The NAIA spring football poll was released Monday, and though Reinhardt did not make the rankings, it was among the teams garnering votes.
Still, it’s a big change for the Eagles, who were anything but ranked a year ago this time, when they were preparing for their inaugural season. However, it does show how much changes between seasons as few teams moved from the spots they held at the end of the 2013 season.
No. 16 Saint Xavier was the only team to move two spots, while Southern Oregon was the lone newcomer.
“Not much changed, did it?” Reinhardt coach Danny Cronic said. “They have us what would be 27th. I remember coach (Vince) Dooley would say, the only poll that was important is the one at the end of the year, and that’s about right.”
Only it isn’t quite right in the NAIA, as Cronic is quick to point out. With more conferences and conference champions than there are playoff spots, those advancing to the national tournament have to be decided somehow.
“You have to get into the top 16 in order to get into the playoffs,” Cronic said, “so it isn’t just about winning a championship. You have to do well enough so that you can be rated in there. Even your non-conference games can, and will, be held against you.”
The Eagles collected just eight points in voting, but it’s a start. Not only that, but Cronic hopes that it serves as an inspiration to his team, which is still, in many cases, years younger than its opponents.
“I’m hoping our boys will be motivated by that poll,” Cronic said. “We’ve got a little bit of recognition, but we still are younger than they are. Hopefully, we will have grown up.”
Defending national champion Grand View was the unanimous No. 1, receiving all 13 first-place votes after a 14-0 season.
Cumberlands (Ky.), Reinhardt’s Mid-South Conference rival and the NAIA runner-up in 2013, is No. 3 in the poll, trailing Carroll.
The other Mid-South teams ranked in the spring poll are No. 9 Faulkner, No. 12 Georgetown (Ky.), No. 18 Lindsey Wilson and No. 25 Cumberland (Tenn.).
In addition to playing the five ranked opponents, Reinhardt will open its season against the NCAA’s Mercer, which lost just one game last season and is entering the Southern Conference, typically a power conference of the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Looks like we’ve got a hard road to hoe,” Cronic said. “They aren’t going to make it easy on us. My goodness, there are 80-something teams in the NAIA, but we sure have a lot of ranked ones in our conference.”