2017 Cotton Bowl Preview: Western Michigan Versus Wisconsin

Western Michigan’s magical season culminates in the 2017 Cotton Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

2017 Cotton Bowl Preview: Western Michigan Versus Wisconsin

The final game for the 2016-17 season’s of the Wisconsin Badgers and Western Michigan is near. Both teams had fantastic campaigns with the Badgers going 10-3 overall with the heart-breaking 38-31 loss in the Big 10 Championship.

Western Michigan had a magical season in which they went 13-0 and won the MAC Championship. They defeated two Big 10 opponents on the road in Northwestern 22-21 and Illinois 34-10. Wisconsin is a clear step up in competition, but the Broncos will not be apprehensive in this contest.

The Cotton Bowl will be played on Monday, January 2, 2017 at 1 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN. The game will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is home of the Dallas Cowboys. Below is a preview of what we believe are the biggest keys to the game for both teams.

1. The Wisconsin Secondary – The Badgers’ secondary was constantly burned by Penn State in the Big 10 Championship game. However, that problem was evident prior to the Penn State tilt as noted against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. The Badgers have allowed 206.1 yards per game through the air and guys like Leo Musso, D’Cota Dixon, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro, and Sojourn Shelton will need to improve.

Western Michigan is led by quarterback Zach Terrell, who is both accurate and limits his turnovers. He has thrown for 3,376 yards (70.8% completions) with 32 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions. His main target, and the main threat against the Badgers porous secondary, is Corey Davis. Davis has 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns on 91 catches while the second leading receiver, Michael Henry, has a respectable 61 catches for 760 yards and 4 touchdowns.

If the Badgers have fixed their secondary leaks, hold Davis in check, and can force a turnover or two from Terrell, they will have a great chance at winning this game comfortably.

2. The Wisconsin attitude towards playing in the Cotton Bowl – The Badgers are coming off a tough loss in the Big 10 Championship game where they held a big 28-7 lead late in the second quarter only to see it slip away. How will the team react to that loss? They have had several weeks to recover from the sting of that game and this will be their first time playing in the Cotton Bowl.

Wisconsin has also had some slow starts this year such as against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. If they start slow against an opponent like Western Michigan, who will be hyped up to play this game, the Badgers may find themselves in a close battle throughout this game.

3. Western Michigan needs to stop the Badgers’ rushing attack – We have harped on the Badgers actual and potential deficiencies coming into this game, but they have a serious advantage in the rushing attack against the Broncos defense. The Badgers average 204.5 yards per game rushing this year and since their 71 yard rushing performance against Michigan, they have averaged 231.4 yards per game. In the final 8 games, only twice did they not eclipse 200 yards rushing as a team: against Iowa (167) and Northwestern (190). They won both of those games.

Between Corey Clement (1,304 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 4.5 yards per carry), Dare Ogunbowale (484 yards, 4 TDs, 5.6 YPC), Bradrick Shaw (457 yards, 5 TDs, 5.2 YPC), and Jazz Peavy (268 yards, 1 TD, 14.9 YPC), there are plenty of rushing options for Wisconsin.

The Broncos rush defense allows 151.2 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt. The Broncos front four averages 6 feet, 3 inches and 272 pounds and they are going against an offensive line that averages 6 feet, 6 inches and 314 pounds. The Badgers have a distinct advantage and just like the Big 10 Championship Game, they will probably emphasize the run game early and quite often.

4. The Red Zone – Wisconsin’s offense has struggled in the final 20 yards converting just 34 touchdowns in 53 opportunities (64%). Overall, they have come away with points 45 out of 53 trips (85%). Their defense employs a bend, but do not break mentality allowing just 15 touchdowns out of 35 chances (43%) and points 27 of 35 times (77%).

If Western Michigan is to win, they will need to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Their offense has scored 47 touchdowns out of 65 trips (72%) and come away with points 62 out of 65 times (95%). The defense has allowed only 18 touchdowns on 30 red zone chances (60%) and allowed points on 26 of 30 trips (87%).  A field goal battle will suit the Broncos better (see #6 below), but the Badgers offense will eventually wear down the defense.

5. Western Michigan will need to prep for both Quarterbacks – It appears that both Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston will play in the Cotton Bowl. Hornibrook did not play against Penn State after he suffered a head injury against Minnesota in the November finale.

Neither quarterback is overwhelming for the Badgers. Hornibrook has thrown 8 touchdowns against 7 interceptions while completing just 58.1% of his passes (1,243 yards on the season). Houston has thrown 5 touchdowns against 3 interceptions with a completion percentage of 65.9 (1,086 yards passing this year). The Broncos best chance will be when these two are throwing the ball. Whether it is forcing an interception, a fumble, or sack, Western Michigan has to do something to create more possessions and limit the amount of time the Badgers have the ball on offense.

6. Special Teams could be pivotal – There are many ways that special teams could impact a game. It could be a blocked field, a missed field goal, punt yards, or even return yardage. For field goals, Wisconsin has to be worried because Andrew Endicott has been shaky. He has connected on only 12 of 18 kicks with a long of 52 yards. Western Michigan feels solid about Butch Hampton and his 18 of 23, but he has a long of 47 and one kick was blocked.

The Broncos use two punters with both averaging over 40 yards per boot. James Coleman has 25 punts with 15 fair catches and 9 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. They have not had any punts blocked. The Badgers will rely on Anthony Lotti who averages 37.5 yards per punt with 12 fair catches and 24 inside the opponent’s 20 yard. Flipping the field will be important, especially if a drive stalls near midfield.

