Quick Hits: Predictions for Stagg Bowl XLVII

Welcome to Championship Friday! The national championship feels like an occasion to not just make our Hits a little less Quick, but also bring in some additional experts to give their takes on Stagg Bowl XLVII. The Quick Hits team has 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 the panel correctly picked Mary Hardin-Baylor in a 6-2 decision over Mount Union.

Nobody consulted with one another. Feel free to add your pick and reasoning in the comments section below.

Pat Coleman, publisher and executive editor

It was fun last week to watch UW-Whitewater quarterback Max Meylor have a breakout game actually running the ball on a big stage. It was reminiscent of a couple of Broc Rutter runs in key spots in the second-round game at Mount Union. The Cardinals have the edge there, with the guy who handles the ball on every snap. Ethan Greenfield should be able to get enough yards on the ground to allow North Central to keep running the ball and not be one-dimensional. The Cardinals have faced quality front sevens on defense the past three weeks in the playoffs and Whitewater will surely be better, but not outlandishly better. (Plus, North Central saw Wheaton.) Now, UW-Whitewater surely has seen the Wheaton-North Central game on video as well, so the question is, how much did the Cardinals learn from that game, and how much will be applied to this championship? How much better is the UW-Whitewater secondary than the Mount Union secondary, for example, and how will the Warhawks defend Andrew Kamienski, the most prolific touchdown-scoring receiver in NCAA Division III history? And if DeAngelo Hardy can’t go, what second or third receiver will Rutter be able to rely on to make big catches in key spots? Will North Central’s defensive front be more like it was in the closing minutes against Mount Union, where it made D’Angelo Fulford go down, rush his reads and make mistakes? Will Meylor have time to find secondary receivers, and find the mid-range receivers who are open while others are in tighter coverage down the field? Perhaps deep down inside, our desire to see parity and variety within Division III football leads us to see red and white on this subject. After pondering that, I will try to fight against that urge, even though it may be imaginary.
UW-Whitewater 30, North Central 28.

Keith McMillan, national columnist and managing editor emeritus

Friday’s Stagg Bowl has been a long time coming for North Central, which has 17 playoff wins in 12 appearances since 2005, and for post-Lance Leipold UW-Whitewater. No matter the outcome, it’s an achievement, not a failure, for both programs. But let’s start here: North Central has faced four of the statistically most-impressive defenses in D-III during its run, and scored between 21 and 59. Maybe Whitewater is better than them all, and last week’s 7 sacks are encouraging, but let’s pencil Broc Rutter and friends in for at least two dozen points. Then the question becomes whether the Warhawk can score enough to keep pace. People around the North Central program say if the team had a weakness earlier in the season, it was the defensive backs. If that’s where the opening is, it would mean Max Meylor would have to push the ball up the field uncharacteristically, to JT Parish, Derek Kumerow and Ryan Wisniewski, et al. Whitewater is also great along the lines, but North Central is also good there and should be able to put up enough of a fight to keep from being overpowered. Which leads me to this predicted final:
North Central 38, UW-Whitewater 28

