The NAIA Football Weekly Report and Predictions by Jason Dannelly (9/12/15 Edition)

Craig Mullins will be honored this week as Georgetown College plays Lindsey Wilson College. Mullen passed away last May from cancer. (News-Graphic Photo)

Craig Mullins will be honored this week as Georgetown College plays Lindsey Wilson College. Mullen passed away last May from cancer. (News-Graphic Photo)

Last week seemed as though every game was either a knockdown drag-out fight to the end or a blowout. The top games in the NAIA proved to be just that while 13 other games ended with the losers scoring 8 points or less. The GPAC/KCAC challenge was that in name and not in substance as the GPAC went 8-1 against their opponents from the south with the lone KCAC win being Kansas Wesleyan over Midland.

Needless to say this week should be a lot different across the country as there are seven featured games.

Morningside answered any questions their might be about their offense not being able to function without newly named Carolina Panther Brandon Wegher by putting up 897 yards of total offense against Sterling. The Mustangs had two rushers over 100 yards in the win.

Carroll College topped Southern Oregon 26-20 and even though the Saints won the game I was impressed by the talent SOU has on roster. The Raiders have a lot of guys who haven’t played together and they will only get stronger throughout the season. Mac Roche threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. Continue reading

Jason Dannelly Previews the NAIA Football Quarterfinals

560204_10152799750429477_7500933386025271825_nI’m going to be completely honest. I hate round two of the NAIA Championship Series. I hate the way it’s put together, I hate when it’s played and I hate that after umpteen years no one has done anything to change it.

Some of my argument for change goes back to what I touched on last week via twitter and the need for the NAIA and its football coaches to consider a major rewrite of the NAIA Championship Series. Just like every other division of college football, things have changed. But the NAIA is the only organization that has not made a major change to its postseason qualification since it adopted its current form in 1997.

And there isn’t a person in the world that can convince me the state of NAIA football is the same now as it was in 1997. Continue reading

Jason Dannelly Selects Winners of the First Round of the NAIA Football Championship Series

10339739_1703721843187182_1827114446610379474_nWe’ve been on the “road” for so many years that its odd for me to envision a “race” to the NAIA National Championship. Especially given the driving conditions I had cross country the last few years getting to Rome. Although two buses stranded on I-75 in Georgia and the stories from all those involved is still one of my favorite memories from 2010.

But this year the NAIA will embark on the first of three title games in Daytona Beach aptly title the “Race to Daytona.” Previous incarnations of the game saw us on the “Road to Savannah” and the “Road to Rome.” The racing moniker fits the host and also the attitude of several of the NAIA’s best who are definitely in the fast lane towards the NAIA title game. (See what I did there?)

It’s so tough for me to pick any major upsets in the first round of the NAIA Football Championship Series in any given year. Typically if you select the chalk, you are bound to get five or six of the eight games correct. Last year the only upset was Tabor defeating Benedictine in the first round (11 over an 8). In 2012 there were two upsets, same with 2011.

But that’s not to say the NAIA postseason doesn’t go without it’s occasional craziness. In 1998, five underdogs garnered victories in the NAIA’s opening round of the championship series seeing the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 teams in the county knocked off in game one of the postseason. This led to a national championship game where the No. 8 Azusa Pacific Cougars won their first national championship game over the No. 11 Olivet Nazarene Tigers. Continue reading

Jason Dannelly: Two Weeks Left Until the NAIA Football Regular Season Ends

Brandon Wegher of Morningside

Brandon Wegher of Morningside

My first year covering the NAIA as a true national journalist was 2002. I knew the teams and the conferences, kinda. And I knew who was good, sorta. But when this time of year came around I found myself scrambling to try to figure out what the heck was going on in each conference. I made bold predictions that made me look like an idiot and I guaranteed outcomes that I had no business commenting on.

12 years later . . . not much has changed!

The NAIA postseason is taking shape. If you want to be a part of it, don’t have three losses. It’s been nearly impossible through the years to make the postseason with three losses, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen.

