Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 11/17/11

The Division II playoffs start this weekend as 16 teams face off in eight games to determine whose season is over and who will move on to try and make it to the National Championship game in Florence, AL. I will warn you now the preview below is very long, so I advise you to bring a snack and possibly a pillow with you if you try and read it all in one sitting.

Super Region 1

No. 3 Kutztown v. No. 6 Concord

In a battle of the WVIAC and PSAC Conference champions Concord will travel to Kutztown in the first round. Concord is a bit of surprise team in these playoffs after upsetting West Virginia Wesleyan in the conference title game last weekend. Both teams won hard fought games to claim their conference titles and will face another tough game this coming weekend.

When Kutztown has the ball…

The two teams could not a offer more intriguing match-up, as Kutztown’s top notch offense will be tested by Concord’s very opportunistic defense. Kutztown comes in as a well-balanced offensive attack that will likely lean very towards the run with QB Kevin Morton’s knee sprain suffered in the PSAC title game. The status of Morton is still uncertain as of the time of this preview, but if he is unable to go expect Kutztown to lean very heavily on senior RB Robbie Frey who is only 18 yards shy of eclipsing 1,000 yards on the season. If backup QB Marshall Vogel has to go then it will be only the second time this year that he has seen extended action. Coming into the PSAC title game Vogel had attempted only four passes in his career and his performance on Saturday was admirable under the circumstances.

Kutztown will need more if they hope to escape Concord who finished the regular season tops in the country in turnover margin averaging +1.8 turnovers per game. That turnover margin is helped greatly by the play of LB Joe Greenway, DB Aaron Martinez, and DB Riyahd Richardson who have combined for 14 INT’s on the year.

When Concord has the ball…

Look for Concord to come out with a balanced attack v. Kutztown. They have a good running back in Brian Kennedy who has accumulated 882 yards on only 170 carries and will look to get him established early on in an effort to give QB Zack Grossi plenty of room to work. Grossi is coming off the best game of his career in the WVIAC title game, where he went 16 of 30 for 142 yards and five touchdowns. Should Concord find a way to give Grossi time, look for them to target freshman star Ryan Stewart down the field. Stewart leads Concord in most receiving categories and his 10 TD’s are impressive for such a young player.

Grossi will have plenty to deal with though when it comes to this Kutztown defense and their 73 pass breakups on the year. Leading way in the defensive backfield is Alex Dinolfi who has thus far picked off nine passes and broken up 14 others. One of the big reasons Dinolfi has been so successful is because of the pressure that DL Brett Moss has been able to apply. His 12.5 sacks and 19.5 TFL’s lead the team and have given PSAC QB’s nightmares all season long.

The Pick…

In the end I think Kutztown’s ability to control the clock and their overall skill level will win out vs. Concord. Concord’s defense relies almost solely on their ability to create turnovers and score points off of them. If they are not able to do that they don’t have the horses to run with a team like Kutztown. I think this will be a tight game that may come down to the final few possessions but in that situation give me Kutztown.

No. 5 California (Pa) v. No. 4 Elizabeth City State University

California (Pa) was the team that I thought was going to take this year’s National Championship. They still can after narrowly making the playoffs this season but that road will be a tough one. They are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball as transfer players like OG Rishaw Johnson, and WR Thomas Mayo are prevalent on their roster. However they cannot overlook the task and team ahead of them. Elizabeth City State may not be from a pre-determined power conference but they are a very good team. They took Delta State to the wire in Week 1 and they will test Cal (Pa) all game long to see if they up to the task.

When California (Pa.) has the ball…

Last year Cal was led by transfer QB Josh Portis whose athletic ability and rocket arm got them into the playoffs. This year however they have a home grown starter, as QB Peter Lalich took over for Portis. Lalich is a classic drop back style QB who has a nice arm and sees the field well. His 26:9 TD:INT ratio shows you just how well he’s played for a first year starter, but that’s not hard when you have wide receivers like Thomas Mayo and Chedrick Cherry. Mayo was a Division II All-American last year for Concord, but transferred in the offseason to Cal in hopes of playing in the post-season and getting some recognition. He has done just that this season by hauling in 66 catches for 1,141 yards and 13 TD’s. Those kinds of numbers will just about assure him another spot on the Division II All-American team and possibly get his name called in April.

