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Schnepf: FCS playoff selection a head-scratcher

FARGO - Welcome to the Missouri Valley Football playoffs. Just when you thought the NCAA was going to shed some light on what is considered a national football tournament, its Sunday-morning bracket announcement for the Football Championship Subd...

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FARGO – Welcome to the Missouri Valley Football playoffs.

Just when you thought the NCAA was going to shed some light on what is considered a national football tournament, its Sunday-morning bracket announcement for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs only provided more confusion.

Yes, you can certainly ask why North Dakota State-the four-time defending champion of this tournament-was a No. 3 seed and not a No. 2 seed. Then again, if you wipe all your Bison green and gold paint off your face and look at it somewhat objectively, you can see why Illinois State was awarded the No. 2 seed.

Yes, University of North Dakota Fighting Hawk fans can certainly cry fowl ... I mean foul. Like it or not, Western Illinois was picked over UND.

But the biggest head scratcher is where the selection committee placed the five Missouri Valley Football Conference teams that made the 24-team field. Illinois State (the No. 2 seed), NDSU (the No. 3 seed) and unseeded South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and the aforementioned Western Illinois will be playing in the same bracket.

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For NDSU, the road to Frisco could not only mean winning on the road but mean beating three conference teams. The Bison could play SDSU in a second-round game Dec. 5. If they win that, they could play Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals. And if they win that, they could play a semifinal game at Illinois State.

Welcome to the Missouri Valley Football playoffs.

What happened to the playoffs that had some resemblance of being a national tournament?

In 2011 when NDSU won its first national title, it played James Madison, Lehigh and Georgia Southern. In 2012, it was SDSU, Wofford and Georgia Southern. In 2013, it was Furman, Coastal Carolina and New Hampshire. In 2014, it was SDSU, Coastal Carolina and Sam Houston State.

NDSU head coach Chris Klieman calls it disappointing-'it' meaning the sudden creation of the Missouri Valley playoffs. "Such a grind in any conference," tweeted Eastern Washington athletic director Bill Chaves. "Just good to play other teams at tourney time."

If the selection committee is trying to avoid another championship game involving two teams from the same conference, then they are making a big mistake. Seems to me the two best teams-Illinois State and NDSU-earned their way to last year's championship. And it seems to me, that matchup produced one of the most exciting FCS championship games of all time.

It's obvious the selection committee wanted the Missouri Valley playoffs before it got to Frisco. It's also obvious the selection committee placed a greater importance on so-called "quality losses" rather than "quality wins." If you agree with this approach, then it explains why Illinois State got the No. 2 seed over NDSU and why Western Illinois got picked over UND.

Western Illinois has four quality losses (Illinois, Coastal Carolina, NDSU and Illinois State) compared to UND's two quality losses (NDSU and Montana). Western Illinois arguably has three quality wins (Eastern Illinois, Northern Iowa and SDSU) compared to UND's two quality wins (Wyoming and Portland).

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Illinois State's losses to unbeaten big-boy Iowa and playoff-bound SDSU arguably looks better than NDSU's losses to Montana (which needed a late-season rally to make the playoffs) and non-playoff South Dakota.

I can buy into this certainly more than Missouri Valley teams beating up each other one more time. But with all of us questioning seeds or the placement of Missouri Valley teams, all this should provide even more incentive for NDSU.

Klieman has been praising the focus of his team during their five-game winning streak. They will certainly need that focus to win twice in the Fargodome-whether it's against SDSU or Montana Dec. 5 or Northern Iowa or Portland State the next week.

And they will certainly need the focus for the semifinals-whether it's at Illinois State or in the Fargodome against Richmond, or dare I say, Western Illinois.

Welcome to the playoffs.

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