The road to McKinney, Texas, kicks off Saturday, Nov. 17. Twelve first-round games will cut the field to 16 remaining teams by next weekend.
Last season, two teams that had never been in the championship game squared off for the title. Texas A&M-Commerce began its quest as the No. 5 seed in Super Region Four and West Florida was the No. 4 seed in Super Region Two. The beauty of playoff football is that there is no favorite. Two of the No. 1 seeds were eliminated after their first game, and three of the No. 2 seeds saw their seasons end in the first round.
Picking a correct DII Football Championship bracket is no easy task. But it's fun, so let's give it a try.
While that bracket will likely be busted by Round 2, let’s take a look at one team to beat and one team that may just surprise us in each Super Region.
Super Region One
Team to beat: We’re going West Chester here. Notre Dame (OH) has had a remarkable season, and the first-round bye and home-field advantage should play huge, as will the play of running back Jaleel McLaughlin. Quarterback Chris Brimm had a sensational season under center, but here’s the thing: Both of the Falcons big playmakers are freshmen. While this team appears to be a playoff power for the foreseeable future, it gives a very slight edge to the Golden Rams this year.
West Chester is fueled by the dynamic A.J. Long at quarterback. He led the team in both rushing (692 yards, seven touchdowns) and passing (1,920 yards, 21 touchdowns). The Golden Rams also led the PSAC in defense, allowing just 14.7 points per game, which is eighth overall in DII football, and 244.7 yards allowed per game, good for sixth overall in DII. That balance is what can put West Chester over the top.
We’re in! The Charger football team has qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs for the 3rd time in school history! pic.twitter.com/s6zewdRk6a— Hillsdale College Chargers (@HCChargers) November 11, 2018
Sleeper: The Hillsdale Chargers are a team full of intrigue. The other big guns in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference — Ohio Dominican, Findlay and Tiffin — seemed to get all the love for most of the season. Hillsdale just kept taking each one down, running a perfect 8-0 through the G-MAC and capturing the conference title. The Chance Stewart to Trey Brock connection is as fun as any to watch in DII, giving them a dynamic duo that may surprise a few people.
Super Region Two
Team to beat: It’s hard to go against the No. 1-seeded Valdosta State Blazers. Kerwin Bell’s offense is something else. Even if the defense struggles, this team has shown they can put up points against anyone. The Blazers are No. 1 in scoring offense, dropping 52.2 points per game while amassing 536.3 a contest. They have not scored below 44 points all season, which means Rogan Wells and company haven’t laid one stinker all year. While defense may win championships, if the Blazers get the ball last, they will find a way to walk away a winner.
With your help, we can continue the championship tradition of Blazer Athletics! Celebrate our championship win over rival West Georgia with a gift toward scholarships for our incredible student-athletes! Link: https://t.co/saqhaqvN1H pic.twitter.com/khZmamOcQ1— VSU Athletics (@BlazerAthletics) November 12, 2018
Sleeper: Bowie State is flying in under the radar this season. Last year, the Bulldogs were in and out of the top 25 and this season they seemed to be forgotten. Quarterback Amir Hall is a special talent, throwing for 3,505 yards and 28 touchdowns. He finally captured the elusive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title he’s been trying for while arguably becoming the conference’s all-time greatest quarterback. Perhaps that momentum can translate into a first-round victory and continue through November.
Super Region Three
Team to beat: Two words: Jayru Campbell. The Ferris State quarterback has had a simply remarkable season and seems to find ways to get the Bulldogs to win. Don’t take anything away from Ouachita Baptist, though, as that scoring defense is the best in the land, but this is a team that has played with the lead for most of the season. Are they built to come from behind? We know the Bulldogs can win in a variety of ways, crushing a then-top 25 team in Findlay and handing a very solid Grand Valley State team its lone loss of the season. And Campbell? The dual-threat quarterback produced at least three touchdowns in each of the first ten games of the season with four three-touchdown passing days and six multi-touchdown days on the ground. He’ll keep the Bulldogs in every game one way or the other.
For the second straight year, Chris Brown earns MIAA Coach of the Year by guiding the Tigers to back-to-back MIAA Championships. pic.twitter.com/CjUCdV9N4g— FHSU Athletics (@fhsuathletics) November 13, 2018
Sleeper: There is a rebirth in playoff football in Hays, Kansas. Fort Hays State has had two very convincing seasons in a row and showing some serious moxie in going into Bearcat Stadium and leaving victorious two years counting. Last season, they were one of the two No. 1 seeds to lose its first game, and that probably left a mark the Tigers were out to avenge. UIndy won’t be an easy matchup, but if they can sneak past the Greyhounds the all-Tigers showdown against Ouachita Baptist should be a doozy.
Super Region Four
Team to beat: Minnesota State was perfect last season until it ran into Texas A&M-Commerce in the quarterfinals. Well, it’s like déjà vu all over again, as the Mavericks are undefeated and sitting in the No. 1 spot. What makes the Mavericks a favorite? Nate Gunn and Justin Taormina control the clock in the run game, combining for 1,632 yards and 23 touchdowns. The defense has always been stingy, allowing just 16 points and 280.5 yards a game. Minnesota Duluth may have been the best defense in the Northern Sun, but the Mavericks weren’t far behind. Pair that run game and defense together, and suddenly opposing teams find themselves against the clock trying to score.
Sleeper: This Super Region is a funny one. One sleeper is because the offense is seemingly unstoppable, and the other is because its defense doesn’t like giving up a yard. Colorado School of Mines' offense can hang with anyone in the country. Quarterback Isaac Harker, running back Cameron Mayberry, and wide receiver Brody Oliver are all in DII football’s top 10 at their respective positions. A Valdosta State vs. Colorado School of Mines final would probably be the most fun championship game in the history of time. On the other side is Minnesota Duluth’s ridiculously stingy defense. The Bulldogs allowed just 10.5 points per game (third-best in DII) and a DII-best 199.3 yards per game. Both of these teams are on watch and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either in Texas.