On the other side Elizabeth City State is going to rely on trying to bring pressure on Lalich and force him into a bad throw. ECSU has two Davis’s on the end, John and Brad, who are not brothers but have combined for 79 tackles, 32.5 TFL, 22 sacks, seven pass break-ups, three forced fumbles, 18 quarterback hurries, and one block. Cal will have to be prepared for these two as they are a big reason why ECSU ranks third in the country for sacks with an average of 3.82 per game. If either Davis is allowed to wreak havoc look for DB Nigel Rios to be the one cleaning up the mistakes as his four INT’s and eight PBU’s lead the team and he is an active defender who flies all over the field.

When Elizabeth City State has the ball…

It’s not a big secret as to what ECSU will try and do on offense; they are going to run the ball. They had the 23rd ranked rushing offense this past season averaging 224.25 yards per game and that depends almost solely on the legs of junior RB Daronte McNeil. McNeil has already eclipsed 1,500 yards for the year and has scored 22 TD’s. His ability to rip off big runs and loosen up the defense for a passing attack is key for ECSU. ECSU’s QB Creven Powell isn’t going to kill you with his arm but he is good enough to keep Cal honest, he does a good job finding TE Anthony Faulcon and WR Jermaine Lindsay over the middle usually in zones where the LB or DB has voided in an effort to stop the run.

Since we know ECSU is determined to run the ball, Cal must come up big in trying to stop the run. Cal ranked 10th in the nation this year in run defense allowing only 100 yards per game and they did this by utilizing an athletic defense that has playmakers all over. The one player to key on though is junior DB Rontez Miles. He’s already drawn plenty of interest from NFL scouts and his ability to play both in the box or in coverage makes you wonder how he ever slipped through the cracks. Miles has 59 tackles, six TFL’s, seven PBU, four interceptions, one block this season already and could be the key to filling up the holes and shutting down McNeil.

The Pick…

This is a tough game to call and I said in my overview piece on Monday I could easily see ECSU being a trendy upset pick due to Cal’s inconsistent struggles this year, and I don’t mind being the one to start that trend. Give me ECSU is the massive upset because of their ability to control the clock and get after the QB.

Super Region 2

No.6 Albany State v. No. 3 North Greenville

In case you’ve missed my many tweets on the subject, I have a rather unhealthy fascination with the career path and development of one Willy Korn. A highly heralded quarterback prospect out of South Carolina powerhouse Byrnes High School, Korn committed to the hometown Clemson Tigers and was dubbed the next big thing. Unfortunately for Korn things didn’t quite work out and after a short stint at Marshall also ended poorly, he landed at Division II North Greenville. At North Greenville, Korn has flourished showing off all the skills that made him a highly thought of recruit coming out of high school, and after capturing a National Christian Collegiate Athletics Championship last year he has the Tigers set to make a Division II National Championship run.

When Albany State has the ball…

The Rams are going to have to rely on QB Stanley Jennings to make big plays happen on Saturday if they hope to win this game. Jennings was a QB I personally saw last year and came away with mixed reviews. There is no doubt he has the talent and raw skills to be a top level QB, but over the past two years that talent has been a little slower to develop then hoped. He has a big arm, good athleticism, but still struggles with his accuracy (48.2% in 2011). When Jennings does go to the air he likes to go deep and he likes to look towards Ronnie Tubbs. The junior WR has caught nearly a third of Jennings completions this year (43), has scored 10 TD’s, and averages over 17 yards per catch. However North Greenville can’t just focus on Tubbs, as big play threat Octavious Stanley is on the opposite side and he has the speed to kill you deep if he’s left one on one.

