By Jeffrey Newholm
Most of the fun from college football comes from the gratuitous hype. Every game is everything and even ho-hum middling squads play to crazed sold-out fans. d3 is not quite that. In fact, even the nation’s attendance leader may not fill up one game at The Big House. But there’s definitely one feature in common: top dominance. In FBS, only a handful of schools are authentic contenders for the playoffs. (And we know Alabama and Clemson will participate). In d3 it is true that 32 teams make the playoff. But again in 2018, the wire-to-wire top two advanced to the Stagg Bowl final in Shenandoah, Texas. 13 time and defending champion Mount Union rides a 29 game winning streak against threepeat finalist Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Mount Union 20 year dynasty
Private Methodist Mount Union advances to its 21st final on the strength of an aggressive defense. It has scored an astonishing 15 touchdowns while allowing just 19 (and four of them were by the second unit in an already won playoff blowout). With this being the school’s 13th Stagg Bowl appearance in 14 years, just making the game isn’t enough. With Alliance, Ohio placing the team against weaker east region teams, the Purple Raiders easily advanced to Shenandoah with but one close contest. Offense is a bit of a question, however, with quarterback D’Angelo Fulford playing inconsistently. Fans may also feel ambivalent about his success given the cloud of an arrest that obscured his 2017 postseason.
Mary Hardin-Baylor breakthrough
Football is king in Texas. Fitting, then, that the zealous Crusaders are the south’s best d3 program. For 10 years Mary Hardin-Baylor dominated the south region, only to inevitably trip up in the playoffs. An inspired 2016 team finally slayed the Raider beast in the semifinals before winning its first title against UW-Oshkosh. The team returned last season but couldn’t generate enough offense to even score against Mount Union. That problem seems to be fixed, with the Cru scoring over 70 points five times this campaign. With the game just three hours away from campus, the school has planned a huge celebration to be topped only by another win.
Setting an example
Fans tend to complain about the lack of parity at the top of college football. But consistent excellence is nothing to criticize. Mount Union and Mary Hardin-Baylor are now the two established leaders of a sport. Although some teams aren’t too far behind, having two dominant teams establishes an orderly hierarchy of excellence. And that’s the beauty of football: the process through which young men find confidence in an established cultural activity. And that’s a positive all 250 d3 programs can find success in, although just two of them currently wave the flag of success.