By Keith McMillan
This is what we live for, as players, as coaches and as certainly as fans. Does it get any better than the playoffs?
We’ll spare you the part about how all college football championships should be decided on the field, in a tournament, and get right down to business: Who the heck’s gonna knock off Mount Union?
In our search to find anyone bold enough to step out on that limb, or at least tell us something we don’t know about the playoffs, Around the Nation enlisted pretty much the entire D3football.com staff for our yearly crack at predicting the playoffs. Publisher Pat Coleman, feature writer Mark Simon and I will all give you our surprises, disappointments and champions in each of the four brackets. The regional columnists will get in on the action for the regions they covered this year (except for Ryan Briggs, who got bold and predicted every region, plus the best first-round game in each).
We can’t promise you our looks at the four brackets will be short, and we can’t even promise you that everyone followed directions. But know this: There might be more suspense in our surprises and disappointments than there will be in the run to the Stagg Bowl championship itself.
Springfield Bracket (East)
Tom Wilson: Biggest surprise or disappointment was that two NJAC teams didn’t get in. New Jersey had two home games in the past two weeks against Brockport and Montclair. TCNJ only had to win one of the two in order to get a bid, they lost both in close contests.
Ryan Briggs: Being the Great Lakes region writer and a lifelong western Pennsylvania guy, I have to throw some support behind Allegheny, the seventh seed. However, a 380-mile trip to New Jersey is not ideal for any squad, especially one that had all of its big wins (Wooster excepted) at home. Brockport is looking to avenge a 31-10 loss at Ithaca earlier this year. I think the Bombers can get all the way to the final. Ithaca’s loss to Cortland State did not surprise me — in a rivalry game, anything can happen.
Mark Simon: I saw RPI early in the season and liked them a lot. Their style of play and no-huddle offense can cause trouble. And their quarterback, Dan Cole, throws darts.
Pat Coleman: Montclair State. Not sure too many people think they’re better than Brockport State, but this is a team that nearly beat Springfield in the season opener.
Keith McMillan: Ithaca looks like the only low seed likely to shock, as Springfield, Montclair and Brockport make a mean 1-2-3. The Bombers are coming in off a rivalry-game dud, but they won two playoff games two years ago and beat their first-round opponent, Brockport, 31-10 earlier this season.
Ryan: RPI might be the most fortunate team in the playoffs. Not only do they get a Pool B bid despite losing last week, they also get to host Curry, a higher seed. Their luck will run out, though, even if they get past Curry.
Mark: We don’t know anything about Allegheny, but we’ll take them to beat Montclair, well just because...
Pat Coleman: That the brackets have two of the best teams set up in the first round (Brockport State and Ithaca), while either RPI or Curry is guaranteed to advance.
Keith: My disappointment is Mark. How can you not know anything about Allegheny when the very column you’re reading, Around the Nation, featured them a few weeks back? I see how it is. Football-wise, this is Springfield’s third playoff appearance in four years and as good a team as they’ve had. Not to win this bracket would be crushing.
Tom: I’ll take Montclair over Springfield out of the east.
Ryan: I saw Kings Point this season and they were a very good team. Springfield really plastered them, which tells me how good the Pride is — Very, very good.
Mark: Brockport State, which should have been there last year too.
Pat Coleman: Montclair State has just three seniors, and the remaining players have matured a lot since Week 1. They’ve gotten a couple lucky breaks to get to this point, but they get a reasonable introduction to the playoffs against Allegheny to get their feet wet.
Keith: Mark redeems himself by making a good point — John Carroll of the OAC needed a blocked field goal and overtime to beat Brockport and win the bracket last season. Tom, a Rowan man, picks rival MSU to win the bracket, but stays in-state. Me? I’m going with Springfield and their 394 rushing yards per game as long as they’re playing on that home turf.
Lycoming Bracket (South)
Pat Cummings: East Texas Baptist will get its taste of the Division III playoffs with a home game against San Antonio’s Trinity. The Tigers will host the Tigers … fun! ETBU has lost one Division III game this year, in overtime to Hardin-Simmons. They lucked out in overtime against Mary-Hardin Baylor but have played solid football, with only three home games all season long.
