Seven can be seen almost everywhere. There were seven wonders of the ancient world. There are seven continents on Earth. There are seven colors of the rainbow. There are seven days in a week.
And by the end of Friday, seven will be lucky for either Mount Union or UW-Whitewater, which are meeting in Salem for the seventh time. Each team has won three of those outings, and each team is undefeated so far this year.
For Division III, the whole year builds to this moment. Like it or not, there are two clear kings of small-college football. Our usual crew of Pat, Keith and Ryan — along with several visiting prognosticators — give their opinions of what’s in store.
After you read what we have to say below, check back in Friday night. There’ll be a live blog running here on The Daily Dose, and all tweets with hashtag #d3fb are included.
Pat Coleman, D3football.com executive editor
You know you’re getting old when you can’t name all of the Mount Union quarterbacks you’ve seen start games. (Sorry, Mike Jorris. And sorry, Keith, whom I borrowed this line from.) I’ve been remarking that whenever one team is a prohibitive favorite in a Stagg Bowl, the underdog usually surprises, such as St. John’s 2000, St. John’s 2003, UW-Whitewater 2007. The conventional wisdom suggests that since Mount Union couldn’t stop Levell Coppage last year, that it won’t stop him now. I’m not sure that’s so true, since the offensive line has changed over quite a bit. I like the chances for success for Matt Blanchard, who has a similar skill set to Wesley’s Shane McSweeny, although not as refined. UW-Whitewater is not likely to be outschemed, especially when Mount Union is on offense, but the talent is more even than most will give credit for, I believe.
UW-Whitewater 28, Mount Union 24
Keith McMillan, D3football.com managing editor
Whatever one thinks about watching teams play seven times in a row for the national championship, there are no gripes about the competitiveness of the series. It’s tied, all but the second game could’ve gone either way — tight into the fourth quarter — and the average score is about 34-23. Perhaps, then, we’re due for a stinker, a Stagg Bowl that breaks the string of really entertaining ones we’ve had since 2002. I expect UW-Whitewater to do what it does — make few mistakes, run the ball with success, get an early lead and play smothering defense. Mount Union’s season to date plays into this scenario, since playoff teams have been able to keep their offense from going completely crazy. And they’ve been able to pressure the Purple Raiders’ QB, something you almost never see. (I know this because the DVDs I was promised did arrive, and I apologize to UMU and UW-W for last week’s Triple Take). But the Purple Raiders are getting stronger, settling on Matt Piloto at quarterback and getting Jasper Collins and Jeremy Murray back to 100 percent. Only two teams all season have hit the 20-point mark against the Purple Raiders. If there’s a wild card here, it’s a Larry Kehres’ coaching staff having a year to think about how to attack the Warhawks. Pretty likely we’ll see something Friday we haven’t seen all season, and if it works, it will be the best coaching job since Kehres led his 2005 team — the last to lose a regular-season game — to the championship.
strong>UW-Whitewater 34, Mount Union 20
Ryan Tipps, D3football.com senior editor
By the time midnight Friday rolls around, two particularly notable things will have happened: The winner of the Warhawks-Purple Raiders matchup will score fewer than 30 points (something that hasn’t happened in their previous six Stagg Bowls), and UW-Whitewater will become the third team in Stagg history to win back-to-back-to-back titles. It’s never an easy call with these two teams. Only one championship game between them has been separated by more than 10 points. And almost always, these games come down to the big plays — long bombs to the receivers, a blocked punt, goal-line stands, big runs from star rushers. This year, it will be the defense. Scoring is fun to watch, but when I think about the meat and potatoes of football, I love defense. And we’ve heard often the names of great defenders: Driskill, Ferrara and Dieuseul for Mount; Arnold, Casper and Timm for Whitewater. Think about a Whitewater team that shut down the scoring machines of Salisbury and St. Thomas, and realize that Mount’s defense has forced a nation-leading 41 turnovers this season. This isn’t the offense’s day to shine, it’s the defense’s. And to the bigger D goes the spoils.
UW-Whitewater 24, Mount Union 17
Frank Rossi, D3football.com broadcaster
As a creature of habit, I’ll stick with my No. 1 team from the entire season. Mount Union faced challenges all season, but I believe the underdog role doesn’t comfortably fit this team — even at this stage. A more experienced defense and a quarterback that learned some valuable lessons from last year’s game will prove to be the difference.
Mount Union 20, UW-Whitewater 17
Mark Grossman, Mount Union radio color analyst
For me, this Stagg is bittersweet as my regular job is keeping me from the annual trip to Salem — and it’s the rubber match! Unfortunately ESPN didn’t come through with a big buck contract so I can’t quit my engineering job. So for only the second time in 15 Stagg Bowl appearances, I’ll be watching my Purple Raiders from home. Of the previous meetings, this is the hardest for me to get my head around because of what I’ve seen from Mount this fall. Given Mount’s inconsistencies this season, which is mainly because of the huge amount of injuries to the skill positions, and the fact that Whitewater brings the better quarterback and tailback, I feel UW-W has to be a clear favorite. The question is by how much? A large part of me says at least a TD, if not more. The few personnel advantages I expect Mount to have are in the overall receiving corps and in the secondary, not at the line of scrimmage. However the other part of me says a VERY motivated Larry Kehres is on the opposite sideline and has spent the last year focusing on how to beat Whitewater. And who am I to doubt the capabilities of the best coach in D-III, if not all of college football? I don’t know what LK has up his sleeve but it’s something. The guys just have to execute it and play within themselves. Each of the six previous games were very competitive and swung on a single play or two in the second half, and I believe this one is the same. A missed tackle, a tipped pass for an INT, a big return, etc., will likely decide it. My two keys for a Mount victory are they have to win the turnover battle and they have to make plays on third down defensively. If Mount turns it over three times like last week against Wesley, it’s over. If they let UW-W convert more than 49 percent of their third downs like they have all season, it’s over. But if Mount plays solid ball for 60 minutes, I have supreme confidence in LK working his magic. My head says UWW wins, but my heart keeps bringing up the following:
Mount Union 41, Oshkosh 17 on 9/10. Whitewater 20, Oshkosh 17 six weeks later. And that was with Nate Wara at less than 100 percent against the Warhawks. End result? My heart has won out and expects an instant Raider classic, a la 1993’s win over a bigger, stronger, faster Rowan.
Mount Union 27, Whitewater 24
Jay Perkins, Uwwfootball.com
One of the beauties of this purple rivalry, created on the largest of stages, is that no one can be sure what’s going to happen. Both teams are that good. Whitewater is peaking at the right time. The Warhawks are healthy, confident, physical, and executing brilliantly. Their conservative game plan of patiently pounding the ball on offense and employing a physical, “prevent the big play” defense has worn out all comers. Mount Union has fought through inconsistency at the QB position at least partially due to injury. The Purple Raiders’ running game is solid, if not spectacular, and they have been relying on big plays from their deep, talented receiving corps. Their defense is fast and physical and, Shane McSweeny’s performance notwithstanding, strong against both the run and the pass. It’s hard to find a statistical category more influential on the outcome of a football game than turnovers. Whitewater has not turned the ball over even once in the past seven games. Mount Union has turned the ball over 12 times in that span. Although the Stagg Bowl stage is conducive to surprises, the reality is that Whitewater appears to be playing better football right now.
UW-Whitewater 31, Mount Union 16