It will matter even more if the Rams can go out on a winning note in Saturday's season finale against long-time Midwest Conference rival Grinnell. Cornell (6-3 overall, 6-2 MWC) visits the Pioneers (2-7 overall, 2-6 MWC) for a noon kickoff at Rosenbloom Field.
With a victory, the Rams are guaranteed at least a third-place finish in the conference. They are tied for third with Lake Forest, which hosts MWC unbeaten St. Norbert.
Cornell locked up a winning season with last week's upset of 22nd-ranked Illinois College. The Rams can take it one step farther and match Steve Miller's 7-3 team in 2001 for the most season wins since 1996.
"Our coaches get the privilege to be with this senior class for one more week," Cornell head coach Vince Brautigam said. "Good football teams have good leadership, and this class will never be forgotten. They have made this a winning program again."
The Rams and Pioneers have met 91 times on the grid iron, the last five decided by a single possession. Cornell won in 2012 (32-27) and 2009 (28-21). Grinnell took a 26-25 win in 2008. The Rams prevailed in 1997 (49-48) and 1996 (38-33).
The Pioneers come in off a 23-0 road loss to St. Norbert, which moved into the driver's seat in the MWC race at 8-0. Grinnell allowed just 185 total yards and had the Green Knights in a 10-0 battle deep into the third quarter.
"Grinnell will try to send its seniors out on a winning note at home, much like we did," Brautigam said. "Grinnell has had an up-and-down season. We'll get their best effort on Saturday. Our guys have to be ready."
Cornell had its conference championship hopes derailed in tight mid-season losses at St. Norbert (20-17) and at home against Lake Forest (17-10). The Rams proved they belong with the league's best last weekend, spoiling Illinois College's undefeated season.
"We've been on the other side in two similar games this season. It was nice to come out on the right side," Brautigam said. "It was one of the best games I've ever been involved with, including conference championship games."
About the Pioneers – Grinnell hung with St. Norbert for the better part of three quarters, but ultimately couldn't overcome seven turnovers. The Pioneers were picked off five times and held to 146 yards of total offense. St. Norbert pulled away with a touchdown and two field goals in the final 20 minutes.
Grinnell's two wins both happened on the road, against Beloit (42-17) Sept. 28 and two weeks ago against Lawrence (24-21). The Pioneers fell by eight points at Lake Forest and lost in overtime to Ripon, both top-division teams.
Quarterback Sam Poulos is fourth in the MWC with 205.0 passing yards per game. Jacob Meixler is a big-play target with 46 receptions for 641 yards. The Pioneers have the league's top tackler in David Ternes (13.4 tpg).
The series – Cornell holds a 52-35-4 advantage over the Pioneers in a series that dates back to 1892. The Rams have won 27 of the last 30 meetings, which includes a 15-game winning streak from 1971-86. Cornell hasn't lost in Grinnell since 1986.
Last meeting – Cornell built a 25-0 halftime lead, and then hung on for a 32-27 season-ending victory last year in Mount Vernon. Grinnell rallied for three fourth-quarter touchdowns before having its final drive stall at the Ram 26 in the closing seconds.
It was a record-setting day for Cornell's Juan Flores, who passed for 371 yards and five touchdowns. He tied school marks for passing touchdowns in a game and season (21). Ra'Shad Green led the Ram receivers with 10 catches for 167 yards and two scores.
The scoop and score – Cornell's game-ending touchdown return of a blocked field goal was a finalist for D3football.com's Play of the Week. It was the team's fifth non-offensive touchdown of the season, and 12th in four years under Coach Brautigam.
Seabrook's 90-yard score is Cornell's longest touchdown play since Travion Hardman returned a kickoff 93 yards against Grinnell in 2008. It was the second TD of the year for Seabrook, a junior cornerback who had a pick six for 22 yards in the home opener against Lawrence.
Defensive rankings – Cornell's defense ranks in the top 20 nationally in fumbles recovered (sixth, 14), passing yards allowed (14th, 141.6 ypg), turnovers gained (14th, 26), third down conversion percentage (17th, 27.9) and pass efficiency (19th, 96.14).
The Rams bottled up a potent Illinois College passing attack that averaged nearly 290 yards a game. The Blueboys managed just 117 yards through the air – 62 on one play – and completed only 8-of-23 attempts. Seabrook and Kenny Smith each had an interception. It was Seabrook's fourth pick of the season, and 11th of his career.
Rush offense – Cornell's offensive line paved the way for 244 rushing yards (5.8 ypc) and three scoring runs against the Blueboys. Sophomore Ethan Thompson led the attack with 122 yards on 18 carries for his third 100-yard effort of the season. He has a team-best 720 rushing yards through nine games.
Preston Ritchie added 73 yards on the ground, including a 47-yard touchdown run. Flores netted 49 yards and ran for one score.
Freshmen contributions – Defensive end Andrew Joseph is coming off his best game as a Ram, recording 13 tackles and 2.5 stops for losses with a half sack. He leads all Cornell linemen with 39 tackles on the year.
Linebacker Maliek Ketchens came up with a key second-quarter recovery of a Ram kickoff that went 44 yards but untouched by the Blueboys. Ketchens gave Cornell possession at the Illinois College 18, and four plays later the Rams scored for a 20-14 lead.
Stepping up – Senior James Scully helped spell the absence of injured wideout Ben Knake, posting season-highs with seven receptions and 107 yards against the Blueboys. It was Scully's third career 100-yard receiving game, first since 2011.
Scully enters his final collegiate game with 99 catches and 1,485 yards.
Overtime – Last weekend marked Cornell's first overtime game since 2008, when the Rams fell 29-22 in a near-upset of Central in Mount Vernon. Cornell dropped a 35-28 double-overtime game at Upper Iowa in 2002.