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Wayne Cavadi | | September 22, 2023

DII football Week 4 preview: 5 games you don't want to miss

Ferris State wins 2022 DII football championship over Colorado School of Mines

This is a weird week for DII football Power 10 with No. 1 Ferris State and No. 3 (tied) Grand Valley State both on bye. There is just one top-25 matchup after three weeks of non-stop battles between DII football's best of the best. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great — and very important — football games waiting to be watched.

While a few conferences have already begun, this week marks the start of conference play from coast to coast of the DII football landscape. Here are some key matchups to keep tabs on this Saturday, Sept. 23. 

RANKINGS AND MORE: The new Power 10 and everything you missed from Week 3

DII football Saturday: Games of the week

Barton at Mars Hill, 1 p.m. ET | WATCH ($)

Lenoir-Rhyne, Newberry, Wingate and even Limestone got a lot of love in the preseason and early polls, but here we are with Barton and Mars Hill in a battle of unexpected undefeated teams. They are just two of the three remaining undefeated teams in the SAC — and should Lenoir-Rhyne lose, the winner could be in first place in the SAC all alone.

Barton is led by the reigning player of the week, running back Jordan Terrell. The Bulldogs are scoring 34 points per game, so there are weapons everywhere, but it is Terrell's rushing prowess that dictates the tempo of the game. He is averaging an astounding 194 yards per game through three weeks. Here's where it gets interesting: Mars Hill has a top-10 rush defense in DII football, allowing just 51.5 yards per game. This will be the biggest test it has faced — and likely the entire season. 

UIndy at Saginaw Valley State, 2 p.m. ET | WATCH ($)

Saginaw Valley State enters the game coming off its first loss of the season and needs to get back on track quickly before the Sept. 30 Battle of the Valleys. Standing in front of the Cardinals is UIndy — its first of three nationally ranked opponents in a row (with Power 10 No. 3 Grand Valley State and No. 1 Ferris State to follow). 

UIndy is coming off a commanding 28-7 victory over Wayne State (MI), where DIII transfer Jon Lewis — who led DIII in rushing yards per game last year — had his breakthrough DII performance, rushing for 143 yards and a score while adding a receiving touchdown as well. Keeping Lewis and quarterback Gavin Sukup out of the end zone — both of which have scored at least one rushing touchdown in each game so far — will be a tough task for the Cardinals' defense. But Saginaw Valley State has the weapons, especially running back Terrance Brown, who is averaging 95 yards a game on the ground with a pair of scores. If the Cardinals want to make a statement, at home against UIndy is a good place to start.

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Colorado School of Mines at CSU Pueblo, 4 p.m. ET | WATCH

CSU Pueblo has had a tough start to the season. The ThunderWolves defeated then-nationally ranked Midwestern State only to lose back-to-back nationally ranked battles to Grand Valley State and Western Colorado. The road gets no easier this week as the scorching hot Colorado School of Mines come to town.

The Orediggers, of course, are No. 2 in DII football, a perfect 3-0, have wins against Grand Valley State and Angelo State, and are rolling off a 70-7 win where everything was clicking. The momentum they have right now is not good for the RMAC, but let's not forget, CSU Pueblo was in the top-25 just one week ago. This is a very good team. The quarterback battle between John Matocha and Chance Fuller should be one of the best this weekend, if Fuller doesn't have the uber-aggressive sack attack of the Orediggers' defense in his face all day. Expect some major points to be scored in this one.

West Georgia at West Florida, 7 p.m. ET | WATCH ($)

West Georgia is a good football team, but if we're being honest, I wouldn't want to be the team playing West Florida this week, no matter how talented the team is. West Florida is now battle-tested against a nationally ranked FCS school, and in case you forgot, have let up a whopping six points to DII competition so far this season.

This should be a great Gulf South opener. West Georgia dropped out of the top 25 after a Week 2 loss on the road to a very solid Texas A&M-Kingsville squad, so the Wolves certainly have the talent to take down West Florida. The Argos are looking to make their mark in GSC play for 2023, the first GSC game of young coach Kaleb Nobles career. Last year, West Florida put on an offensive show in the second half of the UWG/UWF showdown, and we should see more of the same. The Wolves are only out-gaining their opponents by 53 yards this season and outscoring them by less than a point. West Georgia will have to execute a nearly flawless game plan to take down the Argos at home, but in the GSC, anything is possible.

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Harding at Henderson State, 7 p.m. ET | WATCH

One of the last games to kick off on this coming DII football Saturday will be well worth the wait. The No. 10 Bison head to No. 20 Henderson State in a showdown with significant GAC implications. Last year, the Reddies won a thriller 15-14 that played a big part in Harding missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015. There will be no love lost in Arkadelphia, Ark. on Saturday. 

We know the recipe for success for Harding. Per usual, this is the top rushing offense in DII football, which, per usual, is generating a ton of points — 53.7 per game to be precise. Five players have at least 119 yards rushing, and Blake Delacruz already has seven touchdowns. Henderson State does have the second-best rushing defense in the GAC (naturally Harding has the best) allowing a stingy 63.3 yards per game and a GAC-best one rushing touchdown. The Reddies, as always, have plenty of fire power and despite scoring 35.6 points per game thus far, it feels like we still haven't seen them at their best... and that's scary. Is this Harding defense the team it breaks out against? Don't expect a high-scoring affair, but this should come down to the final drive once again.

Four more to watch

  • North Greenville vs. Valdosta State: The Blazers are trying to right that Title Town ship and are off to a 3-0 start. The Crusaders are starting to turn some heads. This is an important game for both schools and the GSC standings.
  • New Haven at Franklin Pierce: The Chargers are tied atop the NE10, and as a 2022 tournament team, that comes with little surprise. The Ravens were 2-8 last year, so the fact that they are tied at 2-1 with New Haven lends a little extra intrigue to this one. 
  • Fayetteville State at Virginia Union: The reigning CIAA champion Broncos finally got their much-needed first win last week. Now, they need to regroup quickly for the undefeated Panthers. If Jada Byers is healthy, it could be a long day.
  • Nebraska-Kearney at Pittsburg State: The Ryan Held era is off to a slow start in Kearney, but a mega-upset over No. 3 Pittsburg State would right the ship pretty quickly. Sure, the Gorillas are undefeated and have been rolling the MIAA, but we all know when two MIAA teams go head-to-head, anything can happen.

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