Trinity will travel to ETBU, and ETBU must buck up for this one. Trinity QB Dan DesPlaines was thrown into the fire last year in the Stagg Bowl. While the Tigers have struggled this season, as shown in their seeding, they do have playoff experience. Steve Mohr is an intelligent coach and will have his Tigers poised and ready for another run.
Ron Boerger: Lycoming is an unlikely No. 1 seed, and Christopher Newport, with two losses to non-playoff teams, an even more unlikely No. 2. Neither will win this bracket. CNU and Muhlenberg have a combined 1-3 all-time playoff record and ETBU and Waynesburg are making their first-ever playoff appearances. Lycoming hasn’t even played anyone outside their conference since 1999, when they lost at home in the first round to W&J. Whoever wins the Trinity-ETBU tilt will have a chance to upset the Warriors.
Though unlikely, it’s not impossible that we might see a fourth straight Bridgewater-Trinity playoff matchup in the regional final. For that to happen, Trinity would have to play as well in two road games as they did at home against SCAC co-champion Centre (52-7) earlier this season. Consistency has not been a hallmark of this year’s Trinity team, but they have shown flashes of brilliance.
Ryan: Christopher Newport would have been top seed and probably the favorite had they not punted away the season finale against Ferrum. Now Lycoming is the surprising top seed. Few teams have been able to go into Williamsport and down Frank Girardi’s squad through the years.
Tom: Biggest surprise or disappointment was Christopher Newport blowing the number seed by losing to Ferrum last week, and Mary Hardin-Baylor being left out of the playoffs.
Mark: ETBU. Come on, after what we wrote about them, I didn’t have a choice. They’ve become a bit of a trendy pick though.
Pat Coleman: I’m thinking almost any team is capable of surprising. Is it really a surprise if Muhlenberg beats Christopher Newport? Probably not. So I’ll go with East Texas Baptist surviving deep into the northern wing of the South Region.
Keith: There’s really no one in this region who can’t win it, but I’m not sure I’d mark any of these guys down for the Stagg Bowl either. If Waynesburg can get out of the first round, however, the road to the final four is as desirable as any.
Pat Cummings: Surprised Lycoming got the top seed in the South Bracket? I was always told to not ask a question that had two answers. Go figure. Bridgewater lost to CNU, but CNU loses to Rowan and a weak Ferrum team. Lycoming did enough to not hurt their status in the South Region. Regardless, I find the Warriors to be extremely vulnerable. Their lone loss was a substantial one at the hands of Delaware Valley, a 38-27 loss at home. Lycoming struggled at home against King’s and Albright, needing some points in the final minutes to make their wins more attractive on the scoreboard. The Warriors could have lost both of those games. They did not — and now get to relax this week going into the bye against a solid Texas squad. Whether Trinity or ETBU represents Texas, I believe the traveling squad will defeat Lycoming.
Ron: Mary-Hardin Baylor plays three regionally ranked opponents, defeats two of them, goes to overtime against the third, and is left sitting at home in favor of a team whose only regionally ranked opponent defeated them by 11. Shouldn’t 2.5-0.5 count for more than 0-1? The “regional” SOS calculations unfairly punish teams in larger conferences and stupidly ignore results outside your region. These came from basketball, I’m told, and they need to be fixed.
Ryan: Waynesburg gets a nice indoctrination into the playoffs by visiting Bridgewater. Of course, all of the pressure in that game is on the host Eagles.
Mark: Christopher Newport. Too inconsistent for our liking
Pat Coleman: Christopher Newport. They’ve lost all momentum and now we can’t help but wonder if they would’ve beaten Muhlenberg the first time around. The Mules are better now.
