|Salisbury was moved from the
South to the East this season and could run the table and get a top
seed in the process.
Salisbury athletics photo
The Division III playoff selection committee dialed it back this season, cutting the number of pre-bracket regional ranking releases from three to two. But our playoff curiosity remains as intense as ever, and that’s where Around the Nation is at your service.
ATN knows you can’t wait until 11 days before selection Sunday to start making sense of all the possible playoff permutations. So today, with the help of guru Pat Coleman, using the same techniques outlined in the championship handbook, we present mock regional rankings in advance of the first official batch, due Nov. 2.
Before you proceed, however, if you’re new to D-III, never cared about the playoffs before, need a refresher or are otherwise unfamiliar with any aspect of how the 32-team bracket is set up, this FAQ is for you. It explains what Pools A, B and C are, how to define a regional game, and what the selection criteria for at-large bids is. What follows is advanced D-III nerdery, so read up now if you must.
The D-III playoff selection committee is comprised of eight members, all with direct ties to football at our level, not the NCAA home office in Indianapolis. Each of those eight members is paired with a co-chair and presides over one of four regional advisory committees. The 34 members of those committees – each of the four is either eight or nine members, mostly coaches – represent nearly every conference plus independents. That means someone from the committee likely participated in at least one game against every team in the country, and likely watched several more on video.
One of the key criteria for filling the seven playoff spots that aren’t earned by automatic bid is “results versus regionally ranked teams.” To figure out what those are, each advisory committee must rank 10 teams in its region. Those rankings not only help project which at-large teams are in the best shape, but they provide a window into how the teams will be seeded once all 32 spots are filled.
Here are ATN’s mock regional rankings, with in-region record, strength of schedule figure, and results vs. regionally ranked opponents. Commentary follows.
|Tyre Coleman, left, and Devin
Worthington lead the charge for the Hobart
Hobart athletics photo
The bubble: Rowan, TCNJ, WNEC, Lebanon Valley, Framingham State, Worcester State, SUNY-Maritime, Norwich, Utica, Albright, Salve Regina, Bridgewater State, Mass. Maritime.
Despite having yet to play its two biggest games, Salisbury’s strength of schedule – second-highest of the 40 teams ATN regionally ranks – puts it atop the East. And for the fanatics who would rather not see the easternmost bracket built around Mount Union for the fifth consecutive season, the Sea Gulls play Wesley (No. 10 South) and St. John Fisher, which will only boost their SoS. Win out, and the Gulls could be a No. 1 seed.
Hobart’s win over St. John Fisher gives it an edge over No. 3 Delaware Valley, which hasn’t played an RRO. The Aggies are at No. 9 Lycoming and host No. 8 Widener to finish the season, so some of these teams will pick up losses, and all of them should get an SoS boost.
Kean’s 2-0 mark against RROs includes wins against Wesley and Cortland State. Though the Wolverines are regionally ranked in the south, it’s a regional game by virtue of the campuses being about 160 miles apart. The Cougars, with Rowan and Montclair State left to play, might pick up a couple more results vs. RROs.
|Javicz Jones and Mary
Hardin-Baylor are undefeated, with a win against UW-La Crose out of
Mary Hardin-Baylor athletics photo
The bubble: McMurry, Washington & Lee, Randolph-Macon, Hardin-Simmons, Ursinus, Catholic, Christopher Newport, Ferrum.
There are common opponents all over the South bracket, and it would remain that way if either of the first two bubble teams cracked the ranking. McMurry would also give No. 1 UMHB another win against an RRO, as would W&L, since No. 2 Centre beat it. And there are more to come: Centre plays at Trinity in Week 10, LC and McMurry face off that day, and independents Wesley and Huntingdon clash in Week 12.
Yet common opponents weren’t needed to sort out the five unbeatens in the south: They’re sorted in descending order of SoS, with the top three having a win over an RRO (No. 3 Trinity beat No. 6 Huntingdon).
Wesley and McMurry fans need not freak, but the lack of a full slate against D-III competition and the presence of an earlier loss mean the margin for error is nil. Wins over Salisbury and Huntingdon would boost the Wolverines SoS by a lot. The two-thirds opponents winning percentage and one-third opponents’ opponents winning percentage formula means the Wolverines’ numbers would take into account two of the nation’s toughest schedules.
