For the fourth straight week, the PSAC schedule will feature a matchup of two top 25 teams. #21 Indiana will travel to #6 California for the fourth installment of the Coal Bowl, in what should be the biggest game of the year in the PSAC Western division. In the Eastern division, Kutztown will try to bounce back from two straight losses and Bloomsburg will visit LIU-Post in an attempt to avenge last year’s loss at Redman Stadium.

Before we go any further…BEWARE…The PSAC pointed out in it's weekly release < > that this week’s games are the same eight matchups from October 29, 2011, which was the date of the infamous snow storms that blanketed the Commonwealth. So who knows what might happen this year.

One other quick hit: East Stroudsburg’s Denny Douds will put on the headset for the 400th time as the Warriors’ head coach this Saturday. Coach Douds already holds the record for the most games coached in Division II. Congrats to the PSAC’s winningest coach as he reaches this unprecedented milestone.

Saturday’s schedule is full of good matchups, so let’s get to it. Here is what’s on tap for week four…

Millersville at Shippensburg
Both teams opened the year impressively, but have been trending in opposite directions since then. Unbeaten Shippensburg leads the PSAC in total offense, passing offense, and points per game. Quarterback Zach Zulli has been named PSAC East offensive player of the week after all three games, and has already put up a season’s worth of passing yards. Millersville has scored only two offensive touchdowns in their last two games and they were woefully uncompetitive in both contests. The Marauders won’t have much for the hottest team in the PSAC. The Raiders will go over 60 points for the second straight week.

Shippensburg 62 Millersville 21

Slippery Rock at Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst has an emerging star in running back Brandon Brown-Dukes, who is third in the PSAC in rushing yards per game. But the Lakers have struggled in the passing game. They are one of just three teams in the conference with a completion percentage under 50% (you can guess who the others are). Slippery Rock’s offense hasn’t put up huge numbers, but they’ve excelled where it matters the most – points. The Rock is averaging 41 points per game (fifth in the conference) and they’ve been well balanced between rushing and passing.

Slippery Rock 34 Mercyhurst 21

#12 Bloomsburg at LIU-Post
The Huskies put a notch in their belts with a big win at home over Kutztown last week and now they set their sights on the only other team to defeat them last season. Bloomsburg was ranked #2 in the country when C.W. Post outplayed them in blizzard-like conditions at Redman Stadium last October. Over the last couple of years, LIU Post has stood up to Bloom’s running game as well as anyone, but the Huskies have complimented their rushing attack with a fairly efficient passing game. Freshman quarterback Tim Kelly is one of three starting quarterbacks in the PSAC with zero interceptions, but of that group, he is the only one with more than 50 attempts. LIU Post’s dual threat quarterback Steven Laurino will be a handful for the Bloomsburg defense, and if he executes the passing game well, the Pioneers will have a shot at another upset. I think Bloomsburg is a little more battle tested and they’ll have no shortage of motivation.

Bloomsburg 34 LIU Post 24

Cheyney at East Stroudsburg
ESU’s young defense faced a huge test last week and unfortunately the results were not good. But we still don’t have a feel for where they stand. Their two games have been against the PSAC’s worst offense, and its best offense. This week’s opponent, Cheyney, is near the bottom of the stat sheets in most offensive categories so the Warrior defense should bounce back after last week’s pounding. The Wolves have no mentionable passing attack so the game plan is simple for ESU. All they have to do is contain the rush. That’s not ESU’s specialty, but they’ll get the job done this week.

East Stroudsburg 52 Cheyney 14

Edinboro at Lock Haven
Edinboro is about to get what every 0-2 football team needs – a date with Lock Haven. The Fighting Scots put in a commendable performance last week against #6 California, but a loss is a loss and the Scots’ offense has scored a total of just 28 points in two games. This weekend they’ll have an opportunity to work on any aspects of their game that need some polishing. Lock Haven’s defense played courageously against IUP last week , giving up only two touchdowns through three quarters. Unfortunately the offense has been unable to do anything to speak of. The Bald Eagles have faced a couple of pretty good teams, but nonetheless, they’ve yet to score a point. Edinboro is good enough on defense to keep the LHU scoreless streak going, but I think this will finally be the week the Bald Eagles break through with a touchdown – but their out of practice special teams will miss the PAT.

Edinboro 44 Lock Haven 6

Clarion at Gannon
Both of these teams started out the year with hard earned victories, but the last couple of games have been tough. Both teams have enough talent to put together a winning season, but a win this weekend is critical. Sacks and turnovers have been hurting Gannon, but quarterback Liam Nadler has definitely been a bright spot. The freshman has already thrown for over 1,000 yards. However, too much has been put on his shoulders. The Golden Knights have the worst rushing attack in the PSAC which does nothing to help the young signal caller. It seems that the best way to beat Gannon is to take away the running game and take some risks to get sacks and interceptions. Clarion has been pretty decent at defending the pass, so I like their chances. I also like that their offense has found a lot more balance in the last two games, despite the losses.

