Football Team in Contention for At-Large Bid

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - page 2

Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Muhlenberg football team is still ranked eighth in the South Region by the NCAA.

The top 10 is almost identical to last week’s first rankings of the season. The only difference is at No. 9, where Franklin & Marshall, coming off a win against Johns Hopkins, replaced Hampden-Sydney, a quadruple-overtime loser to regionally ranked Washington and Lee.

Here are the latest rankings, with regional and overall records in parentheses:

1. Mary Hardin-Baylor (8-0/9-0)
2. Wesley (5-1/8-1)
3. Johns Hopkins (8-1/8-1)
4. Waynesburg (9-0/9-0)
5t. Huntingdon (4-2/6-2)
5t. Washington and Lee (7-2/7-2)
7. Louisiana College (5-2/7-2)
8. MUHLENBERG (6-2/7-2)
9. Franklin & Marshall (7-2/7-2)
10. Hardin-Simmons (5-3/6-3)

Isaiah Vaughn Franklin & Marshall’s entry gives Muhlenberg a win against a regionally ranked opponent. The Mules beat the Diplomats, 21-0, in the second game of the season. Results against regionally ranked opponents is one of the criteria for selection into the NCAA Tournament.

Muhlenberg is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament and will need a win in Saturday’s finale at Moravian and, most likely, some help in order to receive one of the seven at-large (Pool C) bids. Of the teams ranked ahead of the Mules in the South Region, Huntingdon and Louisiana College are the two anticipated to be in the mix for Pool C bids. Both play other regionally ranked teams this week (Huntingdon vs. Adrian and Louisiana College vs. Hardin-Simmons).

The seven Pool C bids are selected nationally from among ranked teams that don’t receive automatic bids in the four NCAA regions. There is no set number of bids for each region.

Although it has no bearing on NCAA Tournament selection, Muhlenberg received four votes in this week’s American Football Coaches Association national poll.

One of the reasons the Mules are in a position to earn an at-large bid is the play of their special teams.

Muhlenberg is one of only five teams in Division III to average at least 20 yards on kickoff returns and at least 10 yards on punt returns while also ranking in the top 25 in the country in net punting. The other four are Linfield (ranked third in the poll), 14th-ranked North Central, Birmingham-Southern, which has been ranked as high as 15th this season, and Augustana.

The Mules are averaging 22.0 yards on kickoff returns and have two players – seniors Isaiah Vaughn (left) and John Gruver – who have returned at least 10 kicks and are averaging at least 20 yards. Gruver also is the primary punt returner for the Mules, who average of 10.6 yards per return is boosted by two blocked punts that were recovered for touchdowns.

Muhlenberg ranks sixth in Division III and leads the Centennial Conference in net punting at 36.5 yards per kick. The Mules have allowed only 63 return yards on their 42 punts.