Week 11 of the sub-FBS season marks the end of the year for many of the NCAA Division II, Division III, and NAIA teams. Unfortunately, this week was also marred by less-than-desirable performances, while other teams are heading into the offseason with momentum.
1. Is there a solution?
This season has quickly gone south for Stephen F. Austin. Central Arkansas scored the first 34 points of the game to beat the Lumberjacks 34-7. It is the second straight home loss for a ‘Jacks team that took a lot of pride in their 13-game home win streak until homecoming.
If you’re looking for blame, you look at the passing game. Everything needs to be evaluated after three different quarterbacks combined to complete 14-of-31 passes for 73 yards. The crazy part is that SFA will win the WAC title next week if they beat Abilene Christian.
2. Win or put the pads away
Three teams have earned automatic bids to the NCAA playoffs, while another team should hear its name called when the Division III bracket is released at 4 p.m. Sunday. Angelo State is the LSC champion and is likely the top seed in Super Region Four when the Division II bracket is announced at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Mary Hardin-Baylor and Trinity earned automatic bids by winning the American Southwest Conference and the Southern Athletic Association. Hardin-Simmons was the first at-large selection from Region 3 when the regional rankings were released last week and are likely to receive an at-large bid. But as Cowboys fans know, never trust the NCAA selection committee.
3. Fine-tuning the machine
Angelo State completed its first undefeated regular season since the Rams NAIA national championship season in 1978. The Rams are a team with very few weaknesses and is a threat to be the first LSC team to play for the national title at McKinney ISD Stadium.
However, the playoffs are brutal, and I am concerned about the bye week. ASU did not have a bye week during the regular season but will have a bye as the top seed in Super Region Four. If they can remain in a routine and get healthy over the next two weeks, the Rams having home field advantage could become the difference.
4. Wait, what?!?
That was my reaction when I saw Abilene Christian jump to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter against Sam Houston. Sure, the Bearkats are redshirting a lot of their roster, but no one else in the WAC had beaten Sam Houston until today.
The Wildcats can secure their first WAC title and an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a win at home over SFA next Saturday. Raise your hand if you saw that coming during fall camp. Now, put your hand down. I can’t see it anyway.
5. The difference between DII and FCS
It’s time to address a topic I’ve touched on in the past regarding Texas A&M-Commerce this year, but the Lions are experiencing what is typical for a team in its first year of transition from Division II to FCS.
The Lions have five wins and a real chance to earn their sixth at home against Tennessee State next week, and that would be a remarkable season. A 3-5 record against FCS or FBS competition with a chance to finish 4-5 should have the Lions fan base excited for the future. Imagine what David Bailiff and staff will do with a full complement of scholarships and roster depth in three years.
6. Win, and you’re in
Prairie View A&M scored 27 unanswered points to defeat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 55-24. However, the formula is simple for the Panthers, win at Mississippi Valley State next week, and PVAMU will be the West Division champ and play in the SWAC title game.
The Panthers are talented enough to play with anyone in the SWAC but inconsistent enough to lose, which would cause the conference office a headache trying to figure out the tie-breaking scenarios.
7. Unsurprisingly unexpected
The SWJCFC playoffs typically provide some surprises, but this year will be remembered for a long time by some fans. Trinity Valley had positioned itself in the national title race following a season-opening loss to Snow college. However, those hopes are gone after Kilgore forced eight Cardinals turnovers in a 38-10 victory.
The Rangers will travel to play the reigning national champion, New Mexico Military Institute. NMMI’s Malik Phillips caught a 45-yard TD pass from Koby Mausau with 1:46 remaining in regulation that sent Navarro to a heartbreaking 24-23 defeat.
8. Momentum for next year
Four teams finished the regular season Saturday and have built positive momentum heading into the offseason. This momentum may not lead to an improvement next year, but positive, happy, yet still hungry athletes are a combination that leads to success.
Sul Ross finished 4-6 in interim coach Barry Derickson’s first season. The only question is how long the Lobos will wait to remove the interim tag that’s been attached for nearly a year.
The results haven’t shown in the win column yet, but Austin College became a formidable opponent as the season wore on and the ‘Roos adjusted to their new offense. Another entire offseason with that system could spell trouble for some opponents next year.
The season began with larger expectations, but Texas Wesleyan can’t be too disappointed with a program-record nine-win season. The Rams may not earn a berth in the NAIA playoffs next year, but this program is on its way to competing with the best in the country.
Many unknowns surrounded SAGU as Greg Ellis prepared for his first season as head coach after being hired in June. The Lions went from a potent offense to a stout defense. The result is a five-game winning streak and a 7-3 record after defeating Langston 39-21 Saturday. The Lions will play in the NCCAA Victory Bowl at 6 p.m. Friday.
Many pundits, including me, thought it would be a positive season for Texas Southern if they equaled last season’s win total of three. But that shows how little we know. The Tigers defeated Grambling 41-7 Saturday and are 5-5 on the season.
A nearly unthinkable winning record can be achieved next week when TSU visits Alabama A&M. The Bulldogs are a tough team but are on a three-game win streak. Let’s hope TSU has a contract extension waiting for Clarence McKinney after this season.
10. Tough endings
College football can provide a wide range of emotions. Texas A&M-Kingsville and West Texas A&M experienced nearly every emotion this year. The Javelinas were a surprising 7-0 and in consideration for a playoff berth until the season ended on a four-game losing streak.
It’s worse for the Buffs. Their 46-14 loss to Simon Fraser is inexcusable. Producing 64 rushing yards and 133 passing yards while allowing 465 total yards to the Red Leafs was unthinkable before Saturday. WT ends the season with three consecutive losses and four defeats in its final five games.
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