Gut-check time for Augustana football
Augustana’s football team may have lost more than the Key to the City Saturday against its neighborhood rival.
Expectations were high coming off of a 2015 season that saw the Vikings make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Those expectations only mounted after a 3-0 start.
But losses in consecutive weeks have thrust Augustana’s back against the wall—and doubt into the team’s postseason hopes.
The Division II football playoff expanded to 28 teams a year ago with seven representatives from each Super Region. Augustana belongs to Super Region 3, which is made up of 45 schools across four conferences—the NSIC, the GAC, the GNAC and the MIAA.
There are seven Super Region 3 teams ranked in the top-25 of the AFCA Coaches Poll, and 10 in the D2Football.com poll.
Neither of those polls have any bearing on the Super Region rankings, and it’s early in the season. But it gives a bearing of where things stand now.
Head coach Jerry Olszewski is not panicking, as he expects his team will get a fresh start with a win on Saturday against Wayne State.
Olszewski referred to Saturday’s game as a chance to be a “baptism for the program,” saying the team can turn its season around. Not just from a performance standpoint.
“It’s our chance as coaches to change our [mindset], change where we are at, have fun playing football again,” he said. “We took the joy out of the last two games. We are trying so hard and putting too much stress and strain on being perfect. God’s plan is pure. The team is supposed to go on this journey.”
The Vikings almost certainly need to win this weekend to keep their postseason hopes alive. Wayne State is a good place to start—the Wildcats sport a 2-3 record. That includes a loss to Minot State, which is 1-4 and hasn’t really been competitive in any other game.
Augustana might just have to win out, too. Just two teams with more than two losses have made the playoffs in the last three seasons: 8-3 Long Island University Post in 2014, and 7-3 Newberry College last year.
There’s no reason the Vikings can’t win out, either. They play arguably their two toughest remaining games at home—Minnesota State-Mankato Oct. 15 and Winona State two weeks later.
At 3-2, Mankato is a far cry from the national runner up it was in 2014, and the Super Region 3 two-seed it was last season.
Winona is even better.
The Warriors just knocked Mankato from the top-25 on Saturday with a 34-31 win.
And much like Augustana, they played Minnesota-Duluth tightly before suffering a narrow defeat on the road.
Augustana plays at Southwest Minnesota State in the final week of the regular season, which also doesn’t appear to be an automatic win.
The victor could be determined by which version of the Mustangs show up: the one that beat Duluth in Week 1, or the one that choked in a blowout loss to Northern State, whom Augustana beat.
In a vaccum, Augustana’s 3-2 start certainly won’t prevent it from making the postseason. After all, the team started 4-2 last year, and the Vikings have a great chance to match that Saturday.
USF is one of the best teams in the nation.
Duluth is no joke, either.
But the time is now for the Vikings to bounce back and prove they deserve to compete for Division II football’s ultimate prize.
They hope it starts with Saturday’s “baptism.”