Final projected playoff bracket: Who makes the cut?

Muhlenberg's playoff hopes took a hit when Thomas More lost, but will the Mules make our projected bracket?
Muhlenberg athletics file photo

By Pat Coleman

Last year in this space, the Case Western Reserve-Carnegie Mellon game loomed large and reshaped the bracket. This year, by the time that result came in, everything was all but decided.

  • The selection show streams online (we will have a link on D3football.com) at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

When CMU went on to win in overtime, knocking Case from our mock selection committee's South Region rankings, however, it helped a tiny little cascade of results ripple forth.

When we didn't need to rank Case Western Reserve, which finished 8-2 with a dismal .461 strength of schedule, that left room for us to squeeze Trinity (Texas) in at the bottom spot. Earlier in the day, when Berry lost at Trinity, it also contributed to this little ripple, and Berry slipped two spots, from No. 2 to No. 4 in the South, falling behind Hardin-Simmons. That's because Hardin-Simmons won at Trinity, where Berry did not.

But in the end, it's just a little ripple. Other teams who played their way in or out on Saturday did so on the field.

We're going to fast-forward through most of the Pool C process.

In our mock bracket, we took the 26 automatic bids, then determined the one Pool B team (easily done) and the five at-large teams (four easy, one hard), and then bracketed it all up to get what we have below: a projected 2018 Division III football playoff bracket.

Those five bids, known as Pool C, are true at-larges that any team can receive. The committee traditionally will sit down with a board that includes the top at-large team from each regional ranking, comparing the four teams head-to-head, then select one to put in the field. The committee considers the usual criteria: results vs. Division III teams, strength of schedule, results vs. regionally ranked teams, head-to-head results and results vs. common opponents. As we get closer to the end of the process, though, the committee can consider non-Division III games as well. And with just five spots and more than twice as many candidates, expect every piece of data possible to be used.

The Pool B slot is set aside for the nine teams which are not in conferences with automatic bids: Thomas More (independent) and the eight members of the NEWMAC. MIT is 9-1 with a fairly poor strength of schedule, but nobody else in the NEWMAC has one loss and Thomas More picked up its third loss on Saturday, so MIT goes in.

When looking at the five at-large teams, we will fast-forward the process a bit by putting Bethel and John Carroll in the field, since they are clearly going to make the playoffs. That leaves us three spots to fill.

In the next round of these deliberations, the candidates are Ithaca, Hardin-Simmons, Wabash and Linfield.

Ithaca 8-2, .556 SOS, loss to East No. 1 Brockport, lost to E3 RPI, win vs. E7 Union
Hardin-Simmons 9-1, .519, loss to S1 UMHB, win vs. S10 Trinity
Wabash 9-1, .484, loss to N10 Denison, win vs. N6 Wittenberg
Linfield 7-2, .565, loss to W3 Whitworth (and NAIA Carroll, which is 5-6, or 4-6 plus a forfeit win)

In this foursome, Hardin-Simmons is the only team with one loss, an SOS of greater than .500 and a win against a regionally ranked opponent, so we put HSU in.

HSU gets replaced on the board by Centre.

Centre 9-1, .579, loss to S4 Berry, win vs. S9 Maryville, win vs. S10 Trinity

As Greg Thomas, our bracketology expert, put it, this resume is an EZ Pass into the field. Two wins vs. regionally ranked opponents makes Centre an obvious choice, even if they are 9 and 10 in a region.

Centre is replaced on the board by Muhlenberg and our final round looks like this:

Ithaca 8-2, .556 SOS, loss to East No. 1 Brockport, lost to E3 RPI, win vs. E7 Union
Muhlenberg 9-1, .536, loss to S2 Johns Hopkins
Wabash 9-1, .484, loss to N10 Denison, win vs. N6 Wittenberg
Linfield 7-2, .565, loss to W3 Whitworth (and NAIA Carroll, which is 5-6, or 4-6 plus a forfeit win)

This is always the land of imperfect resumes. Muhlenberg would have looked much better here if Thomas More had won on Saturday, giving the Mules a win against a regionally ranked opponent. But the game vs. TMU still helps Muhlenberg's strength of schedule and gets them in our mock field at this point.