McMurry plays 5-3 Hardin-Simmons before a visit to 6-1 LC, so it will have two opportunities to boost its SoS. The one-point loss to UMHB could be the result (remember, it’s results against regionally ranked opponents, not winning percentage against regionally ranked opponents) committee members focus most on, as the games against non-D-IIIs don’t come into consideration right away. That’s secondary criteria.
Hampden-Sydney’s .657 SoS, as well as Washington & Lee’s .572, would normally mean a good seed for whichever one-loss ODAC team makes the field, but the losses to Huntingdon (H-SC) and W&L (Centre) could come into play, depending on who makes the field. Though the USAC champion will be nearby, ODAC could find itself in Kentucky in the first round.
When the brackets are set, geography might be a big deal in the south as well. If UMHB, Trinity and McMurry make the field, that’s three Texas teams that can’t all play each other. If Huntingdon, B-SC and LC make it, that’s another geographic threesome that needs a fourth dance partner, like Centre. But LC isn’t as close to the other southern teams as you might think: Louisiana College is 434 miles from Huntingdon and 489 from McMurry. If only two Texas and two deep south teams make it, chalk those up for first-round matchups before you guess any other part of the bracket.
|James Kraus is one of a
handful of receivers providing depth for the Little Giants behind
Wes Chamblee and Jonathan Horn.
Wabash athletics photo by Jim Amidon
Bubble: Heidelberg, Trine, Hope, Chicago, Benedictine, Concordia (Ill.).
At first glance, the North appears to be the weakest overall group, despite the presence of Mount Union and the CCIW. That’s great news for teams like Adrian and Franklin, hoping for high seeds in their pursuit of hosting in the first round. But any North Region team hoping to make it as an at-large needs to worry more about the predicament of all the Pool B and C teams across the nation, not just in the region.
An important thing to note about the North’s credentials is that two teams have had big non-region clashes (Mount Union over UW-Oshkosh and Franklin’s loss to UW-Whitewater). In-region results against regionally ranked teams are primary criteria, but in the table above, marked by asterisk, I’ve included those two out-of-region games vs. RROs. The North Central-Redlands and Wittenberg-Huntingdon games, although involving teams from separate regional rankings, are primary criteria because they are both in-region games. Check the FAQ linked at the top of the column for more about that.
The North’s overall strength also won’t matter when brackets are seeded; If Mount Union remains atop the North and UW-Whitewater finishes atop the West, there will be a common opponent (UW-Oshkosh) that might favor the North being top overall. But it shouldn’t matter, as the North and West will be kept separate. Imagine the furor over forcing the purple powers to potentially meet before Salem.
The North is certainly not a lock to get eight playoff teams into the field; remember, we talk about regions for purposes of defining what’s an in-region game, or for pride. But the committee is going to have 25 teams chosen for it, and then will pick the seven that best fit the criteria. Wheaton, Baldwin-Wallace and Wittenberg could easily pick up a second loss, and Case Western Reserve could win out but not make the grade in Pool B. These teams might all remain regionally ranked, which is important playoff criteria, but not have a real shot at being at-large playoff invitees.
CWRU is an interesting case. As Pool B (non-automatic qualifiers) has shrunk to one definite bid this year, the Spartans’ schedule and the loss to Rochester put them behind Wesley in the pool’s pecking order. But even so, that’s a non-region loss, and the criteria favors in-region competition. The committee then could be evaluating an “undefeated” Case Western Reserve against Huntingdon and Wesley, whose independent schedules force them to play non-region games, and whose losses to date are in-region. However, with so few games in football, the secondary criteria often come into play very early in the process.
After Pool B’s one bid is determined, the other teams can be evaluated alongside the Pool Cs.
|Linfield's James Testa and
Michael McClanathan team up to bring down a Puget Sound
Photo by Rusty Rae
Bubble: Central, Bethel, Lewis & Clark, Pacific Lutheran, Concordia-Moorhead, Chapman, Illinois College, Carroll, St. Scholastica, St. Norbert, Grinnell.
The West is loaded. What else is new?
St. Thomas has a very good argument for a No. 1 seed, either in a bracket including UW-Whitewater, or on its own if Mount Union again is needed to anchor the East. The Tommies have an advantage on UW-W except in games against RROs, where the Warhawks’ win against Franklin and UW-Oshkosh would tilt the scales.
