September 6, 2012

Who had a bad loss, but can still have a good season?

Randolph-Macon got steamrolled in Week 1, but in Division III, anyone with an automatic bid to play for can pick itself up off the mat.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo

I spent the opening Saturday of the season at what I thought would be a great game.

It wasn’t.

Though Randolph-Macon at Johns Hopkins featured two teams coming off seasons of at least eight wins in evenly matched conferences, it was mostly a drubbing. The Blue Jays scored the first 27 points, the only ones in the first half, and dominated the line of scrimmage most of the game.

Some of you went to games like I did, and came away feeling like I did. Week 1 was filled with letdowns, due to the nature of preseason expectations alone. Not many teams expect failure, even if Week 1 turned out to be a fail.

The good news is an opening-game loss doesn’t always doom a season. For some, the first opponent is the best one they’ll see all season. Other teams are exposed, and need to go quickly back to the video room and work on improving. If a team has strong leadership and the right attitude, it can leave last week in the past, always focusing on the task at hand and the opponent on the coming Saturday.

For Randolph-Macon, it’s a little of both. Johns Hopkins might be the best team on the schedule until the Week 11 rivalry game against Hampden-Sydney, and maybe even including it. The Yellow Jackets also need to rebound quickly, as they host Averett on Saturday in the brand-new Day Field. No more football stadium-turned-baseball-outfield-grass at R-MC; the new Day has lights, turf and is surrounded on one end by a brick dorm. It’s the kind of project a lot of schools had done earlier in the 2000s.

R-MC also needs to quickly refurbish a team that gave up 344 rushing yards and allowed six sacks, including one for a safety. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and sometimes being humbled is a good foundation for a season of practices filled with players dedicated to really improving their crafts.

With that in mind, here are a handful of teams besides R-MC that took it on the chin in Week 1, but might still win seven, eight or nine games. And to take away the easy completions, North Central (a 21-17 loser against UW-La Crosse), Delaware Valley (a 27-13 loser at Rowan), Thomas More (a 13-7 overtime loser at St. John Fisher) and Franklin (a 45-7 loser against No. 2 Mount Union) are off the table. They were ranked sixth, ninth, 13th and 20th in the preseason top 25. Safe to assume they’re expected to win several games.

Who else had a bad loss and might yet have a good season?

Adrian

Bad Week 1 loss: Bulldogs, ranked No. 67 in Kickoff ’12, lost at home to No. 100 Carthage, 20-17

Week 2 opponent: Defiance, which lost 55-0 to Albion in Week 1

Next-toughest team it plays: At Huntingdon, No. 29 in Kickoff, Nov. 10

Outlook: While there’s no shame in a solid MIAA team losing to one from the CCIW, the Bulldogs are probably kicking themselves for the Carthage loss. They outgained the Red Men, 404-287, and despite falling behind 14-0 early after a fumble return touchdown, rallied to tie at 17. Then Carthage put together a 10-play game-winning field goal drive. Adrian will likely get right against Defiance this week, but to get to seven or more wins, it’ll take a solid performance against a schedule that includes a game at Wisconsin Lutheran on Sept. 15, two against MIAA teams it lost to last season, vs. Hope on Sept. 29 and at Albion Nov. 13, and the season-closing trip to Alabama. Trine and Kalamazoo were also Week 1 winners, so Adrian’s got work to do, but holding Carthage to 1 of 14 on third downs and keeping the ball for nearly 34 minutes shows that their Week 1 result is likely an anomaly.

Central

Bad Week 1 loss: The No. 54 Dutch lost, 47-28, at No. 27 UW-Oshkosh

Week 2 opponent: Augustana, a 39-21 loser at Dubuque in Week 1

Next-toughest team it plays: Wartburg, No. 34 in Kickoff, Nov. 3

Outlook: There’s also no shame in losing at a highly ranked WIAC team, but the Dutch’s opener fit the description of a bad loss, giving up the first 41 points. But over the past seven seasons, Central has averaged 9.43 wins, so it’d take a pretty non-standard season for the Dutch to fail to win seven. The schedule includes games at the MIAA’s Albion and against Dubuque, before four winnable games, and the closers against Wartburg and at Coe.

