Picks and polls

Joe O'Hagan had one of the most memorable interceptions in a weekend that was chock full of them.
Muhlenberg Athletics photo 

By Adam Turer

We all know that the greatest formation in football is the victory formation.

For a defensive player, the best feeling might just be securing the football so that your offense can line up in victory and take that knee to run out the clock.

Interceptions seemed to be the theme of this weekend’s games. It started on Friday night with Framingham State’s Jaquan Harris having a game that most defensive backs can only dream of, picking off five passes. Most players would be happy to have that many interceptions in a season or even a career. Harris did it in one night.

Carthage had a bye this week, but the Red Men entered this week leading the nation in interceptions with 15 through five games.

Rose-Hulman added five to its total in a win over Mount St. Joseph. Alec Thompson had two of them, and returned one to the house.

Delaware Valley had three interceptions, including Nick Wright’s pick six, as the Aggies throttled previously unbeaten Albright.

Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defense shut down one of the most explosive offenses in Division III, holding Hardin-Simmons to just seven points. The Cru picked off three passes in the victory. Kris Brown started the scoring with a pick six, and Santos Villareal ended the Cowboys’ final possession with an interception.

Lake Forest, Millikin, Martin Luther, and Muhlenberg all sealed narrow victories with game-clinching interceptions.

The Big Blue secured the upset of Wheaton when Israel Smith intercepted a pass with 24 seconds to play. Cue the kneel.

Lake Forest needed a fourth quarter rally to take a 28-21 lead over Knox, but the game was still in the balance until Charlie Timmerman intercepted a pass with 35 seconds left.

Minnesota-Morris was driving for the tie late against Martin Luther. Jared Witkowiak’s interception in the end zone with 50 seconds to play preserved the 14-7 win for the Knights.

The most inspiring, cathartic, and memorable interception of the weekend happened at Muhlenberg. Ursinus trailed 21-14 and was driving in Muhlenberg territory. Joe O’Hagan’s interception at the Mules’ 11-yard-line with 23 seconds to play allowed his team to kneel out the victory and win their first game since the passing of their head coach, Mike Donnelly. That is a play and a moment that these Mules players will never forget.

O'Hagan's interception led to this emotional celebration, followed by a victory formation.
Muhlenberg Athletics photo

The glory and the box score recognition usually go to the offensive player(s) who secure the go-ahead score. But these defenders all made a big play at a big moment to make sure the offense’s heroics stood up.

From picks to polls

With two teams ranked in the top five squaring off this weekend, this seems like a great time to address the Top 25 poll.

After yesterday’s 17-7 result, I believe that Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor are certainly two of the top eight teams in Division III football this season. Unfortunately, the chances of both teams advancing to the quarterfinals is extremely slim. The NCAA will almost certainly place them in the bracket so that the Cowboys and Cru meet in either the first or second round. The poll is not always reflective or predictive of the only results that matter: the playoffs.

Much like the conference rankings from earlier this week, the Top 25 can be viewed through tiers. There are probably no more than five or six teams who can realistically be considered Stagg Bowl champion contenders. Examples: Mary Hardin-Baylor, Mount Union, UW-Oshkosh, St. Thomas.

After that, you have teams that could break through to Salem if they have a little bit of luck and overcome an opponent that has historically had their number in recent postseasons. Examples: St. John’s, Hardin-Simmons.

Next are the teams that have looked great this season but still have something to prove in the postseason. Of course this year is a new team and previous years’ results shouldn’t matter. But, the playoff system has consistently reinforced some stereotypes over the years and have proven that playoff pedigree matters in November and December. These teams look like they have a chance to break through, but we remain skeptical. Examples: Delaware Valley, Frostburg State, Brockport.

The next wave, usually from about 18-22, are teams that have pleasantly surprised this year. These teams have dominated their conference so far and are still undefeated. You may also find the occasional one-loss team that was ranked highly before being upset. At this point in the season, I’m usually looking for unbeatens. Examples: Berry, Springfield.

For me, the last few spots will fluctuate from one week to the next. I place a lot of value on wins. If a team was ranked in the teens and lost, they’re probably going to drop out of my poll, unless the loss was to a highly-ranked opponent (e.g. Whitworth after its loss to Linfield). This is where I like to reward programs and conferences who do not get a lot of national recognition and are not often mentioned in those first two tiers. This is also a place for teams who still have to face a more highly-ranked conference opponent later this season. Unbeaten, but unproven. Before this week, this is where you might see a Carnegie Mellon or Concordia-Moorhead. Examples: George Fox, Wartburg.

Conferences will multiple unbeatens, like the NCAC and PAC are difficult to slot. Early on, I’ll rank based on what I expect to shake out by the end of the season. Wittenberg, Wabash, and DePauw will provide the clarity on the field later this season.

I usually prefer to vote with fresh eyes each week, not looking back at where I placed teams the previous week. That mostly just affects the teams in the 15-25 range, who can move slightly in either direction from week-to-week even if they remain undefeated.

These are just my insights and the other 24 voters may think very differently when approaching their ballots. The recognition is nice, but at the end of the day, the Top 25 poll is meaningless, a fun exercise that fuels in-season debate. The on-field results in the playoffs will determine the final Top 25.

On tap

Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.

Today-- new Top 25 poll released.

Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.

Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns.

Thursday--Around the Nation column. This week, I will be re-ranking the conferences. Prepare to debate.

Friday--Quick Hits.

Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.

We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team.

If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or adam.turer@d3sports.com.

Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his second season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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