NAIA Postseason Prediction from Jason Dannelly: There is still a lot of football to be played. . .

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Recently I was asked if I even follow NAIA football anymore because people haven’t been seeing article and blogs from me lately. Well, I will be the first to tell you that I very much have been following the NAIA each and every week. I still reach out to coaches to see how their team is doing and get their honest opinion on what is happening in their conference.

Many of these coaches I have been talking to and covering since my first year running the then NAIAFOOTBALL.NET, the precursor to the Victory Sports Network. Even though I still get a lot of information from these coaches, most of them turn things around on me and start asking for my opinion on what’s happening in the NAIA.  So with a little prodding from a few coaches for me to get back on the horse I decided this week would be the week I dive back into the world of NAIA football publicly, mostly because I have a lot of coaches who keep asking me random questions about conference in the NAIA.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes a coach in the Mid South Conference doesn’t really have the time to dig into what’s happening in the KCAC, or vice versa, to be able to determine what might happen in the postseason.

In fact, the biggest frustration that most NAIA coaches and fans have each year is trying to decipher the playoff picture. If you haven’t been around the NAIA very long it can be tough to try to figure out if you current No. 17 rating will be enough to get you into the post season if you keep winning. Given the criteria to make the postseason there are situations where a rating like that could get you into the postseason or leave you on the outside looking in.

Before we take a look at everyone’s chances at making it into the postseason, let’s first review the criteria that you must meet in order to make it into the NAIA Championship Series.

For a team to qualify for the postseason they must:

  • Win their regular season conference championship and be rated in the Top 20 of the final NAIA Coaches Poll.
  • If they are not their conference champions, they must be one of the next highest rated teams in the NAIA in order to gain an at large berth.

If you meet the criteria, you receive an “automatic” berth to the postseason. Keep in mind the scenario that a conference champion or the highest rated independent team might not make the postseason because they are not rated in the Top 20 because more often than not, this is the No. 1 gripe behind teams that were left out of the postseason.

With that in mind, the automatic berths in the NAIA Championship Series are awarded to the conference champion (rated in the final Top 20) of these conferences:

  • Central States Football League
  • Frontier Conference
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference
  • Independents
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
  • Mid-South Conference East
  • Mid South Conference West
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest

Essentially, 10 of the 16 spots in the NAIA Championship Series are spoken for by conference champions, leaving 6 at large berths for the next highest rated teams. There have been some years where conference champions were rated No. 16, No. 17 and No. 18 meaning teams rated as high as No. 13 were left out of the postseason with very good records. (William Penn knows what I’m talking about.)

So without further ado, here is a rundown of what everything looks like conference by conference for the NAIA postseason.

CSFL: Bacone is the only team in charge of their destiny to make it into the postseason. The Warriors are 5-2 and currently receiving votes. Their biggest test is Langston the second to last week of the season, the type of loss given the timing of it would knock them out of the postseason. Essentially, if Bacone beats Texas College, Oklahoma Baptist, Langston and Southwestern Assemblies of God, they will be in the postseason. One loss and they are done. If Langston runs the table they will be the outright winner of the CSFL, but with four losses on the season it would be tough for raters to move them into the Top 20 but not unheard of. 
Today’s Prediction: Bacone

Frontier: It’s absolutely crazy how competitive and tough this conference is year after year. Currently, Carroll College and Rocky Mountain are in the conference lead with essentially the conference championship game set for November 9th if both Rocky and Carroll win out. Now, that’s a giant if as teams like Southern Oregon, MSU-Northern and Montana Western all still have a punchers chance at making the postseason. Compound that with the fact Carroll’s only loss this season is to the 2-5 Eastern Oregon Mountaineers. The Frontier is really a “wait and see” conference for another two weeks before you can have any confidence in who will actually make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Carroll College as Champion. Rocky with a chance at an at-large.

GPAC: Morningside is the only team I feel comfortable saying will be in the postseason. Up until this weekend, Concordia was in that category but a two point loss to Northwestern has put a some doubt into if they will end the season rated high enough to make it into the postseason and with Doane, Morningside and Dakota Wesleyan on their schedule things will not come easy.  Northwestern might have a shot if they win out, but that would include upsetting Morningside in the final regular season game of the year.
Today’s Prediction: Morningside with possible at large to Concordia.

HAAC: Quite a few teams in the HAAC have an opportunity to make it into the postseason. Benedictine is in the drivers seat but the Ravens will still have to face off with Missouri Valley on November 9th. Regardless of that outcome if both teams win out, they will both be in the postseason. That’s easier said than done for Missouri Valley as the Vikings still have to face off with Baker and Peru State before they play Benedictine. Depending on how the final three weeks shake out, the HAAC will have a minimum of two teams in the postseason and a possibility of four teams. Peru State has had a heck of a season, but they might be the odd man out of the HAAC postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Benedictine, Mo. Valley and Baker.

