November 15, 2012

Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments

How many playoff games will Hobart's Tyre Coleman get?
Hobart athletics photo by Kevin Colton

At this point in the run up to 32 teams taking the field for Saturday’s first round of the playoffs, it’s time to turn the page from who didn’t get off the bubble. But before I invite our three guest analysts to join me for our annual look what at could occur both good and bad from here, let’s take a few snapshots of the field as a whole.

There’s a lot to like about who did get in, even though a disproportionate amount of initial reaction to the bracket is always spent quibbling about whether Teams 33 and beyond were really Team 32.

For the vast majority of Division III, beating Mount Union or winning a Stagg Bowl is a dream that’s not going to come true. As many times as I’ll probably say over the next few weeks that this field is wide open, there are really maybe six championship contenders, and another handful of teams who can last three of the five playoff weeks.

The joy of Rounds 1 and 2 are the games between the proletariat of D-III, the chances for most of the programs we can actually relate to to have their days in the sun. For a good portion of the nation, winning a conference championship and a first-round game is a realistic goal. While they might always aspire higher, the truth is these are 32 of the nation’s top teams, and three-quarters of them will be eliminated before your Thanksgiving leftovers are.

The meat of the playoffs is now, in the relentless rush of the next two Saturdays full of simultaneous noon-local-time clashes, games where we legitimately aren’t sure who’ll win. Unfamiliar teams meet (sorry West Coast and Deep South, not you) and play games decided in the final minutes. The best in D-III rise, as the time to shine is now, and the final chapters of 2012 are being written.

Here are some impressions of the field, viewed through different prisms, so you can see it all in another light.

Appreciating the 32

• Twenty-two of the top 25 are in the field. That might seem like three too few, especially for fans of No. 13 UW-Platteville, No. 15 Wheaton and No. 22 Concordia-Moorhead, or 9-1 Ohio Wesleyan and Waynesburg, but it’s not abnormal. Last season, 21 of the top 25 were in, and two 9-1 teams were left out as well.

As long as D-III is about fair access to the playoffs, in all sports, and the automatic qualifier system gives added meaning to in-season competition for almost the entire division, then the 32 teams we get aren’t always going to be the consensus top 32. UW-Platteville, Wheaton and Concordia-Moorhead would give a handful of teams in these playoffs the business, but the D-III playoff philosophy, set by the member institutions, is not about the most powerful field alone. And so those student-athletes lose out so the players from 6-4 Christopher Newport and no-chance-at-beating-UW-Oshkosh St. Scholastica can participate.

Whether doing it a different way would be better is a discussion for another day. The fact that three 8-2 teams from power conferences are on the outside looking in is getting buried beneath the stories of the three 8-2 teams from power conferences that got in. The inclusion of Pacific Lutheran, Louisiana College and Bethel is a major victory for proponents of strong scheduling. True, it could have been a more major victory, but let’s not begrudge Team 32 its spot when there are three included teams that will enhance the first round, and likely beyond.

• Those of you who listened to the podcast with selection committee chair Brad Bankston got a hint at what it costs to charter a flight for a football team, and perhaps understand why the NCAA places such emphasis on keeping costs down, even at the expense of the very best playoff matchups possible. Remember that D-III doesn’t have the attendance or TV contract to pay for itself, so the fact travel is covered at all by the division and not the schools is a bonus. Be thankful your small school on a tight budget never has to say no to a playoff invite because it would rather put $30,000 in a scholarship endowment or pay the campus heating bill instead.

The tournament rules call for schools more than 500 miles apart to fly to playoff matchups and bus otherwise. In Round 1, that means the only air travel matchup is North Central at Cal Lutheran (2,029 miles and 32 hours of driving per Google Maps, though the NCAA has its own mileage-measurement system).