Keith: My disappointment is that the committee didn’t man up and make Linfield the top seed in this bracket. We’re fed this spiel about how geography comes into play only after the teams are selected, but clearly that’s not the case, as no South Region team deserved a bye. Not when there were undefeated teams from the NWC, CCIW and IIAC who did (I’ll let St. Norbert and Curry argue their conference and schedule strength, but the Green Knights could have a beef too). In any case, all 27 other teams in the field have to fly to Linfield, so what difference does it make? The committee should select the 28 teams, hand out byes to the four most deserving, then start considering geography. Either that or stop telling us geography isn’t an overriding factor when it is. I’m also a little disappointed that — yes, it pains a Macon grad to say this — the system didn’t allow for Hampden-Sydney and the nation’s No. 2 offense (at 521 yards per game, 40 behind No. 1 Mount Union and 40 ahead of No. 3 Bridgewater State) to get into the show, especially considering they lost to Bridgewater with 34 seconds left.
Pat Cummings: I have a gun held to my head, so I’ll make a prediction here: The Eagles of Bridgewater over Trinity to win the South Region.
Ron: Bridgewater. Since being surprised at CNU, the Eagles gave Hampden-Sydney their only loss of the season and have outscored their opponents nearly 3-to-1. I think they made the mistake of treating CNU lightly; if CNU beats Muhlenberg, Bridgewater won’t make the same mistake twice. While they have an excellent defense, I don’t think CNU has the offense to win three games at this level of competition. If Lycoming wins one it’ll be because they got a No. 1 seed they didn’t deserve, a bye and someone had to travel over a thousand miles to play them. ETBU has the talent to make it to the regional finals (especially given their favorable draw) — but with this being their first trip into the playoffs, it’s unlikely. The Tigers have never playedany non-ASC Division III football program; asking them to win twice in such a foreign situation, which would include their first-ever long road trip, seems a bit much
Tom: I’ll take Bridgewater over East Texas Baptist out of the South.
Ryan: Considering Lycoming’s tradition, the bye, home-field advantage and my reluctance to pick nouveau programs like ETBU and Christopher Newport, I’m going with the Warriors.
Mark: Pick ETBU, but Mount beats them by 20 in the semis
Pat Coleman: East Texas Baptist. They’ve got a good path in front of them and then would have to take on someone like Bridgewater for the title. It’s my limb and welcome to it.
Keith: Don’t get lulled to sleep by this they-only-play-MAC-opponents junk. We all know Lycoming needs to schedule an extra game, but they’ll D up whoever they play. However, I like the playoff experience of Mike Clark and Bridgewater. They’ll have to win in Williamsport, so maybe they can summon that wind that’ll helped them outlast King’s in last year’s playoffs.
St. John’s Bracket (West)
John Regenfuss: Not that it was so much a surprise but more like a deserved reward that 10-0 St. Norbert received a No. 4 seed and the accompanying first-round home game. The Green Knights are tough to beat at home and will fight an excellent Simpson Storm team to the final gun. A St. Norbert win would not only serve to gain respect for its program but also for the much-maligned MWC. This should be a good one.
Ryan: Fifth-seeded Bethel nearly knocked off the Johnnies at St. John’s and earned a Pool C berth. Linfield lurks in the bottom half of the bracket. And how good is St. Norbert?
Mark: That this is the bracket in which road teams will fare best. We like Bethel to win twice and Simpson to win once.
Pat Coleman: Do we consider Simpson or St. Norbert the surprise if they win the first round game? St. Norbert’s the higher-ranked team, while Simpson is believed to have the better pedigree. Neither has won a playoff game since expansion. I pick St. Norbert to win.
Keith: With everyone squarely focused on Linfield and St. John’s, Wartburg could sneak on by win the bracket. With a second round game at Linfield looming, it’s time to bring up the memories of the Miracle in the Mud.
John: No disrespect intended to Redlands, but it’s greatly disheartening that a 6-3 team makes the playoffs as an automatic qualifier while so many other teams who are deserving sit at home with their seasons over. It’s a fact of Division III postseason life but try explaining that to Mary Hardin-Baylor, Johns Hopkins, or Hampden-Sydney or even Capital or UW-Stevens Point. Redlands lost to its first-round opponent Linfield, 49-10, earlier in the season.
Mark: Linfield and Wartburg will be very upset if they don’t get a crack at St. John’s
Pat Coleman: How unimpressive Linfield’s win against Southern Oregon looks in retrospect. SOU went from a Top 10 NAIA team to 5-4. That will translate to a loss in the second or third round.
