Welcome to the Round of Eight. The initial 32-team field has been quartered, and it’s Friday — tomorrow we watch as it’s cut in half again.
Reading some of the comments recently, I almost thought ‘why bother with a fancy intro this week?’ But the discerning among you read closely, and that we appreciate, as well as your feedback. So let me jog your minds before we get to the actual picks.
I might not be able to keep pace with Ryan Tipps, but here’s one prediction I’ll nail this week: The three of us (and remember, we take a stab at scores without talking to each other) will be unanimous on three games, and split on one.
There’s no reason to take offense. Three of the dominant programs of the last half-decade are at home tomorrow. Mount Union, UW-Whitewater and Mary Hardin-Baylor have accounted for seven of the past eight Stagg Bowl appearances. And although the Cru, whose 2007 group was one of the best non-Stagg teams of the automatic bid era, lacks the jewelry the other two can show off, they have something no one I can think of does: A winning record (1-0) in Alliance.
So fans of Cortland State, Wartburg and Washington & Jefferson, don’t take it as a sign of disrespect. It’s more like a sign that respect is earned, not given. For certain, this is 2008 were talking about, and history doesn’t strap up on Saturday. All eight teams still standing have earned respect, and they honestly all have a chance to win.
What W&J did defensively and in the running game against Millsaps was tremendous, proving the team was more than just The Bobby Swallow Show. Wheaton and Wartburg, both with two losses, have been playing with their backs against the wall for weeks, and responding again and again. Cortland State and Wheaton played two of the more grueling schedules you’ll find, and Franklin … when that offense gets humming, it’s some see-it-to-believe-it type stuff.
Step back a second and remember that there are 231 Division III football programs who could not be with us this wekend, and the vast majority of them would love to have one more Saturday of football. Enjoy it. Represent college football in its purest form by playing and rooting hard, but being good to each other as well.
What’s been accomplished so far by these elite eight is really special. Four of these teams will end their seasons with a loss Saturday. It’s our job to set the expectation on which ones it will be, but even an “expert” isn’t always 100% sure. There’s reason to believe in every team left.
As always, feel free to tally the composite prediction. And please share your picks below.
MOUNT UNION (East) BRACKET FINAL
No. 3 seed Cortland State at No. 1 Mount Union
Ryan: Mount Union, 45-20
Keith: Mount Union, 38-21
Pat: Mount Union, 52-17
MILLSAPS (South) BRACKET FINAL
No. 5 Washington & Jefferson at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor
Ryan: UMHB, 38-28
Keith: UMHB, 35-28
Pat: UMHB, 34-24
NORTH CENTRAL (North) BRACKET FINAL
No. 7 Wheaton at No. 5 Franklin
Ryan: Franklin, 42-34
Keith: Franklin, 37-31
Pat: Wheaton, 45-42
WILLAMETTE (West) BRACKET FINAL
No. 7 Wartburg at No. 5 UW-Whitewater
Ryan: UW-Whitewater, 31-21
Keith: UW-Whitewater, 24-7
Pat: UW-Whitewater, 34-13