The NCAA’s Division III football championship game is set for Friday. Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Mary Hardin-Baylor have emerged as the final two teams in a 32-team playoff, and they’ll meet in the Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va., with everything on the line.
Both teams cruised through the tournament’s first two rounds before winning tough semifinals to get here. UMHB beat Redlands and Wheaton by a combined 77-38 in the playoffs’ first two weeks, then gutted out a 14-12 decision against Mount Union in a national semifinal. That was a vanquishing of DIII’s most powerful program and the defending national champion. It was, in and of itself, a pretty big deal.
UW-Oshkosh rolled Wash U in the in the first round and Saint John’s in the second. The Titans won, 10-3, against John Carroll in their semifinal, and now they’re here against UMHB in the biggest game of the year. There’s nothing left to do now but go out and do it, and someone’s going to get its first national title. It should be fun.
How to watch on TV or stream the Stagg Bowl live
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPNU
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Three big things to know about the game
1. On paper, Mary Hardin-Baylor is the better team, but it’s close. The bulk of the story is in the stats — particularly points per game figures on both offense and defense. The average scoring margin in a UMHB game this year is a whopping 49-14, compared to 38-13 in UW-Oshkosh games. Both have strong defenses of a pretty similar caliber, but the Cru offense has been a good deal scarier than the Titans’.
2. UMHB thrives on the run. Cru running back Markeith Miller has some humongous numbers: 203 carries for 1,472 yards (a 7.3 average) and 20 touchdowns. That puts Miller at well over 100-yard per-game average for the year, and he figures to be the most obvious problem for UW-Oshkosh to have to get over. The good news: Oshkosh defends the run well, giving up just more than three yards per carry for the entire season. The bad: UMHB quarterback Blake Jackson has put up a great line in his own right, and stopping the run is only about half the battle. There’s a lot to handle here, and UW-O will have its hands awfully full.
3. Keep the game reasonably low-scoring, and UW-Oshkosh can have a chance. That’s easier said than done, as UMHB has beaten all but two opponents by more than 17 points. UMHB is 14-0 and has been barely tested at all, though last week’s semifinal is a glaring exception. It seems unlikely that the Titans could win a high-scoring shootout against a statistically superior offense. But if possession counts stay low and the game moves along quickly, there’s no reason the Titans’ defense can’t keep them in this thing for a while. If that happens, so can anything else.