NAIA FCS Predictions, Recap and a Postseason Qualification Explanation.

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USF Sports Information Photo

Considering the five hours I spent yesterday on Twitter talking about the NAIA postseason as well as the selection process from the week before, I figured today would be a good day to weigh in with some thoughts. First I’ll hit on yesterday’s games and then I’ll get into the postseason selections, travel and how all that is done.

The Games

We all knew Saint Xavier traveling to Morningside was going to be interesting, we just didn’t know it would be THAT interesting. With a final score reminiscent of a basketball game, Morningside pulled it together to win 75-69. Before everyone goes off the deep end about the No. 1 seed almost losing to a lower seed you have to understand the type of season SXU had that was riddled with injuries. This weekend’s game was really the first game of the entire year where the Cougars were at full strength and it was nearly good enough to knock off the best in the NAIA.

Baker showed they were just a more talented and experienced team with their 68-21 win over Point (Ga.). The same went for Southern Oregon in their 52-8 win over Kansas Wesleyan and Montana Tech over Dickinson State, 44-10.

Saint Francis (Ind.) defeated Reinhardt 37-26 in a game that I felt would be an interesting test for the Cougars this postseason. RU has a lot of talent and looked to cause some problems for USF. In the end, USF got the upper hand and showed to be a little more seasoned in this one.

Grand View put their grit to the test again with a 16-13 win over Lindsey Wilson. It was a last second field goal that lifted the Vikings to the win against a very tough LWC.

The two biggest surprises of the first round came on opposite ends of the spectrum, I felt like Marian and Campbellsville would be much closer and I picked Doane to beat Tabor, I was dead wrong on both accounts. Marian put it to the Tigers with a 44-7 win and Tabor was victorious over Doane, 16-14. Tabor is tough to prepare for given their option attack on offense and that allowed for the only upset, according to ratings, in the first round.

So that brings us to Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally when we see some upsets in the postseason. Here’s how this year’s games will be matched up:

Game 1 – Tabor (Kan.) (11-1) at Morningside (Iowa) (11-1)
Game 2 – Southern Oregon (9-2) at Baker (Kan.) (11-1)
Game 3 – Marian (Ind.) (9-2) at Grand View (Iowa) (11-1)
Game 4 – Montana Tech (10-1) at Saint Francis (Ind.) (10-0)

Predictions

There are absolutely zero guarantees this round. Last week you could look at a few games and say “yeah, no way that team wins” but this week they are all up in the air.

Tabor doesn’t have the type of offense that will put up 69 points on Morningside like SXU did. But that doesn’t mean their defense won’t slow down the Mustangs a little bit. You have to wonder how much was taken out of Morningside last week and what’s left in the tank this week. In terms of talent, the Mustangs are the better team and they will get my pick to win this week. Morningside 35 Tabor 10.

Southern Oregon is a dangerously talented team that can put up a ton of points and limit you to nothing with their defense. Baker’s only blemish this season came on the road to a rival and the Wildcats have shown they have what it takes to win a shootout. If there was one game this round I could televise on national TV this week I’d pick this game because it could provide the biggest fireworks. Home teams typically have the advantage in this round, but against those facts I’ll take SOU. SOU 42 Baker 31.

Marian and Grand View pits two old MSFA foes against one another. Both stated their football programs at virtually the same time and I can still remember sitting in a thunderstorm with John Thayer and my brother as we waited to broadcast a game between these two a couple years back. This is the toughest game to pick this round in my opinion based on the history between the two. I think Marian is just a little bit better and if they don’t have an abundance of turnovers they’ll get the win. Marian 24 Grand View 21.

Montana Tech gets the pleasure of traveling the farthest this week as they go to Fort Wayne, Ind. to play the University of Saint Francis. Being the NAIA FB historian that I am, I’ll point out that these two teams aren’t entirely unfamiliar with each other. MTech head coach Chuck Morrell was the defensive coordinator at the University of Sioux Falls when they faced off with Saint Francis several times in previous NAIA postseasons, most recently the 2008 semifinals. USF has to limit Tech’s ability to run the ball. If these two teams decide to fight in a phone booth the Orediggers will win. USF has a lot of talent and this week will by far be their biggest test of the season. I’m picking the Cougars in a close one. USF 31 MTech 28.

