Good games hide below radar

Coaches often say a team’s biggest improvement comes between its first and second games.

Seventy-four of 151 teams in action last week lost. Forget simply improving. They want to avoid a demoralizing 0-2 start.

We had a fun Week 1 from top (Salisbury’s 32-14 win at then-No. 15 Washington & Jefferson) to bottom (Concordia, Ill. snapped a 20-game losing streak and Menlo won after 15 consecutive losses). As Week 2 approaches, there are quite a few games to watch in and around the Top 25, including the season debuts of No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor, No. 7 Linfield and No. 9 Occidental.

Sometimes, however, it’s just as intriguing to watch the teams who haven’t had much recent success. Concordia’s Cougars, for instance, won for the first time since 2003 with a 13-3 victory against Blackburn. Their 20-game streak was the country’s second-longest. Menlo’s streak was the fourth longest, and they sent McMurry back to Texas with a 14-0 loss. 

Let’s dig a little deeper to find this week’s Cougars and Oaks by examining seven below-the-radar games, including a pair between 0-1 teams trying to avoid a losing streak to start the year.

1. Principia at Macalester: Good for these 0-1 teams, one of them finally will win. The Panthers lost eight in a row last year before beating Trinity Bible, and haven’t beaten a team other than Trinity Bible in regulation since October 2003. Macalester’s 10-0 loss to Beloit last Saturday brought their losing streak to 15 games. Since going 5-5 in 2002, their first season after the leaving the MIAC to become an independent, the Scots are just 2-26. Though Principia is 7-21 in that span, the Scots are probably the favorite on Saturday.

2. Dubuque at Wisconsin Lutheran: It’s time for the Spartans to manifest the potential they showed since the last half of last season. They were competitive (down 27-20 in the fourth quarter) in a 34-20 loss to UW-Platteville in the opener, but they allowed the formerly pass-happy Pioneers to rush for 186 yards while grinding out just 54 of their own. The Warriors, whose only win last season was against 0-10 Tri-State, must forget a season-opening 54-0 defeat against Valparaiso and score some points. They averaged just 12 per game last season, despite an offense not among Division III’s 70 worst by yardage. This is the second of four home games to start the year and a chance for the Warriors to build a little momentum.

3. Worcester State at Worcester Polytech: The Lancers come off a moral victory in a 10-7 Friday night loss to NEFC power Curry. The Engineers, a geographic rival from the Liberty League, open their season at home on Boynton Hill with defensive coordinator Greg Crum, who held the position with the Lancers for the past three years.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy got a head start on Coast Guard last week. This week is Coast Guard's only non-conference game.

4. Coast Guard at Merchant Marine: The Bears (0-0) closed 2005 on a seven-game losing streak and play their rival (better known as Kings Point, or U.S.M.M.A.) before playing eight games as a member of the NEFC. The Mariners (1-0 after a 29-19 win vs. Kean) have won seven of the past eight Secretaries’ Cups. The 26th battle for it is the first this early in the season, and in fact, it’s back-to-back Cup games for Coast Guard, which ended last season with a 21-5 loss to Kings Point.

5. Salve Regina at SUNY-Maritime: We’ll stay near the water, as Salve Regina (Newport, R.I.) and new coach Chris Robertson look to break the Seahawks’ streak of four 2-win seasons. The Privateers will use the triple option as they look for their first win ever in the opener for both. Twenty-two seniors give Salve much more experience than Maritime, which it beat 41-7 in a scrimmage last season.

6. Kenyon at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps: We’ve got to mention a matchup of Lords and Stags, don’t we? Kenyon comes off a 57-31 win at Grinnell with its second of four consecutive road games to begin the season, and by far its most ambitious trip (2,270 miles by Mapquest). Every SCIAC team in action plays an out-of-state opponent this week, and only Cal Lutheran is on the road (at Pacific Lutheran). But the Stags have one of the best chances to win, and give the SCIAC a leg up on the NCAC, a conference rated one spot above in ATN’s 2006 conference rankings (Aug. 30).

7. Carnegie Mellon at Grove City: This one’s not on here because of the teams’ lack of wins. This just isn’t where you want to be if you plan on seeing some fancy aerial fireworks. These two old-school Western Pennsylvania run-based teams were ranked 220th and 223rd in passing last season, with Grove City’s 87 yards per game six more than the Tartans. Don’t expect them to change their ways, as Grove City coach Chris Smith begins his 22nd season and CMU’s Rich Lackner begins his 21st. The Wolverines struggled to score at all last season, averaging 12 points per game and never going above 21. The Tartans scored erratically (all but 62 of their 248 points came in four high-scoring games), and opened this season with a 27-6 win against Hiram. They passed for — get this — 87 yards in the win.

