Column: Breaking down GVSU's playoff chances
Lakers need to win out to have a shot at Division II playoffs
With two games remaining in the 2015 regular season, the Grand Valley State football team is on the outside, looking in on the playoff picture.
The Division II playoffs feature 28 teams – seven from each of the four NCAA Super Regions. The Lakers are currently ranked No. 17 in the American Football Coaches' Association (AFCA) polls, yet the current playoff landscape has the Lakers toeing the edge.
GVSU is part of Super Region Four – likely the toughest of the Super Regions. Obviously it’s impossible to gauge Division II teams across the nation, but I find it hard to believe GVSU isn’t one of the best 28 teams.
Unfortunately, the playoffs aren’t determined by the top 28 teams.
Here’s what the Super Region Four rankings look like right now, with current playoff teams bolded.
- 1. Ferris State (No. 3 AFCA)
- 2. Tex. A&M-Commerce (No. 12 AFCA)
- 3. Midwestern State (No. 11 AFCA)
- 4. Ashland (No. 5 AFCA)
- 5. Colorado Mesa (No. 16 AFCA)
- 6. Colorado St. – Pueblo (No. 4 AFCA)
- 7. Indianapolis (No. 18 AFCA)
- 8. GVSU (No. 17 AFCA)
- 9. Colorado Mines (No. 21 AFCA)
- 10. Michigan Tech (No. 22 AFCA)
The Lakers (7-2, 6-2 GLIAC) have lost their two games against FSU and Ashland – both quality losses in the Division II world. GVSU has two games remaining, an away match against Tiffin (5-4, 4-4 GLIAC) and a home game against Saginaw Valley State (1-8, 1-7 GLIAC). Though neither opponent would earn GVSU a marquee win, if the Lakers beat both teams, they’re likely a lock to make the playoffs.
The four conferences represented in Super Region Four are the GLIAC, the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC), the Lone Star Conference (LSC) and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC), along with three Independent teams. Barring massive upsets in the final two weeks of the season, FSU and Ashland will win out and secure playoff bids for the GLIAC.
That leaves five spots remaining.
Indianapolis, from the GLVC, will also likely win out. The Greyhounds are undefeated as far as the polls are concerned, and play two middle-of-the-conference opponents in the next two weeks. Middle-of-the-conference opponents in the GLVC, however, do not mean much. Indianapolis' strength-of-schedule currently ranks 161st out of 170 Division II teams. A loss will knock U of Indy out. Two wins, which is most likely, keeps the Greyhounds in.
Four spots remaining.
The LSC could push two teams into the playoffs. Texas A&M-Commerce and Midwestern State are Nos. 2 and 3 in the regional rankings, as each team has one loss counting toward playoff consideration. The two teams each have one conference game left, and both could end in an upset.
Even if the two teams win in the final week, however, they won’t be an immediate lock for the playoffs. The LSC holds a conference tournament following the regular season. This gives a chance for teams to beat up on each other, and, clearly, either TAMC or MSU will lose another game during that tournament.
The LSC, along with the GLIAC, is one of the two toughest conferences in the region, which will aid the cases of TAMC and MSU. The LSC will likely send two teams.
Two spots remaining.
That leaves the RMAC. Colorado Mesa and Colorado St. – Pueblo will play each other this weekend, a bout that will leave one team with two losses by the time the next Super Region rankings come out. The two teams are at Nos. 5 and 6 in the region right now. One handing the other a loss while GVSU beats Tiffin might be enough for the Lakers to leapfrog into playoff position. Most teams in the RMAC have strength of schedules that rank in the bottom-third of Division II. I'd be surprised to see both RMAC teams make the playoffs.
In our hypothetical scenario, that still leaves one spot remaining.
The Lakers don’t have a tough schedule remaining, but they currently sport the 11th-toughest strength of schedule in Division II this season. The rest of GVSU's schedule is moderately easy, and the Lakers will likely finish with a strength-of-schedule in the mid-20s. Regardless, two wins against Tiffin and SVSU will almost certainly push GVSU into the playoffs.
Tiffin is a solid team with upset potential, but GVSU knows another loss will nail it securely outside the playoffs. I think the Lakers win the next two weeks, throwing all mercy out the window, to best solidify their case for playoffs.
A scenario exists in which two teams from the GLIAC, LSC and RMAC, and one GLVC team make it. This would likely leave GVSU out in the cold because Ferris State and Ashland would be those two GLIAC teams.
The LSC and the RMAC are simply too volatile to predict right now. The Lakers are guaranteed that two of the seven teams above them will lose again in 2015. GVSU has only played Division II teams this season, which gives it an extra game played in the eyes of the rankings. The two LSC teams each played a game against an opponent outside Division II. This extra game could work in GVSU’s favor.
The Lakers aren’t a shoo-in for the playoffs. Last week’s loss against Ashland would have all but locked a spot down in the top seven of Super Region Four, but the loss muddies the water a little bit.
If the Lakers win out, I’d be astounded to see them left out of the playoffs. GVSU knows its talent and potential, and won't settle for a lackluster performance the last two weeks of the regular season.
To put it simply, I wouldn't want to be Tiffin or SVSU right now.