Independent: Valley City State appeared to have the upper hand until this week’s out of NAIA loss. With a 4-3 record, they have to win out to even have a chance at making the postseason and even with that, they will finish the regular season 7-3. That’s not exactly the type of record that will pop off the screen at raters especially when you’ve lost to Mayville State and Gustavus Adolphus, two teams that a postseason qualifier needs to beat. But even with that said, the Vikings still have the best shot out of any of the NAIA Independents.  Next in line are Webber International, Mayville State and Presentation; none of which are receiving votes in the NAIA poll or have enough quality wins to be considered.
Today’s Prediction: No Qualifier.

KCAC: Tabor College is in the drivers seat with a 6-1 record. Ottawa was in control of their own destiny until their loss this weekend to Sterling College who has now entered the race as a possible suitor for the postseason along with Friends. However, given the ratings and history the only teams I would feel comfortable predicting make the postseason are Tabor and Ottawa. Sterling and Friends need a lot of teams in front of them to lose in order to make the postseason and there are too many games to be played to start figuring the possibility of either of them making the postseason. Two more weeks will make the postseason picture for the KCAC a lot clearer even though the outcome of the November 16th game with Tabor and Ottawa will potentially determine the conference champion.
Today’s Prediction: Tabor and Ottawa.

MSC-East:  The University of the Cumberlands has established themselves as the front-runner of the MSC-East after their victory over Georgetown College last weekend. The Patriots need to keep winning to secure a high seed in the NAIA postseason. They aren’t the type of team that is going to let the bottom drop out of their season and lose a few games at the end of the year. Given the ratings, Georgetown College and Lindsey Wilson are the only teams in any position what-so-ever to make a run at the NAIA Championship Series. LWC should finish 8-2 but their recent loss to Kentucky Christian stings. KCU is 3-1 in the conference, but their 3-4 overall record leaves them with little chance to make the postseason. LWC faces off with Georgetown the final week of the regular season meaning the winner of that game will likely be the only remaining team in the MSC-E to make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: U-Cumberlands.

MSC-West: From looking at this conference week one and looking at it today, I can only think of one way to describe the race for a conference championship: a mess. Currently Reinhart, a first year program, is in the driver’s seat with a 3-0 conference record, 5-2 overall. Campbellsville is 2-0 in the conference but 3-3 overall while Faulkner is 1-1 in the MSC but 5-2 overall. Both Faulkner and Reinhart control their postseason likelihood if they win out. Keep in mind though, Reinhart plays Cumberlands this week, which will effect their current Top 25 rating. Faulkner does not have an easy road in front of them, but it is manageable with games against Bethel (Tenn), Belhaven, Campbellsville and Kentucky Christian. In terms of ratings and schedule, Faulkner is in the drivers seat with a lot of football still to be played.
Today’s Prediction: Faulkner

MSFA-Mideast: After last weekend’s win, Saint Francis (Ind.) is in control of their division as long as they take care of business the rest of the way. The rest of the conference is a garbled mess of good teams with average records. It’s going to be tough for another team in this conference to move up far enough in the ratings to pick up an at-large berth especially with three losses. Essentially, one of the remaining teams will have to win out in order to make the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Saint Francis (Ind.).

MSFA-Midwest: Very competitive conference that Grand View is currently in control of at this moment. But don’t sleep on Saint Ambrose who has not lost in the conference yet and have a showdown with GV with Saint Ambrose this coming weekend. The winner will likely win the conference while the loser will probably get an at-large berth. The real question mark will be if SXU can keep winning to finish the season 8-3 and make the postseason. That would mean SXU would need to beat SAU as part of their remaining regular season run, which might put SAU’s postseason into doubt if they lose to Grand View this weekend. However, an SAU win this weekend and a loss later in the regular season to SXU would almost guarantee the MSFA-Midwest gets three teams in the postseason. In other words, there is still a lot of football to be played before I feel too good about my prediction for this conference.
Today’s Prediction: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier.

For those of you keeping score, my October 19th prediction for the NAIA postseason looks like this:

  • Central States Football League: Bacone College
  • Frontier Conference: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference: Morningside College and Concordia University
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference: Benedictine, Missouri Valley and Baker
  • Independents: None
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference: Tabor College and Ottawa University
  • Mid-South Conference East: Cumberlands
  • Mid South Conference West: Faulkner University
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast: Saint Francis (Ind.)
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier

There is a lot of football to be played and if the last month of the season is anything like the previous month of NAIA football most of these predictions will be proven completely wrong. That’s what makes the NAIA so exciting and so fun to cover week after week.

I have been thoroughly impressed this season with Morningside, Cumberlands, Grand View and Benedictine. Each team has shown the type of poise that is needed to make a run at an NAIA national championship while having their own unique headlines to go with their programs. With four weeks remaining in the regular season it will be interesting to see how each team finishes up and the type of momentum they carry into the postseason.

But remember… there’s still a lot of football left to be played.

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