Six Quick Hits were not enough for this week — they never are. We always expand our panel for the Stagg Bowl and this week we’ve done so as well, with guests who cover Mary Hardin-Baylor and UW-Oshkosh, as well as our own guest analyst, Kevin Niehus, who will break down X’s and O’s for us on our broadcast on Friday.
Nobody consulted with one another. In 2015, our panel went heavily for Mount Union and in 2014, our panel split, 4-3, for UW-Whitewater. We’ve taken a stab at predicting the winner in every Stagg Bowl since 1999. Feel free to add your pick and reasoning in the comments section below. Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com.
— Pat Coleman
Pat Coleman, D3football.com publisher and executive editor
I’ve spent a good amount of time this season with Mary Hardin-Baylor as my No. 1 team. But for one week, one game, that doesn’t mean I am automatically sticking with the Cru. One thing Keith and I have talked about consistently over the years is the idea of balanced teams succeeding deep into the playoffs and that continues here because as December goes on, the weather gets less and less hospitable to passing teams. And that’s where I think this game turns. There’s some speculation about what the weather here in December does to a team from Texas and while I don’t think the cold temperatures themselves will affect UMHB, I do wonder about the wind, if there is any (and there certainly can be at any moment out of the mountains). But also, I suspect that if the game comes down to one or two plays, I’d rather have UW-Oshkosh’s play-calling than Mary Hardin-Baylor’s. And this game should come down to one or two plays.
UW-Oshkosh 21, Mary Hardin-Baylor 17
Keith McMillan, D3football.com national columnist and managing editor emeritus
Fourth-ranked Wisconsin-Oshkosh has run over the No. 9, No. 3 and No. 6 teams in the country on the way to Salem, suggesting that beating No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor is well within its capabilities. But when one examines how the Titans and Crusaders match up, something stands out — UW-Oshkosh is as physical and as formation diverse a team that UMHB has faced. But it can’t match the athletic gifts of the Cru, and that where UMHB has the advantage; the pass rush from Teidrick Smith and other down linemen, the flying around and sure tackling of Baylor Mullins and his counterparts, and the speed on the flanks that T.J. Josey and company bring. Except in Round 2 against Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor has looked shaky for at least a portion of each playoff game. But they win when the opponent can no longer score on them; In four playoff games, Mount Union’s 6 points have been the only fourth-quarter points scored by an opposing offense. So the idea that UMHB will take an early lead, then lean on its defense to slug it out with UW-Oshkosh in a Stagg Bowl ugly to all but the most attentive defensive connoisseurs is where I come down on this.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Oshkosh 17
Adam Turer, D3football.com Around the Nation columnist
We can only be sure of a few things heading into Stagg Bowl XLIV. There will definitely be a first-time national champion crowned. There will almost certainly be turnovers, plural. There will probably be at least one strange play where a fortuitous bounce shifts the game’s momentum. After that, it’s hard to predict. We expected a defensive struggle last year, then Mount Union and St. Thomas combined for 84 points. In fact, despite facing one of the nation’s top defenses, the last four Stagg Bowl champions averaged 43 points in their title game victory. I’m not expecting another defensive struggle like we saw in both semifinals. Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defensive line is going to dictate this game. If that front four can get a push up front, the back seven will be able to sort through the variety of shifts and motions that the Titans will throw at them. I expect a slow first half controlled by the defenses. A big play in the second half, likely from UMHB’s defense or special teams, will open things up. The Cru’s No. 1 fan, 6-year-old Brielle, will be in attendance. Salem Stadium is located on Texas Street. All signs point to a Crusaders victory.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 35, UW-Oshkosh 21
Ryan Tipps, D3football.com senior editor
These two teams have both come through long, hard roads to get here, so there’s not an “experience” advantage either way. What I’m looking at most is balance, because it’s with balance that you’re most able to disrupt an opponent’s strategy (on either side of the ball) and get a leg up. The Cru has the edge on balance — a dynamic offense that keeps plays alive and a defense that has bested multiple Top 20 attacks. It’s easy to point to turnovers or special teams play or red-zone defense as deciding factors in a game, but we really don’t know how those elements will shake out. UMHB quarterback Blake Jackson and defensive end Teidrick Smith have anchored their respective sides of the ball and have been consistent throughout the postseason. They deliver balance, and they’ll deliver a win.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Oshkosh 17
Frank Rossi, D3football.com Stagg Bowl sideline reporter
Mary Hardin-Baylor became my No. 1 team late in the season based on their consistency after their first big win against Linfield. But since the loss against the Warhawks, UW-Oshkosh has shown a similar consistency against tremendous teams. That makes this pick, despite my rankings, very tough. So, I go to the advantage/disadvantage system to pick a winner…
Weather: Advantage Titans — kickoff temperature should be 28 degrees, very un-Belton-like, but warmer than the JCU game for the Titans.
Experience: Cru — the Cru’s senior class has been in the playoffs every year, including the 2013 semifinals. This is the second playoff experience for the Titans’ senior class.
