October 4, 2012

If the colors were changing, would we notice?

More news about: Mount Union | UW-Whitewater
UW-Whitewater has been riding its defense, including linebacker Cole Klotz, middle, and Josh Williams, left, to its 3-1 start.
Photo by J. Jensen, D3sports.com
More photos from this game.

I remember traveling to UW-Whitewater seven years ago this week, before the Warhawks’ first trip to the Stagg Bowl. I had an inkling during that game, a 28-7 win against fellow top 25 team UW-Eau Claire, that the Warhawks were as good as the Linfield team I’d seen win it all the year before.

I wasn’t a seer though. I couldn’t even trust my inkling fully, although I made some comments along the way. I certainly didn’t see seven consecutive trips to Salem and four national championships coming.

Now though, it’s easy to shovel dirt on the Warhawks’ graves. At 3-1, with blowout wins sandwiched around a one-point loss and a one-point win this past Saturday, it’s almost as if we’ve written off the three-time defending champions. And perhaps it’s deserved – I trust the judgment of Pat Coleman, who’s seen the Warhawks three times and says that they don’t compare to their Stagg Bowl teams.

Yet.

For most teams, a 34-0 win, a 34-7 win and a come-from-behind road win against the No. 13 team in the country would be reason for optimism. But one touchdown drive from Buffalo State at the end of a struggle of a game cast everything we knew about UW-Whitewater into doubt.

Mount Union, meanwhile, has outscored its first four opponents, 208-7. Which would be amazing, if they hadn’t done it 179-37, 174-35, 157-34 and 176-26 the four years prior. The bar in Alliance is set so high, that four blowouts to open a season is typical and three shutouts barely register. Ho-hum.

The bar is also set so high that last season’s playoff run featuring actual competitive games was a change from the norm.

But there’s a funny detail about the future. We can’t see it coming. Not even when we’re standing on the sideline watching the next national power blossom before our eyes.

So there’s a certain joy in where we stand as we head into Week 6 of the 2012 Division III season. We might well be pointed toward an eighth purple power Stagg Bowl – the Warhawks and Purple Raiders have each overcome a regular-season loss during this run. But we might well be standing on the precipice of a new era in D-III history. Linfield has lost two of its best players to injury, while Wesley and St. Thomas seemed better last season. But what if this were Mary Hardin-Baylor’s time? The Crusaders have scored 191 points, beating three teams that were in the playoff field of 32 last season in their 4-0 start.

What if North Central, which has bounced back ferociously from a season-opening loss to UW-La Crosse, never looks back? What if Salisbury continues to throw the ball just well enough to keep its running game effective? What if Cal Lutheran, which can play toe-to-toe with Linfield, is really just as much a championship contender as the Wildcats are?

The history and the name recognition tend to be reliable indicators of what lies ahead, but they aren’t foolproof. Suppose we stripped the names off the contenders for playoff spots? Is Team A, which outscored its first four opponents, who have a combined record of 2-15, 200-33 any different from Team B, which outscored its first four, who are 3-15, 261-23?

Are Teams A and B one-and-done playoff teams, or teams that will make the postseason at all? Are they shoo-ins to win their conference. Does the tradition in each program, or the stats I’ve laid out, mean a hill of beans?

The best part of 2012 is that the ends of these stories have yet to be written. Destinies are still to be determined, influenced by effort as well as circumstance.

If we were to have a postseason where the drama and parity weren’t separated into two distinct categories, the first four weeks, and ‘who’s going to win, Mount Union or Whitewater?’, well then we’d have what D-II and D-I FCS have: A postseason, and by extension, season, which is wide open for any of a handful of teams to craft a dream finish.

The suspense surrounding UW-Whitewater, or Teams A and B (they are Heidelberg and Widener, by the way), or who is going to win any one of a handful of conference races – there are at least three unbeaten teams in the MIAC, OAC and NWC, and none in the NJAC, SCIAC or USAC – is part of what makes the ride so much fun.

Buckle up and enjoy it.

Streak watch

Perhaps Around the Nation harps on matters of perspective, but if part of the column’s mission is to educate, then it is necessary. Thirty-three of the 239 D-III football teams remain unbeaten – more than we could fit in our top 25 even if it were limited to those who have won every game – and 33 more have yet to win. They are:

5-0 (8 teams): Birmingham-Southern, Gettysburg, Hobart, Johns Hopkins, Salve Regina, Waynesburg, Whitworth, Widener.

