The defending national champions, the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats, are back in the NCAA playoffs for the seventh consecutive year. Northwest hosts rival-Missouri Western in a first-round contest at noon today at Bearcat Stadium.

Northwest has earned its 15th NCAA playoff appearance and its 13th in the last 15 years. The Bearcats have advanced to the national championship game in each of the last five seasons.

Northwest beat Missouri Western 42-0 in Maryville back on Oct. 2. It was the Bearcats’ first shut out of the Griffons in the series’ 30 meetings.

Northwest has won the last seven meetings with Missouri Western and leads the all-time series 20-10. The teams have never met in the postseason.

With 29 wins in his previous 12 playoff appearances, Northwest head coach Mel Tjeerdsma is the winningest Division II coach in postseason history. He’s 11-1 in opening-round games and 17-3 at home.

The winner will advance to take on second-seeded Texas A&M-Kingsville, in Kingsville, Texas, on November 27th. Kingsville beat Northwest 16-7 in Maryville in the season opener for both teams back on September  2nd.

The Lone Star and MIAA conferences both qualified three teams in the six-team regional bracket. The other first-round match pits fifth-seeded West Texas A&M  against fourth-seeded Central Missouri.

The winner will travel to Abilene, Texas, to face top-seeded, and undefeated, Abilene Christian.