TAG | Texas Lutheran
It’s make or break time for a lot of teams. Players and coaches will be hunting for that last push toward the postseason and will be keeping an eye on the national landscape as teams fall in and out of contention for conference qualifiers and at-large bids.
We’ve also gotten our first look at the regional rankings that give us a good snapshot in time as to which teams could be playoff bound. Few, though, can rest on their laurels. Even one-win teams can sneak up and bite you. It’s happened before. Spoilers are lurking everywhere.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you their looks at Week 10.
Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 7 North Central at No. 24 Wheaton. I love the Little Brass Bell rivalry game, even though the Cardinals have dominated the matchup the last few seasons. Importantly for two-loss Wheaton, another defeat here means they will slip entirely out of playoff contention. So more than just pride is certainly on the line. North Central, on the other hand, can clinch a playoff spot because of head-to-head wins against the other top teams in the CCIW – and they still have the chance to run the table with a victory the final week against Augustana. In only one win this season has North Central failed to score at least 40 points, and that was a 37-pointer against UW-Stout. Wheaton’s defense will need to be on its toes if it doesn’t want to spend the day playing on its heels.
Pat’s take: No. 1 Mount Union at No. 23 Baldwin Wallace (maybe). At this point, it’s not even sure Baldwin Wallace can host this game. On Wednesday the playing surface was underwater and on Thursday afternoon there was still no electricity to the stadium. BW, which already has to deal with not being as talented as Mount Union (like most of Division III is), has the additional distraction of the revelation this week that Baldwin Wallace declared its athletic teams ineligible for the playoffs. Now, why I’m picking this game as my game of the week is the history that BW often gives Mount Union a tough game (last year, 25-20). And now BW has nothing left to lose and can really only play spoiler. It should be an interesting game for that standpoint alone.
Keith’s take: No. 4 St. Thomas at No. 17 Concordia-Moorhead. No game on Saturday will have as much of a domino effect on the playoffs. Fringe Pool C teams will have an interest in seeing the Tommies win in Moorhead, while MIAC boosters could push for the Cobbers to win, which would put three conference teams on the path to the postseason. It’s the most significant conference road trip, the Tommies have been playing through some injuries, and the Cobbers have been pointed towards this game ever since they were stunned on the final play at Bethel. Brett Baune rushes for 109 of the Cobbers’ 262 yards per game on the ground, while the Tommies are fifth in the nation in run defense, allowing 56.75 yards per game.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Hardin-Simmons at Texas Lutheran. The Bulldogs played the pass-heavy Louisiana College last week to overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if they can repeat the feat against Hardin-Simmons, which throws for nearly 400 yards a game.
Pat’s take: Greensboro at Christopher Newport. Only once in the 11-year history of the series has Greensboro even been within one score of CNU. This might be the best Greensboro team in the program’s brief history, however (started in 1997), and the Pride have never finished with a record of above .500. This might not be the year but a split in the final two games to go 5-5 is definitely possible.
Keith’s take: Brockport State at Montclair State. It’s been an unusually rough 3-5 season for the Redhawks. But being fortunate enough to have a game in North Jersey this week when the other local teams are all cancelled might tap into to something that the Redhawks haven’t been able to draw out this season. The 5-3 Golden Eagles have been all over the board, scoring 35 or more four times and 6 or less twice. Defensively, they’ve given up 45 to Cortland State and held Lycoming to 2. Montclair State’s Bill Roman has assumed the main ballcarrier’s role the past three games, and has rushed for 393 yards.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 21 Franklin. The Grizzlies have been nothing short of dominant in conference play this season, shutting out three of their last four opponents. But these final two weeks show Franklin running smack-dab into the second- and third-best teams in the HCAC. This week, Bluffton is the kind of team that can do a lot more damage to Franklin’s passing attack than most other opponents and could give the Griz a run for its money.