There are a bunch of potential flights in Rounds 2 and 3 though:

North Central at Linfield: 2,133 miles
Pacific Lutheran at North Central: 2,038
Pacific Lutheran at Cal Lutheran: 1,108
Cal Lutheran at Linfield: 951
Adrian at Mary Hardin-Baylor: 1,265
Franklin at Mary Hardin-Baylor: 1,057
Franklin at Louisiana College: 864
Louisiana College at Adrian: 1,084

--

UW-Oshkosh at Linfield: 2,049
Bethel at Linfield: 1,767
UW-Oshkosh at Cal Lutheran: 2,105
Bethel at Cal Lutheran: 1,975
Coe at Hobart: 869
Elmhurst at Hobart: 657
Hobart at St. Thomas: 1,041
Heidelberg at St. Thomas: 687
Wittenberg at St. Thomas: 714
Louisiana College at Wesley: 1,274
Wesley at Mary Hardin-Baylor: 1,563
Cortland State at Mary Hardin-Baylor: 1,658
Bridgewater State at Mount Union: 644

I didn’t run every possible matchup, and a few potential clashes came in at just under 500 miles: Wittenberg at Hobart (473), Bridgewater State at Salisbury (444) and Washington & Lee at Heidelberg (437).

There are also a couple that came in a hair shorter: Rowan at Widener (21 miles), Bethel at St. Thomas (a potential semi, a round I didn’t look into for this item; 9 miles)

• This year the MIAC missed on becoming the second conference to earn a pair of Pool C bids in the same season. The at-large playoff spots went to the NWC, MIAC, OAC, CCIW, ASC, NJAC and NEFC.

The total distribution of Pool C bids in the 14 seasons since 1999 is:

ASC – Seven (2001, 2004, 2006, 2008-09, 2011-12)
CC – One (1999)
CCIW – Seven (2004-06, 2008, 2010-12)
Empire 8 – Three* (2006, 2008; Also sent two teams in 2003 as a Pool B league)
HCAC – One (2008)
IIAC – Five (1999, 2001-02, 2005, 2009)
LL – One* (2006; In 2000, league was called UCAA and sent two teams to Pool B)
MAC – Two (2005, 2009)
MIAA – Zero
MIAC – Eight (2001, 2003, 2005-07, 2009-10, 2012)
MWC – One (2011)
NEFC – Two (2008, 2012)
NJAC – Three* (2005, 2009, 2012; Also sent two teams in Pool B in 1999, 2001)
NCAC – Two (2002, 2009)
NWC – Two* (2004, 2012; Also sent two teams in B in 1999-2000)
PAC – Three (2005, 2008-09)
OAC – Ten (1999-2000, 2002-03, 2005-08, 2010, 2012)
ODAC – Two (2000, 2010)
SCIAC – One (2011)
USAC – One (2004)
WIAC – Three (2006-08)

The currently defunct SCAC did it once in 2011. The ACFC sent Brockport State and Wesley in 2000, Salisbury and Brockport State in 2002, and Wesley and Salisbury in 2007. Thomas More went in 2001, the same year W&J did, but it was independent then. The playoff field was only 28 teams from 1999 to 2004, so the number of at-large bids was extremely limited. The number also has varied as conferences’ eligibility has.

As to what to make of the numbers, some are surprising, but they aren’t always an indication of conference strength. The NWC and NJAC have been home to some of the famous snubs, but the NWC was also a Pool B conference in 1999 and 2000, when it sent two teams to the postseason. Also in some years conferences are very competitive and so only the champion gets a Pool A bid, and nobody else is 9-1, or 8-2 with outstanding peripherals.

• Based on the national ranking of 239 D-III teams coming into the postseason, some teams will be known as offense-led, some defense-led and many balanced.

Ten of the top 20 offenses by total yards made the playoffs. All but 10 playoff teams were in the nation’s top 55 in total offense and scoring offense.

Eleven of the top 17 defenses made it, and all but 11 of the playoff teams are in the top 55 in total defense. But among defenses, there are three teams with a huge discrepancy in yards allowed and points allowed. Coe is the third-ranked scoring defense but 45th in yards; Rowan is fifth and 51st. Heidelberg is 11th and 63rd. Whether that suggests these teams are bend but don’t break, hold teams to field goals instead of touchdowns or are just opportunistic, I’m not sure. I’d have to dig further into each teams’ numbers to find out.

There are some conclusions in the outliers. Elmhurst (151st), Cortland State (159), Cal Lutheran (201) and Concordia-Chicago (210) made the playoffs with bad defenses, measured by yards. But in points, No. 113 CLU was the worst that got in; the halfway point of D-III or average defense would be around 120.

Eight of the top 12 defenses got in (and this doesn’t exclude ineligible NESCAC teams), but no team below average. Yet there are five below-average offensive teams that made it: No. 128 Wesley, No. 143 Christopher Newport, No. 147 Bethel, No. 155 Adrian and No. 166 St. Norbert.

