John Carroll proved it can play with nation's elite but D-III playoff hopes on life support | Opinion

Nov. 6—When the clock hit :00 at Larry Kehres Stadium and Mount Union walked off as 34-28 winners against John Carroll, there was little fanfare and hooting and hollering from the Purple Raiders.

That's probably because both teams were exhausted. It was a tough, back-and-forth contest that wasn't decided until Mount recovered an onside kick attempt in the final seconds by JCU.

Plus, there's more work to be done for the Purple Raiders to clinch the Ohio Athletic Conference title outright and the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Nothing has been settled on the latter. More on that in a bit.

For the Blue Streaks, it was a win they desperately wanted and needed to be OAC champions and get the auto playoff bid.

JCU closes its regular season Nov. 12 at home against 2-7 Otterbein. Barring a huge upset, the Blue Streaks will likely finish 8-2 and 7-1 in the conference.

Then it must wait. Unfortunately for JCU, its playoff odds will be stacked against it.

With a 32-team playoff field consisting of 27 conference champs that earn auto bids, there are just five at-large spots available.

The competition for those spots is cut-throat and razor-thin.

A tool the NCAA uses to determine its playoff field is its regional rankings. It consists of six regions, with seven teams in each. The first set was released last week — but only in alphabetical order. This week, the teams will be ranked from 1 to 7 in each region.

JCU and Mount appeared in the first set of rankings in Region IV. At 9-0, Mount is a lock for the No. 1 spot this week. Where 7-2 JCU appears — and it should remain — in Region IV will be a big indicator as to what the selection committee thinks of the Blue Steaks. If the Blue Streaks appear in the top 3 or 4 of of Region IV, that's a promising sign.

The committee of course rewards teams that beat highly ranked teams but history has shown it also rewards team that play to the level of those highly ranked teams. On Nov. 5, the Blue Streaks stood toe to toe with the Purple Raiders for four quarters.

There's a lot to be decided in Region IV with games involving Albion, Alma, Mount St. Joseph and DePauw — teams listed last week with JCU and Mount.

Albion (9-0) and Alma (9-0) play Nov. 12 and the winner is champion of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The loser will be 9-1 and will likely be an at-large candidate. That's bad news for John Carroll.

Mount St. Joseph — located in Southern Ohio — is 9-0 and plays Rose-Hulman Nov. 12 for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. DePauw (8-1) plays Wabash (7-2) Nov. 12 for the North Coast Athletic Conference title.

Trine was 6-2 last week and was the seventh team listed in Region IV but it lost Nov. 15. Don't be surprised if 7-2 Baldwin Wallace replaces Trine in Region IV this week after defeating Heidelberg, 21-20, on Nov. 5.

Which brings us to the final week in the OAC. Mount travels to BW on Nov. 12, and it's expected the Purple Raiders will be victorious, and why not? Mount has lost just three times in OAC play since 1994.

But what if the improbable — BW winning — happens, and JCU defeats Otterbein? It would create a three-way tie atop the OAC among BW, Mount and JCU at 8-1. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, and nothing would be settled in this scenario so the second tiebreaker would be enforced.

That tiebreaker would be OAC head football coaches casting a vote for the team to get the auto bid. If it came down to that, BW would seem like the logical choice, having just beaten Mount.

That scenario would definitely eliminate JCU from playoff contention because it would be highly unlikely Mount would be denied an at-large playoff spot at 9-1.

Another factor that could come into play is Washington and Jefferson, the team that defeated JCU, 35-26, in a non-conference game in early September. W&J is 7-2. If it's 8-2 by the end of the day Nov. 12, a head-to-head win against JCU would likely be too much for the Blue Streaks to overcome.

If an 8-2 W&J isn't being considered for an at-large bid, neither is JCU.