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
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
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
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
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
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
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