College football: Bulldogs draw No. 4 seed, defending champs for playoffs
College football pundits have had fun in recent weeks discussing the selection committee's rankings for the first Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs.
College football pundits have had fun in recent weeks discussing the selection committee’s rankings for the first Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs.
Those same talking heads would have a field day with the NCAA Division II football playoff pairings, which were released Sunday.
Despite posting an 11-0 record and being ranked second in the most recent American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll, Minnesota Duluth received a No. 4 seed in the Super Regional Three bracket and was paired against defending national champion Northwest Missouri State (10-1). Those teams will meet in a first-round matchup at a time to be determined Saturday at Malosky Stadium.
“Honestly, it’s a great opportunity for us to be back at home and face one of the best teams in the country,” Bulldogs coach Curt Wiese said at Romano Gym, where his players watched as the seedings were announced on NCAA.com. “Our guys understand the fact that this is a tough region, and we need to make sure we’re prepared this week. For us to play at home in the national playoffs is a special thing, and we’re going to bring our best Saturday afternoon.”
The Bearcats defeated UMD 45-21 in last season’s regional semifinals, but that game took place in Maryville, Mo.
“(The seeding) was a little different than what we might have thought would happen, but with that being said we have to play the best of the best in this region,” senior wide receiver Aaron Roth said. “Drawing Northwest, there are a lot of guys who are going to be ready with the way the game went last year. It’s going to be a great opportunity for our team to test itself.”
Senior linebacker Gavin Grady is one of those who recalls the 2013 season-ending defeat - the last time UMD ended up on the wrong end on the scoreboard.
“It’s a big first-round matchup,” Grady said. “Either us or Northwest is going to have an opportunity to make a deep run in the playoffs. Having played them last year, we have an idea of what they are going to do and we’re familiar with them.
“You have to beat everybody in order to win a national championship. Playing a higher level of competition early will help us.”
Ouachita Baptist (10-0), ranked ninth nationally, surprisingly received the top seed ahead of No. 1-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato (11-0). The top two teams receive byes in the first round, with Ouachita Baptist hosting the UMD-Northwest Missouri State winner in a round of 16 game Nov. 29 at Arkadelphia, Ark.
Third-seeded Pittsburg State (10-1) vaulted above UMD in the final region rankings, the same rankings where the Bulldogs had landed at No. 1 a few weeks ago, and will host No. 6 Harding (9-1) in the first round. That winner will play at Mankato in the next round.
Since the initial rankings debuted, UMD has won NSIC games by 28, 74, 18 and 56 points yet dropped three spots.
“A lot of it is our strength of schedule, which is something out of our control,” Wiese said of the relatively weak North Division that UMD won outright for the seventh consecutive time. Mankato won the NSIC South Division.
Speculation suggested NCAA officials didn’t want to match rivals Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State in the first round so seeds were juggled. The Gorillas handed the Bearcats their only loss of the season in October.
“As far as the seeding, you never know what the committee is going to come up with,” senior linebacker Gavin Grady said. “I think strength of schedule hurt us a little bit. But we’re happy to be at home - we play well at Malosky and have the weather as a deciding factor to help us out.”
That certainly was the case when Northwest Missouri State visited Malosky in 2010 and lost to the Bulldogs in a national semifinal as temperatures hovered above zero. UMD went on to win the second of its two NCAA titles that year, having claimed its first two years earlier.
Northwest Missouri State owns four championships and another four runner-up trophies and has an .885 winning percentage since 2008, the second-highest in NCAA Division II behind UMD’s .903 percentage.
Despite the tough matchup, the Bulldogs are focused on how they are playing as a unit. As recent results show, they are peaking at the right time.
“As a staff we always want to make sure we’re playing our best football toward the end of the season, and right now we’re hitting on all three cylinders - offense, defense and special teams,” Wiese said. “You look at our last four games and our guys have played extremely well.”
Roth agreed and says there is no time for a letdown based on a perceived slight in the seedings.
“Every week we try to improve as a team,” Roth says. “But now, you win or go home. Our mentality is to prepare each week like it’s a national championship because if we don’t win, there’s no next week.”
The Division II title game is slated for Dec. 20 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Mo., the first time the championship hasn’t been played in Florence, Ala., in 29 years.
NCAA Division II Tournament
Super Regional Three
Saturday’s First Round
No. 5 Northwest Missouri State (10-1) at No. 4 Minnesota Duluth (11-0), TBA
No. 6 Harding (10-1) at No. 3 Pittsburg State (10-1), TBA