/playoffs/2016/playoff-bracket-announced

Playoff bracket announced, with pleasant surprises

Dan Arnold and the prolific UW-Platteville air attack get new life.
UW-Platteville athletics photo 
What's the better surprise in this bracket?
Hardin-Simmons getting a first-round home game
Three WIAC teams getting in
Mount Union having to go on the road
Monmouth not facing a MIAC or WIAC team
The East Region getting a No. 1 seed

Play of the day?

Wykeyhe Walker laid out to make a one-handed grab in the end zone, catching a touchdown pass for the new No. 1 team in the country, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and setting the UMHB career receptions record in the process.

It's hard to know who is more surprised by this bracket -- Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons fans who won't see each other in the first round, WIAC fans who were unsure they would get three teams in the bracket, Hobart fans who have Mount Union coming to their place or Mount Union haters -- let's be honest and call them what they are -- who didn't think Mount Union would or should get into the bracket in the first place.

Surprise! All those things happened!

We said all along there was no way Mount Union would be left out of this bracket, and the only real drama was in the final at-large selection, a true toss-up pick. And it comes down to the same eternal question: Is it better to lose to a really good team or beat a pretty good team? This year, the answer was that it was better to play UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh competitively and lose. Last year, UW-Platteville was left out and this year the Pioneers are in the field.

It took a little extra money from the NCAA for this bracket to become reality -- the committee, the NCAA, someone splurged for three flights in the first round instead of two, so both Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor get the home game they deserve. (One of them likely coming at the expense of Linfield, which had a claim at a first-round home game as well.)

"The NCAA, as much as people like throwing knives their way, they really try to do best by the student-athletes," NCAA football committee chair Jack McKiernan told In the HuddLLe on Sunday night. "The championships committee, working all the way through its structure, really tries to do what's best. They see logic sometimes. This year, the way everything fell, it seemed like the right thing to do to not have those two teams playing in the first round."

Mount Union has to take a trip through the East Region if it wants to advance, being placed as what would seem like a No. 5 seed at No. 3 seeded Hobart in the first round. (Bridgewater State would be the 8 in that bracket, with Husson the 7 and Western New England the 6.) Meanwhile, someone will welcome Mount Union to their home stadium for a playoff game for the first time in two decades.

Alfred gets what would seem to be a top seed as an East Region team gets a No. 1 position for the first time in years as well. And they have the 6, 7 and 8 seed in their part of the bracket, so they'll get to ease themselves into the playoffs before the competition gets harder. Johns Hopkins is actually in the position in the bracket traditionally given to a top seed, but they don't have the matchups a top seed would have, so it seems Alfred is the No. 1 in the bottom left. UW-Whitewater, St. Thomas and Mary Hardin-Baylor are the other clear No. 1 seeds.

But while the East got that No. 1 seed, it did not get an at-large team. Was St. John Fisher the East Region team on the board, as our sources suggested on Saturday? Or was it Frostburg State? Frostburg had a very average playoff resume, with a strength of schedule above .500, but its only loss on the season was a blowout. 

Keep an eye out for the bracket challenge from our partners at d3photography.com, as well as In the HuddLLe's conversation with NCAA committee chair Jack McKiernan and the Around the Nation podcast coming out tonight for more coverage.

Dec. 15: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Mount Union at Mary Hardin-Baylor
@ Salem, Va.
Preview Preview Live stats Audio
Dec. 15: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Mount Union at Mary Hardin-Baylor
@ Salem, Va.
Preview Preview Live stats Audio