Triple Take: The final 4 – weeks, that is

Hardin-Simmons
Tevin Mitchell ran for 162 yards and a touchdown for Hardin-Simmons at Linfield. Can he do something similar against another top five team?
HSU athletics photo by McCorklephoto.com

We talk a lot about the scholar-athletes the Division III level — the ones who skillfully balance sports and study, who are held to the same standard in the classroom as every other student and who don’t tweet about being in college for football first and everything else second.

Next week, the National Football Foundation will announce the winners of its National Scholar-Athlete Award, and more than three dozen Division III players are semifinalists. This week in Triple Take, we touch on but three of those many players and their teams, while also giving you prospects for big turnarounds and Top 25 upsets.

With just four weeks of the regular season left to go, here’s what Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps have to say.

Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 21 Alfred at No. 7 Salisbury.
“Pound the rock” will be the mantra of Saturday. Salisbury comes in averaging nearly 284 yards a game on the ground, while Alfred respectably nears that mark with 220. And, predictably, both are great, great, great at stopping a rushing attack. This E8 battle will be won in the trenches, and because each team already has a loss, they’re in danger of being on the precarious playoff bubble should they be defeated a second time.
Keith’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at No. 5 UW-Whitewater. Oh snap, I’m choosing before Pat this week, out of the traditional Triple Take order. So at least I didn’t have to fight with him over getting to pick this game, because its G.O.T.W. credentials are thick. Best two teams in the strongest conference. The Titans, who have never so much as been to the playoffs, are playing perhaps the biggest game in program history. The three-time defending champions are playing to keep alive their chance to defend: The Warhawks are unlikely to make the playoffs with two losses. It’s not like the Warhawks, with the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense (29 yards/game) and No. 3 overall and scoring defense (211.5 yards, 7.3 points/game) are even playing poorly. And that rush defense matches up with Oshkosh’s strength. The Titans, No. 10 in total offense and No. 12 in total defense, rush for 296 yards per game. We know QB Nate Wara, but maybe we should get familiar with Cole Myhra, Zack Kasuboski and Caleb Voss as well. The best thing for the WIAC is two 9-1 playoff teams, but the Titans don’t care, and will probably have a lot of variety-seeking fans from across the land on Saturday.
Pat’s take: No. 10 UW-Oshkosh at No. 5 UW-Whitewater. Doesn’t matter. Usually we do try to pick three different games but every once in a while the game dictates otherwise. Keith has been down the key battles in this game already so I’ll remind people how this game went down last year: At UW-Oshkosh, the Titans went up 17-10 just before halftime after an 80-yard drive. Whitewater answered near the end of the third quarter to tie it up and rode Levell Coppage hard on a fourth-quarter drive, keeping the ball on the ground for all nine plays, six by Coppage and three by quarterback Matt Blanchard. They settled for a 17-yard Eric Kindler field goal to take a 20-17 lead with 1:18 left. Nate Wara drove Oshkosh into Whitewater territory but his fourth-down pass was intercepted in the end zone by Ryan Wenkman, allowing the Warhawks to hold on for the win. Oshkosh fans may remember what happened the next week (although they may have successfully blocked it out): The Titans lost to UW-La Crosse, 30-24, ending any hope of a playoff bid.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Susquehanna at Ursinus.
The Bears have spent the past couple of weeks beating up on the more winless teams in the Centennnial, so it should be a concern that not only are they going up against a team that is more fundamentally solid than the others but also one that allows an average of just 148 passing yards a game. Ursinus will have to find a way to play without its greatest strength.
Pat’s take: Hardin-Simmons at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor.  It will be interesting to see what Hardin-Simmons can do against its longtime conference rival. The Cowboys haven’t beaten the Cru since 2004, but they have been competitive against two Top 25 teams they’ve played this year, including No. 3 Linfield. So even though the Cowboys have been on a losing streak against the American Southwest Conference’s heavyweight, they shouldn’t be intimidated.
Keith’s take: Concordia-Moorhead at Augsburg. I’m violating the spirit of the category here, but I wanted to make sure we acknowledge this game. It’ll be surprisingly low scoring, as the Auggies put up 470 yards and 38 points a game, but face a Cobbers defense that allows just 259 yards and 17.3. Both teams are 5-1 and need this win, to avoid falling further behind Bethel or St. Thomas.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Widener.
In facing the only other team with an unblemished MAC record, it should be of very little surprise that the Pride will have its hands full. Lycoming biggest strength is its defense, one that has held its past five opponents to 14 or fewer points each outing. That unit is adept at making plays behind the line of scrimmage, which means the Widener offensive line will need to give quarterback Chris Haupt time to make decisions. Doing so will let the team move the ball and, with a win, move up the rankings.
Pat’s take: No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan. I admit Wheaton (Ill.) is not as strong as it has been in the past, but I think the jury remains out on Illinois Wesleyan at the moment until this game. The six teams the Titans have played so far are a combined 14-24, while the three other contenders in the CCIW are left on the schedule. And as we pointed out in this week’s podcast, IWU hasn’t won at Wheaton since 1996. This could well be the year, but until that happens, I’ll wait and see.
Keith’s take: No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan. I hate to pile on. I very nearly took No. 11 Hobart and No. 17 Rowan here, but I think they each have the defense necessary to hold off high-powered offenses from RPI and Cortland State. Both teams are on the road, making those picks even more intriguing. No. 24 St. John Fisher is on a two-game slide, but so is their opponent, Ithaca. I could have backed Ryan’s pick as well, as Lycoming has a shot. Simpson, Gettysburg and Pacific Lutheran will give top 25 teams a game, but in the end, for reasons explained below under 180, this was the pick I felt most comfortable with. IWU has a great defense as well (No. 8 nationally) but Wheaton (No. 10) can match it, plus it can score. And yes I expect we’ll hear a lot of chirping from Bloomington if the Titans do what they’re supposed to do and play like the No. 12 team in the country. Whatevs. We can dish it out and we can take it.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Chapman.
All of the hype in the SCIAC goes to Top 10-ranked Cal Lutheran. But the Panthers have quietly plowed their way to a 4-1 season and stand ready to line up against perennial conference threat Redlands this weekend. With four games to go, Chapman has already tied its win total from each of the past three seasons. Things are looking up for this squad.
Pat’s take: Lycoming. The Warriors and Widener have played some memorable games in the past, including last year, when the Warriors stormed back from a 31-0 deficit to cute the score to 31-28 with 1:56 before an onside kick attempt failed. Keith and I could each regale you with stories of great Widener-Lycoming games we’ve covered in the past. Their meetings haven’t all been stunners, but many of them have. I look forward to another.
Keith’s take: Allegheny. One week they’re beating Wabash, the next they’re losing at Chicago. Both of the Gators’ losses are to UAA teams, which means they’re in control of the NCAC, for now, alongside fellow surprise Ohio Wesleyan. They’re on my radar because they face a serious challenge, at home against Wittenberg, but also because they’re 4-2 with the 229th-best offense in the nation. The Gators, whose defense is top 50 but not putting up carry-the-offense numbers, have somehow managed to keep scores low with a negative turnover margin and an offense that rushes for 115.5 yards a game — and that’s the strong suit (The Gators pass for 114.5 yards per). Are they a team that finds ways to win, or one whose luck is about to run out?