Christopher Newport

Bad Week 1 loss: The No. 60 Captains lost, 40-16, at home against No. 7 Salisbury

Week 2 opponent: at Hampden-Sydney, a 20-10 winner against Averett in Week 1

Next-toughest team it plays: N.C. Wesleyan, on the road Nov. 27

Outlook: It might get worse before it gets better for CNU, which has represented the USA South in the playoffs in eight of 11 seasons. A game at H-SC is trouble, but after that it’s Shenanadoah and the seven current USAC programs. This is sort of the Captains’ m.o., to play a top 10 team early (previously, they’ve faced Wesley and beaten Mary Hardin-Baylor), and then run through their schedule. The encouraging sign from the opener, and the reason it isn’t hard to believe CNU will follow its normal pattern: It was 13-all midway through the third period against Salisbury before the Sea Gulls turned it into a blowout. The Captains wore down, allowing 10 runs of 11 yards or more in the second half, including five of 30 or longer. There aren’t many lines like Salisbury’s, however.

Ohio Northern

Bad Week 1 loss: The No. 42 Polar Bears lost, 16-13 in overtime, to No. 144 N.C. Wesleyan

Week 2 opponent: At home against No. 36 Heidelberg

Next-toughest team it plays: At No. 2 Mount Union, Sept. 29

Outlook: Wins don’t come easily in the OAC, and with the top two conference teams on the schedule in Sept., ONU could be looking at a 1-3 opening month. But they also don’t leave Ohio again, and I imagine the trip to North Carolina was a little unnerving for players who barely take any overnight trips in their careers. But the bigger factors in the opener were four interceptions, which nullified a 398-292 total offense advantage, a time of possession advantage (34:35) and a lopsided third down conversion advantage (11 of 19 to 3 of 15). While it’d be disrespectful to N.C. Wesleyan to call their win a fluke, for Ohio Northern, it does have some traits that are encouraging. If the turnovers aren’t repeated, ONU would be in line for its typical season, which involves more wins than losses and a run at second place in the OAC.

Monmouth and St. Norbert

Bad Week 1 losses: Preseason No. 53 Monmouth lost at No. 48 Coe, 33-3; No. 61 St. Norbert, lost 40-3 to No. 56 John Carroll in Ireland (see blog excerpt below).

Week 2 opponents: No. 192 Beloit, a 20-6 loser at Chicago, and No. 226 Knox, a 62-55 loser against Eureka.

Next-toughest teams they play: Each other, at Monmouth, Sept. 29. And Illinois College, for Monmouth, on Oct. 27; The Blueboys and Green Knights miss each other on the MWC schedule rotation this season.

Outlook: The Green Knights and Scots are traditionally the power teams in the MWC, which either says something about the MWC, or says there is a new power team to be crowned this season. While IC is probably fits that description, the non-conference games are over, and the Scots and Green Knights can go back to dominating. In their opener, Beloit held Chicago’s Dee Brizzolara to two offensive touches for 18 yards, but allowed 101 yards to him on two touches in the return game. The Bucs also rushed for just 33 yards. St. Norbert’s got it even easier this weekend. The Prairie Fire famously allowed 736 passing yards, but they also were outgained 821-469 and blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. St. Norbert, which lost by 37 to open up, could have us searching down the record for margin of victory swing by Saturday night.

Washington and Lee

Bad Week 1 loss: The No. 62 Generals lost, 35-28, at No. 110 Franklin and Marshall.

Week 2 opponent: At No. 135 Sewanee, a 30-7 winner against Puget Sound.

Next-toughest team it plays: Centre, Sept. 15

Outlook: The debut of former offensive coordinator Scott Abel ended with the defense on the field, giving up a nine-yard Lamont Jackson TD run with 15 seconds left. But the Generals run game was intact, accounting for 331 of their 366 yards of offense, and they made correctable mistakes, like kicking the ball out of bounds before F&M’s final drive. After facing Centre, the Generals have only ODAC opponents to worry about. While Bridgewater or Emory & Henry or Randolph-Macon could cause them trouble, the Generals haven’t lost but one ODAC game in the past two seasons. That came against Nov. 3 opponent Hampden-Sydney.

The last dispatch from Ireland

John Carroll quarterback Jarrod Kilburn was kind enough to blog his team’s trip to Ireland for us. The first three installments are on the Daily Dose, herehere and here. But to prevent the posts from being lost or buried, I thought I’d turn ATN over to him. If anyone else is ever interested in blogging a week in the life on their campus, please e-mail me.

Jarrod and his team, if you haven’t read the first posts, played in Dublin as part of the G.I.F.T. program, and traveled by plane, participated in a parade and got to see a bit of the city before Saturday’s game, a 40-3 Blue Streaks win.

