While most fans are familiar with the prestigious football schools of the NCAA's Division I, the smaller programs of Division II often go unnoticed.
Even though the 2020 season was cancelled due to Covid-19, football fans should make sure to pay attention to the always-entertaining world of Division II football this year.
This doesn't mean the competition isn't any less intense, demanding, or rewarding for those who play for one of the 169 teams in Division II football. Here are the five best Division II conferences in the country, assessed on a basis of consistency, recent history, and outlook for the 2021-22 season.
*Rankings courtesy of Versus Sports Simulator
Gulf South Conference
It's difficult to find a better duo amongst the 17 Division II conferences than West Florida and Valdosta State. West Florida comes into the season as the defending Division II champions, while Valdosta State took home the 2018 title. The last time these two teams met, West Florida squeaked out a 35-32 win in the second round of the playoffs against a Valdosta State team that entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
Elsewhere in the conference, West Alabama, West Georgia, Delta State, and Florida Tech all enter the season with rosters capable of making a run at a GSC title.
Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association
The only school in the MIAA that enters the 2021-22 season as one of Division II's elites would be Northwest Missouri State, the reigning conference champions and current fourth-ranked team in the nation. The Bearcats have a history of winning; they have the most titles in Division II history at six, with the most recent coming in 2016.
However, what the MIAA lacks in top-heavy teams, it makes up for in quality depth. Four other schools make Versus' preseason top 25: #15 Central Missouri, #16 Fort Hays State, #18 Nebraska-Kearney, and #23 Pittsburg State, a program with the most wins in Division II history.
Great Lakes Valley Conference
The GLVC may not be at the peak of its powers currently; just #10 Indianapolis and #20 Lindenwood sit in Versus' preseason Top 25. However, the conference has a rich history of success, headlined by Grand Valley State's four Division II titles in a span of just five years (2002-2006).
Right now, the conference's strength will likely lie in its overall depth. Schools like Truman State, Missouri S&T, McKendree, and Quincy may not be world beaters, but they should be tough enough to ensure that the GLVC title will be hotly contested throughout the season.
Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
The high-octane RMAC may have the most convincing argument for funnest Division II conference as well as the oldest. However, that doesn't mean the quality of play is subpar. This season, watch out for #12 Colorado School of Mines, the defending RMAC champions, and #13 Colorado-St. Pueblo, whose only regular season loss came to the Orediggers in September of 2019.
The rest of the RMAC shouldn't be too imposing for the two top dogs, but there should still be plenty of fight from schools like Colorado Mesa, Chadron State, and Adams State.
Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Rounding out the list is the GLIAC, a conference that usually has at least one school go deep in the postseason. The most likely candidate to take home a championship would have to be Ferris State, who sit at the top of Versus' preseason rankings. The Bulldogs always seem to do well in big games; they've reached the semifinals in three out of the last four seasons, including a championship game defeat to Valdosta State in 2018.
Unfortunately for Ferris State, the only GLIAC team to ever win a national title is rival Grand Valley State, who won four in a span of just five years (2002-06). While GVS isn't the juggernaut it used to be, their #14 ranking signals a team that should be right at the top of the conference standings. Other quality GLIAC programs this year should include Wayne State, Davenport, Saginaw Valley State, and Michigan Tech.