The Badgers return game is another part of the team that is not overwhelming. They average just 6.8 yards per punt return and 20 yards per kickoff return. Wisconsin will have to worry about Darius Phillips, who averages 12.3 yards per punt return and 22.7 yards per kickoff return. He has both a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown. The Badgers’ kickoff coverage has been good this year, but has had the occasional breakdown. A big part will be P.J. Rosowski who has 47 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs for Wisconsin.

Prediction

Each team had a month to prepare for this game, which means plenty of things to practice that have been seen on film and off film. The Badgers will unleash their typical rushing attack and will have success against the Broncos. Western Michigan should have some success passing, but it will not be enough. We like the Badgers to win in their first Cotton Bowl appearance, 34-21.

Northwest Missouri State Wins Second Straight Title

Northwest Missouri State Bearcats celebrating their second straight Division 2 National Championship. (Photo Courtesy of Childrens Mercy Park via Twitter)

Northwest Missouri State Wins Second Straight Title

The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats won their second National Championship, third in four years, and sixth overall with a 29-3 win over North Alabama. Under a constant snowfall throughout the game, the defense came up big against the dual threat quarterback Jacob Tucker of North Alabama. The Bearcats held North Alabama to 22 yards rushing on 33 carries.

North Alabama’s offense had some success early moving the ball, but did not threaten to score until early in the second quarter. At the five yard line, Tucker threw across his body and into traffic, which led to an interception for Jack Young to keep the game scoreless.

Kyle Zimmerman, whose health was uncertain after last week’s game, threw a pick deep in North Alabama territory a few drives later. Late in the second quarter, it was the Bearcats who struck first on a drive led by Randy Schmidt at quarterback. It ended with Schmidt on a shovel pass to Jordan Grove from 7 yards out to make it 7-0. In response, the Lions drove down the field with less than a minute to go and settled for a 21 yard field goal from Kevin Henke to close the gap to 7-3 at halftime.

The second half began well for North Alabama. They forced a fumble and recovered it at their own 40, but they ended up losing a fumble of their own to give it right back. On their next drive, Tucker was sacked and lost another fumble that set the Bearcats up in great field position. The Bearcats made them pay with Phil Jackson running for a 2 yard touchdown to make it 14-3.

After that touchdown, it was tough sledding for the North Alabama on offense. The Bearcats forced a safety on a punt midway through the fourth quarter and then added two more scores in the form of a 13 yard receiving touchdown by Shane Williams and a 10 yard run by Jackson.

North Alabama was led by Jacob Tucker, but he had a very subpar game in the snow going 15 of 41 passing for 179 yards and an interception. He was also held to 26 yards rushing on 21 carries while Ray Beasley led the team with 29 yards rushing on 4 attempts. The Lions went 4 of 18 on third down, went 0 for 3 on fourth down, and had 201 yards of total offense.

The Bearcats were led by Randy Schmidt who made some good plays. He led the team in rushing with 96 yards on 14 carries and also had a touchdown passing. However, his best play was this gem:

Kyle Zimmerman went 13 of 26 passing for 100 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception thrown. The Bearcats ran for 226 yards on 40 carries as a team. Phil Jackson finished with 76 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Cass Weitl had a monster game on defense for the Bearcats with 2 sacks and he was constantly in the North Alabama backfield.

Northwest Missouri State completed an undefeated season going 15-0 and winning their 30 straight game. It was Adam Dorrel’s third title as coach of the Bearcats since he started coaching the team in 2011.

Mary Hardin-Baylor Wins Hard-Fought National Championship

Mary Hardin-Baylor Wins Hard-Fought National Championship

In their second trip to the NCAA Division 3 National Championship in school history, Mary Hardin-Baylor came away with their first title after defeating Wisconsin-Oshkosh 10-7. The Crusaders dominated the game offensively, but the scoreboard did not reflect that.

In a gritty, defensive struggle for much of the game, it was Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defense that came up with the biggest play at the biggest time. Matt Cody’s interception at the UMHB 27 yard line with 35 seconds left extinguished any hope of an Oshkosh comeback.

The bulk of the scoring came in the first quarter. Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s best offensive drive of the game was on their first drive when they marched 64 yards for a touchdown. Dylan Hecker’s two yard rush put them up 7-0. The Crusaders responded with an 8 minute drive and got on the board with a 22 yard field goal from John Mowery.

The Titans had a great scoring opportunity after Blake Jackson threw an interception. They opted to go for it on fourth and ten at the UMHB 25, but failed to convert. The Crusaders responded with another good drive and it was Jackson punching it from a yard out to make it 10-7. The Titans had another chance to get points on the board, but Brett Kasper threw a pick near the end zone with his receiver well-covered. It was Jaedon Johnson who intercepted the ball and the Cru ended the half with a kneel down.

Oshkosh opened the second half with another drive deep into UMHB territory, but they failed to convert on fourth and two as Hecker was stopped for a loss. Just one play later, the Titans got the ball back after a lost fumble by Markeith Miller. The Titans only went backwards and did not threaten to score after the fumble.

Mary Hardin-Baylor had a chance to make it a double digit lead, but Jackson lost a fumble on his way to the ground at the Oshkosh 6 yard line. The Cru had a chance late in the game to force the Titans to need a touchdown for the win, but a missed 19 yard field goal by Mowery gave the Titans one final life line.

