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The DODDS-Europe Division II football season arrived in September with seemingly profound changes. New small schools joined the ranks as Division III was eliminated, triggering a realignment of a DII field that now featured 13 teams. The division’s once-fluid border between north and south was reinforced, limiting each team to games only within its region. With more schools in play, the postseason expanded from four teams to eight.

But the intervening weeks have proven the changes to be far less game-changing than they first appeared.

The 2013 Division II playoffs begin Saturday with four quarterfinal games, and the view ahead has not changed drastically. Bitburg still looms large over all opponents. The other three 2012 semifinalists – Naples, SHAPE and Hohenfels – are all back for 2013, two of them with home-field advantage. Baumholder is squarely in Division II contention after winning the Division III crown a year ago. Familiar contender Ansbach enjoys a top seed.

Here’s a look at Saturday’s four elimination games, with reasons each team might extend its season by at least another week:

Naples at BitburgWhy Bitburg can win: Because winning is all the Barons (5-0) have done for a half-decade now. Bitburg scored a whopping 246 points in five games this season, and could have easily piled on many more if not for emptied benches and running game clocks. The defense was equally dominant, allowing just 45 points on the year.

Why Naples can win: The roster doesn’t match the one that had the Barons on the ropes in last year’s Division II title game, but the blueprint is in place. As the division’s only playoff team with a losing record, Naples (2-3) has nothing to lose and could enjoy the role of an underdog.

Vicenza at SHAPEWhy SHAPE can win: The Spartans (4-1) have passed almost every test thrown their way this season, including the division’s best showing against Bitburg in a 16-0 loss and a final-week 43-14 rout of Baumholder that cemented their hold as the north’s No. 2 team. Playmaker Conner Manning has developed a knack for game-swinging moments.

Why Vicenza can win: The Cougars (3-2) were brilliant in a 3-0 start, but none of those three victims ended the season with winning records and Hohenfels and Ansbach handed Vicenza a reality check over the season’s final weeks. Turnovers were key in those losses and retaining the ball might reignite the team’s stalled momentum.

Baumholder at AnsbachWhy Ansbach can win: Point differential is usually a reliable indicator of postseason success, and Ansbach’s 197-53 combined margin of victory ranks second only to Bitburg this season. Running back Dorian Jones has emerged as one of DODDS-Europe’s most prolific offensive weapons for the 5-0 Cougars.

Why Baumholder can win: The only 2012 Division III team to make the 2013 Division II playoffs, the Bucs (3-2) are in the odd position of being both a reigning champion and a decided underdog. But Baumholder’s wealth of previously-unproven talent has finally settled into suitable roles, making the Bucs a legit threat to pull off an upset.

International School of Brussels at HohenfelsWhy Hohenfels can win: The Tigers lean heavily on star running back David Vidovic. But it’s with very good reason, and the team’s winning season bears that out. Only a Sept. 28 upset versus Naples taints a season in which Hohenfels (3-2) often looked like a real title contender.

Why ISB can win: The Raiders (3-2) take a more diverse approach to offense than Hohenfels, but produced equally impressive results. ISB kept up with SHAPE in a 49-42 shootout loss on Sept. 27; that might be what’s in store for arguably the day’s most evenly-matched quarterfinal game.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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