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Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments

Taylor Jacobsmeier is a versatile weapon on offense for Wartburg. What the Knights' fate might be in this playoff is the subject of a good amount of debate below.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com 

We have 32 very good football teams gearing up to start the playoffs this Saturday, but we all know that these aren't the best 32 teams in Division III. Like it or not, the system isn't set up that way.

Four teams in the Top 25 -- North Central, St. John Fisher, Thomas More and UW-Oshkosh -- missed the NCAA's cut. Even more, of the poll's top 32 vote-getters, there are a total of 10 teams that haven't made their way in the bracket.

That kind of disparity between the teams that have earned a spot and the ones who are among the nation's elite can be cavernous at times. It leads to some mismatches in early rounds, but it also gives teams that may have been looking to prove themselves the opportunity to show they are more than just champs of a middle- to lower-tier conference. Teams such as Macalester and MIT and St. Scholastica have a chance to imprint upon the national landscape this weekend.

We've seen sleepers emerge before, and we have every reason to believe that we could see some again starting Saturday. That’s part of the fun of the postseason.

Mary Hardin-Baylor leads a stacked bracket consisting of seven teams in the Top 25. The Mount Union and UW-Whitewater brackets aren’t far behind with six and five ranked teams in them, respectively.

Wesley’s bracket is the outlier. With Ithaca and Hampden-Sydney dropping out of the rankings thanks to rivalry-game losses, and Husson and MIT coming from lower-tier conferences that are off the rankings radar a bit, the Wesley bracket contains a clear gap between the perceived haves and have-nots. Of those “haves,” however, all three aren’t just Top 25, they’re Top 10s.

What’s notable is that no 9-1 teams from conferences with automatic qualifiers were left out this year. Chicago (8-1) and Framingham State (9-1) were both in Pool B conferences and thus, unlike Pool A teams, had no guaranteed path to the postseason. They were both left behind in Pool C by two-loss St. Thomas, which, in addition to coming from one of the nation’s strongest conferences, had a quality win (and two close losses) on its resume.

Speaking of Pool C bids, here’s a list of the conferences that have earned at-large bids since the playoffs expanded in 1999:

ASC – Seven (2001, 2004, 2006, 2008-09, 2011-12)
CC – Two (1999, 2014)
CCIW – Eight (2004-06, 2008, 2010-13)
Empire 8 – Three* (2006, 2008, 2013; Also sent two teams in 2003 as a Pool B league)
HCAC – One (2008)
IIAC – Five (1999, 2001-02, 2005,...

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Columnist

Ryan Tipps

Ryan is D3football.com's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for D3hoops.com. He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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