Keith: There will be disappointments galore in this bracket, because there can be only one winner, and the top six seeds are each good enough to pull it off. These should be fun games to watch, especially if Redlands decides to make things close like they did against St. John’s in last year’s first round.
John: This is a deep and very challenging region, so whichever squad emerges from this bracket certainly will be battle-tested. If all goes according to design and expectations, Linfield will meet St. John’s in the regional championship. It what will undoubtedly be a postseason classic, I give the edge to the Johnnies of St. John’s.
Ryan: St. John’s is the sentimental pick. They’re probably the favorite due to having the off week and home-field. I think the winner of Bethel-Wartburg will eventually reach the finals and play St. John’s.
Mark: St. John’s, which beats Brockport and loses to Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl.
Pat Coleman: St. John’s. Or Bethel. No, St. John’s. Whatever those Johnnies fans want me to say, right guys?
Keith: It’s too convenient to pick St. John’s in such a tough bracket. Sure, the Johnnies can do it, and I’ve been voting for them No. 2 in the poll for weeks. But God can only smile on one guy so much, right? Gagliardi got the record this year, but Linfield represents the West the way last year’s team could have.
Mount Union Bracket (North)
John: My first thought was that the real surprise in this region would be if Mount Union trails at any point in any of its games or if its opponents manage to end the game significantly under the Purple Raiders’ 43-point average margin of victory. However, if UW-La Crosse can get past Concordia (Wis.), and I have no doubts it will with ease, it will set up a second-round matchup with Mount Union. Barring an upset for the ages, the Eagles won’t win in Alliance, but it should be one of the more intriguing contests of the 2003 postseason.
Ryan: Most OAC teams don’t fare as well the second time around against Mount Union. I have a hunch that Baldwin-Wallace could break that trend. I look for a Mount Union vs. B-W rematch in Alliance in the regional final.
Mark: Surprise: That Wheaton will give Mount Union the best game in this bracket
Pat Coleman: The higher seed wins every single game.
Keith: Surprise, La Crosse! You only thought you were in Division III’s West Region. Fooled you! And we got you too Wheaton. Not only do you have to beat Mount Union to win it all, you have to get through the next-best-thing first, in Baldwin-Wallace. Hey, to be the best, beat the best, right? Though the top four make this a very strong bracket, the real surprise would be how open the championship race becomes if anyone knocks off the Purple Raiders.
John: First, that UW-La Crosse, champion of the one of the nation’s toughest and most competitive conferences, the WIAC, received a lower seed than Baldwin-Wallace, a league runner-up. I understand the reasons why (NCAA logic that I believe to be inherently flawed) and it may not seem significant but what it essentially does is to relegate UW-L to an automatic second-round exit. Second, that UW-La Crosse was placed in Mount Union’s bracket. I would have liked to have seen the Eagles get a shot at St. John’s in the West Bracket. By the way, if you are curious, the distance from La Crosse, Wis., to Alliance, Ohio, is 693 miles. So much for regionality.
Mark: Baldwin Wallace won’t get another crack at Mount Union, but should remember this season in a positive manner regardless of how it ends.
Pat Coleman: Whoever gets the rematch with Mount Union, whether it’s Wheaton from last year or Baldwin-Wallace from September, doesn’t fare nearly as well as the last time around. And that two of our columnists don’t know La Crosse is two words.
Keith: The loser of the expected second-round clash between Baldwin-Wallace and Wheaton goes home wondering what could have been. Either of those teams, or several in the West, could win one of the other brackets. Also, if the 5, 6 or 7 seed wins here, someone’s going to be really disappointed.
John: What once was sublime has now become ridiculous. Mount Union.
Ryan: To pick against Mount Union is foolish. They are the team to beat no matter what. They have been pretty much unchallenged all season. Only John Carroll and B-W were remotely close this year.
Mark: Do you even have to ask?
Pat Coleman: Mount.
