Forty-five DII football champions have been crowned since Louisiana Tech defeated Western Kentucky 34-0 in the first DII Football Championship in 1973. Several of those early champions went on to find success in both the FBS and FCS. North Dakota State, Montana State and Delaware, for example, went on to win FCS championships. Altogether four DII national champions have made a move to the FBS while nine have gone on to the FCS.
It's not simply some of the teams that have changed, but the tournament itself. Since the first DII playoffs were played in 1973, more and more teams have entered the mix. What started as an eight-team tournament increased to 16 teams in 1988, then 24 teams in 2004, until it reached its current 28-team format in 2016. It's that much harder to win a national championship now then it has ever been.
Let's take a look at the programs who have won the most DII football titles.
Northwest Missouri State, 6 (1998-99, 2009, 2013, 2015-16)
Simply put, the Bearcats are the DII football powerhouse. A perennial threat to both the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and the national title, their coaches, teams, and trophies are the stuff legends are made of. The Bearcats history really begins when legendary DII coach Mel Tjeersdma led Northwest Missouri State to back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999. The 1998 squad was the first DII football program to go 15-0 in a season, but they would do it again, most memorably in back-to-back seasons between 2015 and 2016.
Ten years later, Tjeersdma became just the second DII football coach to tally three titles, the most all-time (fellow Bearcats head coach Adam Dorrell would shortly join him as the third). In between the 1999 and 2009 championships, Northwest Missouri State was still in the hunt, losing four straight national championship games between 2005-08. All said, the Bearcats have appeared in 50 percent of the national championship games during the past two decades. That is utter dominance.
North Dakota State, 5 (1983, 1985-86, 1988, 1990)
Before becoming the dynasty that's won six of the last seven FCS titles, the Bison were a dynasty in DII football. North Dakota State went to four consecutive championship games in the early 1980s, losing by one point to Chan Gailey-led Troy while winning three. Earle Solomonson coached the Bison to back-to-back championships in 1985 and '86, his only two years at the helm. Solomonson started his coaching career with a 2-2 record in 1985, but finished with a 22-0-1 run to those two titles. Not a bad run at all.
Grand Valley State, 4 (2002-03, 2005-06)
The Lakers were the DII football team to beat in the first decade of the 2000s. From 2001 to 2009, Grand Valley State appeared in six national championship games, winning four of them, including back-to-backers over Northwest Missouri State in 2005 and 2006. The Bearcats got their revenge in 2009, but we are all looking forward to the day these two powerhouses meet again in the finals.
Valdosta State, 4 (2004, 2007, 2012, 2018)
Sprinkled in between the Bearcats and Lakers dominance were the Blazers. Valdosta State has been a playoff regular since the calendar flipped to the 2000s, appearing in 12 tournaments already in the young stages of this century. Now, head coach Kerwin Bell has the current Blazers looking like those powerhouses of old. He led them back to championship glory in 2018 in a 49-47 victory over Ferris State that set the standard for DII football championship game records.
North Alabama, 3 (1993-95)
From 1986 to 2013, Florence, Alabama was home to the DII Football Championship, a longer streak than any other host city in the history of the game. It is also home to the Lions. North Alabama was able to use that home field advantage, as the legendary Bobby Wallace led the Lions to three-straight titles in the 1990s, making Wallace the first DII football coach to win three championships. The Lions reached the title game one last time in 2016 before an injury-plagued 2017 ended their tenure in DII football. Now an FCS team, the Lions still have plenty of old DII foes on their schedule.
