The two names at the top of the Division III landscape over the past decade meet once again in the national championship game tonight, which you can catch on ESPNU at 7pm EST.
For the eighth time nine seasons, Mount Union will face Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl.
Dating back to 1993, Mount Union has made an appearance in the Stagg Bowl 17 times (winning it 11 times). The Purple Raider's familiar foe, Wisconsin-Whitewater, has been in the title game seven times in the last eight years and is one of only two teams that Mount Union has ever lost the D-III crown to (the other being St. John's back in 2003).
Only one of past eight matchups between these two teams in the big game have been decided by more than ten points. Both teams were tested throughout the playoffs, and both coaches have been on this stage before, so expect this one to be a close one.
Mount Union vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater - 7pm EST - ESPNU
Storyline: Familiar schools, but new teams and new players collide in Salem.
The case for Mount Union: Since "experience" is a wash between these two teams, the reigning national champs bring a slight edge into the game but will play with a large target on their backs under first year head coach Vince Kehres. Vince took over for his father Larry, who was the architect of 11 national championships, at the beginning of the season and is looking to add to his own trophy case in his inaugural season. The Mount brings the Gagliardi trophy winner (think D-III Heisman) into the match up in Kevin Burke, who leads the country in passing efficiency and is the first Purple Raider quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Burke was so impressive this season that he even received a vote for the Heisman trophy.
Mount Union leads the nation in points per game (49), third down conversions (57%), total defense (282 ypg), and ranks in the top five in total offense (#2) and rush defense (71 ypg).
The case for Wisconsin-Whitewater: After missing the playoffs completely last season, Whitewater is hungry for a another taste of big time success. Dating back to the end of last season, Whitewater has won 16 games straight and enters the game with one of the most dominant defenses in the country, leading the country in scoring defense. Throughout the year the Warhawks have lost starter after starter to injury, and each time a new player steps in and picks right up where the last guy left off, without missing a beat and that has paved the way for a ton of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball where they are young and extremely talented. The offense takes great care of the football and the defense is known for creating turnovers, and on the year they are +31 in turnover margin (which is +6 better than the best FBS team). The bottom line is don't expect them to give Mount Union any extra opportunities.
Head coach Lance Leipold is an unbelievable 28-1 in playoff games in his coaching career, and has put up Chris Petersen / Nick Saban type numbers in his seven seasons at Whitewater, leading the program to a 93-6 mark under his watch.
Be sure to tune in tonight to watch this Goliath vs. Goliath D-III match up. I have a feeling it's going to live up to all of the hype, and then some.