The Titans drove slowly and methodically down the field. A pass interference call against UMHB put Oshkosh at the 35 yard line. After three straight incomplete passes, it was Kasper who threw his second pick to Cody and give the title to the Cru.

Blake Jackson was a one man crew throwing for 171 yards on 16 of 27 passing along with 119 yards and a rushing touchdown on 28 carries. He did have an interception and a lost fumble, but he picked up the slack for Markeith Miller, who was held in check (11 yards on 9 carries). The Crusaders had 332 yards of total offense, 19 first downs, and converted 11 of 18 third downs.

Wisconsin-Oshkosh was held to 215 yards on offense and just 30 yards rushing. Coming into the game, the Titans averaged 264 yards per game on the ground. Dylan Hecker was held to 29 yards on 13 carries (had the lone touchdown for the Titans) while Devon Linzenmeyer had 3 yards on 9 carries. They averaged 1 yard per carry (29 carries) had 12 first downs, and went 8 of 17 on third down. Brett Kasper threw for 185 yards on 20 of 33, but also had 2 interceptions.

The Mary Hardin-Baylor defense deserves a ton of credit for their performance. Holding a potent rushing attack like Wisconsin-Oshkosh to 30 yards is impressive. That is a large reason why the Cru won their first Division 3 Football National Championship.

2016 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Predictions

James Madison’s only loss was to North Carolina (pictured above). Since then the Dukes have won 10 straight including their 65-7 demolition of Sam Houston State in the FCS Quarterfinals. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Semifinal Predictions

Four teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 FCS National Championship. Three of the top four seeds, #1 North Dakota State, #2 Eastern Washington, and #4 James Madison, are alive along with unseeded Youngstown State. All four are worthy of reaching the National Championship for the right to play for the title.

The two semifinal games will be played over two days. The first game featuring the five time defending National Champions, North Dakota State, will be played on Friday, December 16. The second game featuring the #2 seed Eastern Washington will be played on Saturday, December 17. Through three rounds, our predictions have gone 18-2. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (7-1)

Second Round Predictions (7-1)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Below are the predictions for the FCS Semifinal games. We will begin with the Friday game of James Madison at North Dakota State.

#4 James Madison (12-1) at #1 North Dakota State (12-1)

Game Time: Friday, December 16 at 7 PM Eastern (ESPN2)

James Madison has played in two playoff games and they have both been blowouts. They dismantled New Hampshire in the second round 55-22 after a slow first quarter. Bryan Schor threw for 371 yards on 30 of 37 passing for 5 touchdowns and an interception.

Their Quarterfinal game against Sam Houston State was even more impressive. They held one of the best offenses in FCS to just 7 points in 65-7 thrashing of Sam Houston State. SHSU’s Jeremiah Briscoe went a horrid 13 of 44 for 143 yards passing and 2 picks. The running game got going for the Dukes with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns from Khalid Abdullah. The special teams also had a punt return for a touchdown and blocked  another punt that they then returned for a touchdown.

North Dakota State opened with San Diego in the second round and they had little trouble with them in a 45-7 win. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for another 99 yards. The team averaged 9.6 yards per carry with 299 yards total on the ground.

The Bison’s Quarterfinal matchup was against a familiar foe in South Dakota State. The Bison lost to them 19-17 in the regular season and they had a slow start to the Quarterfinal. SDSU took a 10-0 thanks to the hidden ball trick play.

After that, the Bison were in total control. They got a 49 yard touchdown run from Lance Dunn (after a 71 yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Williams was taken off the board). Their next drive was a soul crushing 20 play possession that took off 12:09 on the clock. Stick kept the ball for a 3 yard touchdown run and the Bison took a 14-10 lead they never relinquished. The Bison won 36-10 with Stick throwing for 188 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and rushing for another 83 yards and 2 scores. King Frazier had 101 yards rushing while Dunn finished with 91 yards and a score on the ground.

James Madison is full of playmakers on offense with Bryan Schor at quarterback and Khalid Abdullah running the ball. The emergence of Trai Sharp the last three weeks have really helped Dukes on offense. Sharp has 301 yards the last three games, which is more than half of his entire season total (593 yards). The Bison allow 99.2 yards rushing per game.

North Dakota State’s offense will probably be the key to this game. The Bison are averaging 290.6 rushing yards per game over their previous five contests. They want to use that run game to wear down the defense, salt the clock, and score touchdowns. They did that very well against South Dakota State and their key was going 10 for 13 on third down. If James Madison wants to have any chance, they need to stop the run, prevent long drives, and, most importantly, get off the field on third down. Easier said than done.

This game features two physical teams that prefer to run the ball, but can use the passing attack to beat their opponent if needed. James Madison has the better offense here, but the Bison have the better defense. Who will win that battle?

We like James Madison to win this game 31-28. To pick against the Bison, at home, as 5 time defending National Championships, and with a stellar run game, is very hard to do. They could easily make this pick look terrible, but we like the Dukes here.

Youngstown State (11-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (12-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 17 at 6:30 PM Eastern (ESPNU)

Youngstown State is the only team remaining to have played in the first round. They faced Samford in a game they controlled throughout and won 38-24. Their second round game was against Jacksonville State and they did exactly what they needed to do. They forced Eli Jenkins to throw the ball and he went 6 of 26 passing with 140 yards, a touchdown, and 2 interceptions. The defense gave up 317 yards rushing, but they forced a run first team into a deficit and forced them to pass. Jody Webb finished with 140 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns while Hunter Wells threw for 290 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 18 passing for Youngstown State.