Where we see the exception is typically in conferences where teams are forced to play a lot of games outside of their league schedule. The Central States Football League is the most notable in this department and unless Langston wins out they will be left without a postseason rep once again. The Lions are 5-3 and finish up against Bacone and SAGU, the next best teams in the league over the next two weeks. Continue reading

Jason Dannelly Predicts NAIA Semifinals: Carroll/Cumberlands and Grand View/Morningside

Rivalries are what make NAIA football great. There is nothing better than going to a small college game in any part of the country and witnessing two teams that truly have beef with one another duke it out on the field. Small college rivalries are the purest form of rivalries often born out of anger or spite years ago, before the current players had even heard of the school they are playing for.

But as much as I enjoy seeing Carroll College vs. Montana Tech or USF/Saint Xavier the rivalries born out of the postseason become better than one could ever imagine. Morningside at Grand View has the makings of what could become one of the NAIA’s best postseason rivalries.

All season long, I have paid attention to the world of social media and the comment sections on NAIA.org after they post the latest coaches rankings and its pretty apparent that at least the fans of Morningside and Grand View have been paying attention to one another. Not only is Saturday’s game for the right to go to Rome, Ga. but its also for the title of “Best Small College Football Team in the State of Iowa.”

Carroll College at Cumberlands takes on the same style of rivalry feel without as much familiarity. Cumberlands has had a very good football program for a number of years now and when John Bland took over the program it got the shot in the arm it needed to become recognized nationally in the NAIA. For years, UC players and coaches have watched the Saints be one of the most dominant teams in NAIA football waiting for their chance to go toe-to-toe with the most successful NAIA team in the last ten years.

This Saturday all scores will be settled and we will walk away with the two best teams in the NAIA having their tickets punched to Rome.

Predictions
Morningside at Grand View: What’s the old saying? Defense wins championships? Morningside ranks 10th in the NAIA for total defense and 7th in scoring defense. Grand View ranks 7th in the NAIA for total defense and 3rd in scoring defense. Needless to say, these two teams have dominated their competition.

The argument I would make is that Grand View saw a greater amount of offensive talent this season than Morningside did. The Vikings have had to hold down the likes of DI-FCS Drake, St. Francis (Ind.), Saint Xavier and Saint Ambrose during the regular season. While I respect the GPAC, the offensive talent this season in the conference is not on par with what the MSFA had to offer.

There is no doubt, the Morningside offense is a force to be reckoned with. They can run the ball with the best of the NAIA and if they need to play a game of pitch and catch all day they can do that too. The real question becomes whether or not Morningside’s defensive will be able to stop Grand View. Against top competition this year, Morningside’s D has given up a lot of points. Northwestern put up 38 in the Mustangs only loss, Baker put up 28, Rocky Mountain 21, Dakota Wesleyan scored 27 and Concordia had 31. Meanwhile last week’s 24 points to Tabor College was the most the Vikings had given up all season with the next highest being 21.

All stats aside, this is the sort of NAIA football game you want to see, whether its live streaming video or in Iowa’s capital city. Des Moines is a nice sports town and I hope the football fans in the area decide to come out and see what will be a great college football game. Final Prediction: Grand View 35 Morningside 27

The City of Williamsburg, Ky. is about to be invaded by one of college football’s most storied programs and greatest group of fans. It’s one of those football events I wish I could be at just to see the interaction among players, fans and coaches.

Probably the biggest misnomer about Cumberlands is that they never pass the ball. Owners of the NAIA’s best rushing offense at 365 yards per game, the Patriots still average 100 yards per game and have thrown for 18 passing touchdowns this season. So the expectation of Carroll just putting eight in the box and stuffing the UC run isn’t quite the reality of this game.

There is no doubt about it, Cumberlands is good because they can run the football and their defense will shut you down when they need to. UC is 11th in scoring defense and 21st in total defense but those stats aren’t indicative of how hard this team has had to battle late to win football games. Reinhart, Georgetown and Lindsey Wilson all had the Patriots sweating bullets until the very end of their games during the regular season.