Here’s Jarrod afterward:

“The past two days have been so much fun, even more so because we won! The celebration started Friday night and carried well into Saturday morning at the GIFT 2012 tailgate at 9:30 a.m.  It was cool to have all the teams in the tournament together in one place at the same time and a member from each was honored by the GIFT 2012 committee and Notre Dame Alum Mike McCoy. Our representative was fifth-year senior captain Bob Schmitz – completely deserving of the award and very happy for him!

After the tailgate ended, we boarded the buses for Aviva Stadium to see the Emerald Isle Classic between Notre Dame and Navy at 2 p.m. Aviva was incredible – by far the most aesthetically pleasing stadium I’ve ever seen. The curvature of the stadium made it look so futuristic, and I don’t think there’s a bad seat in there. One of the end zones has a glass backing so that you can see suburban Dublin behind it. Really cool stuff – unlike any stadium in the U.S. I probably took twenty-five pictures of just the stadium because I loved it so much.

While the game was a blowout (50-10, Notre Dame), our seats made up for it – upper level, front row, 25-yard line. If I’m watching a game, I love being up high so that I can see everything develop pre-snap, so I was definitely happy.

Following the game, we walked about a half mile to Shelbourne Park at the Greyhound Race Track. I guess in Ireland instead of betting on horse races, they bet on dog races. Some of those dogs were so fast and just flew around the track. I found myself wondering how my dog Vader, who gallops around my yard like a horse, would do in a race here. The whole thing was interesting, but definitely a little bizarre. At around 8, we bused back to our hotels for some Dominos, a team meeting, and an early bed since our day Sunday would start early and be full of action.

Sunday started with a 9:30 a.m. mass at the Newman University Church with the team, our administration, alums, and parents. At 10:30, we all walked to brunch at the nearby National Concert Hall. Some of the alums there donated a substantial amount of money to fund our trip so it was great to be able to meet them and thank them for everything that they did for us. After brunch, we had a free hour so we all split up and walked around downtown Dublin to do some shopping for our families. It was pretty much the first time we were able to go off our own the whole trip, which was definitely nice.

At 1, we bused to Croke Park for the GAA Football Semi Finals between Maigh Eo and Ath Cliath, or Dublin. Gaelic football is like soccer on steroids, with some football elements sprinkled in. You can advance the ball by kicking it to teammates, but you can also scoop it with your hands and carry it like in football. Scoring is way different than anything I’d seen before – its three points if you kick or throw it in to a smaller soccer net and one point if you kick it through smaller uprights. Each half was thirty-five minutes with additional time added to the end of each for any injuries that took away from the flow of the game. From what we gathered in the pubs pre-game, Maigh Eo were heavy favorites since they “throttled” Dublin earlier in the season in league play, but from all indications it was going to be a pretty good game. The Irish couldn’t believe we had tickets as they were pretty hard to come by due to the scale of the game.

After some exploring of the surrounding areas and purchasing the colors of The Boys in Blue (Dublin), we finally found our way to our seats. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my entire life. 81,500-plus, mostly in baby blue and navy, were jammed into their seats and losing their minds. Rooting for a team there isn’t like it is here – there are no fair-weather fans in this sport. If you’re from Maigh Eo, you bleed red and green and if you’re from Dublin, you bleed baby blue and navy. The only way I can put the atmosphere in a way for anyone to understand without being there is like if Michigan and Ohio State played in the national championship game in Chicago – two teams that can’t stand each other in a somewhat neutral site. At half the game was a blowout with Maigh Eo winning by seven, but in the second half Dublin came out flying and went on a roll before losing by two in stoppage time. It was unbelievable to be in the stands with the fans that live and die with their teams and feel their emotion. I certainly won’t forget it anytime soon and it may actually end up tainting my experiences at any other pro sporting event, since it won’t come close to matching that passion and emotion I felt here.

Continuing the trend of the day, after the game we were dropped off in front of Trinity College in downtown Dublin and given two hours to do whatever we wanted for dinner. This was fun, but a little exhausting toward the end after the excitement and festivities surrounding the game. When we returned to City West, we had a brief team meeting to go over the next day’s travel itinerary and then were set free for the night to pack. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I reluctantly packed -- I had no desire to get back to the real world of tests and papers. The rest of the night was spent hanging out in various hotel rooms with the other guys on the team and laying low before our long day of travel the next day back to Cleveland.

As the trip finally concluded and we arrived home safely, there are so many people that need to be thanked. Obviously, the school and alums need to be thanked for allowing us to go on the trip by backing us financially. Every euro I spent was my own as anyone picked for the dress list had flights, meals, and hotels paid for, and for that I am truly thankful. The coaches need to be thanked for everything they did getting us prepared to play the game and for making sure that we were safe and accounted for everywhere we went. The entire country of Ireland and all of Irish need to be thanked for their hospitality and kindness. Everyone we met, from our tour guide Gerry to our bus driver Tony, to those at Trinity and Dublin College, bent over backwards to make sure that we were comfortable and informed. I don’t think we would have got quite as warm of a welcome had we played anyone else.

