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Quick Hits predicts Stagg Bowl XLV

We have one game left, and somehow it seems that six predictions, and quick ones, are no longer appropriate. So we bring out a couple more experts, and we give everyone a couple hundred words to work with. We’ve been making these predictions ever since 1999, when our panel correctly picked what everyone in Division III thought was an upset — Pacific Lutheran over Rowan. Last year, our panel correctly picked Mary Hardin-Baylor, in a 5-4 decision over UW-Oshkosh, befitting the three-point outcome.

Nobody consulted with one another. 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’m going to start by saying something I assume my colleagues and fellow prognosticators will echo, that I expect a defensive battle. UMHB has allowed just 10 points (plus a truly garbage-time “touchdown” against Chapman), and the Mount Union defense should have some success against the UMHB offense as well. And in a game like this, one great play or defensive score or missed assignment could loom large. And I look at the game this way as well: If someone gets down by two touchdowns, who is more likely to rally? I think we know the answer based on last week, especially when you consider that Mary Hardin-Baylor hasn’t even trailed all season. But I don’t think UMHB gets that far down. The rest of the crew will probably talk about individual players and matchups, so I’m focusing on big picture here.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 17, Mount Union 13.

Keith McMillan, D3football.com national columnist and managing editor emeritus

In the past three playoff games, UMHB has defeated top-10 teams while allowing 10 total points. Mount Union hasn’t been held under 43. And while the Nos. 1- and 2-ranked teams in the nation beat 4 and 3 to get here, Friday night will be the first time either has met its match in team speed. That’ll manifest on deep balls, on defensive pursuit and in the pass rush. Look for each team to try to get its young quarterback comfortable early. Although the game might bog down and become a defensive grind, 10 (like last Stagg Bowl) or 14 (like last season’s meeting) won’t be enough for the Cru to beat the Purple Raiders. They’ll have to cash in chances against a defense that’s allowed eight plays from scrimmage of 29 yards or longer, and four kickoff returns of 36 yards or more, the past two games.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Mount Union 21.

Adam Turer, D3football.com Around the Nation columnist

My head is wrestling with my heart. All of the storylines are set up for a Purple Raiders culmination: one last trip to Salem, redemption after coming up short last year, vengeance against the team that snapped their Stagg Bowl streak, an us-against-the-world mentality from the team that will be wearing all black on Friday. But narratives won’t put up points on Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defense, which is somehow better after graduating program-defining players following last season’s title. It’s not unusual for one of the nation’s stingiest defenses to make it to Salem, but we haven’t seen anything like this year’s Cru (7.0 points per game allowed) since 2003. That year, Mount Union entered the Stagg Bowl allowing just six points per game, seeking a fourth straight national championship. The Purple Raiders defense gave up 17 points to the Johnnies offense as St. John’s won, 24-6. The past two weeks have shown that speedy receivers like Bryce Wilkerson and T.J. Josey should be able to get behind Mount Union’s secondary. Will freshman quarterback Carl Robinson III have enough time and a clean enough pocket to take advantage? Conversely, will D’Angelo Fulford remain poised when pressured by the best defensive front in the nation? The Purple Raiders have a versatile offense that will try to dictate the game’s tempo. But not many defenses have players like UMHB’s Tevin Jones and Jalen Martin who are equally adept at defending the run and the pass. Mount Union’s defense has not inspired confidence during this playoff run, while Mary Hardin-Baylor’s has been the most impressive unit of this postseason. I picked the Purple Raiders to win it all back in August. They won their first title at the first Stagg Bowl played in Salem, then won 11 more. A couple of breaks will go their way in a tight game, giving Mount Union lucky number 13. The Kehres family will hoist the Walnut and Bronze in Salem Stadium one more time.
Mount Union 20, Mary Hardin-Baylor 14.

