November 27th, 2018 12:00am
After a crazy opening weekend of the playoffs that saw the road teams prevail in seven of twelve games, things returned to normal in round two last week. The home teams went 7-1 leaving an outstanding field of quarterfinalists. Of the eight remaining teams six are undefeated and a seventh- Lenoir Rhyne in Super Region 2- is on a 12-game winning streak after losing the season opener. The only remaining Cinderella is Slippery Rock in Super Region One. The Rock barely made the playoffs as a seven seed but has turned it on since.
What I find interesting about the remaining playoff field is that there is such a diversity of teams. As I mentioned last week, private schools have stepped up their game recently and three of the final eight this season fall in that category. There are two teams- Notre Dame College and Ouachita Baptist- that won their first ever D2 playoff games last week. Tarleton State won its first playoff game in nine years. On the other side of the spectrum playoff veterans like Valdosta State, Minnesota State and Ferris State all remain in the field.
The other trend I like seeing is the balance of power across the division. Each of the final eight teams comes from a different conference. Over the last eight seasons we have had national champions from five different conferences with three additional conferences represented in the title game. Outside of Northwest Missouri State, no other program has appeared in the championship game more than once during that time frame.
I said before the playoffs that I like Valdosta State to win the national championship. After two rounds of the playoffs my opinion has not changed. The Blazers are an offensive juggernaut and it will take a special effort by someone to knock them off.
Playoffs Round Two
Super Region One
Slippery Rock (11-2) at Notre Dame (12-0)
There is a certain grit about this NDC team that you have to admire. Twice this year the Falcons have been held scoreless in the first half but came back and won. Four times NDC has scored with under 4 minutes remaining to take the lead for good, including last week. Seven of the 12 games have been decided by less than a single score. The Falcons are +17 in turnover margin and outrush their opponents 275-63. Freshman running back Jaleel McLaughlin leads the nation with 2074 rushing yards, including 191 in the win last week.
SRU looked awful in a blowout loss to West Chester in the PSAC Championship game three weeks ago and barely made it in the field in SR1. But since then SRU has turned it on, with last week’s 59-20 win at New Haven being The Rock’s most impressive performance of the year. Wes Hills is an outstanding running back and he will present a challenge for the NDC defense. Whether or not SRU is effective in running the ball is the whole key to the game in my opinion. It will be interesting to see what happens. Notre Dame 23 Slippery Rock 21
Super Region Two
Lenoir-Rhyne (12-1) at Valdosta State (11-0)
I have mentioned several times this season about the uniqueness of the LRU offense. The Bears mix the option game with a spread passing attack and they do some other unique things that football junkies will enjoy seeing. I fully expect the LRU offense to create some problems for the Blazers.
VSU has been great offensively all season, scoring at least 44 points in all 11 games. The Blazers are led by quarterback Rogan Wells (610 rushing yards, 2383 passing yards and 40 touchdowns) but he is surrounded by talent, including freshman backup QB Ivory Durham, who has been a nightmare for opposing defenses with his athleticism. I think both teams will score points in this game, but at the end of the day the Blazers will have more. Valdosta State 47 Lenoir-Rhyne 33
Super Region Three
Ferris State (13-0) at Ouachita Baptist (12-0)
Last season these two teams met in the opening round at Ferris with the Bulldogs coming away with a hard-fought 24-19 win. The difference in that game is that OBU had a hard time turning drives into points and had to settle for four field goals.
FSU did not have quarterback Jayru Campbell last week and yet was able to roll up over 600 yards of offense against Northwest Missouri. It was revealed this week that Campbell has a sprained non-throwing shoulder and will likely be a game-time decision. Backup Travis Russell has plenty of experience and played well in relief last week.
OBU has turned the ball over just six times all season. The Tigers are old school in the sense that they don’t throw the ball much (just 10 pass attempts per game) and rely on defense and special teams to win games. I think this will be a very good game but the Tigers have allowed a total of just 32 points in six home games this year and that gives them a slight advantage. Ouachita Baptist 21 Ferris State 20
Super Region Four
Tarleton State (12-0) at Minnesota State (12-0)
These two teams are quite similar. They are both run first offenses with quality running backs and they each have a big play receiver on the outside to help keep defenses honest. MSU has had the reputation the past several years for having a very blue-collar offense, but in actuality the Texans run the ball a higher percentage of the time this season. Defensively both units allow around 80 yards per game on the ground, so they like to stop the run and then pressure the quarterback.
It appears as if weather could be a major factor in this game. The forecast for Mankato calls for rain changing to snow during the game to go along with gusty winds. I don’t think the Texans will be in the least bit intimidated by MSU or the weather, but I think it will be easier for Mavericks to make necessary adjustments since they are used to weather and the grass surface they will be playing on. Minnesota State 27 Tarleton State 23
Agent Barry Live United Bowl
Southern Arkansas (8-3) vs Missouri Western (6-5)
Can SAU rebound from blowing a late 10-point lead in the season finale which kept the Muleriders out of the playoffs? If SAU QB Barrett Renner throws for at least 291 yards he will surpass 13,000 for his career. Southern Arkansas 30 Missouri Western 20
Mineral Water Bowl
Minnesota State-Moorhead (8-3) vs Missouri S&T (9-2)
MSUM has not played in a postseason game since 1994. It’s been a little longer for the Miners. They haven’t played in a postseason game since the 1950 Corn Bowl! Missouri S&T 31 Minnesota-State Moorhead 24
Emporia State (7-4) vs Arkansas-Monticello (6-5)
These two teams are similar on paper, but ESU’s +9 turnover margin on the season gives the Hornets a slight advantage. Emporia State 31 Arkansas-Monticello 27
Heart of Texas Bowl
Central Oklahoma (7-4) vs Angelo State (6-5)
ASU defensive lineman Markus Jones is a Harlon Hill finalist after racking up 34 tackles for loss and 15 sacks this season. I think UCO has the better overall team, if the Bronchos can account for Jones. Central Oklahoma 38 Angelo State 31
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