division breakdown by conference.

The press box

Readers: With a column in Division III players and coaches in the NFL scheduled for next week, it's finally time for us to assemble the official ATN Division III alumni list.

Here's how I'd like to divide it up. Alumni who played in Division III or just went to a Divisioin III school (alumni don't have to be graduates, but generally have to have completed one year). And then let's further subdivide the first list by if they're famous for the after-D3 accomplishments in football or in another field. An example:

K.C. Keeler, Rowan coach (won 2003 Division I-AA championship at Delaware)
Josh McDaniels, John Carroll wide receiver, '95 to '99 (Denver Broncos head coach)
Ronald Reagan, Eureka guard, '28 to 32 (President)

John Belushi, UW-Whitewater, '68 (actor, Saturday Night Live)
World B. Free, Guilford, '72 (NBA star)
Barack Obama, Occidental, '79 to '81 (President)

Include the years they attended/played/coached, and their position if you know them. Keep the accomplishments brief enough to fit on the same line.

Without using the quote function, copy the list each time you add to it so the full list is always on the most current post. Use your best judgment as to who qualifies as "famous." The man who invented e-mail (RPI) maybe isn't, but ought to be. My alma mater's famous alumni include a U.S. representative and the founder of Dollar Tree. I wouldn't add them.

Those who attended schools which are now Division III before the NCAA divided in 1973, or before the school joined, qualify. An example is former Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who is not a Division III alum, but played football at Cal Lutheran from 1969-72, when it was NAIA. Free is another example, having led Guilford to the 1972 NAIA basketball championship.

Parents of potential players and possible transfers: Been getting a lot of e-mail from you lately, and while I do the best I can to respond, several heads are always better than one. Our message board community is really eager to help when it comes to requests for information about which schools would be good fits with a potential player's academic and athletic goals.

Please refer to this thread on Post Patterns. The advice is invaluable, and the answers come more quickly and with a better base of knowledge than sometimes I am able to provide. Be specific in your questions, and they will be specific in their answers.

All season, ATN seeks feedback on the Ten Best lists and moments to remember for the year-in-review.

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.
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