As Keith McMillan touched on his 2008 season review, I have a theory that tries to make sense of who beats whom during the Division III football season. Instead of thinking about the landscape in terms of regions or conferences, I break it into three tiers.
â€¢ Tier I are the elite teams who are likely to finish as national champion. This is a very small group.
â€¢ Tier II has great teams who will have great seasons. They will likely win their conference and usually go a couple rounds in the playoffs. But, unless everything breaks for them, they will not win a national championship.
Come playoff time, one or two Tier IIs will be upset by a Tier III. Most Tier IIs will knock each other off in the early playoff rounds or lose to a Tier I, often by 14+ points. If a Tier II team plays a tremendous game and Tier I team plays poorly, an upset is possible.
â€¢ Tier III teams are everyone else who makes the playoffs or just misses it. They are good teams and their accomplishments should not be diminished. But, unless they have a very favorable draw, they will be eliminated in the first two weeks of the playoffs. Tier III might beat Tier II if it plays a tremendous game, but the same Tier III is highly unlikely to do that twice in the same postseason. And they definitely don’t beat Tier I.
So why bring this up before teams even break training camp? Why worry think about the playoffs at all when there are hundreds of good stories to follow between now and the Stagg Bowl on December 19? Because the fun of this theory lies in predicting which teams go in which tiers and that changes every year, particularly for Tiers II and III. And that, like the Top 25 Poll released today, is a matter of debate.
Based on my preseason ballot, I’d break them down like this.
â€¢ Tier I: Mount Union, UW-Whitewater
Recent seasons make it easy to slot the Purple Raiders and Warhawks here and they stand alone.
â€¢ Tier II: Mary Hardin-Baylor, UW-Stevens Point, Hardin-Simmons
These teams could beat a Tier I if they play great and the Tier I stumbles. That’s what separates them from the teams in Tier III who aren’t beating Mount Union or UW-Whitewater. UW-Stevens Point is an easy choice since they return a lot from the team that beat UW-Whitewater last year. Mary Hardin-Baylor hasn’t gotten over the Warhawk hump, but they’ve been competitive. Since the games between teams at this level should be competitive, Hardin-Simmons gets the nod.
A couple more teams will rise to this level, like Wheaton, Wartburg and Willamette did last year. But the first two lose a lot on defense and the third a lot on offense. And if you ask me which teams could upset the two purple powerhouses — and that’s a requirement to be in this tier — right now it’s three’s company.
â€¢ Tier III: Everyone else in the Top 25 or receiving votes
This does not mean every other team will have the same level of success. And there will be some wonderful stories at this level that will help define the season ahead. But this is how I see the landscape now.
You know, given all the games that have been played. 🙂