Chuck Bitner

SAC Week 7 Preview

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Playoff Contenders
Now that we’re at mid season, it’s not too early to be thinking about the post season. This year, Super Region 2 has four conferences competing for the seven playoff spots so it’s going to be very competitive. Here is my view of the top contenders from each conference.

Records shown are overall record, followed by D2 record.
Wingate (5-0, 5-0) have not always been as impressive as I think they can be, but they’re winning close games and staying unbeaten. Huge game with Catawba this coming weekend.
Catawba (5-1, 4-1) suffered the tough loss to Carson-Newman but bounced back with a big OT win over North Greenville. Still have to play Wingate and Newberry.
Newberry (4-2, 3-1) unbeaten in SAC play. Got the big win at C-N but still have to play Wingate and Catawba. Only 9 D2 games could hurt.
Carson-Newman (4-2, 3-2) The Eagles are still in play for the post season but head to head losses to two other teams likely to be in contention will hurt

Bowie State (6-0, 6-0) Bowie State has been one of the most impressive teams in SR2 so far. They lead all of Division II in scoring offense with 54.3 points per game. They complete that with a defense that allows only 14.7 points per game.
Virginia State (5-0, 4-0) VSU opened the season with a win over FCS Norfolk State and a win at Winston-Salem State. The meeting with Bowie State on Saturday will probably be the game of the year in the CIAA.
WSSU (4-2, 4-2) The Rams lost to Bowie State and Virginia State but should still win the the South division title. If they do, a win in the CIAA Championship would keep them in contention for the playoffs.
Virginia Union (4-2, 4-2) The Panthers lost to LIU Post and WSSU but still have a chance to win the competitive north division. They have not yet played Bowie State or VSU.

Albany State (4-2, 4-2) The Rams have big wins over Valdosta State and Tuskegee. They’re still undefeated in SIAC play, Their losses are to North Greenville and West Georgia.
Benedict (3-2, 3-2) The Tigers are alive based on their record, but they don’t really look like a playoff team.
Tuskegee (4-2, 3-2) The win over FCS Alabama State was great, but it was a non-D2 game so it doesn’t help their playoff resume. They lost 61-0 to Findlay. When you lose by 61 to another D2 team, you’re probably not playoff material.

Delta State (5-1, 5-1) The Statesmen were looking like the favorites to win the GSC until they lost to West Alabama last week. They’re still looking like a good bet for the playoffs.
West Alabama (5-1, 5-0) They’re only loss is to FCS Samford in a thrilling 49-41 game. Most of the wins were lopsided, with the DSU win being the only margin less than 21 points.
West Georgia (5-1, 5-1) The only loss for the Wolves was to Delta State. They have a huge meeting with West Alabama on Saturday.
West Florida (4-1, 4-1) Good start to the season but all their toughest games are ahead of them. They still have to play UNA, Delta State, West Alabama and West Georgia.

If I had to pick the top seven right now...

1) West Alabama
2) Bowie State
3) Delta State
4) West Georgia
5) Wingate
6) Catawba
7) Virginia State

Ranking the SAC

Wingate – The Bulldogs ended up in a huge fight with a UNC Pembroke team that found it’s offense. Wingate survived, but this was a big scare against a team that was seemingly inferior. Wingate lives dangerously at times, but I do like a team that can repeatedly win close games.

Catawba – I moved the Indians back ahead of C-N this week after the gritty OT win over North Greenville. Lots of penalties and a few missed opportunities, but this an important bounce back win after the disappointing performance at C-N.

Newberry – The Wolves made it four wins in a row with a dominant victory at Lenoir-Rhyne. They deserve to be ahead of C-N based on head to head results, but still have only 3 D2 wins. They have Tusculum and Limestone at home before hitting the road for huge matchups with Wingate and Catawba.

Carson-Newman – The Eagles held on for a win at Limestone Saturday night to keep their post season hopes alive. The Eagles are still mistake prone at times, but are in position to put a winning streak together over the second half of the season. NGU looks to be the toughest matchup left on the schedule.

