Four Downs: Hardin-Simmons ends ASC title drought; UTPB one win away from LSC title

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For the first time since 2015, Hardin-Simmons has earned at least a share of the American Southwest Conference title, while UTPB can secure its first Lone Star Conference title in program history with a win over Central Washington next week. UIW struggled to run or stop Nicholls rushing attack, and the Cardinals hopes of a Southland Conference title and at-large bid hopes took a massive hit. Meanwhile, the Colonels can claim the SLC title and automatic bid with a win over Lamar next week. However, a Lamar win would create a three-way tie for the SLC’s automatic bid.

First Down: Hardin-Simmons secures automatic playoff bid

Two things needed to happen for HSU to claim at least a share of the American Southwest Conference title with one week remaining in the regular season. The Cowboys took care of the part they controlled with a 59-19 win at Austin College. The second part was completed when Mary Hardin-Baylor finished a 21-12 victory over East Texas Baptist.

The Cowboys have earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs and their first share of the ASC crown since 2015. HSU can finalize a perfect run through the ASC and its first outright conference title since 2004, with a win at ETBU next Saturday.

Second Down: UIW’s at-large hopes take a significant blow

UIW entered Saturday’s game in San Antonio needing a win over Nicholls to secure its third consecutive Southland Conference title. Instead, the Colonels brought its physical running game and pounded the Cardinals 45-32. Nicholls rushed for 331 yards and averaged six yards per attempt, but it was UIW’s inability to run the ball that cost the Cardinals. UIW registered only 45 rushing yards on 16 attempts, and its inability to control the clock hampered the Cardinals late in the game.

The Cardinals are now Lamar fans, as explained in Fourth Down below, but must focus on getting prepared to meet Houston Christian in two weeks. UIW must beat the Huskies to remain alive for an at-large bid and hope the teams ahead of them in the rankings win automatic bids. The fact is the SLC isn’t the deepest conference in FCS, and UIW will need to overcome concerns about its strength of schedule with the committee to land an at-large bid to the playoffs.

Third Down: UTPB sets up showdown for LSC title

UTPB has been setting program records en masse in head coach Kris McCullough’s first season. The 9-1 Falcons can double the program’s previous record for most wins in a season with one more victory. The UTPB faithful hope that win comes in the Lone Star Conference championship game at home against Central Washington, when the Falcons can secure the program’s first LSC football title.

The Falcons have won a program-record eight consecutive games and are primed to make their first appearance in the NCAA Division II playoffs in program history. The next iteration of the Super Region Four rankings will be released on Monday. UTPB was ranked third last week behind Colorado School of Mines and Western Colorado. A win over CWU next week could ensure the program’s first playoff game will be at home.

Fourth Down: A three-way tie for the Southland title remains possible

Nicholls took control of the Southland Conference title race on Saturday with its win over UIW. The Colonels can secure the SLC championship and an automatic bid to the playoffs with a win over Lamar next Saturday. However, a Cardinals win would throw the Southland title race into a three-way tie with UIW.

While two weeks remain in the regular season, it’s worth looking at who might be the favorite to land the SLC’s automatic bid in the event of a three-way tie. After trying to discern the Southland Conference’s tiebreaking procedures, I believe a three-way tie between Nicholls, UIW, and Lamar this year would be decided by the NCAA’s Simple Rating System. UIW was the leader when the committee announced the ten teams under consideration for one of the eight seeds last week, but those rankings will change after this week’s results.

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