football-d2 flag

Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | September 9, 2018

DII football preview: No. 7 Harding hosts Southern Arkansas, Valdosta State plays Fort Valley State in DII showcase

Week 2 of the DII football season kicked off Thursday night with several top 25 matchups and an old-school rivalry. This Saturday, the DII showcase features the Okefenokee Classic and a conference matchup that could shake things up at the top.

Let's break down both games and take a look at what to watch.

MORE: AFCA Top 25 | 5 takeaways from the Week 1 poll

Valdosta State at Fort Valey State, 7:05 p.m. ET; WATCH LIVE

Dubbed the Okefenokee Classic, Valdosta State returns to play Fort Valley State after last year's bout was canceled due to Hurricane Irma. The Blazers are coming in fresh off a dominant 45-14 victory over an Albany State team that received votes in the preseason poll. Valdosta State has a balanced attack with both Rogan Wells and Adam Robles under center and running back Jamar Thompkins coming off a big 2018 debut. The Blazers can't look ahead, as a 2-0 start would be huge as they prepare for their September 14 Gulf South Conference opener against No. 11 West Alabama.

Fort Valley State had to open on the road in Tallahassee, Florida against FCS foe Florida A&M and the results weren't as they had hoped. The Wildcats fared very well in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last year going 5-1 in conference play. This would be a huge momentum builder heading into their September 15 SIAC opener at Miles College. 

2018 Outlook

Valdosta State (1-0) Fort Valley State (0-1)
2017 record: 5-4 2017 record: 5-5
Head coach: Kerwin Bell (3rd season) Head coach: Kevin Porter (2nd season)
Preseason ranking: RV | Current ranking: RV Preseason ranking: NR | Current ranking: NR

Key players (2018 stats):

Rogan Wells, QB: 176 yards, 4 total TD

Jamar Thompkins, RB: 128 yards, 1 TD

Jameel Padgett, DL: 4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack

Key players:

Jarman Slade, QB: 303 yards, 1 TD

Lorenzo Smothers, WR: 207 yards, 1 TD

Camron Young, WR: 7 tackles, 1 breakup

2018 by the numbers

Valdosta State Fort Valley State
OFFENSE OFFENSE
Points: 45.0/ game Points: 7.0/ game
Pass yards: 186.0/ game            Pass yards: 303.0/ game                                             
Rush yards: 252/ game Rush yards: -12.0/ game
Total offense: 438 yards/ game Total offense: 291 yards/ game
DEFENSE DEFENSE
Points allowed: 14.0/ game Points allowed: 41.0/ game
Total defense: 229.0 yards/game Total defense: 407.0 yards/game

Southern Arkansas at Harding

(Due to weather concerns, this game was moved from Saturday night to Sunday, September 9 at 3 p.m. ET. You can now stream the game at HardingSports.com.)

A good old-fashioned Great American Conference early season showdown is set to take place in Searcy, Arkansas Saturday night. The Muleriders and Bison are projected to battle atop the GAC all season long, so this is a key matchup with possible postseason implications already.

Of course, Harding proved last season that early season losses aren't the end all. The Bisons dropped their first three games before rolling off eight-straight conference wins to land in the DII playoffs. There, the wins kept rolling, as Harding went on the road and defeated No. 6 UIndy, No. 9 Ashland, and No. 10 Ferris State before falling in the national semifinals to eventual national champions Texas A&M-Commerce.

Harding's offense is run heavy, as quarterback Preston Paden doesn't look to throw often in the Bisons' old-school smash mouth scheme. Both Tristan Tucker and Cole Chancey had big rushing days in Harding's opening win, but there are plenty of hands that can carry the rock.

MORE: DII players on opening 2018 NFL rosters

Southern Arkansas is one of four GAC teams getting a nod in the most recent AFCA poll, receiving 22 votes. A win over Harding could propel the Muleriders into the top 25. Where the Bisons are run-heavy, the Muleriders are pass-heavy with returning quarterback Barrett Renner amongst the most exciting in all of DII football. The defense will have its hands full with the Harding rushing attack, but Renner and his offense can counter with an explosive aerial game. It should be an exciting chess match in the GAC Saturday night.

2018 outlook

Southern Arkansas (1-0) Harding (1-0)
2017 record: 7-4 2017 record: 11-4
Head coach: Bill Koepple (10th season) Head coach: Paul Simmons (2nd season)
Preseason ranking: RV | Current ranking: RV Preseason ranking: No. 7 | Current ranking: No. 7

Key players (2018 stats):

Barrett Renner, QB: 304 yards, 3 TD

Karonce Higgins, WR: 117 yards, 2 TD

DeMarcus Page, DB: 1 tackles, 1 pick-6

Key players (2018 stats):

Tristan Tucker, RB: 108 yards, 1 TD

Cole Chancey, RB: 105 yards, 0 TD

T.J. Winslow, DL: 4.5 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 FF

2018 by the numbers

southern arkansas harding
OFFENSE OFFENSE
Points: 38.0/ game Points: 41.0/ game
Pass yards: 304.0/ game            Pass yards: 385.0/ game                                             
Rush yards: 163.0/ game Rush yards: 307.0/ game
Total offense: 467.0 yards/ game Total offense: 291yards/ game
DEFENSE DEFENSE
Points allowed: 0.0/ game Points allowed: 17.0/ game
Total defense: 264.0 yards/game Total defense: 324.0 yards/game