Tarleton State and Mary Hardin-Baylor are the state's final hopes for small college national titles, and face highly ranked foes in the quarterfinals this weekend. Meanwhile, four other colleges get to close out the year with bowl games. Here's a quick primer on what every team is up against.
GAME: No. 6 Tarleton State at No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato
WHEN: Saturday at noon at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato, Minn.
WHY IT MATTERS: The winner of this game will advance to the NCAA DII national semifinals next weekend and will be the winner of Super Region Four. The winner will also be in the running to host the national semifinal game as the NCAA reseeds the four remaining teams after the quarterfinals. Both teams enter the game undefeated on the season. Both teams are very similar in style and should make for a close and entertaining contest. Both the Mavericks and Texans rely on a punishing ground attack along with a stout defense. However, both teams also possess the ability to throw the ball effectively if necessary. One huge key to the game will be the health of Tarleton State quarterback Ben Holmes, who injured his knee last week but was able to continue with a leg brace.
INSIDE THE STATS: Both teams are very close statistically. Tarleton State averages 6.9 yards per play and 0.627 points per play on offense this season. The Texans are allowing four yards per play and 0.229 points per play this year. Minnesota State is very similar as they are averaging 6.3 yards per play and 0.586 points per play while the Mavericks’ defense is allowing 4.4 yards per play and 0.242 points per play this season.
COMPUTER SCORE PREDICTION: Minnesota State-Mankato 31, Tarleton State 29
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GAME: No. 5 Saint John’s (Minn.) at No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor
WHEN: Saturday at noon at Crusader Stadium in Belton, Texas.
WHY IT MATTERS: The winner advances to the NCAA DIII national semifinals next weekend. This game is a battle of heavyweights who have very few weaknesses on paper. Saint John’s enters the game with a 12-0 record and their closest margin of victory this season is 18 points against conference foe and NCAA DIII playoff team Bethel (Minn.). Mary Hardin-Baylor also brings a 12-0 record to the game and their closest margin of victory is 21 points which came in the first round of the playoffs against conference foe No. 7 Hardin-Simmons. This game could come down to special teams play and which defense can force the most turnovers. The Crusaders being at home could provide the edge necessary for the victory and a spot in the national semifinals.
INSIDE THE STATS: Both teams bring a high-powered offense and a stingy defense to the game. Saint John’s has averaged 7.7 yards per play and 0.779 points per play on offense this season while allowing four yards per play and 0.146 points per play on defense. Mary Hardin-Baylor is very similar on offense as they have averaged 7.4 yards per play and 0.937 points per play this season. The Crusaders also have a stout defense as they have only allowed three yards per play and 0.105 points per play this year.
COMPUTER SCORE PREDICTION: Mary Hardin-Baylor 38, Saint John’s (Minn.) 26
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MORE SMALL COLLEGE GAMES:
NCAA DII Heart of Texas Bowl: Central Oklahoma 29, Angelo State 26
Computer score predictions unavailable for NJCAA:
NJCAA Heart of Texas Bowl: Pima vs Kilgore 11 a.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas
NJCAA Salt City Bowl: Navarro at Hutchinson 1 p.m. Saturday in Hutchinson, Kan.
NJCAA Valley of the Sun Bowl: Blinn at Scottsdale 1 p.m. Saturday in Scottsdale, Ariz.