It takes time
Coachspeak it may be, but Week 1 reminded us that success is earned. Over time.

Averett got what they signed up for against Mount Union: an up-close look at how a championship Division III team plays.

LaGrange (47-7 loss to Maryville) and Morrisville State (36-6 To Buffalo State) were unsuccessful in their Division III debuts, but they can look to second-year Becker (20-10 loser to Utica) to measure their progress.

Fourth-year Huntingdon is not quite ready for the Division III elite, as Ithaca proved, 31-12. It’s a heck of a road trip, for an opener, but Ithaca was replacing quarterback Josh Felicetti. The Bombers did it with defense, holding the Hawks to minus-4 yards rushing . 

Perhaps this gets us to re-examine the Trinity (Texas) game last year and count it as a strike against the Tigers rather than a point for the Hawks. Then again, this year’s Tigers rolled East Texas Baptist 41-0 on Saturday, so they’re back in my top 25, for now.

How our 1-234 performed in Week 1
Fans who purchased Kickoff ’06 got our exclusive 1-234 ranking of every team in Division III. To see how accurate it was, I looked at this week’s final scores to see how well the rankings functioned as a predictive index.

The answer is: pretty well.

Of Week 1’s 84 games, 67 were played between Division III teams. In those contests, teams Kickoff ’06 ranked higher were 52-15 (.777), and three of the losses were by teams barely ranked below their opponent.

No. 228 Concordia (Ill.) beat No. 227 Blackburn, No. 183 Catholic beat No. 182 Shenandoah 17-6 and No. 158 Cornell beat No. 153 Northwestern (Minn.) 30-14.

To be fair, however, No. 142 Newport News beat No. 143 North Carolina Wesleyan 21-20 and No. 190 Hartwick beat No. 191 Endicott 30-28. 

The week's only overtime salvaged a win for the rankings, as No. 162 Case Western Reserve beat No. 186 Oberlin 29-23.

The biggest upsets were No. 210 Menlo over No. 119 McMurry 14-0 and No. 73 Salisbury over No. 15 Washington & Jefferson 32-14. But our rankings were a bit upset when No. 37 Trinity (Texas) beat No. 53 East Texas Baptist 41-0. Conversely, No. 178 Illinois College was way too close to No. 74 Millikin, who won 24-20.

Muhlenberg's 24-14 win against The College of New Jersey only made me think of high blood pressure. It was No. 141 over 98.

Poll positions/My 26-35
As one of D3football.com's 25 poll voters, I occasionally share insights on the process, and almost always reveal the 10 teams I rank beyond the 25 I vote for. Doing so gives me a ready pool of teams to examine when Top 25 teams do not impress, and it also keeps several teams on the radar, with a chance to earn their way into the poll with strong wins.

I voted for six teams this week that I did not make top 25 to start the season: Trinity (Texas), Ithaca, UW-Oshkosh, UW-La Crosse, North Central and Wartburg. All except North Central earned their way in with big Week 1 wins.

I dropped Washington & Jefferson, Christopher Newport and Concordia-Moorhead following losses, and changed my position on Wheaton and RPI without them having played a game. Howard Payne also backslid out of my top 25 after a 7-0 non-division win. The Engineers gained ground in the poll while the Thunder and Yellow Jackets suffered slightly.

My rationale on Wheaton was that I'd seen North Central beat them last season and would need to see some reason to be voting for them and not the Cardinals, even though I based my preseason votes heavily on returning starters and at what positions. For RPI, I'm on record saying they'll win the Liberty League, but I couldn't bring myself to vote for three teams from that New York-based conference and none from the Empire 8. As I moved Ithaca in, I slid RPI out, knowing it'll only be a couple of weeks before they play Hobart and I can have a reason to vote (or not vote) for them.

My 26-35 is reflective of teams I strongly considered voting for. This week they are in order, though some weeks they aren't and nearly every week I spend much less time considering their proper order than I do the Top 25. If you don't see your team, remember I may be voting for them, or I might not be considering them at all.