Ryan Tipps, D3football.com senior editor

I think that we’re going to see both teams struggle to move the ball early in the game. Yes, part of that will be nerves from playing in such a big game in front of a national TV audience, but moreso it’ll be because these are the best defenses each offense has faced all season. A period to adjust to the style and speed of the opponent is to be expected. It’ll be after that period, however, when I think Mount will separate itself with a more dynamic offense — there’s more depth (and more real options) in the rushing and receiving attacks for Mount than for UMHB. The Cru defense can’t home in on just one player, and rotations will keep Mount playmakers better rested. Plus, having seen the video from both teams, I think Mount’s offense line will be better positioned to help its run/pass game succeed in converting third downs and breaking open a big play every now and then.
Mount Union 24, Mary Hardin-Baylor 17.

Frank Rossi, D3football.com Stagg Bowl sideline reporter

After leaving the “CRUthedral” on Saturday night, I was sure I was going to pick Mount Union to win this game.  UMHB has given up 10 sacks of Carl Robinson, III, in two weeks, and Robinson has been out-gained by opposing quarterbacks in both their quarterfinal and semifinal games.  Between that and the Mount Union momentum from the 25-point comeback made me feel like Mount Union has the edge coming into this game. First, I want to say to folks that believe a team can win the Stagg Bowl on defense alone, it doesn’t work that way.  Ultimately, a team needs to achieve a balance in the cold elements to ensure the defense gets rest.  Cold weather can cause as much cramping as hot weather, and time of possession matters in this game.  Even if the offense doesn’t score four touchdowns, they need to hold onto the ball and not put their defense back on the field immediately.  That’s going to be the biggest challenge for UMHB Friday — and many folks don’t believe the Cru can succeed at that. Yet, the Mount Union defense, despite playing well in the second halves of their games against Frostburg State and UW-Oshkosh, gave up a lot of points — in the first half against the Bobcats, they gave up 24, and in just more than a half against Oshkosh, they gave up 35.  While the Mount Union defense may be able to penetrate the UMHB offensive line, I think the Cru will be able to possess the ball enough to both score and keep their defense well rested. Let’s face it, we know about the Cru defense’s strength and the Mount Union offense’s overall consistency.  Mount Union will score some points, but the Cru defense will clamp down eventually.  These are just givens to me.  After looking at the numbers and at the games over the past few weeks, I’m giving the edge here to UMHB — the No. 1 team on my Top 25 ballot all season — in a close one.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 21, Mount Union 17.

Greg Thomas, D3football.com contributor and bracketology consultant

I’m sure I’m the first Quick Hitter to offer this analysis- we’ve got a strength versus strength matchup here. Mount Union has the number one scoring offense while UMHB has the number one scoring defense. These rankings are not just a product of regular season excesses either. Mount Union is coming off of a 70-point quarterfinal outburst and a 33-point second half effort in last week’s wild comeback at Oshkosh. The Cru defense has only allowed 16 points in these playoffs with just ten of those points coming in high leverage situations and also registering two shutouts. The very elite offenses in the division can and do find ways to score against the very elite defenses. Stagg Bowl history tells us to expect plenty of points. Last year’s 10-7 game was a bit of an exception. UMHB’s formula for playoff success has been to grab a lead, take the air out of the ball on offense, and let this amazing defense smother their opponent. What happens if the Crusaders don’t get a lead? Or even if they do, we know how tenacious Mount Union will be if forced to play from behind. This is going to be a fascinating game. In the end, I think Mount Union is going to do enough to force UMHB to play a fourth quarter offense and I don’t know if the Crusaders can flip the switch back on after playing so conservatively for four weeks. On Friday night, I like the Purple Raiders to bookend the Salem era with national championships.
Mount Union 28, Mary Hardin-Baylor 20.

