Originally written on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 10/22/14

You can think of the Division III playoffs right now the same way we think of the NCAA Tournament every March. We are going into the Elite Eight this weekend, and literally every team left could potentially pull the upset and win this year's Stagg Bowl. In fact I see one of those upsets happening this Saturday, and it'll be a ‘Down Goes Frazier’ type moment if I’m right.

Wisconsin-Whitewater v. Salisbury

What more is there to say about this UWW attack that hasn’t already been said? We know they are going to try and run the ball, and we know that they will do it very well. Over the first two round Wisconsin-Whitewater has run for 376 yards and seven scores. After starting off a little slow in the first round star RB Levell Coppage went off in Round 2 as he ran for 221 yards and scored three TD’s, bring his playoff scoring total to six. Even more impressive than Coppage though has been starting QB Matt Blanchard. Blanchard, who was injured during last year’s National Title run, has come out firing in these playoffs. He has 23 of 32 for 309 yards and three TD’s. Blanchard’s ability to utilize pin point accuracy has been effective in burning defenses that are trying to cheat up. Trying to stop this impressive rushing attack will be LB Jamey McLendon and DL Matt Leon. These are two of the top defenders for Salisbury and will be asked to play sound fundamental football. Leon is among the nation’s leaders in TFL with 18 and thus far these playoffs he has made 10 tackles with 2.5 going for loss.

Given how effectively UW-Whitewater runs the ball they should be well prepared for the triple option attack of Salisbury right? Maybe not…the Warhawks will come into this game with the No. 3 overall rush defense in the entire country but they haven’t faced the triple option yet. We’re talking about an offense that has run for only 950 yards over the first two weeks of the post-season. They have scored 13 TD’s and have seen the need to attempt only nine passes. Let me repeat that last part, over the course of the last two games Salisbury has attempted ONLY NINE PASSES. Some teams attempt that many on a single drive, let alone over the course of two games. Salisbury has a great leader in QB Dan Griffin who has to leave Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson wondering how he missed such a fantastic option QB. But will he be enough to pull off the biggest upset in Salisbury history?

This is the week, this is when it will happen and it’s going to happen right now. I’m going to officially take Salisbury over Wisconsin-Whitewater to advance to the semi-finals. Rip away!

St. Thomas v. St. John Fisher

St. Thomas has won its two playoff games by a combined 86-12 score. They allowed only two points to an undefeated St. Scholastica team in Round 1 and gave up only 10 to Monmouth team who ranked No. 1 in total offense nationally. Both weeks they took on Gagliardi Trophy finalist QB’s and both weeks they shut them down. If there was ever any question about how good St. Thomas was its been answered to now. Not only do they have a very good defense but there offense isn’t too shabby either. Through their first two games they have rushed for 742 yards and 10 TD’s. However unlike a team like Salisbury they rely on one main guy to do the heavy lifting and that’s RB Colin Tobin. 464 of those 742 yards belong to Tobin and he has scored half of those rushing TD’s.  If St. John Fisher is to have a prayer they will have to find a way to stop that rushing attack.

St. John Fisher has their own back who isn’t too bad in Cody Miller through two games Miller has run for 227 yards and two TD’s. He may not quite have the same numbers as Tobin but he’s been effective in getting first downs and keeping drives alive. On the outside St. John Fisher has two WR’s in Ryan Schmidt and Ryan Francis who can make teams pay deep. Combined for the season these two have hauled in 128 passes for 1,481 yards, and 14 TD’s. That kind of production could potentially test St. Thomas whose defensive strength lies in its front seven where LB’s Tony Danna and Willy Baregi lead the way.

I have picked against St. John Fisher every step of these playoffs and Im not stopping here. Ill either be right or learn my lesson the hard way, give me St. Thomas to finally shut down the St. John Fisher offense.

