We’re halfway through the 2015 D2 football season, so we thought we’d take another crack at projecting the NCAA D2 Football playoff bracket.
Yes, there are five games left in the season, but we seem to have a better idea as to which teams are genuine contenders for one of the coveted 28 postseason bids and which teams might be looking ahead to next season.
With that in mind, here’s our second installment of BRacketology, D2 football style.
Similar to the first version of D2 Football BRacketology we published three weeks ago, we used the following criteria to make our playoff projections, which differ a little bit from the NCAA’s criteria:
- There are teams in the BR Top 50 with losing records (though not as many as three weeks ago), but they are not included in our projections. We’re also giving preference to teams with better records despite a worse ranking because much of the playoff committee’s .
- We attempted to apply the “earned access” concept in some of our regions, meaning each conference is represented.
- In some cases, we also factored the quality of opponents, since strength of schedule is a major criteria for playoff selection.
- We did not factor games played against FCS or NAIA opponents, since the NCAA doesn’t count them for playoff seeding purposes (but, the stats and records from those games do count).
As you can imagine, some of these picks are no-brainers, while others might be a little controversial.
So, with all the qualifiers and explanations out of the way, let’s start projecting some playoffs, shall we?
SUPER REGION 1 (BR-7 PSAC, BR-10 Northeast-10, BR-11 CIAA, BR-14 Mountain East)
|SEED||WEEK 3 PROJECTIONS||WEEK 6 PROJECTIONS|
|1||BR-33 Shepherd (3-0)||BR-34 Shepherd (5-0)|
|2||BR-36 Mercyhurst (3-0)||BR-35 Slippery Rock (5-1)|
|3||BR-37 Gannon (3-0)||BR-62 Charleston (5-1)|
|4||BR-43 Slippery Rock (3-0)||BR-68 Assumption (5-1)|
|5||BR-69 LIU-Post (3-0)||BR-109 Clarion (6-0)|
|6||BR-59 Virginia State (2-1)||BR-60 Indiana (Pa.) (4-1)|
|7||BR-21 Concord (2-1)||BR-77 Virginia Union (5-1, 5-0 vs. D2)|
As you can see in the table above, Super Region 1 has been volatile. With very few one-loss teams, it makes things a little difficult to project playoff teams with the meat of conference play coming up over the next few weeks.
What we do know is that both BR-21 West Chester and BR-25 Bloomsburg have bounced back nicely since 1-2 starts. Right now, it may not be enough to get them into the playoffs, but the Oct. 24 showdown between these two rivals in West Chester will go a long way in determining if the PSAC gets a third team into the playoffs.
Also factoring into the mix, the surprising performance if IUP, which had been written off after their season opening loss to BR-82 Kutztown. The performance of freshman transfer Lenny Williams has sparked a nearly miraculous turnaround for the Crimson Hawks, who can all but punch their playoff tickets with wins next week over an underachieving BR-63 California (Pa.) (more on that in a moment) and Slippery Rock.
Meanwhile, The Rock looks to be the class of the PSAC West once again. Three weeks after blanking BR-165 Millersville 75-0 (no, that’s not a misprint), The Rock hung 56 points on a Cal team which is normally known for their defense. The 56-21 embarrassment marked the worst margin of defeat for the Vulcans since losing 45-7 to Minnesota-Duluth at home in the 2008 national semifinals and their worst loss in PSAC West play since a 40-7 pounding at Mercyhurst in 2012.
The Rock can’t afford to look past BR-64 Mercyhurst, a team which went to their third string quarterback in their 16-13 rivalry loss to BR-57 Gannon on Saturday, ahead of their Oct. 24 showdown against IUP. Both Erie teams have dropped off the radar in recent weeks as they fell victim to the juggernaut that is … Clarion, one of only two undefeated teams in the region.
It was hard not to move the Golden Eagles higher up our projections, but four of their wins this season have been against teams with a combined record of 0-24. Granted, you can’t control who your cross-over or divisional opponents are in the PSAC, but a weak strength of schedule hurts Clarion in the regional rankings … for now.
The Northeast-10, meanwhile, has one dominating team, Assumption (5-1), with eight of the remaining nine teams in the league within two games of the top spot. We had thought there was a possibility that the NE-10 could get two teams in this season, but with teams seeming beating each other up within league play, it may be difficult to survive the league with just two losses.
Although, given the dearth of one-loss teams in Super Region 1 entering Week 7, the door is still open for a 4-2 team like BR-80 LIU Post or BR-108 Stonehill to run the table – including a win in the NE-10 title game, should either team qualify – and be that second NE-10 playoff team.
Another team that could be on the verge of snagging a second playoff bid is the Mountain East. Shepherd already defeated Charleston head-to-head, but the Rams could get tripped up in two weeks when they travel to BR-26 Concord (4-2).
