November 3, 2011

Here's to the seniors

Luther linebacker Kyle McGivney is heading into the end of a four-year career which could see him as the Division III all-time leader in tackles.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

Chins up, men.

Many of you will play your last home game this Saturday. Some will play your last game period, and if not this week, it’s coming soon.

The season you are about to complete was not one played in front of many television cameras, or in exchange for a paid-for education. You might have had throngs of adoring fans, but they were likely classmates, townfolk and relatives who drove in from home.

For this, never apologize.

Completing a season of Division III football is quite the accomplishment. It’s hard enough to master one discipline. You play a cerebral, physical sport, and aggressively pursue a prosperous future by taking serious your college education. Bravo. Take a bow.

You might have encountered someone along the way who’s never heard of your university, or didn’t know the college had a team. Maybe their facial expression revealed a shade of surprise that you “only” play D-III. They’ll never know the hours you put in in a sweltering weight room, or running on your own during the summer, just for the honor of having a career good enough to be blown off by someone who has no idea what it takes.

And that’s fine. Don’t seek validation from the uninformed.

We don’t need anyone to tell us what the “highest level” of college football is. Sure, there are scholarship-providing college teams that would beat some of our best 82-6. There are levels of football with bigger, faster and stronger players, and teams that execute better.

But the highest degree of difficulty? How about having that less talented body, and still putting it through the rigors of a college career, through 40 or more games and roughly 320 practices, with no reward at the end except the satisfaction of having experienced it all? Well then you might have to give the “highest level” nod to D-III.

But to compare ourselves to any other level of NCAA or NAIA football at all is to divide us, by sounding the alarms of jealousy or insecurity. At all levels, we’re college football players, members of a large and yet relatively exclusive group of men (and the occasional female) who weren’t satisfied with going to class and then heading back to the dorm for a nap until it was time to play beer pong. For some reason, we were compelled to do something with our weekday afternoons, to abuse our bodies only to find out it soothed our souls. Pushing yourself to be someone you weren’t sure (or could not have imagined) you could be the day you arrived on campus is a pretty serious accomplishment.

And if you don’t buy it, if you think I’m just here for the prose, let me introduce you to a few pros.

I’m working on a project about rivalries for the Stagg Bowl game program. For it, I talked to Pete Metzelaars on Wednesday. He has played in four Super Bowls, coached in two, been the D-III national player of the year for a championship basketball team … and he still beats himself up for fumbling in Wabash’s Monon Bell loss to DePauw his senior year.

That’s how much it means.

Turn on the NFL. You’ll see Andy Studebaker (Wheaton) recovering a fumble at the end of Monday Night Football for the Kansas City Chiefs. You’ll spot Fred Jackson (Coe) running wild as the Buffalo Bills’ main offensive threat. There’s Pierre Garcon (Mount Union) catching passes, Cecil Shorts III (Mount Union) returning punts, Steven Hauschka (Middlebury) trying field goals, Byron Westbrook (Salisbury) covering kicks and the king of them all, London Fletcher (John Carroll) tackling everything. And there are Division III graduates coaching the teams and working in the front office. The point isn’t to name them all, but to remind you that you walk among those who walk among the greats. You have accomplished some of the same things they did – in earnest, getting their start with a student-athlete’s career in D-III.

Those guys were stars. If you’re about to hang up your cleats after a career as a grunt, a special teamer, scout teamer or player who accepted and fulfilled a bit part role, then even more power to you. If you’re cheering that guy playing his final game, give him a pat on the back, or better yet, a game ball.

There’s nothing wrong with admiring a guy who has a lot of talent and figures out how to harness it. But it’s more impressive when someone doesn’t have much and makes something of himself anyway.

I’ve seen the past 28 Stagg Bowl teams in person, and I can tell you not one of them made it to Salem without players who didn’t do much, but did that little bit well. A team is a functioning organism like that, and it needs the sum to be greater than the parts.

You might not have even realized that by completing a season as a D-III player you were playing for something bigger than yourself, and longer lasting than the adulation that goes with Saturday’s cheers.

