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Saturday Footbaw Fun Times Preview/Open Thread

The bowl season gets underway, and two national championships are determined.

Whitewater: Occupied Canadian for "pretty good".
Whitewater: Occupied Canadian for "pretty good".
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, we're going to have a conflict in the afternoon as the Cats take on Gonzaga, but that's neither here nor there.

Last night, the Warhawks of Wisconsin-Whitewater took a 5-3 advantage in their nine-year battle with Mount Union for Division III supremacy, handing the Raiders their first loss period since 1974 with a 52-14 shellacking. As a result, while Mount Union's still got the overall record bragging rights (323-15-3 over the last 25 years), Whitewater's got the current claim as Division 3's bullies (five titles in the last seven years).

Also, North Dakota State poleaxed New Hampshire in Fargo 52-14 last night to advance to their third straight NCAA Division I Football Championship Game. It was 52-7 until the Wildcats scored a touchdown in the final minute off the Bison's backups; the game was so out of control that NDSU was able to individually pull seniors off the field a play at a time in order to get them all individual ovations from the crowd.

Today, for your viewing pleasure, we have the following repast:

11am on ESPN2
NCAA Division II National Football Championship
#2 Northwest Missouri State (14-0) vs #13 Lenoir-Rhyne (13-1)
Braly Municipal Stadium, Florence AL

The Bearcats are, of course, no stranger to Florence. Northwest is a three-time champion of Division II, and only Grand Valley State (4) and North Dakota State (5) have won more. Nobody has been to the title game more than the Bearcats, however. This is their eighth trip to the championship, breaking a tie with the Bison (who have two championship game losses to go with their five wins). On the other side of the coin, Lenoir-Rhyne has never reached this pinnacle. They did win the NAIA championship in 1960, and lost it in 1959 and 1962 , but this is the furthest the Bears have advanced since joining the NCAA along with their South Atlantic Conference colleagues back in 1993. In fact, it's only the second Division II playoff appearance period for Lenoir-Rhyne.

The key in this game is going to be Northwest's defense against Lenoir-Rhyne's option attack. Last week against West Chester, playing in a sloppy mudpit, the Bears rolled up 451 yards on the ground and didn't even bother throwing the ball even once.

12pm on ESPN3 only
Russell Athletic-NAIA Championship
#1 Cumberlands (KY) (13-0) vs #2 Grand View (13-0)
Barron Stadium, Rome GA

The top two teams in the NAIA field survived three rounds of playoffs to reach the title game. It's the first appearance in the title game for either squad, and the first time in four years the NAIA championship will be decided by unbeaten teams.

Cumberlands, from Williamsburg KY, has made seven prior trips to the NAIA championship, and this year was their first trip to the semifinals, much less the title game. They'd only won two post-season games prior to this season, and they've already won three in the last month. The Patriots feature an option attack, with two 1000-yard rushers and a couple of others breaking the 500-yard mark.

It's only the second playoff appearance ever for Grand View, their previous appearance being a first-round loss in 2011. The Vikings, who come from a non-existent city alleged to be the seat of government for the state of Iowa, is going to present Cumberlands with a challenge -- Grand View has allowed a paltry 85 yards per game on the ground, and has allowed almost 80 fewer yards per game than Cumberlands gains just on the ground each outing. Offensively, Viking QB Derek Fulton has thrown for over 3100 yards this year, while Cumberlands defense has been a little soft, so today could see a mild upset.

1pm on ESPNU
NCAA Division I Football Semifinal
#5 (7th seed) Towson (12-2) at #3 (3rd seed) Eastern Washington (12-2)
Roos Field, Cheyney WA

It's Eastern Washington's deadly passing attack -- Vernon Adams has thrown for 4600 yards and 53 touchdowns this year -- against Towson's brutal ground game, led by Terrance West, who's run for almost 2300 yards including 354 last week in the Tigers' upset of second-seeded Eastern Illinois. Although the game will be played on their infamous blood red turf, the Eagles need to be wary; Towson's now knocked off three straight teams with prolific passing games on the strength of a top-notch secondary.

Towson's never gotten this far since moving to I-AA back in 1993. Eastern Washington, on the other hand, has reached this point frequently, and won the 2010 Division I title.

I'm not going to preview the bowl games here, because you can get enough of that elsewhere -- like, say, in yesterday's FEPO -- but here's the capsules:

1pm on ESPN
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Washington State (6-6) vs Colorado State (7-6)
University Stadium, Albuquerque NM

2:30pm on ABC
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Fresno State (11-1) vs Southern California (9-4)
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas NV

4:30pm on ESPN
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Buffalo (8-4) vs San Diego State (7-5)
Bronco Stadium, Boise ID

8pm on ESPN
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Tulane (7-5) vs Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans LA

And of course, K-State plays Gonzaga on the hardwood in Wichita at 2:30pm, so we'll be distracted.

Enjoy your Saturday!