Kevin Niehus, Division III football analyst and former Thomas More quarterback

Final Stagg Bowl in Salem, which was a surprise when it was announced last year. Its no surprise who is here, as we have arguably the two top programs in the country. When one considers Mount Union as a program, you think ,about the offense and big plays. When talking about Mary Hardin-Baylor, the program’s defensive speed and size comes to mind. So it’s the old adage does a great defense beat a great offense (or vice versa)? Will D’Angelo Fulford able to string together long drives against MHB’s speed and DL size on defense? Look for a good mix of run/pass using the a very good group of RB’s and WR’s for Mount Union. I look for Mount Union to find a way to get shorter third down attempts with their athletes. In the other match up, UMHB freshman QB Carl Robinson, will line up across from the second-fastest defense he’s seen this year. Mount Union will need to get pressure on Robinson to keep the ball out of Josey and Wilkerson’s hands, who are true gamebreakers. In the kicking game, Mount Union must NOT let Wilkerson get his hands on any kicks. If you have followed UMHB at all, you’ve seen his highlights. But, Mount Union just has too many playmakers and a QB who showed he can handle adversity last week AT OshKosh. After throwing the Pick-six, he settled down and led a comeback for the ages. He showed enough poise to make me believe Mount Union will find enough offense against a very tough defensive team.
Mount Union 27, Mary Hardin-Baylor 13.

Logan Hansen, Hansenratings.com

Mary Hardin-Baylor has the opportunity to win their second consecutive Stagg Bowl, which is obvious, but they also have the opportunity to be one of the most imbalanced teams to ever take home the Division III National Championship. I’ve spent the last month explaining on Twitter why my model underestimated the Cru’s chances, but it should be fairly obvious–most other teams to make it to Salem were the best in the country at offense and defense, and not one or the other. My model favors the Purple Raiders by 6, mostly because of their balance. Mount Union ranks in the Top 10 in nearly every opponent-adjusted metric I track, rushing & passing, offense & defense. UMHB, on the other hand, hovers around No. 25 in most offensive categories, and as low as No. 94 in passing touchdowns per drive. Their defense is spectacular though, ranking at least No. 2 nationally in yards/play, first down rate, and points per drive.  If UMHB holds UMU to 17 points or fewer in Salem, they will they surpass the 2013 UW-Whitewater defense for the best defensive rating in Division III since 1998. They’ve not allowed that many cumulative points yet in the playoffs, and I see no reason for them to start now, but I also don’t think the Cru can rely on two return touchdowns to save the day, either.
Mount Union 17, Mary Hardin-Baylor 14.

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The Quick Hits takes on the semifinals

Well, we’ve spent this past week talking about these games, envisioning what these semifinals look like and now it’s time to get down to the finish and tell you how the games will go. Hopefully we get two great games that will be great examples of Division III football to the audience on ESPN3, but our panelists will let you know below how likely that is.

Enough with the pleasantries. Here’s our takes:

— Pat Coleman (photos by d3photography.com, ohiosi.com, Brockport athletics)

The Quick Hits
playoff crew:

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Keith McMillan
ryan-tipps-150x200
Ryan Tipps
Pat Coleman
Pat Coleman
Adam Turer
Adam Turer
Frank Rossi
Frank Rossi
Guest
Greg Thomas

Mount Union (13-0) at UW-Oshkosh (12-0), 12 p.m. CT, ESPN3

UW-Oshkosh logoKeith: After Round 2, the Titans looked Stagg Bowl-bound. Last week, the Purple Raiders did. So how do we know who wins when they face one another? Both offenses should put points up, and both O-lines keep their quarterback clean. The game is as much about Cole Parrish and Ty Summers as the men they’ll be snapping to. So it’ll come down to whichever defense contains the deep threats, and comes up with a few stops or turnovers; that’ll provide the edge in what should be one of the playoffs’ best games. UW-Oshkosh 31, Mount Union 28.

UW-Oshkosh logoRyan: Both of these teams have all the right stat boxes checked on offense, defense and turnovers — plus being power teams from power conferences makes this perhaps the more intriguing of the weekend’s two matchups. The Titans will do a better job of closing the deal in the red zone, they won’t shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, and quarterback Brett Kasper is simply one of those players who wows me every time he steps onto the field. UW-Oshkosh 28, Mount Union 24.