Which National Scholar-Athlete Award semifinalist and his team are you seeing walking away with a win this weekend?
Ryan’s take: Rowan and Chris Popper.
Folks are hard-pressed to find years when the NJAC was a cut-and-dried race to the playoffs. The past two seasons, no team has escaped conference play unscathed. Which makes this weekend’s game between Cortland State and Rowan a big one. They represent two of the three teams undefeated in NJAC play, and it would surprise no one if the race to the top got messy. Popper, a senior defensive lineman, will play his role as part of a stout unit that will be called upon to put pressure on the Red Dragons’ quarterback and slow their potent run game.
Pat’s take: Washington U. and Dan Burkett. Although the Wash U offense has struggled this season and Burkett, a senior quarterback, didn’t play in the Bears’ last game, against Wabash, I have to give props to the program, which produced the last Division III winner of this award, Brandon Roberts, in the 2002 season. The name of the trophy was different but the mission of the so-called “Academic Heisman” was the same. The Bears will be at Denison on Saturday, which has its own Campbell Trophy semifinalist: defensive lineman Nat Kell.
Keith’s take: Mount Union and Nick Driskill. I guess it’s a layup, or to stay sport-consistent, a wide-open bomb. We ignore Mount Union so often on the assumption they’re going to win, and the Purple Raiders rarely ever let us down. Still we should point out that Otterbein is the first opponent with a winning record the Mount Union is facing this season, so I expect the unscored upon streak to bite the dust. Driskill — as perhaps the best player on the nation’s best defense — will have a hand in slowing down Cardinals WR Trey Fairchild, and the Purple Raiders win comfortably.