Here are the top defenses in the postseason, by points and yards: No. 1/1 Mount Union, No. 4/4 Adrian, No. 6/2 Framingham State, No. 8/10 St. Scholastica, No. 22/5 Hobart, No. 19/12 North Central, No. 15/13 St. Thomas, No. 25/8 Bridgewater State, No. 29/14 Linfield and No. 12/17 Salisbury. These are the teams you can reasonably expect to be carried by the defense for a round or more.

Here are the top offenses in the postseason: No. 1/4 Mount Union, No. 3/3 UMHB, No. 6/5 Cal Lutheran, No. 2/13 Widener, No. 7/15 Linfield, No. 21/11 UW-Oshkosh, No. 22/12 Johns Hopkins, No. 12/14 Concordia-Chicago.

A lot of playoff teams top 50 or just outside it on both sides of the ball, both in scoring and yardage. But only two are top 25 in all four rankings: Mount Union and Johns Hopkins.

• Going by the top 25 poll, each of the four clusters has two or three unranked teams, and two or three top 10 teams. Aggregating the rankings and dividing by eight (with a 26 given for anyone receiving votes and a 27 for being completely unranked), the Linfield cluster is the strongest (15.5 average ranking), the UMHB and Mount Union clusters are equal in strength (18.1) and the St. Thomas cluster is weakest (31.75). That, of course, is completely backwards from how the seeds are laid out, with Linfield being the No. 1 overall seed, which means we expect to can hear more complaining coming from the West.

• Even without one of the purple powers in the postseason, the color is still likely to be represented in the later rounds. Linfield, Cal Lutheran, St. Thomas, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Mount Union all wear the color.

Black and gold (UW-Oshkosh, PLU, Adrian, Framingham State), Navy and light blue (Wesley, Elmhurst, Johns Hopkins), Red (North Central, Wittenberg, Cortland State, Bridgewater State), orange (Hobart, Heidelberg, Louisiana College) and various shades of blue (Bethel, St. Scholastica, Franklin, Widener, W&L and CNU) are well represented as well. Green, brown and maroon also appear in the color schemes of two or fewer teams.

Our surprises and disappointments

This is what you’re all here for. Pat, Ryan, Frank and I did not consult with each other; We’re also based in or have ties to each of the four administrative regions, so hopefully our biases balance out. Mostly though these are just four opinions on teams that will ultimately surprise and disappoint.

Linfield Bracket

Surprises

Ryan: Cal Lutheran. Over the past four seasons, the SCIAC winner has been sent to play at an NWC school in Round 1. No longer. The Kingsmen not only don’t have to play Linfield, but they also get to host Saturday’s matchup against North Central. The CCIW is one of the nation’s toughest conferences, but Cal Lutheran is in position to earn a marquee win and set up a rematch with Linfield (the regular season game of which ended in a narrow 33-30 Wildcats victory after a field goal with just five seconds to go).

Frank: Cal Lutheran. The growth of this team over the last decade is a classic case of investment yielding results. The long flight for North Central combined with a gruesome matchup between Linfield and Pacific Lutheran will make the pod very winnable for Cal Lutheran.

Pat: North Central. Am I allowed to call it a surprise? I'm not a fan of the way Cal Lutheran has ended its regular season, and while North Central hasn't exactly had a perfect season either, I feel they're in a better position coming in.

Keith: None. Call it a cop-out if you wish. I expect a Linfield/UW-Oshkosh quarterfinal despite the strength of the teams here, yet it wouldn’t be a shocker if Cal Lutheran or North Central – teams that have spent time in the top 10 – moved through. Nor would it be stunning to see Pacific Lutheran, which was tied in the second half of early-season losses to Linfield and CLU, move on. The only things that would surprise here is Concordia-Chicago or St. Norbert winning, or Bethel upsetting UW-Oshkosh in Round 2.

Disappointments

Ryan: Concordia-Chicago. Big credit goes to any team that emerges from the regular season unscathed. To maintain focus and momentum for all 10 games is difficult for anyone, and the Cougars should be lauded for that. But like we’ve seen in the past, when teams from typically weaker conferences meet teams from stronger conferences in the postseason, the game can get messy. Concordia players are all too likely to come away from Saturday disappointed, but there’s a lot that can be said if they put up a good fight and keep the game close through four quarters.