Matt Sigrist, a Williams grad and headmaster of the upper school at The Peck School in Morristown, N.J. was also kind enough to recall his playing days for the rivalry story. And something he said stood out:

“It was a chance to earn the respect of my peers,” he said, speaking specifically about rivalry games, but saying something that could apply to D-III on a wider scale. “I always felt like those were the moments where you had an opportunity to distinguish yourself, to get it done or not get it done. There was no faking it.”

The next time you read that someone has transferred “down” to D-III, or was “only” good enough to play for that small school that nobody unconnected to the school much follows, you can ignore them with a knowing smile.

Be glad you didn’t fake it. The respect of your peers is all the validation you’ll ever need.

The ATN top 50

The ATN top 50 won’t necessarily reflect the D3football.com top 25 – but it will go deeper than the playoff field (32) and recently released regional rankings (40). With selected commentary, here is the top fifth of D-III and then some:

1. UW-Whitewater (8-0).

2. Mount Union (8-0).

3. Mary Hardin-Baylor (8-0). The Laz Index has the Cru ranked No. 1.

4. St. Thomas (9-0).

5. Linfield (7-0).

6. Cal Lutheran (6-1).

7. Redlands (6-1): The regional rankings don’t even have them seventh in the West, and despite some recent struggles, they’ve still beaten North Central and dominated Cal Lutheran for a half.

8. North Central (7-1): The biggest test comes in the Little Brass Bell game against Wheaton.

9. Kean (7-1): Still baffling how they lost at 2-6 Brockport State, but they’ve beaten Wesley, Cortland State, TCNJ and Rowan, meaning they’ve had it on more days than they haven’t.

10. Wesley (7-1): In Ben Knapp, Wolverines seem to have found some inspiration.

11. Thomas More (8-0).

12. Delaware Valley (8-0): Those eight wins are great, but lose at Lycoming and to Widener and it’s a disappointing finish to a non-playoff season.

13. Salisbury (7-1): Stood up to Wesley, and with the loss, only cost itself a top seed in the playoffs. Chance to get in by winning Empire 8 still in front of Sea Gulls.

14. Illinois Wesleyan (7-1).

15. St. Olaf (7-1): The West region advisory committee respects the Oles quite a bit, but they have to close out the season at St. John’s and against Concordia-Moorhead.

16. Johns Hopkins (8-0).

17. Hobart (6-0).

18. Louisiana College (7-1): Gets a visit from McMurry on Saturday with a chance at the playoffs on the line.

19. Wabash (8-0). It’s Witt week. Then Monon Bell week. Things just got serious in Crawfordsville.

20. Centre (7-0).

21. Trinity, Texas (8-0) The Colonels, one spot above, are coming to San Antonio to play for the SCAC title.

22. Widener (8-1): With no game this week, I’m guessing there’ll be some blue in the stands at Lycoming on Saturday.

23. Wheaton (7-1): The third 7-1 team in the CCIW suddenly has a more impressive resume, as Albion clinched the MIAA and UW-Platteville and Carthage each won its fifth game. But no win would be more impressive than one a few miles from home in Naperville.

24. Washington & Lee (8-1): Game at Hampden-Sydney ends the regular season, so W&L is playing for another opportunity to play in two weeks.

25. McMurry (6-2).

26. UW-Oshkosh (5-3).

27. Wartburg (6-2): Has beaten Monmouth, Central and Dubuque, each by a touchdown or less.

28. Trinity, Conn. (6-0).

29. Montclair State (7-1).

30. Dubuque (8-1): Season-ending win at Coe means we’ll get to see all three of the nation’s record-setting offensive players in the postseason.

31. Huntingdon (6-2): Not a bad mark against what the SoS ratings consider the nation’s toughest schedule. Their opponents’ winning percentage is a staggering .833.

32. Bethel (6-2).

33. Monmouth (8-1): Outcome against Knox should be a broken record.

34. Hampden-Sydney (7-1).

35. Amherst (6-0).

36. Cortland State (6-2).

37. Wittenberg (7-1). Had two weeks to prepare for Wabash.

38. Franklin (7-1). If they hadn’t scheduled UW-W, they’d be undefeated and probably ranked pretty high in the poll. Some thanks the Griz get for pursuing greatness.