Which team with two or more losses is worth watching?
Ryan’s take: Hardin-Simmons.
Count me among the camp always keeping a close eye on the Cowboys. After starting the season with losses against two currently undefeated NWC teams (Willamette and Linfield), HSU has swept through the bottom half of the ASC with ease. But Saturday, with Mary Hardin-Baylor on the docket, marks a return to the caliber of opponent they faced early in the season. The rushing defense probably isn’t strong enough to slow UMHB, so the Cowboys will have to rely on their aerial attack and hope they come out on the right side of a shootout.
Keith’s take: Sul Ross State. Or Louisiana College. Take your pick, since they play each other in Alpine, Texas, and could be fringe playoff candidates despite their five combined losses. The Lobos lost two a pair of D-II teams, which has a minimal effect on D-III playoff positioning, and both teams got blown out by ASC leader and No. 2 team in the country, Mary Hardin-Baylor. LC also lost by a field goal to No. 6 Wesley in a non-conference clash. The Wildcats have put up gaudy offensive numbers in previous seasons the way Sul Ross State is doing now, and it hasn’t served them well enough. Now they’ve got a top 35 defense, and they’ll need it against A.J. Springer, Dominique Carson and the No. 1 offense in the country. The Lobos are a risky bunch though. That top-ranked offense is backed by a defense that ranks dead last — 239th — overall and against the pass. They gain 574 yards per game and allow 575. They surrender more than 50 points more per game than No. 1 defense Mount Union, so LC’s offensive stars, led by RB Ryan Montague, have got to be licking their chops.
Pat’s take: Delaware Valley. Now, perhaps not this week, but don’t write off the Aggies for the MAC title. This week’s home game against first-year program Misericordia will be a walk in the park, but it will be a good respite before the Aggies visit Lebanon Valley next week. If Widener beats Lycoming this week and the teams win through to Week 11, Delaware Valley and Widener will have a winner-take-all game for the MAC automatic bid to close the season.

Which team will turn the biggest 180 from last week?
Ryan’s take: Christopher Newport.
The Captains stumbled to their first conference loss in two years and in the process gave USA South newcomer LaGrange a great big reason to smile. Averett won’t be stepping off the field in the same kind of happy mood. Expect CNU to loose some heavy artillery as the conference is logjammed with five teams tied at 2-1.
Keith’s take: Wheaton. The Thunder is five points from being unbeaten, but has losses to Albion and Elmhurst. After piling up 596 yards of offense against the Bluejays and turning it over only twice, Wheaton probably still can’t figure out how it lost. By now, it’s over last week and has its focus on No. 12 Illinois Wesleyan, who has played the Thunder to a close game around the 20s (24-19, 29-19 and 20-17) for three consecutive years, winning twice. This time it’s Wheaton’s turn to be the underdog and spring the upset, and the stats and standings here probably belie how close these teams are. The Titans have played great defense to date, but haven’t seen an offense like Wheaton’s.
Pat’s take: Louisiana College. The Wildcats are going to go from scoring three points in Week 7 against Mary Hardin-Baylor to somewhere in the 40s … or higher … against Sul Ross State. Regardless of whether Louisiana College wins, the Wildcats should have a lot more success on offense.

Triple Take: Blemished and battling

Trevor Manuel
Trevor Manuel leads Huntingdon with 177 all-purpose yards per game.
Huntingdon athletics photo

By the time Week 5 rolls past, the Division III landscape usually still has many unbeatens fighting toward the postseason. At this point in 2008, ’09 and ’10, a total of only two teams made the D3football.com Top 10 with a blemish on their records.

