Hey. Here's an idea: a playoff to decide the college football national champion.
I know! Crazy, right?
Well, a playoff is exactly what begins on Saturday for 24 Division II football teams across America.
The NCAA regionalizes the Division II football map into four "super regions," with the top two seeds in each region receiving a first-round bye. Beyond that, the rules are simple: Win, and advance; lose, and your season is over. In the end, only one of the top 24 teams in the country will end their season with a victory—and a national championship trophy.
SUPER REGION ONE
Generally considered the weakest of the four regions, SR1 is nonetheless always very competitive within the region. While a few teams seem to make the playoffs more years than not, it is really anyone's guess as to who will represent the region in the national semifinals.
1. Kutztown (PA)—Bye
Kutztown finished the regular season as the No. 13 team in the nation, and by virtue of its 10-1 finish, they receive the top seed in the region.
This season is also Kutztown's first playoff appearance in program history.
KU's only loss on the year cam at the hands of eventual PSAC East champion and PSAC runners-up, Bloomsburg.
KU will play the winner of the Shaw-Shepherd game.
2. Mercyhurst (PA)—Bye
Also making its first postseason appearance is No. 11 Mercyhurst. The Lakers captured their first-even PSAC conference championship this season by topping Bloomsburg in the PSAC championship game.
The Lakers (9-2) await the winner of the Cal-Bloomsburg matchup.
No. 6 Bloomsburg (PA) at No. 3 California (PA)
Bloomsburg (9-2) returns to the playoffs after coming up just short in their quest for a PSAC championship. The No. 20 Huskies face off against a perennial playoff participant, California of Pennsylvania. Cal finished the season 10-1, with their only blemish coming to PSAC champion Mercyhurst.
Cal brings arguably the regions best defense into the playoffs, but have battled injuries on the offensive side of the ball this season. Bloomsburg was an early favorite in the region, before being beat convincingly by Mercyhurst for the PSAC title.
No. 5 Shaw (NC) at No. 4 Shepherd (WV)
The CIAA champion (and only CIAA playoff participant) is No. 25 Shaw. Shaw has a very balanced offense, splitting the pass and run almost equally over the course of the season. No. 18 Shepherd was upset in the last week of the season by 6-5 Glenville State College (WV). That loss may actually serve Shepherd well, as the team may be less complacent in the playoffs.
SUPER REGION TWO
Typically a tough bracket to survive, SR2 has produced more than its share of national champions over the years. Perennial powers from the GSC are all lined up in one side of the regional bracket this season as Delta State awaits the winner of an all-GSC first round game between North Alabama and Valdosta State. Delta State and Valdosta State finished in the three-way tie with Henderson State for the GSC title.
No. 1 Albany State (GA)—Bye
Albany State, the undefeated SIAC champions enter the playoffs ranked No. 5 in the nation. The Rams (10-0) will face off against the winner of the Morehouse-Wingate first-round game. Should the Rams defeat their second-round opponent (as they are heavily favored to do, regardless of the eventual foe), the would then host the regional final against one of the GSC teams.
With all of the GSC teams in the playoffs having some obvious flaws, this will be the best chance Albany State has ever had to make the national semifinals for the first time in school history.
No. 2 Delta State (MS)—Bye
Unranked Delta State finished the season with a 8-3 record and were GSC co-champions. The Statesmen await a GSC rematch with the winner of the North Alabama-Valdosta State tilt. Delta State has a potent offense, but has struggled at times this year with defense.
No. 6 North Alabama at No. 3 Valdosta State (GA)
No. 17 Valdosta State hosts unranked North Alabama in the opening round game between to GSC rivals. Terry Bowden's Lions look to improve after a sub-par 8-3 (5-3) season.
Valdosta State finished in a three-way tie for the GSC title. This game will be a rematch of an October meeting between the Lions and Blazers. Valdosta State won that game by the unusual score of 5-0.
No. 5 Morehouse (GA) at No. 4 Wingate (NC)
The meeting between No. 23 Morehouse and unranked Wingate will feature two teams who could not be further apart in terms of style of play. Morehouse relies on a smash-mouth defense and a grinding running game whereas Wingate likes to air it out with the arm of Cody Haffly, who has seven games with 300 or more passing yards this season. Both of these teams are fairly one-dimensional, and that doesn't bode well for whichever team advances to face Albany State in round two.
SUPER REGION THREE
Perhaps traditionally the strongest region, SR3 produced five national champions in the last eight years, and has had a team in the national championship game in seven of the last nine years.
Grand Valley State won national titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2006, while losing in the national championship game in 2001 and 2009. Minnesota-Duluth won the title in 2008.
No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth—Bye
UMD, the No. 1 team in the nation, has been nothing except dominant all season. They won each game by at least 20 points. The Bulldogs were an early-season favorite to win the region, but a few weeks ago they lost superstar Isaac Odim to a season-ending injury. Odim was on track to win the Harlon Hill Trophy, Division II's Heisman prior to his injury, and UMD felt that their complete team would be propelled to another national title behind thee game-breaking abilities of Odim. Without him, the road is certainly tougher, but by no means impossible.
