As the clich goes, anybody can beat anybody on any given week. That could not have been more true with football in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference this year.
For the first time in more than a decade, no GLIAC team had fewer than two losses. Two teams will represent the conference in the postseason - neither is Grand Valley State. Wayne State (8-3) and Saginaw Valley State (7-3) will head to the Division II playoffs, a year after Michigan Tech missed out on the playoffs with an 8-2 record. Parity reigned supreme.
The only sure thing in the conference was Tiffin losing, as the Dragons were outscored on average 53-12 in GLIAC games. Otherwise, even the top teams in the league knocked each other out seemingly at random. GVSU lost to Hillsdale, Indianapolis and Findlay. Hillsdale lost to Wayne State and Ohio Dominican. Wayne State lost to Findlay, SVSU and Ashland.
All four of the Huskies' (6-4) losses, three of which were decided by six points or less, came against teams that finished 7-3 or better: GVSU, SVSU, Wayne and Hillsdale. When the entire body of work is measured, Tech is satisfied with its finish.
"7-4 is a good football team - 7-4 in our league with what we played, with chances to win a couple more football games, absolutely," Tech coach Tom Kearly said. "But you're always going to have the ones you could have won. 7-4 in the Big Ten probably plays on New Year's Day."
Statistically, Tech lived up to expectations, particularly on defense. The Huskies finished first in the GLIAC in scoring defense (17.7 points allowed per game), total defense (286.6 yards allowed per game), opponents' third-down conversion percentage (34.8 percent) and fourth-down conversion percentage (22.7 percent).
"We're pretty veteran there ... and we've played very well defensively all year. We'll probably end up leading the league in most of the categories," Kearly said after Saturday's 21-18 season finale win over Northern Michigan. "It starts with those two (defensive) ends. (Drew) Vanderlin and (Todd) Storm, as a pair, are as good as I've been around. ... They're very, very good football players."
Jesse Vandenberg also joined an elite list of five Tech players to tally 300 career tackles, adding nine against NMU, and finishing with a team-high 84 this season. Ian Coughlin (80 tackles), Justin Armstrong (73) and Todd Storm (68) padded impressive career stats as well. Storm finished the season with 7.5 sacks, while Vanderlin had 6.5 sacks, finishing 1.5 shy of the school record for career sacks.
The Huskies offense did not put up prolific statistics, but in what looked like a rebuilding year coming in, it perhaps even exceeded expectations.
The running game struggled through most of the season (151.3 yards per game), ahead of only Indianapolis and Tiffin in the GLIAC, but the passing game had a year for the record books. Quarterback Tyler Scarlett's 2,406 passing yards are a school record, and Steve Worthy's 831 receiving yards were one of the season's highlights. Worthy's previous season high in receiving yards was 252 in 2009.
Special teams was a huge question mark entering the season, with freshmen at kicker, punter and long snapper.
"We're playing well there. For what we've done with young people, I'm honestly quite pleased," Kearly said earlier this season.
All in all, the Huskies missed the playoffs in 2011, but they reached the seven-win mark for the third time in four years. Tech has won at least six games seven of the last eight years, cementing itself firmly in the upper echelon of the GLIAC.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @steander.