The Penguins had a stiff test in the Quarterfinals as well with Wofford coming to town. Wofford took a 9-0 lead after the first quarter, but YSU responded with two touchdowns to make it a 13-9 lead. After that, the teams exchanged scores until late in the game when Youngstown State hit a 32 yard field goal to tie the game at 23. Wofford attempted a 53 yard field goal at the end of regulation, but it came up short and the game went to overtime.

Overtime was full of twists and turns. Wofford decided to go for it on fourth and one from the YSU 3, but the pitch hit off Lorenzo Long’s hands and went out of bounds. The Penguins had a chance to win it in the first overtime, but Zak Kennedy’s 37 yard field goal was wide right. YSU started the second overtime with a 2 yard touchdown run by Tevin McCaster and then forced an incompletion on fourth down against Wofford’s offense to seal the 30-23 win in double overtime.

Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and then faced Central Arkansas in the second round. After giving up the first 14 points, the Eagles scored the final 31 points and held the Central Arkansas offense to 75 yards in the second half. Gage Gubrud went 47 of 64 passing with 449 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 31-14 win. He also rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown in a complete performance from him.

Eastern Washington used that strong second half defensive performance against Central Arkansas and parlayed that into a full game against Richmond. In their 38-0 shutout, they held Richmond to 205 yards of total offense including 48 yards on the ground and only 1.3 yards per carry. Gage Gubrud had a more pedestrian game going 21 of 32 for 287 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick. Cooper Kupp caught 6 passes for 128 yards and a score despite worries over his shoulder.

The weather for this game is expected to be bitterly cold in Cheney, Washington. That would seem to favor the running attacks, which Youngstown State has a distinct advantage in. The Penguins average 257.1 yards per game on the ground and their playoff average is at 244.7 yards per game. Jody Webb (1,200 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Martin Ruiz (1,153 and 12 touchdowns) are the leading rushers, but Ruiz may not play against an EWU defense that allows 188.4 yards rushing per game. Ruiz played little in the Wofford game after being arrested on firearm charges.

Eastern Washington only averages 131.3 yards per game on the ground. Will the weather completely shut down their pass attack? That is difficult to envision because the Eagles will still throw the ball around plenty. However, we saw cold weather shut down Sam Houston State’s offense at James Madison when the weather was cold. The difference here is that Eastern Washington is used to this weather, even if it is not ideal to play in. They know what to expect and should be prepared.

One thing to keep in my about this game is that Youngstown State may be without four or five players including Martin Ruiz. If that is the case, their work is going to be even more difficult.

Youngstown State has a good offense to play in the cold weather. That is to run the ball, but this Eastern Washington defense has been completely different the last 90 minutes of game time. Gage Gubrud will be able to complete enough passes to the trio of Kupp, Shaq Hill, and Kendrick Bourne. If needed, Gubrud can use his legs to run the ball as he is the leading rusher for the Eagles with 558 yards and 5 touchdowns. We will pick Eastern Washington to win this game 28-17.

Check back the first week of the new year for a preview of the FCS National Championship game.

2016 NCAA Division 3 National Championship Preview

2016 NCAA Division 3 National Championship Preview

The 2016 Stagg Bowl is nearly here. Two teams remain after an exciting 2016 Division 3 Football Playoff. For the first time since 2004, neither Mount Union nor Wisconsin-Whitewater will be playing in the Stagg Bowl. That game was won by Linfield 28-21 over Mary Hardin-Baylor, a team that will appear in this year’s edition.

The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh will meet Mary Hardin-Baylor to decide this year’s Division 3 National Championship. This game will take place from Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia on Friday, December 16. The game can be seen on ESPNU starting at 7 PM Eastern Time.

Through four rounds, our predictions have gone 22-8. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (12-4)

Second Round Predictions (6-2)

Quarterfinal Predictions (3-1)

Semifinal Predictions (1-1)

Below is the 2016 Division 3 National Championship Game preview and we will also provide a prediction for this matchup.

Wisconsin-Oshkosh Road To The National Championship

First Round: Defeated Washington U. 49-13 at home

Second Round: Defeated St. John’s (MN) 31-14 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated St. Thomas (MN) 34-31 on the road

Semifinals: Defeated John Carroll 10-3 at home

Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans Preview

Wisconsin-Oshkosh went 9-1 in the regular season with their lone blemish being a 17-14 loss at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Their rushing attack led them to easy wins in the first two rounds (371 yards per game) over Washington University and St. John’s (MN). The passing attack led the team in the Quarterfinal against St. Thomas (MN) with 237 yards while the defense forced 8 turnovers. Surprisingly, they only won by a field goal 34-31.

The Semifinal game versus John Carroll was a defensive slugfest. The Titans gained just 214 yards of offense with 133 coming on the ground. A Brett Kasper bootleg was the lone touchdown, and the difference, in the game. All 13 points from both teams came in the second half and the Oshkosh defense forced three interceptions out of Anthony Moeglin.

The Titans have a potent run-first offense. They average 454.3 yards per game with 263.9 yards on the ground and 190.4 yards through the air. They have averaged 38.3 points per game this season. Brett Kasper is not an overwhelming presence throwing the ball, but he is effective. He has thrown 2,404 yards (60.5%) with 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. In the Playoffs, he has thrown for 607 yards (55.4%) with 6 touchdowns against just 1 interception and 5 sacks taken. It may be up to his arm if the Titans are to win this game.