However, I think the biggest “thank you” of all should go to three people – Father Niehoff, Jane Evans, and Coach [Regis] Scafe. Father Niehoff not only allowed us to miss the first week of classes to travel an entire ocean away to play a football game, but he went with us and supported us the entire way. Not too many presidents at this level would do that. Jane Evans and Coach Scafe worked harder than most people involved in this trip in terms of maximizing our experiences on and off the field there and doing everything in their power to field a team that deserved to represent John Carroll on the world stage. These three cannot be thanked enough for their outstanding efforts.

While coming back to Carroll and getting back to class was somewhat of a letdown, there are some bright spots – nine of them actually, starting next week under the lights at Don Shula Stadium against cross-town rival Baldwin Wallace. Onward on!”

• One of the joys of Division III, and the automatic qualifier playoff system, is that a single slip-up out of the gate doesn’t quash dreams for the rest of a season. In 2011, six playoff teams – Albion, Cal Lutheran, McMurry, Monmouth, North Central and Norwich -- lost their opening game and still made the field of 32. Benedictine, Christopher Newport, Franklin and Wesley lost in Week 2, while Norwich and Albion each lost their first three and made it.

The ATN top 50

Inspired by my oft-repeated theory that D-III, with 239 teams, is twice the size of Division I-A, with its 120, and therefore should have an equivalent ranking of 50 teams instead of 25, here’s my look past No. 25. I’ll include commentary where relevant, and acknowledge that early in the season, with but one piece of data to analyze, my ranking (which does not necessarily match the D3football.com poll) can be fairly subjective. Feel free to discuss over at D3boards.com, on the ATN thread.

1. UW-Whitewater: And still the champeen of the world.

2. Mount Union: America, meet Chris Denton

3. Wesley: Trip to Texas began national barnstorming tour.

4. Mary Hardin-Baylor: We’re going to find out quickly what kind of team it has.

5. Linfield: Visit from Hardin-Simmons will tell us more than Menlo did.

6. St. Thomas: Gained respect with comeback against UW-Eau Claire.

7. Salisbury: Picking up right where it left off, mauling defenses.

8. Wabash: Hanging here because of how they closed last season, really.

9. Bethel: Leap of faith putting No. 2 MIAC team in top 10.

10. Wheaton: Another leap of faith; top 10 feels weird without CCIW team.

11. Cal Lutheran: Had them in single digits on preseason ballot; It opens this week.

12. Heidelberg: If you’re No. 2 in the OAC, you can be No. 12 in my ranking.

13. St. John Fisher: Exactly what you want from a tough opener: A challenge, and a win.

14. Thomas More: Overtime loss to SJF obligates me to tie them together in ranking.

15. Louisiana College: This year’s Centre, a.k.a. the good team that finally makes playoffs.

16. Birmingham-Southern: Moultrie, Morris, Vermilyea had long gainers in Week 1.

17. Hampden-Sydney: Didn’t necessarily look worthy of this ranking against Averett.

18. Franklin: Praise them for playing Mount Union; can’t penalize ‘em for being pummeled.

19. Rowan: Win against Delaware Valley, plus Kean, Montclair, Cortland losses means we’ve re-evaluated NJAC.

20. UW-Platteville: No trouble in opener. I’m probably buying in a little early.

21. Hobart: Shutting out Dickinson caught my attention.

22. Johns Hopkins: Looks like they have the potential to be better than last season.

23. Trinity (Texas): Dominated Howard Payne, 56-7; was 22 seconds from shutout.

24. Elmhurst: I’m getting on the Bluejays bandwagon admittedly early.

25. Centre: Rushed for 272 yards at Bethany in opener.

26. Widener: Experienced lineup had no trouble with Western Conn., nor should it have.

27. UW-Oshkosh: I should be giving them Platteville’s respect after thrashing Central.

28. North Central: I’ve been buying into Cardinals on name recognition. Need to see Ws now.

29. Delaware Valley: Should rebound from Rowan loss; That’s not an easy opener.

30. Wittenberg: Tables turned from when Capital used to crush them in opener.

31. Albright: Won at Kean under the lights. Have to acknowledge it.

32. Willamette: Put up a ton of points against Hardin-Simmons. Have to acknowledge it.

33. Coe: Beating Monmouth isn’t the same with Alex Tanney gone, but it was thorough.

34. Wartburg: I liked it better when they opened up with a good team. Bethel should be a test.

35. Amherst: Best team in NESCAC compares to best in LL or CC. Three-week late start makes it hard to ascertain which team it will be though.

