/playoffs/2017/first-playoff-projection

Projected playoff bracket: Who's in, who goes where?

Jason Farlow and Linfield
Will the commitee give Linfield or Hardin-Simmons a home game if they meet up? Hardin-Simmons is ranked higher in the South than Linfield is in the West, but Linfield has the better ranking criteria overall.
Linfield athletics photo
 

By Pat Coleman
D3sports.com

As we enter Week 11, the final weekend of the 2017 Division III football regular season, we sit in a situation remarkably similar to last year. There are a couple of at-large playoff spots up in the air. We only get five true at-large teams, and the way things sit today, four of them are pretty clear. However, there's some football left to be played before we learn who plays where in the Field of 32 on the road to Stagg Bowl XLIV. The selection show streams online (you can find a link on D3football.com) at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

Here's how we went about creating this projection. Obviously, there are still some games left to be played. This bracket makes some base assumptions. For example, higher-ranked teams in the NCAA's regional rankings win out, such as: 

  • Delaware Valley defeats Widener to win automatic bid, go 10-0
  • St. John's (West 5) defeats Concordia-Moorhead (West 8)
  • None of the at-large leaders lose on Saturday (aside from the head-to-head game between St. John's and Concordia-Moorhead)

We also presume that teams who need to win to wrap up automatic bids do so this weekend, including:

  • Johns Hopkins defeating McDaniel
  • Washington & Lee defeating Shenandoah
  • RPI defeating Union
  • North Central defeating Elmhurst

There are 25 conferences with automatic bids, and two conferences and a small number of independents without one. The 25 automatic bids are referred to by the NCAA as Pool A and the rest are Pool B. The Pool B group (American Southwest Conference, New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference) have two bids set aside for them, and in fact, three teams from these two conferences will probably go to the playoffs, as we expect one to be selected in Pool C. 

The remaining five bids, known as Pool C, are true at-larges that any team in either pool can receive. The committee traditionally will sit down with a board that includes the top at-large team from each regional ranking, comparing the four teams head-to-head, then selecting one to put in the field. The committee considers the usual criteria: results vs. Division III teams, strength of schedule, results vs. regionally ranked teams, head-to-head results and results vs. common opponents. As we get closer to the end of the process, though, the committee can consider non-Division III games as well. And with just five spots and more than twice as many candidates, expect every piece of data possible to be used.

We're going to fast-forward through most of the Pool C process.

Pool B teams are selected first, and as long as Springfield remains unbeaten and Hardin-Simmons remains with one loss, we'll have three teams for the two slots. A couple years back, the committee played some games with Pool B and left unbeaten Centre out to be selected as an at-large. That could happen here with Springfield, but it's probably academic: Mary Hardin-Baylor and Springfield in for Pool B.

Pool C gives us the top at-large team from each region on the board at the same time, and that would be Hardin-Simmons, St. John's, Frostburg State and DePauw. The North Region committee must think DePauw's minimal strength of schedule advantage will make them a more attractive candidate, but we think that with a win against a regionally ranked opponent, and no 46-point losses, that IWU would fare better. Hardin-Simmons is the best candidate today, but St. John's strength of schedule will go up and a win Saturday gives them a win against a regionally ranked opponent, so we select St. John's first.

SJU is replaced by Concordia-Moorhead as the West candidate (SOS will improve, and although they have two losses, they should be ahead of UW-La Crosse based on their common opponent -- Concordia beat UWW and La Crosse lost to UWW). Hardin-Simmons is taken second as an at-large.

Now it gets ... interesting, as Case Western Reserve comes onto the board as an unbeaten with an abysmal strength of schedule. Out of Case, Frostburg, Concordia-Moorhead and DePauw, we've found the scenario that makes DePauw look good. And with Illinois Wesleyan coming onto the board, they look even better and are taken next.