North Greenville is a difficult defense to talk about because you just aren’t sure how well they will match up. They come in with the 16th ranked total defense in the country, allowing only 291 yards per game. They are only giving up 17 points per game but when you look at their schedule you begin to see why those numbers may be deceiving. Being a Division II independent they play a very South Atlantic Conference -heavy schedule, and those teams went a combined 38-47 on the year. Only three teams eclipsed 2,000 yards passing on the season and only two teams average over 30 points per game. That being said North Greenville still played good defense against this team and that counts for something. Watch LB Jonathan Shape in this game, he is probably the Crusaders best defender and should be the one making the most plays. If North Greenville can force Albany State to punt, that’s a huge advantage to them; Albany State ranks 125th in punting this season averaging only 29 net yards per punt.

When North Greenville has the ball…

You’d think that given the name recognition of Willy Korn that North Greenville would be this high powered passing attack that would go into a spread formation and toss the ball around like it was no big deal, but that’s not the case. They are actually a very disciplined and strong rushing attack that uses three running backs, and Korn to keep defenses on their toes and constantly guessing who is getting the ball. North Greenville uses Teyran Rucker, Idris Anderson, and Marcus Wilson at the RB position splitting the touches nearly down the middle between the three. They have combined for 1,879 yards and 23 TD’s between them and they will be the key to the Crusaders moving on. With the ability of North Greenville to run it sets up Korn to make easy passes into usually gaping holes. Korn has just over 2,000 yards passing on the year and with his 21 touchdowns he certainly does enough keep the defense guessing.

Albany State is going to be in for a very tough task when it comes to trying to stop this North Greenville rushing attack. Like North Greenville their defensive numbers stand out, but could be a bit deceiving. Albany State ranks sixth in the country in run defense allowing only 85.64 yards per game, but they faced only one RB this year who went for over 1,000 yards. Granted they held Morehouse’s David Carter to under 100 yards but they were not consistently tested week in and week out. Against North Greenville, they will face that test and if they are to overcome it LB Jamar Gaskins is going to have to come up big. Gaskins is a converted DB who has been used this year as a rush LB. His 17.5 TFL and 10 sacks both lead the team, and he’s been virtually impossible to block off the edge with his quickness. Freshman DB Larry Whitfield has also come up big in run defense, as he helps to load the box and his 11.5 TFL show us he knows how to squirt through the line to make a big play.

The Pick…

By the end of this game we are going to know which one of these teams is for real and which one of these teams has their numbers propped up by a weak conference. I’ve been on the Willy Korn train ever since the kid left Byrnes HS, and I’m certainly not going to abandon him now.

Give me the Crusaders and Korn to roll over the Rams.

No. 4 West Alabama v. No. 5 North Alabama

In one corner you have North Alabama, coached by former Division I coach Terry Bowden loaded with transfer talent like Janoris Jenkins, James Brooks, and Marcus Dowtin. In the other corner you have West Alabama who had their Hall of Fame coach Bobby Wallace retire at the end of last season and weren’t supposed to be this good. However it’s been West Alabama who has made the most noise this season, locking up a playoff spot two weeks ago and knocking off an FCS opponent this past weekend. North Alabama may have been higher ranked but some would say that’s mainly due to their lofty preseason rankings.

When West Alabama has the ball…

West Alabama- like so many other teams in the GSC- features a run dominant offense that is led by RB Matt Willis. His 1,408 yards and 15 TD’s are what make this offense tick, but that’s not to say they don’t have playmakers on the outside. West Alabama actually features two underrated WR’s who can hurt North Alabama. Gerald Worsham, and Kendrick May are the top target for West Alabama they have combined for 98 catches, 1,394 yards, and 13 TD’s. Worsham is the guy they like to use over the middle in the space. He has the ability to make you miss and pick up extra yards. May is more of the deep ball threat, he averaged over 18 yards a catch and has the speed to give slow footed CB’s issues.