A few weeks ago, we looked at three possible playoff contenders out of the CIAA – all three of them coming from the Northern Division. But, with BR-84 Bowie State on the verge of seeing four of their wins nullified due to the use of an ineligible player, and BR-124 Chowan losing to said Bowie State team 17-14 on Saturday, that narrows down the likely contenders to in-state rivals Virginia Union and Virginia State, making their Nov. 7 showdown in Petersburg that much more critical.
Despite a 33-20 loss to BR-102 Fayetteville State, Virginia State still looks to be the team to beat in the CIAA North, despite hanging on for dear life in their 24-23 win over BR-101 Elizabeth City State. Virginia Union’s offense, meanwhile, picked apart BR-155 Lincoln (Pa.) 66-27.
SUPER REGION 2 (BR-2 Gulf South, BR-5 South Atlantic, BR-16 SIAC; Independents BR-43 North Greenville, BR-76 UNC-Pembroke, BR-159 Limestone)
|SEED||WEEK 3 PROJECTIONS||WEEK 6 PROJECTIONS|
|1||BR-7 Delta State (3-0)||BR-2 West Georgia (6-0)|
|2||BR-3 West Georgia (3-0)||BR-8 Delta State (5-1)|
|3||BR-8 Valdosta State (2-0)||BR-12 North Alabama (4-1)|
|4||BR-11 North Alabama (2-0)||BR-17 Lenoir-Rhyne (4-1)|
|5||BR-46 Tuskegee (3-0)||BR-49 Tuskegee (5-1)|
|6||BR-31 Newberry (2-1; 2-0 vs. D2)||BR-58 Wingate (5-1)|
|7||BR-23 Lenoir-Rhyne (2-1)||BR-76 UNC-Pembroke (4-1)|
We’re starting to see some separation within teams in the Gulf South Conference. Valdosta State basically played their way out of the playoffs – for now – with back to back losses against North Alabama and West Georgia. It also didn’t help the Blazers that they scheduled an NAIA opponent, leaving them with nine countable games (and a 2-2 record against D2 opponents).
Delta State slips a notch after their rally against BR-31 Florida Tech fell short two weeks ago, while North Alabama took a bad 24-22 loss at BR-111 Western Oregon. Although Delta State slid in our projections, their Week 2 win at 5-1 BR-7 Texas A&M-Commerce looks better and better with each passing week now that Commerce appears on track to win the Lone Star Conference (we’ll discuss Commerce’s standing in the Super Region 4 analysis).
Over in the South Atlantic Conference, Lenoir-Rhyne’s Week 1 win at West Chester offsets their head-scratching loss to North Greenville. Although the Bears are still the team to beat in the SAC, playing only 10 countable games (Saturday’s “exhibition” game doesn’t count in the standings or the stats) could hurt them if they take one more loss this season.
Although Wingate lost 26-17 at BR-65 Tusculum on Saturday, the Bulldogs still control their own destiny, especially with their 17-0 Week 4 win over BR-56 Catawba (who are 3-2 vs. D2 teams this season). Another SAC team hurt by playing an NAIA school is BR-39 Carson-Newman, who, like Catawba, are 3-2 against D2 opposition.
Wingate travels to Lenoir-Rhyne this Saturday, then hosts Carson-Newman on Oct. 24. Even if the Bulldogs split those two games, they still control their own destiny as far as a playoff bid is concerned.
As was the case three weeks ago, Tuskegee looks to be the SIAC’s lone playoff representative. Even with their loss to UNC-Pembroke, the Golden Tigers remain the only one-loss team in the SIAC.
Yes, BR-126 Fort Valley State sits at 4-2 against D2 competition, but they also have a loss to BR-114 Alderson Broaddus, which doesn’t look too good in the overall scheme of things. And, a Nov. 7 contest at BR-81 Albany State looms as a game that could decide the SIAC Eastern Division.
If Fort Valley can knock off Albany State and advance to the SIAC title game against (presumably) Tuskegee, that could give the Wildcats a nice strength of schedule boost. But, in a league with only two teams ranked above BR-100, that is a long-shot.
As for the independent teams in the region…
Despite a 3-2 record and a win over Lenoir-Rhyne, North Greenville only scheduled seven games against D2 competition. With the requirement at nine D2 games, the Crusaders wouldn’t be eligible for the NCAA playoffs.
Pembroke sneaks into our top seven in part because of their 29-17 win over Tuskegee a couple weeks ago. If the Braves can upset North Alabama in Florence this week, it would be difficult not to include them in the playoff discussion.