Wesley v. Mary Hardin-Baylor

One of the hottest offenses in the country right now, Wesley has averaged 42 points per game this postseason. QB Shane McSweeny has been a man possessed so far this post-season throwing for 595 yards and nine TD’s while running for 235 yards and two TD’s. He has been unstoppable thus far and Mary Hardin-Baylor will have to find a way to account for McSweeny on nearly every play. The man who will be charged with that task will be LB Javicz Jones who has 19 tackles through two games and has been all over the field. MHB will need him to be more though this Saturday though, they will need him to get more aggressive in attacking the gaps and getting into the backfield. Jones is yet to record a TFL this post-season despite having 10.5 during the regular season. They need that number to be on the up tick this weekend.

The nations No. 8 rushing attack entering Saturday, MHB has averaged just under 300 yards rushing per game this far this post-season. They have been led by their own dual threat QB in LiDarral Bailey who has run for 205 yards, and thrown for another 191 yards. He is complimented by RB Darius Wilson who has been somewhat quiet thus far but is due for a big game. Wesley must be careful though to not just try and stop Bailey and Wilson in the running game, because as Bailey showed us last weekend he’s perfectly happen to drop back and go over the top to WR Damian Davis who has 821 receiving yards and seven TD’s on the season. Two seniors will lead the way for the Wesley defense as they try and contain this explosive offense. DL Chris Mayes will be counted on to set the edge and get off his blocks in order to make plays in the backfield. Mayes has 18.5 TFL on the year to lead the team and LB Jeff Morgan sits right behind him with 18 of his own. These two will be asked to shut down the rushing attack first and foremost and leave Davis to DB Dakevis Howard who leads the team in INT’s and has been a constant pest for opposing WR’s.

Since the day the bracket was released I think we all dreamed of a Mount Union v. Mary Hardin-Baylor semi-final match-up. I think we are halfway on our way to that match-up with my pick of Mary Hardin-Baylor here.

Wabash v. Mount Union

Wabash has seen an offensive explosion the past two weeks that was not always there in the regular season. Two weeks ago Wabash ran for 266 yards which was just under 100 yards more than there season average (171.08) and this past weekend v. North Central they threw for 311 yards which was over 100 yards more than there season average (194.33). This gives plenty for the Mount Union defensive coaches to worry about coming into this game. For the most part Wabash will rely on a two headed RB monster lead by Vann Hunt and Tyler Holmes. They will try their hardest to split the carries between the duo who has rushed for 1,214 yards and eight TD’s this year.  Wabash will likely again give the ball to backup QB Tyler Burke. Burke was a man possessed last week throwing the ball 49 times for 311 yards and four TD’s. He allowed both WR Jonathan Horn and Wes Chamblee to go over 100 yards on the day. Look for this to be a very dangerous match-up for Mount Union to counter. Mount Union’s best defensive player in LB Nick Driskill and while he’ll be an effective weapon v. the Wabash run he can cover both Horn and Chamblee all the way down the field. However Mount Union does bring the top ranked pass defense in the nation for a reason, this one could be fun to watch.

The status of RB Jeremy Murray is going to absolutely vital when it comes to determining what Mount Union will try and do with its offense. Murray has only carried the ball 22 times this post-season and the loss of his 1,300+ yards could become extremely detrimental to Mount Union’s long term success in these playoffs. In Murray’s absence no back has been able to pick up the slack by QB Matt Piloto has done his part by completing throws and limiting his mistakes. The hopeful return of WR Jasper Collins should help to make Piloto an even more dangerous weapon if Murray can’t go. Collins has 576 receiving yards and 10 TD’s on the year but has only one good wheel. Mount Union is hoping that with another week he can get healthier and get back to being the weapon he was before he got injured. With Mount Union being so banged up the time may be now for this Wabash team to exert its dominance using DL Pat Clegg and AJ Akinribade to disrupt the rushing game and get after Piloto.

It would be easy to pick the Little Giants here and say that the Mount Union run is over, but with the resolve this team has shown over the years I just can’t do it. Wabash may never quit but I think their playoff run is over.

Follow Matt Elder on Twitter @MatthewCElder.

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