Pat’s take: No. 18 Heidelberg. John Carroll has had an interesting season, beating all the teams it has been expected to beat and losing to the teams it should lose to. This is a step up for John Carroll, but Mark Myers, the transfer quarterback from Pitt, has had a great season for the Blue Streaks. With as much talent as Heidelberg has on offense, JCU may well have the biggest offensive talent on the field.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Salisbury. The Sea Gulls, who I once had ranked as high as sixth on my ballot, have looked vulnerable the past two weeks. And as good as Alfred and Ithaca are, Utica is passing for 350 yards per game and has allowed 14 points over the past three games. Salisbury is at home, and brings its trademark option attack to the table, so a shootout could be in order.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Adrian. In our preseason Kickoff 2012 publication, the Bulldogs were the team I picked to be the surprise playoff entry. Now, they stand at 5-0 in conference play with only one more MIAA game to go. That means they’ve already clinched a share of the conference title for the first time in 15 years, but I’m sure they’ll be happier knocking off Albion this week and sweeping the conference. And a win would give them momentum heading into the final game, a nonconference tilt again Huntingdon. Adrian has almost flown under the radar all season, quietly stacking up the nation’s third best defense statistically and keeping every MIAA opponent to single digits in scoring. They can’t look past Albion, of course (the Britons did beat Wheaton early this season), but the Bulldogs should be very optimistic about their chances and looking forward to their first postseason berth since 1988.
Pat’s take: Buffalo State. Just about everyone else’s most surprising playoff entry is eliminated (except Jason Bailey, who picked Ferrum) so I’m looking at a surprise that unsurprised and could do so again. The Bengals have never been as explosive offensively as they were in Week 1, a win against Cortland State which still puzzles, and Ryan Lehotsky has been running the offense the past week and a half instead of Casey Kacz. Buff State has already outdone the Empire 8 coaches’ poll and our more optimistic preseason predictions. Now the goal is to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2000. And beat two teams that went to the Elite 8 and beyond last year.
Keith’s take: Tufts. We’ve seen a handful of major losing streaks kick the bucket over the past few weeks, and now it’s the Jumbos’ turn. Tufts has lost 21 in a row, but gets a visit from 1-5 Colby on Saturday. The Jumbos are coming off a rough stretch, having to play Amherst, Williams and Trinity consecutively, but they were competitive early in the season against Bates and Bowdoin. Before we turn our attention completely to the postseason, I’ll be looking for one more regular-season win that gives a team the first taste of victory.
A team that will clinch a share of the conference title on Saturday.
Ryan’s take: Widener. Rightly or wrongly, I got on the Widener bandwagon early in the season, before the Pride had really proven themselves. Close wins against Lebanon Valley and Lycoming helped to separate Widener from the rest of the MAC. But even though a win over FDU-Florham will give the undefeated Pride a share of the conference title, they still have to beat Delaware Valley next weekend to avoid a three-way tie at the top of the MAC and to assure themselves a trip to the playoffs. (Wait, what’s that? The Widener/Florham game is canceled? Well, shucks, that throws us into a conundrum. Widener, at worse, would be a one-loss team, but DelVal potentially could have more conference wins than the Pride. Anyone know the MAC’s championship rules off the top of their heads? Either way, I’m sure Keith and Pat have some winners to talk about here:)
Pat’s take: Salisbury. I know there is some rumbling that Utica has a shot to take down Salisbury but I don’t see it. Using last year’s game, played in Week 5 at the end of a seven and a half hour drive by Salisbury, doesn’t equate to winning in Salisbury. Now, I’ll admit, the Sea Gulls offense, even on turf, hasn’t been putting up the same type of points in recent weeks, but I don’t think there’s enough to get Utica over the top.
Keith’s take: Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays have no easy matchup, with 6-2 Franklin & Marshall on deck. JHU has averaged nearly 500 yards of offense, with RB Jonathan Rigaud leading the way, and F&M allows 133 rushing yards per game. That’s not terrible, but it’s a sign that there might be an opening for the Blue Jays. F&M has given up 28 or more points in four games already, and it’s doubtful they’ll hold high-powered Johns Hopkins down.
Which season turnaround has been the most interesting?
Ryan’s take: Brockport State. And not in the good-turnaround sort of way. After starting the season beating Lycoming and Buffalo State (which would then go on to beat UW-Whitewater), Brockport put itself on a lot of people’s watch lists. The team even enjoyed a 17th-place spot in the poll. But the conference portion of the season has been hard on the Golden Eagles, who have eked out a .500 performance. The final two games, against Montclair State and Morrisville State, have winability written all over them. They’re not sure things, but Brockport could end the season swinging with a 7-3 record.