26. RPI, 27. UW-Stout, 28. Wheaton, 29. Augustana, 30. Central, 31. St. John Fisher, 32. Concordia-Moorhead (harsh punishment for losing to a Division II team in the opener, albeit unimpressively), 33. Salisbury, 34. Howard Payne, 35. Texas Lutheran, 36. Thiel, 37. Washington & Jefferson, 38. UW-Eau Claire.

Streak watch
This regular ATN department is back to help keep an eye on the country's longest runs. The winners side is smaller than usual, since last season's champion didn't go undefeated and most of the best teams lost in the playoffs, double-digit streaks at this point were nearly impossible to find. But there is some building momentum around Division III football, mostly with teams who finished 2005 strongly. Trinity (Conn.) has been able to compile the nation's longest streak by far without having to face any powerful playoff opponents, as a member of the exclusive NESCAC.

Division III's longest win streaks:
Trinity (Conn.) (30 consecutive wins, last loss at Williams, 30-13, Sept. 28, 2002; 0-0 in 2006)
Mount Union (9 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 1-0 in 2006)
St. Norbert (8 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Monmouth, 28-20, Sept. 17, 2005; 1-0 in 2006)
Cal Lutheran (7 consecutive wins, last loss at Occidental, 41-9, Sept. 24, 2005; 0-0 in 2006)
Howard Payne (7 consecutive wins, last loss at Hardin-Simmons, 45-20, Oct. 1, 2005; 1-0 in 2006)

After those five, the list may be incomplete, but I have Williams and Bridgewater State with six wins in a row, Chicago, Guilford, Mass-Dartmouth and Washington U. with five and Colby and Methodist with four.

The longest active losing streaks:
Heidelberg (26 consecutive losses, last win against Marietta on Oct. 4, 2003; 0-0 in 2006)
Macalester (15 consecutive losses, last win against Knox Oct. 2, 2004, 0-1 in 2006)
Massachusetts Maritime (14 consecutive losses, last win against Framingham State Oct. 2, 2004, 0-0 in 2006)
Juniata (13 consecutive losses, last win at Lycoming, 14-7, Oct. 30, 2004; 0-1 in 2006)
Tri-State (11 consecutive losses, last win vs. Kalamazoo, 21-14, Nov. 13, 2004, 0-1 in 2006)
Nichols (11 consecutive losses, last win vs. MIT, 35-14, Oct. 23, 2004, 0-1 in 2006)
Wesleyan (10 consecutive losses, last win vs. Bowdoin, 25-21, Oct. 30, 2004; 0-1 in 2006)

Five games to watch
No. 6 Mary Hardin-Baylor at Christopher Newport and No. 8 Wesley at Averett: The Captains and Cougars continue the ambitious USAC run at top 10 teams, but the pair was beaten by a combined 96-16 vs. No 1 Mount Union and No. 3 Rowan last week. Christopher Newport plays its home opener against the Crusaders, playing for the first time since a 46-36 playoff loss to Wesley. Both USAC teams should be careful to keep their top 10 experiences positive; if not, demoralization could be the outcome.

No. 21 North Central vs. Concordia (Wis.): The Cardinals play for the first time since a two-point playoff elimination, and quarterback Kam Kniss and 'mates have had all offseason to stew about that. The Falcons, meanwhile, are coming off a nice win against Simpson, usually a decent IIAC team. A win here would be a huge boost, not only to playoff hopes, but to the profile of the IBFC.

No. 24 Trinity (Texas) at Texas Lutheran: The SCAC power dispatched East Texas Baptist with force last week, and gets another ASC upstart to measure itself by. The Bulldogs, though, were 45-0 winners last week, so both come in riding high. For one team, it’ll be a short ride.

RPI at Endicott: This could be a playoff preview, as both the Engineers and Gulls are possible conference winners. There may not be a game this week with more experience on the field, as Endicott returns 10 starters on each side of the ball and RPI puts 11 returning offensive starters on the field.

Upset special (1-0 after Wartburg beat Monmouth last week) — Thiel at Alfred: The Tomcats are a defending conference champion while the Saxons fly largely under the radar behind Ithaca and St. John Fisher in the Empire 8. This could be Alfred’s breakout win. Eight starters are back on both sides of the ball, and the Saxons need a defensive performance like last season (14 points per game) to slow Steve Minton and the Tomcats, who scored seven points in their opener last week. 