Frank: Bethel. I've had a soft spot for Bethel since getting to call them in the 2010 national semifinal in Alliance, Ohio. They gave Mount Union a real challenge early before fading around halftime. That said, that was then and this is now. Bethel is not the same team I called in 2010. They are still very good, but the team can't seem to click on all cylinders this season. I think playoff experience vs. playoff rookies will not be enough to make the Oshkosh game a horse race.

Pat: Concordia-Chicago. While it's great how this program has made the next step of winning the conference title but I don't think that playing Lake Forest/Chicago/Hope prepares a team to play Bethel. This is not the playoff debut the Cougars are best suited for. They'll be giving up a lot of size to Bethel and while that's not the be-all and end-all, it isn't going to help.

Keith: Cal Lutheran. Early in the season, there was real hope for a breakthrough for the perennial SCIAC champions, and as is custom, it would have to come from beating Linfield, which is every bit the glass ceiling to the Kingsmen that Mount Union has been to Wheaton over the years. But when you enter the playoffs with the No. 5 offense nationally (in yards; sixth in scoring) and the No. 201 defense (No. 113 scoring) and you see Nick Kukuc, Jordan Tassio and Spencer Stanek in Round 1, or Mickey Inns et. al. in Round 2, disappointment is a-comin’. Wide receiver Eric Rogers and the gang could lift the Kingsmen in one shootout, but that’s not a sustainable formula for winning in the postseason.

Last team standing

Ryan: Linfield. In our preseason publication, Kickoff 2012, I picked the Wildcats to go all the way and win in Salem. Despite losing rusher Josh Hill and defender Tyler Steele to injuries, Linfield still looks like a strong team and a championship contender.

Frank: UW-Oshkosh. The weather in Wisconsin will give the Titans the firm advantage in early December vs. any western team. Advantage Oshkosh.

Pat: Linfield. But the Linfield/UW-Oshkosh game in the quarterfinals should be a good one.

Keith: UW-Oshkosh. Healthier and coming out of the less bruising foursome in this eight-team cluster, the Titans edge the Wildcats in a game for the ages.

St. Thomas Bracket

Surprises

Ryan: Coe. The IIAC usually gets a good bit of love from the D-III community, but this year it wasn’t until Week 7 that Coe was able to break into the Top 25. The Kohawks have a balanced offense, and aside from the Dubuque game in mid-October, they’ve looked clean for several weeks. We may see St. Thomas getting a run for its money in Round 2.

Frank: Hobart. It's rare to consider a No. 2 seed as a surprise, but the Statesmen have many doubters remaining, especially outside the East Region. Here's a little secret, though: Hobart has yet to play their best game of the season -- or, at least what I know they're capable of playing. This is a team with a great defense, an efficient, balanced offense and stars on both sides of the ball. As long as senior quarterback Nick Strang’s injury is mendable for him to be at full strength by the second round, this team can easily establish to everyone that the seeding is no fluke.

Pat: Elmhurst. It'll be an interesting test, really, of the relative strength of conferences. Does giving up 42 to Millikin or 31 to an injury-depleted Illinois Wesleyan translate into a playoff win against an undefeated champion of another conference?

Keith: Washington & Lee. I used to balk at the Generals when they’d win the ODAC, but now they seem like the kind of team that could be trouble for a defense that hasn’t seen them before. W&L is the nation’s No. 1 rush offense, at 381 yards per game, and have scored 41 or more points in six of the past seven weeks, save for a four-turnover game against Bridgewater. Hobart counters with the nation’s No. 5 defense, so I love this matchup in Round 1. The kind of athletes the Statesmen bring to the table are similar to what W&L sees in the ODAC. Against a team with a lesser defense, I’d call an upset, but against Hobart I think it’s a scare that the 10-0 team eventually pulls out. This is one of the 10 first-round games with video linked from our scoreboard, so if you’re at home and your squad isn’t underway yet, you’ll want to get a peek at Bobby Dougherty, Devin Worthington and Co. against Luke Heinsohn, Nick Lombardo and Co.

Disappointments

Ryan: Washington & Lee. We often talk about how teams that haven’t faced W&L’s option offense can struggle. But in the postseason, that doesn’t seem as likely. Thomas More didn’t have any problem going up against it two years ago. And while the Generals are a more veteran team now than then, it’s unlikely that a team as good as Hobart (whose defense practices against a top-notch run game every day) will struggle either. This year will probably extend the ODAC’s drought against playoff competition.

