Read & React: Playoff primer

Sam Gibas and the Royals are racing into the postseason. 
Caleb Williams, d3photography.com


By Adam Turer

Last year, our Kickoff writers and editors correctly predicted 21 of the 32 playoff participants. Two of those teams exceeded our Pool C expectations and earned conference titles and Pool A bids.

This year, we whiffed on half of the Pool A champions. We missed on our Pool B projection, as Springfield dropped three games (three more than we projected) to finish third in the NEWMAC.

Our writers predicted 13 of the 26 Pool A bids. There were surprises like Hanover, which upset perennial HCAC power Franklin in the Victory Bell and clinched the conference title for the first time since 2003. A three-way tie with Franklin and Mount St. Joseph gave the Panthers the edge. On the flip side, Johns Hopkins continued its reign atop the Centennial albeit with a rare conference loss early in the season. The Blue Jays’ head-to-head win over Muhlenberg gave them the tiebreaker and their eighth straight trip to the playoffs. Our predicted champ, Franklin and Marshall, finished in a three-way tie for third in the conference, which may produce two playoff teams this year. Our biggest miss may have been Widener. The Pride not only failed to go undefeated, they didn’t even finish at .500, losing six of 10 games. The MAC was one of the more surprising conferences this season, with the surge of formerly downtrodden programs Misericordia and, to a lesser extent, FDU-Florham and King’s. A familiar champ emerged above the fray, and Delaware Valley returns to the field.

The surprising disappointments behind UW-Whitewater in the WIAC mean that normally two- and sometimes three-bid league only gets one representative in the field. It’s not uncommon for the MIAC or OAC or ASC to boast two teams in the tournament, and that trend continues.

Now, a quick recap of our Kickoff predictions made in late July, and a brief analysis of not just where we were wrong, but how.

Automatic qualifiers (26; Pool A):
ASC, Mary Hardin-Baylor, 10-0;
CC, Franklin & Marshall, 9-1; Johns Hopkins. We keep waiting for the Blue Jays to loosen their grip on this conference, and it appeared that this was the year for the Dips or Mules or Bears to emerge victorious. But after losing the Susquehanna in overtime in the conference opener, Johns Hopkins returned to form and dominated the Centennial. A 27-16 head-to-head win over Muhlenberg gives them the tiebreaker.
CCC, Western New England, 9-1;
CCIW, North Central 10-0;
ECFC, Husson, 9-1;
E8, Brockport, 10-0;
HCAC, Mount St. Joseph 8-2; Hanover. Not too far off, as the Lions did finish tied for the conference title. But the Panthers’ win over Franklin in the regular season finale created a three-way tie and the edge went to Hanover on the strength of its schedule, which included an early season non-conference loss to Centre.
IIAC, Wartburg, 10-0;
LL, Ithaca, 9-1; RPI. One point made the difference here. The Engineers edged the Bombers, 10-9, on October 6 That gives RPI the tiebreaker atop the conference standings, despite yesterday’s loss to Union.
MAC, Widener, 10-0; Delaware Valley. In the first year of unbalanced schedules, Misericordia was the surprise of the MAC. While the Aggies weren’t as dominant as they were in 2017, they still emerged unscathed in conference play.
MASCAC, Framingham State, 9-1
MIAA, Trine 10-0
MIAC, St. Thomas, 10-0; St. John’s. Not only did the Tommies fall short of the conference title, but they will miss out on the playoffs after picking up a second conference loss to Bethel yesterday. The Johnnies are a force, defeating the Tommies by 20 and the Royals by 18, and crushing Thomas More in the regular season finale.
MWC, St. Norbert, 9-1;
NACC, Aurora, 7-3; Eureka. In their first year in the NACC, the 2017 UMAC champs proved they are still a force, at least as long as LeAnthony Reasnover is toting the rock. Aurora finished tied for second with Concordia (Wis.), picking up two losses in league play both by a mere three points.
NCAC, Wittenberg, 10-0; Denison. Another conference ending in a three-way tie. The Tigers lost to Wabash, which lost to Denison, which lost a 68-66, four-overtime thriller to the Tigers in what was probably the season’s most entertaining game. Despite a worse overall record, Denison clinches the three-way tiebreaker. At 9-1, both the Little Giants and Tigers may be left on the outside looking in.
NJAC, Frostburg State, 10-0;
NWC, Linfield, 8-1; Whitworth. Linfield’s dominance came to an end as the Pirates finished the season undefeated. Whitworth’s 19-14 win over the Wildcats in the conference opener decided this race back in September.
OAC, Mount Union, 10-0;
ODAC, Washington & Lee 9-1; Randolph-Macon. Whoops. At least there was some brief ODAC chaos heading into Week 11, thanks to Ferrum’s upset of the Yellow Jackets in Week 10. But Randolph-Macon handled its rival in The Game and hopes to return to the dominant form it displayed in jumping out to a 6-0 start to conference play.
PAC, Washington & Jefferson, 10-0;
SAA, Berry, 10-0;
SCIAC, Redlands, 7-3; Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Thanks to their 20-10 victory over the Bulldogs on October 13, the Stags will be making their first NCAA playoff appearance. CMS will limp into the playoffs after losing their regular season finale yesterday to Pomona-Pitzer, but the head-to-head result over Redlands secures the bid.
UMAC, St. Scholastica 8-2; Martin Luther. The Saints finished in third place in the UMAC, behind historic seasons from MacMurray and Martin Luther. The Knights dominated the conference and enter the tournament on a nine-game winning streak, hoping to put up more points than prior UMAC champs have in the opening round.
USAC, Huntingdon, 9-1; Maryville. The Hawks left us scratching our heads week after week. They weren’t even in contention for the USAC crown, after winning it the past three years. Huntingdon finished tied for third, rallying after losing five of its first six games of the season. The Scots lost their two non-conference games and had their third postponed, but are on a hot streak after winning all seven of their USA South contests.
WIAC, UW-Oshkosh, 9-1. UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks are back. UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh had serious flaws exposed throughout the season, while UW-Whitewater suffocated opponents with one of the nation’s top defenses. UW-La Crosse surprised to finish second in the conference, albeit with two WIAC losses.