SUPER REGION 3 (BR-3 MIAA, BR-4 Northern Sun, BR-9 Great Northwest, BR-13 Great American)
|SEED||WEEK 3 PROJECTIONS||WEEK 6 PROJECTIONS|
|1||BR-1 Minnesota State-Mankato (3-0)||BR-1 Minnesota State-Mankato (6-0)|
|2||BR-3 Sioux Falls (3-0)||BR-3 Sioux Falls (6-0)|
|3||BR-6 Northwest Missouri (3-0)||BR-6 Northwest Missouri (6-0)|
|4||BR-18 Harding (3-0)||BR-23 Emporia State (6-0)|
|5||BR-25 Upper Iowa (3-0)||BR-41 Southwest Minnesota State (5-1)|
|6||BR-34 Fort Hays State (3-0)||BR-50 Humboldt State (5-0)|
|7||BR-38 Minnesota State-Moorhead (3-0)||BR-59 Henderson State (5-1)|
If you want to talk about upheaval and unpredictability, check out Super Region 3.
Yes, there are two undefeated teams in both the MIAA and Northern Sun. And, yes, we’re seeing the usual suspects (Northwest Missouri, Mankato and Sioux Falls) atop our rankings.
Yes, you’re reading that right.
The Hornets got a “signature win” on Saturday as they rallied to beat Pitt State 46-42 to all but knock the Gorillas out of NCAA playoff contention. But, a daunting four-week stretch awaits, starting with a trip to Fort Hays State this weekend, then on to an Oct. 24 home game against a BR-30 Missouri Western team looking to play spoiler in the MIAA title race, next to the “Turnpike Tussle” against BR-55 Washburn on Halloween and finally, the likely Nov. 7 showdown game in Maryville against Northwest Missouri.
The Bearcats, meanwhile, travel to Pitt State this Saturday. The Gorillas handed Northwest their first loss last season in Maryville and would love nothing more than to repeat the feat in front of an expected capacity crowd at Carnie Smith Stadium.
Missouri Western had a chance to be in our playoff projections, but a Week 5 loss at Pitt State might have the Griffons fighting for a spot in the Mineral Water Bowl instead. The Griffons, however, knocked off Fort Hays State, one of our Week 3 playoff projectees, 26-21 on Saturday.
Over in the NSIC, it’s business as usual for Mankato and Sioux Falls. But, instead of 4-2 Minnesota-Duluth occupying our projections – at least for now – it’s 5-1 Southwest Minnesota. The Mustangs bounced back from a tough Week 5 loss at BR-18 Augustana (4-2) with a crushing 61-3 win at BR-53 Wayne State (Neb.). This comes on the heels of a Week 4 48-9 win over another of our Week 3 darlings, BR-61 Minnesota State-Moorhead (who have lost three straight since we penciled them in as our seventh seed after Week 3).
Southwest hosts Sioux Falls this Saturday, then hosts Mankato on Halloween with a road game at BR-19 Upper Iowa (4-2) sandwiched in.
As for Minnesota-Duluth (4-2), they’re not in our playoff projections – at least for now, despite being ranked in our top five. That could change in the coming weeks with the chances of a couple MIAA teams slipping between now and Selection Sunday on Nov. 15, but those two early season losses at Mankato and Sioux Falls haunts the Bulldogs. Fortunately for Duluth, the NSIC North isn’t the strongest division in football and, by running the table from here on out, they could sneak in as a sixth or seventh seed.
Mankato keeps winning, although some of their wins have been a lot closer than the Mavericks would like, including Saturday’s 35-27 home win over Augustana.
Sioux Falls, meanwhile, continues to steamroll opponents, with only their 35-31 Week 3 win over Duluth decided by single digits. While there’s a lot of football left to be played between now and the Nov. 7 showdown between the Mavs and Cougars in Sioux Falls, with the winner very likely to earn the number one seed in the region, it’s safe to say that it’s business as usual in the NSIC.
Yes, that’s 5-0 Humboldt State sitting in our playoff projections. Despite strength of schedule concerns (the Lumberjacks play Western Oregon, BR-89 Azusa Pacific and BR-157 Dixie State twice in the regular season), 5-0 is still 5-0. And, with a huge inter-regional showdown this Saturday at BR-10 Midwestern State, the Jacks look to make a big statement with a win in Wichita Falls.
Given that Western Oregon knocked off North Alabama on Saturday, an upset win by Humboldt is not out of the question and can certainly boost the stature of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference even further.
And, then, there’s Henderson State, all but left for dead after a devastating Week 2 loss to BR-116 East Central, asserting themselves at the top of the GAC standings after back-to-back wins over BR-111 Arkansas Tech and BR-33 Harding. The Reddies are one of two GAC teams at 5-1, but their win over the other 5-1 team, Arkansas Tech, puts them in over the Wonder Boys.
