By A.D. Drew
The NCAA Division II Football Playoffs are set. Two of our HBCUs made it in. One team was left outside at the end of the process. There were five others who had a shot but didn’t quite make it. Let’s examine why the teams who made it into the “tournament” got in, while others were left outside in the cold. We will also examine what these teams can do in future years (besides winning that extra game) to improve their status.
Bowie State (11-0). The Bulldogs officially enter into the playoff field with the status of preferred qualifier. A preferred qualifier is a team that is a conference champion and is ranked nine or higher in the final Super Region Poll. Bowie came into the Super Region 2 rankings at #3 and remained there for the entire poll. There were nine undefeated teams in Division II football, and Bowie was one of three in this Super Region. The Bulldogs were only ranked #3 because of the three undefeated teams, Bowie had the lowest RPI (strength of schedule). The CIAA, as a conference, was ranked 3rd of the four conferences, in accordance to RPI. Bowie State must continue to schedule tough non-conference games within Division II, preferably within their region.
Miles (9-2). The Golden Bears enter into the tournament as a preferred qualifier, also. Miles received every possible break that they needed to get in. Miles controlled its own fate, partially by defeating the previous #9 team, Albany State. Teams ranked #1 – #6 entering the final week had to win, #8 Delta State and #10 Fayetteville State had to also lose, and they did. This scenario put Miles in by default. Although at the time of this article, we do not know of Miles’ exact finish, they were ranked at least number nine in the region. I am guessing that they finished #8, which allowed them to bump #7 Virginia State out of the playoffs.
Miles was hurt by the SIAC West low RPI. The Golden Bears were also hurt by the SIAC mandating that all West Division teams play Edward Waters, who is in their transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II and the SIAC. This took away an opportunity to play another Division II, in-region, team that would have potentially boosted Miles’ RPI. When Edward Waters gets full Division II status (hopefully the SIAC will allow the Tigers to move to the East Division and move Morehouse to the West Division), along with scheduling Division II, in-region, teams, their RPI will improve. MIles should look at adding a Gulf South opponent such as West Alabama, West Georgia, West Florida, or Shorter in the future.
Virginia State (8-2). The Trojans were the first team out when tournament selections were made. The Trojans had an impressive, overtime victory over Virginia Union the final week of their regular season. While a bye going into the playoffs can help a team recover physically from a demanding season, it does not give a team one final opportunity to impress the pollsters. By not playing in the final week, did the voters forget about Virginia State? Or was it the fact that they were not in their conference championship game? Could they have gone out and found an eleventh game?
The two HBCU conferences are the only Division II conferences with a championship game. This is done at the expense of an eleventh game for its conference members. Virginia State played just about as tough of a schedule as they could find. UNC Pembroke was not as good as they have been in past years, which hurt RPI. While the CIAA North has had a strong RPI, they must continue to schedule tough non-conference opponents to balance out the games that they play against the weaker CIAA-South opponents.
Albany State (7-4). The Golden Rams lost the SIAC Championship game for the second consecutive year to Miles. They had the second highest RPI among HBCUs (.525), which included a big win versus West Georgia. Once again, there is a simple path to the playoffs…win the conference championship. Scheduling does not appear to be an issue.
Fayetteville State (8-3). The Broncos have lost three CIAA Championships in a row. This season may have been their biggest challenge in the CIAA South during their run. They play Shaw annually, who happened to have the best RPI among HBCUs (.528) this year. With the CIAA South being so weak this year, and their cross-over games against the bottom two teams in the standings from the CIAA North, Fayetteville has to go out and schedule quality opponents in the years when they do not play the top-tier northern division teams.
Virginia Union (7-3). The Panthers had their three losses to teams ranked in the Top-10 (Lenoir-Rhyne, Bowie State, and Virginia State). Virginia Union’s RPI was 3rd among HBCUs at .523. Their future path is simple…Union has to win big games versus the top teams and continue to schedule tough opponents.
West Virginia State (7-4). The Yellow Jackets came out of nowhere this year and surprised many in the Mountain East Conference. The Yellow Jackets did not win the games that count. They are moving in the right direction. If the Yellow Jackets would have defeated one of the two teams in the standing ahead of them (Charleston, Urbana, or Notre Dame, OH), they would have qualified in Super Region One.
For the full NCAA Division-II playoff brackets: CLICK HERE