North Alabama is absolutely loaded defensively with talent which makes their 80 and below rankings in run defense, pass defense, and total defense absolutely mind blowing. How does a team who has transfers like Marcus Dowtin, Janoris Jenkins, and James Brooks allow over 366 yards per game on average? It’s not as if the Gulf South Conference is an offensive juggernaut of a conference either. Despite all their talent, UNA has yet to really gel, and that can be a very scary proposition when it comes to these playoffs. If these guys don’t get it together soon they could be out quickly. Their best player thus far has been former UGA LB Marcus Dowtin. His 95 tackles lead the team and he’s been very good at filling gaps and making plays. CB Janoris Jenkins has been a bigger special teams threat than defensive playmaker, although part of that is because most teams just don’t throw at him. So while he takes away sections of the field at one time, his impact has been felt far more on special teams where he has two punt return touchdowns this season. Finally you have James Brooks who many people (myself included) expected to tear up the Division II level but thus far he has registered only two sacks and has been a big reason why UNA ranks 130th in sacks this year averaging only 1.2 per game.

When North Alabama has the ball…

Offensively UNA relies on, surprise, even more transfer talent. They sport a starting offensive line that has three starters who used to walk around FSU’s campus on a daily basis (Antwane Greenlee, Will Furlong, and Brandon Davis), along with guard Kyle Thorton who came over from Texas. Their job is to protect QB Lee Chapple who is a former Georgia Southern Eagle. Chapple has been exceptionally good this year going 237 of 366 for 2,764 yards, 21 TD’s and 12 INT’s. His main targets have been two junior college transfers in Mo Milian and Triston Purifoy. Both are exceptional athletes who have the ability to make you miss and get behind the defense. Combined they have 107 catches, 1,484 yards, and 12 TD’s. When this offense gets clicking its extremely difficult to stop.

This is the area that I worry about West Alabama, in that they aren’t a bad defense, but they don’t have the horses to match up with North Alabama on the outside, and don’t generate enough pressure to get to Chapple and force him into mistakes. Their best defender is LB Deon Lacey who is an active LB with good range and should play a huge part of stuffing up UNA’s run game. His 87 tackles and nine TFL’s lead the team in both categories. However it may his ability to drop into zone coverage and team with DB D’Eric Jackson to cover the middle of the field that is most valued. They will work in tandem to try and take away as much of the passing game as they can.

As for a winner, I’ve got to take the Lions in this one. West Alabama made one heck of a run over the last part of the season to lock up this playoff spot, but I don’t think they can stay with UNA for a second time this year. If West Alabama is going to take this one, they will have to establish Willis early and force UNA to overload the box and take advantage in the passing game.

Super Region 3

No. 3 St. Cloud State v. No. 6 Wayne State (MI)

The dynamic in this game is interesting because it offers the top NSIC team v. a GLIAC team who some would argue is the 4th or 5th best team in the conference. Many GLIAC fans are very upset with the committee selections from their conference especially considering their conference champion (Hillsdale) was left out of the playoffs. Will that give Wayne State added motivation? We’ll have to wait till Saturday to see.

When St. Cloud has the ball…

Maybe it’s the fact that the weather gets colder so much earlier, or just something about being in Minnesota, but it seems like almost every NSIC team has a dominant running game with passing games that vary in terms of their competency. St. Cloud actually has a pretty good passing game to go with their rushing attack but the focus is still on their ground and pound style of offense. St. Cloud utilized three very talented RB’s almost interchangeably but it all starts up front with their offensive line which is led by OT Matt Theis. The 6’8, 300 lbs. monstrous left tackle leads the way for an offensive line that blocks for a run game which averages 235.82 rushing yards per game, and allows only 1.36 sacks per game. Behind that OL a trio of RB’s take turns ripping off big gains and have accumulated over 1,700 yards and 22 TD’s on the year. Dante Steward and Brandon Geics offer the big play threat as both average over six yards per carry. However it’s the power running of Michael Walker that keeps the chains moing and punches the ball in from short distances.

It just so happens that Wayne State had the top run defense in all of the GLIAC this year allowing an average of 116 yards per game. That defense is led by DB Jeremy Jones, a slightly under the radar prospect whose name is picking up steam in some scouting circles in regards to his NFL Draft potential. Jones is exceptionally skilled in both run support and pass coverage, runs very well and uses his speed to close down on both running backs and wide receivers in the open field. Jones however isn’t the only DB who helps out in when defending the run and pass. Fellow defensive back Aaron Cornett has been a present from above in regards of his ability to play on the outside and stop much of the outside running attacks. His seven TFL’s are among the leaders on his team and his keen awareness has been a huge part of why Wayne State has been so hard to run against.