Carroll College has also been tested at times this year and even has an early blemish to Eastern Oregon on their record. The Saints have the NAIA’s No. 2 scoring defense and 12th best total defense. But the one team statistic that has drawn the most interest from these two coaching staffs is the Saints ability to stop the run. Carroll College only gives up 104 yards per game this season and last week only surrendered 62 rushing yards to Missouri Valley.

Offensively the Saints are fourth in the NAIA running the football and 18th in total offense per game. Essentially, if you want to see two of the best rushing offenses in the NAIA you will need to watch this game.

This game is a lot more even than I think people originally thought. While Cumberlands is undefeated, they haven’t exactly walked all over their competition this season and the Saints aren’t the steamroller they were when they won national titles year after year. But both programs are very good and this game will come down to field position and turnovers. Final Prediction: Carroll College 17 Cumberlands 13.

Would I be surprised if I went 0-2 this week on my predictions? Absolutely not. That’s how close these four teams are and how competitive the NAIA has become in recent years. One could even argue that with different matchups (Morningside vs Cumberlands and Carroll vs Grand View) that the result of those games could be very different.

When the final scores come in on Saturday, two teams will have their tickets punched to Rome and two teams will be left picking up the pieces of their shattered dreams. But in the end, fans of NAIA football can be proud that four of the best representations of what your organization stands for are playing for a shot to be the best at their level.

Jason Dannelly’s Predictions for the NAIA Quarterfinals

So I missed last week. Whoops. I had my picks in my head but never got time to sit in front of a computer and let them be known. However, anyone that knows how I bank a lot on the history of NAIA football in the postseason knows how I would have selected my games last week. It is very seldom that I ever pick against a team that is playing at home in the first round. The only times I’ve done it in the past is when a top team lost in the final week of the season to have a slight drop in the polls.

This year, I would not have picked against any one the home teams in the first round based on how the season has gone and if anyone would have asked me about a potential upset, I certainly wouldn’t have predicted Benedictine would lose to Tabor. Tabor is a great team with one of the best coaches in the NAIA getting them prepped every week.

This week is always the most unpredictable week in the NAIA postseason. There are many factors that contribute to upsets making it even more difficult to predict just exactly will happen. Travel, thanksgiving, weather and teams being over/under rated all season all come to light.

For instance, had Morningside not slipped up to Northwestern a few weeks back we would have the No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the country facing off in Baldwin City, Kan. this week. But that loss dropped Morningside and what we have this week might be the best game of the postseason to date.

The “trap game” of this week is Grand View hosting Tabor. Everyone is looking at this game saying, “There’s just no way Tabor goes into Grand View and knocks off the Vikings. GV is just too good.”

Well keep in mind a lot of people said the same thing last week about Tabor against Benedictine and we all know how that worked out. Mike Gardner is just one of those coaches who you can never count his teams out of anything. They are well coached, always prepped and play extremely hard.

A match up fans of the NAIA have long awaited is Missouri Valley at Carroll College. Over the last 10 years there have been few programs in the NAIA that have been as consistent as these two. Add in the fact they also have two of the NAIA’s best coaches and it makes it even more entertaining.

Last and certainly not least is Saint Francis (Ind.) traveling south to Cumberlands. Once again, two great programs that have been around the top of the NAIA for years.

I’ll keep it brief with my predictions and give you a line on why each team wins and then predict my winner:

Tabor at Grand View: Tabor wins because they go in and out physical Grand View and win the turnover battle. Grand View wins because they keep doing what they did all year with no let down. My Prediction: Grand View.

Morningside at Baker: The team who wins this game will have fewer turnovers. It’s that simple. Both teams are going to run the ball tough and its a matter of who holds onto it. My Prediction: Morningside (and this was the toughest one to predict).

Saint Francis at Cumberlands: USF wins because they shut down the run. Cumberlands wins because they force USF into turnovers. My Prediction: Cumberlands.