36. Illinois Wesleyan: Four CCIW teams is a lot. But Titans belong here for now.

37. Redlands: North Central, PLU, Oxy, Cal Lutheran are first four games.

38. Dubuque: I’m wary of the Spartans, but they impressed in Week 1.

39. UW-La Crosse: Beat North Central, so I’m breaking my own rule. Oops.

40. St. John’s: Beating Northwestern tells us little; history tells us Johnnies will be good.

41. John Carroll: St. Norbert win was an eye opener.

42. Baldwin Wallace: Potential to be No. 2 in the OAC; I’m not sure yet.

43. UW-Eau Claire: Had St. Thomas dead to rights. Maybe too low.

44. Huntingdon: The offense put up 49. Can they play any defense? (33 vs. Maryville)

45. Brockport State: Thumped Lycoming in opener. Are they keeping Kean’s top 50 seat warm?

46. Illinois College: RB Cecil Brimmage, 28 carries, 341 yards in Week 1.

47. Bridgewater State: Kickoff’s pick to win the NEFC beat former Empire 8 team Springfield in Week 1.

48. Trinity (Conn.): Check back in late September after they play at Williams.

49. Waynesburg: More impressive than Washington & Jefferson, St. Vincent in Week 1.

50. North Carolina Wesleyan: Win over Ohio Northern puts them back in discussion.

Help a recruit

I get a handful of e-mails, letters and phone calls each year from players who are looking for advice on how to find their way on to a D-III roster. I used to refer to people to the ‘Parents with children looking to play in D3’ thread, which conveyed the right messages, part of which is find a school that you’ll love, and then try to play football, rather than finding a football team that you love. It’s important to find a fit athletically, but it’s most important to find a place you’ll flourish as a person, regardless of how your playing career turns out.

This latest e-mail I got has the name and high school redacted, but I’d like to open up the replies to the general wisdom; you guys collectively always give better advice than me by myself. I have started a new thread on the boards, which I hope can be a catch-all for anyone who wants to use us to find a match. We’ve had some success stories in the past, on that parents thread, where the board has been able to help a player find a place to flourish. Now I’m just trying to organize all the collected wisdom so we can refer people there as they ask over time.

Here’s the latest note I received:

“Hello Mr. McMillan,

My name is Michael [last name] and I am a senior [in high school]. I play linebacker and on kick return for my team. I haven't gotten as much playing time as I hoped for so far, most likely because I just transferred to [my school] this year, and I'm not the most talented athlete out there. I'm pretty much an average football player with a love for the game, and this is my fourth year playing high school football. Could you please give me some advice on what to do to get recruited to play college football? Possibly for a D2 or D3 school?”

Michael, I’m going to do you one better. I’m going to let everyone give you advice. We’ve got good people here willing to help. A good place to start is to post on the thread, telling everybody what you would like to study in college.

Best of luck to you.

D-III in the NFL

According to FCGrizzliesGrad on D3boards, 10 D-III players made it through cutdown day. Head over to the boards to see which players they are, plus help us keep track of D-III in the CFL and Arena League.

Three takes on Week 2

This Saturday is a doozy. No. 3 Wesley at No. 6 Salisbury, No. 14 Redlands at No. 13 North Central, Kean at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, Hardin-Simmons at No. 7 Linfield, No. 15 Bethel at Wartburg, Dubuque at No. 21 UW-Platteville … and that’s just the top 25 highlights. Merchant Marine is at Coast Guard and Coe is at Cornell in matchups of longtime rivals, plus Worcester State and WPI and Concordia (Ill.) and Chicago play crosstown games.

Long story short, you’ll want to check out this week’s Triple Take Friday morning on the Daily Dose, where Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I dig through this week’s slate of games and give you a look at where to look. Upsets happen every week, but if you’re a Triple Take reader, you see some of them coming.

Check it out here.

Five Ways to Saturday

Follow Around the Nation …

• 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. Bottom line, if you’re not with @d3football and our various Twitter accounts, you’re missing out on the best updates there are.

• 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 Saturdays, The Daily Dose features a running game day thread and live chat, for real-time reactions from across the country.

The press box

Crowd sourcing: Share your ideas for the year-in-review column on the ATN thread.

For the Love of the Game: Show your love everywhere you go:

 

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 email 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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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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