FOOTBALL: Players, coach expect playoff bid

Danny Schoenbaechler

In his mind there is no need for anxiety. That’s because his team is in, and there is no need to worry.

“We’re getting in,” Western coach David Elson said. “It’s just who and where.”

Around noon on Sunday is when the verdict will be announced on local cable channel 14. That is when the I-AA playoff selection show will inform the Toppers whether they will be defending their national championship or cleaning out their lockers.

Of the 16 teams, eight conference champions will receive automatic bids. The other eight teams will arrive via the at-large variety. Northern Iowa received the Gateway’s automatic bid.

“I think we’re in,” linebacker Erik Dandy said. “Being 8-3 and defending national champs should be enough.”

The Toppers are fourth in the Gateway Conference, and no conference has ever gotten four teams into the 16-team field.

“Why can’t it?” Elson said.

There isn’t any reason why one conference can’t form 25 percent of the field. It just hasn’t ever happened.

The Toppers lost to the second and third place Gateway teams, losing 28-24 to Southern Illinois and 33-28 to Western Illinois. But they beat conference champion Northern Iowa.

It is widely believed that Western is on the bubble. As most bubble teams usually have, the Toppers have both pluses and minuses toward their case.

The pluses are they are two touchdowns away from being undefeated against I-AA opponents.

If Western had scored on its final drives against Western Illinois and Southern Illinois, it would likely be receiving one of the top four seeds.

“We know if we had taken care of business, this would be different for us,” Dandy said.

The Toppers are also the defending champions, and their fans travel well for a I-AA school.

These are not parts of an established criteria, but they can’t hurt.

The minuses on Western’s resume include playing two sub I-AA teams. Opening the season against Union and West Virginia Tech are bad for the Toppers’ case.

Still, Elson is confident that his team is one of the top 16 in the country.

“I told (our players) on Monday that we were treating this just like a bye week,” Elson said. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be.”

After finishing his first regular season as a head coach, Elson said he feels good about the season but knows it could have been better.

“We feel good about it,” he said. “The pessimist in you automatically looks at the two Gateway games, but it has been good.”

Last year’s team went on a 10-game win streak – rolling straight through the playoffs. Elson believes that his team may already be on a similar run.

“I think we’re on it,” he said. “We are playing great defense and our offense is coming around.”

The defense has been excellent, with the past three Gateway defensive players of the week coming from Bowling Green.

All the Toppers can do now is wait, and prepare for what they believe is going to be a playoff game.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]