Let's have a breakdown
We are just three weeks away from Selection Sunday.
We still know so little.
As the regular season winds down for some teams while the pressure ramps up for those still in the hunt, it’s time to try and provide some clarity. Now is as good a time as any to take a look at the conference races, rom the OAC--which looks sure to have a new, but very familiar champion this year--to the ODAC, which is, as usual, completely bonkers.
In matchups of conference unbeatens yesterday, Franklin, Linfield, and Wittenberg all delivered statement victories, creating separation. Other results from Week 8 just muddied the playoff picture even more.
Here’s a look at each conference, the leader, the biggest game(s) still on the schedule, and who I think will emerge with the conference title. I might even throw in some Pool B and Pool C predictions, because it’s never to early to guess wrong.
If you need a playoff primer or refresher on the how the field of 32 is selected, we’ve got you covered.
No automatic qualifier this year, but this could once again be a two-bid league. Defending Stagg Bowl champion Mary Hardin-Baylor is undefeated and in control, thanks to the Cru’s October 7 victory at Hardin-Simmons. The first Pool B bid is a lock to go to UMHB, barring a shocking upset. The Cowboys narrowly kept their at-large playoff hopes alive with a wild 33-30 win over Texas Lutheran yesterday. Prediction: Both Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons earn at-large bids via Pool B and Pool C, respectively.
More unpredictable than usual, thanks to Ursinus handing Johns Hopkins the Blue Jays’ first conference loss since 2012 But, the Bears have since been defeated twice in conference play. Franklin and Marshall is tied atop the league standings with Johns Hopkins, but the Blue Jays have that tiebreaker by virtue of a 45-7 victory on October 7. If JHU can get past Muhlenberg on Saturday, the Blue Jays should be able to secure their seventh straight Pool A bid. Prediction: Johns Hopkins keeps its playoff streak alive.
Commonwealth Coast Conference
Three teams are competing for the CCC crown: Curry, Salve Regina, and Western New England. This one will go down to the wire, as the Colonels close the season with games against the Golden Bears and Seahawks. The round robin begins on Saturday, when Salve Regina travels to Western New England. Prediction: the Golden Bears earn their third straight playoff trip by winning the inaugural season of the CCC.
Much more chaotic here than in most years, when the Little Brass Bell game decides the conference title. Instead, Wheaton’s victory over North Central made the conference race much more exciting. Because the Thunder lost two conference games before defeating their rival, they still sit in fourth place. The Cardinals have wins over the other one-loss CCIW teams, Millikin and Illinois Wesleyan. Prediction: North Central, the only team that controls its own playoff destiny, earns the Pool A bid. At 9-1 with wins over UW-Whitewater and Wheaton, Illinois Wesleyan is a strong Pool C candidate.
Husson is the only team without a conference loss and has already handed SUNY-Maritime and Castleton those programs’ only conference losses of the season so far. As long as the Eagles take care of business against the teams at the bottom of the league standings over the final three games, they’re in. Prediction: Husson.
This still comes down to the November 4 meeting between Alfred and Brockport. If the Saxons win, it could create a three-way tie with Cortland. If the Golden Eagles win, the automatic bid is theirs. Prediction: Brockport.
This one was pretty much decided yesterday, when the Grizzlies got revenge over the Fightin’ Engineers. Even if Mount St. Joseph, whose quarterback Chaiten Tomlin tied a Division III record with nine touchdown passes yesterday, upsets Franklin, the Grizzlies still own the tiebreaker over Rose-Hulman. Prediction: Franklin.
Wartburg is one of the few teams that has some breathing room. The Knights are 7-0 in league play, and every other team has at least two conference losses. If Wartburg can get past Dubuque on Saturday, a perfect 10-0 season is well within reach. Prediction: Wartburg.
How about Union? The Dutchmen notch their first win over Hobart since 2009 and are currently 7-1, just two years removed from an 0-10 season. What a turnaround. Still, the conference title is far from secure, with games against one-loss Ithaca and RPI ahead. The Bombers will need a win over Union and some help from the Dutchmen in their game the following week against the Engineers. Prediction: Ithaca.
