Guess who’s back in the playoff picture?

What a difference one week can make.

The Bemidji State football team jumped back into postseason contention, just one week after falling out of the regional rankings with a loss to Minnesota-Duluth.

Bemidji State vaulted back into the NCAA Super Regional 3 rankings and are now No. 7 in the latest poll.

On selection Sunday (Nov. 8), the NCAA Selection Committee will pick six teams from each of the four super regions in the country to make up the 24-team national tournament.

While Bemidji State is a bubble team with one week to play in the regular season, there is a possibility the Beavers could find a way into the national field.

How did we get here?

These major things happened in last week’s games to put Bemidji State back into contention.

1. Bemidji State defeated a respectable U-Mary team on the road 21-10.

2. Augustana lost to Winona State 23-21.

3. Findlay lost to Saginaw Valley State 24-16.

4. Colorado School of Mines lost to Nebraska-Kearney 24-12.

Augustana fell out of the NCAA Super Regional 3 Rankings with the loss to Winona, a team Bemidji State defeated 24-19 earlier in the season. Prior to the loss, Augustana was ranked No. 8 in the super region.

Findlay, a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team, was ranked No. 7 in the super region.

Mines, a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference team, dropped out of the rankings with the loss to super region No. 6 Kearney. Prior to the loss, Mines was No. 10.

When everything shaked out Monday, here’s how the region rankings looked:

1. Mankato (NSIC) 10-0
2. Minn-Duluth (NSIC) 9-1
3. Grand Valley State (GLIAC) 9-1
4. Nebraska-Kearney (RMAC) 9-1
5. Saginaw Valley State (GLIAC) 8-2
6. Hillsdale (GLIAC) 8-2
7. Bemidji State (NSIC) 7-3
8. Wayne State (NSIC) 7-3
9. Findlay (GLIAC) 7-3
10. Winona State (NSIC) 7-3

Interesting, huh?

It’s important to note that when the selection committee picks the field for the national tournament, it does not follow the regional rankings absolutely.

There’s no doubt Bemidji State is a bubble team and there is reason to believe the Beavers can make the Division II playoffs.

How it can happen

In my opinion, here’s how it can happen.

Bemidji State must beat Concordia-St. Paul. Lose to Concordia, and none of the two outcomes I write after this sentence make a difference.

Outcome 1: Saginaw or Hillsdale lose in the final game of the season. This might be a tall order since both have home games against poor teams. Saginaw hosts Ferris State (1-9) and Hillsdale hosts Tiffin (0-10). This outcome is the easiest way for BSU to get in.

Outcome 2: This outcome gets complicated, so I’ll take it step by step.

I believe Mankato, Duluth, Grand Valley and Kearney are all in regardless of Saturday’s outcomes in their games.

a. Saginaw and Hillsdale win.

b. Duluth defeats Winona State on the road and Wayne State must defeat U-Mary at home.

If Outcome 2 plays out Saturday, that in theory would not change the regional rankings one bit.

Or could it?

Remember that the NCAA selection committee does not follow the ranking absolutely. There are a number of factors that go in to determining who makes the playoffs. These selection factors are outlined in page 11 in the NCAA Football Championship Handbook.

 The primary criteria is:
-Win/Loss record
-Strength of schedule
-Availability of student-athletes for NCAA Championships

The handbook does not specify a priority order for the primary criteria.

In addition to the primary criteria, there are 10 other criteria that is used in consideration of at-large playoff bids (not necessarily in priority order)
-In region Division II win/loss results
-Overall Division II win/loss results
-Strength of schedule
-Head-to-Head competition
-Results vs. Common opponents
-Results vs. Divsiion II teams greater than .500
-Trend Performance
-Overall Win/Loss results
-Division II win/loss results
-Results vs. Non-Division II opponents

To me, it looks as though the handbook sets the framework for debate.

What the committee did to BSU in 2006

Look back to 2006: Bemidji State won the NSIC (back then, it was just a 10-team conference and no divisions) and the Beavers were not selected to compete in the national playoffs that year. The selection committee picked second-place Winona State instead.

Bemidji State had the better conference record (8-0) than Winona State (7-1). But the two teams had 9-3 overall records.

That year, BSU defeated Winona 28-7 during the season.

When it came down to the tiebreaker, Winona played a tougher Division II schedule. Minot was, and still is, a NAIA program and the annual BSU-Minot game was likely one reason the Beavers were left out. Strength of schedule trumped record.

The handbook states: "The evaluation of a team’s Division II won-lost results will be weighted equally with the Division II strength of schedule."

If that logic prevails in the selection committee again, BSU could get in on the strength of schedule.

Strength of schedule

Bemidji State has the 29th toughest strength of schedule in the country heading into the final weekend according to official NCAA figures.
Saginaw’s strength of schedule ranking is 55.
Hillsdale’s strength of schedule ranking is 87.

After this week’s games, it is likely Bemidji’s state’s strength of schedule ranking will climb slightly. Saginaw and Hilldsale’s ranking will likely drop.

If outcome No. 2 plays out, it is unlikely BSU will jump Saginaw. But Hillsdale could be dragged down enough by playing winless Tiffin and there is a real possibility BSU could jump Hillsdale there. It’s not a guarantee, but the possibility is there.

Think about it.

Bemidji State has played four nationally ranked teams this season and finished 2-2 in those games. The wins came against then No. 20 Winona State and then No. 14 Wayne State. When you look at the regional rankings, that’s why BSU is ahead of those two schools.

The two losses were heartbreakers: a 37-34 overtime loss to Mankato and the 35-34 loss to UMD two weeks ago in a game that was an extra point from overtime. In the most recent AFCA national poll, Mankato is ranked No. 4 and Duluth is No. 6.

BSU showed it can play with the best teams in the nation week in and week out during the regular season.

Hillsdale’s two losses this season have come to average teams Northwood and Findlay. Hillsdale has played just two ranked teams and won respectably: then No. 12 Ashland (now 5-5) and then No. 1 Grand Valley (now No. 5 overall).

It could be argued that Bemidji State could win just as many games playing Hillsdale’s schedule and Hillsdale could not win as many playing Bemidji State’s schedule. It’s a legitimate point that could help BSU.

Predicting what the NCAA selection committee will decide is probably futile (see the bubble team selections in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in recent years).

Like a pennant race in baseball, Bemidji State is in the hunt as the final week of the regular season begins. The excitement in Bemidji State’s success this year is in the chase for the playoffs and those great games with nationally ranked opponents.

Those four games against nationally ranked teams should give the selection committee something to think about.

Should BSU not make the national field, I think the Mineral Water Bowl is now a tangible option for the Beavers.

But like last week, the only thing the Beavers can control right now is what happens on the field. That starts and ends Saturday afternoon against Concordia-St. Paul.