The 28-team field for the 2019 DII football championship tournament was announced on Sunday, Nov. 17. The bracket is filled and the first round is set to kick off on Saturday, Nov. 23.
But before action begins, let's take a look around the bracket and see what stood out amongst the four Super Regions.
Super Region One
Team to beat: Slippery Rock (No. 1, 11-0)
Team to watch: Shepherd (9-2)
There were no real surprises here. The No. 1 seed came down to Kutztown and Slippery Rock and was decided on the last day of the season when The Rock took down Kutztown in the final minute of play to win the PSAC championship. Kutztown was able to hold on to the No. 2 seed over Notre Dame (OH) likely due to a very slight edge in opponents' winning percentage and wins over Shepherd and West Chester.
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All Tiffin had to do was win, and its fate would be sealed thanks to Earned Access. The Dragons took care of business and are dancing. Shepherd is my team to watch here. With five (yes,five) Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference teams there is a sense of familiarity, even with the teams they haven't faced in-conference. Tyson Bagent, Deonte Glover and Dylan Brewer are as dangerous a trio as any in the Super Region, so they are the team to watch.
Super Region Two
Team to beat: Valdosta State (No. 1, 10-0)
Team to watch: West Florida (7-2)
The reigning champs are back in the No. 1 spot having not lost a game since November 2017. And don't get me wrong, Lenoir-Rhyne is a very dangerous team: the Bears are balanced offensively and defense with Kyle Dugger an X-factor on special teams as well. But Valdosta State played a tough schedule and prevailed with relative ease, so it's clear it remains the championship favorite until further notice.
Albany State losing opened the door for Miles to sneak in. With both losses on the road and the 144th toughest schedule, the Golden Bears not only needed to beat Albany State in the SIAC championship but have a few things go their way. Three things went their way, specifically teams Nos. 8-10 lost on Saturday in Super Region Two and Earned Access opened the door for Miles. That makes the Golden Bears a team playing with nothing to lose, and that could make for an intriguing matchup.
So why is West Florida my team to watch? The Argos followed up their storybook 2017 with a 2018 that was out of character due to injuries and some player turnover. Austin Reed, their redshirt-freshman quarterback, looks battle-ready and the West Florida D always causes trouble. Plus, they played two teams in this Super Region very well already — losing to Carson-Newman and Valdosta State by just one score — and handled Delta State and West Georiga — two teams that were in the regional rankings — with ease. West Florida has surprised before, the Argos seem to thrive in these situations.
Super Region Three
Team to beat: Ferris State (No. 1, 10-0)
Team to watch: Lindenwood (8-2)
Ferris State made a run to the championship game with many of the same pieces last year and can do it again. Now, a lot has to do with the health of Jayru Campbell. But the Bulldogs rested their superstar quarterback in Week 10 and had a bye in Week 11. Throw in a first-round week off, and Campbell has three weeks to get in top form. If he's out, however, Ouachita Baptist becomes a real threat here.
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Of course, the Bearcats are a team to watch here. Any time Northwest Missouri State makes the postseason it is on watch. This offense is capable of putting up points and the defense has proven they can, too. Northwest Missouri State laid to rest any doubt that it can hang with anyone, defeating Central Missouri in the season finally in a complete football game.
And how about Lindenwood? The playoffs started in Week 11 in this part of the bracket. The Lions knew if they took care of business on their end, they would still need some help. Well, they got it: but it was still no easy pick for the committee. But the Lions certainly did their part, checking all the boxes: they fared better against a tougher opponents' winning percentage, were 3-1 on the road, and had two top 25 upsets. Quarterback Cade Brister not only has this offense rolling but dictating games with the Lions' tempo. They have a real 2018 Slippery Rock feel to them: The Rock rolled from the No. 7 seed all the way to the quarterfinals.
Super Region Four
Team to beat: Tarleton State (No. 2, 9-0)
Team to watch: Texas A&M-Commerce (8-2)
The Mavericks are as good a one seed as any in the tournament. Plus, Minnesota State has two DII football superstars in running back Nate Gunn and wide receiver Shane Zylstra that will make this team tough to beat. But I picked the Texans as the team to watch for two reasons. First and foremost, that offense is insane and can beat you with so many weapons. Secondly, as the two-seed, they get to play at home. Tarleton State is tied for the longest current home winning streak in DII, and that can't be ignored.
Texas A&M-Commerce is the team to watch, mainly because the Lions have proven they aren't scared. They finished with an 8-2 record against a schedule that posted a .610 winning percentage. Now, the Lions did lose to ranked Tarleton State and CSU-Pueblo on the road, but let's remember, those are two of the toughest places for anyone to play. Texas A&M-Commerce had two big Super Region Four matchups in the final three weeks of the season and came out ahead by two scores in each game. Sometimes the playoffs are about momentum, and this team seems to have it.