Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gazing into I-AA's crystal ball

The latest Gridiron Power Index – considered the top indicator for at-large playoff selection at the Division I-AA football level – is out, just in time to start looking at the playoff picture heading into the final two weekends of the season. The 16-team playoff field will be unveiled Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. Keep in mind that eight teams will get automatic bids by winning their respective conference – champions of the Atlantic 10, Big Sky, Gateway, MEAC, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern and Southland conferences. The other eight teams will be selected by the committee. Here are the top 25 teams in the GPI and where they stand in the playoff race (teams in blue aren't eligible for the playoffs):

  • 1. Massachusetts, A10 (N), 8-1
    UMass isn’t the No. 1 team in the opinion polls but is in contention for a home bid, especially with AD John McCutcheon (formerly CP’s AD) on the committee.
  • 2. Appalachian State, SOCON, 9-1
    The first team to earn a playoff spot, the defending champs are No. 1 in nearly every other poll.
  • 3T. Montana, BSC, 8-1
    Saturday’s win over Cal Poly only solidifies their position as the team to beat out West. A Big Sky title could keep them at home in the playoffs.
  • 3T. James Madison, A10 (S), 8-1
    The A-10 is the GPI's second strongest conference behind the Great West and will surely get multiple teams in.
  • 5. North Dakota State, GWFC, 8-1
    A top-five team but not eligible for the postseason during the transition from Division II, which could free up another spot out West for a team like Cal Poly or even San Diego.
  • 6. Youngstown State, GFC, 8-2
    A win away from the Gateway title, the Penguins are marching toward the playoffs and could be in consideration for a seed (top four) if they finish strong.
  • 7. Illinois State, GFC, 7-2
    The Gateway is the third toughest conference, which means multiple teams probably go from this league too.
  • 8. Cal Poly, GWFC, 6-3
    The Mustangs’ best shot is to win out, get to seven Division I wins and earn a share of the title in the toughest league in the GPI. A split puts them in the danger zone.
  • 9. New Hampshire, A10 (N), 6-3
    After losing 3 of 4, the Wildcats can’t afford to lose again.
  • 10. Northern Iowa, GFC, 6-3
    The Panthers decide their own fate with games against Southern Illinois and Illinois State is the grueling Gateway.
  • 11. Portland St., BSC, 6-4
    A four-loss team way up here? Yeah, because to of those loses are to I-A teams. One four-loss team that will get consideration and could be the second Big Sky team to follow Montana to the postseason.
  • 12. Tennessee-Martin, OVC, 8-1
    Who? Yes, Tennessee-Martin is making a run and is unbeaten in the OVC. Two wins (or a win and a Tenn. St. loss) gives the Skyhawks the league’s automatic bid.
  • 13. San Diego, PFL, 9-0
    One of the most interesting cases, San Diego has a game against UC Davis scheduled for the first weekend of the playoffs but will cancel that game if given an invitation. But the PFL is ranked 15th among 16 I-AA conferences and San Diego has played a schedule that consists largely of nonscholarship teams
  • 14. Maine, A10 (N), 6-3
    With games against UMass and New Hampshire remaining, the Bears control their own destiny.
  • 15. Harvard, IVY, 7-1
    Ivy League schools aren’t eligible for the playoffs.
  • 16T. Southern Illinois, GFC, 6-3
    Another three-loss team that has to keep winning at home against Northern Iowa and then Southern Utah.
  • 16T. Furman, SOCON, 7-3
    The Paladins probably need to beat Georgia Southern to get in as four-loss teams usually get left out of the at-large race.
  • 18T. South Dakota State, GWFC, 6-3
    Like North Dakota State, ineligible for the postseason but makes the GWFC look that much more worthy of an at-large bid.
  • 18T. Montana State, BSC, 7-3
    If you drop the ineligible teams above them, the Bobcats are in at this point. Then again, there are a lot of automatic-bid leagues that we haven’t even gotten to yet, which will bump out a couple of deserving candidates. Their best bet is to beat Montana and take home the Big Sky automatic bid.
  • 20. Princeton, IVY, 7-1
    Ivy League schools aren’t eligible for the playoffs, in case you missed it the first time.
  • 21. UC Davis, GWFC, 4-5
    Another GWFC team ineligible during its move to Division I-AA.
  • 22. Yale, IVY, 7-1
    Ivy League schools aren’t eligible for the playoffs, in case you missed it the second time.
  • 23. Towson, A10 (S), 6-3
    Would have to finish strong to be considered, especially with so many other teams from the A-10 being in the race.
  • 24. Wofford, SOCON, 5-4
    With four losses, Wofford is a probably a long shot at this point unless something crazy happens down the stretch.
  • 25. Hampton, MEAC 9-1
    Hampton is ranked 11th in the opinion poll. A win over Florida A & M gets the Pirates the automatic bid.
Because no teams from the Patriot or Southland conferences are listed above, at least two teams not listed will make the playoffs. It looks like Lehigh and McNeese State are the frontrunners in those respective leagues. Upsets in automatic-bid leagues could also shake things up and 9-2 Coastal Carolina is in the conversation out of the Big South thanks to a No. 16 ranking in the latest Sports Network poll.

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