November 7, 2013

Poll positions: What to make of regional rankings


At the moment, Millsaps' regional ranking might leave them on the outside looking in for a Pool B bid. But as an unbeaten team, they'd certainly get an at-large bid.
Millsaps athletics photo

So the regional rankings are out, and for the beginner and advanced playoff-field watcher alike, there's information to be gleaned.

Before we dig too deep, let's make sure we understand what we're looking at. The regional rankings are compiled individually in each region by an NCAA-appointed subcommittee of coaches, ADs and conference commissioners. The subcommittee (regional advisory committee) meets weekly by teleconference to discuss the rankings long before Wednesday's first public release. Another set of rankings comes next Wednesday and a third set, while not publicly released, is used to help select the field after Week 11’s games are in the books.

Each eight-member subcommitee has two members at the helm who make up part of the eight-person national committee that selects and seeds the playoff field of 32. That selection committee has a set of primary and secondary criteria that it follows to ensure that assembling of the field is based on more than just opinion.

The D3football.com Top 25 poll (and the coaches poll) is completely unrelated to these rankings and has no influence on playoff selection. If you're new to the process, before you complain, please educate yourself. Here’s the championships handbook the NCAA and schools use, or you can get the basics without all of the extras by reading our FAQ.

The other thing to keep in mind is that this first set of rankings is highly fluid. Even though it's already Week 10 of an 11-week regular season, the final two Saturdays feature a number of big games that could turn the rankings upside down. A sampling:

Week 10:

North Central at Wheaton
Heidelberg at John Carroll
Wittenberg at Wabash
Ithaca at Salisbury
St. Lawrence at Hobart
Concordia-Moorhead at St. Thomas
Pacific at Willamette

Week 11:

John Carroll at Mount Union
Linfield at Pacific
Bethel at St. John's
UW-Platteville at UW-Oshkosh
Millsaps at Rhodes
Cortland State at Ithaca
Alfred at St. John Fisher
Salve Regina at Endicott
Chicago at Wash. U.
St. Norbert at Lake Forest
Widener at Delaware Valley
Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon

And one final thing to keep in mind. Twenty-four of the 32 playoff spots are automatic, meaning they go to champions of conferences with seven or more members who have been in existence for longer than two years. This is referred to as Pool A. So the regional rankings, and the playoff selection committee, really only puts eight teams into the field. These, however, are the eight most hotly contested bids.

Here are Wednesday's rankings, republished with expected automatic qualifiers omitted:

East

6 Framingham State 7-1 7-1
7 Alfred 6-2 6-2
8 St. John Fisher 6-2 6-2
10 St. Lawrence 6-2 6-2

North

- Wabash/Witt loser
5 John Carroll/Heidelberg winner
6 Illinois Wesleyan 7-1 7-1
8 Wheaton (Ill.) 7-1 7-1

South

3 Texas Lutheran 7-0 7-0
4 Wesley 4-2 6-2
5 Millsaps 8-0 8-0
8 Washington U. 6-2 6-2
10 Washington and Jefferson 6-2 6-2

West

4 UW-Oshkosh 7-1 7-1
5 Concordia-Moorhead 7-1 7-1
6 UW-Platteville 7-1 7-1
7 Pacific Lutheran 7-1 7-1
10 St. John’s 6-2 6-2

From this group, three Pool B teams (those from non-AQ conferences SAA, SCAC, UAA, MASCAC and independents, eligible teams in bold) and five Pool C (runners-up in AQ conferences) will be selected.

In the East, Hobart and St. Lawrence face off, and Ithaca, Alfred, St. John Fisher and Salisbury will beat up on each other until there's one AQ team and none with a realistic Pool C shot left.

In the North, Wittenberg and Wabash, John Carroll's two big games, and Wheaton's game against North Central will change things. Wheaton only stays in the picture if they beat North Central. North Central would likely still win the CCIW AQ on points-differential among h2h tiebreaker with IWU and Wheaton. If North Central wins as expected, and Mount Union finishes unbeaten, the JCU/Heidelberg loser is out.

In the South, Texas Lutheran, Wesley and Millsaps and Wash U. would all be in Pool B -- these regional rankings were good news for Wesley's thought-to-be-shot playoff hopes. W&J and Thomas More won't be in the picture - one will win the AQ, the other won't stack up in Pool C.

In the West, you have to consider Pacific and St. Thomas part of the picture even though they aren't regionally ranked. Oshkosh or Platteville will knock one another out.

So that leaves this:

Texas Lutheran, Framingham State, Wesley, Millsaps and Wash U. in Pool B.

Wabash/Witt loser, John Carroll/Heidelberg winner, Oshkosh/Platteville winner, Pacific Lutheran, Concordia-Moorhead and Illinois Wesleyan in Pool C.

Unexpected problems could arise, if say, John Carroll beat Mount Union, Bethel lost to St. John's (check this, they might be good anyway) or Illinois College lost the MWC tiebreaker.

But if things break as expected -- and when do they ever? -- we could be looking at a couple pretty clean-cut playoff pictures.

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