Adam Turer, Around the Nation columnist

You’d think North Central’s offense is unstoppable, but they’ve been stopped before. UW-Whitewater has the blueprint, courtesy of Wheaton. The Cardinals offense has taken its game to a new level since that Week 5 loss to its CCIW rival, but can be stopped. No other challenger has been able to slow, yet alone stop, this potent and well-rounded attack. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Warhawks. Surprisingly, it wasn’t UW-Whitewater’s defense that keyed the semifinal win on Saturday–they gave up a season-high 32 points to St. John’s. The Johnnies rushed for just 21 yards. The Cardinals have a much stronger rushing attack. The athleticism and versatility of the offensive line will present the biggest challenge these Warhawks have faced. But this UW-Whitewater defense has proven that it can impose its will and control the pace of the game, or make big plays when its back is against the wall. First down will be huge in this game. If the Cardinals can get Ethan Greenfield six or seven yards to keep the chains moving and avoid third-and-long, Broc Rutter will have the Warhawks right where he wants them. The Warhawks need to stop the run but can’t load the box because Rutter and Andrew Kamienski will make them pay. Can the Whitewater offense play keep-away like it did against Mary Hardin-Baylor? North Central’s run defense will need to play its best game of the season and get the ball back in Rutter’s hands as often as possible. I’ve been doubting the Warhawks the past two weeks, and Max Meylor and company have proven me wrong. They have a chance to do it one more time. We’ve seen a total of 69 points in the past three Stagg Bowls combined. This game will come close to topping that, with the nation’s second-most prolific offense getting past one of the nation’s best defenses for the fourth straight week. A new champion will be crowned.
North Central 38, UW-Whitewater 24

Ryan Tipps, senior editor

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Well, I’ve been fooled the past two weeks by how good UW-Whitewater really is. First I didn’t think they could handle the bruising play of UMHB — they did it. Then I didn’t think they could overcome the St. John’s passing game — which they did well enough to earn the victory. On both sides of the ball there is a depth to UW-W’s team — one that’s able to sustain drives when it’s crucial or make the big stops when needed — that is reminiscent of the Stagg Bowl teams I’ve seen often. So what’s my hangup here? I can’t get past all of the weapons that North Central brings to the table: The whole skillset of Broc Rutter/Andrew Kamienski/Ethan Greenfield is something to behold, one with amazing balance in its play. Factor in the offensive line and a few other playmakers on the field, and this game will be defined more by points than it will be by defensive stands. Each team has been well-tested, each took down a team receiving No. 1 votes, each faced a setback during the regular season, only to bounce back stronger, better, and more determined than ever. It’s rare that Pool C bids prove so vigorously why we have the at-large system in the first place.
North Central 34, UW-Whitewater 28

Frank Rossi, Stagg Bowl sideline reporter

I was forbidden from picking North Central by families of the players. Warhawks fans have done the same. But I can’t pick the game to end in a tie. So, here we go…
Whitewater’s size up front on offense was touted by Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defense as a difference-maker. Coach Thorne admitted to me that although the size is akin to that of Wheaton, Wabash, and others, he believes the tough part of Whitewater’s OLine is the skill mixed with the size that they possess. That means that Whitewater may be able to employ a mix between their UMHB and St. John’s game plans, in trying to slow down the game, eat clock, and trust in Miler’s dual threat for efficiency. Will Whitewater be able to shut down Rutter? Absolutely not. Like with Erdmann last weekend, they will be able to contain him from time to time, enough to gain some level of control of the game flow. On the flip side, the “no-name” defense of NCC definitely acquired more of a name last week against Muhlenberg — and that unit becomes a bit of a wild card here. My guess is that the three-headed rushing attack (including Meylor’s ability to run) is going to eventually allow Meylor’s passing to work by halftime. Diversity in offense and efficiency in that diversity are things that defenses struggle with — it becomes a guessing game, and it’s tough to nail the coin toss three times in a row multiple times.
North Central is an excellent team. But Whitewater’s size, experience, and powerful rushing attack will ultimately wear down the Cardinals and help the Warhawks control the game in a very good, close affair
UW-Whitewater 30, North Central 25.

Greg Thomas, contributor and bracketology consultant

This has been a tremendous postseason for both of our championship participants. UW-Whitewater has bounced back from a season ending loss to Oshkosh to rattle off four impressive wins, including their decisive elimination of the defending champions. North Central won the game of the tournament (in a tournament full of games of the tournament) at Mount Union and in doing so kept the Purple Raiders out of the final four for the first time in a quarter century. We’ve seen Whitewater win with some different styles of play. They went full PTR against UMHB and just played a perfect game of keep away from the Cru, then opened up their offense a bit more last week in a bit of a shootout with St. John’s. There are more layers to this Warhawk team than I think most people see. On the other side, North Central’s offense has received all of the attention (rightly so), but North Central’s defense has been up to the task holding their last two opponents to just 14 points apiece. If UW-Whitewater is going to win tonight, it’s going to have to look like their win against UMHB with the Warhawk offense spending huge swaths of time on the field with a running clock. If North Central can avoid short drives and give Rutter ample opportunities, I’m not sure there’s a defense in the division that can avoid getting overwhelmed.
North Central 35, UW-Whitewater 31.

