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The selections have been made and it*s time to get down to playoff football. As predicted would happen, two 10-1 teams- the University of Sioux Falls and Azusa Pacific- were left out of the field. Both teams play in what turned out to be a loaded Super Region Three field.

USF was a victim of being the third team in the NSIC. As I explained last week, when there were no non-conference games played between teams in the MIAA, NSIC and GAC, it made for little separation between the teams. It made sense that when it came down to it the committee would take two teams from each of the three leagues.

Do I think USF was worthy of a playoff spot? Yes. Do I think they are better than the team that ended up with the sixth seed- Harding? Yes. But the Cougars suffered from being stuck with poor cross-over games in NSIC play which didn*t help in strength of schedule. This is why it is necessary for these leagues to let their teams schedule out of conference.

The other interesting thing to me in SR3 is that Minnesota-Duluth was dropped to the fourth seed between Pittsburg State and Northwest Missouri State. With PSU and NW having basically identical resumes, it is interesting that the committee would squeeze UMD between them. If this was done to avoid a first round conference match up I find it interesting as that has not been at all the protocol since the regions were expanded to 24 teams in 2004.

Another thing that has become obvious from this year*s playoff process that I think is different than in the past: When teams have very comparable resumes, the committee is clearly rewarding the teams that took the extra effort to play more D2 games. There were two good examples of that this year:

In Super Region One, LIU Post was awarded the sixth seed over conference rival American International. The two teams split on the season and both went 8-3. But the Pioneers lost a non-conference game to East Stroudsburg while AIC lost to an FCS opponent. Even though AIC had the better D2 record, they didn*t get the nod.

In the LSC, Texas A&M- Commerce and Angelo State also split two games this season. Both had two D2 losses, but Angelo State had a win over a sub .500 Western State team on its resume while TAMUC lost to an FCS program. Angelo State ended up getting the nod despite what I*m guessing was a lower overall strength of schedule. I hope the athletic directors around D2 are taking notes before scheduling for next season.

Observations from Last Week

-I had the opportunity to view in person one of D2*s best rivalry games last Saturday: the "Battle of the Ravine" between Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State. OBU won the game 41-20 in front of a record crowd of over 12,000 to secure a first ever playoff berth. To sit in one press box and be able to see the other school*s stadium is unique to say the least.

-After losing the 2011 and 2013 PSAC Championship games, Slippery Rock was finally able to break through with a 28-26 win over Bloomsburg last week. This win was especially sweet for SRU as The Rock avenged their last second loss to Bloomsburg in last year*s championship game. In the last seven years there have now been seven different PSAC champions.

-I have to hand it to Pace. The Setters went a month without scoring a point but resilient enough to keep battling and finally broke their 38 game losing streak with a 10-7 win over Southern Connecticut State on Saturday.

-I said a couple of weeks ago that I would give Ferris State a pass for one bad defensive performance against Lake Erie College. But the Bulldogs struggled again last week, escaping with a 46-42 win over Walsh. I*m not sure exactly what the problem is, but FSU will have a hard time just winning its playoff opener unless the problems get fixed.

-Indianapolis* 27-24 loss to William Jewell cost the Greyhounds- and the GLVC- a spot in the playoffs. The Greyhounds had been playing with fire as they had to come back against both Truman State and St. Joseph*s and they finally ran out of magic.

-I have heard people say recently that they feel the playoff selection process is biased toward the "power" conferences. I*m not sure how anyone can say this when Ferris State was the only number one seed that came from the top league in a region.

-Much of what Bloomsburg does is predicated on running the football and they were unable to do so last week with Eddie Mateo banged up and mostly out of the lineup in the Huskies* 28-26 PSAC title game loss to Slippery Rock. The Huskies will need to use the bye week to get him healthier and get the running game going again.

Playoff Games- First Round

Super Region One

LIU Post (8-3) at Virginia State (9-2)

I don*t think many people gave these two teams much of a shot of being here, but they both pulled off upset wins in their respective championship games to earn a shot in the playoffs.

To me, this entire game comes down to one question: Can the VSU defense stop Pioneer standout quarterback Steven Laurino? The senior four-year starter has thrown 28 touchdown passes and run for 18 more this season as he almost single-handedly willed his team to the playoffs. The Trojans should be more athletic defensively than any team the Pioneers have seen this season and I expect the VSU running game and short passing attack to control the ball against a Post defense that isn*t real good. Virginia State 26 LIU Post 20

Slippery Rock (9-2) at West Chester (10-1)

SRU looked dead after suffering back-to-back 22 point losses in mid-October but has rallied and finished the year strong as PSAC champions. Both of these teams were in the playoffs last year and West Chester won the region so these two teams should be ready to go in round one.

SRU*s strength is its run defense and that served them well last week against run-first Bloomsburg. But Slippery Rock*s defense has been shredded by good passing offenses this fall and they won*t see a much better one than West Chester*s. WCU senior quarterback Sean McCartney is having a tremendous season (2998 passing yards, 34 touchdowns) and he has a deep group of wide receivers to throw the ball to. The SRU offense is very good, but so is the West Chester defense so I don*t expect The Rock to be able to score points in bunches. As long as West Chester doesn*t lose big in the turnover battle, they should win the game. West Chester 35 Slippery Rock 24

Super Region Two

West Georgia (9-2) at Tuskegee (9-2)

Anyone skeptical about Tuskegee needs to remember this: The Golden Tigers were a late fumble away from upsetting North Alabama last year in the first round of the playoffs. TU will try to get its first ever playoff win against UWG on Saturday.