Remember, the records above are in-region against D-IIIs, so even though UW-Whitewater is 7-0 overall, they are 5-0 in-region, with Franklin being a non-region game and Campebellsville not being a D-III opponent. The criteria was created to keep D-III teams playing each other, and to keep them from being forced to crisscross the country on limited travel budgets to play the games that will get them into the playoffs. UW-Whitewater’s success has worked against it in this regard, as the trouble filling its schedule with D-IIIs hurts come playoff time.
However, a new addition to the criteria might favor UW-Whitewater: “When all criteria are equal among teams with undefeated records in the primary criteria, the committee can use a team’s performance in the previous season as criterion.”
Interpreted completely literally, it wouldn’t apply to St. Thomas and Whitewater because they’d have different regional records, but it is a clause to take note of. Perhaps it could apply in the East between Salisbury and Delaware Valley, and last year’s Aggies win in the playoffs would tilt the scale.
Remember that, along with reducing the committee’s releases of regional rankings from four to two, a team is considered once ranked, always ranked. So several teams would benefit if the first set of rankings matched what’s above, then in the second set Central and Bethel creeped in. But nobody would be hurt by such a shift.
In the West, where there are common opponents galore among these teams, this is key. Not only have IIAC, MIAC and WIAC teams played as they normally would, but UW-Oshkosh would benefit by having its Week 1 win against Central be given extra weight, if the Dutch creep in. Also including the Linfield-Cal Lutheran and Redlands-North Central results (both in-region games), the West, were all these teams to make the field, would be fairly easy to sort out.
Linfield, while it doesn’t appear to have much chance at a No. 1 seed unless someone ahead of them loses, could be at home against a SCIAC team in the first round. If three West Coast teams make it, someone will have to fly, and a very interesting matchup could ensue. Observers have often pondered the feasibility of a West-South bracket where all the flying is contained to just one set of eight teams, and this year, there could be enough teams to fill one.
Lewis & Clark, with an SoS number of .352, didn’t crack the regional rankings despite being 6-0. Thomas More (.422) has the lowest SoS among regionally ranked teams.
Overall, the regional rankings are an important piece of data for the committee to consider, especially when there are only nine or 10 games and less crossover data to work with than in other sports. It’s a way to help the committee determine that all wins and losses are not equal, and to give teams credit for playing and beating other good teams.
Wins have still proven to be the primary factor in playoff selection, especially wins over other good teams. And that’s how it should be. RROs, SoS and in-region games might sound like gibberish to some, but with only seven spots for the committee to give to everyone who doesn’t earn an automatic bid, poring over every bit of data – and keeping in mind someone on the advisory committees has competed against or seen everyone play – makes the most sense.
While the playoff selection committees have their own defined set of criteria, polls and more subjective rankings do not. And in D-III’s case, ATN has long liked to point out the fact that at around 240 schools, we’re twice the size of D1-BCS. So to approximate the top 25 that everyone is familiar with, D-III teams should be ranked out to No. 50. The honor of being ranked in D-III’s top 25 is like being in the AP top 12.5.
Perhaps ATN should have started doing this long ago, but finally the just desserts for the teams from 26 to 50 are here. And given that many of them will not make the 32-team playoff field, it’s a little something extra to hold on to, knowing that somebody out there recognizes how well you play.
In the latest poll, only 41 teams were receiving votes. In the above mock regional rankings, only 40 teams are slotted. The ATN top 50 – which doesn’t necessarily reflect the D3football.com Top 25 – takes you deeper than we’ve gone before, with commentary:
1. UW-Whitewater (7-0): Survived a scare from UW-Oshkosh to extend the longest all-divisions win streak to 37.
2. Mount Union (7-0): Leading the nation in total defense, with opponents gaining 2.9 yards per play and 172 per game.
3. Mary Hardin-Baylor (7-0): Has steadily improved its scores, diversified its offense and owns three victories over teams with five or more wins.
4. St. Thomas (8-0): Right on the Cru’s heels, with five wins against teams with winning records, the nation’s No. 2 rush defense and having allowed 20 points in four games since Concordia-Moorhead scored 30.
