DCTF Small College Review: A conference champ and top 10 team left out of playoffs

Courtesy of Hardin-Simmons Football

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I’m not going to lie; this was a bit of a gut punch.

The day started well with the Cowboys cruising past the Falcons, followed by the NCAA selection shows for the Division II and Division III playoffs.

The committees went full NCAA, and one should never go full NCAA. So Texas had the possibility of having five teams in the DII and DIII playoffs, with four of those teams seemingly a lock and the other having a great case. 

When the dust settled, Texas had three teams in the playoffs.

Start With Congratulations

The playoff pairings were a gut punch because I want every Texas small college team to succeed. 

I couldn’t be more delighted for Angelo State, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Trinity. I hope I’m covering a Texas team in their respective national title game.

The Rams earned the second seed in Super Region 4 and host Minnesota Duluth at 1 p.m. Saturday. Angelo State is playing its best football of the season at the right time and is entering the playoffs on a five-game win streak in a region without a clear favorite.

Unfortunately for UMHB and Trinity, the DIII travel rules required the two teams from Texas to meet in the opening round. As a result, the Tigers will visit the Crusaders at noon Saturday in one of the premier matchups of the first round.

The LSC Champ Stays Home

Midwestern State knew they needed a win Saturday to secure its first outright Lone Star Conference title since 2017. But, the Mustangs also knew they needed a little help from an unpredictable region being in the first spot out of the playoffs in the final regional rankings.

The Mustangs handled their business on the field with a thrilling 36-30 win over UT Permian Basin to secure their fourth LSC title overall. The win also marked the 150th win for MSU coach Bill Maskill.

However, the help from other teams did not materialize. Every team that ranked ahead of MSU in the last regional rankings won their games on Saturday, leaving the LSC champion out of the playoffs.

Interestingly, this marks the seventh time since the LSC joined the ranks of NCAA DII the conference champion did not make the playoffs.

The most recent team to win the title and not make the playoffs was Texas A&M-Commerce in 2014. Eastern New Mexico has twice won the LSC and missed the playoffs, while Angelo State, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and West Texas A&M have suffered the same fate since 1981.

The unfortunate fact for MSU is that every NCAA playoff system has a recency bias and tends to reward teams who lose earlier in the year instead of the end of the season. As a result, the Mustangs finished 3-2 in their last five games against DII opponents, which ultimately was their undoing this year.

A Top 10 Team Not In The Playoffs?

This is where I have to remind myself to be nice.

Hardin-Simmons not making the playoffs makes no sense at all to me. Sure, I’m biased towards Texas teams, but I believe the facts back me up in this case.

The Cowboys finished the season ranked No. 10 in the final D3Football.com poll. HSU somehow fell two spots in the last poll despite dominating opponents at the end of the season, but that’s the voter’s opinion.

NCAA DIII has 32 playoff spots, and 27 of those are automatic bids awarded to conference champions, which was UMHB for the American Southwest Conference and Trinity for the Southern Athletic Association.

The guys at D3 Football had the Cowboys as the third at-large bid in their final projections following UW-La Crosse and Birmingham Southern.

HSU had a solid strength of schedule against DIII foes. However, the Cowboys were hurt by playing only nine games against DIII competition with their one non-conference game against NAIA Wayland Baptist. 

Birmingham Southern also only played nine games against DIII competition, but that was apparently overlooked despite the Panthers also playing a game against an NAIA opponent.

It’s not easy for the Cowboys to schedule a non-conference DIII opponent due to numerous factors, with financial issues being the most significant issue facing most schools who might schedule a home-and-home series against HSU.

What troubles me the most about this snub is finding out that HSU wasn’t even considered for an at-large bid by the committee.

The final regional rankings had Randolph-Macon ahead of HSU, which is inexplicable. The Cowboys’ only loss was on the road to No. 2 UMHB, while the Yellow Jackets’ one loss was to an unranked Washington & Lee squad.

I know the committee could care less about top 25 rankings, but the rankings present how coaches and other voters feel about certain teams. In this case, HSU was ahead of UW-La Crosse, Birmingham Southern, and Randolph-Macon in the final D3 Football poll.

This Cowboys team had enough talent to make a run to the national title game, as evidenced by their 28-7 lead against the Cru. Unfortunately, HSU is left home without a valid explanation.

Helmet Stickers

Kevin Brown, UIW

The senior running back transfer from Highland Community College had his best game of the year at a crucial time for Incarnate Word gaining 185 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 attempts in the Cardinals 27-23 win over Nicholls.

Jordan Smart, UTPB

The freshman from Round Rock High School was incredible for UT Permian Basin Saturday setting a single-game program record with 156 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions in the Falcons loss to MSU.

Jake Parker, Howard Payne

The wide receiver from Whitehouse High School finished his collegiate career in style on Saturday catching seven passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark on the season while leading Howard Payne to a 49-21 win over Austin College.

Plays of the Week

Each week, we scour social media to find the top plays. However, we are sure to miss some incredible plays from the 35 small college teams in Texas, so we are seeking your assistance. 

If you find a great play worthy of a nomination, use hashtag #dctftopplays to make sure we notice.

Here are the top plays from Week 11:

 

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