What We're Watching: Bowls, FCS Semis and DII-DIII Championships

Two NCAA championships will be handed out this weekend, so for today's edition of What We're Watching we'll start with Division III and work our way up.

Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl - Mount Union (Ohio) vs. St. Thomas (Minn.) (7 p.m. ET Friday, ESPNU): This weekend's only match-up of undefeated teams pits Mount Union against St. Thomas in Salem, Va., for the Division III national championship. Mount Union has won 10 national titles under Larry Kehres and makes its eighth straight Stagg Bowl appearance. This year marks the first time since 2004 that someone other than Mount Union and Wisconsin - Whitewater squares off in the Stagg Bowl as Glenn Caruso looks to bring St. Thomas its first national title. Mary Hardin-Baylor was able to victimize the Mount Union defense for 162 rushing yards and four touchdowns in last week's semifinal, but the Purple Raiders still sit atop Division III's scoring offense and scoring defense rankings. St. Thomas will need a duplicate of last week's first quarter, when the Tommies jumped out to a 21-0 lead in its semifinal win over Wisconsin - Oshkosh.

Division II National Championship - Winston-Salem (N.C.) vs. Valdosta State (Ga.) (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Winston-Salem, the last team alphabetically in Division II, is also D2's only undefeated team left standing as the top-ranked Rams square off with Valdosta State in Florence, Ala. Winston-Salem, however, makes its Division II national title game debut, while Valdosta State will play in its fourth national championship game, with titles won in 2004 and 2007. Valdosta State (11-2) has won nine straight games and scored 35 points or more in six straight outings. Winston-Salem ranks in Division II's top eight in scoring offense and total defense and has played only three of its 14 games within one score.

FCS Semifinals - Georgia Southern at North Dakota State (8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2): This is a rematch of last year's semifinal match-up when North Dakota State ran over the Eagles 35-7 en route to the national championship. Georgia Southern finished the 2011 season ranked second nationally in rushing offense and were outrushed 314-186 by the Bison. Jeff Monken's team this year leads FCS in rushing (409.2 yards per game, 6.69 yards per carry, 53 touchdowns) back to the Fargo Dome to face a North Dakota State team that ranks second nationally in rushing defense (78.6 ypg, 2.68 ypc, three TDs), first in total defense (207.4 ypg, 3.97 ypp) and first in scoring defense (10.8 ppg).

FCS Semifinals - Sam Houston State at Eastern Washington (4 p.m. ET, ESPNU): Here's your trivia nugget of the weekend, and possibly the year: On Saturday, Sam Houston State will become the first team in college football to play on the blue turf at Boise State, the purple and gray striped turf at Central Arkansas and the bright red turf at Eastern Washington. The Bearkats may not see much of the red surface as snow is in the Cheney, Wash., forecast all weekend. Nevertheless, Eastern Washington is 7-0 at home this fall, including two playoff games. Quarterback Kyle Padron threw for 358 yards and six touchdowns in last week's 51-35 win over Illinois State, but Sam Houston State's boasts FCS's 12th-ranked scoring defense as well as the Southland Conference's leading rusher Tim Flanders (1,358 yards and 17 touchdowns) and pass efficiency leader Brian Bell (2,167 yards with 20 TDs and 6 INTs).

New Mexico Bowl - Nevada vs. Arizona (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): The bowl season kicks off with a border clash that has only occurred three times previously, most recently in 1941. Arizona has scored 34 or more in seven of its last eight games and features the Pac-12's best offense south of Eugene, ranking with college football's top 17 in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense. On the other side of the ball, Nevada's seventh-ranked rushing offense will attempt to run through a Wildcats defense that ranks 116th nationally. Nevada has topped 30 points in all but one game this season. Expect an old fashion, Wild West shootout, Nevada ranks 94th nationally in scoring defense while Arizona is 101st in the country. 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Toledo vs. Utah State (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): This is the first of a handful of bowls pitting non-AQ teams that won five or more conference games in 2012. After an overtime defeat at Arizona to open the season, Matt Campbell's team ripped off eight straight wins to play itself into MAC championship contention but consecutive losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois sent the Rockets to Boise. Utah State will poise the best challenge Toledo's offense has faced this season, ranking in the top 15 nationally in five defensive categories. The defense is keyed by an excellent secondary, led by the FootballScoop Defensive Backs Coaches of the Year in Bill Busch and Kendrick Shaver. Utah State won the final WAC championship, set a school record with 10 wins (its only defeats came 16-14 to Wisconsin and 6-3 to BYU) and made its first appearance in the AP poll in more than 50 years. 