Pool B qualifier (1): Springfield, 10-0. (Thomas More, at 8-2, could then be considered alongside Pool C candidates) MIT (9-1) Three losses each for Springfield and Thomas More, and the Engineers should secure this bid in head coach Brian Bubna’s first season. The Engineers’ win over the Pride in the season finale, along with the Saints’ blowout loss at St. John’s, settled this picture.

Pool C at-large qualifiers (5): Hardin-Simmons, 9-1, John Carroll, 9-1, St. John's 9-1, Wesley, 9-1, Wheaton, 9-1, UW-Platteville, 9-1.

First, we’ll point out that Keith predicted six teams to secure five spots. A rare Kickoff oversight. But, he wasn’t too far off. The Johnnies clinched a Pool A bid, and the Cowboys and Blue Streaks will be in via Pool C. The Thunder crushed rival North Central, but won’t make it to the table with two losses. The Wolverines were a few extra points and several penalties away and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Pioneers, like the rest of the WIAC beyond the Warhawks, disappointed in 2018.

Bethel is in, thanks to its win over St. Thomas in Week 11. Centre should make it out of the South region, although Berry’s surprising loss in Week 11 might bump the Colonels down a spot or two.

Here is where it gets dicey, for the fifth and final at-large berth.
Muhlenberg had a strong non-conference win over Thomas More and only one loss, to Johns Hopkins. Ithaca and Linfield are both on the board and could round out the field, if the committee prefers to take a two-loss team with a better strength of schedule. Wabash at 9-1, with a head-to-head win over 9-1 Wittenberg, is also in the mix, but the Little Giants’ low strength of schedule keeps them on the outside looking in.

The numbers have been crunched, and our mock bracketologists think that the Mules claim that coveted final spot. We’ve seen 9-1 Muhlenberg teams left on the outside before, and it is strange to see a playoff field that does not include Linfield. The fate of these teams is in the hands of the playoff committee, and we’ll know for sure in about six hours.

Last year, a reader asked me to power rank the 32 playoff teams. So, let’s do that again, just to stir it up. Embrace debate in the comments.

32. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
31. Martin Luther
30. Hanover
29. Husson
28. Framingham State
27. St. Norbert
26. Western New England
25. Eureka
24. Maryville
23. MIT
22. Randolph-Macon
21. RPI
20. Denison
19. Washington & Jefferson
18. Wartburg
17. Trine
16. Berry
15. Delaware Valley
14. Muhlenberg
13. Centre
12. Johns Hopkins
11. North Central
10. Whitworth
9. Hardin-Simmons
8. John Carroll
7. Bethel
6. Frostburg State
5. Brockport
4. UW-Whitewater
3. St. John’s
2. Mary Hardin-Baylor
1. Mount Union

On tap:

The playoff bracket will be released at 5:30 p.m. today, and we will have comprehensive coverage of every team in the tournament this week. The final Top 25 until after the Stagg Bowl will be released this afternoon.

Monday’s podcast will be a must-listen, with a recap of Week 11 and breakdown of the playoff picture.

We’ll have capsules of all 32 teams in the field later this week. On Thursday, Around the Nation will be our annual roundtable panel discussion breaking down the surprises, disappointments, and predictions for each region of the bracket.

Another podcast will drop on Friday. In the playoffs, our Quick Hits crew not only picks winners, but we will each predict the score of all 16 first round matchups.

Stick with D3football.com for the next five weeks, the most exciting time of the college football season.

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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