UW-Oshkosh logoPat: I don’t know how many defensive stops UW-Oshkosh will come up with on Saturday. But the thing to remember is that this is a Mount Union offense that has had some issues with consistency this season. In games where they don’t get challenged, that’s not particularly noticeable, but maybe this isn’t the best Purple Raiders offense. It’s not the 2016 UW-Oshkosh defense either, though, and they may not have the best success against Mount Union. On the other hand, it’s not the 2016 Oshkosh offense, either. This group is better across the board — the Titans are a year older, key players have gotten some time off, and Brett Kasper is better. What I think this adds up to is a relatively high-scoring game. UW-Oshkosh 35, Mount Union 31.

Adam: Did you enjoy last year’s low-scoring defensive battles in the semifinals? Then this game is not for you. Both offenses are humming, but the defenses have not been as dominant as some of the defenses on the other side of the bracket. The matchup to watch here is Mount Union’s linebackers and hybrid safeties against the Titans’ talented and experienced skill position players who will be shifting and motioning in an attempt to beat the Purple Raiders to open space. Mount Union is on a mission and the defense will come up with enough stops to send the Purple Raiders back to Salem. Mount Union 42, UW-Oshkosh 31.

Frank: I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sold at the beginning of the season that Oshkosh could get this far again. With the level of losses to graduation and the hellacious WIAC matchups the Titans needed to get through, it seemed unlikely. This return to the semifinals is a credit to their experienced players, no doubt. Yet, Mount Union comes in with what seems like a chip on the team’s shoulder and a strong desire to return to the Stagg Bowl after a rare miss in 2016.  We saw last week how invaluable the receivers are for the Raiders, regardless of who’s throwing the ball. As long as the defense tightens up and doesn’t allow a decent chunk of points like they did against Frostburg State in the first half, I think Mount Union can keep this game close enough to win it late. Mount Union 28, UW-Oshkosh 24.

UW-Oshkosh logoGreg: There are really not weaknesses on either of these teams. Both teams have great offenses and elite defenses and finding points of separation is almost impossible. If there is a place where one team is slightly less excellent, it is Mount Union’s rush offense. The Raiders may be quite one-dimensional in this game and despite all of the playmakers they have at quarterback and receiver this may be the downfall. Both teams will score, but I give a slight advantage to the Titans and an offense that is almost perfectly diverse. UW-Oshkosh 35, Mount Union 28.

Brockport (13-0) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (13-0), 2:30 CT, ESPN3

Keith: UMHB’s closing speed on defense has been unparalleled. The Cru also tackles well when it arrives at the ball. That’ll be a key against Brockport, as the Golden Eagles spread defenses out and let QB Joe Germinerio pick them apart. If Daquan Hubbard (24 yards a catch) and UMHB CB Kris Brown (4 INT) get matched up, it’ll be worth the price of admission. In the end, Brockport moves the ball and puts up a valiant effort, but the champs are just too solid on defense and special teams, and do enough on offense. Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, Brockport 14.

UMHB logoRyan: In unabashed coach-speak, this season’s UMHB squad has truly been more about the team than the individual. For example, this is only the second time in the past seven seasons that a UMHB player hasn’t been either offensive or defensive All-Region Player of the Year (last year, Cru athletes got both spots). And even still, UMHB is at the top of my ballot. Full respect to all that Joe Germinerio and his fellow Brockport players accomplished this season (and showing that the top tier in D-III doesn’t have to be hereditary), but this is a Cru team that is poised for another 15-game season. Mary Hardin-Baylor 34, Brockport 20.

UMHB logoPat: There’s a different level at this stage of the game, and the defensive speed that throttled Linfield twice and shut down Hardin-Simmons and St. Thomas isn’t likely to be something Brockport has seen, let alone been able to replicate in practice. Meanwhile, the UMHB offense (read: quarterback) is young and will probably make some mistakes, especially against a Brockport defense that has had some statistical success this season. If Brockport adjusts to the speed of the game quickly and keeps its composure, it can make things respectable. But UMHB competes on that higher plane these days, and it will show in the end. Mary Hardin-Baylor 41, Brockport 20.