5. Linfield (6-0): Nobody’s scored more than 14 on a team that is top 10 in the nation in sacks (No. 1), tackles for losses, kick returns, passing efficiency, turnover margin, scoring offense and scoring defense.
6. Cal Lutheran (5-1): Went 2-1 against the three other best teams on the West Coast to start its season, losing 24-14 to Linfield. Since beating Redlands, the Kingsmen have outscored opponents 170-24.
7. Salisbury (7-0): What a difference a month makes. Sqeaking by Christopher Newport no longer looks so bad since the Captains have won four straight. In their October games, Salisbury has scored 70, 65, 69 and 61.
8. Redlands (5-1): The Bulldogs beat North Central, which has won six in a row, and blew a 24-0 halftime lead at Cal Lutheran.
9. North Central (6-1): Hasn’t allowed a touchdown in three of four CCIW games, and proved its worth last Saturday by shutting out Illinois Wesleyan.
10. UW-Oshkosh (5-2): Before you define the Titans by their losses (41-17 at No. 2 Mount Union and 20-17 against No. 1 UW-Whitewater), take a look at their wins. All but one have come against teams with winning records: 6-2 Central, 4-2 UW-Eau Claire, 4-3 UW-Platteville and 4-3 UW-Stout.
11. Thomas More (7-0): This is where the great divide is. The Saints haven’t beaten anyone great, but they’ve won ‘em close (twice by three) and by blowout. The offense is balanced (nearly 200 yards rushing and passing per game) and the special teams have made an impact.
12. Delaware Valley (8-0): Wins against Muhlenberg, Washington & Jefferson, Albright and Lebanon Valley look nice, but the looming games against 6-1 Lycoming and 7-1 Widener could define the season.
13. Illinois Wesleyan (6-1): Beat Wheaton 24-19, yet for some strange reason the poll has the Thunder ranked 13th and the Titans 24th. Not the ATN top 50.
14. Kean (6-1): Buoyed by the Wesley win.
15. Wesley (6-1): Buoyed by its reputation. Salisbury looms.
16. St. Olaf (6-1): Smushed by St. Thomas, 49-14, the 20-point fourth quarter in a 30-28 win over Bethel is their calling card. But Oles haven’t looked back.
17. Hobart (5-0): Slow to gain attention, with only two September games. One was 36-point win against St. John Fisher, now 6-1, though.
18. Louisiana College (6-1): Fell flat in its first chance to impress, 36-10, against UMHB. Must take advantage of chance to beat McMurry Nov. 5.
19. Johns Hopkins (7-0): Giving Centennial Conference best chance for deep playoff run, since, well, its own quarterfinal run in 2009. Has kept four opponents in single digits, and is coming off 83-21 win against Gettysburg.
20. Wabash (7-0): Individual players pass the eye test in video highlights, but flimsy schedule means we have to wait until Wittenberg game in Week 10 to know what kind of team Little Giants are.
21. Centre (6-0): Nobody, 5-1 Birmingham-Southern included, has stayed within two touchdowns since Washington & Lee in Week 3.
22. Trinity, Texas (7-0): Is again using defense as its calling card, allowing eight points and 237 yards per game, with no team scoring more than 14.
23. Widener (7-1): Leads the nation with 54 touchdowns, and scores a second-best 47.75 points per game.
24. Endicott (8-0): Has the potential to rise above the NEFC’s reputation and win in the playoffs.
25. Adrian (7-0): Win over Trine really the only convincing result, but an undefeated season could mean a rare MIAA home playoff game.
26. Wheaton (6-1): It’s a pretty convincing 6-1 actually, and a win against North Central would not be a shock. Would also create this year’s first unexplainable top 25 triangle, since IWU has already beaten the Thunder but lost to the Cardinals.
27. Birmingham-Southern (6-1): The Centre game got away from them late, but they’ve had two weeks to prepare for Trinity. The Huntingdon win still boosts the Panthers.
28. Trinity, Conn. (5-0): Who’s to say, really? The Bantams haven’t given up a point since Oct. 1, and lead the nation in scoring defense and trail only Mount Union in total defense. The big test is at Amherst in two weeks, and a win should vault them into the top 25.