Pat’s take: Ohio Wesleyan. And most interesting to me has been how the Battling Bishops have threatened to make the last NCAC season without a full round-robin a tiebreaking nightmare. You know, interesting like a trainwreck. Allegheny can save the NCAC from some of this ignominy, but then again, Allegheny lost to Kenyon, so it’s not a guarantee.
Keith’s take: Lake Forest. The Foresters haven’t finished above .500 since 2004, but at 8-1, they’ve clinched that and are in line for a playoff spot. Statistically they haven’t overwhelmed, yet they’ve survived on heart, winning five games by a touchdown or less. That’s a recipe for a heck of ride, if nothing else.
Which team will rise in the regional rankings next week, and why?
Ryan’s take: Hampden-Sydney. There no reason to think that, when Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee line up this weekend, it won’t be a shootout. In rushing offense, W&L is at the top of the stat sheet; in passing offense, H-SC is Top 40. While I think the Tigers are clicking more right now, that doesn’t mean the Generals won’t put up one heck of a fight. Both teams are in the regional rankings and looking to move up. More importantly, both want to secure their spot to be playing on Nov. 17.
Pat’s take: North Central (Ill.). At least, they should. The Cardinals’ strength of schedule should increase, while Concordia-Chicago’s should decrease. And if it doesn’t happen this week, it should next week. It would be better if it happened this week, so that the final public ranking reflects this change, rather than waiting for the secret ranking.
Keith’s take: Coe. One of the MIAC teams above is guaranteed to lose. The Kohawks should move to 9-0 on Saturday against Loras, but their rise up the rankings is capped because they have no games against regionally ranked opponents.
Adrian · Albion · Allegheny · Baldwin-Wallace · Brockport State · Coe · concordia-chicago · Concordia-Moorhead · FDU-Florham · Franklin · Hardin-Simmons · Heidelberg · John Carroll · Johns Hopkins · Lake Forest · Montclair State · Mount Union · North Central · North Central (Ill.) · Ohio Wesleyan · Salisbury · St. Thomas · Texas Lutheran · Tufts · Utica · Wheaton · Widener
The rare event this week is a battle of 25′s, as Heidelberg takes on Otterbein.
Heidelberg athletics photo
The saying is that history repeats itself. And we ask ourselves whether certain teams are doomed to stare down another upset.
Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps dive into the past to bring you analysis of the present. We cast a wide net to predict the fall of a Top 25 team, detail the game of the week and pore over some of the unusual nicknames in D-III.
Don’t hesitate to offer your comments below.
Game of the week.
Ryan’s take: No. 25 Otterbein at No. 25 Heidelberg. Nope, that’s not a typo. If you’ve looked at our Top 25 this week, you’ll see these two OAC teams are tied for the 25th spot. They are both undefeated, and with the second-place OAC team often having an inside track to a Pool C playoff bid, this game holds worlds of value — and intrigue.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at No. 4 St. Thomas. This has been a good game in recent seasons already, with two teams who love to line up and smash-mouth it straight at each other. Ironically, both teams are led by talented sophomore quarterbacks, and Bethel, especially, has opened it up on offense a little more this season. The past three meetings have been decided by 19 points combined, with St. Thomas winning both of the regular season meetings. It’s likely to be another battle.
Keith’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville at No. 14 UW-Oshkosh. Wow, I pick third, and I still get two no-brainers to choose from. Much to the dismay of two of the most active Twitter followings in No. 2 UMHB and No. 21 Louisiana College, I went to Wisconsin with this one. In WIAC history, the spotlight rarely has shone on Oshkosh and Platteville — You’d have to go back to 1976 to find the last time UW-Oshkosh tied atop the conference, and 1972 to find their last outright title, an undefeated 8-0 WIAC season. For UW-Platteville, go back to 1980 for the tie, 1974 for the outright. Worse yet — before tying for second last season, the teams only had one season each in the past 30 years finishing higher than fourth in the WIAC, each finishing third once (Oshkosh in 2007, UW-P in 1990). In 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2008, the Titans and Pioneers were at the bottom of the standings. So that should put in perspective how big a game it is, with UW-P (4-1, 1-1) just a failed two-point conversion against defending national champion UW-Whitewater from being undefeated, and UW-O 5-0. A Platteville win could make the WIAC three-way tie territory, but either way, UW-Oshkosh at UW-Whitewater the following week is huge. Titans QB Nate Wara has got the name recognition, now let’s see if he delivers in a big game.
Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Concordia-Chicago at Concordia (Wis.). The Illinois one will pound the rock over and over and over. It’s the only way they’ll find success. The Wisconsin one, on the other hand, should be able to air out the ball, especially against a Cougars team that at 5-0 has nonetheless been prone to giving up some big yards. And both teams like to put up points: The Cougars average more than 38 on the scoreboard, while the 3-2 Falcons emerged from a week of hanging 55 on their opponent.
Pat’s take: No. 5 UW-Whitewater at UW-Stout. I look at a combination of a few factors that will keep this game unexpectedly close. In addition to UW-Whitewater’s struggles on offense, they’re also traveling on the day of the game. That four-hour bus ride, mandated by the WIAC office, might leave them a little slow to start. The question will be whether Stout can put enough points on the board to make it close or if it will be like the Stevens Point/Whitewater game.
Keith’s take: Pacific at Pacific Lutheran. If you just remember the Boxers as the expansion team and the Lutes as the program with the championship pedigree, it might be time to take a closer look at the NWC. Pacific is 2-3, with a three-point loss to Whitworth (5-1) among the defeats. The Lutes’ 2-2 record might be deceiving, since all four of the teams they’ve played are solid (three were in the postseason last year, three are 4-1 or better this season). Kyle Warner is averaging 116 receiving yards per game and Kellen Westering 97, so the Lutes’ air attack will probably be too much for the Boxers, but expect Pacific to show some bite.
Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 St. John Fisher. At what point can we excuse an Alfred team’s opening day loss to RPI? Is it after the Saxons beat the team that toppled UW-Whitewater? Check. Is it after they beat an undefeated conference opponent? Check. Is it after they hold an opponent to just 4 rushing yards? Check. Fisher is coming off a punishing game against Salisbury, and Alfred’s hot streak coupled with SJF’s bruises make the Cardinals a target again this week.
Pat’s take: No. 13 UW-Platteville. So many ranked teams are playing each other this week that I feel forced to take a higher-ranked team playing on the road in a game that the rankings suggest is a toss-up. And I like what Bryce Corrigan did last week against UW-La Crosse after getting a full week of reps as the No. 1 starter at quarterback. But UW-Oshkosh is in a position where it can just run it right at Platteville. If you have not seen dual-threat quarterback Nate Wara for Oshkosh, do yourself a favor and watch the live video on Saturday. Defenses are hard pressed to bottle him up.
Keith’s take: No. 16 Birmingham Southern. Eight top 25 teams are playing each other, so toss those out. Two are picked above. The pickins’ are downright slim, and Trinity (Texas) is the only team I can see really pulling a stunner. The Tigers won last season when B-SC was a conference mate, but now that the Panthers have gone and split off, another win could be satisfying. To do it, Trinity QB Nyk McKissic has to keep making good decisions; with 11 TD passes and just one interception, he’s done it so far. Trinity’s D also rebounded with a decent game against Rhodes after allowing 111 points in consecutive weeks, against Sul Ross State and I’m sure I’ll get some silly irate tweet from Alabama saying how wrong this upset pick is, but keep in mind the Panthers have never beaten Trinity. Maybe it’s B-SC who would be pulling the upset, should our rankings hold.
They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Washington and Lee. This is about the time of year when we can accurately take stock of what’s happening in the ODAC. The conference is as balanced as they come, and it’s often difficult to stick by early-season predictions. But after starting the season with a loss, W&L is looking like the playoff-caliber team of the past two seasons. Their points have increased with each game (28, 34, 42, 45), but unfortunately for them, so have their opponents’ points. Three of the last five games are probably the toughest on the schedule, starting with this weekend against Randolph-Macon, the only other ODAC team that hasn’t lost a conference game yet. These two teams, plus Bridgewater and Hampden-Sydney, will make for a jumbled race at the top.
Pat’s take: Waynesburg. This has to happen eventually, right? The lack of churn at the bottom of the Top 25 has made it difficult for teams such as Coe, Concordia-Moorhead or Waynesburg to get their due in the Top 25, but I think Waynesburg deserves one of those 20-25 spots. After consecutive 5-5 seasons, Bethany is struggling out of the gate, at 1-4.