Frank: Coe. The Kohawks were a team that all season on my ballot, I second-guessed myself concerning. They kept winning, yes, but their schedule strength just didn't wow me enough to simply roll the team up the ballot as losses occurred. On the other hand, Elmhurst has been rolling against good opponents since the North Central loss. I think Elmhurst keeps the game close enough to win in a thriller despite traveling to Coe.

Pat: Heidelberg, if Cartel Brooks isn't 100 percent. If he is, then Hobart.

Keith: Elmhurst. For folks outside Illinois, I drove the Bluejays bandwagon here. So I’m sorry to say this is the last stop. But don’t blame me; Look at a defense that ranks No. 151 in the nation (only three playoff teams come in lower) and gives up 202.1 (!) rushing yards per game. Just the Bluejays’ luck, Coe rushes for more than 200 yards per game, led by Brendan Leiran, and has an efficient quarterback in Jared McNutt. When the brackets came out, I thought this was going to be a great game. Now I wonder how good a game Scottie Williams and Joe Furco would have to have for the Bluejays to win.

Last team standing

Ryan: Heidelberg. Yup, gotta slip a longshot pick in here. The Student Princes could be one-and-done almost as likely as they could be the bracket champs. No other team has come close to Mount Union this year, and that should give the Berg some confidence.

Frank: Hobart. I'm trying to not be a homer with my pick, but I see Hobart-St. Thomas as a great potential matchup. It will be close late, but the Statesmen will pull it out on the road.

Pat: St. Thomas. While the Tommies' offense is young and inconsistent, the defense can carry them this far.

Keith: St. Thomas. If I had any guts, I’d pick someone different here, as the Tommies (much like Wesley, as I’ll mention below) seem to have lost a lot from last season. But these Tommies also earned their perch, beating four seven- or eight-win teams in the second half of the season, holding the two eight-win teams to single digits. They played only WIAC and MIAC teams this season, so there isn’t a caliber of player in the postseason that’ll throw them off their game. And though I think Hobart is as equipped as any upstate New York team to go through to the semifinals since St. John Fisher in 2006 or RPI in 2003, geographical association creates doubt too. Last season, St. John Fisher was beaten 45-10 at St. Thomas, so Hobart – if it gets that far – has to prove that that result isn’t representative of New York football vs. that in Minnesota.

Mary Hardin-Baylor Bracket

Surprises

Ryan: Adrian. Having to mount come-from-behind efforts to win the past two weeks against two of the toughest opponents of their schedule has given the Bulldogs a lot of excitement going into the postseason. It’s been discussed a few times this year about how hard it is to gauge Adrian’s opponent, Franklin. I’m not dogging on Franklin, just uncertain. Adrian is in the postseason for the first time in a quarter-century and is hosting for the first time ever. While their fortunes have little chance of extending past Round 2, just getting there will be enormously rewarding.

Frank: There's something about Franklin this year that makes it tough to assess the team's relative strength. Maybe it's because their losses to Mount Union and Butler represented "aim high" scenarios, but their other games represented "low competition" issues. Whatever the reason, I believe the team has the offensive capability to make it to Belton and to put up a fight. Would they win? It'd be a close call. However, many see Franklin exiting in the first round. I don't.

Pat: The fact that two Massachusetts teams (Framingham State and Mount Ida) are in the Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket. Generally only Mount Union would get this kind of treatment in its bracket. Neither of them is getting in a plane any time soon, but at least a different bracket gets the benefit for once.

Keith: Cortland State. As we assume there’s yet another UMHB-Wesley matchup on the horizon, take note of the Red Dragons. They’ve won eight straight, with defense, with offense, with grit and against significant opponents. Wesley would mark the longest trip of the season, but Wolverines teams have lost to top teams out of the NJAC before, so it wouldn’t be the mismatch national name-recognition might have you believe.

Disappointments

Ryan: Louisiana College. The draw is a tough one for a team that finally broke out of its string of 7-3 seasons yet was also pasted in the regular season 30-3 by Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Wildcats could be the third-best team in this bracket, but they won’t be able to prove it to anyone because of the ASC rematch.