39. St. John Fisher (7-1): Against Salisbury, a chance to make us stop mentioning the Hobart loss.

40. Birmingham-Southern (5-2): On Oct. 1, Panthers were 5-0, but with two October games, both losses, the idea now is just to finish the best season since restarting the program.

41. Western New England (8-1): After the Golden Bears beat Endicott, the Massey Ratings has the early-season loss to Mass. Maritime as one of the year’s five least-likely results.

42. Baldwin-Wallace (7-1): The Yellow Jackets’ loss to Capital is the least-likely result.

43. Lycoming (7-1): The computer ratings like them more than I do: 18th in Laz, 20th in Massey.

44. Case Western Reserve (7-1).

45. Lewis & Clark (7-0): After seven in row, it’s no longer a surprise or a fluke. Time for some recognition, although Willamette might well make it short-lived.

46. Christopher Newport (6-2): Lurking.

47. Central (6-3).

48. Heidelberg (6-2).

49. Randolph-Macon (6-2).

50. Adrian (7-1).

Knocking on the door: Benedictine, Concordia-Moorhead, Endicott, Framingham State, Illinois College, Norwich, Rowan, St. Scholastica, SUNY-Maritime, Worcester State.

Regionally rank

It must not be much fun to be on the D-III selection committee. Coaches and administrators spend hours observing teams and ranking them. The rankings are released to the public, and immediately we glaze over everything they got right to debate what we think they got wrong.

Must be like being a game official. Or like if I wrote a brilliant column (hey, it could happen!) and all anyone could focus on was a typo.

Pat Coleman has a believeable explanation though. So far each regional committee has met separately, not privy to what the other is discussing. Now that the rankings are released, each regional committee knows what the other regional committee thinks, at least as of last week, and can factor that into it its own rankings where relevant (like in the cases of Redlands-North Central or Kean-Wesley-Salisbury).

So if we see a correction on Redlands’ standing in next Wednesday’s West rankings, for instance, it wouldn’t necessarily be a reflection on this week’s game against Whittier.

Join the discussion of the rankings on the Daily Dose. Confused? We can answer questions there. Eager to see what this means for the potential at large selections? Well you can skip ahead to …

Pool C watch

Let’s just take what we know and go through the process as the national committee would. As we understand it, instead of throwing all the non-automatic-qualifier teams on the table at once, the committee will take the top leftover team from each regional ranking, and discuss those four. Once a team is put in the playoff field, the next available one from its region comes up for discussion, and four are compared.

That isn’t a blockade. All six Pool C bids could go to teams from the West, they’d just have to be compared one by one to teams from the East, South and North. It makes sense, since the regional committees have already ranked them in order of preference, it’s easy to distinguish which West team goes on the board first.

Ralph Turner has gone through and projected every higher regionally ranked team to win out. Although it won’t necessarily shake out like that – it’s a dangerous assumption in the case of a team like Delaware Valley, which has two one-loss teams left to face -- it gives us a baseline to work with. From the Daily Dose, here’s his work:

 EAST
1 *Delaware Valley 7-0 8-0 MAC
2 *Hobart 6-0 6-0 LL
3 *Salisbury 6-1 7-1 Assume they beat SJF
4 St. John Fisher 7-2 7-1
5 *Montclair State 7-1 7-1 NJAC
6 Kean 7-2 7-1 Loses to MSU
7 Widener 7-2 8-1 Loses to Del Valley
8 Lycoming 6-2 7-1 Loses to Del Valley
8 *Western New England 8-1 8-1 NEFC
10 *SUNY-Maritime 7-0 7-1 ECFC

SOUTH
1 *Mary Hardin-Baylor 7-0 8-0 UMHB
2 *Johns Hopkins 7-0 8-0 CC
3 *Wesley 4-1 7-1 Assume they beat Huntingdon Pool B
4 *Trinity (Texas) 8-0 8-0 SCAC
5 McMurry 5-1 6-2 Beats LaCollege
6 Centre 7-1 7-0 Loses to Trinity
7 Louisiana College 6-2 7-1 Loses to McMurry
8 *Thomas More 8-0 8-0 Pres AC
9 *Hampden-Sydney 7-1 7-1 ODAC
10 Washington and Lee 8-2 8-1 Loses to H-SC