Could Linfield make the field? Sure, if the committee looks at the Wildcats as a one-loss team. The primary selection criteria consider Linfield to be 7-1, but when you're selecting the last of a small number of at-large teams, you need to use whatever data there is. A loss to a sub-.500 NAIA team isn't a feather in anyone's cap.

Could Ithaca get in? Sure, if the committee thinks that a win against Union, which becomes regionally ranked for us this week, outweighs the second loss. Especially after Saturday, when RPI is clearly no longer invincible, that second loss doesn't help at all.

Could Wabash get in? Sure. They have a win against a regionally ranked team. But the SOS of under .500 is a no-go with our committee.

When it came to bracketing our field, our goal was to set out top seeds in each bracket, give them the lowest-seeded opponent available in the first round, and work from there. We wanted to avoid creating an entire bracket full of teams all from one region, regardless of region.

The bracket (click on the image to enlarge):

The projected bracket. Click to enlarge.

Under the mileage restrictions imposed by NCAA Division III rules, as many teams have to be kept within 500 miles of each other as possible. In the past, some years that has meant just one team is allowed to travel further than 500, because that means the NCAA has to pay for that team to fly. In recent years, the purse strings have loosened up to allow two teams to fly in the first round and that's what we have done here. 

If Berry were to win in the first round, it would have to fly in the second, and since that's required, we are sending them to UMHB. That's also the price paid for Berry losing on Saturday. 

Hanover making the field at 7-3 makes them the clear choice to go to Mount Union. St. John's doesn't get a top seed, but they get an opponent which a top seed would normally get. 

Conventional wisdom would suggest that St. Norbert and Wartburg should switch first-round opponents, but St. Norbert is ranked higher by our committee because it defeated Monmouth, where Wartburg did not. 

Because the geographic restrictions force us to put Hardin-Simmons on the road in the first round, someone unexpected gets a first-round home game, and that's Muhlenberg. We tried to give it to Centre but couldn't make the matchups and map work. 

Our mock regional rankings:

1 Brockport 10-0, .527, 1-0
2 Frostburg State 10-0, .525, 1-0
3 RPI 9-1, .529, 1-0
4 Delaware Valley 9-1, .468, 0-0
5 Ithaca 8-2, .556, 1-2
6 MIT 9-1, .483, 1-0
7 Union 8-2, .571, 1-1
8 Stevenson 8-2, .527, 0-2
9 Framingham State 8-2, .529, 1-1
10 Western New England 8-2, .492, 0-0

1 Mary Hardin-Baylor 10-0, .469, 1-0
2 Johns Hopkins 9-1, .544, 2-0
3 Hardin-Simmons 9-1, .519, 1-1
4 Berry 9-1, .551, 2-1
5 Centre 9-1, .579, 2-1
6 Muhlenberg 9-1, .536, 0-1
7 Washington and Jefferson 9-1, .479, 1-0
8 Randolph-Macon 8-2, .539, 0-1
9 Maryville (Tenn.) 7-2, .544, 0-2
10 Trinity (Texas) 7-3, .555, 1-2

1 Mount Union 10-0, .534, 1-0
2 North Central (Ill.) 9-1, .542, 1-1
3 John Carroll 9-1, .538, 0-1
4 Trine 10-0, .506, 0-0
5 Wabash 9-1, .481, 1-0
6 Wittenberg 9-1, .504, 0-1
7 Illinois Wesleyan 8-2, .555, 2-2
8 Wheaton (Ill.) 8-2, .558, 2-2
9 Washington U. 8-2, .552, 1-2
10 Denison 8-2, .497, 1-1

1 UW-Whitewater 9-0, .573, 1-0
2 St. John’s 10-0, .553, 2-0
3 Whitworth 9-0, .526, 1-0
4 Bethel 9-1, .549, 1-1
5 Linfield 7-2, .567, 0-1
6 UW-La Crosse 7-3, .549, 1-1
7 St. Thomas 8-2, .535, 0-2
8 St. Norbert 9-1, .468, 1-0
9 Monmouth 8-2, .518, 1-2
10 Wartburg 8-2, .515, 0-0

Dec. 14: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Mount Union 16
@ Woodforest Bank Stadium; Shenandoah, Texas
Box Score Recap Photos
Dec. 8: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, UW-Whitewater 14
Box Score Recap Photos
at Mount Union 28, Johns Hopkins 20
Video Box Score Recap Photos
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