Nick Wright and the Aggies look to run away with the MAC title. Delaware Valley athletics photo
If Widener wins its next two, at Stevenson and vs. King’s, the November 11 game at Delaware Valley will be for the conference title. If the Pride run the table, a one-loss Aggies team that defeated Wesley in non-conference play would be a very strong at-large candidate. Prediction: Delaware Valley.
Plymouth State, Framingham State, and Western Connecticut each have one conference loss. The Colonials are the only team of the three that controls its own destiny. They take on the Rams on November 4. Prediction: Framingham State defeats Western Connecticut. Plymouth State owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Framingham State. The Panthers close the season on a seven-game win streak and earn the Pool A bid.
Trine made its biggest statement of the season yesterday, thrashin Hope, 50-14. The Thunder look like the class of the conference this year. Olivet and Adrian still have their chances to knock off Trine. Prediction: Trine.
St. Thomas is in control, with wins over St. John’s and Concordia-Moorhead. Whoever wins the showdown between the Johnnies and the Cobbers in the season finale will have a strong case for a Pool C bid. Prediction: St. Thomas earns the Pool A bid. St. John’s wins the finale at home and earns a Pool C bid.
The only conference that has its own true championship game remains wide open. Lake Forest will have to defeat both Monmouth and Illinois College in the next two weeks to earn a spot in the title game, likely against the winner of Saturday’s St. Norbert-Macalester tilt. Prediction: When all the dust settles, I think Monmouth earns its second straight playoff appearance.
Lakeland at Aurora on Saturday should decide this one. If the Spartans defeat the Muskies, they will also need to defeat Benedictine in the regular season finale. I think the Muskies take care of business and win out, and not just because they have one of the best logos in all of sports. Prediction: Lakeland.
What a difference a few weeks makes. This looked like a balanced four-team race between Denison, DePauw, Wabash, and Wittenberg. After throuncing DePauw by 46 yesterday, Wittenberg asserted itself as the team to beat. The Tigers cannot afford a letdown this week against Wabash. If Wabash wins out, the Little Giants earn the Pool A bid and Wittenberg is a very strong 9-1 at-large contender. Prediction: Wittenberg.
No playoff bid on the line, and Trinity (Conn.) is in the driver’s seat. The November 4 showdown with Amherst could decide the conference title, or create a three-way tie with Middlebury. Prediction: Trinity (Conn.)
No automatic bid, which means Springfield must win out and hope for a Pool B bid. The Pride are undefeated with two games to play. Second-place MIT comes to Springfield in the season finale. At 6-1, the Engineer have already exceeded their win total from the previous two seasons combined. Prediction: Springfield’s offense keeps churning into the playoffs via Pool B.
The strength at the top of this conference is impressive and balanced, as evidenced by Wesley’s overtime victory over Frostburg State. Salisbury is the key to this league. The Sea Gulls are undefeated in NJAC play and close the season against the Wolverines and Bobcats. Wesley also has to face Christopher Newport in the season finale. Will the league cannibalize itself out of a second bid? Will a 9-1 Frostburg State team once again be left on the wrong side of the bubble? I’m here for the chaos. Prediction: Wesley and Frostburg State both win out and finish 9-1. Both advance to the playoffs.
Linfield still has to beat Pacific in the season finale, but the Wildcats are on pace for their ninth straight conference title after yesterday’s win over George Fox. Prediction: Linfield.
Mount Union ends its conference championship drought (at one year) and reclaims the title. The conference is deeper than usual this year after recent coaching changes. The downside to that is that there is no clear-cut number two in position to earn an at-large bid. Prediction: Mount Union.
You want an ODAC prediction when there are still three weeks left in the season? HAHAHAHAHAHA. The conference is once again living up to its #ODACtion billing. Yesterday, the two remaining teams unbeaten in league play both lost, creating a four-way tie atop the conference standings. Washington and Lee and Randolph-Macon are both rolling through October; they square off this Saturday. In this league, you can’t look beyond the current week. [Completely unbiased] Prediction: Washington and Lee.
