DII football: Northwest Missouri State, Fort Hays State reign supreme in MIAA
The first 12 games of the 2017 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association football season are in the books, and the 11-team battle for second place is underway.
But seriously, it's been 1,026 days since No. 1 Northwest Missouri (2-0) lost a football game (shouts to Minnesota Duluth) and 1,061 days since it fell to an MIAA opponent (stand up, Pittsburg State). So, if we're being completely honest, can any team prevent the back-to-back reigning national champ from notching its third straight conference title?
Cue Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger."
As the only other unbeaten in the league, No. 21 Fort Hays (2-0) arguably had the best opening two weeks -- I mean, the Bearcats looked uncharacteristically vulnerable at Washburn, right?
FHSU did nothing but impress as it cruised to a 48-7 blowout win over Missouri Southern (0-2) and then garner national attention with a 38-7 shellacking of then-No. 13 Central Missouri (1-1). That's one way you can earn your first-ever ranking in the NCAA Division II AFCA Coaches Poll, which was achieved by the Tigers on Monday.
As for the rest of the MIAA field, eight teams, PSU being one, sit at 1-1 while MSSU and Northeastern State are positioned at the bottom of the pack at 0-2.
Here are grade reports for MIAA teams' performances through Week 2:
No. 1 NORTHWEST MISSOURI (2-0): A
Games: 34-0 W vs ESU, 20-14 W at WU.
Opponent PPG: 7.0
Good stat: 17-percent 3rd-down conversion rate by opponents
Meh stat: 40-percent red-zone TD rate
Takeaway: After a ho-hum shutout over then-No. 4 Emporia State, the Green Machine had a brief scare at Washburn. The Ichabods, down six, had the ball at their own 6 with 1:57 left in the game, needing 97 yards to tie the score and possibly take the lead. But then the Northwest defense played like the Northwest defense. Washburn, which would have had more success trying to fly a kite in a hurricane, punted after three plays and five gained yards. Oh, and that's now 32 straight wins for the MIAA's golden child.
No. 14 EMPORIA STATE (1-1): C+
Games: 34-0 L at NWMSU, 45-13 W vs UNK
Opponent PPG: 23.5
Good stat: 13.0 yards per pass completion
Meh stat: 29-percent 3rd-down conversion rate
Takeaway: Opening the season at Northwest Missouri is hard. Going 2-of-13 on 3rd-down attempts makes it a lot harder. Even though the Hornets' pride took a hit, getting blown out in the first week didn't hurt them too much in the national polls. A convincing win at Nebraska-Kearney in Week 2 also lessened the sting a tad.
No. 21 FORT HAYS (2-0): A+
Games: 48-7 W at MSSU, 35-6 W vs UCM
Opponent PPG: 6.5
Good stat: 0 turnovers
Meh stat: 12 total penalties
Takeaway: Remember that Fort Hays team that went 8-4 in 2016 and ranked near the top of the MIAA in scoring offense and scoring defense? Well, the 2017 one looks better so far. Quarterback Jacob Mezera is back for his junior season after throwing for 2,500-plus yards a year ago, and he's leading a balanced Tiger offense that averaged 432 yards per game in the first two weeks. And the defense? It's not bad, either. Holding opponents to single-digit scoring seems to be a pretty smart tactic.
CENTRAL MISSOURI (1-1): C+
Games: 28-23 W vs PSU, 35-6 L at FHSU
Opponent PPG: 29.0
Good stat: 100-percent FG rate
Meh stat: 14-percent red-zone TD rate
Takeaway: Unfortunately for the Mules, a strong win over Pittsburg State is overshadowed by a lopsided loss to Fort Hays that dropped them out of the national rankings. The UCM offense, which was able to move the ball most of the night against the Gorillas, failed to muster a single touchdown despite several drives into FHSU territory.
PITTSBURG STATE (1-1): B-
Games: 28-23 L at UCM, 31-28 W vs UCO
Opponent PPG: 28
Good stat: Plus-3 TO margin
Meh stat: 412 yards total offense allowed per game
Takeaway: It was probably the expected outcome, but the Gorillas fell to then-No. 21 Central Missouri in the season opener for the second straight year -- and credit the Mules for answering a 16-9 deficit with 19 unanswered points in the second half. But there was reason for Pittsburg State's offensive lull. Senior starting quarterback John Roderique suffered a high-ankle injury late in the second quarter and hasn't returned to play since. His status is still week-to-week, giving backup Thomas LePage the offensive reins again after going through an eerily similar situation last season. But thanks to Kaden Roy's blocked punt and TD return to help beat Central Oklahoma in Week 2, the Gorillas remain alive in the NCAA Division II Playoffs conversation.
WASHBURN (1-1): A
Games: 31-7 W at NSU, 20-14 L vs NWMSU
Opponent PPG: 13.5
Good stat: 80.5 rush yards allowed per game
Meh stat: 241.0 pass yards allowed per game
Takeaway: No matter what your youth sports coach may have told you, moral victories do exist. And going toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the nation definitely counts as one. Be sure to keep an eye on the Ichabods, who could play spoiler to one or two teams that are on the postseason bubble.
CENTRAL OKLAHOMA (1-1): B
Games: 35-14 W vs LU, 31-28 L at PSU
Opponent PPG: 22.5
Good stat: 86-percent red-zone TD rate
Meh stat: 0 generated TOs
Takeaway: The Bronchos needed one more defensive stop against Pittsburg State to give senior QB Chas Stallard and the UCO offense a chance to tie or win the game in the final two minutes. But instead, the Gorillas converted a pivotal 3rd-and-3 play to eventually run out the game clock. Stallard remains a bright spot, however, throwing for 424 yards and six TDs in the first two weeks.
LINDENWOOD (1-1): B-
Games: 35-14 L at UCO, 49-10 W vs NSU
Opponent PPG: 22.5
Good stat: 463.0 yards total offense per game
Meh stat: 80-percent red-zone TD rate by opponents
Takeaway: The Lions led Central Oklahoma 14-7 early in the second quarter before the Bronchos scored 21 unanswered points to close out the game. But playing NSU in the next week was certainly a confidence booster for Lindenwood as it erupted for 686 yards of total offense, fourth-most in program history.
MISSOURI WESTERN (1-1): C
Games: 14-3 L at UNK, 45-7 W at MSSU
Opponent PPG: 10.5
Good stat: Plus-20 2nd-half scoring margin
Meh stat: 20-percent 3rd-down conversion rate
Takeaway: Losing to Nebraska-Kearney had MWSU as an early favorite to claim the MIAA's weakest-link title, but its Week 2 opponent made a more convincing argument.
NEBRASKA-KEARNEY (1-1): C+
Games: 14-3 W vs MWSU, 45-13 L at ESU
Opponent PPG: 24.0
Good stat: 1 total TO
Meh stat: 50-percent red-zone scoring rate
Takeaway: Kudos to the Lopers for winning in the first week after being picked last in both preseason MIAA polls. And, hey, they've already matched last year's win total!
This article is written by Jared Porter from The Joplin Globe, Mo. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.