The Golden Tigers run a pretty diverse offense as they will run some option and are also effective throwing the football. The Wolves have had some injuries in the interior of their defensive line and I believe they can be exploited if Tuskegee takes care of the football. To me that is the major key in this game. UWG has forced 26 turnovers this year and Tuskegee has coughed up 27 fumbles, losing 13. For the Golden Tigers to have a chance they will need to keep the turnovers to an absolute minimum and keep it close or I think UWG will grind it out with their running game. West Georgia 27 Tuskegee 23

Valdosta State (8-2) at North Alabama (9-1)

It just wouldn*t feel like the playoffs without these two old rivals meeting. When these teams played in September UNA won 31-29 on a 54-yard Taylor Pontius field goal on the game*s final play. There were four lead changes in the second half.

When comparing these two teams statistically, they are very close with VSU being a big more explosive offensively while UNA is just a shade better on defense. But one big question coming into this game is the health of VSU starting quarterback Jake Medlock. Medlock has missed the last two weeks with an injury and while backup Caleb Nobles has done an adequate job filling in, he doesn*t have near the running ability that Medlock possesses. UNA has some injury concerns as well, but quarterback Luke Wingo is healthy and he*s a veteran that always seems to make the necessary plays when the game is on the line. North Alabama 28 Valdosta State 26

Super Region Three

Harding (9-1) at Pittsburg State (10-1)

I know most people just want to write this game off as a win for Pittsburg State. I want to caution against that. This Harding team is very experienced, especially at the key positions on offense. This PSU team also is more of a passing team and Harding matches up well there as they have a ball-hawking secondary that has intercepted 17 passes this season.

Harding does run an unique flexbone offense, but PSU does have a big advantage in that they have seen the offense already this year as MIAA rival Missouri Southern runs a very similar scheme. As long as the Gorillas establish their running game and take care of the football, they should win the game. But if Harding can force some turnovers and somehow get out to an early lead, this could be a very interesting game. Pittsburg State 27 Harding 19

Northwest Missouri State (10-1) at Minnesota-Duluth (11-0)

Going back to the start of the 2008 season, these are the two winningest programs in D2. They have combined for four national championships during that timeframe and have met three times in the playoffs (UMD won in 2008 and 2010, NW won last year). To say this is a heavyweight fight is an understatement.

Obviously, UMD is a good team and they have the advantage of playing at home. But they are also drawing a Bearcat team that has a tremendous run defense and is solid up front on both sides of the ball. Drew Bauer is a much more accomplished passer this year than when the teams met a year ago in the playoffs and he will have to play a great game for UMD to have a chance. Northwest Missouri State 27 Minnesota-Duluth 16

Super Region Four

Angelo State (8-2) at Michigan Tech (9-1)

This is quite the contrast in styles with ASU being a high scoring team from Texas while MTU is more of a ball control and defensive minded team way up north on the shores of Lake Superior. The forecast high for Saturday in Houghton is 37 degrees which is actually pretty decent for this time of the year. I don*t expect the cold to be a major problem for ASU.

What I do expect to be a problem for ASU is the MTU defense. The Huskies are more physical and disciplined than anyone ASU as faced this season. The Huskies aren*t explosive on offense, but they have only turned the ball over 11 times all season under the leadership of senior quarterback Tyler Scarlett. Michigan Tech 28 Angelo State 20

Ohio Dominican (9-1) at Colorado Mines (10-1)

As a young team last year, ODU entered the playoffs with an unbeaten record and did not play well, losing at home to West Texas A&M. With that experience out of the way and a veteran team this year, I expect the Panthers to be more prepared and play better football this time around.

Both of these teams feature effective offenses that can move the football. Mines might actually be a bit more dynamic, but ODU is very balanced and does a good job of controlling the football. Where I think ODU has a big advantage is on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers give up just 303 yards per game as compared to 412 that Mines allows, and you also have to factor in that ODU plays in a much tougher league. Ohio Dominican 30 Colorado Mines 17

Mailbag

[Q] With respect to the conference only scheduling you talked about last week, why don*t we see any of it in the eastern part of the country?

John

[A] Well first, I*m hoping it*s because the powers that be in those leagues are smart enough to see the benefits of non-conference scheduling. Many of the leagues in the east like the Mountain East, Northeast 10, South Atlantic and Gulf South aren*t large enough to go to this model. The PSAC is one conference that could pull it off logistically but the Northeast conferences are tight geographically so it doesn*t take much effort or expense to schedule out of conference. In the Southeast, the CIAA/SAC and SIAC/GSC are literally intertwined so it makes a great deal of sense for those schools to play each other.

[Q] Is Sioux Falls the biggest playoff snub in D2 history?

Brian

[A] No. Off the top of my head, Carson-Newman in 2007 was a bigger snub. The Eagles went 10-1 and only trailed on the scoreboard about 20 seconds the entire season. Prior to 2004 when there were only 16 playoff teams in the field there were times when some very good teams were left out.

Contact Me

Feel free to contact me at with any comments or criticisms or if you have a question you would like answered in the Mailbag.

 

 
         
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