Today is one of the few days circled on a calendar. Christmas at grandma's, hunting season, first day of football and the first installment of the regional rankings. The official regional rankings - released today by the NCAA - puts an objective number on something that people try to objectively (but many times subjectively) argue for the past eight weeks.
Do today's rankings get rid of the argument? No way, but it does give a little more of a foundation for future arguments and scenarios.
But what the above doesn't take into account is the most important part of football: the games themselves. Fans, bloggers, coaches and players will dissect every scenario (and 25% of them will admit to it) as to what could happen. Could means nothing in football. It's similar to the expression close loss or good loss. A loss is a loss (which we'll get to in a moment in the cases of Humboldt State and Abilene Christian).

Here are the rankings as of today:
1. Midwestern State (7-0 in regional play, 7-0 overall)
2. Pitt State (8-0, 8-0)
3. Northwest Missouri (6-1, 7-1)
4. Washburn (6-1, 7-1)
5. Abilene Christian (5-1, 5-2)
6. West Texas A&M (5-2, 5-2)
7. Missouri Western (5-2, 6-2)
8. Ouachita Baptist (5-2, 5-2)
9. Humboldt State (5-1, 6-1)
10. Central Missouri (5-3, 5-3)

Here's a quick take on the top 10, in order
1. Midwestern made an emphatic statement by demolishing Abilene Christian on Saturday, 70-28. The Mustangs have had their way thus far on their season, but this adds much more luster to their 2011. Still up for MSU is West Texas in two weeks, but luckily at home in Wichita Falls. Baring major upsets, the Mustangs are in, even with a loss to WT.
2. Pitt State is similar to MSU as the Gorillas bested Northwest Missouri earlier this season. The Gorillas also have key wins over seventh-ranked MoWest and 10th-ranked UCM, so they are a strong team that's already been tested. They have one more notable matchup in two weeks against Washburn at home. Like MSU, Pitt State is in, we'll just see where they finish.
3. Take away the loss to Pitt State and a not-so-dominating win over Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri has steamrolled through 2011. On paper, NW has the easier road to finish the regular season than Pitt or Washburn (as those two still have to play each other), however, the Bearcats' Nov. 5 contest is at 10th-ranked MoWest.
4. Washburn's defense had no answer to NW last Saturday. Is that because Washburn is overrated or NW is that good? Maybe Washburn got caught on a bad day and everything clicked for NW. Regardless, Saturday's 52-28 defeat brought the Ichabods back to reality and they still have to travel to Pitt State before hosting UCM to end the regular season. That's not an easy slate for a team that can't afford too many more errors when it comes to the regional rankings.
5. You want to talk about reality checks? What about Abilene's 42-point loss to Midwestern? What's good for ACU is the fact that the Wildcats' two losses are to SR4's No. 1 team and SR2's No. 2 team (North Alabama). ACU has a win over sixth-ranked WT and the GNAC's best team (Western Oregon, based on the standings, a half game ahead of Humboldt State). ACU finishes the season with Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Incarnate Word, which should be a 3-0 sweep for the Wildcats. However, depending on what Kingsville team shows up, that isn't a gimmie, especially since the game kicks off in Kingsville. It's not safe to assume, but an assumption can be made that a hypothetical three-loss ACU team could still sneak in as again two of those losses are to big time teams.
6. West Texas A&M might be in the same boat, although its loss to ACU can't be classified as good of a loss as it was before last weekend. The Buffaloes' other loss was to SR3's undefeated No. 1 team Colorado State-Pueblo. This team is being very closely watched by the GNAC for a couple of reasons: 1. WT hosts Central Washington this weekend; and two, another loss for WT to either CWU, Midwestern or Commerce gets Humboldt that much closer to the playoffs. Could WT sneak in with three losses? Maybe.
7. For the gamblers out there, it's not a for-sure bet, but a safe bet that MoWest will be out of the playoffs this year. Despite being 5-2 on the season, the Griffons still have to take on NW in two weeks. A loss would put MW in the same three-loss category as ACU and WT, however those two LSC teams have a stronger ranking already, so the Griffons are behind the eight ball and need a minimum 3-0 finish and help to extend their season to the playoffs.
8. What helps Ouachita Baptist is the fact that its out-of-conference schedule includes losses to SR2's Nos. 1 and 3 teams in Delta State and Valdosta State (although wins would have been better). What hurts OBU is the fact that like the GNAC, the GAC is lacking when it comes to the strength-of-schedule component. OBU's final three opponents are a combined 9-14 on the season, so a 3-0 finish is likely, but Ouachita is going to need some help.
9. Humboldt State watched its playoff hopes take a major blow in the loss to WOU on Saturday (more in a bit). It's safe to say that the Lumberjacks are HUGE fans of Central Washington this weekend, as a Wildcat win over West Texas (coupled with an HSU win over Simon Fraser) would really help HSU's playoff chances, but far from seal the deal. The good thing for Humboldt State is its next three games are very winnable (versus SFU, at Dixie, revenge rematch versus WOU). But boy do they need help. You could maybe even convince the 'Jacks to wear some crimson to send good vibes to the 'Cats in Texas this weekend.
10. Central Missouri has a big uphill battle as well. The Mules finish out the season with three straight road games at Lincoln, Lindenwood and Washburn. Even if UCM goes 3-0, the Mules will still be a three-loss team that's playing catch-up in the regional rankings. They'll get a SOS bump for the game against Washburn and a stronger bump if that results in a UCM win, but they need to catapult four spots just to make the top six.