Missouri Valley at Carroll College: MoVal wins if they force Carroll to turn the ball over and they score early in the game. Carroll wins if they shutdown MoVal’s offense and grind it out. My Prediction: Carroll College.

Going into the games this week, I still don’t think you can say, “Yep, this team is the favorite to win the National Championship.”

Every team has a lot of question marks and as the season wears on those get answered and exposed. Grand View is by far the most battle tested team on paper while Cumberlands has quietly gone about their business winning week after week. The amount of parity in the NAIA this year is crazy.

No. 8, No. 12, No 15 and No. 19. Those were the preseason ratings of the top four teams in the NAIA Championship Series. With no clear cut favorite in NAIA football, it only makes this weekend more exciting.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Jason Dannelly’s Predictions for the NAIA Championship Series, October 27, 2013

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This week there is no reason for any pomp and circumstance in this article. Last week I explained just how the NAIA Championship Series works, how teams qualify and briefly looked at some of the history behind the process If you want to know how this all works, check out that article.

The biggest surprise this week was Saint Francis (Ind.) who lost to Robert Morris, 28-24 in Fort Wayne. RMU is an up and coming team with a ton of Chicago talent on their roster. The loss is mostly a surprise due to the location of it coming at home. USF is still my favorite to win the MSFA-Mideast but things have suddenly gotten a bit tighter.

Baker University defeated Missouri Valley, 13-10 also on the road. The loss won’t kill the Vikings postseason chances but it has certainly eliminated the margin of error.

Here’s a look at the conferences this week and who will potentially make the NAIA Championship Series.

CSFL: Bacone defeated Texas College to improve to 6-2 on the season. With their No. 25 ranking they only have to move up five more spots to make the postseason. Langston also won yesterday to improve to 3-4 and remaining undefeated in the conference with the Warriors. If both teams do what they are suppose to do next weekend, we could essentially have a conference championship game on November 9th for the CSFL’s automatic berth to the postseason. Langston will struggle to get to No 20 even if they win out, but it’s not impossible. Right now, Bacone and Langston are the only teams with a shot at the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: Bacone

Frontier: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain continue to separate themselves from the rest of the Frontier with wins this weekend. Carroll is the obvious choice for the postseason with Rocky also looking like a solid seconds choice. However, even though Rocky defeated Dickinson State last weekend, they will have one more loss on their record when the coaches vote on this week’s Top 25 after the Bears had to forfeit on of their earlier victories due to the use of an ineligible player. The two teams need to take care of business this week before they lock horns on November 9th for a potential conference title game. The biggest test will come for the Saints as they take on Southern Oregon in Helena. If the Raiders were to upset the Saints, they would have a great chance at making the postseason.
Today’s Prediction: Carroll College as Champion. Rocky and Southern Oregon with a shot at an at-large.

GPAC: Time to face facts; Morningside is the only team that has proved they absolutely deserve to be in the postseason. Concordia was the next in line before they lost to Doane College this weekend. The loss by the Bulldogs put them at 4-2 in the conference tied with Northwestern and both teams still have to play the nation’s No. 1 team this season. It’s entirely possible Concordia and/or Northwestern upsets the Mustangs, which would jump either team in the ratings and give them a chance at an at-large. But if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t count on it and I’d put my money on Morningside being the lone representative in the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: Morningside.

HAAC: Missouri Valley picked up their first loss of the season making a three-way tie for second place in the HAAC behind Benedictine. The Vikings appear to be the one team that could still spoil the Ravens’ undefeated season as they two will face off Nov. 9th in Marshall, Mo. Baker has quietly had an extremely solid season with their only loss coming to Benedictine. Baker’s major test will come on Nov. 16th against Peru State as the Bobcats are the other one-loss team in the conference. Peru State has the toughest road to the postseason in front of them as they play Missouri Valley this weekend and Baker the final week of the season.  I still expect three teams to make the NAIA Championship Series from the HAAC.
Today’s Prediction: Benedictine and Baker with a tossup between Mo. Valley and Peru State.

