OK, I was wrong. My semifinal picks were not
exactly on the mark.
For what it is worth, I have always thought the
semifinal round is the toughest to predict. There just is not much point of
reference to predict how these teams from across the country will match up until
they get on the field and play.
What this sets up is a very entertaining title
match up. In fact, I feel this is the most intriguing championship game since I
have been covering football for this website.
On one side is Winston-Salem State, a team that
has caused many people to rethink everything they thought they knew about D2
football. The Rams are the first Super Region One team to win a semifinal game
in nine years. They are the first CIAA team to ever reach the title game and
just the second HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) team to make
On the other side is Valdosta State. The Blazers
reached three national championship games from 2002-07 and won a pair of titles,
including in 2007 which was David Deans rookie year as a head coach.
But from 2008-11 VSU won just a single playoff
game and had two 6-4 seasons. When the Blazers started just 2-2 this season
there were people calling for Deans job. Now he is one win from a second
championship. And this time, no one can say he is doing it with someone elses
It should be a great game on Saturday, and I am
guessing with warm weather in the forecast and both schools within reasonable
driving distance, attendance should be solid as well. What a great way to close
out what has been a very interesting 2012 season!
-Huge props have to go to Valdosta State for
traveling hundreds of miles north in cold weather and coming out on top. Lesser
teams might have folded when they got down 10-0 early but the Blazers turned it
on from there and took complete control of the game. I thought the biggest key
was the play of VSU offensive tackles Mesh Wokomaty and Ryan Schraeder. They did
a tremendous job one on one in pass protection and also dominated the edge on
running plays which made it very difficult on the Maverick defense.
-I did not like the defensive strategy that
Minnesota State employed. The Mavericks had match up issues with the Valdosta
State receivers but too often they employed a three man rush on 3rd-and-long and
the Blazers killed them in those situations. The few times that MSU did get
pressure in the face of Cayden Cochran is when they did stop the passing game. I
felt the Mavericks needed to take a few more chances defensively to get some
pressure on Cochran.
-Last week I complimented West Texas A&M for
turning the corner as a program and then the Buffaloes completely reverted to
their old ways in the biggest game of the season. They committed nine penalties
in the first half alone, including an unnecessary one that took points off the
board. They also extended two scoring drives for WSSU with foolish penalties.
And why was Khiry Robinson not more involved in the offensive game plan? He
averaged 6.8 yards per carry but ran the ball just 20 times. He should have had
35 carries in a game like this.
-It is very difficult to determine how a defense
will match up speed-wise with an opponent until the game is played. I vastly
underestimated the speed in the back end of the WSSU defense as they completely
stymied the WTAMU passing game. At times it looked like the Rams had 13 players
on defense. Impressive.
National Championship Game
ESPN2 1PM EST
Valdosta State (11-2) versus Winston-Salem
If you like to see playmakers on the field you
will enjoy watching the wide receivers in this game. Between WSSUs Jameze Massey
and Jahuann Butler and VSUs Gerald Ford and Seantavious Jones, there is as much
talent on the field at the receiver position as you are likely to see in a D2
game. Quarterbacks Cayden Cochran for VSU and Kameron Smith for WSSU are both
very good at delivering the football to the open guy and are also mobile enough
to run the ball effectively.
One spot the Blazers do have a slight advantage
offensively is on the line. The Ram line is solid and played much better than I
thought they would against West Texas A&M, but the VSU offensive line is the
best in D2 this season. A slight advantage overall would have to go to the VSU
offense, but it is close.
Where WSSU has an advantage is defensively. Both
teams pass defense has been very good, but the Rams are much better against the
run. In a game like this making a team one-dimensional offensively would be huge
and I think the Rams stand a better chance of making that happen. The Rams,
however, have made just two field goals this season and have missed eight extra
points so VSU has the advantage in the kicking game.
Prediction: I have no doubt that the Rams are the
better team defensively and defense wins championships. That said; the VSU
offensive line and receivers are so good that I feel the Blazers are capable of
moving the ball anyway. Throw in the fact that WSSU has no kicking game and this
looks like a very even contest.
Winston-Salem State 26 Valdosta State 24
[Q] Now that you have gone 0-2 on your
semi-final picks, do you think that your picks were conference-biased?
[A] No. As I mentioned earlier in the column, the
semifinals are difficult because there is no point of reference for comparison
with teams from across the country. Valdosta State did not even stream its first
playoff game so the only playoff video to watch on them was from the
Carson-Newman game, which was a tough to draw much from because C-N runs the
veer and was undersized defensively.
It would only make sense that if there is very
little to go on when comparing teams you would go with the team from the
stronger league when making picks. The other good rule of thumb I have used over
the years is if a team has to travel a great distance north and play in the
cold, go with the northern team. All of the computer ranking systems that I
looked at last week predicted WTAMU and MSU to win as well, so I do not feel as
if I was making a major reach with my predictions last week.
[Q] Do you think the new Florida Tech program
can have similar success to CSU-Pueblo?
[A] No. CSU-Pueblo moved into a perfect situation
in the sense that the football commitment in the rest of the RMAC was fairly
low. So with ample scholarship money, new facilities and a large coaching staff
CSUP was able to shoot to the top of the RMAC rather quickly because they had
more to offer than the rest of the schools in the league.
The situation is different at Florida Tech
because they are moving into the GSC which has three of the nations best
programs in Valdosta State, North Alabama and Delta State. I think that Florida
Tech can eventually compete with those teams and being the lone D2 program in a
talent-rich state like Florida is certainly going to help. But it will be very
difficult for them to overtake the top teams in the GSC anytime soon.
[Q] Will D2 ever come to it senses and allow
automatic playoff berths to conference champions?
[A] NCAA Division II has a rule that states that
75% of all the schools in the division must sponsor a sport for that sport to
grant automatic playoff berths to conference champions. Only about 55% of all D2
schools play football so the only way we will see conference champions get
autobids is if the rule is changed, which would require a favorable vote from
the entire membership. I do not see that happening.
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