NORTH
1 *Mount Union 7-0 8-0 OAC
2 *Franklin 6-0 7-1 HCAC
2 * Wabash 7-0 8-0 NCAC
4 *North Central (Ill.) 6-1 7-1
5 Case Western Reserve 7-0 7-1 Pool B as a C
6 Illinois Wesleyan 7-1 7-1 Pool C
7 Wheaton (Ill.) 7-2 7-1 Lost to NCC
8 Baldwin-Wallace 7-2 7-1 Lost to UMU
9 Wittenberg 5-2 7-1 Lost to Wabash
10 *Albion 5-1 5-3 MIAA

WEST
1 * UW-Whitewater 6-0 8-0 WIAC
2 * St. Thomas 9-0 9-0 MIAC
3 * Linfield 6-0 7-0 NWC
4 * Cal Lutheran 6-1 6-1 SCIAC
5 St. Olaf 7-1 7-1 Pool C
6 * Dubuque 7-1 8-1 IIAC
6 *Monmouth (Ill.) 8-1 8-1 MWC
8 Redlands 6-1 6-1 Pool C
9 * St. Scholastica 8-0 8-0 UMAC
10 Lewis and Clark 7-1 7-0 Loss to Linfield

Teams with asterisks are conference-champion AQ earners. So let’s boil it down to:

East: St. John Fisher, Kean, Widener, Lycoming.

South: McMurry, Louisiana College, Centre, Washington & Lee.

North: CWRU, IWU, Wheaton, B-W, Wittenberg.

West: St. Olaf, Redlands, Lewis & Clark.

There’s your 16 teams for six Pool C slots, based on Ralph’s higher-ranked team wins assumption.

Let’s fold back in the unknown for a second, and put the two-loss teams aside for a moment. Then your field looks like:

East: Potentially only Delaware Valley. Everyone else would either get in with an automatic bid, or bring a second loss to the table.

South: McMurry/Louisiana College winner, Centre/Trinity loser. The ODAC runner-up would have a second loss.

North: IWU for sure. In a three-way CCIW tie, either North Central or Wheaton wins. The North Central/Wheaton loser picks up a second loss. Case Western is a possibility in Pool B, but for now let’s put them here, assuming that Wesley gets that bid.

West: Still St. Olaf, Redlands and Lewis & Clark.

So the discussion goes like this:

Round 1: DV/two-loss team, McM/LC, CWRU, St. Olaf.

Oddly, the order of the regional rankings has the two teams with the best strength of schedule, IWU and Redlands, not even on the board at this point. Worse, the last set of regional rankings, which usually isn’t revealed to the public, matters here, because Del Val will need to have beaten either Widener or Lycoming to be in this discussion, and St. Olaf’s best win is against Bethel. Based on the game against each other, I think the McMurry/La. Coll. Winner is the first one in in this scenario.

Round 2: DV/two-loss team, Trinity/Centre, CWRU, St. Olaf.

It should get easier as it goes along, because you’ve already examined the credentials of three of the teams on the board. The south team gets in again, because Centre has an SoS (32 prior to the Trinity game) that far outpaces the other teams on the board, plus it’s beaten W&L. Trinity would have a win over Centre, and perhaps Huntingdon to claim. Its SoS at the moment is a shade behind St. Olaf.

Round 3: DV/two-loss team, two-loss team, CWRU, St. Olaf.

You take St. Olaf here. Case doesn’t have the SoS or the win over key opponent.

Round 4: DV/two-loss team, two-loss team, CWRU, Redlands.

Redlands easy. Win over North Central, No. 26 SoS (at the moment).

Round 5: DV/two-loss team, two-loss team, CWRU, two-loss team.

Case or Del Val would get in here. And here’s where it gets tricky. If Del Val is in as an AQ, then it goes Case and IWU. If Del Val is on the board, it might get the nod over Case, based on results against RROs. IWU hasn’t even been placed up for discussion yet. Let’s say DV is in the mix and gets a Pool C bid.

Round 6: Two-loss team, two-loss team, CWRU, two-loss team.