When Wayne State has the ball…

Wayne State is one of the most well balanced teams in the entire country, featuring a rushing attack that averages 197 yards per game and a passing game that airs it out to the tune of 210 yards per game. Wayne State features a two-headed rushing attack lead by Josh Ranel who is just over the 1,000 yard mark on the season and complimented by Toney Davis whose 13 rushing TD’s rank third in the GLIAC. QB Mickey Mohner leads a passing game that features 1,000 yard WR Troy Burrell. Burrell leads the team in every receiving category and has caught over half of Mohner’s 21 TD passes (12). The Wayne State offense though doesn’t happen without big Joe Long leading the way. The 6’6, 305 lbs. OT is getting NFL looks and people love his tenacity and how he gets after it.

While Wayne State may have a balanced offensive attack, St. Cloud is also a very balanced and disciplined defense. They don’t have the deficiencies other teams we have previewed have. However like many other teams their strength starts in the back with their DB’s. Tony Kubes is the biggest “name” on the defense and for good reason. He’s forced five turnovers this season to go along with 48 tackles and six TFL’s. Not to be outdone fellow DB Marvin Matthews has racked up 63 tackles, six pass breakups, three INT’s, and been an overall terror for OC’s who weren’t anticipating having to deal with Matthews and Kubes. This is all assuming that the offensive player even gets into the defensive backfield which hasn’t happened much with team leading tackler Mark Martin patrolling from his LB spot.

The Pick…

I’m going to take the upset here and roll with Wayne State. I think their balanced attack will help them control the clock and keep the chains moving, and I’m not sure St. Cloud has seen an attack quite this dangerous at both running and throwing the ball. I’d look for Wayne State to attack St. Cloud on the edge and test them deep with Burrell.

No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth v. No. 5 Saginaw Valley State

The defending National Champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs will play host to Saginaw Valley State after surviving the final few weeks to hold on to their playoff spot. Saginaw Valley is the controversial team who finished behind Hillsdale and lost head to head to Hillsdale but got in over Hillsdale. They are getting a lot of heat from GLIAC fans about that and I’m curious to see how it affects them.

When Minnesota-Duluth has the ball…

Because I was in Florence for last year’s National Title game I can tell you that it doesn’t matter one bit about who is in the backfield for this team, because whoever it is will get the rock. Minnesota-Duluth has the 11th ranked rushing attack nationally. They average over 240 yards on the ground per game and not surprisingly they do it by committee. They went to this approach more after Issac Odim went down last year, and it ended up winning them a national title, so why mess with it? No one back dominates the box score but they split the carries up pretty evenly and all three get their chances to score. The trio of Brian Lucas, Zach Hulse, and Austin Sikorski have combined to rush for 1,939 yards, and 22 TD’s chewing up turf like a riding lawn mower, and thus far this season have been near impossible to stop. The added wrinkle comes from junior QB Chase Vogler who has the ability to run the option along with zone reads to keep the defenses honest and not focus on just traditional handoffs.

To beat the Bulldogs you have to make them throw. In their two losses this season, Wayne State (NE) was actually able to stop their rushing attack. Minn-Duluth only gained 68 yards that game and lost 7-0. Against St. Cloud State, Minn-Duluth got down early and could never catch up. Just like with most run-oriented attacks they struggle to come from behind and score points in a hurry. If Saginaw Valley can string together a few stops early they could give their offense time to get up on Minnesota-Duluth. The issue here is that Saginaw Valley has struggled defensively at times this season and is not a very strong team against the run. They will need DL Brandon Williams to step up big time and do his best to control the edge and not let Vogler suck him in on the zone read plays. Behind him look for LB Grant Costera and DB Jeffrey Heath to be asked to clean up whatever Williams leaves behind him. I’d expect Heath to take on an almost Spur type role to add another body to the box and to dare Minn-Duluth to throw.

