Needing to jump a couple of places in the region rankings to earn a third straight NCAA Division II playoff berth, the Fort Hays State football team will still have ample opportunity to prove to the selection committee they are worthy of a spot.
After starting the season 0-2, the Tigers are on a six-game winning streak and will look to stretch the streak to nine over the last three weeks of the regular season.
FHSU was tabbed No. 9 in the first edition of the Super Region 3 rankings released this week. The top seven teams at the end of the regular season move on to the playoffs.
Fort Hays is one of four MIAA teams vying for a playoff spot. Unbeaten Central Missouri (8-0) is second in the rankings, Northwest Missouri (7-1) sits sixth and Missouri Western (6-2) is eighth. The Tigers have lost head-to-head matchups with Central Missouri and Missouri Western. FHSU will play to host Northwest Missouri on Nov. 9 at Lewis Field.
“There’s probably got to be a few things that happen,” FHSU coach Chris Brown said of the Tigers' playoff prospects. “We win out, we’re 9-2. Mo West might be 9-2, Northwest might be 9-2, Central Missouri could be 9-2. So where does it all come into play?
“I think with us losing the first two games of the year, and if we all the sudden do a nine-game winning streak — I mean, that’s hard to do in this conference. So hopefully that holds some weight behind it.”
The Tigers will look for their seventh straight win on Saturday, facing Lincoln (1-7) at 1 p.m. in Jefferson City, Mo. After hosting Northwest next week, the Tigers will close the season on the road against winless Northeastern State on Nov. 16 in Tahlequah, Okla.
“We just have to take care of ourselves and do what we need to do to give ourselves a chance," Brown said. "But I think winning out would say something about this team and what they’ve done. I’ll go compete with anybody any given day with this group of guys.”
The region currently has four unbeaten teams — Ferris State (GLIAC), Central Missouri (MIAA), Indianapolis (GLVC), and Ouachita Baptist (GAC). No. 5-ranked Harding, Northwest Missouri State and No. 7-ranked Grand Valley State all have one loss. Henderson State is ranked 10th in the region, though it only has one loss.
The only team among the top seven that did not make the playoffs last year is Central Missouri.
“We’ve got four conferences and seven spots,” Brown said. “One conference is only going to get one team in. Is this the year (the MIAA) only gets one in? Hopefully not, just by records and looking at things.
“But I think you’ve got to look at the (region rankings) and stress to your kids how important every single game is. There’s a lot of big games to be played still.”
Central Missouri and Nebraska-Kearney (5-3) will play on Saturday in Kearney, while Missouri Western will play at Pittsburg State (5-3). Western will play host to UNK the following week. UCM and Northwest Missouri won't meet up until the final week of the regular season in Maryville.
"There’s a lot that can shake out these last few weeks,” Brown said. “You still got to stay locked in, but the ultimate goal is to get to the playoffs, and hopefully we’re one of those teams.”