Frank: Wesley. This is a very good team. In years past, Wesley was a great team. Something happened on the way to 2012 that just hasn't sold me on Wesley's consistency this season. Their game against Mount Ida will not prepare the team for a resurgent Cortland State team, and I see the Red Dragons as very capable of making it a long day for Wesley in the second round. The Wolverines are no guaranty for a trip to Belton this year.

Pat: Cortland State. I don't think the Red Dragons will be nearly as dominant in the first round as they should be. And that’s about all I can base this pick on, since they would not be expected to win the following week.

Keith: Louisiana College. Having played Wesley to the brink earlier in the season, the Wildcats have proven that they’re neck and neck with the second best team among the eight in this cluster. But being what I’d consider No. 3 won’t show up unless they can summon the will to knock off No. 1. We can complain that it’s unfair. But looked at from a competitor’s perspective, LC is given the chance to avenge both of its losses, set the bar high for the future of the program, and can add one more us-against-the-world tick to its list, since I’ve now tabbed them as a team to disappoint. Am I wrong? Prove it.

Last team standing

Ryan: Mary Hardin-Baylor. A rematch of the 2004 national semifinals anyone? Heck yeah! And I know a few folks in Alliance who would like another stab at the Cru.

Frank: Mary Hardin-Baylor. All they do is win, win, win. And in the first three rounds, all the Cru will do is win, win, win.

Pat: Mary Hardin-Baylor. I don't like how Wesley has been behind in so many games this season and I don't see the Wolverines winning in Texas, even though they should certainly be used to traveling.

Keith: Mary Hardin-Baylor. They’ll face Wesley again, and while that Wolverines team had “it” – that something special a team needs to get to Salem – this one has only its scars from having played three playoff teams and two other seven-win to prove its worthiness. Oddly, Wesley’s easiest two games were in Week 10 against Apprentice, then a bye, then this week’s first-round home game. But what lies ahead is another trip to Texas, and unless the humming UHMB offense meets its match, this year it’s the Cru’s turn to march up to Alliance and take a shot at the kings.

Mount Union Bracket

Surprises

Ryan: Salisbury. A team like the Gulls that can easily throw three or four solid rushers against an opponent is going to be hard to stop. Rowan won’t be able to do it. The question is whether Widener could in Round 2. I’m thinking not. The Pride has given up too many points over the past five games to be able to show that they can contain a touchdown machine like Salisbury. And a Salisbury/Mount Union matchup in the regional final would make for some very cool football.

Frank: Bridgewater State. Allow me to ascend my soapbox for a moment. The behavior related to Bridgewater State's selection has been nothing short of appalling. For three weeks, pundits and non-pundits alike have stated out loud how undeserving this team is at 9-1 to be in the tournament. Whether or not you agree with the selection and the way the criteria allowed for the pick, it isn’t this team’s fault for being selected. They scheduled a relatively strong team as an out-of-conference game and won (Springfield). They lost to the eventual NEFC champ and nobody else. This team need not make a single apology to anyone for being in the field. I've stated that maybe Concordia-Moorhead was a better choice if the board sat the way we have predicted. That said, it was a close call that could be argued either way. The last time two NEFC teams made the field? 2008. Curry was a controversial selection. Curry beat Ithaca in the first round. Bridgewater State will play proud and keep it close, earning respect that shouldn't need to be earned to the degree we've collectively required this month.

Pat: Washington and Jefferson. This once-proud program has a fire underneath it lately and I am sure you don't need me to tell you why. I'm not quite sure they can pull off the first-round win, but they will come motivated.

Keith: Salisbury/Rowan winner: There are three programs in this bracket who won’t be shook on a trip to Alliance. The Sea Gulls played at UW-Whitewater last season, while both Widener and Rowan have been to Mount Union, albeit before their current rosters were recruited. The opportunity exists for whoever wins the first-round game on the Eastern shore to also win at Widener – Rowan could bring a home-game contingent of fans across the Walt Whitman Bridge – and to surprise the nation in the quarterfinals in Ohio. But the path is not easy either; each round represents a team that could go off – Salisbury’s option offense is lethal when clicking. Rowan’s defense has the ability to smother (No. 5 nationally in scoring D). Mount Union and Widener are 1-2 in scoring this season.

Disappointments

Ryan: Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays are lining up against Washington and Jefferson, a team riding an emotional high right now after beating an undefeated Waynesburg in honor of a slain teammate. That gives the Presidents a lot more momentum than JHU is likely to muster. W&J surely isn’t going to dominate, but JHU is looking at a season ending more reminiscent of 2011 than 2009.