Specialists: Cru — when you look at the D3football.com All-America Teams later today, you’ll see a lot more UMHB specialists in the mix, and not nearly as many Titans.
Depth: Titans — the Titans made use of more players, spreading out their playing time moreso than UMHB in the playoffs, even in close games.
Using those key pieces, it’s a tie. So, I’m picking an overtime game in which the Titans’ depth and slightly better kicking game gives them the narrow victory.
UW-Oshkosh 20, Mary Hardin-Baylor 17 (OT).
Josh Smith, Around the West columnist, D3football.com
When it comes to championship games, defense is king. That’s what makes this game difficult to predict – both teams are excellent on defense. Both squads have 40+ takeaways this season and have held opponents to less than 15 points per game. So rather than focusing on which team might come up with the big stop, the team that makes the big play should have the advantage. The Cru’s Blake Jackson is dynamic with 34 touchdown passes and over 700 rushing yards. On the other sideline, Brett Kasper, Dylan Hecker and company are well balanced. Mary Hardin-Baylor has averaged 32.25 points per game in the postseason while the Titans have scored an average of 31 points during their playoff run. So the offenses stack up evenly too. That leaves special teams as the difference. On the season, the Cru has six special teams touchdowns to Oshkosh’s two. If a special teams play sways the Stagg Bowl outcome, Mary Hardin-Baylor gets the edge.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Oshkosh 17
Eric Drennan, sports editor, Temple Daily Telegram
With its somewhat unconventional scheme, there’s no doubt the UW-Oshkosh defense has a chance to cause problems for UMHB. Of the Titans’ 26 interceptions this season, 12 have come in the four playoff games as opposing quarterbacks struggled to read the coverages. Having a large offensive line and a backfield duo (Dylan Hecker and Devon Linzenmeyer) that has totaled almost 2,000 yards rushing certainly don’t hurt UW-Oshkosh’s chances either. But if both teams work out the jitters and settle in quickly, the more talented squad should prevail and UMHB might be one of the most athletic teams in the country. With their speed in all three phases (14 touchdowns from their defense and special teams), the Crusaders are tough to contain through all four quarters. Even on days when its offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders, UMHB can ride Teidrick Smith, Baylor Mullins and the rest of its defense to victory.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, UW-Oshkosh 10
Austin Walther, Oshkosh Advance-Titan reporter (and D3football.com Kickoff contributor)
The Crusaders currently have the second highest scoring offense in the country and that has showed throughout their tournament run. MHB hung 50 in the opening round against Redlands, 27 against Linfield and 38 vs. Wheaton in the quarterfinals. The Titans defense has really come on in the previous two weeks. The Titans have forced 12 turnovers in the playoffs, including eight against St. Thomas. The quarterfinal against the Tommies was supposed to be a defensive battle, but there were a lot of points scored despite the turnovers and the hard fought game finally came in the semifinals. The Crusaders are led by the speed and running game, as Markeith Miller has rushed for almost 1,500 yards this season and quarterback Blake Jackson has almost 800, with both players combining for 30 touchdowns. MHB also has an aerial attack with Jackson, passing over 3000 yards and T.J. Josey with just over 1,000 yards receiving. The Titans, on the other hand, have a great balanced attack on the ground. Dylan Hecker is the pounding running back who has gone over 1100 yards and scored 16 touchdowns this year while Devon Linzenmeyer is the guy who can get to the edge. What makes Brett Kasper good in this offense is that he isn’t expected to make all of the plays because of the ground game. The Crusaders gave up the yardage on the ground to the Purple Raiders and forced three interceptions. I think if Oshkosh has that kind of success on the ground, Kasper doesn’t make the mistakes which favors the Titans. Jackson is fast and the Crusaders have talent on offense, but the Titans’ defense is playing at a different level right now, and they have proven to be able to keep up with a high scoring and low scoring game.
UW-Oshkosh 17, Mary Hardin-Baylor 14
Kevin Niehus, Division III football analyst and former Thomas More quarterback
Well, here we are with a fresh-feeling Stagg Bowl. These teams are not from Alliance or Whitewater, though UW-Oshkosh will seem familiar because they use the same mold as the folks two hours south of them. Oshkosh brings that familiar pound the rock philosophy behind a physical offensive line, though with a twist; the multiple formations with Gus Malzahn-inspired Orbit and Jet motions. Oshkosh is here because they run the ball well and stop the run. Meanwhile, the freakish athletes for MHB have made that defense elite while giving the offense an explosive play flavor to go along with the strong running game. Oshkosh must get great DB play like last week because Blake Jackson and his wide receiver corps are a big play waiting to happen. I like the discipline Oshkosh has played with on defense and the fact they’re battle-tested within the WIAC. These will be two keys to an Oshkosh win, with a late turnover sealing a classic defensive ballgame our Division hasn’t seen since 2011.
UW-Oshkosh 16, Mary Hardin-Baylor 13
We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below, or tweet at us. Download the season’s final Around the Nation podcast, recorded live at Mac and Bob’s in Salem, wrapping up the season following the Stagg Bowl and announcing the players and coach of the year.