4-0 (21 teams): Bethel, Bridgewater, Coe, Concordia (Ill.), Concordia-Moorhead, Heidelberg, Illinois College, Illinois Wesleyan, Ithaca, Lewis & Clark, Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Millsaps, Mount Union, Ohio Wesleyan, Otterbein, St. John Fisher, St. Thomas, UW-Oshkosh, Willamette, Wittenberg.

2-0 (4 teams): Amherst, Middlebury, Trinity (Conn.), Wesleyan.

The 33 winless teams:

0-5 (11 teams): Beloit, Earlham, Hiram, Knox, MacMurray, McDaniel, Misericordia, Morrisville State, Nichols, Olivet, St. Lawrence.

0-4 (15 teams): Anderson, Averett, Bethany, Buena Vista, Howard Payne, Lakeland, Luther, Maine Maritime, Maranatha Baptist, Marietta, Puget Sound, St. Vincent, UW-River Fallas, Western Connecticut State, Wilmington.

0-3 (3 teams): Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Occidental, Pomona-Pitzer.

0-2 (four teams): Bowdoin, Colby, Hamilton, Tufts.

Because the data shows up in the NCAA stats package, I can share a lot more of it with you than when I used to do it by hand. There are quite a few streaks lasting a season (10 games) or more, so one might find that your run of wins isn’t all that unique, or there are kindred spirits in persevering through losing skids. The point is not to celebrate or embarrass as much as to inform, so when one of these streaks is broken, you’ll recognize the significance.

Longest overall losing streaks:

30 games – Wilmington
25 – Earlham, Western Connecticut State
19 – Knox
17 – Tufts
16 – Nichols
14 – Puget Sound
13 – Hiram, Pomona-Pitzer
11 – Howard Payne
10 – Anderson, Morrisville State

Longest conference losing streaks:

76 – North Park
27 – Wilmington
22 – Earlham, Western Connecticut State
20 – Hamline
17 – Knox, Tufts
16 – Rockford
12 – Husson
10 – Austin, Nichols

Longest home losing streaks:

15 – Wilmington
14 – Guilford, UW-River Falls
13 – Earlham, Western Connecticut State
11 – Pomona-Pitzer

Longest road losing streaks:

21 – Olivet
18 – Puget Sound
17 – Thiel
16 – Hamilton
14 – Fitchburg State
13 – Kenyon, Knox, Howard Payne, Nichols, Sul Ross State
12 – Earlham, Hiram, Morrisville State, Rockford, Western Connecticut State
11 – Anderson
10 – Buena Vista, Loras, McDaniel, Tufts

Longest overall win streaks:

These are pretty short, because all but one of the nation’s best teams usually have lost in the previous season’s playoffs. When UW-Whitewater’s 46-game win streak fell in September, the national champion came out of the equation as well.

11 – Salve Regina
10 – Amherst, Heidelberg

Longest conference winning streaks:

48 – Mount Union
25 – UW-Whitewater
21 – Cal Lutheran, Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor
20 – Franklin
17 – Johns Hopkins, North Central, St. Scholastica
14 – Monmouth
13 – Christopher Newport
10 – Amherst, St. Thomas

Longest home win streaks:

49 – Mount Union
45 – Trinity (Conn.)
20 – Linfield, Wittenberg
10 – Washington and Lee

Longest away win streaks:

30 – UW-Whitewater
12 – Mount Union (a technicality, since their last loss as the “road” team came at a neutral site, in the Stagg Bowl; the last time they’ve lost a game not in Alliance or Salem dates from Nov. 26, 1994, a 34-33 playoff loss at Albion.)

Something in those streaks had to come as a surprise to you. Ohio Wesleyan, which lost seven in a row to start 2010, is the most surprising unbeaten team, and to see Guilford on the long-streaks lists stood out as well.

Note: After this column was originally published, corrections were made to streaks involving Mount Union, Trinity (Conn.), Loras, Gettysburg and North Park.

The ATN top 50

Also as a matter of perspective, ATN ranks teams past the top 25, so those of you on the cusp can get an idea of where you stand and what it will take to move up. The collective wisdom of the poll probably trumps my single mind, but I offer this anyway:

1. Mount Union: The next time it plays a team with a winning record will be the first. (Oct. 20 at Otterbein). Dominating on both sides of the ball.

2. Mary Hardin-Baylor: Has beaten three teams that were in the playoffs last season, and hung 76 on Sul Ross State. Should probably get No. 1 spot consideration.

3. Wesley: In a nod to the schedule they have played, I moved the Wolverines back up to third. They’re 2-1 against teams in my top 12.

