Heading into the 2019 DII football season, I went through months of research to make five bold predictions for the coming season. Since we are approaching what is the halfway point for the bulk of the division, let's check in and see how well — or not so well — I did.
Below, you will see word for word what I predicted on Aug. 30 would happen in this 2019 season. I'll grade myself and explore the probability of each one coming true by the end of the season.
PREDICTION 1: Notre Dame (OH)'s Jaleel McLaughlin will set the DII football rushing record
HOW WE'RE DOING: Could happen — McLaughlin came off a historic freshman debut in 2018 when he shattered the rookie rushing record with more 2,400 yards. That led me to believe that setting the single-season rushing record would an exciting and possible encore.
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Danny Woodhead ran for 2,756 yards back in 2006 — an average of 212 yards per game. McLaughlin was well ahead of that pace four weeks in, using three-straight 200-yard days to rack up 893 total yards, an average of 223.25 yards per game. Unfortunately, Week 5 saw McLaughlin rush for only 28 yards and a touchdown in a game the Falcons had well in hand by the end of the first quarter. He bounced back with another 184-yard performance last week (and four more touchdowns) and now has 1,105 yards on the season. The Falcons will have to make a deep postseason run like last year for McLaughlin to come close, but it's not out of the question.
PREDICTION 2: Colorado State-Pueblo extends its home winning streak to 20 games
HOW WE'RE DOING: Busted — Keep in mind, thinking the ThunderWolves could win all six of their home games this season was a compliment to that defense. CSU-Pueblo opened its 2019 home slate owners of the second-longest current home winning streak in DII football. The ThunderWolves also welcomed two top 25 teams to the ThunderBowl in its first two games at home in 2019.
This prediction was busted right off the bat, as Colorado School of Mines came into Pueblo and walked away victorious, 34-14, handing the ThunderWolves their first home loss since Sept. 10, 2016. They quickly rebounded, however, beating ranked Texas A&M-Commerce the following week.
PREDICTION 3: The MIAA sends three teams to the DII football championship
HOW WE'RE DOING: Good, kind of — Right now there are three teams from the MIAA in the top 20 of DII football, which means this prediction is on pace to be correct. But let's be fully transparent here: it's not the three teams I projected.
ARROWHEAD SHOWDOWN: How Northwest Missouri stayed undefeated in win over Pittsburg State
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict Northwest Missouri State will make the DII football championship bracket. And I will take a pat on the back for calling Pittsburg State a sleeper, although a loss to the Bearcats this past weekend may have taken them out of the MIAA championship conversation. Here, take a look:
"The Gorillas are as strong a sleeper in DII football for 2019 as any, and the beyond-bold prediction would be that Pittsburg State wins the MIAA."
But I also thought Fort Hays State was a foregone conclusion to make the tournament. That hasn't been the case, although the Tigers are playing Fort Hays State football once again. Instead, it is the team that beat the Tigers on opening night that is making waves. Central Missouri is a cool 6-0 sitting at No. 14 in the country. Quarterback Brook Bolles is looking like a real Harlon Hill candidate and this offense is clicking, but they still have the Gorillas and Bearcats on the schedule. Let's not anoint the Mules a bracket lock just yet.
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PREDICTION 4: The Rock rolls the PSAC, goes undefeated in conference play again
HOW WE'RE DOING: Good — But I was holding my breath last Saturday. Then-No. 16 Indiana (Pa) came into Slippery Rock and nearly pulled off the improbable comeback with a 28-14 second half. Slippery Rock prevailed 45-42 and stayed undefeated in PSAC regular-season play.
Now, The Rock has only one team with a winning record left on its slate before a likely spot in the PSAC championship game on Nov. 16. Roland Rivers III is as good a player as any in DII football this season and he has this offense tough to beat — even on days when the defense struggles, as this past weekend showed us.
PREDICTION 5: Virginia Union makes the DII football tournament
HOW WE'RE DOING: Not impossible — I'll admit it: I completely slept on Bowie State. I thought the loss of Amir Hall would be too much to overcome in a single season, and then Ja'Rome Johnson showed up and started waking me up. The Bulldogs still look very much like the team to beat in the CIAA.
That said, Virginia Union is still 5-1. The Panthers only loss came in Week 2 against a top 10 Lenoir-Rhyne team. They are still undefeated in both their division and conference and have Bowie State and a super tough Virginia State team left on the schedule. With two 1-5 teams also left on the schedule, it's not out of the question that Virginia Union finds its way into the CIAA championship on Nov. 16 and secures a spot in the postseason.