The Boulder experience: Restoring the fight

When it comes down to the scenery, it's tough to beat the landscape and skyline of Boulder, Colorado.

As far as the program goes, while they've fallen on hard times recently, the Colorado program is one of the top 25 programs in the country in wins and they have also produced 26 conference titles.

Mike MacIntyre inherits a program that will require some initial rebuilding to fit his staff's style, but should be primed to do big things based on their tradition.

The video below highlights the Boulder experience, both in the Boulder community and the football program. At about the 6 minute mark, one former player explains what he learned while playing for the Buffs, and it all comes down to the word "fight".

"What I learned here on campus, what I learned here on that football field, on Folsom field and on that practice field stuck with me my entire life. Hard work. Discipline. Brotherhood. Sacrifice yourself for the team. Working to achieve something that I could never do by myself."

"When it comes down to you, as a player...How you can directly influence your teams success? How can you make sure that your team comes out on top?"

"I think 'fight' is a word that encompasses all of that. From the opening whistle to the last whistle, you're always fighting. You're not conceding a play, you're not conceding a yard, you're not allowing things to happen."

"You're imposing your will. You're not fighting back. The word is fight."

The Boulder Experience from @CU_Video on Vimeo.


Marian (IN) wins NAIA national championship in overtime

With four more college football divisions gearing up to play their championship games, let's hope they can all be as dramatic as the 57th Russell Athletic - NAIA Football National Championship played last night in Rome, Ga. Marian (Ind.) overcame a 20-10 deficit entering the fourth quarter to defeat Morningside (Iowa), 30-27 in overtime.

"We have guys who don't quit," said Marian head coach Ted Karras, Jr said after the game. "They're true believers, and a lot of them were pioneers. We only started football literally six years ago. We recruit guys who are hungry - hungry to play and hungry to get their degree - who have a never-say-die attitude. These are quality guys, who get their business done - on and off the field."

Down by 10 entering the final frame, Tevin Lake pulled Marian within three after barreling in from four yards out with 7:33 to go. The Knights then took the lead when Adam Wiese hit Nathan Jones for a 61-yard scoring strike with 2:46 to go, giving Marian a 24-20 lead. 

Morningside fired right back, however. After converting a do-or-die 4th and 15, Joel Nixon found Kyle Shuck wide open in the end zone to put the Mustangs ahead 27-24 with 1:04 to play. Morningside scored too quickly, however, as Marian had just enough time to allow Mike Josifovski to nail a 35-yard field goal as time expired to send the NAIA National Championship to its first overtime. 

The Marian defense held Morningside scoreless in the first possession of overtime, allowing Josifovski, who hit a 51-yard field goal to win Marian's semifinal game on Dec. 3, to kick the title-clinching 26-yard field goal. Josifovski was named the Outstanding Offesnsive Player of the Game for his heroics. 

"When you sign up for this job, they warn you about these moments," Josifovski said after the game. "These are the moments you want to hold onto and take advantage of. Fortunately for me, I have a great team and a great coaching staff around me."

Utah State releases highlight of their special season

The past two seasons, Gary Andersen has led the Utah State program to a combined 17 wins and a WAC title. Their 10-2 finish this season is not only the first time the program has ever collected 10 wins, but it's also the first time the Aggies have won more than 7 games since 1979.

Their unprecedented success has led to other programs reaching out to Andersen to gauge his interest in their vacancies. Program after program called, and time and time again Andersen explained that he's happy with where he's at. So happy that he's even signed three of his sons to play him and the Aggies.

It's evident that Andersen believes that Utah State is a special place, and this season was an excellent example of that. 

Take a look at the motivational highlight video that the staff put together to commemorate the best season in school history. With Andersen at the helm for the forseeable future, things are just getting started up in Logan, Utah.

Diaco credits professors for some of their on the field success

During his acceptance speech for the 2012 Broyles Award, given to the top assistant in college football, Bob Diaco mentioned that part of their on the field success is due to the professors who demand excellence in the classroom at Notre Dame on a consistent basis.

That in turn holds him to a higher standard as a coach when they come to his "classroom" at the end of the day.

"The players at Notre Dame chose Notre Dame because they expect excellence. They are achievement oriented. And they go to four or five classes a day, and those classes are pretty dynamic."

"At the end of the day he's coming to my class. So you better have your bar set real high, because I have to put on the best class of the day. They're looking at you and they're expecting it, and I appreciate that energy from them."

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