Our 2013 playoff projections

If the committee gets it right, Kyle Barry and Cody Miller and their St. John Fisher teammates will have a game in the Field of 32 next week. The last time the committee chose St. John Fisher with two losses, they went to the national quarterfinals.
St. John Fisher athletics photo 

By Pat Coleman

With the Division III football playoffs capped at 32 teams and the number of automatic bids on pace to keep growing to 26 in 2015, we're only going to get tighter and tighter when it comes to the at-large bids. There will need to be some decision on how to fix that problem in the future, but for now, we are trying to select the best three Pool B teams and the best five at-large teams.

Reminder that this bracket, like every NCAA bracket, is not about getting the best 32 teams in. We have 24 automatic bids, and it's only the remaining eight that should be "the best teams available." And even those have rules.

For Pool B, a complicated question actually got easier on Saturday: What to do with Washington University? The Bears had a great strength of schedule and a pretty decent record coming into the weekend, but were behind both Millsaps and Texas Lutheran in last week’s regional rankings.

That should not be a problem any longer, however. With Millsaps losing to Rhodes, that gives us another factor that rarely comes into play in these decisions: a common opponent. Wash U has beaten Rhodes, while Millsaps lost to them. That, according to previous committee members, is huge in making the final Pool B or Pool C selection. In fact, it’s what got St. John Fisher in the 2011 playoffs over Case Western Reserve.

Here’s how we see the Pool B picture, in order, for the three spots:

Wesley (8-2, 4-2 .673)
Framingham State (9-1, 9-1 .557)
Washington U. (8-2, 8-2 .565)
Below the line:
Millsaps (9-1, 8-1 .523)
Texas Lutheran (8-1, 8-1 .421)

Millsaps and Texas Lutheran get moved over to the at-large bid discussion. And in order to properly do the Pool C picture, you have to know how teams are ranked and what teams we rank in each region.

In the East, here’s who the 10 ranked teams would be, in our estimation: Hobart, Ithaca, Rowan, Lebanon Valley, Gallaudet, Framingham, St. John Fisher, Alfred, Brockport, Endicott. The order here is kind of roughed out but doesn’t really have an impact on the at-large process except in how the at-large teams are ranked in each region. South: UMHB, JHU, Wesley, Thomas More, Washington U., Millsaps, Texas Lutheran, Maryville, Hampden-Sydney, Washington & Jefferson. North: Mount Union, North Central, John Carroll, Wittenberg, IWU, Wabash, Wheaton, Franklin, Heidelberg, Albion. West: Bethel, UWW, Linfield, UWP, PLU, St. Thomas, UWO, Wartburg, Concordia-Moorhead, Redlands.

When the five at-large bids are being considered, here’s who’s on the board first. The committee considers the top at-large contender from each region so four are on the board at any given time.

Pool C bids (5)

East: St. John Fisher (8-2 vs. D-III, .575 SOS, 2-1 vs. regionally ranked opponents)
North: John Carroll (9-1 vs. D-III, .520 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)
South: Thomas More (9-1, .488 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO)
West: UW-Platteville (9-1, .477 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)

This is fairly simple in that it’s John Carroll. Even though we list three criteria here, they are not all weighted equally, and even though St. John Fisher has more wins vs. regionally ranked opponents and a higher winning percentage, the second loss is not getting them seriously considered in the conversation yet.

East: St. John Fisher (8-2 vs. D-III, .575 SOS, 2-1 vs. regionally ranked opponents)
North: Illinois Wesleyan (9-1 vs. D-III, .499 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)
South: Thomas More (9-1, .488 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO)
West: UW-Platteville (9-1, .477 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)

Here it seems clear the committee really wants to get the WIAC runner-up in the field, because it put both WIAC teams ahead of the best Pool C contender, Pacific Lutheran. In all honesty, they are probably doing this to artificially make it look less bad for Pacific Lutheran and Linfield to play in the first round, but we are not fooled. We take UW-Platteville in this group, because wins against regionally ranked opponents are rare among the 9-1 teams. Next selection:

East: St. John Fisher (8-2 vs. D-III, .575 SOS, 2-1 vs. regionally ranked opponents)
North: Illinois Wesleyan (9-1 vs. D-III, .499 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)
South: Thomas More (9-1, .488 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO)
West: Pacific Lutheran (8-1, .549 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)

Pacific Lutheran. Next question.

East: St. John Fisher (8-2 vs. D-III, .575 SOS, 2-1 vs. regionally ranked opponents)
North: Illinois Wesleyan (9-1 vs. D-III, .499 SOS, 1-1 vs. RRO)
South: Thomas More (9-1, .488 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO)
West: UW-Oshkosh (7-2, .488 SOS, 0-2 vs. RRO)

Here’s where it gets a little more interesting and/or complicated. St. John Fisher is looking better and better, actually. But Illinois Wesleyan has a strength of schedule that’s … well, almost .500, and we take them into the fold fourth. IWU was ahead of Wabash because IWU had a win against a regionally ranked team. Now Wabash will replace them on the docket. If you think St. Thomas is ranked ahead of Oshkosh in the NCAA's secret regional ranking, they are 8-2/504/1-1 in the main listed criteria. In common opponents, both teams blew out Eau Claire and River Falls. Oshkosh might have a slight edge by beating River Falls a little more soundly.

