Stagg Bowl XLIII Preview

The site of the 2015 Stagg Bowl, Salem Stadium (author photo)

 

By: Jeffrey Newholm

 

For this writer, the biggest football game of December is definitely the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Before I  go any further, I should explain what the heck the Stagg Bowl is. Amos Alonzo Stagg was one of the pioneers of college football, coaching at the University of Chicago back when they were in the Big Ten. When the NCAA decided to start sponsoring division three, they named the new football championship game after him. D3 teams play ten regular season games, and then 32 teams battle through the five week playoffs to see who takes home the trophy in Salem, Virginia. This year my Alma Mater Whitewater, a six time winner and nine time participant, didn’t make it, but that’s no excuse not to preview this game for a wider audience.

 

 

In D3 there are no scholarships and very little chance to go pro, so these players play football for the love of the game and to better them physically and mentally. Because D3 football is not a big revenue sport, there are very rarely scandals of ineligible players or academic fraud. It’s good clean fun—and Stagg Bowl XLIII (43 for those bad with roman numerals) promises to be a titanic matchup between clearly the best two teams in the country: St. Thomas and Mount Union. I’ll do a capsule on each participant, then boldly predict the winner.

 

The Tommies were in a jubilant mood the last time they went to the Stagg Bowl (pictured here in the 2012 semifinals) and they could be feeling even better Friday night. Credit: Rosie Murphy/TommieMedia

 

St. Thomas Tommies

Fans have often complained about a lack of variety in the Stagg Bowl, seeing as Mount Union and Whitewater haven taken up 20 of the last 22 spots. The other two have been claimed by St. Paul-based St. Thomas. In 2008 the Tommies finished 2-8 and then took a chance on little known Macalester coach Glenn Caruso. Since then, the Tommies have been a national power, going 87-13 and advancing to the 2012 and 2015 finals. The 2012 team was beaten soundly by Mount Union, but with lots of young talent it was assumed they would quickly be back. But the team had back to back disappointing years, not making the playoffs in 2013 and losing in the first round in 2014. But this year St. Thomas has reestablished its dominance, entering the Stagg Bowl 14-0 with only one game closer than 20 points. The strength of this team is definitely its running game, powered by national player of the year finalist David Simmet at tackle and workhorse running back Jordan Roberts. Roberts has become a national story as he transferred from D1 South Dakota to join the St. Thomas seminary and just happens to be a heck of a football player, seeing as he’s closing in on 2000 yards rushing this season. Caruso is known for having plenty of tricks up his sleeve, such as going for two in odd situations and faking a field goal in the 2012 Stagg Bowl, resulting in the team’s only touchdown. While the Tommies may not be a regular name yet in Salem, there’s no doubt they belong.

 

Mount Union has only lost one conference game since 1995 (pictured here in a 2014 blowout against Capital), but the Stagg Bowl is always a much stiffer challenge. Credit: Dan Poel, OhioSI.com

 

Mount Union Purple Raiders

Ohio-based Mount Union is to D3 what the Yankees are to MLB: the clear cut premier team in the league. The team has won eleven titles and appeared in 19 Stagg Bowls in the last 23 years, including 11 in a row. 11 straight appearances in the title game in a sport with over 200 members is one of the most unfathomable streaks still active, in my opinion. The only knock on the Raiders is that they couldn’t beat Whitewater, having gone undefeated against everybody else since 2009 and winless in five tries against the Warhawks, all of them in Salem. But this year the Raiders finally got that monkey off their backs, blowing out the Hawks 36-6 at home in the semifinals. Mount, like St. Thomas, is primarily a run-first team. Their answer to Roberts is Logan Nemeth, who has over 1,700 yards rushing and averages a staggering 7.6 yards per carry. But what really makes this particular Raider team so frightening is its defense. They have the #1 ranked defense in the country in points and yards, lead the nation with 63 sacks and give up a minuscule 1.4 yards per rush. Whitewater’s well respected running game proved to be no match for Mount’s defense, as the Hawks never even reached the red zone. Coach Larry Kehres won all eleven titles for the team, and this year his son Vince has a great chance to get his first as a head coach (although he was with the team in other capacities for ten previous titles).

 

My Prediction

I can’t emphasize enough that these are two powerhouse teams and no one knows for sure who will win. Out of 660 NCAA teams, St. Thomas and Mount Union are the only two to average more than 50 points per game and give up less than ten. Neither has had a close game all year. They were the top two seeded teams in the tournament, but making a bold prediction is more fun than chickening out, so I’m picking Mt. Union to win this game for two key reasons. The first is that the Raiders have an insane amount of game-time experience. The reason Mount Union and Whitewater have been dominant for so long is that going to the Stagg Bowl gives your roster five more weeks of practice and playing time than most teams in the field. Three Raiders will be playing in their 60th game, while 20 have played in over 30. The best way to get better at something is to do it more often, and no team in D3 has more opportunities to improve than Mount Union. The second reason is that the Raiders are much better at holding on to the ball than the Tommies. Mount has seven giveaways this season while St. Thomas has 22—a three to one edge. The Raiders have won their last 155 games when winning the turnover battle, last losing such a game in the 1995 semifinals. After turning the ball over numerous times in the last two Stagg Bowls against the Hawks, the Raiders didn’t turn it over at all last Saturday. So I feel pretty good about picking Mt. Union to win. But then again my bracket is in 398th place, so what the heck do I know?

 

You can follow me on Twitter @JeffreyNewholm and our blog @NutsAndBoltsSP.

 

 

Jeffrey Newholm
About Jeffrey Newholm 203 Articles
Hey there! I’m Jeff Newholm and depending on your point of view I’m blessed or cursed that my two favorite sports are outside the limelight. Being a UW-Whitewater grad (winter 2013) my first love was d3 college football, but over the last few years I have picked up a huge interest in woman’s basketball (Uconn being my favorite team as their 90 game winning streak helped show me how good a team can get in the woman’s game). I like all the sports everyone else likes (NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA basketball and football) but those two sports are where I really have a passion.
Contact: Twitter