The Postseason Selection

In reality, I could copy and paste my postseason selection articles I wrote on the NAIA Championship Series from 2002 until 2014, change a few names and get the exact same result. For simplicity, I’m going to break things down into ten buckets.

No. 1: The regular season has to mean something. So many of the twitter comments, emails and text messages that I respond to typically circle back to this subject. Regardless of the conference or who you play, the schedule has to mean something. You can’t just throw out a bad loss, or try to convince people that a loss really should be a win. As an old boss of mine used to say, “Oh yeah? And if the Queen had balls she’d be the King.” You get the picture. Win all your games and this won’t be a problem. After that you are at the mercy of the coaches who handle the ratings.

No. 2: A conference championship has to mean something. Being in an association of college  sports you have to understand that without other conferences, there would be no association, no championship, nothing. The NAIA has done a good job of making sure they do with a small caveat of also having to be rated in the final 20 of the last NAIA Poll. Keep in mind the NCAA basketball tournament has outright automatic bids allowing teams with losing records in. At least the NAIA makes sure you are at least one of the top 20 in the country before allowing a team to punch their ticket to the postseason. There are some conference champions that aren’t as good as the second or third best team in some leagues. But if there is no benefit to winning your conference, then why have conferences?

No. 3: You have to follow the guidelines of the NAIA Championship Series. For those of you who haven’t read the manual, I suggest you do. Every year there is an uproar about seeding, travel, home teams, etc. Save yourself a lot of headache and read the manual. Sure. . .it’s like reading the owners manual to your microwave but you might actually learn something. For starters, there is no seeding in the postseason. It is not bracketed, it is not seeded, it is not predetermined by mythical lore. Teams have to bid (ie pay money) to host games. . .just like at other levels. Let’s just say everyone paid the minimum amount to host, then in the first round the Top 8 rated teams will host, second round the Top 4, third round the Top 2. Who those teams then get to play is decided by a number of factors outlined in the manual. . .but not solely seeding/rating.

No. 4: There is not a secret society of NAIA coaches out to screw your team. Yes, raters from each conference are bias toward the teams in their own conference. If this is a surprise or you are outraged by this then you need to take up some yoga or find a new hobby. The coaches who rate their conference have the best interest of THEIR conference in mind. They examine what happens each week and what gets said on conference calls and determine the ratings. If there is anything suspicious that happens in the ratings, the NAIA has a ratings oversight committee who can actually decide to throw out a raters ballot if they determine anything screwy was going on.

No. 5: Being the first or second team left out sucks. Then after you are left out, you carefully watch the first round, wait for someone to get blown out and then scream “SEE! I TOLD YOU WE GOT SCREWED!!!” mostly at my twitter as if I had something to do with it. All while forgetting the 2-3 losses you have in the regular season. Listen, if you lost one game and got left out of the postseason then you have a case. Two losses? Three losses? Sorry, you’ve taken destiny out of your own hands at that point. To this day the biggest screw job of the NAIA postseason went to William Penn in 2010 where they were 10-1 and left out of the postseason. 4/10 wins came against teams with winning records, their only loss was to their own conference co-champion McKendree. On selection day they were the first team left off the list.

No. 6: Your conference isn’t as good as you think it is and the others aren’t as bad as you think they are. It’s called parity. Some conferences are better than others, some are worse than others. Fast forward five years and it changes. I had a person email me this week about their conference being the toughest in the country and that it was a travesty that Team X was left out. I politely pointed out the severe lack of national titles in recent years from that conference.

No. 7: Kenneth Massey is a statistical genius. You know that name “Massey Ratings” and how every year at this time the people his ratings benefit will throw them in your face and the people who aren’t benefited by them dismiss them? Even though the next year the rolls reverse. Massey has developed a great tool to provide more insight into teams that you might know know a whole lot about. His formula is consistent year after year. But before you throw “strength of schedule” and “best conference” in someones face using Massey, understand the way that is determined. In some cases it is impossible to determine how good a conference is because their sample size of non-conference games is just too small or all against common opponents.

