Every year I hear people at all levels of college football complain about Top 25 rankings. Spring rankings mean nothing, who cares where you are rated after week one and the only one that matters is the last one of the season.
Those all seem to be the popular arguments when it comes time to talk about the Top 25. For 10 years with the Victory Sports Network I published my own Top 25 ranking on Sunday, the day before the NAIA coaches’ released their rating. Depending on who you were, I was either an idiot or a genius and that opinion changed from week to week.
My frustration with the rankings stems back to the very start of the Victory Sports Network when I was trying to figure out the rubix cube that was the NAIA postseason qualification plan. Conference champs in the Top 20, top rated Independent team in the Top 20, who actually is the conference champion in case of a tie, what about a three way tie; you get the idea.
So a few years ago, I came up with the idea of the NAIA “Power 16 Ranking.” The “Power 16 Ranking” would represent the 16 teams that because of all the criteria and a few predictions on my part would make the NAIA Championship Series. Sure, some teams like the idea of being rated. It’s good publicity and all plus it gives us a gauge of who is moving up the rankings and who is moving out.
This season, I will publish a weekly ranking of the 16 teams I feel are most likely headed to the postseason after the NAIA coaches release their weekly Top 25. This ranking will officially be called VSN’s NAIA Championship Series 16. I would do it before their ranking but frankly I have to consider what they are doing with some spots in the rankings. For instance early in the season I will likely rank Langston in the VSN’s NAIA Championship Series 16 because they are the best returning team in the Central States Football League, who will potentially have a post season berth.
However, if the league leader of the CSFL fails to win key games and get into the Top 20 I’ll have to drop them off the ranking. So early in the season, you will likely see some teams that aren’t rated that I am still predicting to be in the postseason.
No ranking is without its faults but I will try to do my very best at putting together the ranking each week so that it displays an accurate picture as possible to the NAIA postseason. I’m sure I’ll ruffle a few feathers along the way but if anything this opens up discussion and debate about the postseason and the process in which teams qualify for the NAIA Championship Series. I chatted with a few of my small college media friends the concept last week and overwhelmingly they all said “YES, do it.”
They remarked their biggest frustration was at the end of the season trying to decipher what teams were all qualified from what conference, who were the automatic bids and if some conference champion was actually going to end up below the #16 rating and “steal” a bid from a higher ranked team.
Each year a lot of people complain about the NAIA Championship Series selection, IE those rated 17-20 or those just missing out. But regardless of whom the final selections for the postseason were the NAIA always ends up with the correct team hoisting the trophy. The same is true for DI-FCS, DII and DIII because of our postseason system. If you are the best team, just win. That silences all critics and shows what teams deserve the trophy.
Here’s a quick look at the preseason “VSN’s NAIA Championship Series 16.”
1. Marian (Ind.) – (MSFA) Preseason No. 1 team in the Coaches’ Poll. They have lost a lot and early in the season we will find out if they have what it takes to repeat.
2. Morningside (Iowa) – (GPAC) They have to replace some key positions but look to be the best team returning in their conference.
3. Missouri Valley (Mo.) – (HAAC) Seconds away from the NAIA Championship game. Great staff and a lot of talent.
4. Saint Xavier (Ill.) – (MSFA) Wasn’t far from making a return trip to the NAIA Championship game. SXU is one of the NAIA’s elite programs and will find a way to make it to the postseason.
5. Southern Oregon – (Frontier) – Every coach I talked with last winter about Southern Oregon called them the most talented and most dangerous team in the NAIA.
6. Saint Francis (Ind.) – (MSFA) A lot of talent returns in Fort Wayne. While they start at the No. 6 spot its highly possible they will end up as the MSFA-East champion.
7. Cumberlands (Ky.) – (MSC) Probably the best rushing offense in the country. Cumberlands has not gotten themselves into the category of the NAIA’s elite but a solid season this year will go a long ways toward putting them in that category.
8. Georgetown (Ky.) – (MSC) Seconds away from advancing in last year’s NAIA Championship Series only to experience one of the most heartbreaking losses of recent memory in the postseason. GT will be determined this year and looking toward the postseason.
9. Bethel (Tenn.) – (MSC) Right now they look to be the best team in their half of the MSC West giving them the early lead for the postseason. However, this half of the conference has been one of the toughest to predict since its inception.
10. St. Ambrose (Iowa) – (MSFA) SAU is one school in the NAIA that is on the verge of turning the corner and becoming a contender for an NAIA championship. The issue is they play in the highly competition MSFA West division which will now include SXU. With William Penn and Grand View already nipping at their heals, SAU will have to work hard to stay in this year’s “VSN’s NAIA Championship Series 16.”
11. Montana Tech – (Frontier) Montana Tech was young and dangerous last season. This year, they will be a little more experienced and carry a chip on their shoulder after their first round postseason loss to Morningside.
12. MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) – (HAAC) Talented team that could challenge MoValley for a conference title this fall. The HAAC can be wacky from time to time but there is no doubt that MNU is an odds on favorite to be in the postseason again this year
13.Northwestern (Iowa) – (GPAC) Second best team in the GPAC coming into the season. They will challenge Morningside for the title this fall. The one thing Northwestern cannot do is lose a game they shouldn’t lose this fall or else they will be on the bubble again.
14. Ottawa University (Kan.) – (KCAC) Right now I’ll go with Ottawa to be the representative of the KCAC in the NAIA Championship Series. The run for the conference title will be highly competitive this year in the KCAC, so don’t be surprised to see Tabor, Friends or someone else pop into the “VSN’s NAIA Championship Series 16.”
15. Carroll College (Mont.) – (Frontier) While the current rating doesn’t reflect the Saints in the postseason it would be tough to count them out. Between SOU, Montana Tech and Carroll the race for the Frontier title will be an interesting one.
16. Langston University (Okla.) – Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Central States Football League is back in commission and will receive and automatic bid to the postseason if their champion is ranked in the Top 20 of the final regular season NAIA Coaches’ Poll. Right now, Langston looks like the best team from the CSFL but Bacone will contend as well.
A few things to keep in mind on this ranking before people go all crazy with the “Dannelly hates us” message board and twitter rants that will likely ensue. A major contributor to this ranking is the current coaches’ ranking. Despite my opinion on who will win what conference the major logic behind this ranking is where the coaches currently have people positioned.
For instance, it’s my personal opinion that No. 1 Marian is going to have their hands full this fall with winning their conference or even making it to the postseason. Their schedule is really tough and the MSFA East is a solid league which could see the defending champion’s end the season with three losses and on the outside looking in. But even with that said, the coaches have them ranked at the top of the NAIA to start the season. So given that logic and the fact no games have been played they automatically are going to take up a spot in “VSN’s NAIA Championship Series 16.” However once the season gets started and a few teams either win or lose we will have a better idea of who is in a good position to make the NAIA Championship Series.
Until then, it makes for a great summer debate.