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My inbox usually gives me a good idea about the public perception of the playoff process in a given year. There have been years in the past when I have been flooded with angry emails. This year, not a peep. It was pretty clean this year as we did not have an individual region stacked with undefeated and one-loss teams. Having four extra playoff spots helps as well.

I have long been on the record as saying that every conference champion should automatically be in the playoff field. If that had been in place this year it would be very interesting because Winston-Salem State (6-5) and Miles (7-4) won the title games in the CIAA and SIAC respectively. Miles would have taken the place of another 7-4 team in Newberry while WSSU would have theoretically bumped out Virginia Union, another team from the CIAA.

But enough with the what-could-have-beens for now. The expanded playoffs mean more first round games, which means more to write about. Let*s get to it….

Playoffs- First Round

Super Region One

IUP (8-2) at Charleston (10-1)

After losing to Shepherd in week two, the Golden Eagles have rattled off nine straight wins to reach the D2 playoffs for the first time in program history. UC has done it with a dynamic offense that averages 472 yards and nearly 43 points per game. The Golden Eagles run the ball about two thirds of the time, but quarterback Jeremy Johnson has been lethal when he does throw, with 16 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.

IUP loves to run the football as well with the duo of quarterback Lenny Williams and running back Chris Temple doing the bulk of the damage. The pair has combined for over 2000 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground so far this year. The Crimson Hawks are very solid on defense, allowing 309 yards per game to go with six defensive scores.

Overall, I think IUP has the better team, but there are a couple of factors that will make this a close game. One, the IUP kicking game is not good. The Crimson Hawks have missed ten PAT kicks this year, and missed PATs were a major factor in both losses. Secondly, IUP is not real dynamic in the passing game which means they have to grind for points. I think they get just enough Saturday. IUP 26 Charleston 24

Bowie State (9-2) at Assumption (10-1)

Welcome to the show Bowie State and Assumption! Assumption has never been in the playoffs while BSU is making its first appearance in 27 years.

As I mentioned last week, there is nothing about this Assumption team that really jumps out at you and screams great football team. The Greyhounds have been routinely out-gained this season but just keep finding ways to win. They did it again last week in coming from behind to beat New Haven in the Northeast 10 title game.

BSU*s strength is on the offensive side of the ball. However, that comes with a bit of a caveat as the Bulldogs have been hampered by turnovers at times this season. Defensively the Bulldogs are not great, but they do force turnovers.

I think this will be an interesting game and it is really tough to assess how this will go. I am going to give a slight edge to the Greyhounds because they have been so good at finding ways to win and they are so much better in the kicking game: Cole Tracy has made 21 of 23 field goals for Assumption while BSU has made just two field goals all year. Assumption 35 Bowie State 30

Virginia Union (8-2) at Slippery Rock (10-1)

VUU is second in the country in total defense. Slippery Rock leads the nation in scoring. This contrast in and of itself will make the game interesting. However, as well as the VUU defense has played this season, they have not seen anything close to the overall offensive firepower SRU possesses. What makes The Rock so difficult to defend is it is not just one or two players that a defense has to worry about. SRU has three very talented running backs and five receivers with at least 20 catches.

To stay in the game, VUU will have to take care of the football and that is something the Panthers have not done that well this year, turning it over 25 times. The SRU defense has forced 35 turnovers, returning six for scores.

At the end of the day, I think SRU will be too much for VUU in this game. The Rock is playing its best football of the year over the last couple of weeks and the relentlessness of the SRU offense will just be too much for the Panthers to deal with. Slippery Rock 42 Virginia Union 23

Super Region Two

Carson-Newman (9-2) at Valdosta State (8-2)

This will be the seventh playoff meeting between these two programs dating all the way back to 1996. VSU has won the last three, with the most recent meeting coming in 2012.

The styles are obviously different because C-N still runs the veer offense, but when you look at how these teams match up, there are quite a few similarities: both teams do a good job in the turnover department with the Eagles +10 for the year and VSU +9. However, that advantage is offset some by the fact that neither team is outstanding on special teams: The Eagles have given up six touchdowns on returns and had two punts blocked. The Blazers have converted on just seven of 13 field goal attempts this season. Defensively, both teams have struggled at times to stop the running game.

