College Sports

The Aggies did it, UC Davis football is in the playoffs – so what’s next?

The question wasn’t if UC Davis was going to get in, but where it would land, whom it would play and where it would play.

Such was the anxiety of a program celebrating its 100th year of football with perhaps its greatest team, but the Aggies could agree that this was a feel-good sort of stress.

On Sunday morning, the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, for decades known as Division I-AA, selected its 24 playoff teams.

UCD (9-2) earned the No. 6 seed and an opening-round bye. The Aggies play Dec. 1 at home against the winner of the Northern Iowa-Lamar contest to be played on Saturday.

This is the 21st playoff season for the Aggies and first at this level. UCD last made the playoffs, in Division II, in 2002 under coach Bob Biggs.

“We’re excited, ready to go,” UCD coach Dan Hawkins said.

The ARC Ballroom at UCD was bustling with business as players, coaches, staffers and alumni packed in to watch the selection show on ESPNU.

The mood was a striking example of how far the program has come. UCD dominated the Division II ranks, winning 20 consecutive conference championships through 1990 and setting an NCAA D-II record for consecutive winning seasons at 34.

But the transition from D-II to Division I presented a steep and humbling learning curve, starting in 2006. The opponents were faster, stronger, and they trotted out more scholarship athletes.

The Aggies suffered through seasons of 2 or 5 wins. Progress was painfully slow.

Hawkins was hired before last season to reverse the fortunes at his alma mater. As a fullback, he was a key cog for UCD’s best D-II team, the 1982 outfit that reached the national championship.

Spirited in how he addresses his team, how he coaches and even how he walks across campus, Hawkins led UCD to a 5-6 showing last season and envisioned a rise this fall. He said he wasn’t surprised the Aggies won nine games, stressing never to “put a lid” on expectations. He touts all things Aggies, reminding that “we’re the No. 1 vet school in the world. It’s great to be an Aggie!”

This campaign’s record is the program’s best since going 9-3 in 2002.

UCD sealed its playoff positioning with a 56-13 rout of Sacramento State in the 65th Causeway Classic on Saturday to clinch a share of the Big Sky Conference championship with Weber State and Eastern Washington. The game was played in Reno due to the poor air quality in Yolo County from the Camp Fire that has devastated parts of Butte County, the deadliest in state history.

“We feel like we’re ready for the playoffs,” Aggies quarterback Jake Maier said. “We still feel that we haven’t played our best game yet. We know we’ll get back to work this week and work on everything we need to work on. We can always get better.”

Defending national champion North Dakota State (11-0) is the top seed in the tournament. It is the program’s 14th appearance in the postseason and ninth in succession. The Bison of Fargo have won 14 NCAA championships, eight in Division II and six since 2011 in Division I.

Weber State (9-2) is the No. 2 seed in the tournament and Eastern Washington (9-2) the No. 3 seed. Montana State (7-4) is the fourth Big Sky team to make the field and the only one that plays Saturday in an opener, against Incarnate Word (6-4).

ESPN3 will televise all of the FCS playoff games. UCD’s game on Dec. 1 will be a 4 p.m. kickoff.

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: jdavidson@sacbee.com, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.
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