This year alone, we have three.

It suggests an anything-can-happen season, but there’s potentially deeper insight into it for those willing to explore on a national scale.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps are here to help you analyze. Saturday is closing in fast, and that means more upsets may be in the making.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 14 Wittenberg at Huntingdon.
The Hawks come in as a one-loss team averaging more than 37 points a game in very consistent offensive performances. And, they’ve already taken down a team that’s been in the Top 25 this season, Hampden-Sydney. Statistically, Huntingdon doesn’t stack up well against the pass, and Witt has a signal-caller who’s thrown for 1,500 yards and has a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio. But these stats were familiar in the H-SC game, too, and Huntingdon found a way through turnovers to overcome their shortcomings and win. (Is it an omen that both Witt and -Sydney are nicknamed the Tigers?) With has an opening-week win against Capital, a team that’s shown glimmers of skill, Witt proved it can win when it counts. It’ll be a long ride from Montgomery back to Springfield if they don’t.
Keith’s take: No. 15 Cortland State at No. 11 Montclair State. Truthfully, I probably would’ve picked Ryan’s game, but his reward for working up the post each week is first choice. This NJAC clash will do, however, because it will provide needed clarity in what is right now potentially a five-team race. Or maybe it won’t, since last season finished in a three-way tie. In any case, I watched Dan Pitcher carve up Rowan a couple weeks ago to the tune of 315 passing yards, and the statistics say Montclair’s been vulnerable to the pass (151st nationally). But the Red Hawks are usually stout on defense, and last season Cortland needed to score 10 points in the final 11 minutes of a 10-9 win. Already this year the Red Dragons and Red Hawks have two common opponents (Buffalo State and Morrisville State), with each winning one by blowout. Cortland’s played the tougher schedule so far, and comes in with a loss to Kean. The lack of any real idea what’s going to happen, though I’d lean Cortland right now if forced to choose, makes it a classic Game of the Week.
Pat’s take: No. 20 Wartburg at Dubuque. I don’t think I can consider this as a team likely to be upset, since the teams are so close together in the voting … and not even in the same order on my ballot. My thinking is that if Coe’s Jared Kuehner caught nine passes for 115 against Wartburg a couple weeks ago, what will Mike Zweifel and Demacus Fleming do through the air for Dubuque?

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Franklin at Rose-Hulman.
While the Grizzlies are a one-loss team, they can be excused for their blemish, having come at the hands of defending national champion UW-Whitewater. This week’s opponent, Rose-Hulman, stands at just 2-2, but the Engineers have been able to find success if they balance their offense and not slough off when getting to the ball on defense. Perhaps most critical for Rose to pull an upset will be to stop Franklin on third down. The Grizzlies have a knack for converting the down and keeping drives alive.
Keith’s take: Mount Ida at Anna Maria. It stands to reason that any team that’s lost the first 23 games in its history might be a pushover, even for a 1-3 team like Mount Ida. But the AmCats are on the cusp, coming off a 56-52 loss to rival Castleton State and a 48-40 four-overtime loss to Gallaudet in which they led 34-13. Perhaps, since the Mustangs have played four close games a fifth wouldn’t be a surprise, but it should be close. And Anna Maria might finally win.
Pat’s take: Hobart at Union. I’m taking a bit of a leap of faith here, as Union has been on the wrong side of a couple of surprisingly close games. But the Dutchmen have turned their close losses into close wins the past two weeks, which gives me a reason to make this pick. Union lost in a close one on the road at Hobart last year, starting their season-ending tailspin. With the home field, Union could turn that around.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 16 Delaware Valley.
After a slow start to the season, Wilkes has scooped up victories against Widener and FDU-Florham, the former of which stands at 4-1 this season. Wilkes has seen improving play from quarterback Alex George, and the team is coming off a week in which two of its players earned MAC weekly honors. The Aggies, on the other hand, may have the defense to at least slow Wilkes’ nearly 500-yard-a-game average. Swallowing up Zach Tivald along with George should be a priority. If that happens, DelVal may be lucky enough to earn a repeat of its first two games.
Keith’s take: No. 10 Kean. We finally gave them some Around the Region love; that’s the kiss of death. In all seriousness, I could be reading the TCNJ and Western Connecticut results wrong, but the Cougars don’t seem all the way dialed in every week, and eventually that bites a team. I don’t know that I’d expect Buffalo State to pull the upset, but Kean could use a convincing win to keep from finding itself in this space again.
Pat’s take: No. 22 Salisbury. A lot of the talk around the game centers around the two triple-option offenses of Salisbury and Springfield but considering these defenses see the triple-option on a regular basis, I think we could see more of a defensive battle than initially pondered.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Pacific Lutheran.
The Lutes came into 2011 with some seriously depleted ranks and real uncertainty about whether they’d come close to a repeat of last year’s 8-1 season. So far, they stand at 2-1, which looks good on the surface. Yet those two wins come against teams that are a combined 0-8 this year. The Lutes’ only challenge was their failed comeback attempt in a 28-17 road loss to Cal Lutheran. Pacific Lutheran may not repeat last year’s success, but a win this week against Whitworth means they won’t have slipped to the NWC’s basement.
Keith’s take: Augsburg. The Auggies have been consistent on the scoreboard, averaging 32 points per game without scoring fewer than 28, and defensive linemen Edmond Smith and Aaron Perry have them among the nation’s leaders in sacks and tackles for losses. I don’t expect them to beat No. 3 St. Thomas, but I would like to find out if we can expect them to be competitive the next two weekends, at Concordia-Moorhead and against St. Olaf. Or will a promising 4-0 start morph into 4-3 in a few weeks?
Pat’s take: St. Scholastica. The Saints have a chance to go unbeaten and need to win every week in order to avoid a first-round playoff road trip to a top seed. Northwestern has certainly seen more success in past years, but is 3-1 in the league and certainly not out of the hunt yet.

