No. 5 Mary Hardin-Baylor at No. 6 Hardin-Simmons
When: 6 p.m. Saturday at Shelton Stadium in Abilene
The Matchup: The NCAA Division III playoffs begin this weekend. Technically, the playoffs start date is November 19, but the team that loses this game may miss the playoffs. At-large berths are difficult at this level, with only five available at most, following the 27 automatic berths for conference champions.
Let’s face it, even the defending national champions are not a lock for the playoffs if they lose this week, and I don’t need to remind Hardin-Simmons fans of how the selection committee will apparently find any reason to keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs with only one loss on its resume.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the winner of this game will finish the American Southwest Conference champions. Granted, the limb is sturdy enough for my large self, with the winner of this game claiming the last 23 ASC titles.
Mary Hardin-Baylor has dominated this series, winning 18 of the last 19 meetings, but make no mistake, this is a heated rivalry, and the Cowboys have been one of only a handful of teams to nearly beat the Cru over the last three years.
The Cru has won the last three meetings by a combined 15 points, and this is the first time UMHB has entered the rivalry game with a loss on its record since 2008. Another incredible statistic is that UMHB has only two losses in the regular season since 2008, with the last regular season defeat coming at the hands of HSU in Abilene in 2015, leaving the Cru with 57 consecutive wins in regular season games.
X-Factor: When two titans meet on the gridiron, the outcome is usually decided by which team converts more of its critical situations. Critical situations happen on third and fourth down and in the red zone.
HSU’s win over Wayland Baptist was expected, but its win over UW-Platteville was impressive. The Cowboys were dominant during critical situations, converting 8-of-15 attempts on third or fourth down while holding the Pioneers to a combined 6-of-16. In addition, the Cowboys converted all five opportunities in the red zone with three touchdowns and two field goals.
UMHB has played the more difficult schedule this year. The Cru has converted 19-of-34 opportunities on third and fourth down, while opponents have converted on 24-of-51 attempts on critical downs. In addition, UMHB has scored in 14-of-16 trips to the red zone, including 13 touchdowns but has allowed opponents to convert 8-of-10 red zone opportunities, with all eight conversions resulting in a touchdown.
Prediction: This is where I could easily say I won, regardless of who is victorious after the game on Saturday. I created a bit of a stir when I selected HSU to win the ASC title this year. The easy way out would be to pick UMHB to win this week. Selfishly, I want both teams to be in the playoffs, and I don’t know if the Cru can make the playoffs with another loss. I also know that HSU can’t leave a playoff berth in the hands of the committee.
So, I stand by my prediction in the magazine. UMHB’s defense has not been the dominant unit that we’ve come to expect during recent seasons. It’s a younger unit that is still learning a new system. The Cowboys defense can be dominant and, I believe, will make a play to stop a last-second two-point conversion attempt for the win.
Hardin-Simmons by 1
Best of the Rest:
Saturday, Sept. 24
No. 7 UIW at Southeastern Louisiana, 6 p.m., ESPN+
West Texas A&M at No. 4 Angelo State, 6 p.m., LSC Digital Network
No. 12 Blinn at No. 1 New Mexico Military Institute, 4 p.m., NMMI Facebook Page
Other Small College Games:
Saturday, Sept. 24
Texas Southern at UTSA, 2:30 p.m., Stadium Network
Lamar at Northwestern State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+
Prairie View A&M at Alabama State, 5 p.m.
North American at Texas A&M-Commerce, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Houston Baptist at Texas State, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Tarleton at North Alabama, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Warner (Fla) at No. 17 Stephen F. Austin, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Western New Mexico at Abilene Christian, 7 p.m., ESPN+
UTPB at Western Oregon, 3:05 p.m., LSC Digital Network
Simon Fraser at Midwestern State, 7 p.m., LSC Digital Network
Eastern New Mexico at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 7 p.m., LSC Digital Network
East Texas Baptist at Howard Payne, 1 p.m., HPUSports.com
McMurry at Southwestern, 6 p.m., SouthwesternPirates.com
Sul Ross at Texas Lutheran, 6 p.m., TLUBulldogs.com
Texas College at Wayland Baptist, 2 p.m., WBUAthletics.com
Arizona Christian at SAGU, 6 p.m., SAGU Sports Network on YouTube
No. 9 Kilgore at Navarro, 7 p.m.
Trinity Valley at Cisco, 7 p.m.
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