Independent: It’s going to take a miracle for someone to make it from the Independents.  Mayville State at 5-3 and Ave Maria at 4-2 have the best records of the group.
Today’s Prediction: No Qualifier.

KCAC: Tabor College and Ottawa are currently in position to make the NAIA postseason but that could change for both teams in the coming weeks. Ottawa still has games against rated teams in two of their final three weeks, which includes a regular season ending game against Tabor. Both Sterling and Friends are in contention to make the postseason if they can win out and get a little help in the ratings. Sterling plays no rated teams the rest of the season giving them the edge over Friends as the Falcons still face off with Ottawa. The KCAC could get royally messed up if Friends beats Ottawa and Ottawa turns around and beats Tabor while Sterling wins out. That would give Sterling the tiebreaker over Friends and the regular season title and possibly get Friends into the postseason. Needless to say, there is still a lot of football to be played in the KCAC. I still feel like Tabor and Ottawa are solid picks but Sterling and Friends are on the verge of making me a believer.
Today’s Prediction: Tabor and Ottawa.

MSC-East:  The University of the Cumberlands remains in control with Lindsey Wilson and Georgetown College knocking on the door. If both teams take care of business the rest of the season, the winner of their game on November 16th will make it to the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: U-Cumberlands and winner of LWC/GT

MSC-West: Reinhardt and Campbellsville are still undefeated in conference play. If either team wins out, they should get into the Top 20 and make the postseason. That might not get decided until Nov. 16th when the two face off. However, the more telling game will likely be Nov. 9th when CU and Faulkner face off. With a 6-2 record and the highest rating in the conference, the Eagles are the most likely team to make it into the postseason on paper. But you cannot sleep on Reinhardt because of their undefeated record with two manageable games left in their regular season.
Today’s Prediction: Faulkner with Reinhardt still having a shot.

MSFA-Mideast: USF loses to Robert Morris and opens up a can of worms in the MSFA-Mideast. USF (Ind.) still controls their own destiny but Marian, USF (Ill.) and Taylor all have one loss in the conference. If the Cougars slip up again this season, we could see a giant mess in this conference’s standings. USF (Ill.) has an outside shot at a postseason berth, but I still think only one team makes it from this conference.
Today’s Prediction: Saint Francis (Ind.).

MSFA-Midwest: Grand View is in control of this conference with an 8-0 record. They should finish the season as champs if they take care of business the next two weeks. There is a huge game this weekend between Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier in Chicago as the two teams begin jockeying for second position in the conference. Neither SAU or SXU are guaranteed spots in the postseason, but if the loser of their head to head game this weekend wins out then this conference will still see two teams in the NAIA Championship Series.
Today’s Prediction: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier.

For those of you keeping score, my October 26th prediction for the NAIA postseason looks like this:

  • Central States Football League: Bacone College
  • Frontier Conference: Carroll College and Rocky Mountain
  • Great Plains Athletic Conference: Morningside College
  • Heart of America Athletic Conference: Benedictine, Baker and Missouri Valley/Peru State.
  • Independents: None
  • Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference: Tabor College and Ottawa University
  • Mid-South Conference East: Cumberlands and winner of LWC/GT
  • Mid South Conference West: Faulkner University
  • Mid States Football Association Mideast: Saint Francis (Ind.)
  • Mid States Football Association Midwest: Grand View, Saint Ambrose and Saint Xavier

The major changes I made this week are eliminating a second team from the GPAC and given some chance to teams that are still undefeated in their respective conferences. By Nov. 9th, there is going to be a pretty clear picture as to who is going to make the NAIA Championship Series. The issue we will start to see is if teams like Reinhardt and Bacone barely make the Top 20. That would mean you essentially would have to be No. 14 in the final ranking or better to make the postseason.

The final three weeks of the NAIA regular season are shaping up like they usually do. We’re going to see some extremely exciting football in the weeks to come and no one can predict just how things will shake out come selection Sunday on November 17th.