Case Western Reserve gets in, Illinois Wesleyan, because it was already ranked behind CWRU by the regional committee, never even makes it to the table to get discussed.

Pool C is McMurry/LC, Trinity/Centre, St. Olaf, Redlands, Delaware Valley, Case Western Reserve.

Now there are a ton of variables that could affect that. For starters, IWU could leapfrog CWRU in the regional rankings. CWRU could get the Pool B bid. The SoS numbers could change significantly. Delaware Valley could win out.

And most importantly, while I ignored two-loss teams for sake of argument, the committee is not obligated to. A two-loss team is not necessarily dead in the water. We’ve seen it happen before.

Just take the above as an example of how it could go.

Discuss Pool C here, on D3boards.

Showdown watch

This is the week we’ve been looking forward to for a while. Ryan, Pat and I will cover all the bases in Triple Take, but here’s a quick look at where the big games are this week:

USAC, Christopher Newport at Ferrum; SCAC, Centre at Trinity; NCAC, Wittenberg at Wabash; IIAC, Dubuque at Coe; ECFC, Norwich at SUNY-Maritime; E8, St. John Fisher at Salisbury; NEFC Bogan, Framingham State at Worcester State; NESCAC, Trinity at Amherst; OAC, Baldwin-Wallace at Mount Union; ODAC, Washington & Lee at Hampden-Sydney; ASC, McMurry at La. Coll.

ATN calendar

After the last regular season game is played, there’s a lot to look forward to, so don’t tune out!

Sat. Nov. 5: Week 10 games.

Following week: Last week of regular D3football.com features, including Around the Region and Around the Nation. Also, regional rankings on Wednesday.

Sat. Nov. 12: Week 11 games, with top rivalries.

Sun. Nov. 13: Selection Sunday (show now at 6:30 p.m. online)
Following week: Playoff features, team capsules
Thu. Nov. 17: ATN’s annual playoff surprises/disappointments column
Sat. Nov. 19: Playoffs, Round 1 (32 teams), ECAC bowl games (12 teams)
Following week: ATN podcast on Mondays, D3football.com regional wrap-ups and playoff features Tues.-Wed.
Sat. Nov. 26: Playoffs, Round 2
Following week: Gagliardi trophy finalists named, D3football.com Road to Salem features, ATN podcast
Sat. Dec. 3: Playoffs, Round 3 (eight teams).
Following week: D3football.com All-Region teams announced, Gagliardi Trophy regional finalists (four) announced, Liberty Mutual coach of the year fan voting ends, D3football.com playoff features midweek, ATN podcast.
Fri. Dec. 9: D-III Senior Classic all-star game in Salem, 7 p.m. kickoff.
Sat. Dec. 10: National semifinals (four teams), live webcast with ESPN regional or syndicated coverage possible.
Wed. Dec. 14: Gagliardi Trophy presentation, live webcast
Thu. Dec. 15: Stagg Bowl luncheon, pregame festivities in Salem/Roanoke
Fri. Dec. 16: Stagg Bowl 39, 7 p.m., D3football.com all-Americans announced during pregame broadcast, wall-to-wall coverage of the championship, ATN’s year-in-review column
Mon. Jan. 9: Liberty Mutual coach of the year award winner announced.

Five Ways to Saturday

Follow Around the Nation …

• Throughout the week on Twitter. Follow @D3Keith. It’s a sporadic stream of short-form minutiae, most of it D-III related. It’s also the best way to directly converse with the column’s author.

• On Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board. That’s the next best place to ask a question about a topic raised in the column, or continue a discussion unrelated to this week’s ATN.

• Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.

• When the column publishes on Thursdays.

• In Friday morning’s Triple Take, on The Daily Dose.

On Saturdays, The Daily Dose features a running game day thread and live chat, for real-time reactions from across the country.

The press box

For the Love of the Game: Show your love everywhere you go:

Readers: Around the Nation encourages your opinions, questions and insights. Readers can best get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). Send email to keith.mcmillan@D3sports.com or use our feedback form.

Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use keith.mcmillan@d3sports.com, or mail to D3football.com, 12331 Midsummer Lane A102, Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

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Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

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