A region by region look at the 2017 DII Football Championship
The DII football regular season is in the books. Twenty eight teams are continuing to play, but one will earn the titlle of 2017 national champion.
Let’s take a look at each of the regions and the 28 teams hoping to end their season in Kansas City.
Super Region 1
Indiana (Pa) is the top seed here and it is earned. The Crimson Hawks finished 11-0, defeating three ranked teams along the way. They concluded their season with a win again tournament-bound West Chester in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship. IUP could very well be one of the most balanced teams in the tournament behind a Top 20 offense and defense.
IUP is the one seed, Shepherd wasn’t far behind. Connor Jessop behind center has been sensational and this offense is as potent as any in the tournament, with Jabre Lolley leading the charge on the ground and Ryan Feiss as Jessop’s favorite receiver. The question will be if they have the defense to hold off its foes.
West Chester heads to Shippensburg in what could very well be the game to watch in the region’s first round. Shippensburg flew under the radar for most of the season, finally cracking the Top 25 last week. The Raiders lone loss to West Chester was what kept them from playing IUP for the championship. Quarterback Ryan Zapoticky has had a tremendous season and will be the player to watch in this game.
Super Region 2
West Alabama broke through this season, winning the Gulf South Conference behind a 9-2 record. That speaks volumes considering four — West Alabama, West Georgia, West Florida and Delta State — GSC teams advanced to the postseason. Quarterback Harry Satterwhite led the GSC’s top-ranked offense, and will cause plenty of trouble for opponents.
Virginia State and Bowie State will be the teams to watch. Both teams have incredible offenses led by some of DII football’s biggest stars. Quarterback Amir Hall leads DII’s top offense, scoring more points (56.4 points per game) and totaling more yards (582.3 per game) than any other team in the division. Virginia State, however, was the only team to defeat them, capturing the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title along the way. Running back Trenton Cannon has been unstoppable of late and West Georgia will have its hands full hoping to contain him.
Super Region 3
Fort Hays State is 11-0 and the victors of the battle-tested Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Tigers have had a remarkable season defeating any and every challenge that came their way. This could be the toughest region in all of the playoffs, so the first round bye is a welcomed bonus. Jacob Mezera leads a fun offense that can beat you on the ground with running back Kenneth Iheme or through the air with receiver Monterio Burchfield.
Northwest Missouri State is on its quest to “three-peat” and standing in its way is Ashland. Ashland ran its way to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title, going 9-0 in the conference. Quarterback Travis Tarnowski has been nearly flawless, throwing 26 touchdowns and just one interception all year. He'll have to be on his game with Northwest Missouri State coming to town. Of course even with two losses the Bearcats defense is the stuff from which legends are made. The top-ranked defense in Division II allowed just 207.6 yards and 8.3 points per game this season. This may not only be the game of the region, but the entire first round.
While Indianapolis’s 11-0 run through the Great Lakes Valley Conference is certainly impressive and newsworthy, Harding may be the team to watch here. The Bisons started the season off on the wrong foot, but finished winning their last eight straight games. Getting hot at the right time is always the key to a championship run, and the Bison are certainly on fire. This UIndy/ Harding matchup is intriguing to say the least.
Super Region 4
Talk about a stacked conference. If Super Region 3 isn’t the toughest region, than you are looking at it. There are four legitimate No. 1 seeds in this part of the bracket, and Central Washington was the team that walked away with the honors.
The Wildcats dominated the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, traveled to Utah and Texas and had North Alabama visit Ellensburg, Washington en route to an 11-0 record. While quarterback Reilly Hennessey has earned most of the attention — and deservingly so — linebacker Kevin Haynes will be the key to how far Central Washington goes. While teams in the Wild West are often known for their offenses (which CWU has plenty of scoring 40.2 points per game), Haynes led the No. 3 defense in DII, allowing just 244.5 yards per game.
Minnesota State is currently the No. 1 team in DII. The Mavericks made their way through a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference represented by three teams in the region. This past weekend, they knocked off No. 13 Sioux Falls in the final minute to finish a perfect 11-0 and NSIC champions. They too have a Top 10 defense, which is what they’ll need with Colorado State-Pueblo’s high-flying offense coming to town.
Midwestern State finished its slate 9-0 in a Lone Star Conference that saw three teams finish in the Top 25. It too could likely be a No. 1 seed elsewhere, especially with a signature win over Texas A&M-Commerce earlier in the season. Layton Rabb leads an explosive offense, which will clash with Sioux Falls No. 2-ranked defense. This should be the game to watch in Round 1.