Brady Grayvold, 2014 All-American UW-Whitewater cornerback

Here we are again in December with the pinnacle of Division III football about to be played on a late December evening. The matchup between UW-Whitewater and North Central is incredibly intriguing. North Central has a quarterback that many agree is amongst the best that this level has to offer. Admittedly, North Central head coach Jeff Thorne wants to run the football and be a run first program that sets up the pass. UW-Whitewater has strung together an impressive three week run of playoff wins knocking off the former Gagliardi Trophy winner and defending national champion UMHB at the Cruthedral. Coach Bullis and his players have come close to winning it all in recent years, but UWW has not won the Stagg Bowl since 2014. North Central has never been to a title game and would love to go one for one in appearances and titles. This matchup will come down to two things: how well each team can defend the run and who turns the ball over the fewest times. At the end of the day, one program wants to pound the rock, and the other will always Pound the Rock.
UW-Whitewater 38, North Central 28

Gary Douglas, UW-Whitewater play-by-play KOOL 106.5/Whitewater

Despite their close proximity, these two upper Midwest football powers have met only twice, 2007 in the second round and the 2010 quarterfinals. Many long time Warhawk and Cardinal fans will remember the second meeting, a 20-10 win at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium by eventual National Champion Whitewater as one of the best Division Three games in recent memory. NCC boasts a Gagliardi finalist quarterback, record setting wide receiver and running back and a stellar defense. UW-W didn’t necessarily receive a “wake up call” after the regular season ending loss at Oshkosh, but certainly is playing “more aggressive” football in the post season and quarterback Max Meylor has found his stride. The Cardinals didn’t suffer a letdown after the upset win at Alliance. While the Warhawks, after impressive wins over the ‘Cru and Johnnies might be playing their best football of the season. This should be a classic match up of two physical, no-nonsense football teams. Who blinks first? Enjoy this one:
UW-Whitewater 27, North Central 24.

Steve Hlavac, former North Central wide receiver

As a North Central alum who lost to Whitewater in the playoffs in ‘07 and ‘10, I think I speak for all of my fellow Cardinals when I say this matchup means a little more. Obviously, nothing would be more satisfying than winning a national championship, regardless of the opponent, but beating BOTH purple powers in one season? They have gotten what you might call redemption for our ’13 alum against Mount Union in the most significant victory in North Central history. Now they have a chance to do the same for the ’07 and ’10 teams against Whitewater in the National Championship. I know it might not have much to do with the current teams and their players, but for North Central Alum and fans, it will undoubtedly make a victory that much more sweet. While I believe North Central is the better team this year, this is the National Championship- uncharted territory for the Cardinals, a shorter prep week, and an opponent who is extremely talented, well coached and has been here many times before. As in most championship football games, the game is usually won or lost at the line of scrimmage, and I think that is absolutely the case in this week’s matchup. Although I am clearly biased (and maybe still just a  tad bitter from 2010), I believe the only way Whitewater can win this game is if their stud defensive ends repeat what they did against St. Johns. They need multiple sacks and a few turnovers to slow down North Central’s firepower. If North Central can get the running game going and control the line of scrimmage, they may win by multiple scores. To add, North Central’s defense seems to be peaking at just the right time. I know Whitewater is going to be well coached and well prepared, I just believe North Central’s offense is simply too special this year. My prediction:
North Central 42, UW-Whitewater 27

