From the press box; Final weekend with much at stake in the Northern Sun


A surprise in this week's Super Region 3 rankings has put St. Cloud State in jeopardy of making the NCAA Division II playoffs despite losing just one game during the season.

The latest regional rankings, which were released on this week, showed that St. Cloud State despite a five-game winning streak dropped out of the Top 6. The Huskies are 9-1 on the season, their only loss came to Minnesota-Duluth who is ranked in the top five of both NCAA Division II Top 25 polls. That might not be good enough to make the playoffs for the Huskies. If not, there will be a post season opportunity for St. Cloud State as they would be offered the NSIC's Mineral Water Bowl spot should they fail to qualify for the playoffs.

Should St. Cloud State qualify the end results reverberate to both Southwest Minnesota State and Winona State who could qualify for the Mineral Water Bowl. If St. Cloud State qualifies, Southwest Minnesota State just needs to beat Augustana and they are in. Winona would also have a shot if St. Cloud State qualifies, the Warriors win and Southwest loses.

Also this week, the Super Region 3 finalists were named for the Harlon Hill Trophy. The seven regional finalists include St. Cloud State quarterback Phil Klaphake, Southwest Minnesota State running back Tyler Tonderum, Minnesota State University quarterback Jon Wolf and Upper Iowa running back Chris Smith.

Minnesota State University (10-0) at Upper Iowa (6-4)

Upper Iowa University has already secured its first winning season in the school's history as an NCAA Division II program. In fact, the Peacocks 24-21 win over Wayne State last week gives them their fist winning season since the turn of the millennium. So don't be surprised if the Peacocks play confidently when they host Minnesota State on Saturday.

The game features two of the aforementioned regional finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy. MSU quarterback Jon Wolf has led the Maverick offense all season long. Wolf has run for 11 touchdowns and thrown 15 more. Further, he leads the #1 ranked Mavericks in rushing and passing. The special thing about Wolf is that he he has put up all of those yards and all of those touchdowns and has thrown just one interception all season.

On the other side, Upper Iowa is led by running back Chris Smith, who is second in the Northern Sun in rushing. Smith has rushed for 1,672 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season.

Smith will have a difficult day. The Mavericks are number one against the rush in the Northern Sun giving up a little more than 70 yards a game. If the Mavericks can keep track of Smith like they have of every other running back in the Northern Sun, they should go into the playoffs unbeaten.

MSU Moorhead (4-6) at St. Cloud State (9-1)

St. Cloud State is in need of a win if they want to make the playoffs, however a victory may not be enough for the Huskies, and it may not be easy to come by.

Minnesota State - Moorhead has won three straight themselves. The Dragons defeated the University of Mary 48-41, Minot State 31-30 and Bemidji State 35-17. That's a dramatic improvement for a team that won just one game in all of last season and has won five in the last three years.

Both offenses have put up a lot of points, St. Cloud averages over 37 points a game, MSUM averages over 32 points a game. The difference is on the other side of the ball. St. Cloud is giving up just 15 points a game, while the Dragons playing a very similar schedule are giving up 39 points a game.

Advantage St. Cloud State, especially with Klaphake playing in his final game at home.

Minnesota Duluth (9-1) at Northern State (4-6)

Sept. 21 was a long time ago. It was week three of the college football season and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were reeling after a hard to swallow 21-17 loss to Minnesota State - Mankato.

It is the last time that Minnesota Duluth has lost a game this season. In fact, the Bulldogs have rattled off seven straight victories. It's the longest winning streak for the Bulldogs since 2010.

After a tough start to the season Northern State has bounced back to win three of their last five games.

Like St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth needs a win to lock up a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs. That shouldn't be too hard for the Bulldogs since 2008 they have outscored Northern State 210-58 in their head-to-head meetings.

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