The Titans will be using the running back duo of Dylan Hecker and Devon Linzenmeyer for their ground assault. Hecker has rushed for 1,113 yards with 16 touchdowns and averages 6.4 yards per carry. After missing the Washington U. game, Hecker has rushed for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns in the last 3 games. Linzenmeyer has 848 yards and 10 touchdowns with an average of 7.6 yards per carry. He has played in all four Playoff games and has 261 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Kasper will have several different receivers to throw to. Dom Todarello has 40 catches for 532 yards and 6 touchdowns, but he may also see some carries. He has 29 rushes for 294 yards on the season. CJ Blackburn has 30 catches for 383 yards and 2 touchdowns while Sam Mentkowski has 23 catches for 424 yards and 4 touchdowns. Mentkowski had a big game against St. Thomas with 7 catches for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns. Could he or another receiver be needed to be the difference in this game?

The defense for Oshkosh has allowed 269.1 yards and 12.9 points per game. They allow 160.1 yards passing and 109 yards rushing per contest. The Titans are led by the formidable linebackers Reese Dziedzic, Steve Forner, and Branden Lloyd, who are 1-2-3 in tackles with 87, 61, and 60, respectively. The Titans have 23 sacks this year with Lloyd leading the team at 5.5 and also leads the team in tackles for loss with 11. Forner is second with 8 tackles for loss while Dziedzic has 7, which is third on the team.

Mary Hardin-Baylor may not want to throw in the general vicinity of Johnny Eagen. He has 8 interceptions on the year and Cole Yoder is second with 5. The defense overall has forced 40 turnovers (26 picks and 14 fumbles recovered).

Turner Geisthardt has an average of 40.2 yards per punt from 49 boots. 16 have landed inside the 20 yard line and only 1 has been blocked. The field goal duties will fall to Eli Wettstein. He has gone 16 of 22 on field goals (73%) with a long of 50 yards while making 62 of 67 extra points (93%).

Mary Hardin-Baylor Road To The National Championship

First Round: Defeated Redlands 50-28 at home

Second Round: Defeated Linfield 27-10 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Wheaton (IL) 38-16 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Mount Union 14-12 at home

Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders Preview

A 10-0 regular season allowed Mary Hardin-Baylor to hold de facto homefield advantage throughout the Playoffs until the National Championship game. They opened with a 50-28 win over pesky Redlands and then shut down Linfield’s offense in a 27-10 victory. Their Quarterfinal game was against Wheaton (IL) and the 38-16 score line does not represent how defensive the game was. It was 10-3 in favor of the Cru at half before a punt blocked recovered for a touchdown and an interception for a touchdown made it a two score lead. A couple of big offensive plays in the final 17 minutes made a 24-16 game look a lot more comfortable than it was.

The Semifinal game versus Mount Union was a gritty contest. The Cru led 7-6 at halftime, scored a late third quarter touchdown, and then needed to hold on. They allowed a touchdown to the Purple Raiders, but stopped them on the two point conversion before Ajay Fanene stopped Mount Union on their final offensive possession with an interception on a screen pass. To cap it off, the Cru decided to throw a fake punt pass on fourth and four to ice the game.

MHB averages 49.4 points and 483.3 yards per game on offense in a balanced attack. They gain 237 yards per game through the air and 246.3 on the ground. The offense will run through Blake Jackson who can hurt defenses with both his arm and feet. He has thrown for 3,111 yards (66.2%) with 35 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also has 785 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing this season. In the Playoffs, Jackson has thrown for 809 yards with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while rushing for 306 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Jackson’s backfield partner is Markeith Miller, who has rushed for 1,472 yards with 20 touchdowns and an average of 7.3 yards per rush. Miller has 444 yards and 6 touchdowns in the Playoffs, but was held in check against Mount Union to the tune of 28 yards on 18 carries.

The receiving unit has four different options for Jackson. T.J. Josey is the leading receiver with 50 catches for 1,006 yards and 8 touchdowns. He too was held down against Mount Union with only 2 catches for 2 yards. Bryce Wilkerson has 47 grabs for 651 yards and 9 touchdowns, DeNerian Thomas has 42 catches for 362 yard and 4 touchdowns, and Wykeyhe Walker has 38 catches for 501 yards and 7 touchdowns.

The defense allows just 14.4 points and 294.1 yards per game. The rush defense is stingy allowing 76.6 yards per game while the pass defense allows 217.4 yards per game. Keith Reineke leads the team in tackles with 112 and Baylor Mullins is not too far behind at 93. Five different players have at last 10 tackles for loss led by Teidrick Smith with 22.5. Smith also leads the team in sacks with 14.5 while Haston Adams and Ajay Fanene both are tied in second with 5.5 sacks.

Baylor Mullins leads the team in interceptions with 6 while Raylon Hickey has 4 and four other players have 3 each. The defense has 45 turnovers this year with 32 interceptions and 13 fumbles recovered.

Mullins doubles as the punter as well and he has averaged 35.5 yards per punt (48 punts) and has pinned 23 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. John Mowery is the field goal kicker, but he is shaking making just 8 of 15 with a long of 42 yards.

Prediction

Neither team has ever won the Stagg Bowl and only Mary Hardin-Baylor has previously played in a Stagg Bowl (2004). This year’s edition feels like a very defensive game. Both teams like to run the ball, yet both teams want to stop the run on defense. This game will come down to which team avoids the mistake. A missed open field tackle, a fumble, an interception, or a dropped catch could be the difference.