Grant Sabo, North Central alumnus and color analyst for NCTV-17

This Stagg Bowl features a very exciting match up of strength on strength on both sides of the ball. The UWW defense is as formidable a unit as the vaunted North Central offense has faced. While there may have been some better defenses that the Cardinals have seen statistically, there is some noise in the numbers due to the overall strength of the WIAC. Whitewater has had great success rushing four and getting pressure on opposing QBs. This frees up their linebackers to handle North Central’s rushing attack. Of course, NCC will get their points, but I think it will be their lowest total since the Wheaton game. On the opposite side of the ball, NCC will rely on its 18th ranked run defense to slow down the multifaceted ground attack of Pound-The-Rock U. The fact that Whitewater favors the rush, however, plays right into NCC’s hands. Not neglecting the fact that this is NCC’s first time to the Stagg Bowl while UWW feels nice and cozy here, a mistake free game by the Cardinals leads to the Walnut and Bronze coming home to Naperville.
North Central 27, UW-Whitewater 14.


Quick Hits: Predicting the Semifinals

One thing we can predict with certainty- history will be made in these semifinals.  North Central or Muhlenberg will reach their first Stagg Bowl.  In the second semifinal, one titan of Division III will return to national finals.  Who is advancing to next week’s national championship?  Here are our takes:

— Greg Thomas (photo by Dean Reid,

The Quick Hits
playoff crew:

Keith McMillan
Ryan Tipps
Pat Coleman
Pat Coleman
Adam Turer
Adam Turer
Frank Rossi
Frank Rossi
Greg Thomas
Greg Thomas

North Central (12-1) at Muhlenberg (13-0), 12 p.m. ET, ESPN3

NCC LogoKeith:  The more I think about this, the more the idea that North Central has faced the top three defenses in the country already, and scored 21, 31 and 59, matters. Certainly the Mules’ defense might turn out to be better than Wheaton, Del Val or Mount Union, and it has given up one touchdown in three playoff games, but the level of competition throughout the season hasn’t been the same. Couple that with all-everything quarterback Broc Rutter and and offense that has no weaknesses, and I don’t see NCC getting shut down, especially given their WRs vs. the Mules’ DBs. So Michael Hnatkowsky and company will have to score, and get the home crowd into it, to ride into the program’s first Stagg Bowl.  North Central 35, Muhlenberg 21.

Ryan: There’s little that still needs to be said about Muhlenberg’s defense, one that has played near shutout football throughout the postseason. Yet never have the Mules encountered an offense a skillfully and strategically balanced as North Central’s. That’s going to make game-planning significantly harder than it was against teams like run-heavy Salisbury or even Brockport State. Clamp down on Ethan Greenfield, and Broc Rutter’s arm will shred you. Double-cover Andrew Kamienski, then DeAngelo Hardy will get extra touches. While the final score isn’t going to be overtly lopsided, I go into this one feeling that it’s North Central’s game to lose — and thus having the advantage. NCC also brings an offense that even Mount Union couldn’t slow (school record books, anyone?), and that should be a concern for any other team out there. As would be the case in most any game at this level, turnovers can drastically shift the tone of the matchup. Overall, both teams certainly come out ahead of their opponents this season in that regard, but fumbles are a concern: each team has coughed up the ball 16 times: the Mules turning it over 11 times, the Cardinals eight. Hang onto the ball, and you could hang onto a win.  North Central 31, Muhlenberg 23.

Pat: There is going to be so much to watch for and watch about this game that I can’t wait for it. How will the North Central offensive line handle the pressure coming from defensive ends Frankie Feaster and Dante Lonardo? What time will Broc Rutter have to throw? If Muhlenberg learns nothing else from the Mount Union game video, it will be that if you give Rutter time, he will find the right guy and pick you apart. I’ve been really impressed with DeAngelo Hardy in this postseason, so you can’t just try to take Andrew Kamienski away, and Ethan Greenfield seemed to be in good form in the quarterfinals, with 28 carries for 93 yards. Muhlenberg should get some points on the board — this is Michael Hnatkowsky’s final audition for an All-America slot as well, as there are probably four strong candidates for the final spot on our list. I’m expecting North Central not to score a season-low in terms of points, but I am envisioning Muhlenberg holding things in check. The Cardinals are not just a quick-strike offense, either, and can hold the ball and control the clock pretty well when it’s called for.  North Central 24, Muhlenberg 21.