Limestone – The Saints battled Carson-Newman but for the first time this season, could not make the big second half plays that they needed to extend the game. The schedule continues to get harder. They host LR this weekend, then close out with Newberry, Catawba and Wingate.

Tusculum – LR got the best of them two weeks ago, but Tusculum seems to have more going for themselves when they play well. The Pioneers rediscovered their offense in a good performance against Mars Hill. They will likely be the underdog in all four remaining games.

Mars Hill - The Lions have lost three in a row and last week’s performance at Tusculum was disappointing. The Lions could not get their offense going and continued to have problems with turnovers. The next three games are at home, but they may be the underdog in all three.

Lenoir-Rhyne – Every time I think LR may be turning a corner, they trip over it. The Bears didn’t get the on board in their homecoming game until Newberry had already put the game out of reach by scoring 28 unanswered. The running game was stuffed and the passing game is still too inconsistent to carry the offense.

All games are in-conference this week, so we have just four games on the schedule and for the first time this year, most of the games are early afternoon kickoffs.

Carson-Newman (4-2, 2-2) at Mars Hill (2-4, 1-3) 1:00
Mars Hill comes back home for just the third time this season as they host Carson-Newman in attempt to snap a three game losing streak. Each of three losses has been different. The offense had a hard time with Catawba’s defense but moved the ball very well against Limestone. Last week’s outing at Tusculum was just a disaster. The normally effective passing game completed only 14 of 34 passes and the running game was not a lot better. The Lions averaged a season-low (excluding the FCS game) 4.8 yards per play.

Getting back on track is going to be really difficult. Carson-Newman I second in the SAC in total defense and first in rush defense. They’ve been slightly more vulnerable in pass defense, and that is a potential opportunity for Mars Hill. However, the Eagles do lead the league with nine interceptions and have 14 sacks as well. Mars Hill struggles with pass rush and C-N loves to bring pressure.

Carson-Newman still struggles with mistakes at times. They had 12 penalties for 129 yards at Limestone last week and were fortunate to overcome them. As long as they don’t hurt themselves, the league’s best rushing offense should have a big day against the SAC’s worst rush defense.

Carson-Newman 38 Mars Hill 21

Tusculum (3-3, 1-2) at Newberry (4-2, 2-0) 1:00
Tusculum hits the road after a two week home stand that delivered vastly different results. The Pioneers were mostly inept in a loss to LR two weeks ago, but very impressive in a victory over Mars Hill last Saturday night. They will be attempting to end Newberry’s in-conference winning streak, which currently How this game plays out depends entirely on how much offense Tusculum brings. If they show up with the kind of offense they had last week against Mars Hill and a few weeks ago at Pembroke, this will be a good game. If they bring the flaccid offense that played Limestone and Lenoir-Rhyne, they’ll have no chance.

The matchups when Tusculum has their offense on the field are interesting. The Pioneers have a good passing game but the rushing attack is not very strong. Statistically, Newberry is better at stopping the pass than the rush. They first in the SAC in pass defense but 6th in rush defense . It is worth noting that they’ve played a couple of triple option teams that don’t throw the ball much. In reality, Newberry’s defense is pretty darn stiff.

Tusculum has been inconsistent on offense and I think that will show its head again this week. Newberry has allowed 7 points or less in three of the last four games. That may become four of the last five. I think Newberry’s D will keep it low scoring and the offense seems to be getting a little better each week. Greg Ruff took a bulk of the snaps last week at QB and looked good. If he has another solid afternoon I think Newberry wins by double digits.

Newberry 24 Tusculum 10

Wingate (5-0, 2-0) at Catawba (5-1, 1-1) 1:30
Wingate makes the short trip to Catawba Saturday afternoon for what should be one of the top games of the entire season in the SAC. The Bulldogs remain tied at the top of the SAC standings with Newberry, while Catawba is a game behind with a 1-1 conference record. This is a critical game for both teams, but even more for Catawba. The Indians cannot afford to lose another SAC game.