East: St. John Fisher (8-2 vs. D-III, .575 SOS, 2-1 vs. regionally ranked opponents)
North: Wabash (9-1 vs. D-III, .503 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO)
South: Thomas More (9-1, .488 SOS, 0-1 vs. RRO)
West: UW-Oshkosh (7-2, .488 SOS, 0-2 vs. RRO)

St. John Fisher’s two wins vs. RRO are vs. our East No. 7 and South No. 10. They’re not the best of all possible wins but they are there. There are two one one-loss team left on our board, as Thomas More, and St. John Fisher holds a common opponent over them as the Cardinals defeated Washington and Jefferson, who Thomas More lost to. Comparing Fisher to Wabash, the other one-loss team, leaves Fisher with a 72-point advantage in strength of schedule, which is huge, and two additional wins vs. RRO. We prefer St. John Fisher here for the final Pool C slot.

Two years ago we spent a lot of time talking about how the committee had basically never taken a two-loss team over a one-loss team. Last year, the committee could have done so again and taken Concordia-Moorhead over Bridgewater State, and Bridgewater State lost 44-14 in the first round. (The committee did also take two-loss Bethel.) It’s time for the committee to recognize strength of schedule once again and select St. John Fisher to the field.

The next order of business: four top seeds. It doesn’t matter, in our mind, who the NCAA picks as the top team in the West because we think both Bethel and UW-Whitewater should get top seeds. No. 1 overall seed, Mount Union, followed by UW-Whitewater (.537 strength of schedule), Mary Hardin-Baylor (.499 SOS) and Bethel. Bethel has the better SOS than UMHB but we went with UMHB third because of the selection and seeding criterion that gives the committee the opportunity to consider last year’s playoff results when comparing unbeaten teams.

Now, filling out the brackets. We seed teams, and so does the NCAA, even though the NCAA won’t admit to it publicly. Remember we try to avoid conference rematches as long as we don’t put an extra team in an airplane, and teams must stay within 500 miles of home on the NCAA’s chart in order to avoid a flight. That means the seedings might not always match the pairings, so read closely.

Mount Union bracket

1. Mount Union
2. Hobart
3. Ithaca
4. Lebanon Valley
5. Framingham State
6. St. John Fisher
7. Endicott
8. Albion

Pairings: Albion at Mount Union; Framingham State at Ithaca; St. John Fisher at Lebanon Valley; Endicott at Hobart.

We could very well have Albion 7 and Endicott 8 but because of mileage, Albion will be going to Mount Union. St. John Fisher wouldn’t play Ithaca again so we shuffled the pairings there.

Bethel bracket

1. Bethel
2. Linfield
3. UW-Platteville
4. Pacific Lutheran
5. Wartburg
6. Washington U.
7. St. Norbert
8. St. Scholastica

Pairings: St. Scholastica at Bethel; Washington U. at Wartburg; Pacific Lutheran at Linfield; St. Norbert at UW-Platteville.

Remember when I said above that PLU was playing Linfield? It happens. That jumbles other things up. Wartburg potentially playing Bethel again in the second round is not something the committee really cares about.

Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket

1. Mary Hardin-Baylor
2. Johns Hopkins
3. Rowan
4. Wesley
5. Gallaudet
6. Hampden-Sydney
7. Washington and Jefferson
8. Redlands

Pairings: Redlands at UMHB (our only first-round flight, beancounters rejoice); Gallaudet at Wesley; Hampden-Sydney at Rowan; Washington and Jefferson at Johns Hopkins.

It’s not a particularly long distance for Gallaudet to fall from 3 in the “East” to 5 in the “South” but that’s what happens when you lose to a .500 team and you play in a lower-level conference. The Bison could have drawn Lebanon Valley but instead have to go to Wesley.

UW-Whitewater bracket

1. UW-Whitewater
2. North Central
3. John Carroll
4. Wittenberg
5. Illinois Wesleyan
6. Franklin
7. Maryville
8. Concordia (Wis.)

Pairings: Concordia (Wis.) at UW-Whitewater; Maryville at Wittenberg; Illinois Wesleyan at John Carroll; Franklin at North Central.

Kind of a jumble here because Maryville can only get to a handful of schools that deserve to host, and North Central and John Carroll are not among them. Nor are Johns Hopkins, Rowan, Wesley or Lebanon Valley. Millsaps could have hosted had they gotten into the field, while Hampden-Sydney or Franklin could host but aren’t deserving.

We’ll find out at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday what the NCAA committee decides when it comes to the Field of 32, the Road to Salem and all that jazz. We’ll have the link to the selection show right on the front page of D3football.com.