Adam: The Cardinals won’t get a Little Brass Bell rematch this year, but they will get another test against one of the nation’s premier defenses. Muhlenberg’s is a hair behind Wheaton’s, but no defense has dominated the postseason like the Mules, who have allowed just eight points through three games. North Central has one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Broc Rutter. The Cardinals also boast one of the nation’s best offensive linemen (Sharmore Clark), running backs (Ethan Greenfield), and wide receivers (Andrew Kamienski). It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. But the first time this unit faced a defense of Muhlenberg’s caliber, they were held to a season-low 21 points. On the other hand, they hung 59 on Mount Union just two weeks ago. Michael Hnatkowsky and the Mules offense can keep up with Rutter in a shootout. The defense can create enough havoc to stymie the Cardinals. I expect another classic playoff game involving NCC, and another heartbreaking exit for the CCIW.  Muhlenberg 27, North Central 26.

Frank: The best thing I think you can do when looking at a game like this is go back to the North Central loss to Wheaton and compare Wheaton to Muhlenberg — and then ask if anything has changed. Wheaton and Muhlenberg appear to be similar in terms of defensive strength, with Muhlenberg maybe being even a bit stronger in the last few weeks. North Central’s offense can be stopped or slowed down — even Delaware Valley could do that last week for periods of time. The question becomes whether or not Michael Hnatkowski and the Muhlenberg offense can score enough points in what should be a game that might barely reach the 20s on the scoreboard, especially if it rains. I think the Mules can score enough and hold back the Cardinals’ offense for a close victory at home.  Muhlenberg 21, North Central 17.

Greg: While so much attention has been paid to the fireworks and upsets all over the bracket, Muhlenberg has fairly quietly gone about the business of reaching the semifinals for the first time in school history. The Mules defense has allowed one measly touchdown in three tournament games- that one a garbage time score to a team that had scored over 140 points in two tournament games. This week Muhlenberg faces one of the best and most balanced offenses in the country. Broc Rutter is the headliner for North Central, but Ethan Greenfield has a 300-yard rushing game in this tournament and the Cardinal offensive line is about as they come in the Division. This is going to be a phenomenal strength-on-strength game. I just can’t talk myself out of believing that the team that won in Alliance isn’t going to be the team to reach Shenandoah. I expect Rutter will find just enough places to be successful against Muhlenberg and the Cardinals to advance to their first Stagg Bowl.  North Central 27, Muhlenberg 20.

Saint John’s (12-1) at UW-Whitewater (12-1), 2:00 p.m. CT, ESPN3

Keith: It’s hard to know whether the physicality that the Warhawks used to smother defending champ Mary Hardin-Baylor last week plays as well against Jackson Erdmann and the Johnnies. Conventional wisdom is that it probably should, and a great defense, O-line and three-headed backfield monster certainly leads one to believe UW-W can return to the Stagg Bowl. But whether you believe in Johnnie Magic or just great players carrying good teams, the Johnnies rallied from 9 down for two late scores in Round 1, and held off everything a loaded Wheaton team threw at them in Round 3. Why not once more, setting up an epic QB clash in Shenandoah?  Saint John’s 22, UW-Whitewater 21.