4. Linfield: Stars Tyler Steele and Josh Hill are hurt, but the Wildcats have pulled out consecutive close victories, which might be the start of something special.

5. St. Thomas: Ranked here off reputation, to a degree. The second half of the schedule against all MIAC teams looks increasingly tough.

6. Salisbury: Beat Buffalo State, which beat UW-Whitewater. Was only fair to flip the two.

7. UW-Whitewater: Comeback win against UW-Platteville is usually the type of victory that moves a team up the list, but rankings can be funny this way.

8. Bethel: Barely got past Augsburg. Ranking reflects respect for MIAC.

9. Cal Lutheran: What a front-loaded schedule. If they take care of business at Redlands on Saturday night, I like their chances to make the postseason.

10. Heidelberg: High ranking for a team whose opponents aren’t very good so far, but the same can be said of other teams here. They are dominating.

11. North Central: Average score in past three wins is 41-12.

12. Louisiana College: Close loss to Wesley might pin them here until Oct. 13 UMHB game.

13. UW-Platteville: Respect for nearly beating Whitewater, worry about the QB injuries.

14. UW-Oshkosh: Has looked a little pedestrian against two WIAC opponents, but no point in separating them from Platteville. They’ll separate themselves Oct. 13.

15. Birmingham-Southern: We’ll find out what they’re made of when they travel to Wesley on Saturday.

16. Huntingdon: Managed to put together an impressive tour of the south with an independent schedule. This week’s stop: Jackson, Miss. and unbeaten Millsaps.

17. Hobart: Looking like the best Liberty League team since 2008, maybe earlier.

18. Johns Hopkins: On bye, with half a season of wins by at least two scores in the books.

19. Willamette: Not sure what to make of the 28-24 win at Sewanee, except that a team from Oregon flew home from Tennessee with a victory. Bearcats play undefeated Whitworth on Saturday.

20. St. John Fisher: More than the poll, I remain cautious on the Cardinals, because Hartwick was the first team it beat by more than one score.

21. Wittenberg: If we were comfortable with Wabash in the top 10, I don’t see with the Tigers don’t belong here, at least until Saturday’s home clash with the Little Giants.

22. Amherst: I feel obligated to respect the top team in the NESCAC. It’s only two weeks in, but the Lord Jeffs have been sharp out of the gate. Middlebury looms on Saturday.

23. Alfred: I put them here after the 40-17 Buffalo State thrashing, forgetting they’d lost, 24-6, to RPI.

24. Rowan: Struggling at Western Connecticut made a voter wary, but holding Brockport State to three points restored some faith.

25. Widener: Four huge wins over bad teams, and a great comeback against Lebanon Valley.

26. Salve Regina: Inching closer to the top 25 respect it craves.

27. Franklin: The HCAC’s bad non-conference record and the 45-7 loss to Mount Union aren’t helpful as you look at the Griz alongside similar teams.

28. UW-La Crosse: They could be criminally underrated, as first four games were on the road and include wins against No. 11 North Central and losses to D-II Northern Michigan and No. 14 Oshkosh. Saturday’s home game against UW-Platteville is a measuring stick for observers.

29. Pacific Lutheran: Losses to Linfield and Cal Lutheran, and a win against Redlands, probably mean their playoff chances are already shot, even though there’s a long way to go yet.

30. Concordia-Moorhead: The nation has been slow to catch on to the 4-0 Cobbers, but will take note if they win at Bethel on Saturday.

31. Otterbein: Wins against Baldwin Wallace and John Carroll were impressive.

32. Wabash: Will shoot back up the rankings by beating Wittenberg.

33. Trinity (Conn.): Two Ryan Burgess-to-A.J. Jones connections in the fourth helped Bantams rally from 10 down at Williams

34. Coe: Schedule gets tougher in October.

35. Wheaton: Three dominating wins, puzzling loss to Albion.

36. Illinois Wesleyan: I have no idea who to get behind in the CCIW. Prevented game-winning two-point conversion against Millikin.

37. Waynesburg: One point win at Thiel doesn’t inspire much confidence, but all five victories count.

38. Ithaca: Settled on a starting QB in Phil Neumann, and has already equaled last season’s win total.

39. Illinois College: Averaging 50 points a game, but schedule (opponents to date are 5-12) hasn’t done them any favors when it comes to rankings.

40. Millsaps: Win against Huntingdon would open a lot of eyes. List gets shaky from here to 50 in terms of teams with wins against other strong teams.