UMHB logoAdam: It’s hard to fathom that this year’s Crusaders defense may be better than last year’s championship squad that graduated multiple key starters. But, the Cru have dominated opposing offenses all season and Brockport’s prolific offense has never seen a defense like this one. The Cru’s great defense has been crucial to freshman quarterback Carl Robinson III’s development. Brockport’s historic run ends as UMHB punches its ticket for a return to Salem. Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, Brockport 10.

 

UMHB logoFrank: As the co-host of an East Region podcast, this game is the true battle of heart vs. head for me. We latched onto Brockport after their Week 1 defeat of Hobart and learned how great the personality of QB Joe Germinerio is. The team is indeed stacked on both sides of the ball — maybe we should’ve seen this success coming. However, my head says to never pick against the Cru at home, and Coach Pete Fredenburg’s team wants to make his 20th season sweet with one more trip to Salem. The Cru offense hasn’t buried teams early this year normally, and they won’t do it Saturday. Yet, they will pull away as depth plays a role and the Cru’s insanely good defense digs in during the second half. Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, Brockport 17.

UMHB logoGreg: It has been quite a ride for the Golden Eagles, however the run for the East Region champions is going to end in Belton. Joe Germinerio is a star, but he’s going to face a defense unlike anything that lives in the East — or anywhere else in D-III, frankly. I expect the Crusaders to have a little easier time on offense than they have had the last two weeks, but Coach Fredenburg isn’t after style points at this stage of the tournament. He’ll let his defense handle this, keep Carl Robinson III out of tough situations, and get ready to defend the championship next Friday. Mary Hardin-Baylor 28, Brockport 7.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the Quick Hits that were prescient, and the Quick Misses that were terribly off base.

 

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Quick Hits: Predicting the quarterfinals

We’re down to four games, so it’s time to bring a little commentary back — here’s our take on the national quarterfinal games, with, perhaps, something resembling explanation.

Keith McMillan, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman, Adam Turer, Frank Rossi and Greg Thomas each take their crack at it this week and every week from here to Salem. Photos by d3photography.com; Frostburg State athletics; Delaware Valley athletics; Brockport athletics by Matt Yeoman.

Live video, live stats of quarterfinal games

— Pat Coleman

Wartburg at UW-Oshkosh

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Keith’s take: UW-Oshkosh 42, Wartburg 14. Two of the nation’s five most-efficient passers, in Brett Kasper and Matt Sacia, are facing off, but the jump in level of competition for Wartburg will be evident along the lines.
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Ryan’s take: UW-Oshkosh 28, Wartburg 17. The Knights have shaken off the postseason jitters, but the Titans will be beyond their reach. UW-O has already faced (and beaten) Wartburg-caliber teams this season.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UW-Oshkosh 42, Wartburg 20. Oshkosh just has too much speed and too many offensive weapons for the Knights to account for.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: UW-Oshkosh 38, Wartburg 17. The Titans have too many playmakers on offense. Brett Kasper is playing his best at the most opportune time. Oshkosh will also be the best defense the Knights have faced this season.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: UW-Oshkosh 21, Wartburg 17. Would the real Wartburg please stand up?  Their two playoff games have been dynamically different, but Oshkosh’s defense will keep the score low.
Guest
Greg’s take: UW-Oshkosh 38, Wartburg 14. This is a large step up in class for Wartburg to take this week after wins over Franklin and Trine. I expect the Titan offense to be overwhelming and Oshkosh to advance comfortably.

Hansen odds to advance: UW-Oshkosh, 91%.
Consensus: Oshkosh, comfortably.