Texas State, Troy, Pittsburg State, Northern Colorado, and Minnesota Duluth round out the list of winners with multiple championships, each with two. Here is a list of every DII football national champion:
|2018||Valdosta State||Kerwin Bell||49-47||Ferris State||McKinney, Texas|
|2017||Texas A&M-Commerce||Colby Carthel||37-27||West Florida||Kansas City, Kan.|
|2016||Northwest Missouri State||Adam Dorrel||29-3||North Alabama||Kansas City, Kan.|
|2015||Northwest Missouri State||Adam Dorrel||34-7||Shepherd||Kansas City, Kan.|
|2014||Colorado State-Pueblo||John Wristen||13-0||Minnesota State-Mankato||Kansas City, Kan.|
|2013||Northwest Missouri State||Adam Dorrel||43-28||Lenoir-Rhyne||Florence, Ala.|
|2012||Valdosta State||David Dean||35-7||Winston-Salem State||Florence, Ala.|
|2011||Pittsburg State||Tim Beck||35-21||Wayne State (Mich.)||Florence, Ala.|
|2010||Minnesota-Duluth||Bob Nielson||20-17||Delta State||Florence, Ala.|
|2009||Northwest Missouri State||Mel Tjeersdma||30-23||Grand Valley State||Florence, Ala.|
|2008||Minnesota-Duluth||Bob Nielson||21-14||Northwest Missouri State||Florence, Ala.|
|2007||Valdosta State||David Dean||25-20||Northwest Missouri State||Florence, Ala.|
|2006||Grand Valley State||Chuck Martin||17-14||Northwest Missouri State||Florence, Ala.|
|2005||Grand Valley State||Chuck Martin||21-17||Northwest Missouri State||Florence, Ala.|
|2004||Valdosta State||Christ Hatcher||36-31||Pittsburg State||Florence, Ala.|
|2003||Grand Valley State||Brian Kelly||10-3||North Dakota||Florence, Ala.|
|2002||Grand Valley State||Brian Kelly||31-24||Valdosta State||Florence, Ala.|
|2001||North Dakota||Dale Lennon||17-14||Grand Valley State||Florence, Ala.|
|2000||Delta State||Steve Campbell||63-34||Bloomsburg||Florence, Ala.|
|1999||Northwest Missouri State||Mel Tjeersdma||58-52 (4ot)||Carson-Newman||Florence, Ala.|
|1998||Northwest Missouri State||Mel Tjeersdma||24-6||Carson-Newman||Florence, Ala.|
|1997||Northern Colorado||Joe Glenn||51-0||New Haven||Florence, Ala.|
|1996||Northern Colorado||Joe Glenn||23-14||Carson-Newman||Florence, Ala.|
|1995||North Alabama||Bobby Wallace||27-7||Pittsburg State||Florence, Ala.|
|1994||North Alabama||Bobby Wallace||16-10||Texas A&M-Kingsville||Florence, Ala.|
|1993||North Alabama||Bobby Wallace||41-34||Indiana (Pa.)||Florence, Ala.|
|1992||Jacksonville State||Bill Burgess||17-13||Pittsburg State||Florence, Ala.|
|1991||Pittsburg State||Chuck Broyles||23-6||Jacksonville State||Florence, Ala.|
|1990||North Dakota State||Rocky Hager||51-11||Indiana (Pa.)||Florence, Ala.|
|1989||*Mississippi College||John Williams||3-0||Jacksonville State||Florence, Ala.|
|1988||North Dakota State||Rocky Hager||35-21||Portland State||Florence, Ala.|
|1987||Troy||Rick Rhoades||31-17||Portland State||Florence, Ala.|
|1986||North Dakota State||Earle Solomonson||27-7||South Dakota||Florence, Ala.|
|1985||North Dakota State||Earle Solomonson||35-7||North Alabama||McAllen, Texas|
|1984||Troy||Chan Gailey||18-17||North Dakota State||McAllen, Texas|
|1983||North Dakota State||Don Morton||41-21||Central State (Ohio)||McAllen, Texas|
|1982||Texas State||Jim Wacker||34-9||UC Davis||McAllen, Texas|
|1981||Texas State||Jim Wacker||42-13||North Dakota State||McAllen, Texas|
|1980||Cal Poly||Joe Harper||21-13||Eastern Illinois||Albuquerque, N.M.|
|1979||Delaware||Tubby Raymond||38-21||Youngstown State||Albuquerque, N.M.|
|1978||Eastern Illinois||Darrell Mudra||10-9||Delaware||Longview, Texas|
|1977||Lehigh||John Whitehead||33-0||Jacksonville State||Wichita Falls, Texas|
|1976||Montana State||Sonny Holland||24-13||Akron||Wichita Falls, Texas|
|1975||Northern Michigan||Gil Krueger||16-14||Western Kentucky||Sacramento, Calif.|
|1974||Central Michigan||Roy Kramer||54-14||Delaware||Sacramento, Calif.|
|1973||Louisiana Tech||Maxie Lambright||34-0||Western Kentucky||Sacramento, Calif.|
|*Mississippi College's participation in the 1989 Division II championship vacated by the NCAA Committee on Infractions|