And, although they’re likely out of the GAC title picture, barring some crazy developments, BR-71 Ouachita Baptist would love nothing more than to play spoiler when they host Henderson State on Nov. 14.
SUPER REGION 4 (BR-1 Lone Star, BR-6 GLIAC, BR-8 Rocky Mountain, BR-10 Great Lakes Valley)
|SEED||WEEK 3 PROJECTIONS||WEEK 6 PROJECTIONS|
|1||BR-2 Ferris State (2-0)||BR-4 Ferris State (5-0)|
|2||BR-14 Colorado Mines (3-0)||BR-7 Texas A&M-Commerce (5-1)|
|3||BR-16 Ashland (3-0)||BR-9 Colorado Mines (6-0)|
|4||BR-19 Midwestern State (3-0)||BR-10 Midwestern State (6-0)|
|5||BR-26 Michigan Tech (3-0)||BR-13 Ashland (6-0)|
|6||BR-9 Angelo State (3-0; 2-0 vs. D2)||BR-28 Michigan Tech (5-0)|
|7||BR-58 Indianapolis (2-1; 2-0 vs. D2)||BR-45 Indianapolis (5-1; 5-0 vs. D2)|
The Lone Star Conference appears to be narrowing down to two likely playoff contenders: Texas A&M-Commerce and Midwestern State.
As we noted earlier, Commerce suffered a tough Week 2 loss at home to Delta State, but has bounced back nicely since LSC conference play began. The Lions have two more LSC games before closing out their “regular” season with a trip to FCS Sam Houston State (a game that doesn’t affect the Lions when it comes to playoff consideration). Saturday’s 38-35 win over BR-11 Angelo State may have knocked the Rams out of NCAA playoff contention.
Think Angelo State regrets scheduling NAIA opponent Bacone in Week 3? The win over Bacone doesn’t count in the regional ranking projections, so coupled with back-to-back losses to Midwestern State and Commerce, plus out-of-conference wins over BR-153 Oklahoma Panhandle (3-2 overall, 0-2 vs. D2 competition) and BR-88 Western State Colorado (1-5), and the Rams’ overall body of work is, to be frank, lacking.
Midwestern State can ill afford to look past Humboldt State this week before they travel to Commerce on Oct. 24. The Mustangs, remember, already knocked off one LSC contender on the road (Angelo State); a second such road win at Commerce could put Midwestern in the discussion for the top seed in Super Region 4.
Over in the GLIAC, we may get a clearer picture over who will come out of that league come playoff time.
Despite playing one fewer D2 game than the other undefeated teams in Super Region 4, we still project Ferris State as our top team in the region. The Bulldogs haven’t just looked great on offense, but their defense isn’t too shabby either. And, that dominating Week 3 win at BR-24 Grand Valley State looks better and better with each passing week as the Lakers climb to a 5-1 record.
Grand Valley, however, remains on the outside looking in because of six teams with undefeated records against D2 competition (although Indianapolis sits at 5-1 overall, their loss to NAIA Marian doesn’t count in regional ranking consideration). The Lakers will have a chance to muscle their way back into the top seven in the region when they travel to Ashland on Halloween night.
Ashland, meanwhile, dodges a bullet by not facing Ferris State in regular season play. However, the Eagles will close out their regular season at home against Michigan Tech. There’s no guarantee, however, that the Huskies will arrive in Ashland with an unblemished record, as they travel to Grand Valley this Saturday and Ferris State next Saturday.
Over in the RMAC, next Saturday’s showdown between Colorado Mines and BR-14 Colorado State-Pueblo looms large as the game that could decide the RMAC championship. It’s still strange to see Pueblo on the outside looking in, for now, but losing to BR-29 West Texas A&M still hurts the Thunderwolves. Pueblo can certainly change that with a win over the undefeated Orediggers, who really haven’t been tested this season, save for a close contest with BR-51 Chadron State.
Also lurking at 5-1 (5-0 in the RMAC) is BR-48 Colorado Mesa. Much like the Orediggers, the Mavericks haven’t been tested, save for a heartbreaking 16-13 loss at Midwestern State in Week 2. But, with BR-94 Fort Lewis, Mines and Pueblo awaiting after their Saturday game against BR-97 Western New Mexico, don’t be surprised if Mesa jumps into the picture with an upset win or two down the stretch.
UIndy, meanwhile, remains the team to beat in the GLVC after snapping BR-78 McKendree’s nine game win streak with a 34-24 road win last Saturday. The Greyhounds would appear to have a favorable schedule down the stretch, with just one game against a team ranked BR-100 or higher, the Nov. 14 season finale against BR-93 Saint Joseph’s (Ind.). Yet, as we saw last season, the margin for error for UIndy is slim; just ask BR-125 William Jewell, whose 2014 season ending win over the ‘Hounds left UIndy out of the playoffs.