Jake Riepma

National Championship Preview

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On the verge of completing the winningest season in Division II football history, Ferris State faces arguably its toughest test yet.

on Saturday (Dec. 15) at the McKinney ISD Stadium, in McKinney, Texas, the 15-0 Ferris State Bulldogs will take on the 14-0 Valdosta State Blazers in the 2018 NCAA Division II National Championship Game.

When the dust settles on Saturday, one team will have earned the right to declare themselves the undefeated, undisputed DII National Champions.

The history on the line in this game for Ferris State has been well documented, but it’s worth repeating – the Bulldogs could become the only team in DII history to complete a 16-0 record as well as the only Division II institution to win the National Championship in basketball and football in the same calendar year. Neat!

The Matchup: Ferris State and Valdosta State have never met on the gridiron before Saturday. Both teams are loaded with all kinds of firepower on offense including Harlon Hill Finalists at the quarterback position of each respective offense in Jayru Campbell for FSU and Rogan Wells for VSU. Ferris State’s defense has been opportunistic all season long in forcing turnovers including three last week versus a very good Minnesota State (Mankato) team, and in VSU’s national semifinal win over Notre Dame College last week, the Blazers uncharacteristically committed a costly turnover and went just one for nine on third down attempts. The nation’s top scoring offense will need to tidy up a few areas of the offense in order to put its best foot forward against Ferris State.

Championship History: Valdosta State is making its fifth trip to NCAA DII Finals game and are 3-1 with appearances in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2012. VSU won titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012, while Ferris State is making its first trip to the championship game.

X-Factors: Everything starts with both team's Harlon Hill Finalist quarterbacks in Jayru Campbell and Rogan Wells. But keep an eye on FSU senior wide receiver Malik Taylor who returned to the Bulldog’s lineup last week for the first time this season after being sidelined for all of the 2018 campaign with an injury. He made his presence known with a 27-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and I think that’s a sign of things to come for Taylor. When a team is playing its 16th game of the season, physical wear and tear is inevitable, and Taylor’s fresh body could provide a huge boost to this already potent offense. Oh, and Dion Earls is as explosive as they come and a matchup nightmare for any defense, so I have to mention him as well. VSU will have its hands full in trying to defend Ferris State’s team speed. For Valdosta State, I believe the Blazers will go as far as Wells will take them. He’s already lead Valdosta State to the top ranked scoring offense in the country, and in order to complete the undefeated national championship season, the Blazers will need to light up that scoreboard on Saturday and Wells will need some help in doing so. VSU's big play wide out Lio'undre Gallimorei is third in the country in yards per reception and the Blazers will need a few big plays out of him on Saturday.

Experience Factor: Last week’s win for Ferris State marked the 300th career win for head coach Tony Annese. Since Annese took over the FSU program seven season ago, the Bulldogs are 75-14 including a 60-7 mark in the last five years. The Bulldogs have reached the National Quarter finals three times and the national semifinals once. Meanwhile, VSU head coach Kerwin Bellis in his third season at the helm of the Blazers. Bell is 26-7 at VSU and is 92-42 overall in 12 seasons of coaching, including nine seasons at the University of Jacksonville, where he went 66-35. Bellis and his staff are experiencing a deep postseason run for the first time together, but so far so good!

What I’m Expecting: A good ole’ fashioned shootout! A slugfest! Whatever you want to call it, I’m anticipating a lot of points in this game given the two offenses and the warmer weather and friendlier playing conditions.

My Pick: So far this playoff season I’ve picked Ferris State to win twice and lose twice, and obviously they’ve been perfect to this point. On the biggest of stages with everything on the line, so many times games come down to one or two plays, I expect that to be the case on Saturday, and when push comes to shove, I think this FSU team is most capable of making the biggest plays when it matters the most, Ferris State wins it in a shootout.

Regardless, and probably most importantly, no matter what happens we are all winners after this weekend because the season will officially be completely over and no one will need to continue suffering through my forgettable columns.

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Updated 12-13-2018 at 06:00 PM by Jake Riepma

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