Chuck Bitner

SAC Week 10 Preview

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Regional Rankings
The second round of regional rankings was released this past Monday and for the second week in a row, the SAC has the honor of holding down the top spot by virtue of Wingate’s 8-0 start to the season. The Bulldogs and Virginia State are the only two teams in SR2 that are undefeated overall and, more importantly, against Division II opponents. The Trojans are ranked third behind 1-loss West Alabama. Catawba moved up one position this week, thanks to a loss from current #7 Delta State. DSU was fifth last week, two spots ahead of Catawba. Carson-Newman popped into the top 10 with a win over Tusculum. The Eagles were helped by a loss from Albany State who fell from 8th to unranked. Here is the complete top 10, with overall record and Division II record listed.

1. Wingate (8-0, 8-0)
2. West Alabama (7-2, 7-1)
3. Virginia State (8-0, 7-0)
4. West Georgia (7-2, 7-2)
5. Bowie State (8-1, 8-1)
6. Catawba (7-2, 6-2)
7. Delta State (6-3, 6-3)
8. Miles (6-3, 6-2)
9. Virginia Union (6-3, 6-3)
10. Carson-Newman (5-3, 5-3)

Assessing the Odds for the SAC

Wingate is obviously in the best position of any team. They probably need to win out to hold onto the top spot, but making the playoffs is not really in doubt. I think they’re already in. Even if they lose the last two, they should be safe. Having head to head wins over two other teams currently in the rankings helps.

Catawba got some help last week with Albany State and Delta State losing. The Indians are now up to 6th and that keeps them safely in the field. If they win the last two, they won’t need any help to make the field and that is a nice position to be in. They control their own destiny. A loss in the next two weeks would not necessarily eliminate them, but they would be very vulnerable and would need a lot of things to happen in their favor.

Carson-Newman entering the top 10 was a nice surprise. They need a lot of help to make their way into the tournament, but it’s not impossible. Some of the teams currently ranked ahead of them have difficult games left to play. Here is the quickest and easiest rout to the playoffs that I can see…
1) Carson-Newman wins their last two games against Lenoir-Rhyne and UNCP.

2) Wingate, West Alabama and Virginia State win out and lock down the top 3 spots. If that happens, Virginia Union will have lost to VSU, knocking them out of the picture. That’s one spot gained for Carson-Newman.

3) Delta State loses one of the next two (or both). The Eagles would then have a better record which should jump them ahead of DSU. That’s another spot gained for Carson-Newman.

4) Catawba loses one of the next two (or both). The Eagles have a head to head win over Catawba so if they finish with the same number of losses, C-N will be ranked ahead. That’s a third spot gained for Carson-Newman.

That would possibly put them in 7th. Now the variable is Miles, or the highest ranked SIAC team. Right now, the SIAC’s highest ranked team is Miles in 8th. That would be good enough to get them into the playoffs via the earned access rule. There are some things that could happen to keep the SIAC from having a team in the top 8 but more than likely, the SIAC champ will be top 8 worthy. If Carson-Newman lands in 7th, then they need the highest ranked SIAC team to be 6th or higher OR 9th or lower.

There are some small holes in those scenarios, one of which could be Florida Tech sneaking up, but there is a visible path into the playoffs for Carson-Newman and that’s all they need for now.

Three SAC teams in the playoffs?

As an advocate for the South Atlantic Conference, my interest is in seeing as many SAC teams in the playoffs as possible. So, with three teams currently in the rankings, is there a path to 3 entries for the SAC? Probably not. We’d need a lot of things to work out in our favor. But let’s give it a shot…

1) Wingate wins out and takes the top spot
2) West Alabama wins out and takes the second position
3) Virginia State beats Virginia Union on Saturday and wins the CIAA championship next week. A VSU win this weekend will knock Virginia Union out of the picture, which is critical for C-N. A win in the CIAA championship keeps the south division champ from creeping into the frame.
4) Delta State loses to North Greenville, but beats Florida Tech. The Statesmen started off the year 5-0 but have lost 3 of the last 4, so another loss could happen. They are at North Greenville this Saturday, then home against Florida Tech. I prefer a loss to NGU and a win over FIT to keep Florida Tech from having a claim to the rankings.
5) West Georgia loses one of both of their remaining games.
6) ECSU upsets Bowie State this weekend. Bowie State would still have a better record than C-N but could be vulnerable. Bowie State may also be able to add an 11th game at the 11th hour if they are not in the CIAA championship, although it may not really help them to do so.
7) The highest ranked SIAC team is 9th or lower. It’s unlikely, but could happen if Fort Valley loses to Albany State this weekend but wins the SIAC title next week.