Frostburg State at Mount Union

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Keith’s take: Mount Union 35, Frostburg State 21. Watch from the lines out; both teams have controlled their playoff games at the LOS; UMU QB D’Angelo Fulford hasn’t been hurried, much less sacked, in either playoff game.
ryan-tipps-150x200
Ryan’s take: Mount Union 31, Frostburg State 24. The question is: How much will this week’s weirdness be a factor? Mount’s offense won’t be on the field all the time, so Frostburg will have a chance to get some points.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Mount Union 31, Frostburg State 17. Great run for Bobcats, who might give Mount a run before running out of options on offense. They won’t have as much success keeping the Mount offense on the sideline.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Mount Union 28, Frostburg State 20. Frostburg’s style of play gives it a better chance than most against the Purple Raiders. The Bobcats are not lacking confidence and will pull out all the stops to keep this season going. I just don’t see Mount Union losing in Alliance.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Mount Union 35, Frostburg State 27. Frostburg beat W&J despite 3 INTs by Cox.  He has to play error-free ball, and the Bobcats must take what they’re given offensively. Yet, UMU has the depth to win this late.
Guest
Greg’s take: Mount Union 31, Frostburg St. 24. Turnovers are a bugaboo for the Bobcats and this is the place that you can’t get away with giving it away. The Bobcats are going to push Mount Union, but ultimately I think they are one turnover too many away from advancing.

Hansen odds to advance: Mount Union, 95%.
Consensus: Mount Union in the 30s, Frostburg State in the 20s.

St. Thomas at Mary Hardin-Baylor

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Keith’s take: UMHB 18, St. Thomas 14. Both defenses smother their opponents’ run games, while trying to establish the run. With freshman QB Carl Robinson III starting, expect the Cru to get conservative and keep it low-scoring.
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Ryan’s take: UMHB 24, St. Thomas 14. It’s hard to ignore a team that shut out a Top 10 opponent just last week. Lights-out defense for the Cru will carry them yet another playoff level deeper.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: UMHB 17, St. Thomas 13. A special teams score on one side, a gadget play on the other, perhaps, could make it higher scoring in the end, but not by much.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: St. Thomas 27, UMHB 24. This matchup could belong in Salem two weeks later. As long as the Tommies limit their turnovers, their defense will torment the Cru’s inexperienced QB(s) enough to survive and advance.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: UMHB 34, St. Thomas 21. This will be a low-scoring game early, with UMHB pulling away late. The Cru have lacked offensive oomph this year — but have been a defensive power overall.
Guest
Greg’s take: St. Thomas 17, UMHB 14. This is about the time in the tournament where freshman quarterbacks make me nervous. These great defenses may play to a stalemate, with some Glenn Caruso special teams sorcery being the deciding factor.

Hansen odds to advance: St. Thomas, 52%.
Consensus: A split decision for a low-scoring game favoring Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Brockport at Delaware Valley

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Keith’s take: Brockport 31, Delaware Valley 21. The Golden Eagles’ versatility makes the difference in the only road win of the quarters. Brockport allows 1.18 yards per rush; Del Val gains 5.82, and that’s where we’ll see one side fissure.
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Ryan’s take: Delaware Valley 31, Brockport 30. Though Brockport has has the tougher road to get to this point, I think Del Val’s defense will hold the Golden Eagles just shy of victory in the long run.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Brockport 28, Delaware Valley 13. A game in which the Golden Eagles are in control early and methodically close out Del Val.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Delaware Valley 42, Brockport 41. The Aggies’ aggressive defense and special teams will come up with just enough big plays. A blocked kick could end up being the difference, as quarterbacks Dashawn Darden and Joe Germinerio go toe-to-toe in a game good enough to make us forget Round Two.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Brockport 20, Delaware Valley 14. Many focus on their offenses, but these defenses have been impeccable of late. This will be a slugfest that Brockport wins very late based on a big defensive play.
Guest
Greg’s take: Brockport 35, Delaware Valley 14. Joe Germinerio may be the most outstanding player of the tournament so far. He’ll be great again and the Golden Eagles will have a surprisingly comfortable ride to the semifinals.

Hansen odds to advance: Delaware Valley, 55%.
Consensus: Brockport, by varying degrees.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays, where Pat and Keith review the Quick Hits that were prescient, and the Quick Misses that were terribly off base.