SJU logoRyan: Pound the Rock…Johnnie Magic…It’s feeling a lot like the D-III of years gone by. But here we are, seeing two Upper Midwest titans aiming to rekindle the fires of tradition and again land themselves in the Stagg Bowl. The Johnnies, however, come into this better positioned to take that leap, largely thanks to the dynamic passing of Gagliardi Trophy-winner Jackson Erdmann (who very well could repeat that individual honor). UW-River Falls at 2-8 is the only team with a really solid passing attack that the Warhawks have encountered, and that team put up 28 points on UW-W, the most of any team all season. And River Falls is feeble compared to what Saint John’s can bring to the table. As the Warharks continue to find themselves breathing life in to their old hard-nosed rushing style, the simple notion of falling behind early will put them in the unenviable position of having to play catchup, something that I don’t think they have the offensive tools to do. Saint John’s, on the other hand, should be able to keep airing it out and launching themselves toward the next Stagg Bowl.  Saint John’s 41, UW-Whitewater 28.

SJU logoPat: This game is as much of a puzzle as last week’s Saint John’s game, and since I was wrong (sad trombone) on both UW-Whitewater and Saint John’s last week, that should be a good indicator that this is a tough call as well. The Johnnies will score on UW-Whitewater, that is clear. They’ll be counting on J.W. Windsor and Richard Carriveau and the guys up front … plus Danny Pietruszewski and the linebackers to slow that Warhawk running game enough and get the SJU offense back on the field. Jackson Erdmann doesn’t need a ton of time to get the ball in the end zone, and in fact, will probably do better with a longer field and more room to work with and get those stud sophomore receivers to make things happen in space. I waited as long as I could to write this and the weather looks pretty good for tomorrow, so with that, I am going with:  Saint John’s 27, UW-Whitewater 23.

SJU logoAdam: The Warhawks’ game plan is simple: stop Jackson Erdmann. The Warhawks’ game plan is extremely difficult: stop Jackson Erdmann. There are no secrets among the WIAC and MIAC foes. UW-Whitewater wants to repeat its performance from the quarterfinals, taking the air out of the football and the opponent. But the Johnnies can do more with less, and time of possession won’t be as critical for an offense that can strike quick and deep. Erdmann led the Johnnies to 34 points against Wheaton, two more scores than the Thunder had allowed in any game this season. Whitewater’s offense was its best defense against Mary Hardin-Baylor. Saint John’s rush defense will need to step up against UWW to avoid a rock pounding. The Warhawks can’t keep the ball out of Erdmann’s hands all day. A bit of Johnnie Magic will propel Saint John’s to the Stagg Bowl for the first time since 2003.  Saint John’s 33, UW-Whitewater 27.

SJU logoFrank: With all the discussion of the Warhawks defense and the team’s “Bully the Bully” approach that Max Meylor told us about against UMHB, what we’re seeing from the Johnnies in the playoffs is a similar approach. The Johnnies’ offense is bullying the defenses they have faced. Wheaton had pitched five shutouts (and allowed seven or less points seven times), but the Johnnies put up 34 points against the vaunted Wheaton defense. They haven’t won pretty in the playoffs, but Saint John’s seems to know how to dissect strong defenses better than UMHB did. They’ll again do just enough to hold off the Warhawks.  Saint John’s 28, Wis.-Whitewater 24.

SJU logoGreg: The Warhawks so very impressively imposed their will on UMHB last week that I’ve had to rethink everything I thought I knew about UW-Whitewater. The degree of domination done by both offensive and defensive lines smacked of the most dominant of Warhawk championship teams of yesteryear. The challenge for Saint John’s will be to do a thing that UMHB couldn’t- get UWW’s offense off of the field. No doubt the Warhawks will seek to limit Jackson Erdmann’s possessions, so the Johnnie defense will be tasked to limit the rushing Cerberus of Jarrod Ware, Alex Peete, and Ronny Ponick and get the ball back into the hands of their star quarterback. The Johnnies will also be challenged to keep pressure off of Erdmann and afford Ravi Alston and T.J. Hodge to do their thing in the intermediate and deep parts of the field. We should know very early on if Saint John’s can match the Warhawks physically, and if they can, it’s difficult to pick against the reigning Gagliardi trophy winner.  Saint John’s 24, UW-Whitewater 21.

