Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas campus, at least from a football standpoint, was quiet last weekend with the Tommies on a bye following a frustrating loss to St. John’s.
With that bye after three games, it gave St. Thomas an early chance to correct several mistakes and get back to the fundamentals of football. The Tommies, which dropped from No. 2 to No. 6 in the national rankings, have had two straight games where they didn’t play anywhere near the now lofty standards they hold themselves to. Coach Glenn Caruso said their 25-7 win at UW-River Falls was among the ugliest games he’s ever won as a head coach.
That’s what happens when you become a consistently successful program: The standards go up and certain things aren’t acceptable. St. Thomas isn’t used to losing in the regular season. After all, it hadn’t happened in more than three years up until they faced the Johnnies.
It was a bit ugly at River Falls, and things didn’t get much prettier against St. Johns. St. Thomas had five turnovers, consisting of two Matt O’Connell interceptions and three lost fumbles. Yet the Tommies still had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation before Paul Graupner missed, by his standards, a short field goal. With that miss, the Tommies chances to win the MIAC outright all but evaporated.
Now St. Thomas has a long road ahead, but there is still a good chance that the Tommies can make it to the NCAA postseason if they win their final seven games and get some things to go their way. St. John’s had a chance to put itself atop the MIAC in its homecoming game against Concordia (Moorhead), but the Cobbers scored 14 points in the first five minutes and went onto beat the Johnnies 24-14.
The MIAC always seems to be balanced, but it might be as strong as it’s ever been this year. If things play out right the rest of the season, the league could get three teams in the NCAA postseason. That’s extremely rare for a league that generally only produces one NCAA Playoff team. The past few years, Bethel has made it along with St. Thomas.
Concordia and Augsburg are currently tied atop the MIAC at 2-0, with Bethel at 1-0. The reality is that there are four teams battling for up to three spots between the St. Thomas, Bethel, Concordia and St. John’s.
If all four teams finish with only one MIAC loss, it will be tough to leave any of them out of the NCAA conversation. Of course, it’s unlikely that scenario unfolds with how strong the top half of the MIAC is and some of the games that remain. One of the biggest games on the MIAC schedule is Oct. 12, when Concordia hosts Bethel for homecoming. That will likely be a match-up of two teams ranked in the top 15.
St. Thomas resumes practice this week as it prepares to host Carleton this week. We’ll take a more in-depth look at the game later this week, but the Knights are coming off a 58-14 loss to Bethel where they trailed 35-14 at the half and 51-14 after three quarters.
In the other big match-up this week, Augsburg travels to Bethel. The Auggies have slowly gotten better and if things go right, they can give Bethel a close game.
For the Tommies, they have to beat Carleton this week and Gustavus in two weeks for the showdown at Bethel on Oct. 19 to in fact be a showdown. There’s no margin for error for St. Thomas anymore. If they lose another game, the Tommies probably don’t get the chance to defend their national title game appearance. That would be a huge disappointment for a program that didn’t have much for expectations five years ago when Caruso started. He’s won enough and had enough success in five-plus years that now St. John’s beating the Tommies can be viewed as a significant upset.
What we know at this point is this: It’s way too early to tell what will transpire in the MIAC the rest of the way, but it certainly appears to be more wide open than it has in the past. My early prediction is that Bethel, Concordia and St. Thomas will be in the postseason.
Check the WCCO Tommies Blog later this week for a full preview of St. Thomas/Carleton as WCCO Radio 830AM will have the call from St. Paul Saturday afternoon.