Keith: Without an experienced longtime starter like Rob Adamson, Gary Smeck or those prior, and without a 1-2 punch at running back like Chuck Moore and Dan Pugh, Mount Union could be … *Keith’s conscience steps in* Conscience: What have I told you about picking against Mount Union? You got some sort of death wish? Keith: No. Conscience: Do you remember picking Hardin-Simmons to beat Mount Union? Keith: I never said that. Conscience: Yes you did, right there on… Keith: Never happened. Conscience: Do you remember what you said about John Carroll? Keith: Never said it. Conscience: Do you… Keith: Okay, okay, you win. Mount Union it is. Can I at least predict who’s going to finish second?
A look beyond
Some other opinions which didn’t fit in any of the above categories, and a fan who helped out last year who wouldn’t be denied this time around. (Okay, he could have been, but I liked his stuff, so he wasn’t denied):
Pat Cummings’ look at the rest:
Mount Union seems clear through their bracket again, and I see the Purple Raiders hosting Bridgewater in the semis.
The turf-eating triple-option of Springfield should run over the East bracket, especially with a second-round game against RPI/Curry. I see the Pride matching up with one of three or four teams from the West Region, which is stacked. St. John’s would be in the driver’s seat having an extra week’s rest (really two weeks off having demolished Crown). Linfield, Wartburg, or Bethel have great chances to make it to the semis, and it will be a shame one of these two squads has to lose. Again, gun to my head. St. John’s over Springfield.
Mount Union v. St. John’s for the Stagg Bowl … I’m out of bullets.
From Tom Wilson:
I’ll take Linfield over St. John’s out of the West
I’ll take Mount Union over Baldwin-Wallace out of the North
From Ryan Briggs:
Favorite: Mount Union
Dark Horse: Baldwin-Wallace
Best 1st Round Game: Hope at Wheaton
Dark Horse: All are differing shade
Best 1st Round Game: Trinity at East Texas Baptist
Favorite: St. John’s
Dark Horse: Bethel
Best 1st Round Game: Bethel at Wartburg
Dark Horse: Ithaca
Best 1st Round Game: Ithaca-Brockport State
From reader Josiah Novack:
I don’t know for certain whether you’re asking for guest commentary on the D-III brackets, again, like last year, but I have the following observation:
The NCAA is due for applause after giving Lycoming a first-round bye, considering that the Warriors only play teams in the MAC. However, while avoiding flying in round one for the South (Lycoming) and East (Springfield) brackets, the committee should have looked more closely at geography.
Allegheny and Waynesburg are both in western PA, yet the committee tosses them in different brackets. If the committee likes putting two Texas schools in the same bracket, then a Allegheny-Waynesburg matchup in round one works much better. For geographical reasons, the winner of that should play Lycoming.
Under that scenario, Montclair would play Muhlenberg in the Springfield bracket, and Bridgewater would host Christopher Newport (Bridgewater has a much better SOS).
What are your thoughts on these ideas?”
A: My thoughts are that you have some pretty valid points, although in fairness to the committee, with 28 teams, you could probably come up with several do-able scenarios, and they have a day to do what they think is best. We’d all switch a few things around here and there, and with hindsight being 20/20, maybe we see some things the committee should have done. The important thing is getting the right 28 teams in there … For a team to call itself champion, you’d have to be better than the other 27 teams in the playoffs, in theory. So what does it matter who you play when and where? The best team wins, doesn’t it?
Question & Answer
Q: “How in the world do 3 of the top 4 teams end up in the same bracket? And I thought the BCS system was messed up.”
— Dan Williams, 29, McMinnville, Ore. (Linfield)
A: The BCS is messed up, let’s not even start comparing Division III to that ever-changing pocket-filler of a championship. Don’t get me started on my proposal for an NCAA-run 16-team playoff that would still get the kids home for finals. Three of the top four teams (assuming you mean St. John’s, Linfield and Wartburg) ended up in the West bracket due to simple geography my friend. I guess that’s why we still call it the west bracket, because there ain’t enough dough to fly everyone every which way across the country, so teams play the closest teams on the map rather than in the polls sometime. We’d never know if the two best teams were from the same state, or conference even.
The name game
Throughout the year, we’ve collected your favorite unique player names. This is by no means a complete list, just what’s been submitted. In honor of players (and coaches) across Division III, we present you our list. We don’t mean to poke fun so much as we enjoy unique names, and those who remind us of other celebrities and sports figures.
