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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 3 Football Playoff Semifinal Predictions

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2016 NCAA Division 3 Football Playoff Semifinal Predictions

The 2016 NCAA Division 3 Football Playoffs have reached the penultimate week. Four teams remain as they vie for a spot in the Stagg Bowl. Both games will be played on Saturday, December 10 and can be seen on ESPN3. An updated bracket can be found here.

We correctly predicted 12 of the 16 first round games and then went 6-2 with our second round predictions. In the quarterfinals, we selected three of the four winners to make our playoff record 21-7. Below are the predictions for the two semifinal games in order of kickoff time.

John Carroll (12-1) at Wisconsin-Oshkosh (12-1)

Game Time: 1 PM Eastern

John Carroll opened the playoffs with a straightforward 37-12 over Olivet at home. It was not perfect, but Anthony Moeglin threw for 262 yards with 4 touchdowns and a pick. The second round game was also at home and they needed overtime to dispatch Wesley 20-17. Moeglin’s 14 yard pass to Anthony Leonetti ended the game and put the Blue Streaks in the quarterfinals.

John Carroll had to go on the road to face Wisconsin-Whitewater in the quarterfinals and they were impressive. They put up 17 points in the third quarter to take a 24-7 lead they were not close to relinquishing after that spurt. The defense allowed only 228 yards of offense to Whitewater and picked off Cole Wilber twice in the 31-14 win.

Wisconsin-Oshkosh started with an easy 49-13 win over Washington University after rushing for 410 yards of offense. The second round was closer as they won 31-14, but they put up big yards on the ground again (332). Their quarterfinal matchup was against St. Thomas (MN) on the road, a team that was the national runner up in 2015.

The rushing yardage dropped to 169 yards for the Titans, but they forced 8 (!) turnovers. They intercepted Alex Fenske 5 times and recovered all 3 fumbles they forced (including one by Fenske). It was a surprisingly high scoring games given the stingy defenses, but the Titans won 34-31 with Brett Kasper throwing for 237 yards and 3 touchdowns (no picks).

If this matchup seems familiar that is because these two schools met the opening week. That day, it was all Oshkosh as they built a 27-0 lead and cruised to a 33-14 victory. The Titans held John Carroll to 94 yards in the first half and their intensity on defense allowed them to build a sizable lead. Little did many people know (or even think) that game was a preview of a national semifinal later in the year.

Will we see a repeat of the week one game? Sure, it is possible, but this John Carroll team is different now. They are full of confidence after defeating both Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater on the road in the span three weeks. And who could blame them?

This feels like a defensive, grind it out battle. John Carroll has not allowed more than 230 yards in any of their playoff games (193.7 yards per game average). The offense is not overwhelming, but they are efficient in getting touchdowns in the red zone. They have scored 39 times in the red zone on 52 attempts this year. 36 of those scores went for touchdowns. They will need to convert those opportunities against Oshkosh.

Speaking of Oshkosh, they were taken out of their element against St. Thomas, yet still won. They had more passing yards than rushing yards for just the third time this year. The previous two? At Eau-Claire (48-13 win) and John Carroll opening week.

The Oshkosh offense has many options on offense: Brett Kasper (2,323 yards with 19 TDs and 6 picks) throwing the ball or a trio of runners in Dylan Hecker (1,039 yards and 16 TDs), Devon Linzenmeyer (806 yards and 10 TDs), and Mitch Gerhartz (455 yards and 3 TDs). John Carroll will have to stop all of them to win.

The ultimate question is who wins? The team that is very hot (John Carroll) or the team that has homefield advantage and won the earlier matchup (Wisconsin-Oshkosh)? We will go with John Carroll, the hot team, to win 20-17 to make their first Stagg Bowl.

