Another week, another win for Wabash. This week they beat up on OWU, winning 38-13.* This (and a Pacific Lutheran loss) let Wabash slide up another spot to 16th in the poll. Even while Wabash has been utterly dominant on the field, it’s been a frustrating season thanks to little movement in the polls.
*The game was closer than the score showed, but I wouldn’t say the outcome was ever in doubt.
Teams just aren’t losing this year in Division III. Usually by this time in the season, there have been a good number of upsets letting a handful of undefeated teams rise to the top. This year, these upsets just haven’t happened, making the Top 25 look more like traffic jam than a representation of a football season. A big part of the issue here is size. According to this article,* there are 120 FBS schools. Compare that to 239 Division III schools. Double the teams, less games, and spread into more conferences. It just doesn’t lend itself to as much movement. Add in that the NCAC is pretty down for football, and, well, it becomes hard to prioritize Wabash or Wittenberg in the Top 25 no matter how big they keep winning.
*I’m not entirely sure where these numbers were pulled from, but they jive pretty well with the numbers I’ve seen in the past, so I’m using it as my reference.
Heck, you can break those numbers above down even further if you’d like. Those 120 schools are broken into ten conferences with a few independents. Out of those conferences, only five or six* can get serious traction for the national championship, something I don’t really see changing under the new rules next year. Throw in the two independents that would seriously be considered,** and you come to 74 teams by my count that are truly playing for the title.*** If you take it further and discount teams that are clearly rebuilding or consistently just no good, like Purdue this year or Kentucky/Iowa State practically every year, and you seriously chop down the number of teams actually gunning for a spot in the polls every year. Realistically, there are probably only about 30 or 35 teams that are seriously considered for the poll. And that’s allowing for your random mid-majors that jump up, like Northern Illinois or Fresno St.
*Depending on your feelings about the American Athletic Conference (nee Big East). I’m inclined to discount them. There’s a reason Louisville is jumping ship to the ACC.
**You may very well argue that I’m being generous by including BYU, and I would certainly listen to you. If they didn’t have 1984 to point to, I wouldn’t include them.
***That includes the AAC. If you take them out, that would be 64 teams. 63 if you only include Notre Dame for independents.
With Division III, you can also cut down numbers in that fashion. You have to, given the number of teams you’re working with. But given how teams (and talent) are spread out, you’re probably still looking at double the teams for the poll. And, also given the numbers game at play here, there is far less potential for top 25 matchups. This has obviously been an issue this year, given that only seven teams have a loss in the D3 poll. Compare that with 12 in the AP Poll this week. There is only one team in the D3 poll with two losses,* compared to four in the AP. With that kind of logjam, it’s not hard to imagine an undefeated D3 team remaining unranked at this point in the season if your schedule has been particularly easy. In FBS, it seems impossible you could be undefeated and still not have some numbers by your name.
*Franklin, sitting at 14. They’ve drawn considerable criticism for staying that high with two losses, but there is good reason for them to be there. Their two losses were a tough one to Mount Union, who is currently (and usually) number one and to Butler, who plays FCS (though you’d be forgiven if you thought the only sport they sponsored was men’s basketball).
The nice thing to make up for this, though, is the postseason structure. Even with the FBS moving to playoff next year, it’s still awfully exclusive. Four teams is better than two, but it still won’t solve too many arguments. The only thing it will really do is include all the undefeated teams most years. Division III, though, does much better with giving teams a shot to win, even if they’ve been overlooked or underrated with 32 teams in the playoffs. This would include most of the conference champions, a shared bid for independents and non-AQ conferences, and then seven at-large bids. I don’t think anybody is arguing more teams should be in the playoffs there. If you didn’t perform well enough in the regular season to secure a spot with those rules, you don’t deserve a spot.
As much as people like to make noise about the Division I basketball tournament, there’s really no reason they couldn’t go to a 32 team tournament under the same logic. And yet, we have people pushing for 96 teams. That’s just absurd, and likely just a way to save some coaches’ jobs. It’s just silly it’s grown beyond 64 teams. There’s no real (competitive) reason not to take away a few at large bids if you need another spot for a conference champion. If you’re that much of a bubble team, you can’t complain when you’re left out of the bracket. You should have taken home a few more of those close games if you wanted in the dance.
I think this is about enough rambling for today. This turned out much more rambling, twisting, and incoherent than I had envisioned. Good thing I’m not getting paid for this sort of thing, right? And yet, blatant plagiarism artists are. It’s a sad journalistic world we live in.