Eleven weeks of the DII football season are in the books and the NCAA DII tournament is ready to begin. Twelve first-round games kick off across the nation on Saturday, Nov. 23 with every team looking for a spot in the national championship game in McKinney, Texas, on Dec. 21.
Before Saturday's action gets underway, let's take a look around the four Super Regions and find the one game that stands out to us the most.
Shepherd at Indiana (Pa), noon ET
Five Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference teams earned a bid to the 2019 DII football championship. Shepherd and IUP are the only two to go head-to-head in the first round and interestingly enough, they didn't play each other in the regular season.
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For IUP, there were some question marks with a changing of the guard under center. Lenny Williams, Jr. was gone, but Quinton Maxwell stepped up and had an even stronger season than his predecessor, throwing for 2,818 yards, 32 interceptions and just eight interceptions. Former backup running back Duane Brown, coming off a redshirt season, blossomed into a reliable receiver for Maxwell hauling in a team-best 871 yards through the air and totaling 18 touchdowns.
Shepherd enjoyed a solid PSAC debut in 2019, closing the season with seven-straight wins, including a big one against West Chester. Tyson Bagent is a Harlon Hill contender at quarterback passing for more than 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns, but Deonte Glover is a menace out of the backfield. The senior back ran for over 1,100 yards and scored a PSAC-best 23 touchdowns.
The difference will be in which defense steps up. Bagent has had the luxury of the PSAC's best offensive line which has allowed just eight sacks all year. But now the Rams face the PSAC's best sack attack in IUP, who recorded 35 this year. This has all the makings of a classic PSAC back-and-forth battle and is the perfect opener for the tournament.
West Florida at Wingate, 1 p.m. ET
After the selection show, I called West Florida the team to watch coming out of Super Region Two. Well, the Argos will definitely be put right to the test against a tournament-savvy Wingate team.
I liked West Florida because, although the Argos lost twice, they played that competition very well. An opening night loss to Carson-Newman and a Week 10 loss to No. 1 Valdosta State are the only blemishes on their record, and both were within one score. If you'll allow for a cliche, defense wins championships, and West Florida has a good one. Both Wingate and West Florida have solid defensive units, but the Argos are stingy in scoring, posting DII's eighth-best scoring defense at just 15.1 per game.
Wingate is simply a well-balanced machine. Shaw Crocker controls the tempo at quarterback and doesn't turn the ball over while Domineke McNeill and Nijere Peoples are a dangerous two-headed monster out of the backfield, totaling 1,707 on the ground with 19 touchdowns and both averaging over 5.5 yards-per-carry.
While Super Region One could very well be a shootout, this one could come down to who controls the clock and ball. This is just the second meeting between the two, with the first coming in the 2017 postseason on West Florida's Cinderella run to the championship game. You can be sure Wingate remembers that 31-0 loss on Saturday.
Lindenwood at Ouachita Baptist, 2 p.m.
This has the looks of a classic David vs. Goliath showdown. Ouachita Baptist enters the tournament for the third year in a row, and the second-straight season with a perfect record. Lindenwood was a four-win team just a year ago and now heads to the DII tournament after a 1-3 start.
So, what's different in Lindenwood? Cade Brister has the Lions playing with swagger. The sophomore quarterback is having a career year and led the Lions to not one, but two victories over top 25 teams in Indianapolis and Truman. The Lions were perfect in Great Lakes Valley Conference play and now get to show what they can do against a DII football powerhouse.
We know the deal when it comes to Ouachita. The Tigers once again have one of the toughest defenses in the land with the fourth-best scoring defense and 25th-best total defense in DII football. They counter the defensive attack with the 20th-best rushing attack in DII, so if Ouachita gets ahead, it will grind the clock making a comeback quite difficult. Brockton Brown led the charge with 22 touchdowns.
This is the type of game that makes the DII football championship tournament special. On paper, this seems like Ouachita Baptist's game to lose, but as we've seen before, that's not always the case in November.
Texas A&M-Commerce at Tarleton, 2 p.m. ET
The first three games were matchups between teams that don't know each other all too well. That's quite the opposite in Super Region Four as Tarleton and Texas A&M-Commerce face off in a rematch from Week 7.
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The Texans won that game 35-21 because that's what Tarleton does: score points and a lot of them. The Texans were fourth in DII football, scoring 47.6 points-per-game and are fueled by three of the best in DII football at their respective positions. Ben Holmes is the traditional Texas football gunslinger, able to throw up a 350-yard, three-touchdown day with ease. Daniel McCants seemed to set a rushing record on a weekly basis with both a 99-yard touchdown run and three 200-yard days. Zimari Manning may very well be the best receiver in DII football: he's had five-straight 100-yard games and hasn't been held scoreless since Week 1.
So how can the Lions keep up? Well, they are no slouches by any means, scoring 36.1 points-per-game and holding opponents to 20.1. Texas A&M-Commerce already showed they can compete with Tarleton, one of just two DII football teams to hold them under the 40-point threshold. Miklo Smalls is exciting at quarterback and seemingly makes plays happen.
We may be in for a good old-fashion Lone Star shootout, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
How will the DII football championship bracket shake out?
Before the selection committee filled the bracket on Sunday, Nov. 17, I took a stab at predicting the 28 teams that would hear their name called. That turned out pretty well, so why stop there?
Below is my bracket predicted through the semifinals. I looked at stats, in particular, matchup statistics that I felt gave one team a slight edge over the other. I also took into consideration playoff experience, especially with a lot of returning schools with an abundance of student-athletes that have been playing November and December football consistently over the past two or three seasons.
Remember, the final four teams are seeded No. 1 through 4 in the national semifinals, so before picking the national champion, I want to be sure the seeds I project are correct (and the teams for that matter). Spoiler alert: I think Valdosta State has a solid chance to repeat in 2019, but there are plenty that will challenge the Blazers.