Of course, much of the above will be rewritten by this coming Saturday evening, which is what makes football so fun: Oftentimes, the past and predictions are rendered meaningless.

A quick look at last Saturday:
Western Oregon's 40-24 victory was a great way of telling the GNAC that the conference title is still up for grabs and statistically, the Wolves are one-half game ahead of the Lumberjacks in the GNAC standings. The Wolves (5-1 GNAC, 5-3 overall) held Lyndon Rowells in check (94 yards, one week after going nuts on CWU for more than 220 yards), got all over quarterback Mike Proulx for five sacks (Proulx had been sacked a combined two times the initial six games of the season) and came up with three picks and fumble recovery that Erik Hochhalter took to the house.
Kenneth Haynes rushed for 110 yards and three different receivers (Trevor Gates, Tyrell Williams and Lucas Gonsalves) scored for WOU. Kelly Morgan also hit four field goals. Complete team effort in all facets? You betcha.
Humboldt (4-1 GNAC, 6-1 overall) did continue to threaten, however, scoring twice in the fourth quarter (both were scoring strikes from Proulx). But perhaps the most satisfying statistic of the day for the Wolves is the fact that WOU stopped a high-powered offense in HSU twice late in the fourth quarter on downs. One score for Humboldt would've given the 'Jacks momentum and the opportunity for an onside kick. WOU didn't flinch, holding the 'Jacks to negative six yards on the final two meaningful drives.
Now, as noted above, Humboldt has a better overall record and an outside shot at the playoffs, whereas WOU is solely playing for the GNAC title (which is huge and the primary focus of every team). My guess is Humboldt has revenge on its mind already and WOU better be mindful of that come Nov. 12th.

Central Washington's win over Dixie fell into the classic struggle the Wildcats have in St. George. CWU's seven-point, 31-24 victory mirrors previous road wins over Dixie the previous three seasons. In 2008, CWU needed overtime to get past the Red Storm by six points. In 2009's undefeated regular season, the 'Cats won by 14. Last year the road win margin was just 10 points. Dixie State plays Central Washington very tough in St. George and Saturday was no different.
What did Dixie do well? The nation's worst team in protecting the quarterback suffered just two sacks. They held CWU to a paltry 63 yards on the ground (while rushing for 134 and out-gained CWU by 49 yards in the air (308 to 259).
Unfortunately for DSC though, was the fact that Central jumped out early, taking advantage of two key mistakes (interception and missed FG) to open the lead at 14-0. In fact, the interception was returned all the way back for the opening score by Stetson Shearer.
CWU quarterback Jose Mohler played well in his first start as a Wildcat throwing two scores (both to Armahd Lewis) and suffering no picks. Lewis's two touchdowns were his only receptions, but obviously he made them count for 14 points and 138 yards. CWU evened its GNAC record to 3-3 (and is 3-4 overall). Dixie fell to 1-6 in the GNAC and 1-7 overall.

Simon Fraser (2-6) ran into a very good NAIA team in Southern Oregon who even at 4-4, has an argument for being ranked in the NAIA's top 25 with the schedule it has had thus far this year. The Clan watched the Raiders amass nearly 600 yards in total offense and dominating the clock by 16 and a half minutes. But the 31-28 contest came right down to the last play of the game. With a second and eight (with 40 seconds to play) at their own 42-yard line, the Clan's Trey Wheeler threw his only pick of the day, and it was a costly one.
Even in a loss, this Simon Fraser team has shown improvement in its second year, but has a heck of a final two weeks, traveling to Humboldt before hosting CWU on Nov. 5.

Jon Guddat covers the GNAC for D2football.