November 16, 2013

On this day, they were all big games


A familiar sight: Wabash with the Monon Bell. But that only makes them one of 11 playoff-eligible at-large candidates with one loss, and there are just five at-large bids and eight bids that aren't automatic.
Wabash athletics photo by Howard Hewitt

If it seemed like everybody in Division III thought their Week 11 game was a big one, that's because, depending on perspective, every game was.

The games with playoff bids and conference titles on the line we all knew about. The oldest and most heated rivalries get talked about regardless of the quality of the participants. But even in the brand-new rivalries, or the lukewarm ones, or the games between sub-.500 teams, much was at stake. Any game where a senior took the field for the final team in his career, as his team played for the final time in the 2013 was big to that player, plus his teammates, fans and family.

"Big" depends on perspective, and who can judge us for being a little self-absorbed when something we've enjoyed so much, whether for a career or just a fall full of Saturday's, is winding to its end.

Yet our D-III experience is sometimes so self absorbed, we're unaware that there are 29 conferences, 244 teams and in the neighborhood of 20,000 players. Within that group are more outstanding accomplishments than most of us can count. So while it doesn't make an accomplishment any less special -- especially from a particular perspective -- it might mean that something your team did this Saturday or this season was repeated several times across the country. And it sometimes is tough to take a step back to see the bigger picture and realize it.

Which is a long way of me introducing these facts. There are 32 playoff spots, 24 filled by automatic qualifiers. Three go to teams that weren't in AQ conferences, and the other five are awarded at large.

Here are the 14 teams that finished the season with one loss, but aren't headed to the playoffs as one of the 24 conference's AQs:

Greenville, 9-1
Framingham State, 9-1
Illinois Wesleyan, 9-1
John Carroll, 9-1
Millsaps, 9-1
Pacific Lutheran, 8-1
Thomas More, 9-1
UW-Platteville, 9-1
Wabash, 9-1
Chapman, 8-1
Texas Lutheran, 8-1
Amherst, 7-1
Middlebury, 7-1
Wesleyan, 7-1

Here are 18 more teams that finished with two losses:
Christopher Newport, 8-2
Concordia-Moorhead, 8-2
Eureka, 8-2
Illinois College, 8-2
Heidelberg, 8-2
Lake Forest, 8-2
Methodist, 8-2
Muhlenberg, 8-2
Rhodes, 8-2
St. John Fisher, 8-2
St. Thomas, 8-2
Southern Virginia, 8-2
UW-Oshkosh, 8-2
Washington U., 8-2
Wesley, 8-2
Wheaton, 8-2
Western Connecticut, 7-2
Willamette, 7-2

Another 27 teams finished 7-3, and MIT finished 6-3.

From this (although not all the above teams are playoff eligible), the selection committee must add only eight teams to the field of 32 that didn't qualify by winning a conference.

So when the official @d3football twitter feed or I stomp on your dreams of dancing one more week as an at-large playoff invitee, please don't take it personally. There's just not much room at the inn for those who aren't conference champions. That's how the AQ system works.

D-III football is one giant animal. Even with 32 teams in the playoffs, some pretty darn good ones are going to get left out. Say, anybody ever proposed a D-III NIT? Last year's Stagg Bowl runner up St. Thomas would be a pretty good No. 1 seed.

Week 11's snap judgments
We get so caught up in the playoff talk that those who aren't in the mix might have their accomplishments overlooked. Here are some things I noticed in Week 11 (and then we'll get back to playoff talk):

• Austin is a program so far off the radar that if you Google "Austin football," it returns results about University of Texas (which is in Austin). On Saturday, the Kangaroos beat Trinity for the first time since 1993, and it was a stomping. (Or maybe a hopping? Eh, never mind). The Tigers managed only 22 yards rushing, and Austin finished 5-5 after an 0-4 start. I love when a team doesn't give up.

• Speaking of which, only Wesley had played a tougher schedule this season than Alma. But the Scots, who lost a couple heartbreakers along the way, go into the offseason with smiles on their faces after beating Trine, 31-13. As a reminder, here's the strength of schedule stats.

• Still speaking of which, Misericordia got the first win in program history, although it was somewhat expected. After 19 losses in a row, including one by a point earlier this season against King's, the Cougars scored a 63-40 win over FDU-Florham, which lost all nine MAC games this season after starting with a win against TCNJ.

• My favorite thing about Cartel Brooks breaking Octavias McKoy's all-division rushing record of 455 yards, set in October? Neither back's 400-plus game was a one-time fluke. The top four single-game rushing performances this season:
Brooks, 465, Week 11
McKoy, 455, Week 8
McKoy, 372, Week 6
Brooks, 337, Week 7

• Albion/Hope and Hampden-Sydney/Randolph-Macon put forth dramatic finishes worthy of winner-take-all games, and John Carroll/Mount Union wasn't bad either. The lone dud among the four AQ-on-the-line games? Endicott's 24-0 win over Salve Regina, in which Drew Frenette threw three third-quarter touchdown passes, and the Seahawks couldn't get anything going despite gaining 325 total yards and only having two turnovers.

• The Dutchman's Shoes game was decided by an RPI touchdown in the final three minutes. With a 41-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 left, Cortland State sent Ithaca into the playoffs on a losing note, winning 28-24. Hampden-Sydney stopped Randolph-Macon on a one and a half-yard two-point conversion attempt to preserve a 28-26 win. Wabash, Monmouth and Thomas More rolled, sure, but it was a pretty decent year for the big D-III rivalry games.