Surprisingly good (0-1 after Wesley scored the first 34 points in a 41-14 win over Waynesburg): No. 25 Whitworth at Redlands: It’s a long trip from the Inland Northwest to Southern California, and the Pirates will quickly show us if they are probable playoff material. Whitworth, which won 52-49 in their last visit to Redlands, returns 10 defensive starters, but the unit gave up 29 points per game last year.

Also keep an eye on: Baldwin-Wallace at No. 15 Augustana, Hope at No. 17 Central, No. 20 Coe at Aurora, No. 22 Wabash at Franklin, No. 23 Wilkes at Widener, Albion at Wheaton, Brockport State at Salisbury, Defiance at Adrian, Fitchburg State at Curry, Guilford at Methodist, Luther at St. Olaf, Ohio Northern at Millikin, Sewanee at Huntingdon.

Who are those guys? 
Around the Nation tracks Division III’s performance against teams from the NAIA, Division II and Division I-AA, the latter usually non-scholarship programs like us. We just track it for fun, and to help you figure out who those schools on the schedule you don’t recognize are. What the numbers mean is for you all to slug it out over on Post Patterns, and believe me, a pretty interesting grudge match went down this offseason on D3 vs. NAIA. (But unlike most message board beefs, I think you’ll actually be smarter for reading that one). 

For the record, the 2005 tallies were 7-10 vs. Division I-AA, 7-11 vs. Division II and 19-14 vs. NAIA. (The NAIA tally does not include games from the cross-classification UMAC, particularly against Trinity Bible, which is not a member of any association, nor do we count unofficial Division III member Newport News Apprentice’s games in the tallies, although we do follow the Shipbuilders as a member of the Atlantic Central Football Conference.)

UW-La Crosse’s win over Division I-AA scholarship South Dakota State highlighted our opening week, but it was a solid all-around performance, except against Division II. Two wins and a loss were against teams ranked in the NAIA preseason coaches poll (Thiel beat No. 20 Geneva 7-0, St. Olaf beat No. 24 Valley City State 31-14 and No. 19 St. Ambrose edged Loras 17-15). None of the I-AA teams were ranked, although it had been rumored the Jackrabbits who lost to La Crosse were ranked. (In fact, they were picked fourth in their five-team conference).

Week 1 out-of-division records are below. Listed rankings for teams from other divisions are from I-AA.org, The Sports Network (their mid-major Top 10 ranks I-AA non-scholarship teams), D2football.com and NAIAfootball.net. 

With assists from Larry LaStarza of The Laz Index and Post Patterns Hall of Famer Ralph Turner, here’s the Week 2 lineup:

vs. Division I-AA (3-1 in Week 1)
Hanover at Butler
No. 3 (TSN) Dayton at Wittenberg
St. Peter at Western Connecticut

vs. Division II (0-4 in Week 1)
UW-Oshkosh at Minn.-Mankato
Ouachita Baptist at East Texas Baptist
Western Oregon at No. 7 Linfield
Seton Hill at McDaniel

vs. NAIA (7-2 in Week 1)
No. 17 Black Hills State at UW-Eau Claire
Southern Oregon at Menlo
Southwest Assemblies of God at Sul Ross State
Martin Luther at Waldorf
North Carolina Wesleyan at Southern Virginia

But don’t quote me 
The chatter’s been going pretty consistently since Saturday afternoon on the Instant Reactions to Week 1 Results post on our blog, The Daily Dose. A lot of the best opinions from this week are there.

Playoff down payment: Out-of-division results aren’t supposed to affect the Division III playoff selection committee, but I can’t see how — at least unofficially — UW-La Crosse’s win over Division I-AA scholarship program South Dakota State won’t benefit the WIAC somehow come November. Coupled with UW-Whitewater’s strong run to the Stagg Bowl last season, the conference reminded Division III why D3football.com consistently rates it our strongest league. That should have a spillover effect onto whichever team is conference runner-up this season, be it UW-Oshkosh, UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire, La Crosse or someone else. If the champion and second-place finisher are close to meeting the criteria, I believe they could get two teams in the field with strong seeds, perhaps home games. But of course, it’s early.

Attention SIDs
As always, Around the Nation requests media guides and any other aids in helping us cover your school or conference this season. We are also interested in seeing gam e tapes from schools we aren’t able to see in person. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at keith@d3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Links to online media guides are now preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on our front page and your team’s page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher and editor Pat Coleman at info@d3football.com. Thank you.

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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 third 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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