No. 2 Augustana (SD)—Bye
Perhaps the most underrated, or more accurately, unheralded team in the region is Augustana. With a potential second-round matchup with Grand Valley on the horizon, many people believe Augie will be a one-and-done team in the 2010 playoffs.
While GVSU certainly has that intangible ability of playing on a complete different level in the postseason, Augustana has all the makings of a solid team. If Augustana can get quarterback Josh Hanson back from an injury to his throwing hand the sidelined him for the last few weeks, a potential GVSU-Augustana game could be very interesting.
No. 6 Colorado School of Mines at No. 3 Grand Valley State (MI)
No. 16 Colorado School of Mines enters the 2010 playoffs on a technicality. The Orediggers did not finish the season ranked in the top six of the NCAA's Regional Rankings. However, they won the conference title in the RMAC, were ranked in the top 10 in the region, and no other RMAC school was ranked ahead of them in the rankings. Therefore, CSM gets a postseason berth, knocking out the sixth-ranked team in the region—and also the only team to beat GLIAC champion GVSU this season—Michigan Tech.
CSM is another one-dimensional team. Their offense relies completely around the passing game. The problem is, No. 6 Grand Valley State has an amazing pass defense. GVSU has only allowed eight passing touchdowns over all 11 games in 2010. In their past eight games, the Lakers have allowed just three.
When you add in the fact that Lubbers Stadium at GVSU near the shores of Lake Michigan can get very cold and windy in late November, the way to beat the Lakers is not through the air.
No. 5 Hillsdale (MI) at No. 4 St. Cloud State (MN)
This game matches two complete and balanced teams. The No. 10 Chargers from Hillsdale were GLIAC South Division co-champions, although curiously lost the their co-division champions from Wayne State (MI). The Chargers also came within 1:20 of beating Grand Valley State this season, but decided not to take a knee up by one late in the fourth. Instead, they scored a touchdown, had the PAT blocked and returned for two, and then watched as GVSU drove down the field to score the winning touchdown with a handful of seconds left on the clock. Whoops.
The Chargers sport the GLIAC offensive player of the year in senior QB Troy Weatherhead. And while these two teams may be fairly evenly matched, No. 15 Saint Cloud State is led by freshman QB Phil Klaphake.
While this game could certainly go either way, Hillsdale will benefit from big game (and playoff) experience from veterans like Weatherhead.
SUPER REGION FOUR
The region that annually challenges SR3 for dominance is SR4, home of defending national champion (and winner of five straight SR3 titles) Northwest Missouri State.
The Bearcats look to return to Florence, Alabama for the sixth-straight year. Although the Bearcats are just 1-4 in those five championship games, it's hard to argue that they weren't one of the best teams of the past decade (trailing probably only Grand Valley).
There are, however, several quality teams in SR4 this year that look to end NWMSU's run of regional dominance. SR4 is probably the deepest region in the 2010 playoffs, with very little separating the teams.
No. 1 Abilene Christian (TX)—Bye
No. 2 Abilene Christian blew through the offense-heavy LSC en route to a perfect 11-0 season.
ACU's lowest point output of the season is 31 points, and they scored 40 or more seven times, and 50 or more three times.
ACU has the unenviable task of taking on the winner of the West Texas A&M-Central Missouri game. Both of those teams will provide ACU with quite a challenge.
No. 2 Texas A&M-Kingsville—Bye
No. 4 TAMUK was the last team from the LSC to advance to the national championship game. That was 1994. Since that time, the LSC has had trouble playing defense against non-LSC opponents that were seen as more complete, balanced teams as opposed to the shoot-out driven offenses and porous defenses of the LSC.
With the top two seeds in SR4 being teams from the LSC, could this finally be the year the LSC advances out of the region?
No. 6 Missouri Western at No. 3 Northwest Missouri State
No. 3 Northwest Missouri State, defending national champions, finds themselves facing an opponent in Missouri Western State that was demolished 42-0 in the first meeting between these two MIAA teams in 2010.
It will be interesting to see if the unranked Griffons have improved since the first game against NWMSU this year.
For their part, the Bearcats breezed through their MIAA schedule after dropping their Week 1 game against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Breezed through, that is, until the last two weeks of the season, where they won both games by a combined seven points.
NWMSU is one of those teams that can play at a different level in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if they can again elevate their game in 2010.
No. 5 West Texas A&M at No. 4 Central Missouri
No. 4 West Texas A&M travels to No. 8 Central Missouri State for the first-round battle. CMSU was an impressive 9-2 in 2010, only dropping games to Northwest Missouri State and FCS Illinois State. WTAMU was 8-3, with losses to three teams who ended up in the Top 10 in the final coaches poll: Grand Valley State, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Abilene Christian.
Both of these teams are pass-happy, and there should be no shortage of pass attempts. If you love the passing game, don't miss this game.
This game could very easily come down to one or two plays, or to who makes fewer mistakes.
This year, the brackets align SR1 with SR2, and SR3 with SR4 for the two semifinal games. Because of SR2's relative weakness compared to seasons past, this could be the best chance a team from SR1 has to make the championship game in quite a while.
Most likely, the semifinal winner between SR3 and SR4 will be the favorite going in to the national championship game in Florence, Alabama.
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