NCAA adds another football playoff berth
In the past, Shepherd found it necessary to win the conference championship in order to reach the NCAA Division II football playoffs.
Even when the 2014 season yielded a nifty 8-2 record, the Rams were excluded from the six-team Super Region One playoffs because they didn’t win the Mountain East Conference. Concord did. And the Mt. Lions were awarded one of the six spots. After beating West Chester and Bloomsburg, Concord found itself in the national semifinals, where it lost to Mankato State (Minnesota).
There were only a limited number of spots available in the postseason happenings and most of those were reserved for conference champions.
In this past offseason, the NCAA has improved the number of playoff spots to seven.
Always looking to find useful new additions to its team and therefore its chances of reaching the playoffs, Shepherd’s most telling profit for this season just might be the added berth now provided by the NCAA itself.
In preseason guesses, Concord has become the media’s and Mountain East coach’s favorite to repeat its 2014 league championship. Shepherd has been selected by those same guesses to finish second — as it did last season.
The Mountain East champion receives a automatic playoff bid for the first time in 2015.
The other three leagues also receiving automatic bids for their champions are the CIAA, the PSAC and the Northeast-10.
For years, only the champions of both the CIAA and the Northeast-10 have received bids. None of the teams missing the championship in those two conferences have received NCAA bids.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, chocked full with 16 teams, always gets the lion’s share of the at-large bids. And that is the probable scenario again for the 2015 season.
There are nine teams in the PSAC with viable chances to win often enough to get the NCAA selection committee’s attention. In all likelihood, at least three of them will reach the postseason.
Gannon, California, Bloomsburg, Mercyhurst and West Chester are the most prominent candidates for receiving bids. Slippery Rock, Indiana, Kutztown and Shippensburg are also strong possibilities.
Shepherd has a mid-season date in Athens to face Concord. The winner of that game would give itself the clearest path to the conference championship and the postseason.
Charleston finished 8-3 last season, losing to Shepherd even though it ran a kickoff back for a touchdown and scored again on a return of a blocked field goal. Shepherd won by nine points and limited the Golden Eagles to fewer than 40 rushing yards.
Shepherd’s first home game of the season on September 12 is against the Golden Eagles.
The Rams lost a 35-34 decision on the road in Ohio to Notre Dame while missing an extra point and several field goal tries.
Notre Dame is at Ram Stadium on September 26 this season.
Winston-Salem State is the usual favorite to win the CIAA championship, and in the Northeast-10 it’s American International as the preseason favorite.
The added playoff berth is going to be important because a deserving team won’t be left out of the dealings, which are all held in Indianapolis, far removed from the geographical locations of all the Super Region One schools.
It won’t be a linebacker, offensive lineman, player in the defensive secondary or receiver that will be Shepherd’s most valuable addition this season, it will be the seventh playoff team the NCAA has decided to place in its postseason happenings.