41. Whitworth: St. Scholastica is most impressive win.

42. Gettysburg: Might play themselves off the list, or higher on it, in consecutive road games at Muhlenberg and Johns Hopkins.

43. Lewis and Clark: Opposition has not been strong, but four wins so far.

44. Gallaudet: Two-score loss at Otterbein looks a lot better than it did at the time.

45. Carnegie Mellon: Lone loss is to Wabash.

46. Bridgewater: Weird year for ODAC. Washington and Lee has better win (Centre) than Eagles, but also odd loss. Eagles play Hampden-Sydney Saturday.

47. RPI: Beat Alfred, lost to Merchant Marine. Not sure what to make of the Engineers.

48. Lycoming: Distancing itself from opening-day loss to Brockport State.

49. Albion: Beat Wheaton and Central, lost to Benedictine.

50. Baldwin Wallace.

When there are no words

With an estimated 18,000 players, plus coaches and support personnel involved in D-III football in any given season, the most high doesn’t protect us all from misfortune. Deaths within a football program always hit hard, and the ripple effect changes the experience for many. When it’s a player who dies, the pain is greatest, because the man was young and had his whole life ahead of him, because he was often a beloved figure, and because so many who stood beside him can see themselves in his reflection.

It’s premature for me to write anything substantive about Washington & Jefferson running back Tim McNerney. I’m not informed enough to have any insight. But I know it’s not something that the D-III community should ignore. Even if all we can be is a shoulder to cry on, a friend to say a prayer or an opponent that shows respect for Washington & Jefferson at this time, it’s our responsibility to be that. Whether or not you knew or played against Tim, we in D-III have lost one of our own.

Three takes on Week 6

Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I take a look at what’s shaping up to be an incredible week of mostly conference clashes across D-III Friday morning on the Daily Dose, our blog. At the season’s midpoint, we’ll tackle who needs a win for morale purposes, who’ll continue to defy preseason expectations, plus our usual looks at possible upsets, surprisingly close games and games of the week. We’ll go coast to coast, in the Triple Take.

Six ways to Saturday

I see you guys on Instagram, tagging your game-day pics with #d3fb. I found 63 of them immediately upon (finally) signing up. Pictures are an important part of painting the full picture of what this D-III experience is like. Besides, there isn’t a soul on earth who can be at 120 game sites at once, so whatever photos you tweet or Instagram, video highlights or D3 Reports you share help make the picture of D-III more vivid.

If you want to follow the national picture, and you’re missing the conversation, especially on game days, you’re missing some of the best ATN and D3football.com have to offer. It’s no longer an era in D-III when everything you need to know is in Thursday’s columns. If you’re interested in seeing, hearing and joining in the discussion of what’s happening from Maine to Southern California and everywhere in between, here’s how you can keep up.

Follow ATN …

• Throughout the week on Twitter. Follow @D3Keith. It’s a sporadic stream of short-form minutiae, most of it D-III related. It’s also the best way to directly converse with the column’s author. There’s also @d3football and @D3MidAtlantic (Tipps), plus five of our regional columnists: @AdamTurer, @Andrew_Lovell, @BLester1993, @clydehughes and @kylerobarts.

If you want to get us to notice you, use hashtag #d3fb. On Saturdays, the ability to sort by hashtag on Twitter gives D-III football its own channel for live insights, in addition to our live scoreboards, which is home to instantaneous updates, plus all the live stats, audio and video links we’re aware of.

• On Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board. That’s the next-best place to ask a question about a topic raised in the column, or continue a discussion unrelated to this week’s ATN.

• 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.

• When the column publishes on Thursdays.

• In Friday morning’s Triple Take, on The Daily Dose.

• On Instagram, via @d3keith.

On Saturdays, our running game day conversation no longer lives on the Daily Dose, but on Twitter.

The press box

Crowd sourcing: I'm looking for your photos wearing D-III shirts or hats on vacations or at famous places around the world. It's for a future project, showing how we represent.

Also looking for ex-players and others willing to give testimonials about all-star games they’ve played in, recruiting services they’ve used and more. Please e-mail for more details.

For the Love of the Game: Show your love everywhere you go with an original, high-quality, color-themed Division III shirt from zazzle.com/D3Keith.

Readers: Around the Nation encourages your opinions, questions and insights. 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.mcmillan@d3sports.com or use our feedback form.

Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use keith.mcmillan@d3sports.com, or mail to D3football.com, 12457 Manchester Way, Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is D3football.com's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for D3hoops.com. He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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