USF won the big one, then they won the four not so big ones. Now, another big one.
Winona State is probably not the same challenge that St. Cloud State was, but they’re a legit, top-half NSIC team with high-caliber talent. They’re 4-1, with their one loss coming 38-16 to UMD. And they’ll be at home Saturday against the Cougars.
USF is in position for a playoff spot if the season ended today, but one loss could seriously threaten their chances. The region is so packed that any more than one loss and your chances of making the tournament are in trouble.
I definitely don’t think USF runs the table this year, and even 10-1 seems unlikely. There’s a good chance they’re going to be on the bubble by the end of the regular season.
But I think they improve to 6-0 today. Winona has never played USF before, and in the past that has almost always worked in the Cougars’ favor.
I expect USF to come out prepared because they tend to play well as underdogs or against teams they feel a need to prove themselves to.
Winona surely understands they face a challenge, what with the Cougars ranked 23rd in the nation, but I still think they’re going to have trouble preparing.
Warrior running back Rayon Simmons is having a huge year and will be one of the best players a USF team has ever faced. The Winona QB, John Teigland, is also a good player. He’s a transfer from UNO.
This is a dangerous offense that is really going to allow Jon Anderson to find out how good his unit is. But the Warrior defense is less impressive, and USF is coming off a 41-point, 500-yard night.
This would be a huge, huge win for USF, and I think they get it.
Prediction: Cougars 34, Warriors 28
Augustana is 2-3 after last week’s frustrating road loss to Wayne State, and while I’m sure they’re avoiding talking about it (as of late Thursday night no luck getting Mike Aldrich to answer his phone), their playoff hopes are basically over. They’d have to win out to go 8-3, and 8-3 just isn’t going to do it in this region.
But 90 percent of the teams in the nation don’t make the playoffs, so there’s hardly reason to pretend the season is over. The Vikings can still compete for a division title and potentially play spoiler (more on that as it develops), but for right now, they just need to get some positive vibes going.
If they have a bad week this week, things could start to snowball and get ugly, but if they respond and find a way to knock off the team that is, right now, the best in the NSIC, it could change the outlook of their season.
MSU-Mankato is the only other undefeated team in the conference besides USF, and they’re a tough matchup, with a dominant ground game and dominant defense.
The Mavericks have clearly used the controversial suspension of coach Todd Hoffner as a rallying point, and look like a good bet to repeat as South Division champs. Their last two meetings with the Vikings have been very intense, close games that went right down to the wire.
There’s really no good reason to pick the Vikings in this one, except for the fact that they’re home, it’s homecoming, and I don’t see them packing it in.
As tough as the schedule is for Augie, this is the perfect time to play a team like Mankato. The best way to breathe life back into this team is with a quality win against a ranked opponent. They’re due.
Prediction: Vikings 21, Mavericks 17