The Bulldogs need look no further than this season’s goals to be inspired, but if the need a little extra motivation, they may want to recall last year’s meeting. The Bulldogs were 3-0 when an ailing Catawba team visited Irwin Belk and thumped the home team, leading by as much as 35 late in the fourth quarter. I’m sure a few Bulldogs still have a bad taste in their mouths from that one.

Statistically, the two teams are very close. Catawba still has the best defense in the SAC in terms of points allowed, but Wingate’s D is very solid too, particularly against the run. Catawba has an efficient passing game led by Patrick O’Brien and his top targets Sam Mobley and Keyon West, but Wingate has a very good chance to make them one dimensional with the run stopping defense. If they can do that, then the game rests on how well Wingate can run the ball.

Wingate averages nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. If they get to that number on Saturday, I think they will win. A powerful running game was what allowed North Greenville to come back from a 2-0 deficit at Catawba last week. The Crusaders ran for 165 yards, with a bulk of it the second half. It felt like their rushing attack had taken control of the game, and it nearly carried them to victory.

But in close games, penalties, turnovers and special teams are huge factors. Here are a couple of things to consider…
Penalties: Catawba has been penalized 35 times for 290 yards, Wingate 47 times for 414 yards
Turnovers: Both teams are in plus territory with turnovers. Catawba is +7, Wingate is +5. Wingate is among the top teams in the nation in the giveaway department with only 5.
Returns: Both teams have deadly return men. Wingate’s BJ Muckelvene is exciting every time he gets the ball and Catawba has Sam Mobley and Kenyata Green for kickoffs and punts.
Kicking game: Both teams have kickers that very accurate under 40 yards. In a game where points will be precious, coming away with three points where possible could be a big difference.

This is a toss up contest and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Both teams are very well rounded. I think Wingate is slightly better at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and I think is where this game will be won. I picked Wingate to win the SAC so I’ll stay with them.

Wingate 24 Catawba 21

Lenoir-Rhyne (2-4, 1-3) at Limestone (3-3, 2-1) 6:00
I said last week that LR’s path to victory over Newberry was to run the ball with authority. That’s how they beat North Greenville and Tusculum. But the Bears were totally unable to do it. Newberry allowed just 2.6 yards per rush and a total of 89 yards on the ground. Limestone’s stats took a hit with a big rushing performance by Carson-Newman, but they are a good defensive front. I think they have tools to keep LR from establishing a consistent running game, and when the Bears can’t run, they can’t win. The passing game just isn’t efficient enough to carry the team and they still struggle to throw beyond the sticks.

To complicate things, Limestone’s offense – which had already been productive – is starting to be more consistent. I think the Saints will be able to hit the big plays that were missing last week against Carson-Newman. Watch for receivers D’Anta Fleming (7 TDs) and Vyncint Smith (14.7 yards per catch) to have a big impact on this game. If it is close, the Saints have a big weapon in PK Nick Smith who is 6 for 7 this and has hit two from over 50 yards.

Limestone 27 Lenoir-Rhyne 21

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Updated 10-13-2017 at 10:49 AM by Chuck Bitner

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  1. Cat U Fan's Avatar
    Pretty close to my picks, though I don't expect the CN / Limestone game to be that close. I hope we're both wrong about Wingate and Catawba. Don't know if you're in the press box tomorrow, but if you're in the stands come by and say hi. My fellow Chiefs Club board member and I will be sitting next to top row right below corner of press box (side nearest gym). We'll likely have blue Chiefs Club shirts and blue hats (mine with arrowhead logo). Safe travels, and thanks for the great analysis.
  2. Kit-Carson's Avatar
    I always enjoy reading your analysis. I look forward to seeing it every week.

    I especially liked your assessment of LR this week. I think you are bang on with that one. Regarding Wingate and Catawba, I really think that one will come down to who makes more drive ending/extending mistakes and turnovers. It may just boil down to who shows up and wants it more in the second half of play. That will be an exciting game.

    Thanks for all you do.