Keith’s take: Washington & Jefferson, Concordia-Moorhead and Allegheny. Hey, I’ve got a big radar. The Presidents host Westminster (Pa.), playing their first home game since RB Tim McNerney was killed. The Cobbers shouldn’t have much trouble with Hamline, but I’m curious if they’ll be sluggish after last week’s ending, or sharp. The Cobbers are guaranteed to see two of their MIAC competitors lose, when Bethel and St. Thomas, and Augsburg and St. Olaf play. And Allegheny, following the upset of Wabash, beat Oberlin 15-3 and lost a non-conference game to Chicago, 10-0. I thought this year’s Gators might be a great defensive team keeping scores low, but with the 219th-ranked offense in the nation, that would not seem to be the case. The Gators haven’t exactly seized the opening, but with home games against DePauw and Wittenberg in back to back weeks, the AQ and NCAC title is still there for the taking.
Which upset of the past will have a different outcome this week?
Ryan’s take: Whitworth at No. 3 Linfield. When you go four straight seasons undefeated in conference play, with a national championship sprinkled in, expectations are always high. But at some point, the bubble does burst. That happened in 2006 for Linfield, when a Whitworth team that amassed just 85 yards of total offense — but also forced five fumbles — went on to topple the 15th-ranked home team 17-13. Fast-forward to 2012, and Linfield is earning win after hard-fought win. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, and the Pirates are following an aching loss to Willamette. This game may be as close as the ’06 matchup, but Linfield will keep its 20-game NWC win streak alive.
Pat’s take: No. 15 Wabash at Washington U. In 2010, Wabash came in unbeaten ranked No. 19, and Wash U came in 2-2, with its wins against Knox and Westminster (Mo.). Nonetheless, Wash U. came away the 24-20 victor. For history to repeat itself, Wabash would have to have significant breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and I don’t see that happening. Wash U has been held to 17 points or fewer by every team not named Kenyon this season in starting off 1-4.
Keith’s take: Trine at Adrian. The Thunder had won 18 MIAA games in a row, won in the playoffs, given UW-Whitewater a challenge and developed a Gagliardi Trophy winner. Then Trine lost, 26-7, at Adrian in last year’s MIAA, and nationally, we kind of stopped paying attention. Trine (4-2) and the Bulldogs (4-1) face off again Saturday, and the stats say Adrian (No. 7 defense in the country) is the favorite this time around. Before you get confused, let’s review: The upset of the past was Adrian over Trine. So this time around, Trine gets some payback. The Thunder hasn’t been a great offense overall, but quarterback Ryan Hargraves has been heating up over the past three games, and Myron Puryear, who had a touchdown on defense last week, is a threat in the return game.
Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Red of Wittenberg. Timed at any other point in the season, and we’re looking at a Chicago team that would be competitive with Wittenberg. But following Witt’s loss at home to Wabash, the Tigers have to know that they need to be perfect from here on out to have any shot at the postseason. Witt will be on a mission and more than ready to put these pesky one-score margins behind them.
Pat’s take: Blueboys, of Illinois College. They’ll get right back on the winning side this week after a loss to Lake Forest in Week 6. Beloit, the Blueboys’ opponent, has been a surprise winless team this season. Not that we expected huge things out of the Buccaneers, considering we ranked them No. 192 in the preseason, but even that was ahead of Lawrence, Cornell and Knox, each of whom have beaten Beloit head-to-head this season.
Keith’s take: Green of … Nope, sorry. Red of Muhlenberg. Hey I looked for some Green Knights I could get excited about, to keep it balanced. I even considered the all-green Plymouth State-Endicott game. But I’d rather give you one extra upset pick, just outside the top 25, and a test of whether it’s important to have the human element in game insight. The computer ratings love Gettysburg. I like the Bullets, but see three of their wins (over start-up Misericordia, hapless Juniata and 0-5 McDaniel) as no great shakes. You’re supposed to beat those teams, and they did, so there’s that. But Muhlenberg brings a lot more defense to the table than most of the Bullets’ opponents so far. The Mules are coming off a loss to Susquehanna, which Gettysburg beat, which makes this pick slightly illogical. But, hey, at least there’s not much riding on it. Just a potential showdown of CC unbeatens next week, oh, and the future of man vs. computer. No pressure, Mules.
