NCAA Division II football's version of the College Football Playoff poll came out Monday, and it provides a blueprint for what teams need to do in the final three weeks of the regular season to make the 28-team playoff bracket.
But a blueprint is all it is, especially in the Great American Conference, which has four teams -- Ouachita Baptist, Harding, Henderson State and Southern Arkansas -- realistically fighting for two, possibly three spots, if things work out just right.
Nothing is guaranteed at this point, not even for an OBU team (8-0) that ranks No. 5 in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 but only No. 4 in Super Region III.
The top seven teams in the four regions will make the 28-team tournament bracket that will be released on Nov. 17, but the Division II committee lists the top 10 in each region for the first two weeks, giving hope to the likes of No. 10 Henderson State (7-1), along with the realization that things can change dramatically, especially in the GAC.
"It's just ink on paper," said OBU Coach Todd Knight, who would prefer to wait another week or two before seeing the rankings. "Maybe by Week 10 it will mean something."
OBU (8-0) will have to earn its way into the playoffs despite holding a 24-game winning streak in GAC games and a one-game lead over the three 7-1 teams, two of which it still has to play.
The Tigers haven't played a team with a winning record since it defeated Harding in the season opener, and are facing teams with a combined 19-5 record the next three weeks.
OBU can probably stay in the top seven even if it loses a game, but almost all of the coaches agree that a two-loss GAC team will not make it in ahead of a two-loss team from the Mid-America Athletic Association, which has four teams in the top 10, including two with two losses.
Harding, ranked just behind OBU at No. 5, has what looks to be the clearest road to the postseason, with games against East Central (Okla.) (1-7), Southeastern Oklahoma State (1-7) and Arkansas Tech (2-6).
The Bisons' marching orders are clear.
"If we don't win, we're not in," Coach Paul Simmons said.
Harding, which has won seven in a row since its season-opening 16-14 loss to OBU in Arkadelphia, has already defeated Henderson State (7-1), SAU (7-1), Arkansas-Monticello (5-3) and Oklahoma Baptist (4-4).
The Bisons, however, conclude their home schedule Saturday before finishing on the road against a much-more-competitive-than-it-appears Southeastern Oklahoma State team and longtime-rival Arkansas Tech, which has won two in a row after an 0-6 start.
SAU, which is unranked nationally and regionally, must win Saturday against OBU, the following week against Henderson State and again against UAM to reach 10-1.
The same goes for Henderson State, which visits UAM on Saturday before hosting SAU on Nov. 9 and walking across the street to play OBU in the Nov. 16 Battle of the Ravine.
One difference in this season's Division II playoff format has to do with how the first-round pairings will be set.
The No. 1 seed in each region gets a bye, like OBU did last season, but the first-round pairing will no longer pit No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5.
In an effort to reduce travel costs, which approached $100,000 last season, the Division II playoff committee will award home games to the 2-3-4 seeds in each region, but the pairings could differ significantly based on geography.
Using last season as an example, Harding took a charter flight from Little Rock to Grand Rapids, Mich., before busing to Big Rapids for its game against No. 2 seed Ferris State.
The committee is trying to eliminate those kind of 800-mile trips, which means looking for opponents within the 600-mile limit for using buses.
Region III includes teams from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Looking at the top teams from each conference -- Ferris State, Grand Valley State from the GLVC, Indianapolis from the GLIAC, and Central Missouri, Northwest Missouri State, Missouri Western and Fort Hays (Kan.) State -- the only teams that fit within the 600-mile radius are Central Missouri, Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri State.
So, it's possible that a 2-3-4 seed from the MIAA could host a 5-6-7 seed from the GAC, or vice versa.
Another possible pairing option is the Lone Star Conference, which has four schools -- Tarleton State, San Angelo State, Texas-Commerce and West Texas A&M in the Region IV top 10 -- all within 600 miles of the Arkansas schools.
The pairings are impossible to predict, but this much is clear: Any GAC team that finishes as the No. 5, 6 or 7 seed in Region III won't necessarily play a team from Region III in the first round, and even if they do, a long bus ride will be on the docket rather than a chartered plane.
At a glance
SUPER REGION THREE RANKINGS
RK. TEAM IN-REGION ALL
- Ferris State .................... 7-0 8-0
- Central Missouri ........... 8-0 8-0
- Univ. of Indianapolis ..... 7-0 7-0
- Ouachita Baptist ........8-0 8-0
- Harding ..................7-1 7-1
- NW Missouri State ....... 7-1 7-1
- Grand Valley State ........ 5-1 7-1
- Missouri Western ......... 6-2 6-2
- Fort Hays State ............. 6-2 6-2
- Henderson State ......7-1 7-1
Sports on 11/01/2019
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