Kris Ferguson

CIAA - NCAA Playoffs Week 1

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Last weekend was a jaw dropper. I’m not referring to the CIAA Championship game which featured an overmatched Fayetteville State team; instead, the playoffs selections were made on Sunday and the committee selected an astounding FOUR Gulf South Conference schools for playoff slots. The selections were pretty disheartening for Catawba and Tuskegee in particular, as West Florida’s win over West Georgia catapulted the Argonauts from the 10th seed to the 6th seed. The UWF-UWG game resulted in the UWG Wolves falling to the 7th seed.

Last week’s playoff selection also revealed that Virginia State moved up to the second seed after Wingate’s loss, and Bowie State rose up a slot to fourth. It was pretty much known that VSU was going to get a home game should it win out; however, Bowie had been living on the edge of having to travel in the first round until the very last week. Last week’s finished resulted in Bowie earning its first ever home playoff game. The CIAA last had multiple teams earn playoff home games in 2011 (a season which actually saw Elizabeth City actually travel to California PA because they had not submitted a bid for a home game even though they were the higher seed).
Ladies and gentlemen, this year’s playoff is a bigger deal than recent years. The committee has shown us that you can’t lose more than two games if you’re not in the Gulf South conference. This game will really show us if the CIAA can compete against middle-of-the-road GSC schools.

#7 West Georgia (8-3, D2football.com #25) @ #2 Virginia State (10-0, AFCA #11, D2football.com #13)

VSU’s Playoff History (2nd appearance, last was in 2014 where they won at home versus LIU-Post, then lost at Bloomsburg in the second round).

This is a very intriguing matching for the fact that UWG doesn’t seem to travel to CIAA schools. Since 2010, UWG has played three CIAA schools (Fayetteville State in 2015, JC Smith in 2014, and Saint Augustine’s in 2010) at home and demolished them. So, this is a bit of unchartered territory for the Wolves. UWG is a team that leans on their defense quite a bit. The passing defense gives up the 6th fewest yards in the country; the rushing defense is no slouch either as it gives up 131 yards a game. VSU should have their hands full on defense. UWG tends to favor the pass, but RB Devontae Jackson (the 2017 GSC Offensive Player of the Year) can run the ball rather effectively. Actually, when you consider Jackson's accomplishments (986 yards rushing, 191 yards receiving, and 373 return yards), then you are likely to be reminded of a certain individual who just happens to be lining up on at the same position for Virginia State.

This may be a good game in which VSU uses RB Trenton Cannon in two ways – as a primary playmaker and as a decoy. An over dependence on Cannon will likely spell doom upon the Trojans. VSU also will need to exert some ball control (likely with Cordelral Cook and Cannon) to keep the UWG offense off the field, and guard against the deep ball that QB Willie Candler sometimes likes to deploy.

This is a winnable game for VSU. Neither team is trending up right now. UWG has been in some dogfights in the last few weeks, while VSU has had some lapses on offense in their last three games. One apparent weakness could be penalties, as UWG commits a lot of them. Overall, I think this is a terrible matchup for VSU because UWG is a very dangerous seventh seed who can be either very hot or very cold. I expect this to be a close game, but I’m not sold that VSU can win if UWG brings their A game. The main reason why is that I expect UWG’s defensive game plan to make VSU one-dimensional, and I’m not positive that VSU can outmuscle the Wolves in the air.

#5 Delta State (8-3) @ #4 Bowie State (9-1, AFCA #14, D2football.com #19)

Bowie’s playoff history (3rd appearance, 0-2, last lost at Assumption in 2015).

2017 common opponent – Chowan (DSU won 42-13, BSU won 41-10).
Delta’s playoff history versus the CIAA – In 2006, Delta won at ECSU in the first round (17-10), then beat top seeded NC Central on the road the following week (24-17). The following year, Delta defeated Shaw at home, and it wasn’t even close (45-7).

Delta and Bowie make for quite an exciting matchup. Bowie is the nation’s most productive offense in total yards and points scored. The Bulldogs make a living outscoring people to sleep. Delta State is a school that historically has prevailed against the CIAA, and makes their living on the ground. Delta has a very good running back in Chris Robinson who can attack the defenses rather effectively. Robinson is a 1000 yard rusher this year. Delta has quite a bit of team speed on defense, and that shows in the Statesmen giving up only 98 rushing yards a game. If there’s one thing Bowie has shown, its that their offense is very adept at changing their identity on the fly, as they have beaten teams through the air (Seton Hill, Shaw, Saint Augustine’s), on the ground (Winston-Salem, Elizabeth City), and through a mix of the two (Chowan, Virginia Union).
Where I struggle with this pick is with Bowie’s defense. The Bulldogs were exposed for 47 points against Virginia State and a lot of the damage was done on the ground. Bowie seems to hold their own against passing teams, but the rushing teams that have a capable pass offense are the ones that seem to catch them up. Many of the CIAA’s teams have one dimensional offenses and thus I do think that this will be the second time this year that Bowie’s defense will really be tested.

Nonetheless, I this is the CIAA’s more favorable playoff matchup. Bowie has the offense to keep pace, but the issue will be whether the veteran offensive line can give Amir Hall time to make decisions to get the ball to either RB Robert Chesson or the plethora of receivers. My biggest concern though, is whether the Bowie defense is up to the challenge? I think I’m going against the popular wisdom, because I have to see it to believe it.

Fayetteville State (6-5)


I want to take a brief moment on congratulating FSU on a great season. FSU finally got over the hump and made it to the championship game, which was a feat within itself. The Broncos just didn’t have enough offense, and the defense eventually broke against Virginia State in the second half. There’s a lot for the Broncos to build on for next year. FSU gave us a lot of memorable moments this year, culminating in the last play of the Championship game. Even though the game was out of reach, QB Richard Latimer threw a TD pass to WR Curtis Burstin III on the last play of the game. I thought that TD pass served notice that FSU isn’t going down without a fight, just like it had in many of their games. I hope that FSU 1. gets more help on defense, and 2. gets UNC-Pembroke back on the schedule, because I think they are now capable of beating the Braves. This is a young team with a lot of talent that could take the next step if done right.

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Updated 11-17-2017 at 10:08 PM by Kris Ferguson

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  1. TheBraveWolf's Avatar
    This will be an interesting match up to see if our GSC teams can stack up to the CIAA teams... UWG has to have their A game so to speak to pull this one out... But we seems to pick it up a notch during the second season of playoffs....Got to keep the penalties down...