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Eric Peterson, Published November 02 2012

Postseason hopes on the line when Cobbers face St. Thomas


Two top-20 teams will take the field today when St. Thomas plays at Concordia, but that isn’t what intrigues Pat Coleman the most.

St. Thomas is ranked No. 4 and Concordia is ranked No. 17 in this week’s d3football.com Top 25 poll.

Both teams rank one spot higher in the Division III coaches’ poll.

“The No. 4 versus 17 aspect of it is almost the least interesting part,” said Coleman, the executive editor for d3football.com. “That’s the great thing about having playoffs.”

This game is dripping with playoff ramifications, not only in the region, but on the national scene.

“I think teams that are on the bubble in other regions are really focusing on this game,” said Coleman, who plans to be at Jake Christiansen Stadium for the 1 p.m. kickoff. “This really affects the gamut. It affects everybody’s at-large (bid) chances across the bracket.”

St. Thomas can clinch a share of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown with the victory and also earn the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs. That would mean a third consecutive league title for the Tommies.

A Cobbers (7-1, 5-1 MIAC) win would put them in the thick of the MIAC title hunt and also vault them into prime position to earn one of the 32 spots in the D-III playoffs.

“It’s a big playoff game for us,” Cobbers head coach Terry Horan said. “That’s the way we are approaching it.”

Bethel and Concordia are a game behind St. Thomas in the MIAC standings with two games to play for all three teams.

Bethel earned a 15-14 win against the Cobbers earlier this season, while the Tommies scored a 37-0 victory against Bethel.

St. Thomas (8-0, 6-0) is ranked No. 3, Bethel No. 4, and the Cobbers No. 5, in the West Region rankings, which came out for the first time this season earlier in the week.

Concordia has two likely scenarios in which it can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

One way would be for Concordia to win its final two games and have Bethel lose to either St. Olaf or St. John’s. If the Cobbers beat St. Thomas, and all three teams end up with one conference loss, Concordia would need to beat the Tommies by 19 points or more to win the automatic bid.

If the Cobbers beat St. Thomas by less than 19 points and end up in a three-way tie for first place in the MIAC at the end of the regular season, they would need to earn an

at-large bit to make the NCAA playoffs.

The NCAA field is made up of 24 automatic bids that come from winners of conferences with auto bids. One “Pool B” bid is for a blend of teams that are either independents or in a league that doesn’t have an automatic bid.

The other seven teams in the field are at-large bids.

So the Cobbers could beat St. Thomas, finish 9-1 overall and not necessarily be assured a spot in the

D-III playoffs. That’s if both St. Thomas and Bethel also ended 9-1 and the Tommies earned the MIAC automatic bid.

In that scenario, Bethel and Concordia would both need at-large bids to make the field. Coleman said he only knows of one time in the past that a conference has had three teams make the playoffs.

“If there is a situation where three teams in a conference may go, this could be the year,” said Coleman, who has been following Division III football since the early 1990s.

Coleman has Concordia making his d3football.com playoff projections, which came out earlier this week, with St. Thomas and Bethel. However, those projections will likely change after this weekend’s games.

The MIAC performed well in the nonconference this fall with a 15-1 record outside its league.

“I would be surprised if we got three in, but I’m holding out hope,” said MIAC commissioner Dan McKane. “This could be the year because we did so well in nonconference play. That would be the one thing that set us apart.”

If Concordia loses to the Tommies, its postseason hopes would be “shaky” at that point, Coleman said.

“They don’t absolutely have to (win), but there have not been too many teams who have gotten at-large bids with two losses,” Coleman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com