Which conference game has the potential to change the race or throw us for a loop?
Ryan’s take: Heidelberg at Muskingum. Raise your hand if you saw these two teams being a combined 7-1 and vying for the upper-echelon of the OAC. There might be a hand raised way in the back of the room, but that’s about it. These standings are nothing to scoff at. Together, the Student Princes and the Muskies have taken down Ohio Northern, Otterbein and Capital — you know, the kinds of teams we’ve gotten used to hearing about even into the postseason. Often, the No. 2 team in the OAC gets a playoff bid, and if these teams hope to be in the discussion at the end of the season, they need to keep winning. The victor on Saturday will have earned itself a boost.
Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh at UW-Eau Claire and Ripon at Monmouth. Double bonus for faithful TT readers! The Blugolds (that’s UW-EC) have beaten both UW-Stout and UW-River Falls by multiple touchdowns in their 3-1 start, but the Titans whomped those teams even worse. With a win against Central and a loss to No. 2 Mount Union, Oshkosh seems made to contend, but we need to see it against a respectable WIAC team. Meanwhile, in the MWC, four teams are 4-1, 3-1, and two face off on Saturday. Ripon bring the nation’s No. 4 rushing offense (349 yards per game) to Illinois to try to outscore Monmouth’s No. 6 passing offense (332.6/game). The Scots have played better defense (17 points allowed the past three games) and have put up the more convincing conference results, so a Ripon win would be a major upset.
Pat’s take: Lebanon Valley at Albright. We need the result of this game in order to see if Albright will be in position to challenge Delaware Valley for the conference lead next week. The Lions stubbed their toe last week at Lycoming and another loss likely eliminate them from the conference race. If not Albright, Wilkes (this week), Widener and Lycoming have a shot left.

