This week marks the beginning of the NCAA Division II football playoffs in which Slippery Rock football will host Virginia Union in the first round Saturday.
The NCAA Division II football playoffs feature a field of 28 teams, as opposed to the Division I football playoffs that only feature four teams. The Division II Football Committee then splits up these 28 teams into four “Super Regions,” giving each region seven teams.
The teams are then seeded according to record and strength of schedule. The No. 1 seed in every region receives a bye into the second round of the playoffs, where they play the winner of the five seed versus the four. The two seed plays the seven in the first round, and the winner plays the victor of the three seed versus six seed matchup.
By this point, only two teams remain in each region, and they play each other in the Super Region title game, hosted by the team with the better record. Once all Super Region title games have been played, only four teams remain. The Super regions are matched against each other in the National semifinals. Super Region 1 plays Super Region 4, and Super Regions 2 and 3 face each other. The host for these games is switched each year (Regions 1 and 3 host this year.) The national championship between the final two teams is held Kansas City, Kansas.
Super Region I, the Northeastern Region, features many programs relatively new to the Division II playoff. Fifth-seeded Indiana University (Pa.) is historically the most successful program in the region, but the overwhelming favorite is the No. 1 seeded Shepherd University. Shepherd is the only undefeated team in the region, and is ranked fifth in the nation. However, up-and-coming programs, No. 2 seeded Slippery Rock University (10th in the nation) and No. 3 seeded Assumption University (19th) are also thought to have a good chance at winning the region.
Slippery Rock will play host to the number seven seeded Virginia Union University in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday. SRU athletic director Paul Lueken is excited for The Rock to host its first national home playoff game since 1999.
“Any time you can host a national event it’s positive for everything. It’s positive for our students and it’s positive for the university and it’s positive for our team,” Lueken said. “I’m expecting a good football game with a lot of excitement and it’ll be a lot of fun.”
In the Midwest and Southwest, Super Region 4 is considered the best region overall. The No. 2 and 3 ranked national teams are both in this region, No. 2 seeded Ferris State University and No. 3 seeded Ashland University respectively, but neither undefeated team is the one seed. That honor goes to the 10-1 Northwestern State University.
Last year’s national champion, Colorado State University-Pueblo, is the No. 4 seed in the region. Ferris state is seen as the favorite, as they are led by last years’ Harlon Hill Award for the best player in Division II winner, quarterback Jason Vander Laan.
Out west lies Super Region 3. The No. 1 team in the country, Northwestern Missouri State University is seen as the overwhelming favorites to win the region, taking the No. 1 seed. Last years’ National Runner-up Minnesota State University, Mankato, the No. 2 seed, is looked upon as the only team that could challenge Northwestern Missouri State in the region.
Finally, Super Region 2 is located in the Southeast. This region is considered the weakest overall, featuring only two top-15 teams, No. 1 seeded West Georgia University, and the No. 2 seeded University of North Alabama. Either team could win this Super Region as neither one is a clear favorite.
Overall, the programs with a history of success are thought to be the favorites to win the national championship. Whoever comes out of the battleground of Super Region 4 as the champion will be the favorite to win the National Championship, due to the difficulty of the region.
However, with a lot of new faces in the field, it’s impossible to declare a true “favorite” in this year’s playoff. Storied programs will look to continue their success while newcomers will look to make a name for themselves.
The National Championship will be hosted on Dec. 19 in Kansas.