If some of these things happen, it could be possible for all three SAC teams to make their way in. I think that is unlikely but we can hope. There are also some holes in those scenarios. By virtue of some ranked teams losing, others like West Florida, Florida Tech and North Greenville could boost their stock and potentially jump ahead of teams that are currently ranked. But the most immediate goal would be for teams like Delta State, West Georgia, Bowie State and Virginia Union to lose and hopefully open the door for Carson-Newman to move up far enough to be in, and avoid being bumped by earned access.

Bonus – North Greenville

NGU isn’t an SAC member, but they’ve been a scheduling partner for several seasons so let’s take a look at their prospects as well.
The Crusaders are currently 4-3 against Division II. The best they can do is 6-3 against D2 and six wins may not be enough when compared to other three loss teams. What they do have in their favor is very good OWP and that is going to continue to improve. Their final two games are against Delta State and West Alabama. If they could win both of those games, I think they’re going to have a chance. They’d have head to head wins over three teams currently in the rankings (Delta State, West Alabama and Carson-Newman) and historically, the committees have placed a high value on head to head results. Just winning those last two games would be a huge accomplishment, but it’s not out of the question that a pair of wins could net them a playoff spot. How’s that for motivation for a big finish?

If you’re a Carson-Newman fan, you want North Greenville to win this week to help knock Delta State down, but if that does happen, you want them to lose next week at West Alabama. Remember, NGU has a head to head win over C-N so the Crusaders would probably move ahead of the Eagles if both teams finish with three losses.

Ranking the SAC

1. Wingate: With two games left to play in the conference schedule, the Bulldogs have already secured a share of the SAC championship. One win in the next two weeks will give them the outright title. They’re at the top of the SR2 regional rankings and this week they achieved the highest national ranking in program history.

2. Catawba: The Indians’ season was in jeopardy last week but they responded well with a big second half performance to win at Limestone. Moving up to #6 in SR2 puts them in a much safer place to make the post season but there is still no margin for error.

3. Carson-Newman: The Eagles managed the difficult weather conditions last week and the reward was an appearance the SR2 top ten. The defense is looking good and that is a big plus because the last two opponents are not strong offensive teams. They should be heavily favored to win both.

4. Limestone: Limestone is the only SAC team that will send the season this Saturday. A win would get them to .500 overall and over .500 in conference play, which would be phenomenal for this young program. The bad news is that the last game is at Wingate.

5. Tusculum: Last week as a disaster. The Pioneers didn’t handle the conditions well, but the real problem was having no answers for Carson-Newman’s defense. They have a week off to prepare for the finale next week at home against Wingate.

6. Newberry: The Wolves did a nice job of getting off the deck a couple of times last week, but they also gave Wingate too many opportunities to keep them at arm’s length. The Wolves now have to win the last two to have a winning season, which is not the position they expected to be in at the start of the year. The defense hasn’t been as strong as expected and the offense has had too much instability.

7. Mars Hill: The Lions were off last week and now close out with UNCP and Newberry. I give them a chance in both games. They have what it takes to outscore both opponents. I really want to see them come out focused and ready to play their best football this week after the bye. They really need to win this week.

8. Lenoir-Rhyne: I thought LR could end the season with a nice run, but they blew it last week against an ailing UNCP team that had lost five in a row. After a quality win at Limestone and the bye week, I thought they could prove that they’d turned the corner, but they clearly have not. The offense could only muster 209 total yards and 10 points.

Week 10 Schedule

UNCP (2-6) at Mars Hill (2-6, 1-5) 1:00

It’s a little hard to sell a meeting of 2-6 teams as an exciting matchup, but I think this will be a fun game to see. It is a strength-against-strength and weakness-against-weakness kind of game. UNCP is good on defense but weak on offense. Mars Hill is good on offense but weak on defense.

Mars Hill really needs this game. They’ve had a long dry spell since their last win on September 16. They’ve been a contender in every game except the last one against Wingate, which gives me some confidence that they can hang in this one. Mars Hill has the offense to move the ball against a good defense. What would swing the game in UNCP’s favor is turnovers. If Mars Hill avoids costly turnovers, I think they will get back in the win column.

Mars Hill 23 UNCP 21

Newberry (4-5, 2-3) at Catawba (7-2, 3-2) 1:30
The pressure is on for Newberry to secure a winning season in 2017. The Wolves were the coaches’ preseason pick to win the SAC, but currently have a losing record overall and in conference play. The SAC title and playoff bid that were expected coming into the season are off the table, but a losing record would be even more difficult to accept.

Hopefully, having a winning season on the line is a motivating factor for the Wolves to practice hard and prepare well all week, because their opponent should have no difficulty with motivation. The Indians are already in position to make the playoffs and just need to win to secure their spot.

