In the preseason I posted a poll on “Road to the Chipper” asking fans who they thought would win the NAIA Football Championship and overwhelmingly the fans decided that Southern Oregon would not repeat as champs this year. After a loss to Carroll College, SOU dropped out of the No. 1 spot and seemingly everyone forgot about the Raiders.
Fast forward to this week’s NAIA Top 25 and SOU is back on top and in the driver’s seat to make a repeat performance in Daytona Beach, Fla. But SOU had better buckle up.
It’s only fitting that the rough road of SOU pits them against “Rocky” Mountain this week. Follow that with games against Montana Tech and rival Eastern Oregon and there’s no question that SOU will need more than a learner’s permit to navigate their remaining schedule.
But nonetheless, SOU has silenced the critics who felt they were just a one year wonder as they look for back-to-back titles.
Where the Heck Have I Been?
Okay, so I felt like I needed to start this blog with some actual NAIA football talk before I got into “The Explanation.” There have been a few things weighing down my schedule over the last few weeks that have prevented me from writing as much as I would have liked to this season. Most notably, my actual job. I know, it’s crazy to think I am putting the job that pays my bills in front of my love for NAIA football! Where the heck are my priorities? Between a total remodel of the office space, travel and all of the other good stuff involved with my job I just frankly haven’t had time to put in the effort needed to put out a worthy blog over the past month.
However, I have been tracking the NAIA and following games. So it’s not like I’m in the dark here. I’m well aware of what has been going on this season. So. . .thanks for sticking around. The best part of the season is in front of us.
As a reminder, the NAIA Top 25 is vitally important to who makes the NAIA postseason. If you aren’t up in the ranking you aren’t going to the postseason. More importantly, if you want to guarantee yourself a spot in the postseason you need to win your conference and be in the Top 20 at the end of the season. So here’s how we are sitting:
Central States Football League: This league is always on the bubble. Mostly due to the fact they play a lot of out of conference games and there is no clear cut power in the conference. It used to be NW Oklahoma State always getting to the postseason and no one else. But since the Rangers left the CSFL hasn’t had a consistent enough team to stay high enough in the rankings to put them into the postseason every year. Langston was the rep last year and the Lions don’t appear to have a shot this year. Southwestern Assemblies of God, who snuck into the Top 25 this week, is in a must win situation this week against Arizona Christian. A victory puts them in the running to make the postseason as long as they win out. Additionally, one more win would be the 7th this season for SAGU which would be the most ever in the history of their program.
Frontier Conference: Montana Western, Montana Tech and the defending champions Southern Oregon are poised to be the representatives in the NAIA postseason. Western and Tech will face off the final week of the season and given how the rankings play out it is likely the winner of that final game will make the postseason and the loser will be out. This is based on all three teams winning their remaining games that aren’t against one another. Tech plays SOU November 7th and a loss by the Orediggers won’t knock them out of contention but they can’t lose their final two if they want to make it into the postseason. Western just simply has to keep winning.
Great Plains Athletic Conference: Doane College and Morningside will square off the final week of the season in what will likely determine the conference title. Dakota Wesleyan and Concordia both have a shot the postseason with the winner of their November 7th gaining the upper hand. There still has to be some shaking in the Top 25 for either team to make it.
Heart of America Athletic Conference North: Grand View, William Penn and Benedictine are all in the running for the postseason. Benedictine and Penn face off this week with the winner needing to win out to guarantee a spot in the NAIA Championship Series. If Benedictine wins they will have an uphill battle as they play November 7th against Grand View before finishing against Peru State. Grand View is ranked high enough where they could absorb one loss and still likely make it. However, the Vikings finish their last two weeks against Benedictine and William Penn. In all likelihood there will be two postseason representatives from this conference but it’s way too early to pinpoint which two might make it.
Heart of America Athletic Conference South: Baker appears to be the only team with a shot at making the postseason. The Wildcats are rated No. 3 and currently tied for the lead in the conference with MoVal. Missouri Valley is 5-3 and would need to win out, beat Baker and hope they sneak into the Top 20 to make the cut for the Championship Series.
Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference: Tabor College and Kansas Wesleyan are the only teams with a shot at the postseason. Tabor has the edge as they are undefeated in KCAC play and has the advantage over KWU after defeating the Coyotes 14-7 earlier this year. KWU needs to win out and hope to shimmy up the standings to get one of the final at-large berths in the championship series. They are probably the first team on the bubble going into the final week of the season.
Mid-South Conference East: The University of the Cumberlands currently has the advantage by being undefeated in conference play and ranked No. 21 currently. However, they still have to face Georgetown College in what will likely determine the outright conference champion on November 7th. Georgetown has to win out and find a way to make it to No. 20 if they stand a chance to make the postseason. The Tigers are currently 4-4 and not receiving any votes, so it will be an uphill climb for Bill Cronin and his crew to make their 21st appearance in the Championship Series.
Mid-South Conference West: Lindsey Wilson, Reinhardt and Campbellsville are all in the running but CU will have to battle. The Tigers are undefeated in conference play and could be named champions if they win their next two games. The problem is. . . . those games are against Lindsey Wilson and Reinhardt. If CU beats LWC and RU then there is no doubt they should make the postseason. Both LWC and RU might be able to afford one more loss and still make the postseason however they could both do themselves a favor by winning out and guaranteeing their spots in the Championship Series.
Mid States Football Association Mideast: Saint Francis (Ind.) and Marian appear to be the only teams with a chance at making a run into the postseason. USF has the advantage over the Knights by defeating them earlier this season 45-42. Marian checks in at No. 9 in the NAIA Top 25 and needs to win out to guarantee their spot in the Championship Series as a loss would put them on the bubble. Their toughest opponent remaining is the other Saint Francis (Ill.) on November 7th who falls in at No. 18. USF (Ind.) has no games remaining against Top 25 competition.
Mid States Football Association Midwest: Saint Xavier, Saint Francis (Ill.) and Robert Morris all have the ability to make the postseason. SXU leads the conference with a 3-0 record and controls their destiny if they can win out. However they play Robert Morris on November 7th in a game that could determine whether or not the Eagles make the postseason. USF, as previously mentioned, has a tough game against Marian remaining. In reality nothing is for sure in this conference as there are a lot of good games still to be played in this league.
North Star Athletic Association: Dickinson State and Valley City State are both going to have to battle to make it to the postseason. Dickinson State has one loss in the conference and has the best shot to make it into the postseason. The NSAA will play their final games on November 8th in the Fargodome which will likely determine if anyone from this league will make the postseason. With three losses and a recent one point loss to Mayville State, Valley City is really going to need some luck to make it,
The Sun Conference: Point (Ga.) is 6-2 and just grabbed the No. 22 spot in the Top 25 ranking. With two games remaining the Skyhawks control their destiny if they can win out. No one else in the conference is receiving votes so the only chance at the postseason will be Point sneaking up to at least No. 20 to gain the automatic berth into the Championship Series.
With three weeks left in the season there is still a lot of football to be played. It’s easy to see from the scenarios I’ve outlined above that there is a lot of hope for a ton of teams to make the postseason which only makes the rest of the season that much more exciting.
Holy Cow Performances
Since I haven’t wrote about NAIA Football in a while I feel the need to point out some of the best performances of this season that you may have missed. One of my favorite things to do each week is to check the NAIA stats and see who broke out and had monster games. Here’s a few of note.
RB Tray Boone of Dickinson State ran for 340 yards and four touchdowns on 35 carries against Presentation College on September 19th. That’s the top rushing performance of the season and out distances my career total at Dana College by 331 yards.
RB Nolan Saraceni of Montana Tech rumbled 99 yards last week against Carroll College for the longest rush of the season. At 173.5 yards per game, Saraceni leads the NAIA in rushing by nearly 30 yards per game.
