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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | August 28, 2019

5 DII football teams that can win their first national championship in 2019

A deflection TD catch like you've never seen in DII Championship game

Valdosta State battled Ferris State in a record-setting DII football championship game that gave the Blazers their fourth national championship in program history.

For the Bulldogs, they fell three points shy of bringing home the school’s first DII football title.

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All is not lost for Ferris State. A bulk of that team returns in 2019, putting them in contention to finally bring home that elusive DII football trophy. Let’s take a look at a few teams that could be hoisting the championship trophy in McKinney, Texas on Dec. 21 at the 2019 DII football championship.

Ferris State
2018 record: 15-1 | Finish: National runners-up
Why they can win: The Bulldogs are one of the best offenses in the nation and return two of DII football’s biggest names on each side of the ball. Quarterback Jayru Campbell is back to lead the offense, while defensive end and leading tackler Austin Edwards will anchor a defense that has plenty of other familiar faces to help. 

Campbell was the 2018 Harlon Hill winner and will have his two favorite targets — Sy Barnett and Dion Earls — back as well as Marvin Campbell — who ran for more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns — joining him in the backfield. This is a team that has been to at least the national quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons. It seems like a championship is right around the corner. 

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Notre Dame (OH)
2018 record: 13-1 | Finish: Semifinalist
Why they can win: When 2019 comes to an end, the Falcons could very well have the offensive and defensive player of the year. Running back Jaleel McLaughlin exploded onto the DII football scene in Week 1, reeling off 302 yards and two touchdowns against nationally-ranked Shepherd. He finished the season rushing for 2,421 yards and 18 touchdowns — as a freshman. The possibility of what he can do as a sophomore with much of the same offensive pieces in place is tantalizing. 

On the other side of the ball is Sha’haun Williams. The now-senior defensive lineman led DII football with 20 sacks, which was the third-most all-time in a DII single-season. There are simply too many big-time pieces returning to think Notre Dame doesn’t have a shot to be playing Dec. 21.

Minnesota State
2018 record: 13-1 | Finish: Semifinals
Why they can win: The Mavericks have been to the semifinals and quarterfinals in 2018 and 2017 respectively with only two losses over that span. Like the two teams before them on this list, the Mavericks return a lot of the pieces that helped make that happen.

Big Evan Heim and Hunter Topple will be making room for running back Nate Gunn — who ran for more than 1,500 yards for the second-straight season — and give time to quarterback Ryan Schlicte to find his exciting wide receiver, Shane Zylstra. Linebacker Alex Goettl clogs up a defense with plenty of experience around him. Expect another deep run from Minnesota State next season.

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Ouachita Baptist
2018 record: 12-1 | Finish: Quarterfinalists
Why they can win: In one word: stability. The Tigers have been to the DII football tournament in back-to-back seasons and they seem to be getting better. While they lose Swiss-Army knife, all-purpose threat Kris Oliver, they return a ton on offense. Running backs Shun’cee Thomas and Brockton Brown combined for 1,467 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago while quarterback Brayden Brazeal combined for 1,911 yards and 16 touchdowns on the air and the ground while getting his favorite target from 2018 — wide receiver Allie Freeman — back as well.

Ouachita Baptist was balanced on the other side of the ball as well. Its scoring defense was the second-best in DII football in 2018, allowing just 11.5 points per game. The Tigers get back their leading sack artist — Dameyun McDonald — their leader in interceptions — Keandre Evans — and their stop plug in the middle — linebacker Jon Johnson. Their toughest competition may come in their own conference to Harding, but the improvements Brazeal should see behind center in his sophomore season should be the difference.

Tarleton State 
2018 record: 12-1 | Finish: Quarterfinals
Why they can win: The Texans lose quite a bit from their program-best 2018 team, so this may come as a surprise to some. Gone is exciting running back Xavier Turner, but back for another run is Daniel McCants who ran for 1,141 yards and eight touchdowns sharing the backfield last year. Quarterback Ben Holmes gets both his favorite targets back in Zimari Manning and J.F. Thomas as well.

The defense is where Tarleton State will take the biggest hit, but again, there are plenty of intriguing pieces, especially in the secondary which could prove big in the sometimes pass-happy Lone Star Conference. Devin Hafford, Jai Edwards, and Prince Robinson should make things very difficult for opposing quarterbacks and receivers as one of the best secondaries in DII.

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