Albion's scheduling pays off
|Chris Greenwood might not be
seeing as many balls thrown his way this season, but he still has
five passes broken up in 2011.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
It was a familiar question that Craig Rundle fielded in the offseason.
“Who in the world does your schedule?” Rundle chuckles, “It's me. I'm the idiot.”
When the schedule was unveiled, the Britons faced the prospects of playing one NCAA Division I FCS non-scholarship team and five more Division III nationally recognized opponents.
Some laughed as the absurdity of a schedule that includes Butler, Wheaton, DePauw, UW-Stevens Point and then Adrian and Trine in conference.
There is a lesson to the seeming lunacy. A method to the madness. The veteran coach explains there is no growth in security. There is nothing to learn from padding your schedule
“It's not about your record, it’s about who you played. We've never looked at the overall season record and compete for the conferrence championship and playoffs.”
The plan has paid off; early-season trials have honed a conference championship and a playoff berth.
Albion, now 5-3, has won five straight conference games, including a 28-14 win over Adrian on Saturday. The victory clinched an automatic qualifier for the postseason and at least a share of the Britons' 34th Michigan Intecollegiate Athletic Association title.
It's the first title since 2005. Albion lost to Wabash 38-20 in the first-round playoffs that season.
“Those games were importgant for us to complete against good teams. Anytime you are competing against teams in divisions above you or are perennial playoff teams you have to step up and play harder. It's good to change yourself early.”
Some teams will hide their weaknesses and then they become magnifed and exposed in the postseason. Rundle says tackling those weeknesses early on give you a chance to build on them and improve.
The Britons were solid in their skilled positions, but the offensive and defensive lines needed special attention. They filled three spots on the defensive line and returned just one starter.
Things weren't easy as Albion opened 0-3 losing 31-17 Butler, 54-34 to then eighth-ranked Wheaton and 14-3 to UW-Stevens Point.
'We weren't getting blown out, we just weren't winning,” Rundle said.
“Any time you are competing against teams in divisions above you, or perennial playoff teams, you have to step and play harder and it’s good to challenge yourself early.”
It's wasn't some calculated gamble and there wasn't much discussion about the strategy of a mind-grinder schedule.
It's just an extension of Rundle's personal style.
Even as a youngster in East Lansing, he wans't one to take it easily. When neighborhood kids got together their wasn't a lack of talent. Several of those kids went on to play at big time programs like Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska.
“I”ve always been like that. To be the best, you have to go after the best.” he said. “My mother would tell me never to pick on people who weren't as good as you.”
It's nothing new for Albion either, Rundle says. Albion didn't shy away from top teams even in the days before the automatic qualifer. “I ifgured if we got in we'd make a run.”
With the AQ available, Albion can still take a few more risks.
The early battles also served as a unifying force among his sqaud. Rundle says its one of the best groups he's ever worked with. He's had teams with more talent, but few with this type of positive chemistry.
“It takes a special group of kids, or a program with some tradition of success to put itself in that position. If you had a losing history, and put yourself in that position. You probably weren't in position to handle it well.”
Albion topped Adrian 28-14 to claim at least a tie for MIAA title and an NCAA playoff berth. Clinton Orr rushed 26 times for 156 yards and a touchdown. John Lesinski finished with 12 tackles and an interception
Eighth-ranked Thomas More clinched its fourth straight Presidents' Athletic Conference title and NCAA tournament automatic qualifier in a 27-10 win over Westminster. Collin Wallace caught nine passes for 112 yards for Westminister.
Great Lakes Region teams in D3football.com’s Top 25 poll this week
No. 2 Mount Union - Perpetually stuck at No. 2- it seems. Five
No. 8 Thomas More - No. 8, again.
No. 10 Wabash - Down from nine after surviving 22-16 at Allegheny.
Others receiving votes: Wittenberg (NCAC), Baldwin-Wallace (OAC), Adrian (MIAA)
Wittenberg held off Carnegie Mellon 27-23. Ben Zoeller threw for 249 yards and two scores. Josh McKee had six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Cartel Brooks (14 carries for 181 yards) and Germany Woods (19 carries for 182) combined for 363 yards rush and four scores as Heidelberg topped Wilmington 49-20. Malcolm Heard had three receptions for 100 yards for Wilmington.
Wabash eeked out a 22-16 win over Allegheny. Jordan Fowler passed for 240 yards for the Gators.
Justin Buenger 145 yards rushing on 20 carries and two touchdowns to lead Ohio Northern to a 56-25 win over Marietta. Andrew Keller threw four touchdowns and for 295 yards for Marietta. Kirby Harris had nine receptions for 123 yards.
Wooster defeated Hiram 35-14. Brett Frongillo had 20 rushes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
Mason Espinosa passed for 424 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ohio Wesleyan to a 44-24 win over Kenyon.
Rocco Collavecchia rushed for two touchdowns and 110 yards in Geneva's 50-31 win over Thiel.
John Carroll beat Capital 37-24. Devin O'Brien threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Ben Madden had five catches for 163 yards. Capital's Matt White had six catches for 106 yards.
Baldwin-Wallace gutted out 29-17 win over Muskingum. Dalton Smith tallied 265 yards passing with two touchdowns for Muskingum. James Washington chalked up 141 yards receiving on seven receptions.
Brian Pell passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns in Grove City's 24-21 win over Washington and Jefferson. Alex Baroffio had eight receptions for 106 yards for the Presidents.
Second-ranked Mount Union blanked Otterbein 42-0. Matt Piloto passed for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Jeremy Murray rushed 23 times for 122 yards, including two scores.
Denison outlasted Oberlin 38-27. Sam Fioroni rushed 26 times for 154 yards. Max Paulus threw for four touchdowns and 278 yards. Andy Carpenter had eighth receptions for 151 yards. Adam Niec reeled in five passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Games to Watch
Baldwin-Wallace (7-1, 6-1 OAC) at No. 2 Mount Union (8-0, 7-0)
Mount Union looks for its 20th consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference title and 23rd crown overall. While you probably can't tell it, the Purple Raiders have struggled offensively. That's okay the defense is doing just fine. Baldwin-Wallace is effective offensively and defensively. Mount Union may be untouchable, but a playoff isn't isn't out of question for B-W.
Wittenberg (7-1, 4-0 NCAC) at No. 10 Wabash (8-0, 5-0) 1 p.m., Central: North Coast leaders duke it out for the championship. Both teams have had sloppy games in 2011. Don't expect that this time. Wabash or Wittenberg have claimed or shared a conference title each of the last six seasons.
Case Western (7-1, 1-0 UAA) at Washington, Mo. (5-3,
1-0) 1 p.m., Central
The Spartans are riding a six game winning streak and need two win the final two for a shot at a tournament bid. The winner most likely will hoist the University Athletic Association crown. Case is 22-1 on the road, dating to 2007.