October 20, 2013

Snap judgments: Cycling up

Jamie Owen leads Maryville in tackles for loss and sacks, helping them sit in first place in the USA South.
Maryville athletics photo

Of the teams that started the season ranked in the top 5, three of them are splitting the first-place votes, and could not have looked much better. On Saturday, the other two each picked up their second loss.

Perhaps in D-III we've been spoiled by watching dominant teams do it year in and year out, as though it's easy. It never has been, and the fact it still isn't might be best illustrated by Stagg Bowl runner-up St. Thomas. The No. 2 team in the country last year is now in fifth place in the MIAC, at 4-2, 2-2. The MIAC is an elite conference capable of producing a national champion, and the Tommies might not be a much worse team than they were last season. They lost two close games, catching a pass interference penalty on third-and-6 to set up Bethel's winning score, and hooking a game-winning field goal attempt in a loss to St. John's.

Suddenly the playoffs look like a long shot for the Tommies. With Bethel out in front in the MIAC and St. John's in second place (the teams meet Nov. 16 in Collegeville), and only five Pool C bids available this season for runners up in automatic qualifier conferences, St. Thomas's chances are slim.

The WIAC, OAC and CCIW each have three 6-0 teams at the moment, while the NWC has two unbeatens and a 5-1 PLU team whose only loss is to Linfield. Those conferences could eat up four of the five Pool C bids, if not more. The Empire 8, with Salisbury, St. John Fisher and Ithaca, could claim the fifth.

The reason there are fewer Pool C bids than usual is because of Pool B's growth. The number of bids set aside for non-AQ leagues should rise to three this year, with the advent of the SAA and MASCAC, among other leagues. It used to be you could pencil in Wesley for a spot, but the Wolverines' loss to Rowan puts Wesley's streak of playoff appearances (guessing every year since 2005, without looking it up) in jeopardy.

If Pool B's three playoff teams were named today, unbeaten Texas Lutheran and Millsaps would have inside tracks on bids. Centre, Rhodes, Chicago and Framingham State are all 5-1 and would, in theory, be up for the third spot before Wesley. The Wolverines' schedule contains only six D-III opponents, so with losses to UMHB and Rowan, they're going to be in trouble in primary criteria for the selection committee, although their strength of schedule figure will remain one of the country's strongest.

Other quick, unresearched observations (a.k.a. snap judgments) that popped into my head regarding Saturday's results:

• Always interesting to see new teams cycle up and enjoy some success. Maryville's win over Christopher Newport left it alone in first place in the USAC, and I can't remember the last time we said that this late in a season. The run-heavy Scots could have a big showdown Nov. 16 with pass-happy Huntingdon, though they lost to LaGrange, 44-40, on Saturday means.

• TCNJ also sits alone atop a conference, which would not have been many folks' first guess at the beginning of the month, much less the season. But a team that started the season with losses to Ursinus and FDU-Florham and has won four straight, none by more than five points, is currently in the driver's seat. Not bad for all that offseason upheaval.

• Husson at Gallaudet on Saturday, among the unlikely showdowns for first place. The Eagles had three wins the past three seasons but already have four this year.

• Mississippi College started the year with bad losses to Millsaps and Huntingdon, but is currently tied atop the ASC. I don't think they're really a first-place contender -- Louisiana College and UMHB are their final two games. But they have won three straight after starting with three losses, which is a nice turnaround.

• We've talked a bunch about the John Carroll defense, and they've still allowed only 23 points all year. But UW-Whitewater isn't far behind, and even though we don't think of UW-W and UMU as the dominant two anymore, they could meet again in Salem. At least if UW-W keeps playing defense the way they are. There's a lot to come before that, starting with UW-Oshkosh on the road on Saturday.

• The 26th is shaping up to be a day of showdowns all over. Everyone from ranked teams, like Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton, and off-the-radar battles like Guilford and Randolph-Macon will make next Saturday perhaps the best of the year so far. (Isn't next Saturday always the best?)

• Adrian moved to 6-1, and their loss to Pacific, which fell to 5-1 with a one-point loss to No. 17 PLU, doesn't look so bad anymore.

comments powered by Disqus

Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

Previous Columns

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