We are going with Wisconsin-Oshkosh in a defensive slugfest 16-13 to win the 2016 NCAA Football Division 3 National Championship.

2016 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview

Northwest Missouri State had a challenge against Ferris State in the Semifinals, but came through. They have one last test to pass to become back-to-back National Champions. (Dougal Brownlie/The St. Joseph News – Press via AP)

2016 NCAA Division 2 National Championship Preview

Just 60 minutes remain for the final two teams standing in the 2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoffs. North Alabama will meet Northwest Missouri State in the Championship Game on Saturday, December 17. This game will be played at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas with a kickoff time of 4 PM Eastern and can be seen on ESPN2.

Through four rounds, our predictions have gone 20-6. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (10-2)

Second Round Predictions (5-3)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Semifinal Predictions (1-1)

Below is the 2016 Division 2 National Championship Game preview and we will also provide a prediction for this matchup.

North Alabama Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated UNC Pembroke 41-17 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated North Greenville 38-0 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Shepherd 23-13 on the road

North Alabama Lions Preview

After an 8-1 regular season, North Alabama was given the top seed in their Super Regional. Their first game was against UNC Pembroke in the second round and they actually trailed 17-10 midway through the second quarter. They reeled off 31 straight points as Jacob Tucker accounted for 4 touchdowns (2 passing and 2 rushing). They had a much easier game in the Quarterfinals as they shut out North Greenville 38-0 with Tucker registering three more touchdowns (2 passing and 1 rushing).

Their semifinal game against Shepherd was impressive. They fell behind 7-0 after Shepherd’s first drive, but responded with the next 17 points. After two late first half field goals, North Alabama held a 20-10 halftime lead. The teams again traded field goals in the second half with North Alabama’s defense holding Shepherd to 105 yards of total offense in the final 30 minutes.

The Lions average 38.8 points and 437.8 yards per game on offense. The offense will go through Jacob Tucker who can pass or throw. He has thrown for 2,661 yards (61.1%) with 21 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Tucker has also ran for 902 yards and 16 touchdowns. Tucker has accounted for two-thirds of North Alabama’s offense and he will be the focal point for the Northwest Missouri State defense.

For all the praise Tucker gets, and he deserves much of it, there are other options on offense. Running backs Damon Cox (517 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Ray Beasley (431 yards and 4 touchdowns) will get some carries. The receiving duo of Dre Hall (75 catches for 1,132 and 9 touchdowns) and Julius Jones ( 44 catches for 686 yards) will be the top two targets for Tucker. UNA has 59 red zone trips on offense converting 49 of those into scores (42 touchdowns and 7 field goals).

The Lions’ defense has been very good this season. They allow 13.3 points and 309.9 yards per game (129.3 rushing and 180.7 passing). They have allowed opponents 31 trips inside the red zone and given up 25 scores. The silver lining in that is they have allowed only 11 touchdowns on those 31 red zone opportunities.

The defense will need to get penetration with the likes of E.J. Parnell (12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks), Sheldon Lewis (8 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks), and Darius Wright (7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks). If these guys are not getting pressure, then North Alabama will probably not have much of a chance to win this game.

In the secondary, Philbert Martial is a ballhawk with 6 picks along with 6 pass breakups. Dorsey Norris and James Rivers both have 3 interceptions while Maurice Carnell leads the team with 12 pass breakups.

Jeb Millender averages 37.7 yards per punt (45 on the season) with 16 ending inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. He will need to be in top form for the Lions. Kevin Henke had a solid season going 14 of 17 on field goals with a long of 50 yards.

Northwest Missouri State Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Emporia State 44-13 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Harding 35-0 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Ferris State 35-20 at home

Northwest Missouri State Bearcats Preview

Northwest Missouri State went 11-0 in the regular season and they dominated those 11 games. They won every game by double digits with the “closest” game being a 28-7 win over Fort Hays State. The Bearcats won their second round matchup against Emporia State where they allowed negative 30 yards rushing in a 44-13 win. Their Quarterfinal game was against run heavy Harding when they shut them out 35-0. They allowed 119 yards on the ground and of the six passes thrown by Harding, they picked off 2 of the passes.

The Semifinal game versus Ferris State was their toughest test yet. The Bulldogs made things very uneasy the entire game, but never reclaimed a lead after losing a 13-7 advantage midway through the second quarter. Ferris State came into the game averaging 493.3 yards per game, but were held to 284 yards by the Bearcats. Meanwhile, the Bearcats put up 415 yards despite an injury to starting quarterback Kyle Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was in a sling during the game and his loss would be devastating. The offense averages 41.4 points and 439.7 yards per game (286.9 passing and 152.8 rushing), but Zimmerman, a first year starters as a senior, has thrown for 3,663 yards (68.9%) with 36 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. The offense has had 74 red zone trips with 61 touchdowns and 10 field goals.

If Zimmerman cannot go, it will be down to Jonathan Baker (139 yards and 1 touchdown versus Ferris State) and Randy Schmidt to quarterback the offense. Schmidt is more of a wildcat type quarterback, which could give the Bearcats some change of pace in the backfield between their quarterbacks. Schmidt went 4 of 5 passing for 26 yards, but also ran for 71 yards and a score on 13 carries against Ferris State.

The rushing attack may see an increase in the amount of carries if Zimmerman is out. Along with Schmidt, Phil Jackson (845 yards and 9 touchdowns), and Cameron Wilcox (624 yards and 13 touchdowns) will need to step up to help out Baker.