QB Jacob Russell of Campbellsville leads the NAIA in total offense at 383.8 yards per game. He’s not just some gunslinger either as he’s been able to rattle off 328 yards on the ground this season to go with his NAIA leading 342.8 yards per game.
QB Ryan Kasdorf of Morningside College is the most efficient quarterback in the NAIA. Kasdorf has completed 70.9% of his passes this year along with throwing 26 touchdowns and just one interception. If the season ended today that would give him the 3rd best season ever by a QB in NAIA history behind Philip Staback of Lindenwood and Danny Miles of Oregon Tech. Sidenote: Staback is now the offensive coordinator at Southwestern Baptist and Miles is set to retire at the end of this year as the head basketball coach at Tech where he has been for the last 43 years, accumulating 1004 wins in that span.
WR Seth Coate of Saint Francis (Ind.) is averaging 110 yards per game and 25.3 yards per catch to lead the NAIA. 11 of his 35 catches on the year have been for touchdowns an he is yet to have a game with receptions in the double digits. Needless to say he’s pretty efficient as a wide receiver.
Those are just some of the standouts this season in the NAIA. I’ll highlight more in the coming weeks.
This Week’s Games (Winners in Bold):
(A) 20 Campbellsville (Ky.) @ (H) 8 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.)
(A) 15 Benedictine (Kan.) @ (H) 13 William Penn (Iowa)
(A) 25 SAGU (Texas) @ (H) Arizona Christian
The rest of the NAIA
(A) 1 Southern Oregon @ (H) Rocky Mountain (Mont.)
(A) 14 Robert Morris (Ill.) @ (H) Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.)
(A) 16 Montana Western @ (H) College of Idaho
(A) 2 Morningside (Iowa) @ (H) 24 Concordia (Neb.)
(A) 21 Cumberlands (Ky.) @ (H) Bluefield (Va.)
(A) 23 Northwestern (Iowa) @ (H) Briar Cliff (Iowa)
(A) 9 Marian (Ind.) @ (H) Concordia (Mich.)
(A) Avila (Mo.) @ (H) MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)
(A) Bacone (Okla.) @ (H) Wayland Baptist (Texas)
(A) Bethel (Kan.) @ (H) 17 Kansas Wesleyan
(A) Bethel (Tenn.) @ (H) Cumberland (Tenn.)
(A) Central Methodist (Mo.) @ (H) 3 Baker (Kan.)
(A) Culver-Stockton (Mo.) @ (H) 4 Grand View (Iowa)
(A) Dordt (Iowa) @ (H) 5 Doane (Neb.)
(A) Eastern Oregon @ (H) 10 Montana Tech
(A) Edward Waters (Fla.) @ (H) Ave Maria (Fla.)
(A) Friends (Kan.) @ (H) Bethany (Kan.)
(A) Graceland (Iowa) @ (H) Peru State (Neb.)
(A) Hastings (Neb.) @ (H) Midland (Neb.)
(A) Langston (Okla.) @ (H) Lyon (Ark.)
(A) Mayville State (N.D.) @ (H) RV Dickinson State (N.D.)
(A) Missouri Valley @ (H) Evangel (Mo.)
(A) Montana State-Northern @ (H) RV Carroll (Mont.)
(A) Nebraska Wesleyan @ (H) 19 Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.)
(A) Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) @ (H) 12 Saint Xavier (Ill.)
(A) Presentation (S.D.) @ (H) Dakota State (S.D.)
(A) RV Faulkner (Ala.) @ (H) Kentucky Christian
(A) RV St. Ambrose (Iowa) @ (H) Siena Heights (Mich.)
(A) Sterling (Kan.) @ (H) Saint Mary (Kan.)
(A) Texas College @ (H) Panhandle State University
(A) Trinity International (Ill.) @ (H) 18 St. Francis (Ill.)
(A) Union (Ky.) @ (H) Pikeville (Ky.)
(A) Waldorf (Iowa) @ (H) Jamestown (N.D.)
(A) Warner (Fla.) @ (H) East Tennessee State University
(A) Webber International (Fla.) @ (H) Southeastern (Fla.)