Frank: Johns Hopkins. Each season, the Centennial Conference champ's history before and early in the playoffs of late becomes cringe-worthy. Muhlenberg was a classic case in 2008, losing the final game of the season before being a first-round out in the playoffs at Wesley (20-0). Hopkins' loss to Franklin & Marshall wasn't the final game, but it shows that Hopkins is susceptible this season. Washington & Jefferson is already in a playoff mentality, requiring a win against Waynesburg to just be here. The Presidents will roll early and hold on late to shock Hopkins.

Pat: Salisbury. The Sea Gulls simply aren't dominant on the level they were last year. With few exceptions, they aren't putting up the kind of points they were in 2011.

Keith: Johns Hopkins/Washington & Jefferson loser: Nobody put on the side of the draw with the Purple Raiders looks ahead, or thinks Mount Union is unbeatable (and they aren’t). But the reality is your playoff experience is likely capped at two games and one win. So the dream really starts and ends this week, for the Presidents, who’d like to honor late running back Tim McNerney with an inspired playoff win, and for the Blue Jays, who’d like to avoid consecutive first-round playoff losses on their home field.

Last team standing

Ryan: Saddling up with Mount.

Frank: Mount Union. Is it plagiarizing myself if I copy my pick from the last four years into this? I'll take the risk -- since this isn't a risk at all. The Purple People Eaters dominate early and often.

Pat: Mount Union. Points allowed in this bracket: 17.

Keith: Mount Union. Some years I’m brave enough to bet against the Purple Raiders. Certainly last season they were vulnerable, and this season there were changes on the coaching staff and uncertainty at some of the offensive skill positions. But the defense carried the day with six straight shutouts until Kevin Burke began to excel in the quarterback’s role and the offense could match their level. Mount Union has been pushed the past few weeks in the first half, by Heidelberg, Baldwin-Wallace and John Carroll, and responded thoroughly. Now the Purple Raiders are back to clear national favorite, and without nemesis UW-Whitewater on the other side, someone will have to pull a shocker to prevent another coronation. The games could get tough in the semifinals and Salem, but as far as this eight-team cluster, you can pencil the Purple Raiders in.

Triple take changes, and playoff home page

Pat Coleman, Ryan Tipps and I change up our usual Triple Take procedures for the postseason. Instead of alerting you to games on the schedule that might be of interest, we take a look at the full slate of playoff games and give a score prediction for each. These aren’t meant to be point spreads; rather, we predict to give an idea of what the national perception and expectation is for certain playoff matchups, which can be especially insightful when facing an unfamiliar conference or foe. Sometimes we’re wrong, and that’s the fun of playing the games, so don’t get too insulted if we don’t pick you. It’s the playoffs, too – hopefully you already have enough motivation.

Don’t tune out!

After the last regular season game is played, there’s a lot to look forward to, so don’t tune out!

Sat. Nov. 10: Week 11 games, with top rivalries.
Sun. Nov. 11: Selection Sunday (show now at 6:00 p.m. online)
Following week: Final Around the Region columns, Playoff team capsules
Thu. Nov. 15: ATN’s annual playoff surprises/disappointments column
Sat. Nov. 17: Playoffs, Round 1 (32 teams), ECAC bowl games (12 teams)
Following week: ATN podcast on Monday, Road to Salem playoff features Tues.-Wed.
Sat. Nov. 24: Playoffs, Round 2 (16 teams)
Following week: Gagliardi trophy finalists named, D3football.com Road to Salem features, ATN podcast
Sat. Dec. 1: Playoffs, Round 3 (eight teams).
Following week: D3football.com All-Region teams announced, four Gagliardi Trophy regional finalists announced, Liberty Mutual coach of the year fan voting ends, Road to Salem features midweek, ATN podcast.
Fri. Dec. 7: D-III Senior Classic all-star game in Salem, 7 p.m. kickoff. (Other college all-star games linked here)
Sat. Dec. 8: National semifinals (four teams), live webcast with ESPN regional or syndicated coverage possible.
Wed. Dec. 12: Gagliardi Trophy presentation, live webcast
Thu. Dec. 13: Stagg Bowl luncheon, pregame festivities in Salem/Roanoke
Fri. Dec. 14: Stagg Bowl 40, 7 p.m., D3football.com all-Americans announced during pregame broadcast, wall-to-wall coverage of the championship, ATN’s year-in-review column
Mon. Jan. 9: Liberty Mutual coach of the year award winner announced.