We invite you to add your predictions in the comments below. Download the Around the Nation podcast on Mondays and Fridays.



Quick Hits predicts the quarterfinals

Eight teams remain in the chase for the Walnut and Bronze and those eight teams are ranked 2-9 in our Top 25. Maybe the best quarterfinal round ever? Our panelists predict winners and bring back their takes this week for each of Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Our regular crew is Keith McMillan, Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman, Adam Turer, Frank Rossi and Greg Thomas.

— Greg Thomas (photo by Dan Harris,

UW-Whitewater at Mary Hardin-Baylor

Keith’s take: UMHB 21, UW-Whitewater 17. The offenses aren’t loaded with playmakers like classic Crusaders and Warhawks teams, but the defenses remain elite, so expect a low-scoring slugfest.
Ryan’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 21, UW-Whitewater 17. This will be the hardest either of these teams have had to work all season to find the end zone. And that’s no surprise, since matchups between these two teams have been historically low-scoring affairs. UHMB, though, has been nearly flawless all season, and UW-W hasn’t quite shown this year that it can get off to the hot first-half start it needs to against top-tier teams.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Whitewater 16.  Picturing a low-scoring game, and it could be even lower-scoring than this. But expect the Cru to get the job done up front on both sides.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 30, UW-Whitewater 14. The Warhawks’ offense is not inspiring as much confidence in recent weeks as the Cru’s is. Home field advantage makes a big difference at the Cruthedral. Since surviving against Hardin-Simmons, UMHB has outscored opponents 285-37. The Warhawks’ offensive inconsistency ends Whitewater’s run in the quarterfinals.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, UW-Whitewater 21. The CRU seem unstoppable on defense — with statistics better than the Warhawks’ numbers in many categories. With a relatively inexperienced QB behind center for Whitewater, I give the slight nod to UMHB.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: Mary Hardin-Baylor 15, UW-Whitewater 8. This one shapes up as a defensive grinder with neither team willing to take big chances on offense. The Cru have an advantage athletically, and I think a big play from Jonel Reed on offense or Keith Gipson on special teams will be the difference.

Consensus: Mary Hardin-Baylor are our unanimous pick, mostly in a low-scoring, single score margin.

St. John’s at Wheaton

Keith’s take: St. John’s 42, Wheaton 41. The Thunder bandwagon ran out of available seating once people realized that team beat the team that beat Mount Union by two touchdowns. And the Johnnies have been beatable at times over the past month. But I don’t think Jackson Erdmann and pals are going down without a fight. At the very least, it’s a shootout.
Ryan’s take: Wheaton 38, St. John’s 28. If the “defense wins championships” statement is true, we should be seeing a lot more of Wheaton this December. When you’re undefeated and your narrowest margins are 14-point wins versus North Central and Illinois Wesleyan, there’s not really a chink in the armor that St. John’s can viably exploit on Saturday.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Wheaton 45, St. John’s 28.  It feels weird predicting Wheaton to score fewer points than Aurora did on SJU, but not weird to predict SJU will score points.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: St. John’s 35, Wheaton 31. On paper, Wheaton looks like the most complete team still standing. If anyone can crack this defense, it’s Jackson Erdmann and the Johnnies. The reigning Gagliardi Trophy winner is on a mission to finish his career with a championship. If any Wheaton team is going to get over the hump, it’s this one. But to do it, they’ll have to shut down Erdmann and that’s a big ask.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: St. John’s 37, Wheaton 31. Jackson Erdmann seems to be getting better in the playoffs, and that’s trouble for the Thunder. I think St. John’s is more equipped to win a shootout like this, so I’m going with the Johnnies.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: Wheaton 35, St. John’s 33. Elite offenses can and do score against elite defenses and I think St. John’s will get their points against Wheaton. Wheaton’s less heralded offense has been balanced and prolific all season and will be good enough to get the Thunder through to the semis.