I think both teams can move the ball and will score some points. However, I like the Blazers to win this game. Quarterback EJ Hilliard is playing very well right now with no interception over the last five games to go along with increased production on the ground as well. Valdosta State 42 Carson-Newman 34

Tuskegee (8-2) at Catawba (9-2)

It has been a while at Catawba. The Indians were a playoff regular with six appearances between 1999 and 2007, but they are finally back after an eight year hiatus. The Golden Tigers have been in the playoffs each of the last two seasons and although they have not won, they have played well with three point losses to North Alabama and West Georgia.

I expect this to be a defensive oriented game as that is what both of these teams do best. Plus, neither offense is explosive enough to do much anyway. I give a slight edge to the Indians as they are playing at home and they generally do a much better job of taking care of the football: Catawba has just 13 turnovers this year versus 21 for Tuskegee. Catawba 24 Tuskegee 13

Newberry (7-4) at North Alabama (8-2)

It is not often that a four loss team gets into the playoffs. Newberry even had a three game mid-season losing streak and still managed to qualify. The Wolves, however, are playing their best football of the season right now and have the potential to be a dangerous team.

Since losing to West Georgia four weeks ago, the Lions have also played some outstanding football capped by a 52-14 win over West Alabama on Saturday. UNA senior quarterback Luke Wingo has accounted for 27 touchdowns this year and has plenty of playoff experience. However, the Lions have had issues with turnovers at times this year and they have also struggled to stop the run.

Newberry is a team that likes to run the football and play good defense. If the Wolves can do those two things they will have a chance in this game. However, many people have pointed to this year as the big one for UNA and I think the Lions come out firing on all cylinders. North Alabama 33 Newberry 21

Super Region Three

Augustana (9-2) at Humboldt State (9-1)

Augustana*s only playoff appearance in the last 25 years came in 2010. HSU has never been in the NCAA playoffs and last appeared in a postseason game in 1968, when the Lumberjacks defeated Fresno State in the Camelia Bowl. While HSU has had some success during the eight years Robb Smith has been the head coach, the Lumberjacks did finish 0-11 just two years ago.

Sophomore running back Ja*Quan Gardner is the player that makes HSU go. He is just four yards short of 2,000 for the season and he has scored 23 touchdowns. To put in perspective just how good he has been, his season low in rushing is 107 yards. HSU also has a very solid defense that is probably a bit underrated.

The Vikings also have a player that makes them go offensively in quarterback Trey Heid. Heid leads the nation in pass efficiency and has also rushed for 408 yards and five touchdowns. He is joined by 1,000 yard rusher CJ Ham and 1,000 yard receivers Charlie Hayes and Matt Heller on a very formidable offense. The Vikings are not great defensively, but the good news in this matchup is that they tend to struggle more against the good passing teams.

I think this will be an entertaining, high scoring game. The Vikings definitely have a good shot if they can contain Gardner, but that is easier said than done. Humboldt State 38 Augustana 31

Sioux Falls (9-2) at Henderson State (10-1)

A tremendous amount of credit needs to go to HSU coach Scott Maxfield and his staff for the way this program has transformed and still remained successful. With record setting Kevin Rodgers playing quarterback from 2011-14, HSU was a scoring machine but also a team that struggled to get defensive stops at times. This year HSU is the definition of a ball control, defensive oriented team. The Reddies are in the top five in the country in scoring defense, turnover margin and pass efficiency defense.

USF is making its first playoff appearance since moving to D2 just a few years ago. However, this season has not quite gone as planned. The Cougars have been riddled with injuries on the defensive side of the ball and have not played quite as well over the last month of the season, dropping a pair of games. The good news for USF in this game is that they are not facing an offensive juggernaut that can score points in bunches.

The one player who I think will be the difference in this game is USF quarterback Luke Papilion. In addition to 2,905 passing yards and 30 TDs, Papilion is the team*s leading rusher and it is that aspect where he is especially dangerous. I think this will be a good game most of the way, but Papilion puts USF over the top. Sioux Falls 30 Henderson State 19

Emporia State (9-2) at Minnesota State (10-1)

ESU reached the playoffs two years ago and the Hornets were run off the field 55-13 by a physical Minnesota-Duluth team. They will be playing another tough, physical team from Minnesota on Saturday.
The Hornets are an explosive offensive team led by senior quarterback Brent Wilson, who has thrown for 3420 yards and 34 touchdowns. Wilson will be going up against a physical and talented bunch of MSU defenders, led by senior defensive end Joshua Gordon, who has 14 sacks. Controlling Gordon will be imperative for the Hornets to have success.