That leaves us with the final spot coming down to Concordia-Moorhead (two losses with strength of schedule near, but below .500), Case (unbeaten with the lowest SOS of any at-large candidate), Frostburg State (one loss with SOS slightly below .500) and Wheaton (two losses, but good SOS and a win against the North No. 4 team). This scenario comes very close to selecting Wheaton but we basically have to take Case Western Reserve. Frostburg fans want to root for a win vs. Salisbury on Saturday and then for Wabash to defeat DePauw or Carnegie Mellon to beat Case. 

There are travel restrictions to consider when it comes to creating the bracket. The NCAA pays for all team travel in the playoffs, but with the caveat that as many first-round games must involve travel of less than 500 miles as possible. Last year the committee put together a bracket with two first-round flights,  and that's what we're doing here. 

The committee wants to pick the top four teams and put them as No. 1 teams in their own separate brackets whenever possible. Typically of late, that has meant two South teams, or two West teams, getting No. 1 seeds while the East does not. But this year, there aren't three unbeaten teams in the West to consider, nor is there an unbeaten CCIW team to provide a second North top seed, while Delaware Valley has a win against a regionally ranked opponent. And last year, with the committee spending money on a second first-round flight, we're going to take them up on it again. But last year, the committee never got to see its money savings with HSU and UMHB meeting in the second round, and since that wasn't a bank-breaker, we're moving that matchup out into another part of the bracket.

Here's what that bracket looks like. Scroll down for a discussion of some what-if scenarios.

Playoff projection, download link below

If you're on mobile, here's a link to download it.

We try to move teams around as much as the map will allow. Husson's remoteness doesn't hurt us as much as usual, since they are within 500 miles of Springfield and that's a matchup that makes sense with the seedings. Knowing there is typically some flexibility in moving teams around for the quarterfinals, we've broken up a bloc of East teams, which could have been as many as seven in the lower left-hand quadrant, and swapped a whole pod of four teams into the bottom-right bracket. Ideally, if we could take just one pairing of East teams and move it, we'd try to balance out that top left bracket, but that isn't something there would ever really be money for. 

What if?

There are some scenarios that would significantly change this bracket:

Concordia-Moorhead could beat St. John's on Saturday. If so, it sounds like a relatively simple swap to get one MIAC team in place of the other, but Moorhead is pretty isolated from the rest of Division III. Suddenly, that's a team that could have to fly somewhere instead. Sending the Cobbers to Wartburg in the first round isn't a great matchup for what should be a No. 2 seed in the Knights.

DePauw losing to Wabash would trigger a lot of changes and if Frostburg State enters the field, that is a significant difference in geography that would require shuffling.

Widener beating Delaware Valley would almost certainly put Delaware Valley in as an at-large, but then cost someone else a bid somewhere.

We'll do another mock selection on Saturday night, once all the results are in.