29. McMurry (5-2): Hard to believe a team that lost a game 82-6 is here, but they’ve outgrown that, and I probably should stop mentioning it. Twenty-nine is pretty far from No. 3, but they had to come from down 28-7 after a lightning delay in that one-point loss. The Louisiana College game could be an epic shootout.
30. Montclair State (6-1): With quarterback Tom Fischer injured, the Red Hawks have to lean on Chris D’Andrea, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, even more.
31. Wartburg (5-2): Perhaps the top 50’s most up and down team. Wins against Monmouth and Dubuque loom large, and losses to Simpson and Coe are troubling. This Saturday’s Central game will have to decide it.
32. Dubuque (6-1): Imagine how much higher they’d be if not for the three-point overtime loss to Wartburg. Wide receiver Michael Zwiefel is averaging 13 catches and 190 yards per game.
33. Washington & Lee (7-1): The 42-35 loss to Centre is the only blemish, while a win over 6-2 Randolph-Macon is the most impressive. Until the Hampden-Sydney game, we can’t buy into the Generals too fully.
34. Huntingdon (6-2): Nobody’s played more top 50 teams, but the Hawks are 2-2 against B-SC, H-SC, Wittenberg and Trinity. They have Wesley yet to play as well.
35. Central (6-2): Losses are to UW-Oshkosh and Dubuque, and this team could move several spots in either direction based on the Wartburg result.
36. Bethel (5-2): One wonders what would’ve happened if they’d come up with a fourth-quarter stop against St. Olaf or a score against St. Thomas. Last year’s national semifinalists were in both games, but won’t win the MIAC this year and are a playoff longshot.
37. Monmouth (7-1): Since the opening 35-28 loss to Wartburg, it’s been run and gun through the MWC, with wins over four conference teams that have at least five wins. Could be a playoff sleeper.
38. Hampden-Sydney (6-1): Undone by a poor opening half and a rally that fell short at Huntingdon, the season could go either way still. With W&L and rival R-MC left to play, it could be a playoff season or a three-loss season.
39. Amherst (5-0): Stats aren’t quite as impressive as Trinity’s, and the last two games always define the season for the Lord Jeffs. I wonder what would happen if they played, say, Hobart.
40. Cortland State (5-2): A one-point loss to Montclair State and a five-point loss at Kean from being unbeaten. Win over Rowan is best so far.
41. Wittenberg (7-1): Hardly challenged by its NCAC/UAA schedule, the loss at Huntingdon did major damage to its ranking, but not its reputation or its playoff hopes.
42. Franklin (6-1): Aside from a 45-point loss to the No. 1 team in the country, not sure what to make of the Grizzlies yet. But they’ll get a chance to show us in the Victory Bell game, and likely as the HCAC playoff representative.
43. St. John Fisher (6-1): Like Franklin, their one game against a top-50 team so far was a 56-20 loss to Hobart. They can improve their ranking, and playoff hopes, against Salisbury in Week 10.
44. Baldwin-Wallace (6-1): A 14-11 loss to Capital is a puzzler, and now forces the Yellow Jackets to have to beat Mount Union to make the playoffs.
45. Lycoming (6-1): A two-point win against Rowan and a three-point loss at Widener are the defining results. In their past four games, the Warriors have averaged a 41-11 win.
46. Pacific Lutheran (4-2): Lutes hung tougher at Cal Lutheran than they did at Linfield.
47. Rowan (5-2): Despite tight losses to Lycoming and Cortland State, Profs can still write their own destiny: Games against Kean and Montclair State are still ahead.
48. TCNJ (5-2): We’re going Jersey-heavy, but the Lions lost to Kean by one, beat Montclair State and have trips to Cortland State and Rowan still ahead.
49. Western New England (7-1): I’d like to recognize an undefeated team like Lewis & Clark or St. Scholastica here, but we’re getting to the point in the rankings where everyone either lacks impressive wins or has blemishes. WNEC is eighth nationally defensively in a conference where running backs are putting up huge numbers.
50. Christopher Newport (5-2): Staying close with Salisbury is more impressive than beating a lot of other teams.
Knocking on the door: Case Western Reserve, Concordia-Moorhead, Hardin-Simmons, Heidelberg, Randolph-Macon.
There’s so much wrong with this I couldn’t even reply in a tweet. It is, however, a good reminder that certain points can’t be explained too often.