The receivers for the Bearcats are Shawn Bane Jr. (31 catches for 707 yards and 10 touchdowns), Jordan Grove (54 catches for 587 yards and 5 touchdowns), and Dre Washington (42 catches for 582 yards and 4 touchdowns). They will be the options for whoever is behind center. George Sehl (32 catches for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns) was injured against Ferris State as well, which may give players like Shane Williams (35 catches for 420 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Bishop (23 catches for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns) a chance to see snaps.

The Bearcats defense is the strength of this team. They allow 12.7 points and 243.8 yards per game (172.8 passing and 71 rushing). The rush defense allows just 2.1 yards per carry, which will come in handy against a dual-threat quarterback like Jacob Tucker. They have allowed 28 red zone trips all year and have given up 19 scores (14 touchdowns and 5 field goals).

The defense is led by linebacker Jacob Vollstedt, who is be a beast. He has 130 tackles, which is 57 more than the second leading tackler (Cass Weitl). Not surprisingly, he leads the team with 24 tackles for loss and has 6 sacks (third most on the team). The sack leader is Collin Bevins at 8 while Weitl is just behind him with 7.5. The front four is menacing, but when you include Vollstedt, this group is imposing for any offense.

The secondary saw a loss against Ferris State when starting cornerback Marcus Jones went out. Jack Young leads the team with 6 interceptions while Kevin Berg has four and Jarrod Bishop has three. Anthony Lane has 18 pass breakups with Edward Richey at 11 and Berg at 8.

Matt Thorman averages 38.2 yards per punt (55 punts) and has put 16 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. Simon Mathiesen has converted 18 of his 21 field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards. The Bearcats will feel pretty comfortable with him at anything 40 yards or less if the weather is cold.

Prediction

This game provides us an interesting story line. In 2015, the Bearcats faced a team that had an injury at quarterback coming into the National Championship. The Bearcats easily won that game and have won two of the previous three Division 2 National Championships. Overall, Northwest Missouri State is 5-4 in National Championship games and all 10 appearances have happened since 1998.

As for North Alabama, they have been here before, it has just been a while. They played in, and won, three straight title games between 1993 and 1995. They are 3-1 overall in the National Championship game (lost in 1985 to North Dakota State).

This game will come down to Jacob Tucker against the tough Northwest Missouri State defense. He will need to have success with the run, which will not be easy. As of posting, both Kyle Zimmerman and Collin Bevins are questionable for this game. Even if Zimmerman does not play, we like Northwest Missouri State here because the defense will overwhelming. The Bearcats take this game 23-10 to win their third title in the last four years and sixth National Championship in school history.

2016 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Predictions

Cooper Kupp's health will be the focus coming into and during the game against Richmond. He is a top receiver in the FCS and a crucial part of the Eastern Washington pass offense. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America)
Cooper Kupp’s health will be the focus coming into and during the game against Richmond. He is a top receiver in the FCS and a crucial part of the Eastern Washington pass offense. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images North America)

2016 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Predictions

The 2016 FCS Playoffs bracket has been cut down to 8 teams. There was some exciting action in the second round and some blowouts as well. The Quarterfinals will be played on both Friday, December 9 and Saturday, December 10. All four games can be found on various ESPN channels. An updated bracket can be found here.

After going 7-1 in the first round with our predictions, we matched that again in the second round to move our two round total to 14-2. We will make our predictions for the quarterfinals starting with the #1 seed North Dakota State and #8 South Dakota State.

#8 South Dakota State (9-3) at #1 North Dakota State (11-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 12 PM Eastern

South Dakota State started their playoffs with a 10-7 win at home against Villanova last week. It was an ugly game with the Jackrabbits rushing for just 7 yards. Taryn Christion threw for 190 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 33 passing. The defense allowed 321 yards of offense to Villanova, but allowed just that one score and were stingy once the Wildcats got inside their territory.

North Dakota State opened their 5 time title defense with a 45-7 walloping of San Diego at home. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns, ran for another 99 yards on 4 carries, and the rushing attack was devastating. The Bison had 299 yards on 31 carries as a team (Lance Dunn had 93 yards and 1 TD while Bruce Anderson rushed for 61 yards and a TD) and they averaged 9.6 yards per carry.

This is a rematch of the game on October 15 that South Dakota State won 19-17 in this building. The Bison held a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter, but SDSU chipped away at the lead. Christion hit Jake Wieneke from 2 yards out with 1 second left and the Jackrabbits pulled off the upset. The Jackrabbits put up 523 yards of offense that day, which was the second most against NDSU’s defense behind Eastern Washington’s 556 yards in the Bison’s second game.

So how will this game go? Probably pretty similar to the first one. The Jackrabbits have the better offense, but the Bison have the better defense. This game will come down to the Bison’s offense. If they can control the clock, shorten the game, and gave success running the ball, then they will probably win. The combination of Dunn, King Frazier, Stick using his legs to extend plays/drives, Chase Morlock, and Anderson will be tough to stop. The Bison had 161 yards rushing in the first game versus SDSU and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

In a close game, we like the North Dakota State Bison to win and move on to the semifinals. They will be tested by Taryn Christion, but will do enough to win 21-16. The winner of this game will play either Sam Houston State or James Madison in the semifinals.

