With just three weeks of the regular season left in the Northern Sun three teams find themselves in pretty good shape after this week's Super Region 3 rankings were released.
Despite a perfect 8-0 mark, and being ranked #1 in the country in both NCAA Division II football polls, Minnesota State University-Mankato finds themselves ranked second in the Super Region 3 rankings. However, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, each of whom are 7-1 are ranked third and fourth respectively.
The top six teams in the region make the playoffs. Super Region 3 is made up of the Northern Sun, the MIAA (in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska), and the Great American Conference in the southern part of the country.
Barring a surprising loss for any of those three teams they should be in good shape to make the playoffs. That would mean good news for Winona State and Southwest Minnesota State who meet up on Saturday night. The winner of that game, could find themselves in the drivers seat for the Mineral Water Bowl.
Winona State (5-3) at Southwest Minnesota State (4-4)
Junior running back Tyler Tonderum leads Southwest Minnesota State into their final home game of the season against Winona State. Tonderum is second in NCAA Division II football in rushing, and after another 282 yard performance last week at Upper Iowa has the top three single game rushing performances in school history. He also set a school record with 50 rushing attempts in Saturday's game.
Tonderum also getting very close to breaking the Northern Sun's single season rushing record. A mark set last year by Winona State's Rayon Simmons. Tonderum is just 68 yards shy of breaking that record.
That could be a story line in the game, but both of these teams find themselves in prime position to make a run for a Mineral Water Bowl appearance. Each team has Concordia and Augustana remaining on their schedules, the catch, they both need to win on Saturday night.
Both offenses come into the contest rolling. While, Winona State struggled last week against Minnesota State, a lot of teams do. The Warriors prior to that had put up a minimum of 45 points in each game during their five game winning streak. Winona's freshman quarterback Jack Nelson is leading a big play offense that is averaging a league best 17.99 yards per completion (Christian Ponder may want to take note).
Expect a lot of points and quite a few big plays. Winona has won the last four in the series, and the Mustangs have beaten the Warriors only twice since 1993.
St. Cloud State (7-1) at Bemidji State (2-6)
The Huskies can't afford to trip up, every game is virtually a playoff game for St. Cloud State between now and the end of the season. On their schedule, I think Saturday's game could be the scariest.
True, Bemidji State has lost four straight coming in, and they are a disappointing 2-6. However, they have beaten both Southwest Minnesota State and Winona State this season, and a Jeff Tesch team can never be taken lightly, as the Beavers are not used to season's like this. Plus, Bemidji always seems to be a tough place to go and play.
Philip Klaphake tied a school record for five touchdown passes last week in a 64-7 win over Northern State.
Also in that one-sided win over Northern State last week, St. Cloud State safety Jack Moro intercepted two passes, setting the school record with his 20th and 21st career interceptions.
The Wolves by the way just shutout the Beavers two weeks ago 27-0, so read into that what you will.
Wayne State (2-6) at Minnesota State-Mankato (8-0)
Three straight losses versus eight straight wins, that's what is going head-to-head in Mankato on Saturday. Of course the Mavericks have won eight straight to start the season
Why are the Mavericks the best team in the conference?
Easily stated its their defense. MSU's defense is allowing 16.2 points a game, second best in the conference. They have forced 23 turnovers, and hold opponents to less than 70-yards a game rushing. That's dominant.
One thing really jumped out, the top three teams in the conference, Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State, are also the top three defense's in the conference.
It goes to show, that even in a conference where offense has been the theme this year. Defense still wins championships over the long haul, and its fitting that the three top defense's in the league are the three teams from the NSIC that have the best chance to qualify for the Super Region 3 playoffs.