The definitive history of the USFL: Football for a Buck, by Jeff Pearlman. Available now!
Sep. 22: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 41, Alvernia 10
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at Endicott 27, Hobart 24
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Framingham State 28, at Massachusetts Maritime 13
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at RPI 44, Buffalo State 14
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at MIT 34, Catholic 24
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Springfield 17, at WPI 14
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Lycoming 27, at FDU-Florham 21
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Emory and Henry 52, at Rochester 17
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at Nichols 43, Alfred State 7
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Southern Virginia 14, at Kean 9
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at Merchant Marine 35, Maine Maritime 14
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at Middlebury 37, Bowdoin 24
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at Amherst 37, Hamilton 14
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at Williams 36, Colby 14
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at Ursinus 21, Moravian 14
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Montclair State 17, at Christopher Newport 14
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at Carnegie Mellon 42, St. Vincent 27
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at Union 49, Curry 6
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at Franklin and Marshall 14, Susquehanna 7
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at Trinity (Conn.) 59, Bates 16
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at Johns Hopkins 62, Dickinson 14
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Misericordia 47, at Wilkes 45
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at Frostburg State 34, Rowan 7
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McDaniel 25, at Gettysburg 0
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at Wooster 24, DePauw 21
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Stevenson 38, at King's 17
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at Alfred 38, Cortland 33
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at Washington and Jefferson 62, Grove City 10
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at Westminster (Pa.) 21, Bethany 3
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at Allegheny 25, Ohio Wesleyan 17
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at Wesley 43, William Paterson 7
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at LaGrange 42, Apprentice 13
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Denison 52, at Oberlin 27
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at Western New England 59, Anna Maria 7
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Martin Luther 63, at Greenville 28
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at St. Scholastica 23, Westminster (Mo.) 20
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at Minnesota-Morris 13, Iowa Wesleyan 7
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at Muhlenberg 62, Juniata 7
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at Widener 69, Albright 0
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at Coast Guard 38, Norwich 35
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Anderson 18, at Defiance 14
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at Mount Union 23, John Carroll 10
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Hanover 28, at Bluffton 10
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Westfield State 42, at Worcester State 22
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at Waynesburg 10, Geneva 7
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4th - 14:05
7 Brevard
10 Virginia-Lynchburg
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at Ferrum 81, Greensboro 0
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Ithaca 21, at St. John Fisher 14
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Muskingum 31, at Wilmington 24
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Ohio Northern 13, at Otterbein 7
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at Austin 12, Hendrix 9
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North Central (Ill.) 35, at North Park 0
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Rhodes 29, at Birmingham-Southern 10
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at UW-Stout 49, Cal Lutheran 24
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Millsaps 21, at Sewanee 14
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Thomas More 38, at Huntingdon 35
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at Washington U. 51, Carthage 31
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at St. Olaf 33, Augsburg 3
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at Concordia-Moorhead 55, Hamline 0
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at St. John's 59, Carleton 0
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at Chicago 56, Illinois College 9
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at Bethel 31, Gustavus Adolphus 0
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Wartburg 42, at Nebraska Wesleyan 14
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Coe 35, at Buena Vista 14
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Central 35, at Dubuque 13
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at St. Norbert 91, Grinnell 0
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Loras 35, at Luther 28
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at Ripon 28, Knox 3
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at Monmouth 37, Macalester 0
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Carroll 16, at Elmhurst 14
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Cornell 28, at Beloit 17
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at Lake Forest 35, Lawrence 34
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at St. Thomas 49, UW-Eau Claire 0
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Mount St. Joseph 59, at Earlham 2
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Dean 42, at Becker 15
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N.C. Wesleyan at Bridgewater
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Western Connecticut 40, at Salve Regina 21
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at Mass-Dartmouth 21, Plymouth State 16
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at Tufts 16, Wesleyan 13
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at Salisbury 38, TCNJ 7
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at Rose-Hulman 19, Manchester 12
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at Case Western Reserve 63, Thiel 20
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Baldwin Wallace 34, at Heidelberg 10
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Berry 38, at Centre 35
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at Wittenberg 45, Kenyon 3
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Northwestern (Minn.) 38, at Crown 18
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at Hardin-Simmons 65, Howard Payne 14
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Illinois Wesleyan 41, at Augustana 24
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at McMurry 35, Sul Ross State 24
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 63, Millikin 6
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at UW-Platteville 49, Lakeland 12
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Louisiana College 21, at Southwestern 19
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 47, at Texas Lutheran 14
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East Texas Baptist 46, at Belhaven 20
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Sep. 22: All times Eastern
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at Delaware Valley 41, Alvernia 10
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at RPI 44, Buffalo State 14
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at Wesley 43, William Paterson 7
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at Washington and Jefferson 62, Grove City 10
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at Frostburg State 34, Rowan 7
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Final - OT
at Franklin and Marshall 14, Susquehanna 7
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at Mount Union 23, John Carroll 10
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Ithaca 21, at St. John Fisher 14
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at St. John's 59, Carleton 0
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North Central (Ill.) 35, at North Park 0
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at St. Thomas 49, UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Wittenberg 45, Kenyon 3
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Berry 38, at Centre 35
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at Case Western Reserve 63, Thiel 20
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 47, at Texas Lutheran 14
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at Hardin-Simmons 65, Howard Payne 14
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 63, Millikin 6
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Illinois Wesleyan 41, at Augustana 24
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