Eight teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 NCAA Division 2 National Championship including all the top seeds in each Super Region. An updated bracket can be found here via the NCAA’s website.
Super Regional One (California, PA)
#3 Shepherd (12-0) at #1 California (PA)
Game Time: 1 PM Eastern
Shepherd won their opening-round game over Assumption 48-31 by building a solid halftime lead of 28-16. They did the same thing in round 2 against LIU Post (26-7 at half), but their offense was unstoppable with 591 yards (375 passing and 216 rushing). Jeff Ziemba threw for all 375 yards with 4 touchdowns and no picks while Brandon Hlavach had 177 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.
California had a bye in the first round and they even fell behind 17-0 to Indiana (PA) after 7 seconds into the second quarter. That was no problem as they outscored the Hawks 44-6 the rest of the game to win 44-23. Michael Keir threw for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns with no picks to lead the Vulcans.
Both teams have potent offenses with California averaging 51.4 points and 458.5 yards per game while Shepherd averages 40.6 points and 480.4 yards per game. Both defenses give up less than 300 yards and 20 points per game.
We know that Shepherd’s chances go through quarterback Jeff Ziemba. He has only five interceptions on the season with 68.3% completions and when he is passing the ball well, the offense is very difficult to stop. Consider that Ziemba’s worst game last year was the National Championship against Northwest Missouri State. He played hurt, the Bearcats zoned in on him, and he just could not get much going. He finished 11 of 16 for 136 yards with a touchdown and a pick. In addition, if Brandon Hlavach can have another big rushing game, the offense will probably have 40+ points.
California will be led by quarterback Michael Keir. Keir has 2,953 yards (65.6%) with 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year. The offense was not overwhelming with 364 total yards, but they did not turn the ball over and converted all six of their red zone attempts against Indiana (PA).
This should be a good game and we will go with Shepherd on the strength of Ziemba and the team’s playoff experience. We will take the Rams to win 34-30.
Super Regional Two (North Alabama)
#6 North Greenville (9-4) at #1 North Alabama (9-1)
Game Time: 1 PM Eastern
North Greenville opened the playoffs with an impressive 27-13 win over Florida Tech on the road. They scored 24 points in the final 30 minutes and forced three interceptions. In round 2, the Crusaders had a 28 point first quarter and cruised to a 45-26 win over Tuskegee. Will Hunter threw for 272 yards with 3 touchdowns (1 pick) and the offense had 239 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground.
North Alabama had a bye in round one and last week took care of UNC Pembroke 41-17 at home. UNA actually trailed 17-10 midway through the second quarter after Pembroke defense recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Jacob Tucker had 284 yards with 2 touchdowns and a pick along with 53 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead the offense while Dre Hall had 9 catches for 135 yards and a score.
This is a rematch of the October 22nd game that North Alabama won 52-21. That game was close at halftime with UNA holding a 24-14 lead. Tucker ended up having a field day with 510 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns. Dre Hall had 10 catches for 162 yards and a score as well.
North Alabama has both a better offense and defense. The questions are can Greenville play defense well enough and can the offense score enough points? That is a tough task and we like North Alabama to win this game 45-28.
Super Regional Three (Northwest Missouri State)
#3 Harding (13-0) at #1 Northwest Missouri State (12-0)
Game Time: 2 PM Eastern
Harding opened the playoffs with a 48-31 over Central Missouri thanks to 355 rushing yards as a team. Park Parish accounted for 291 yards of total offense with 3 touchdowns. They needed overtime in the second round to defeat Sioux Falls 27-24. Harding erased a 10 point deficit in the final 5 minutes.
Northwest Missouri State had a bye in the first round and then easily dispatched Emporia State 44-13 in the second round. They held Emporia State to -30 yards rushing and gave up 327 yards through the air.
This game will come down to the Bearcats rush defense against Harding’s vaunted rush offense. Harding averages 381.5 yards per game on the ground while Northwest Missouri State allows only 63.9 yards per game. Only once all year have the Bearcats allowed more than 100 yards rushing and that came against Lindenwood. The Bearcats won that game 47-12.
It is not hard to envision how this will go. The Bearcats will load up the box to stop the run and it will force Harding to pass the ball. Harding has a grand total of 828 yards passing this year so it could be a disaster of a game if they have to throw a lot. Harding may hit 100 yards on the ground, but that will not be enough. The Harding defense will need to limit the Bearcats on offense and create turnovers resulting in short fields. The Bearcats have just 11 turnovers all season (7 lost fumbles and 4 interceptions).
We like Northwest Missouri State to win this contest rather easily. The Bearcats maul Harding 38-7 at home.
Super Regional Four (Grand Valley State)
#2 Ferris State (11-2) at #1 Grand Valley State (12-0)
Game Time: 1 PM Eastern
Ferris State opened the playoffs with a resounding 65-34 win over Midwestern State. Trevor Bermingham had 252 yards of total offense with five rushing touchdowns and there were two defensive interceptions returned for touchdowns as well. Round two was a more pedestrian game in a 38-17 victory. Colorado Mines was still within a touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, but a passing and rushing touchdown from Bermingham (392 yards passing, 44 yards rushing, and five total touchdowns) made it a flattering scoreline in the end.
Grand Valley State had a bye in the opening round and then blew the doors off Texas A&M-Commerce in the second half to win 55-32 in the second round. The offense had 598 yards with 311 yards passing from Bart Williams (4 touchdowns and 1 pick) and 217 yards rushing by Marty Carter (1 touchdown).
Here we have yet another regular-season rematch occurring in the playoffs. These two teams met on October 8 at Grand Valley State and the outcome was 35-23 in favor of GVSU. The Lakers took a 28-6 lead into halftime while Ferris State closed the deficit to 28-23 midway through the fourth quarter. A Williams to Nick Dodson 39 yard touchdown pass iced the game.
In that game, Ferris State dominated offensively. They had 29 first downs (21 for GVSU), 201 yards rushing (118 for GVSU), and 369 yards passing (232 for GVSU). Ferris State had five turnovers to 3 for the Lakers. It was the missed opportunities for Ferris State that proved to be the difference.
Ferris State missed a field goal, had two drives end inside the GVSU red zone (one due to a lost fumble and the other due to a turnover on downs), and had an interception resulting in a defensive touchdown for Grand Valley State.
Reggie Bell was at quarterback for Ferris State that day and he threw for 343 yards with 2 touchdowns, rushed for 140 yards, but also had 2 interceptions and 2 lost fumbles. Bell has been hampered by injuries, which has led to Bermingham taking over. No matter who is playing at quarterback, if Ferris State commits five turnovers again then it may be another bitter loss to their in-state rival.
This could be a shootout. Yes, the defenses are good, but there are playmakers on both offenses. Bell, Bermingham, or even Jahaan Brown (866 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns) for Ferris State will be up against Bart Williams (3,024 yards passing with 30 touchdowns and 10 picks) and running back Marty Carter (1,807 yards with 19 touchdowns).
We like Ferris State to get revenge and win over their Michigan rivals. The Bulldogs will not turn the ball over as much and the offense will be racking up yardage. In a close game, Ferris State wins 45-42.
The four predicted winners are Shepherd, North Alabama, Northwest Missouri State, and Ferris State.
Check back next week for the semifinal predictions for the 2016 NCAA Division 2 Football Playoffs.