Olmy Olmstead, kicker, Wabash
Marko Fonzi, tight end, Allegheny
Yarzue Slowon, receiver, Augsburg
Darwin Breaux, head coach, Dickinson
Charmer Moore, receiver, Mississippi College
Joe Frankenstein, linebacker, Kings
Michael Meyer, head coach, Hiram (think ‘Halloween’ movies)
Ed DeGeorge, head coach, Beloit (think Titans running back)
Shaggy Murphy, defensive back, UW-Eau Claire
Mike Dunlevy, head coach, Averett
Dennis Miller, head coach, Wisconsin Lutheran
Kenneth Funk, guard, Adrian
Josh Silvernail, receiver, Albion
Lou Wacker, head coach, Emory & Henry
Jim Zebrowski, head coach, Lakeland (only old BDP fans will get it)
Rowdy Hoover, defensive lineman, Bridgewater
Roman Starr, receiver, Albion
Tom Czolgosz, defensive line, Alma
Here are few others, sent from a West Coast fan:
Cal Lutheran: Mauricio Bowsa, Tanous Farhat, Frank Kielbasa (goes by Frankie), Hula Salamasina
Pacific Lutheran: Justin Wojciechowski (it’s just fun to try to say/spell)
Linfield: Mordechi Kotler, Puni Ellis, Keone Tawata
And a story I asked for, from Union’s B Joseph Dylan Walton-Yedlin:
“My name is B Joseph Dylan Walton-Yedlin. When my mother was pregnant with me, my grandfather died.
My grandmother asked my parents to name me Bert, after my grandfather. They decided that Bert wasn’t the best name, so they put a B in front of my name. No periods, no abbreviation, just the letter B. My name was then going to be B Dylan, but that sounds way too much like B Dalton, a bookstore (I don’t know if they have those out East or if it’s just a West Coast thing). Also, the fact that my dad really liked Bob Dylan kept them from naming me that, as most people would assume that I was named after Bob Dylan. So, to make things easier, they added the Joseph. Joseph has no special meaning, just that they liked it.
And, as you may have guessed, Walton-Yedlin is simply my parents’ last names. I went by Dylan for about the first 10 years of my life, until I went to a new school in fifth grade and there were two other Dylan’s. I changed what I was called to BJ, then back to Dylan once I reached college, as the connotations that BJ brought along with it were something that I could do without. Well, that’s the story.”
And a fine one, if we do say so. More fun with names, this from a Wittenberg observer:
“Wittenberg sophomore middle linebacker Spencer Sprinkle from Springfield Shawnee High School, who played his first game in the Red and White, at Albion’s Sprankle-Sprandel Stadium. To recap, that’s Spencer Sprinkle from Springfield Shawnee at Sprankle-Sprandel Stadium. Try saying that one five times fast!
Steve Peed of McDaniel College also sent us this, regarding names:
“I am a big fan of quarterback Efi Eyo (pronounced F-E-I-O),and running back/return specialist French Pope at McDaniel College. We still have a Rydzewski (Joe), pronounced Rad-Jet-Ski which is a complete sentence in ’80s vernacular.”
Let me reiterate how highly we think of Pacific Lutheran’s Frosty Westering, DePauw’s Nick Mourouzis and Williams’ Dick Farley, each of whom coached their last game this month after decades of service. For that, hundreds of young men are grateful, probably even thousands. It’s a great work that you do, and without sounding corny, I’m sure I speak for all of us who have been coached in Division III by saying we appreciate it more than we could ever articulate.
One more for Frosty, called the father of West Coast football by some, as we take the x from in front of his name. Here’s college football’s all-time wins list, updated through Nov. 20:
1. x-John Gagliardi 410 55 2. Eddie Robinson 408 57 3. x-Bobby Bowden 341 38 4. x-Joe Paterno 339 38 5. Bear Bryant 323 38 6. Pop Warner 319 44 7. Roy Kidd 315 39 8. Amos Alonzo Stagg 314 57 9. Frosty Westering 305 41 10. Tubby Raymond 300 36
Source: St. John’s University sports information department.