Six ways to Saturday

Stay connected to 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 are 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: Accepting your suggestions for things ATN might have missed or ways we should approach this season’s year in review column. There’s a running list going on the Around the Nation thread, linked above and below.

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 soon-to-come project.

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.

comments powered by Disqus

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.

Previous Columns

September 14, 2014
Snap judgments: These underdogs brought some bite
There were some near-upsets on Saturday, but in the end, almost all of the higher-ranked teams came...
September 11, 2014
Monarch linebacker forced to follow his heart
Forced from the middle of the action to a supporting role on the sidelines, Methodist linebacker...
September 7, 2014
Snap judgments: Right/wrong foot
There are two ways to start the season -- with a win, or a loss. Now, not every win necessarily puts...
September 2, 2014
Division III football: A gentleman's game
Hampden-Sydney and Wabash, two all-male schools, are squaring off in football this weekend for the...
March 3, 2014
Analyzing the NJAC and E8's big moves
Wesley and its Capital Athletic Conference brethren join forces with five New Jersey schools to form...
November 24, 2013
Look who stole the show in Round 1
Many of those who shined in the first round of the 32-team playoffs weren't the nationally elite...
November 21, 2013
Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments
ATN assembles a team for an annual look at who might surprise and disappoint us in the 32-team...
November 16, 2013
On this day, they were all big games
Keith McMillan has instant reactions both inside and outside the playoff picture on the final day of...
November 13, 2013
A pre-regional rankings primer
Keith McMillan introduces the committee and their roles, analyzes Pools B and C and takes reader...
November 10, 2013
Snap judgments: Seen from the other side
Millsaps may well have a story for the ages out of Saturday's win vs. Centre, as will Cornell and...
November 7, 2013
Poll positions: What to make of regional rankings
If you haven't seen regional rankings before, or your team hasn't been a contender in recent years,...
November 3, 2013
Snap judgments: The aftermath
With so many games featuring two ranked teams, we should see a lot of movement in Sunday's Top 25...
October 24, 2013
Poll positions: Doing some number crunching
The Top 25 doesn't exist to steal anybody's joy. It is merely a prism through which to view...
October 20, 2013
Snap judgments: Cycling up
Maryville and TCNJ are atop their respective conferences, the John Carroll defense isn't the only...
October 13, 2013
Snap judgments: A blurry picture developing
Not literally -- we get great pictures from our associated photographers and SIDs, but that won't...
October 8, 2013
Poll positions: Streaking up the rankings
Keith McMillan looks at why one computer ranking is making the case for a blue team No. 1, and not a...
October 6, 2013
Snap judgments: Bounceback seasons
Olivet, St. Lawrence, North Park, Husson, Western Connecticut ... the list of improved teams this...
October 3, 2013
Re-ranking the conferences
With September's games, and the vast majority of non-conference play in the books, Around the Nation...
September 29, 2013
Snap judgments: Look away from the Top 25 scores
At first glance -- like say, the scores page, with the top 25 scores the initial finals that catch...
September 26, 2013
History lesson: Engineering rivalries
Week 4 is perhaps the most odd Saturday on the schedule. There aren't many great rivalries, but...
September 24, 2013
Poll positions: How the voters reacted
A kick going wide left produced a wide variety of reactions, but when Wesley got taken down a peg,...
September 22, 2013
Snap judgments: Week 3
The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry is back, UMHB's defensive line is pretty darn good, the MIAA has a better...
September 19, 2013
History lesson: Wesley vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor
Now that longtime rivals Wabash and DePauw are both in the North Coast, and Mount Union and...
September 18, 2013
Poll positions: There's some movement coming
The top of the poll didn't change much last week but Saturday's games could have a significant...
September 17, 2013
Off the beaten path
Just because a team isn't in the Top 25 running or mentioned in the podcast or doesn't have a Play...
September 11, 2013
Poll positions: Why teams shuffle
In Around the Nation, Keith McMillan discusses a nonstandard way of assembling the ballot after Week...
September 8, 2013
Snap judgments
Keith McMillan's Around the Nation column returns. You'll see ATN several times a week, including on...

Other Columnists