Newberry is still struggling for identity on offense and I think that plays into the hands of a stingy Catawba defense. With so much on the line, I don’t see Catawba being upset but they will have to work for it. Catawba has been more pass-heavy in recent weeks but I’d like to see them work on establish the run with the alternating duo of Eamon Smart and Kenyatta Greene and really put the pressure on Newberry’s front seven.

Catawba 27 Newberry 20

Carson-Newman (6-3, 4-2) at Lenoir-Rhyne (3-5, 2-3) 2:00

I thought the Eagles’ playoff hopes had been snuffed out with the loss to North Greenville a couple of weeks back, but as it turns out, they’re still very much alive. As talked about previously, their prospects aren’t great, but they have a chance. They have a chance, and they have a poor performance last year against LR to atone for. Carson-Newman lost at home to Lenoir-Rhyne a year ago in what was one of the team’s worst performances of the year.
LR should be angry about last week’s performance at UNCP, and this is their final home game of the season. A pair of wins to close the season could still get them to .500 but I don’t see them winning this one. Carson-Newman’s defense is playing as well as they have all year. They carried the team through difficult weather conditions last week and I expect them to handle LR’s inconsistent offense. The Bears are at their best when they can establish the run by C-N has the best run defense in the SAC. I don’t think LR can score enough to win this game.

Carson-Newman 24 Lenoir-Rhyne 10

Limestone (4-5, 3-3) at #15 Wingate (8-0, 5-0) 6:00
Wingate should be about to kick off a whole new season in a couple of weeks when playoffs begin, but this is it for Limestone. The Saints’ 10 game season comes to a close on Saturday night but there is a lot to play for. This is only the fourth year of existence for Limestone Football and they have an
opportunity to keep raising the bar for how they measure success. The program record for wins in a season was achieved last year, with five total. They can’t beat that this year but they can finish the program’s first .500 or better season, and a win on Saturday would give them a winning record in
conference play, in their first season as an SAC member. Limestone has been a tough out all year long and with those goals to shoot for, they’ll be a tough opponent again Saturday night for Wingate.

The problem for Limestone is that Wingate seems very well focused right now. They very nearly stumbled against an inferior UNCP team, but that got their attention. They came back from that with two of their best performances of year at Mars Hill and against Newberry. Limestone will push them, but I think Wingate keeps the undefeated season going.

Wingate 31 Limestone 21

Critical SR2 games

Here is a look at some other important games around Super Region 2 that will have major impact on the playoff rankings.

Miles at Tuskegee 1:00 (SIAC)
The winner of this game will play Fort Valley State next Saturday for the SIAC championship. The SIAC is not in a good position right now. As SAC fans, we selfishly want what is best for us and that would mean the SIAC not having a team in the top 8 to make the tournament. We want a SIAC champion with the weakest candidacy for the playoffs. Tuskegee is 7-2 overall, but has two FCS wins which are not counted in their Division II record. Miles is the better candidate right now, so a Tuskegee win would be good.

Virginia Union at #17 Virginia State 2:00 (CIAA)
For the SAC’s purposes, we want Virginia State to win this one. They’re already a solid playoff contender will be even with a loss. We want them to win to knock VUU out of the way for Carson-Newman.

#19 West Georgia at Florida Tech 1:00 (GSC)

West Georgia is ranked so a loss would be good for Catawba and Carson-Newman. But this does get complicated. Florida Tech has Delta State after this and if they win both games, they could throw their name in the hat as well. More on that later, but in the immediate, a Florida Tech win over West Georgia would be good for the SAC.

Delta State at North Greenville 1:30 (GSC v. Independent)

As mentioned, Delta State has lost three of the last four. One more loss will doom their playoff aspirations, and that would be good for Carson-Newman. We want NGU to win this one, BUT if you’re a C-N fan, remember that NGU has a head to head win over you so you would want the Crusaders to help you this week, but lose next week at West Alabama.

#22 West Alabama at Valdosta State 2:00 (GSC)

Valdosta has had a tough season, but they have won three in a row making this a very interesting game. West Alabama may be the best team in SR2, but a lot rides on this game. I think they would stay in the top 7 even if they lose, so a loss doesn’t necessarily help the SAC in the immediate.

Fort Valley v. Albany State 2:00 (SIAC)
Fort Valley has already locked up the SIAC east division and will play for the SIAC championship next week against the winner of the Miles v. Tuskegee game. Fort Valley is currently 5-2 against D2. A loss to Albany State would weaken their case if they happen to win the SIAC title next week, so an Albany State win is the desirable outcome for SAC fans.

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Updated 11-02-2017 at 12:09 PM by Chuck Bitner

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