NAIA Ramblings of Jason Dannelly for 9/20/2007: Contenders, Pretenders and Menders

OVERRATED – Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap
Catching an echo of the chant within the final seconds of the game Ohio Dominican head coach Dale Carlson took off his headset, waved his arms at the fans and yelled, “Stop That!”

Respect … that is what that’s about. I do not know if there are two more down to earth coaches in the NAIA than Kevin Donley of St. Francis and Dale Carlson of Ohio Dominican. The fact that Carlson wouldn’t allow something like that to happen moved him up a few notches in my book.  That along with the fact the fans did indeed “stop that”.

So this week we will get to see how Ohio Dominican does it on the road. ODU has had two tests this season with Tiffin and USF recently. Now they have to go into Saint Xavier’s stadium and try to beat the Cougars on their own field. This will not be an easy task.

SXU is rated #2 by the coaches and #4 by VSN. I firmly believe they can win this game and the timing for the victory is perfect. Both teams are coming off of their toughest games of the season. SXU narrowly escaped the Cavaliers in Canton, 13-10. This week’s contest will be much of the same in Chicago.

September Review
So where does this put us in terms of perspective for the season? Well I have seen some things I thought I would never see in NAIA football this year.

I have seen a perennial power start the season 1-3 (Georgetown). I have seen a sleeping giant awaken (Lindenwood), I have seen more points in two games than some teams score all season (Virginia-Wise vs. Bethel and Georgetown).

But the one thing that I have seen this season that I have not seen for a while is parity at the top of the NAIA. It seemed like for the longest time it was two teams … and then the rest of the NAIA.

Right now I feel like there are about eight teams that could win the NAIA title if the ball bounces the right way. Obviously the hottest team in the country right now is Ohio Dominican. They are coming off the biggest regular season victory since last season’s Montana-Northern victory over Carroll College in Havre where the Saints 20 plus game winning streak was snapped.

ODU looks like the golden child of the NAIA right now but do not be fooled, this is still a group of young men who have not won a championship in their conference yet. This week’s match up with Saint Xavier is probably an even bigger game than last week since it is on the road. Saint Xavier can make me a believer with a win over ODU and vice versa.

Sioux Falls looks like the solid #1 on paper but their performance two weeks ago against Morningside has a few people raising some eyebrows. Morningside moved the ball against them offensively and the Cougars were almost bitten in the backside by the Mustangs. I am not saying the USF “D” is suspect but I felt like they could do more to limit Morningside when in the end they didn’t.

Do not write off Saint Francis (IN). Remember those words. This is the NAIA; teams can win championships even with regular season losses. The loss by St. Francis is the best thing to happen to them since they started making it to the national championship. This team has to learn what it is like to come back 7 days after a loss and play another football game. That will only make them stronger in the end. Plus I want to hear about what a week of practice is like at USF after a loss!

Bethel (TN) is just a nasty football team. I love the running game of Bell and Smith who just seem to get it done every game. This team is coming along quite nicely. They had to replace some talented seniors and it looks like they have done so in time for their swing into the Mid South Conference. This Wildcat football team should not lose for the rest of the season. And with the national title in their backyard I would bet the ‘Cats would like to prowl in Savannah.

Carroll College seems to have all of the workings of a championship caliber team. They just have to find a way to get past each team in the Frontier twice. That won’t be easy as MSU-Northern continues to improve and Western will get a shot at the Saints in Dillon, MT. The Saints have to be strong on the road if they are to make yet another trip to Savannah.

The Lions of Lindenwood have roared yet again this season and look to be the strongest team in the HAAC. I think they are a legit title contender but they need to stay focused and on task the rest of the season. The Lions slipped out of title contention in their last appearance in the postseason to Hastings. The Lions need to continue to take it one game at a time and they will be fine.

Jamestown is currently unbeaten but I also feel like they have been untested. They had a couple nice wins in the beginning of the season but I want to see what they will do against the best in the DAC. I know the Jimmies will be prepared every week to get the job done but are they prepared to play a team like Sioux Falls in the first round of the postseason?  Right now they are the best in the DAC but that’s not going to get it done in the postseason.

Outside of that there are a few teams that could be considered dark horses but it is too early to guess on them. The way I see it is if you make the cut to the final 16 team in the NAIA Championship Series this year, then you have a shot at the title.

Great travel plans for this weekend and I hope to have all of the video and audio coming to you soon! I’ll see you in Chicago with a Cubs hat on my head, deep dish pizza in one hand and a Chicago Dog in the other.

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