When Saginaw Valley State has the ball…

Saginaw Valley isn’t going to mess around with Minn-Duluth; they are going to drop back and try and go up top on them. They have two big time WR’s in Jeff Janis and Nick Gallina. Both WR’s have gone over the 700 yard mark on the year and are the perfect complement to one another. Janis is the big size WR who can get down the field and out jump his defender whereas Gallina is the quick water bug type who you want to give the ball in space and let him work his magic. QB Jonathan Jennings has been exceptionally good this year at getting his WR’s the ball, especially when you consider that he is only a freshman.

Minn-Duluth has two strengths on their team; their rushing attack and their defense. On defense they are a tenacious, down field team who loves to attack the line of scrimmage. They are led by an All-American caliber DB Cody Eich. The lanky Eich is versatile enough to play any of the three DB positions on the field and he really excels when allowed to roam free and just make plays. He leads the team in tackles with 76 and can almost always be found around the ball. Alongside him are two stellar LB’s in Derrick Zappa and Rob Huberty. Both of these LB’s attack the line and love to get into the backfield and make plays. They both run very well and have outstanding instincts for where the play is going.

The Pick…

It’s hard for me to go with Saginaw Valley here over Minn-Duluth. I haven’t seen their defense show me enough yet to prove they can stop the Bulldogs rushing attack. While I like the Cardinals down field vertical game I’m not sure it’s enough. Maybe I’m playing it safe but it’s hard to pick against the defending national champs and I won’t. Give me the Bulldogs.

Super Region 4

No. 3 Washburn v. No. 6 Abilene Christian

If you like vertical passing and teams that will just sit back and chuck it around, you’re going to love this match-up. Two of the best QB’s in all Division II will face off in battle to see whose arm will fall off last.

When Washburn has the ball…

The name to know is QB Dane Simoneau, the player who makes this Washburn offense go. Simoneau is a tall pocket passer who has the athleticism to get out of the pocket if the pressure gets near him. Simoneau has thrown for over 300 yards in seven games this year and nothing about ACU’s defense suggests he won’t once again hit that bench mark. He has two playmaking WR’s in DeJuan Beard and Ronnell Garner each of who are over 45 catches, 800 yards and seven TD’s on the season. Beard is the top target and should eclipse 1,000 yards on the year in this game. ACU though cannot just look for the pass as Washburn has a 1,000 yard RB in Justin Cooper and have a terrific offensive lineman in Brian Folkerts who helps clear the way for Cooper.

ACU is not an incredibly good defensive team in pass coverage. The strength on their defense lies on their defensive line and they use that line to try and get after the QB. ACU is currently fifth in the country in sacks per game with 3.6 and they rely on two key defensive linemen to apply that pressure. Everybody knows about Aston Whiteside and what he can do. The likely NFL draft pick is so powerful on the line that it’s hard for many people to block him on this level. He has 39 tackles, 12 TFL, and six sacks this season. With Whiteside drawing so much attention he’s allowed other players like DL Ryan Smith to step up and make plays. Smith has contributed eight TFL’s and five sacks this year and is part of 13 defenders who have picked up sacks this year, eight of which have multiple sacks.

When ACU has the ball…

Well I told you about the Washburn QB so now it’s time to talk about the Abilene Christian QB named Mitchell Gale. While his numbers have fallen off a little from last year (3,595 yards, 38 TD, and three INT’s) he’s still been a very good QB putting up 3,317 yards, 24 TD’s, and six INT’s. Gale is at his best when he’s able to spread the ball around to his very deep and talented WR corp. Nine WR’s have over 10 catches on the season for ACU, and that’s how they keep defenses guessing and off balance. Just because ACU is such a dangerous team through the air does not mean they can’t or won’t try and establish the run. RB Darryl Richardson is a strong back who can pick up the tough yards. He may only have 693 yards on the year but he has scored 10 times and will run over an unsuspecting defender.