Mount Union (12-1) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (13-0)

Game Time: 4:30 PM Eastern

Mount Union started the playoffs at Hobart and they had to fend off that pesky foe with the final 17 points of the game. Dom Davis threw for 321 yards with 1 touchdown and no picks in the 38-21 win. The second round game was at Johns Hopkins and the Purple Raiders trailed 21-7 before scoring the final 21 points to win 28-21. Mount Union forced two turnovers and a fourth down stop on Johns Hopkins’ last three drives to seal the victory.

The quarterfinal matchup was their third straight road game and the offense exploded. Dom Davis threw for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns along with 108 yards and another score on the ground. Bradley Mitchell rushed for 123 yards and 3 touchdowns on 15 carries in his first 100+ yard game since October 15. There were also defensive (Elijah Berry) and special teams (Brian Groves) touchdowns in the 70-45 route at Alfred.

Mary Hardin-Baylor started with 50-28 win over Redlands though they needed a big final 20 minutes to put them away. Blake Jackson had 392 yards of offense and four total touchdowns in the victory. The second round game was a 27-10 win over Linfield in an impressive defensive performance. They intercepted Sam Riddle twice and held him to 236 yards on 26 of 41 passing. They also held the Linfield offense from reaching the end zone as the lone touchdown allowed was a 75 yard punt return.

The Crusaders faced Wheaton (IL) in the quarterfinals and they had another strong defensive performance. They had a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown and a 32 yard pick six by Raylon Hickey. They also forced two other picks and held the Thunder to 22 yards rushing on 26 carries. Markeith Miller had 142 yards and 1 touchdown rushing for Mary Hardin-Baylor.

This game is all about Mount Union’s rushing attack against Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defense. Mount Union averages 265.7 yards per game on the ground and they averaged 7 yards per carry against Alfred. That was their highest YPC average since their 66-7 demolition of Otterbein (6.6 yards per carry that game). The Cru allow 68.8 yards per game rushing and have only allowed more than 100 yards four times this year. Bradley Mitchell has 1,475 yards and 20 touchdowns this year, but he will have to play his best to help this offense move the ball.

If Mount Union is forced to throw, they better be careful because the Cru have intercepted 29 passes this season. Dom Davis has 2,080 yards passing (65.6%) with 21 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. Arguably his worst game was against John Carroll (31-28 loss) when he threw for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns, but had 2 interceptions, completed only 19 of 39 passing, and took 7 sacks. If he has to pass a lot, he will need to be smart by throwing the ball away instead of forcing passes and taking sacks.

Mary Hardin-Baylor on offense will be a force to stop, but if any team can do it, it would be Mount Union. Blake Jackson has thrown for 2,952 yards with 34 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. He also has 708 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing while Markeith Miller has run for 1,444 yards and 20 touchdowns. T.J. Josey is the top receiver with 48 catches for 1,004 yards and 8 touchdowns, but Bryce Wilkerson (43 catches for 612 yards and 9 TDs), DeNerian Thomas (42 catches for 362 yards and 4 TDs), and Wykeyhe Walker (32 catches for 436 yards and 6 TDs) will see some passes thrown their way.

Mount Union’s defense allows 300.2 yards per game and just 66.8 yards per game on the ground. They have forced just 24 turnovers, however, they have recorded 51 sacks and 7 defensive touchdowns this year. They will need to keep both Jackson and Miller in check if they are to win their fourth straight playoff game on the road.

If Mary Hardin-Baylor is to defeat Mount Union, this is the perfect time, right? This is not the strongest Mount Union team and, more importantly, they get Mount Union at home after three straight road playoff games. This is THE time for the Cru to get back to the Stagg Bowl for just the second time in school history (2004). But this is Mount Union. There is a reason they have played in 11 straight Stagg Bowls: they are really good. Every. Single. Year.

It is tough to go against the defending champions, but we will. We like Mary Hardin-Baylor to win 31-28 and reach the Stagg Bowl for the first time since 2004. However, we know that going against Mount Union is a dangerous proposition and they could easily make this prediction look foolish.

Check back next week for a preview of the 2016 Stagg Bowl.