An unusual nickname you like.
Ryan’s take: Moravian Greyhounds. Moravian has been a Centennial seesaw team the past few seasons, with records of 8-3, followed by 2-8, then 7-4, and back to 2-8. This season, they’ve already tied last year’s win total, and there is clear potential yet to notch two or three more wins in the books. And that means doing what it can to keep forcing turnovers and pressuring quarterbacks. As of late, Susquehanna has been finding its groove on both sides of the ball, which means Moravian will need to channel the quickness of its namesake in order to come away with a victory. (Want more of the unusual? Check out Moravian’s ambidextrous rugby-style punter in Around the Mid-Atlantic.)
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire Blugolds. But do you need me to say something about the game as well? I’m confused. They host UW-La Crosse this week in sore need of a win. In fact, both teams need a win badly, as La Crosse hasn’t lived up to the credit some gave it in the WIAC after it knocked off North Central in Week 1.
Keith’s take: Los Lobos, of Sul Ross State. Mostly I just wanted to name-check the ‘La Bamba’ band. But also we have what could be an epic shootout on deck. Sul Ross State is fourth in the country in total and scoring offense, with 545 yards and almost 49 points a game. Texas Lutheran is 50th in the nation, with a mere (!) 416 and 30. But here’s the real eye-opener. The Lobos are 233rd in D-III in pass defense, and the Bulldogs are 226th. Buckle up.
Adrian · Alfred · Allegheny · Beloit · Bethany · Bethel · Birmingham-Southern · Carnegie Mellon · Chicago · concordia (wis.) · concordia-chicago · Gettysburg · Heidelberg · Illinois College · Linfield · Moravian · Muhlenberg · Otterbein · Pacific · Pacific Lutheran · Randolph-Macon · St. John Fisher · St. Thomas · Sul Ross State · Susquehanna · Texas Lutheran · Trine · UW-Eau Claire · UW-La Crosse · UW-Oshkosh · UW-Platteville · UW-Stout · UW-Whitewater · Wabash · Washington and Jefferson · Washington and Lee · Washington U. · Waynesburg · Whitworth · Wittenberg
Trinity (Texas) answered Huntingdon’s statement with one of its own.
Trinity athletics file photo
It was an interesting week down south, with Birmingham-Southern and Huntingdon taking losses and Centre and Trinity (Texas) getting a leg up in the SCAC race. Salisbury rolled up an amazing point total and continues to dominate against Empire 8 foes. Wartburg fell and Redlands rose in crazy fourth quarters. (Here’s a link to that video.) Plus Kean picked up its first loss after flirting with it in previous weeks.
Keith McMillan and Pat Coleman discuss that and more in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. See the list of tags at the bottom of this post to see who else is discussed.
You can also get this and any of our future Around the Nation podcasts automatically by subscribing to this RSS feed: http://www.d3blogs.com/d3football/?feed=podcast
Plus, here’s the first look at this week’s D3reports, as well as Division III football highlight reels. These will also appear on the front page on Monday afternoon.
Alfred · Birmingham-Southern · Brockport State · Cal Lutheran · Central · Centre · Claremont-Mudd-Scripps · Cornell · DePauw · Dubuque · Heidelberg · Huntingdon · Kean · Loras · McMurry · Mount Union · Olivet · Presentation · Randolph-Macon · Redlands · Salisbury · St. Scholastica · St. Vincent · Texas Lutheran · Thomas More · Trinity (Texas) · UW-Oshkosh · UW-Stout · UW-Whitewater · Wartburg · Washington and Lee · Westminster (Mo.)
Trinity athletics photo
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.
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.
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.
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.
ASC · Austin · Averett · Berry · Birmingham-Southern · Centenary · Centre · Christopher Newport · East Texas Baptist · Empire 8 · Frostburg State · Hendrix · Howard Payne · Huntingdon · LaGrange · Marymount · Maryville (Tenn.) · Millsaps · Neumann · NJAC · North Carolina Wesleyan · Oglethorpe · Rhodes · Salisbury · SCAC · Sewanee · Texas Lutheran · Trinity (Texas) · USAC · Wesley