#5 Sam Houston State (12-0) at #4 James Madison (11-1)

Game Time: Friday, December 9 at 7 PM PM Eastern

Sam Houston State was tested in their second round game at home versus Chattanooga. Despite leading the whole game, the Bearkats needed a late fourth down stop to win 41-36. Jeremiah Briscoe threw for 363 yards and 5 touchdowns with 1 pick on 20 of 40 passing. Yedidiah Louis had 8 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bearkats put up 421 yards of offense, but it was Chattanooga’s offense who did better with 531 yards.

James Madison blew the doors off New Hampshire at home 55-22. After falling behind 7-0 midway through the first, they responded with 31 straight points to take a 31-7 halftime lead. The Dukes had 408 yards passing (Bryan Schor had 371 yards with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception) and 567 yards of total offense.

This game will be all about offense. SHSU averages 53.1 points and 570.4 yards per game. James Madison averages 48.3 points and 525.8 yards per game. The defenses are porous with SHSU allowing 26.8 points and 428.5 yards per game while JMU allows 23.3 points and 354.5 yards per game.

Sam Houston State and Jeremiah Briscoe can put up points, but can their defense stop the Dukes? They will be motivated going in the road after getting the #5 seed. We like a high scoring game and James Madison to come out on top 48-38. The winner of this game will play either South Dakota State or North Dakota State in the semifinals.

Wofford (10-3) at Youngstown State (10-3)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 2 PM Eastern

Wofford sure knows how to play in close games. They staved off Charleston Southern in round one with a 15-14 victory. In the second round, they went on the road and defeated The Citadel 17-3, but that score is far from how close the game was. The game was tied at 3 after three quarters, then the Terriers took a 10-3 lead after Joe Newman broke off a 36 yard touchdown run. Devin Watson picked off a Citadel pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown in the final minute to make it 17-3. The Citadel also missed three of their 4 field goal attempts.

Youngstown State dominated Samford 38-24 in the first round with that game’s score flattered by two late Samford touchdowns. The Penguins second round game was more impressive though. They went on the road to Jacksonville State and held them in check during the second half to win 40-24. They allowed 317 yards on the ground to Jacksonville State, but they built a lead that forced them to throw the ball. Eli Jenkins hit only 6 of his 26 pass attempts for 140 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The Penguins finished with 520 yards of offense with 290 yards passing and one touchdown from Hunter Wells and 140 yards rushing and 2 big scores from Jody Webb.

Wofford will be running the ball pretty much non-stop in this game. They have averaged 182 yards per game rushing in the playoffs compared to only 38.5 yards passing per game. It will be a heavy dose of Lorenzo Long, who has 1,382 yards and 16 touchdowns on 274 carries this year. In the playoffs, he has 188 yards and 2 touchdowns on 41 carries. Youngstown State allows 117.8 yards rushing per game.

Youngstown State is similar to Wofford in that they like to run the ball a lot. However, they have a passing attack that can get the job done if needed. Martin Ruiz (1,149 yards and 12 TDs) and Jody Webb (987 yards and 6 TDs) are the main ball carriers. Hunter Wells had his best game against Jacksonville State with 290 yards passing. The Penguins are facing a Wofford defense that gives up 91.2 yards rushing and 186.4 yards passing per game.

If Wofford wants to win this game they will need to stop the run and for Wells to throw the ball. The problem is that since Wells became the starter, he has not had a bad game since the North Dakota State contest. He had 0 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first two starts, but has since thrown 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. Wofford will also want to keep this game very low scoring, which is possible if they can force a lot of three and outs.

We like Youngstown State to win this game 24-10. The Penguins will keep Lorenzo Long in check and the offense will score enough points at home to force Wofford into an uncomfortable position. The winner of this game will play either Richmond or Eastern Washington in the semifinals.

Richmond (10-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (11-1)

Game Time: Saturday, December 10 at 4 PM Eastern

Richmond opened with an easy 39-10 win over North Carolina A&T in the first round. Their second round game was much more difficult and they needed to mount a fourth quarter comeback to win 27-24. They trailed 24-7 at halftime, but a touchdown pass and touchdown run from Kevin Johnson, along with 2 field goals from Griffin Trau, saw them win as time expired.

Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and won over Central Arkansas in the second round 31-14. It was a different kind of win because they fell behind 14-0, but dominated the game after that. It was the defense that had a strong second half outing allowing just 75 yards in the final 30 minutes. Gage Gubrud threw for 449 yards and 2 touchdowns on 47 of 64 passing.

There were concerns about Eastern Washington’s defense going into the game last week, but they way they played after letting up 2 touchdowns was impressive. They are going to have to stop Kevin Johnson, who has 604 yards (66.7%) passing and 3 touchdowns with no picks. Johnson is also a threat to run the ball and keep plays alive, especially near the red zone. The Eagles will need to stop Brian Brown from catching too many passes, but good luck with that. Brown has 77 receptions for 1,441 yards and 11 touchdowns this year.

Eastern Washington fans will want to keep an eye on the health of star receiver Cooper Kupp. He started the game despite a shoulder injury and played well catching 10 passes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did not play most of the second half due to the injury, and his loss for an entire game would be huge. Still, the Eagles can rely on Shaq Hill (72 catches for 1,077 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Kendrick Bourne (74 catches for 1,051 yards and 6 touchdowns) if Kupp cannot play or his action is limited.

Richmond is a resilient team and if they can keep this game close, they will not be deterred. It will help if Kupp cannot play for Eastern Washington that will help Richmond. We like Eastern Washington, even if Kupp does not play, to win this game 28-24. The winner of this game will play either Wofford or Youngstown State in the semifinals.

Check back next week for predictions for both of the semifinal games in the 2016 FCS Playoffs.