Tigers, Lions or Bears?
Ryan’s take: Tigers.
But this is almost cheating because the Tigers of Sewanee are playing at the Tigers of Trinity (Texas). This game should belong to Trinity, but the best part is that each of these teams are rebounding. Last year, Trinity had its first losing season in roughly two decades; now, they’re sitting tied atop the SCAC with an undefeated record. Sewanee on the other hand, has hobbled through a zero-win season and a couple of one-win seasons in recent years. But here, they’re not just sitting at 2-3, but they’re playing teams competitively. The worst loss was against Washington and Lee, which is coming off a conference-title season. But losses to 5-0 Birmingham-Southern and 2-3 Millsaps have been much closer. Compared with last season, fortunes have smiled on both of these schools.
Keith’s take: Tigers. I took a look at some Bears — Bridgewater State has played three close games in a row. I checked out some Lions, but Pat already mentioned Albright. Truth is, Tigers are playing this week’s most interesting games, from East Texas Baptist trying to catch No. 19 Louisiana College hung over from its loss at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor, to Hampden-Sydney facing one-time ODAC power Bridgewater and Wittenberg making its trip to Alabama.
Pat’s take: Tigers. Bengals, to be specific. Buffalo State has a shot at Kean this week, which is coming off back-to-back weeks of unimpressive performances, at least by Top 25 standards. After struggling the first two weeks offensively, Buffalo State has put it together, thanks in large part to the emergence of running back Rich Pete, who has averaged 104.3 yards rushing the past three games. Recommend punt protection if they’re going to upset the Cougars.

Which team needs a win for morale purposes?
Ryan’s take: Greensboro.
Or, for that matter, their opponent Averett. The two teams have a total record of 1-7, an indicator of the overall struggles that the USA South has encountered this season. But the Pride need this win more because they haven’t played any Division III teams close this season. Even being within striking distance of a win will be a morale boost.
Keith’s take: Western Connecticut at Morrisville State. Apparently I’m trying to make sure the NJAC is mentioned in response to *every* question … but both of these teams could use a life. The Colonels are in the midst of a fairly inexplicable 15-game losing streak; they’ve lost three games by 37 or more, yet were 10 points behind 10th-ranked Kean in the fourth quarter. Morrisville lost its first two games, to Hartwick and Montclair State, by a total of four points, but is 0-4 because it doesn’t do anything particularly well. The offense is a big culprit, putting up just 14 points per game (210th nationally). Somebody’s going to win here, and it’s going to be a big lift for some kids who have to be struggling to believe right now.
Pat’s take: Aurora. This week’s midseason battle with Benedictine for what could be supremacy in the NATHC took a wrong turn for the Spartans with last week’s loss to Lakeland. Aurora is still looking for a conference win and is 1-3 overall, where Benedictine at least picked up a win against Concordia (Ill.) after losses to North Park and Kalamazoo, traditionally bottom feeders in the CCIW and MIAA.

After the SCAC shuffle, what’s next?


Trinity athletics photo

Analysis
As a football conference in the Division III model, the SCAC never made sense. The geographic footprint, from Colorado to Indiana to Alabama to Texas, created a demand on travel costs that small-college budgets usually find unnecessary.

Colorado College realized this and abruptly dropped football after the 2008 season. But they weren’t the only outlier. Rose-Hulman left after the 2006 season to join the HCAC, which is Indiana and Ohio-based. DePauw, finding a group of schools with similar academic cache in closer proximity, decided this year to join Indiana rival Wabash in the NCAC, beginning in 2012.

That left seven football members behind in the SCAC, enough to maintain its automatic bid to the 32-team playoff field. Schools from coast to coast – LaGrange, Cornell and Chapman – announced new conference affiliations this offseason. But nothing shakes up the national picture like seven schools withdrawing from a 12-school conference; of the seven football-playing members, five are forming a new conference that will require less travel but would need to add two football programs and then wait two years to get an automatic bid. Trinity and Austin retain the SCAC name and history but need five football-playing members — and two “core” members in all sports — to keep their AQ.

The SCAC has been very explicit in news stories and press releases that it intends to continue on, and potential new members have been contacted.

Who exactly might those be? What ripple effects can Division III expect?

With the remaining SCAC schools mostly Texas-based, this would seem to be a ripe opportunity for any school in the ASC that feels it either isn’t competitive or wants to align itself with Trinity and Austin (which left the ASC and took Rose-Hulman’s place in the SCAC) to make the leap. Texas Lutheran comes to mind, while Howard Payne and East Texas Baptist wouldn’t be total shocks.

It also means any NAIA school, particularly those in the Mid-South Conference and perhaps the KCAC, which eyes the NCAA’s financial stability has its opening. There are also four NAIA schools in Oklahoma, two independents in Florida and another independent, Southern Virginia, which has expressed interest in moving to Division III. Those schools might not all fit in the SCAC, but might come into play if teams begin shuffling their affiliations.