MSU has struggled at times to find an offensive identity this season, but since losing standout running back Connor Thomas to injury a few weeks back, the Mavericks have turned to the passing game, which has been very successful over the last three weeks. The big question could be which quarterback is under center. Senior Ricky Lloyd started last week instead of sophomore Nick Pieruccini, who was dealing with an injury. Both quarterbacks are very capable but have also combined for 15 interceptions this season.

I do not think this will be a blowout, but I do think MSU wins comfortably. The Mavericks are just so much better defensively and it is hard to imagine ESU going up north and having a lot of success against a very physical team. Minnesota State 35 Emporia State 20

Super Region Four

Indianapolis (10-1) at CSU-Pueblo (10-1)

The Greyhounds do not overwhelm anyone with talent, but they do all of the little things well. Indy has committed just five turnovers all season and they have converted 51 of 56 red zone opportunities into points. Wide receiver Reece Horn (1324 receiving yards, two touchdowns on punt returns) is this team*s one big play threat.

It took the defending national champion Thunderwolves a couple of games to find their new identity, but once CSU-P reached conference play they were even more dominant this year than last season. The McDondle brothers- Cameron and Bernard- have combined for a staggering 3,026 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns this year. Cameron sat out the regular season finale with a leg injury but is expected to be ready to go in the playoffs. The Thunderwolves are also lights out defensively.

The bottom line on this one is that CSU-Pueblo is playing at home and simply has more talent. I think Indy can stay in it to an extent if they play mistake free football, but I just do not see the Greyhounds winning this game. CSU-Pueblo 37 Indianapolis 17

Grand Valley (9-2) at Ashland (10-0)

These two teams met in Ashland on Halloween with the Eagles coming away with a 45-31 victory. The Eagles jumped out to a 14-3 lead in that game and maintained a one to two score advantage throughout. Ashland was able to gain over 500 yards of total offense and limit the GVSU running game which were big keys to that victory.

As the saying goes, it is tough to beat a good team twice in football, so I do not expect Ashland to roll to another win this time around. The Lakers are a dangerous team because they have an effective vertical passing game and they have shown the ability to force turnovers on defense. GVSU quarterback Bart Williams has thrown 35 touchdown passes this year and he has some weapons to get the ball to downfield.

I really expect the result of this game to come down to the play of Ashland quarterback Travis Tarnowski. He played error free football the first time these teams met and if he can continue to do so against a Laker defense that has been porous at times, I think the Eagles win this game, but by a tighter margin than the first time around. Ashland 34 Grand Valley 30

Texas A&M-Commerce (8-3) at Ferris State (10-0)

To me, this is one of the more interesting first round games. The Bulldogs, of course, are led by 2014 Harlon Hill winner Jason Vander Laan, who this season became the NCAA*s all-time leading rusher for a quarterback. Everything FSU does offensively revolves around him as he is a very effective passer as well. The Bulldogs are a well-rounded team as they are also 12th in the country in total defense, which is a big improvement from a season ago.

The Lions are not a great defensive team, as they allow 406 yards per game. However, they have also forced 29 turnovers this year and doing so against FSU will be critical to their chances. TAMUC is talented and balanced offensively with a senior quarterback of their own in Harrison Stewart (29 TD passes, only six interceptions) leading the way. I think the Lions will make this game very interesting with their ability to score points, but at the end of the day it will be a bit too much Vander Laan for TAMUC to overcome. Ferris State 37 Texas A&M-Commerce 31


[Q] I would also like to ask you to analyze Shepherd as a contender to win the region. It appears to be a down year for the PSAC, do you agree? There is no dominant undefeated team in the PSAC, and only Slippery Rock is nationally ranked this season. The MEC has two nationally ranked teams, Shepherd and Charleston. Thank you for your time; look forward to your analysis of my questions.

[A] I think the PSAC was maybe down a bit this year as a whole. But when it comes to the playoffs all that really matters for Shepherd is if they can beat the best PSAC teams and they may get a chance to find out against IUP and Slippery Rock.

Shepherd and Slippery Rock are the two teams I think will be playing for the championship in this region. SRU obviously has it a little tougher as they would have to win an extra game and they would be on the road in this potential matchup. I think a Shepherd/ SRU final would have the potential to be an epic game.

Shepherd is really outstanding in all facets of the game with the exception being that the running game is not as productive as it normally is. Jeff Ziemba is a fine quarterback and he might be capable of carrying the Rams through this region with his arm, but it will be tough to advance farther than that without a great running game.


Feel free to contact me at with any comments or criticisms or if you have a question you would like answered in the Mailbag.


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