Minnesota Duluth quarterback Ben Everhart was asked if he ever thought as recently as two weeks ago that he would be starting today.
"That's how you've got to think about it," he said. "We've got a lot of guys here who can play, so we prepare every day as if we're going to play."
Everhart, a sophomore, made his first collegiate start on Saturday, and while he looked good, it didn't result in a victory as the Bulldogs fell 38-23 to eighth-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato before 4,557 at Malosky Stadium.
With two losses, UMD (1-2) goes into its NSIC game at Wayne State (2-1) on Saturday knowing one more loss would all but eliminate any chance of the Bulldogs making their ninth NCAA Division II playoff appearance in the past 10 years.
"We've got to win out to make playoffs," Everhart said. "It's out of our control how the other teams do, so we've got to control what we can, and that's winning games."
If UMD were to win out, the Bulldogs would be 9-2, with a strong playoff argument to make as their two losses would be to Sioux Falls and Mankato, teams currently ranked Nos. 7 and 8 in the country, respectively.
While those games should help UMD's strength of schedule, the Bulldogs' NSIC South Division schedule will do them no favors. The South has gone just 6-18 against the North this season, including a lackluster 1-7 last week, with St. Cloud State earning the North's lone victory, a 56-21 thumping of Concordia-St. Paul. The Huskies are the lone North team with a winning record at 2-1.
The South has three 3-0 teams in Sioux Falls, Mankato and Winona State. UMD will need the South to start beating up on each other while the Bulldogs try to find their own rhythm when North Division play starts next week.
While it's rare, UMD made the NCAA playoffs in 2011 with two regular-season losses, 7-0 at Wayne State and 35-7 at St. Cloud State.
Bulldogs coach Curt Wiese was asked if he felt they could still get in.
"That's a tough question to answer," Wiese said. "There is a lot of season left. We're going to play week by week and find out where we're at the end of the season. We've been in before with two losses, but we're in a new region this year, so I have no idea how it will play out."
UMD has seen teams with three losses make the playoffs in other regions while the Bulldogs and the NSIC were stuck in recent years with the powerful Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, including two-time defending national champion Northwest Missouri State.
This year, the NSIC is part of a region that includes the Rocky Mountain and Lone Star conferences and California schools.
The NCAA Division II playoff field expanded from 24 to 28 teams in 2016, meaning seven teams from each region make it.
"You'd think you'd still get in," Wiese said of two losses against top-ranked opponents. "But Mankato was definitely a game we wanted to win.
"No excuses. Everybody has bumps and bruises right now. It is what it is. The game of football is a battle of attrition. If you're dinged up the next guy has to be prepared and ready to go. That's not something we can focus on or talk about. We have to be prepared with the guys we put out there."
The best example would be at quarterback, where starting quarterback Mike Rybarczyk was lost in Week 2 with a season-ending upper-body injury. His backup, redshirt freshman John Larson of Braham, Minn., was also out with an injury last week. That left wide receiver Nate Ricci and true freshman Garrett Olson backing up Everhart, but the Bulldogs want to save Olson's redshirt season, ensuring another year of eligibility.
"Next man up, that's the mentality," Everhart said after Saturday's game. "We train for this, everybody is at practice, everybody has been working hard. It's a team game. It's not one person."
Just then a Bulldogs fan came by and said, "You're doing a good job. You really are. Keep it up."
"It's a team game, and we're all brothers here," he said. "We're all competing against each other every day and trying to get better for this team."
Everhart certainly appears to deserve another opportunity to start after last week, where he was 24-of-43 passing for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
"We'll see," Everhart said. "Whoever is out there for UMD is going to come and compete. I felt good. It slowed down a little as the game went on, but it's not about me. I was just happy to be out there competing with my teammates. I feel sore, but that's part of it."
Everhart laughed when being told, for the sake of Bulldogs' fans, he better stay healthy. There's nobody else left.
This article is written by Jon Nowacki from Duluth News Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.