The Washburn defense comes at you from a 3-4 set and they have three LB’s who absolutely fly all over the field making plays. They are led by senior LB Manny Pfannenstiel whose 74 tackles, five TFL’s, and 1.5 sacks have been huge. Above all though, it’s been his leadership and teaching that has taken this defense to a new level. LB’s Bryce Atgai and Jahmil Taylor have been the two biggest beneficiaries of Pfannenstiel’s leadership as they have become the teams statistical leaders in tackles with a combined total of 173 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, three INT’s, five PBU’s, and two forced fumbles. With Taylor and Atagi manning the middle it’s going to be very tough sledding if Richardson plans to get going against this defense.

The Pick…

This one will be a shoot out and it very well may be the highest scoring and most exciting game of these entire playoffs. Last year I liked ACU to win it all and they ruined it for me, so I can’t pick them again. I’m taking Dane Simoneau and Ichiabods.

No 4. Missouri Western v. No. 5 Northwest Missouri State

Can we just call this the Battle for Missouri? There is a reason the MIAA got four teams into Super Region 4 and it’s because of how deep and strong the conference is. These teams beat the heck out of each other every year, and yet I still think a MIAA team has a great shot to win the National Title. I’m just not telling which one…yet.

When Missouri Western has the ball…

Well if we ever want to see the fastest game in Division II playoff history just let Minn-Duluth and Missouri Western play each other. That game would end with about 90 runs to 20 passes. Missouri Western has the ninth best rushing attack in the nation averaging 254 yards on the ground per game. They are led by feature back Michael Hill who has gained over 1,200 yards on the ground and added another 250 and change through the air. He has scored a combined 12 touchdowns and has been the man for Missouri Western. He however does not do it alone as he has two other complimentary backs that have actually outscored him. RB Travis Partridge and Dominic Thomas have combined for another 1,097 yards on the year and have 13 touchdowns of their own. Missouri Western will look to control the clock and the ball and grind Northwest into the ground.

Here’s the issue for Northwest: I’m not sure they can stop Missouri Western’s rushing attack. They rank 40th in the nation against the run allowing an average of 124.27 yards per game, but they don’t have the attacking defensive players that are going to shoot the gaps get into the backfield and wreak havoc. Their best defensive player in LB Chad Kilgore and his 109 tackles rank his 37th in the nation in tackles. He flows well to the ball but is limited in his range and he’s going to need help if they are to contain this Missouri Western attack. That help has to come from young DL Ricky Bailey. Bailey is the sack master for Northwest with a grand total of 3.5 sacks but he must do more to get into the back field and make plays. His 8.5 TFL are a good start but if Northwest is going to shut down this kind of an attack they need more.

When Northwest Missouri State has the ball…

With Northwest it has been pick your poison for how you would like to get beat this year. They can beat you through the air or on the ground, whichever you prefer. When Nebraska-Omaha closed down their football program this year there were a number of highly heralded players who needed to find a new home, none were as badly wanted as RB James Franklin. He ended up going to Northwest and I think it’s safe to say that was a smart decision. He has run for 1,032 yards this year on just 152 carries, he is averaging over 6.7 yards per carry and has scored 19 times. If you don’t like that option than Northwest can always go to the air with their backup QB and beat you down the field to either of Tyler Shaw or Jake Soy. Those two have only combined for 1,355 yards, and 14 TD’s. So like I said above, pick your poison.

Defensively I only see one way that Missouri Western can stay in this game with Northwest and its going to take All-Everything David Bass going ham and setting new NCAA records in tackles, sacks, and forced fumbles for one game. I’m somewhat being sarcastic but let’s not put it past Bass who is very talented and is top ten in the nation in both TFL’s (20) and 2nd in the nation in sacks with 14.5. With all the attention Bass gets it has allowed his fellow line mate Ben Pister to have a big year, Pister has added 13.5 TFL’s and 8.5 sacks himself. However behind them is where Missouri Western begins to get into trouble and with the all-around attack of Northwest I don’t know how they can stop them consistently.

The Pick…

Well for me this is my easiest pick of the entire preview. I’m taking the Bearcats to roll and potentially make a run to Florence.

Please check back tomorrow, where I start my two-part Division III Playoff Preview!

For all his insight on the top small-school college football teams, players and storylines, please follow Matthew Elder on Twitter @MatthewCElder.

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