With the wraps almost on this USA South football season, and effectively it is for those teams returning to league play in 2015, there’s one glaring issue on the horizon for the conference to address.
Christopher Newport University is preparing this week for a second round playoff game with Widener. It’s only the fourth time the USA South has had a champion carry the flag passed the first round of Division III’s postseason. CNU has three of those, and this is the Captains’ last voyage as a conference member.
Without CNU, which has generally scheduled at least one or more playoff contenders in its nonconference slate, the USAC will be hard-pressed to build on its image among the D3 heavy weights. Even with Maryville College and Methodist University building prestige and Huntingdon College adding strength to the conference’s quality, some of the bare numbers make it an uphill struggle.
CNU’s 29-26 win over MAC runner-up Delaware Valley was the USAC’s first nonconference win this season over a team with a winning record. The league was 6-11 in the regular season against D3 teams in nonconference play, but without one win over a team that finished better than 3-7.
The opening weekend the USAC was 4-5 with all four wins coming over teams that would finish under .500 and all five losses coming to teams that would finish 6-4 or better and by an average margin of defeat of three touchdowns.
By geography and maintaining some traditional rivalries, the USA South and Old Dominion intermix regularly in the September nonconference season. The ODAC’s domination of those meetings — 7-1 — was more evident than ever and for more than bragging rights.
Hampden-Sydney, which won the tiebreakers among a four team 5-2 jumble atop the ODAC lost in the first round. Included in that mix was Emory & Henry — which went 2-0 against the USA South, with a 14-13 win over Maryville and a 41-12 win at Ferrum in Week 1 — and Guilford, which ran up 104 points with a 52-0 win over Greensboro and a 52-20 win against Methodist. Bridgewater, the fourth ODAC co-champion, also had a USAC scalp with a 29-point win over Greensboro.
Somewhere, the USA South needs to break through in the nonconference season. It will need a Maryville break through against Emory & Henry, or Methodist to find its early form, or Huntingdon to knock off an eventual winner in September.
Being outscored by 173 in nonconference games is not likely to do the 2015 conference champion any seeding favors in next year’s bracket. It’s good to beat the ones you should, which at 6-1 the USAC did against those under .500 teams, but it will need to raise that bar.
The ODAC has been taking the prime cuts from the turkey for a while now and all the benefits — Maryville travelling to Hampden-Sydney in the 2013 first round — and with CNU no longer around it’s going to be much harder to move up from the kid’s table.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @TDT_Marcus.