Consensus: Even split!  The panel agrees the winner will put up a lot of points.

Muhlenberg at Salisbury

Keith’s take: Salisbury 28, Muhlenberg 27.  I have no earthly idea who to pick here, since both teams have been smashing everything in their path for weeks. I find it hard to believe the Sea Gulls get shut down, but the Mules haven’t given up a point since the regular season.
Ryan’s take: Muhlenberg 34, Salisbury 21.  There’s little question that this is the Mules’ toughest test of the season, but even with Salisbury bringing more balance to its offense, it doesn’t seem likely to unhinge a clamp-down defense like Muhlenberg’s.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: Salisbury 41, Muhlenberg 35.  Could be even higher-scoring, but hard to suggest Muhlenberg allows 0, 0, > 41 in three games.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: Muhlenberg 24, Salisbury 18. The Mules defense hasn’t allowed a point this postseason. The Sea Gulls offense has scored nearly every time it’s touched the ball. Jack Lanham proved that the Sea Gulls can win a shootout, even if they have to pass. But it’s doubtful that he can outduel Michael Hnatkowsky. The Mules defense will be up to the challenge of slowing the triple option attack.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Muhlenberg 17, Salisbury 10. The key to beating Salisbury: take them out of their comfort zone. While Sea Gulls QB Lanham can pass, his passing success is helped by the defense being lured into a rush-mode with the triple option. Muhlenberg’s defense is equipped for this game and for taking Salisbury out of that zone, and will force the pass more in the second half — leading to turnovers and a lower score.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: Salisbury 35, Muhlenberg 31. We’ve got an unstoppable force versus immovable object situation here. I see a lot of offense early from the Sea Gulls, the Mules settling in and adjusting, but running out of possessions to complete a comeback.

Consensus: Another evenly split panel predicting a close game covering all levels of scoring.

Delaware Valley at North Central

Keith’s take: North Central 35, Delaware Valley 14.  The Aggies have been an elite defense all season, but they’ll need their best performance of the year by far. Against an offense that just gained 699 yards, DelVal folks can dream it, and maybe live it, but I hope they understand why we wouldn’t predict it.
Ryan’s take: North Central 41, Delaware Valley 17.  After Wabash hung around in the Round 1 game against NCC longer than they should have, I started to question some things about the Cardinals. Last week dispelled that doubt (obviously!), and now I’m even starting to wonder about the possibility of an all-CCIW Stagg Bowl. DelVal’s run ends here.
Pat Coleman
Pat’s take: North Central 41, Delaware Valley 20.  On record on Pod 265 as to what it will take for Del Val to win this game.
Adam Turer
Adam’s take: North Central 38, Delaware Valley 24. Lost in all the excitement of the Cardinals’ historic win in the second round is the fact that North Central allowed 52 points. Delaware Valley wins with defense, and forced six turnovers to pull away from Wesley. The Cardinals’ offense will likely suffer from a relative letdown after last week’s fireworks, but will still have enough in the tank to maintain momentum into the semifinals.
Frank Rossi
Frank’s take: Delaware Valley 27, North Central 25. Last week’s shocking victory by North Central might have been as much a reminder that the Mount Union defense hadn’t been battle-tested much this season. DelVal’s defense has had some challenges — twice against Wesley, and against some offensively-adept teams in the MAC. Slight edge to DelVal in a letdown game for North Central.
Greg Thomas
Greg’s take: North Central 44, Delaware Valley 20. I’ll echo whatever my fellow panelists have said about the inevitable exhale from North Central this week. North Central’s offense coming back down to Earth is still good enough to hang 40 on just about anybody. I don’t think the Aggies can count on six turnovers this week and the tournament’s road warriors bow out in Naperville.

Consensus: 5-1 in favor of North Central, generally by multiple scores.

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