No. 8: Expanding or contracting the postseason will not help. Just like when the NCAA expanded, now the No. 5 team was getting screwed. So lets expand to 8, 16, 32. . .hell give everyone a trophy. 16 works for the NAIA. Expanding to 20 or 24 does not eliminate being the first team left out. Since 1999, no team lower than No. 10 in the final rating has won a national championship. That team was Carroll College in 2002 and keep in mind that was because Carroll dropped from No. 5 to No. 10 because they lost the final week of the season to Montana Western. Last year No. 8 Southern Oregon won it all but that was after falling from No. 4 to No. 8 the final week of the season because they lost to rival Eastern Oregon.

No. 9: If you have a better plan, write it up and send it to the coaches. Since I started covering the NAIA and even when I played football at this level the coaches have talked about the NAIA postseason. They’ve tried to think of ways to improve it or make it better. To date, nothing significant has changed since the NAIA adopted this plan. It’s real easy to say “Top 16, bracket them and have teams play whoever.” But it just does not work at this level of college athletics or any of the other smaller levels. The cost to fly teams all over the country wouldn’t allow it. The NAIA tries to reimburse for some postseason expenses and already struggles. Despite how much money you may think your school has, they couldn’t afford it either. Over the last 15 years I have became good friends with several NAIA administrators at various schools. It’s literally a year round fundraising effort to make sure if their team gets into the postseason that they can afford it.

No. 10: Each year is a new season. New year, new players, new coaches. Just like the Massey Ratings, history is just another tool you can use to determine if your team is good enough to make the postseason. That along with wins, losses, record against Top 25, record against teams with winning records, wins against like opponents, non-conference wins etc etc. You cannot laser focus on one or two of those and say “SEE! WE GOT SCREWED!!!” Take off the blinders, look at the entire picture.

The Real Issue

Enough dancing. . . ATTN Dakota Wesleyan supporters and Montana Western supporters. First, your football teams had tremendous seasons and played in two of the best conferences in the NAIA. You should absolutely be proud of what your teams did this year. You have great coaches and administration that I respect the heck out of.

Stop pointing out to me how you would have beaten Dickinson State, Point and Kansas Wesleyan. I get it, you had a good team and you are more than likely right in your assessment but that doesn’t change the fact you failed to take care of business in the regular season. You only play the teams on your schedule. There are more other teams in the NAIA that could have beaten those three teams that also didn’t make the postseason. (Back to point No. 1 above)

Dakota Wesleyan at 9-2 would have made the postseason had they beaten Doane or Morningside. DWU was rated 12th when they lost to Doane and fell to 17th and then 21st the following week after their loss to Morningside. It’s not like the coaches disrespected them after those losses as the average fall after a loss is 4-6 spots. The Tigers had a solid resume as DWU also beat five teams with a .500 or better record.

Montana Western was 7-3 and needed one more win and they would have made it in. They lost to two playoff qualifiers and a 4-6 Carroll College team. On the season the Bulldogs did not beat a team with a winning record. Many want to point out that all three losses were close games to which I point out. . . they were still losses. Horseshoes, hand grenades etc etc. MW was No.10 with two losses before losing to Montana Tech the last week of the season. One less loss erases all probability that you don’t make the postseason.

You are not alone. It sucks when you are that close and left out. I’m pretty sure Todd Hafner at William Penn has a support group or manual in his office on how to deal with this situation if you’d like to reach out to him.

Conclusion

Thanks for sticking around. A lot of that doesn’t mean a hill of beans to some of you but after yesterday’s 140 character responses I felt the need to spell it all out so that I am not misunderstood.

An additional point I would like to make are the claims that I am just some mouthpiece for the NAIA. Trust me, NOTHING could be further from the truth. I do get a long with some members of the national office and we all exchange pleasantries from time to time but trust me when I say there have been many times they likely wished I would just go away.

I have never been on the NAIA payroll nor have they contributed any money towards any of my business ventures over the last 15 years. The only money ever given to me by the NAIA was when I announced NAIA DI men’s basketball games online and was paid a talent fee like all the other announcers.

So before people look at my comments or this article and just say “well, he answers to the NAIA” I would you remind you that just isn’t the case.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully I will have time next week to write something for the semifinals but I make no promises. Life has been a little busy as of late.

Take care and have a great Thanksgiving!

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