BELTON — If Mary Hardin-Baylor’s postseason excursion lasts more than two weeks, it appears — barring any upsets — the Crusaders will need to bundle up and hit the road from there on out.
The NCAA Division III playoffs begin Saturday, when No. 2 UMHB (10-0) hosts No. 15 Trinity (9-0) at noon at Crusader Stadium.
The winner will host Birmingham-Southern (9-1) or Huntingdon the following week, and that second-round victor would visit No. 5 St. John’s (10-0) — located about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis — for a quarterfinal matchup, if the Johnnies advance through the first two rounds.
The NCAA, which unveiled this year’s 32-team postseason bracket Sunday evening, does not list each team’s playoff seed and the seeds are not based on national rankings.
But based on their placement within the bracket, it appears that No. 1 North Central (10-0) is the top seed, followed by third-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater (10-0), St. John’s and fourth-ranked Mount Union (10-0), with UMHB earning the fifth seed.
That means the Crusaders would have to visit St. John’s for a quarterfinal and go to UW-Whitewater for a semifinal, if the seeds hold.
“Let’s beat Trinity first then whoever comes next. Then I think a road game might be something we have to engage with,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I told our players that we don’t know how it will all unfold. Nothing could be worse than it was in 2004 when we traveled every week of the playoffs and still made it to the national championship.”
The national championship game — Stagg Bowl XLVIII — is scheduled for Dec. 17 in Canton, Ohio, and the Crusaders are seeking their second national title.
That quest starts Saturday against a Trinity program that knocked off UMHB in first-round matchups in 2001 and ’02, before the Crusaders got the upper hand and won the next three playoff encounters.
The teams haven’t met since UMHB’s 52-23 first-round victory in 2007.
“Playing Trinity will be fun. It’s been a long time since we played them,” Fredenburg said. “They’re a good team, so it will be an interesting challenge.”
The playoff bracket is comprised of 27 conference champions and five at-large teams. The at-large bids went to No. 9 Wheaton, No. 12 Bethel, No. 16 Wisconsin-La Crosse, No. 17 Johns Hopkins and Birmingham-Southern.
No. 8 Hardin-Simmons did not make it into the field.