Just eight elite teams remain in the quest for the 2013 Stagg Bowl.
With three of the four games taking place in cold weather, snow dusted stadiums, the weather is likely going to play a factor, but nearly every team left standing has playoff experience on their side. It's going to come down to teams either getting over the hump, or replicating the success that they've seen in the past...both of which can prove to be equally as challenging for a coaching staff.
With that said, here's a look at the quarterfinal matchups, with their ranking (via D3Football.com) as of the end of the regular season.
#1 Mount Union (12-0) vs. #15 Wesley (10-2) - Wesley has drawn the unfortunate hand of playing the most experienced program in the D-III playoff in Mount Union. Since 2000, Mount Union is 193-7, with all seven of those losses coming in the NCAA playoffs. If this one comes down to the turnover battle, Mount Union is an unbelievable 135-0 when winning that category. The Wolves are no pushover though, as head coach Mike Drass has Wesley sitting at 102-15 with a total of five semifinal appearances since 2005. On the defensive side of things Wesley may present some unique issues for one of the nation's best offenses, as they have 17 different players with at least one recorded sack, and two players that will likely eclipse the 100 tackle mark after Saturday.
#4 North Central (12-0) vs. #6 Bethel (12-0) - After finishing among the top teams in the country over the past few seasons and fizzling out in the playoffs, North Central is hungry to prove that they belong along the nation's elite, but Bethel is going to present quite the challenge. Bethel is likely still flying high after their gutty win against Wartburg last week that required a big stand as time expired. North Central brings the offensive and defensive players of the year in the conference into the matchup, while Bethel ranks in the top ten nationally in completion percentage (#5 -70%), passing efficiency (#6 - 174.2), turnover margin per game (#6 - +1.7), passes intercepted (#9 - 20 total picks), and turnovers lost (#10 with just 11 lost on the year). This is going to shape up to be a really good one.
#2 Linfield (12-0) vs. #5 UW-Whitewater (12-0) - This is one of the more intriguing match ups to me. Both teams bring very rich traditions and both are hungry to prove their strength. After seven straight seasons in the national title game, and three straight finished of 15-0 with three consecutive national titles (facing Mount Union each time), last year the Warhawks struggled to a 7-3 finish and missed the playoff pool. This one also matches up the nation's top scoring offense (Linfield - 52 points per game) with the nation's top scoring defense (Whitewater - 8 ppg) One thing is for sure; UW-Whitewater had their hands full preparing for special teams after seeing this. If this one could be compared to a conference title game, it would be the Big Ten's Ohio State vs. Michigan State match up.
#3 Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-0) vs. #25 St. John Fisher (10-2) - Mary Hardin-Baylor won their second round game last weekend by 51 points (59-8), so they'll have a ton of momentum on their side heading into this one. St. John Fisher has made it to this point in the playoffs as a relative underdog, getting in as one of the at-large bids, but are also one of the more experienced programs at this point bringing a 10-4 playoff record and their fourth quarterfinal appearance with them into the contest. This one could be a real slugfest.