The most complicated, as we won’t be able to crown a true champion. Case Western Reserve and Washington and Jefferson are both undefeated. They will not meet in the regular season. The Spartans still have their two biggest tests, against Westminster and Carnegie Mellon, ahead. The Presidents have already narrowly defeated both of those contenders. Prediction: Washington and Jefferson.
Berry is unbeaten with two games to play. If the Vikings can get past Birmingham-Southern and Trinity (Texas), they will earn the young program’s first playoff bid. Prediction: Berry.
Let’s hope Occidental’s incomplete season will not affect this playoff race. We’re still not sure exactly how the conference will handle those unplayed games. Cal Lutheran’s trip to Chapman this Saturday will go a long way to deciding the championship. The Panthers control their own destiny and only have two games left to play; their season finale has already been cancelled. Prediction: Cal Lutheran defeats Chapman, but loses to Redlands on November 11. The Bulldogs earn a share of the conference title, but lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Panthers. Chapman earns the Pool A bid.
Pretty sure no team in the history of football has rebounded better from a 98-point loss. St. Scholastica has won seven straight since the season-opening loss to St. John’s. The two one-loss teams nipping their heels, Eureka and MacMurray, are the Saints’ final two opponents. The Red Devils control their own destiny and play St. Scholastica at home. Prediction: Eureka.
Huntingdon has a two-game lead with three games to play. With its next two games against Greensboro and Methodist, the Hawks will likely clinch the title before facing second-place LaGrange in the regular season finale. Prediction: Huntingdon.
UW-Oshkosh has passed its biggest tests. The biggest question now is whether UW-Platteville can win out and earn an at-large bid. It would be unusual for the nation’s top conference to send just one team to the playoffs, but the Pioneers have tough competition (UW-La Crosse and UW-Whitewater in the next two weeks) standing in the way of a 9-1 season. Prediction: UW-Oshkosh.
The final playoff spot comes down to 8-2 UW-Platteville and 9-1 Carnegie Mellon. The Tartans’ strength of schedule is going to go way up over the final three weeks, but still won’t come close to that of the Pioneers. But would the committee give a bid to a team that finishes third in its own league while surpassing the second-place team that beat that third-place team head-to-head? That’s what we will be faced with -- if the Pioneers fall to the Warhawks. UW-Whitewater isn’t getting in with three losses, despite what will likely be the nation’s toughest schedule. We can’t consider George Fox, with two narrow losses to ranked opponents, as a two-loss Pool C candidate because they have a head-to-head loss to UW-Platteville. What about a two-loss Concordia-Moorhead that finishes third in its own conference, but has a win over the second-place WIAC team and thus a transitive victory over UW-Platteville?
Here’s the easy solution: The Pioneers win out, finish 9-1, and easily make it into Pool C. If they lose, we’ve got some chaos for that 32nd playoff spot. Every potential bubble team should be tuned in to the race for second place in the WIAC.
Here’s my way-too-early predicted playoff field:
Pool A: Johns Hopkins, Western New England, North Central. Husson, Brockport, Franklin, Wartburg, Ithaca, Delaware Valley, Plymouth State, Trine, St. Thomas, Monmouth, Lakeland, Wittenberg, Wesley, Linfield, Mount Union, Washington and Lee, Berry, Washington and Jefferson, Chapman, Eureka, Huntingdon, UW-Oshkosh
Pool B: Mary Hardin-Baylor, Springfield
Pool C: Hardin-Simmons, Frostburg State, Illinois Wesleyan, St. John’s, UW-Platteville
Check back three weeks from tonight to see how wrong I was. Let the late-season chaos commence.
Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.
Today-- new Top 25 poll released.
Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.
Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns.
Thursday--Around the Nation column. This week, I will be re-ranking the conferences. Prepare to debate.
Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.
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