First, if Redlands doesn’t make the playoffs, it’s because it didn’t win its automatic bid. After the AQs are dished out, there ARE NO guarantees. Eight wins, nine wins, wins over other good teams doesn’t earn a team anything except a spot in the at-large discussion. And the more teams that are in the discussion, such as in last year’s nine one-loss teams for six spots scenario, the less impressive your accomplishments look.
I’m a huge Redlands proponent, as evidenced above. The win over North Central could pay huge dividends if the Cardinals win the CCIW. If the Bulldogs take care of business, they should get the at-large bid that has often eluded them. But it all depends on the size of the field and strength of the other teams in it. Weeks 9, 10 and 11 get kooky sometimes, and if something unexpected like Baldwin-Wallace knocking Mount Union into Pool C happens, that’s bad news for all at-large hopefuls.
Second, there is a geographic imbalance in D-III, but it’s not necessarily related to the concept of fairness. Fifteen teams are on West coast. 224 are in the Midwest, South or East. We absolutely should write more about the so-called East – I’m sure Sul Ross State doesn’t consider itself such -- because that’s where 94 percent of Division III is based.
Third and most important, is the makeup of the playoff selection committee.
As playoff time approaches, I probably can’t revisit this point enough: “the committee” is not a bunch of faceless NCAA droids in Indianapolis filling in empty brackets. They are us.
Each region has an evaluation committee that conference calls weekly, then sends its two co-chairs to be part of the national committee. Check out who comprises it:
Co-chairs: Marc Klaiman, Anna Maria Coach and Joy Solomen, Rowan AD
Regional advisory committee: Co-chairs plus John Burrell, Western Connecticut coach; Keith Emery, Western New England Coach; Scott Greene, Rochester coach; Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, SUNY-Maritime coach; Jim Monos, Lebanon Valley coach; Dave Murray, Alfred coach
Co-chairs: Shannon Griffith, Manchester coach; Tim Gleason, OAC commissioner
Regional advisory committee: Co-chairs plus Kevin Doherty, Lakeland coach; Mike Hallett, Heidelberg coach; Tim Lester, Elmhurst coach; Dean Kreps, Hope coach; Ted Stanley, Kenyon coach; Tyson Veidt, Bluffton coach.
Co-chairs: Brad Bankston, ODAC commissioner; Loren Dawson, Austin coach
Regional advisory committee: Co-chairs plus Steve Mohr, Trinity coach; Mark Henninger, N.C. Wesleyan coach; Don Montgomery, Emory & Henry coach;
Todd Mooney, LaGrange coach; Mark Sartain, East Texas Baptist coach; Tim Weaver, Bethany coach
* - the handbook says Carmen Felus is on this committee, but he is no longer coaching at Juniata or in D-III, and Eagles coach Tim Launtz says he is not part of the committee.
Co-chairs: Chad Eisele, Knox coach; Terry Horan, Concordia-Moorhead, coach
Regional advisory committee: Co-chairs plus Andy Ankeny, La Verne coach; Scott Carnahan, Linfield AD; Glenn Caruso, St. Thomas coach; Mike Durnin, Luther coach Chris Howard, Lawrence coach; Duey Naatz, UW-Stout coach; Bob Owens, Chapman coach; John Welty, Westminster (Mo.) coach.
In short, while biases are real and could certainly be present among large groups, it seems highly unlikely that input from two southern California coaches and an Oregon AD would go completely ignored.
“East Coast bias” is starting to sound like one of those things West Coast people say when they don’t get their way. In the case of Redlands, should it finish the job, it should get into the postseason. But if not, don’t blame bias. Blame that 24-point lead and grip on the SCIAC AQ that slipped away. Everything after the AQ is a crapshoot.
Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I identify the games to watch among the 100 or so each Saturday across the nation, providing three distinct looks at what’s ahead in Triple Take. This week’s we take a stab at which teams still have a lot to play for, whether the Westminster (Mo.) records fall, which top 25 teams will be upset and more.
Here are some games we’re likely to touch on: B-SC at Trinity (Texas), Central at Wartburg, TCNJ at Cortland State, Rowan at Kean, Lewis & Clark at PLU, Endicott at WNEC, Hardin-Simmons at McMurry, Widener at Albright, Lakeland at Benedictine and Johns Hopkins at Ursinus.
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