Centenary (La.) has moved from Division I to III, and joined the ASC, but doesn’t yet offer football.

Then of course, there’s the obvious: Huntingdon, one of the last football independents in D-III, has eagerly sought out a conference. The Hawks joined the SLIAC for one season, then the conference dropped football. The SCAC-7 (those schools that just broke off from the SCAC) appear to have not been interested in the Hawks, but the SCAC-5 might take them out of necessity. They’d be a core member.

That’s an example of the tough spot the SCAC is in. With 50 years of history and a reputation for academic prestige, the conference – whose commissioner of 16 years, Dwyane Hanberry, is staying on – would probably like to maintain how it is perceived. We might hear a lot of talk about being “excited for the future” or schools that “fit the SCAC profile,” but from an outsider’s view, it’s hard to see how the SCAC-5 isn’t desperate.

The SCAC-5, remember, has just two football schools. Colorado College recently dropped the sport, and Southwestern and U. of Dallas don’t seem to be on track to add it. Huntingdon would be a third. If the SCAC stole more than two from the nine-member ASC, then that conference’s automatic bid would be in jeopardy.

The odd thing is Division III had narrowed itself down to just three football independents, and only two with scheduling problems. Huntingdon is one. Wesley, which is a competitive fit for the NJAC but as a private school can’t afford to play by that conference’s rules, such as 100-player roster limits, might look to revive talks of football in its all-sports conference, the CAC. The third, Macalester, is independent by choice, having left the MIAC in the early part of the decade. The St. Paul-based school also has 14 potential opponents in Minnesota, plus dozens more nearby in Iowa and Illinois.

A former independent, LaGrange already made its move this offseason, to the USAC, where former football-only affiliate Maryville and non-football Piedmont joined this offseason, All three were members of the GSAC in other sports. Shenandoah announced plans to leave the USAC for the ODAC in all sports –- citing reduced travel as a reason – last fall.

The USAC moves leave few Division III schools in the south looking to move. A GSAC/SCAC-5 merger doesn’t make much sense for football because of the four women’s schools and the distance from Southwest Virginia to Colorado. Rust (Holly Springs, Miss.) is in no shape to add the sport.

The USAC might not have seen its last shuffle either. Averett, N.C. Wesleyan and Christopher Newport could join Wesley in the CAC, which currently doesn’t sponsor football. Salisbury and Frostburg State, which joined the Empire 8 as a football-only affiliates for access to an automatic bid and because Norwich had left the E8 one member short, could come back home and give the CAC six football playing members. Two sources have told D3sports.com that Neumann (Pa.) is considering adding football, which could be a potential seventh, as could Marymount (Va.) if it added the sport. Catholic, a former member of the CAC, competes in the ODAC for football and the non-football Landmark conference for other sports.

Another potential seventh member, Stevenson, which plays its first football game this season, recently left the CAC for the MAC.

So why all the movement?

First, access to automatic bids, especially in sports like football where at-large bids are scarce, is key. But schools prefer being in conferences for ease of scheduling, formation of natural rivalries, an enhanced athletic experience (i.e. all-conference awards, etc.) and association. Schools like being aligned with certain peers, because of the perceptions it creates.

The SCAC certainly did that. But perhaps the main reason Division III schools like their conferences are something the SCAC-5 still doesn’t care about: containing travel costs.

That would open the door for Westminster (Utah), an NAIA member whose name was mentioned in The Colorado Springs Gazette as a potential member. They’d be the third Westminster in D-III, joining the ones in Missouri (UMAC) and Pennsylanvia (PAC).

If Trinity and Austin can’t save the SCAC’s football automatic bid, they might be forced elsewhere to look for affliate membership. Or, they could dangle their bid and entice others – perhaps the four schools in the UAA (Case Western Reserve, Chicago, Carnegie Mellon and Wash U.) could join to create a who-cares-about-travel-costs football league. It certainly would be prestigious, but it would need a seventh member to keep the AQ.

The perfect seventh member, Rochester, figured something out long ago. Flying a football team across the country four or five times a season is cost-prohibitive. The Yellowjackets, a member of the UAA in other sports, are in the New York-based Liberty League for football.