• John Carroll gave up 42 to Mount Union and still finished the season allowing only 75 points in 10 games. Let that sink in a second. Monster defense UW-Whitewater allowed 80 in 10 games, Linfield 99 in nine and Amherst 94 in eight. And that's it for your under-100 club. The Blue Streaks' 7.5 points per game is silly good, since the national average per team per game going into Week 11 was 26.66 points per game. The ASC had a comical 34.29 average, while the UAA, at 19.29, edged the NESCAC for most defensively inclined conference.

• Hat tip to Pacific, for finishing 7-3 in its fourth year, including pushing national No. 2 to the brink in a 28-22 loss.

• Mount Ida scored in the first five minutes and its D held the rest of the way in a 6-0 win against Husson. Macalaster scored in the first eight minutes and its D held the rest of the way in a 7-0 win over Hamline.

• Week 11 is always full of surprises, and this year it featured St. Norbert losing, 31-3, but backing into a playoff spot when Illinois College also lost about an hour later, 23-21 to Carroll. Other teams going into the postseason coming off a loss: Maryville, (45-38 to Huntingdon), Ithaca (28-24 to Cortland State), Lebanon Valley (40-25 to Albright), Gallaudet (7-6 to SUNY-Maritime) and perhaps Millsaps (49-30 to Rhodes). You can expect all of these teams to be on the road in Round 1. Probably at home for Round 2, but crazier things have happened.

One last thing ... here are those Pool B and C tables from midweek, adjusted to reflect today's results and SoS numbers. Also, at the behest of longtime friend of the site Ron Boerger, I'll mix the Pool B overflow teams in in Pool C to reflect the reality that they also have a chance to be discussed as at-large teams if not taken among the Pool B three:

The Pool B picture

I'll just post the facts here for you to analyze (Pat's also posting his projections tonight). This is basically so you, the reader, can look at more or less what the committee is going to consider. Even if you don't agree with whichever way they eventually go, you'll understand why.

There are five primary playoff criteria: Record against regional opponents, strength of schedule, in-region head-to-head, results against in-region common opponents, and in-region results against regionally ranked opponents. There are also seven and a half secondary critieria, which really only come into play when a decision isn't clear from the primary.

This list is not in order of how I expect teams to be selected, it's just the data. Also, keep in mind that the committee will have a fresh set of regional rankings, but all we have to go on right now are the ones from Wednesday.

Team/criteria W-L H2H Common opponents
RRO SOS
Millsaps 9-1

Lost to Rhodes, 49-30

Miss. Coll. (W 52-19), Trinity (W 27-24);

B-SC (W 28-14); Centre (W 28-27)

 
.523
Framingham State 8-1   Rowan (L 29-19)
1-1 (Rowan, W.Conn.)
.557
Wesley 8-2
 

Rowan (L 24-17); B-SC (W 46-12)

0-2 (UMHB, Rowan) .672
Texas Lutheran 8-1  

Miss. Coll. (W 35-32); Trinity (W 42-38)

  .421
Washington U. 8-2 Beat Rhodes, 10-7
Centre (W 31-14), Chicago (W 17-7)

0-1 (UW-W)

.563
Rhodes 8-2 Lost to Wash U.; beat Millsaps
Centre (W 35-14), Chicago (W 41-34); B-SC (L 35-34); Entire SAA in common with Millsaps
1-0 (Millsaps)
.537

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhodes beating Millsaps really evened the scales in this group, and to be honest, the cross-play between all these teams went from a help to what may be a hindrance -- too much data to work with. Wash. U beat Rhodes, who beat Millsaps, but Millsaps has nine wins to their eight. Was the loss enough to help Texas Lutheran, even with that massive outlier of an SoS?

The Pool C picture

The only losses by a Pool C contenders were in head-to-head games in the OAC and WIAC. John Carroll was 9-0 and remains in the mix with the loss.

Same disclaimer as above; Pay no mind to the order, just the data.

 Team/criteria  W-L  H2h CO  RRO  SOS
John Carroll 9-1  
   1-1  .520
Pacific Lutheran 8-1   UW-EC (W 21-19)
 0-1  .549
Illinois Wesleyan
9-1
     2-1  .499
UW-Platteville
9-1      1-1  .477
Wabash 9-1      0-1  .503
Thomas More
9-1   W&J (L 45-21)
 0-1  .487
St. John Fisher
8-2   W&J (W 42-21)
 2-1  .575
St. Thomas 8-2   UW-EC (W 52-7)  1-2  .504
Chapman
8-1        .444
Greenville 9-1        .435

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The strength of schedule gap closed between the top contenders after Week 11. I added the two two-loss teams I think could get into the discussion -- Wheaton, Concordia-Moorhead and others were stuck behind too many other teams. Chapman and Greenville are in the chart not because they have a chance at getting selected, but to show you that committees are looking at more than just one-loss records. On the rest of the criteria, everyone else in this chart stacks up better.

SJFC and UST get a help with their common opponents, but I still think John Carroll, Illinois Wesleyan, UW-Platteville and Pacific Lutheran are pretty safe bets. After that, for the fifth spot, you can make a case for Wabash, St. John Fisher or maybe one of the others. You decide.

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