Clarion 27 Gannon 24

West Chester at Kutztown
I’m going to give this game a little more attention than the others because I think there are some really interesting things to look at. If you had been in a coma since the end of 2009, and were just catching up on PSAC football, I could list out each team’s accomplishments over the past two seasons and you would be convinced that I mistakenly swapped the names. Prior to 2010, Kutztown hadn’t had a winning season since 2003 and hadn’t been a factor in the Eastern division in decades. West Chester, on the other hand, had just recently finished up a run of five straight appearances in the post season, including a couple of championships.

How fortunes have changed. The Golden Bears won a combined 21 games in 2010 and 2011. West Chester won nine. Coming into 2012 the Golden Bears were the popular pick to repeat as conference champs while most people had West Chester picked in the middle of the Eastern division. But coming into week four, each team finds itself at an intersection.

The Golden Bears have lost two straight. Their opponents were highly ranked teams, but teams they expected to beat. Now they are without their All American quarterback Kevin Morton , star running back Josh Mastromatto and best defensive player Alex Dinolfi. All have been injured in the past two weeks. A win this week would get them back on track and ready to face the rest of the divisional schedule. A third straight loss could send them into a spin they might not recover from. They still have tough games ahead after this one.

They don’t have much time to regroup because a rejuvenated West Chester team rolls into town and the Golden Rams will expect to win. Mike Mattei had a breakout game at quarterback last week and Rondell White has been running well all season. The Rams may have finally re-established the offensive prowess they have been known for under Bill Zwaan, and the defense has also been playing well. A win for WCU could really set them on their way and put them back in the thick of the divisional championship fight, where they belong.

None of that is good news for a Kutztown team that is short-manned and has given up 48 and 44 points in the last two games. The Bears defense made some plays in weeks two and three, but California and Bloomsburg moved the ball with relative ease. I think West Chester will score a lot of points as well, so if the Bears are going to win, it will have to be a shootout. The good news is that even without Morton, they can do it. Josh Luckenbaugh showed a lot of ability last week and there is no shortage of talent at receiver or running back. The heart shown by Kutztown last week after Morton left the game, was impressive and inspiring. If they can summon that same courage and spirit this week, I believe they can get the win. I’m picking West Chester just because the adversity KU is facing is a lot to overcome. But if the Bears do win, I reserve the right to at least say I believed they could.

West Chester 48 Kutztown 41

Game of the Week: Coal Bowl IV - #21 Indiana at #6 California
A week ago the two favorites in the Eastern division faced off at Bloomsburg, and this week our attention shifts to California where the top two picks in the Western division go head to head.

Both teams are undefeated and ranked, but California is clearly the more proven team. The Vulcans have defeated a pair of ranked opponents and beat a very respectable Edinboro team on the road. Indiana’s three opponents have proven to be among the worst offensive teams in SR1. The positive angle for the Crimson Hawks is that they should be well rested and healthy for their biggest game of the year. The downside is that they really don’t know yet what they’re capable of. We know California can beat ranked opponents, and we know they can come from behind to do it. We don’t know those things about IUP yet.

What we do know about the Crimson Hawks is that they’ve taken care of their business. They can only play the teams in front of them and IUP has done what they’ve need to do. They’ve thoroughly dominated their competition and have given up a total of 6 points so far. The rushing attack is responsible for almost 1,000 yards of offense through three games and the rushing defense has yielded a total of 87 yards. Granted, it’s not too difficult for a team like IUP to dominate Cheyney and Lock Haven, but 87 yards in three games?? That’s pretty incredible.

So, Cal has shown what they can do against good teams and IUP has shown what they can do against not-so-good teams. What’s going to happen when they meet on Saturday?

Because of the stiff rushing defense of IUP, I think we’ll see California go almost exclusively to the passing game by the third quarter (as they did at Kutztown). Cal can certainly move the ball and score with the passing game, but Peter Lalich has thrown seven interceptions this year. IUP has one of the best secondary units in Division II and I expect them to play very aggressively. If they can get a decent pass rush with the front four (and I think they can) they’ll have some opportunities to take risks going after the ball. Miscues and turnovers were instrumental in Cal’s near collapse at Kutztown, and I don’t think IUP’s defense will allow Cal to build a lead like they did against the Golden Bears.

IUP is going to run the ball and they should have success. But the Vulcans can play some rush defense too, and they’re not about to pushed around for four quarters. IUP has not been challenged to thrown the ball yet. They’ve picked their spots with the passing game, but they haven’t been pressed to make plays throwing the ball and I believe California will force them into those situations a few times. If the Crimson Hawks can respond, they’ll have a very good chance. If they don’t respond, the job will become a little easier for the Vulcans.

All things point to this being a very competitive and close game. Turnovers and penalties should be major factors. Cal is the most penalized team in the PSAC with a total of 35 (Cheyney is the only other team with more than 30) and this rivalry game is bound to “chippy.” The team that does the better job of protecting the football and minimizing penalties is likely to be the winner. Both teams need this game but I have a feeling IUP needs it more. Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, this may be their only chance to beat a really good team. That’s one of the things I keep coming back to. I know Cal can win close games against good teams. IUP hasn’t had an opportunity to prove that yet. I’ll take the Vulcans at home in a one score game.

California 23 IUP 17

As always, questions, comments and complaints can be added here on the blog or submitted to me at [email protected].