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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | September 7, 2021

West Florida remains on top of the first DII football Power rankings of the season

2021 DII football predictions: Can anyone dethrone West Florida?

We finally had some DII football this past weekend and there was no shortage of excitement. Our preseason No. 1 West Florida began its title defense with a victory over FCS McNeese State and several teams made an early statement in big wins.

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Each team in the preseason Power 10 found its way to the win column. And let's be honest: with most of these teams having a full year off, no victory came easy, and each was as impressive as the next. That meant there was zero change this week in the first Power 10 rankings of the season. That being said, teams Nos. 4-10 are separated by fractions of a point. 

This season, we’re adding a little bonus. When you read to the end of the Power 10 rankings, I will pick three games to watch a week and make a prediction. Don’t worry, we can revisit each prediction the following week to see how they went. 

For those new to my Power 10 rankings, it is important to remember: These are my rankings, and mine alone. This is the first season of the DII football Power 10. I've taken insight from coaches, SIDs and insiders and paired it with what the selection committee tends to look at come tournament time — strength of schedule, win-loss percentage and stats of that nature — to come up with a fair version of the top 10. Moving forward, you can expect the new Power 10 every Monday throughout the season. 

The DII football Power 10 (Games through Sept. 6)

No. 1 West Florida | Previous: 1
The Argonauts didn’t disappoint in their long-awaited return to the DII football field. Austin Reed threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns. We were excited for DI-transfer wide receiver David Durden, and he exploded for six receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown. The defending champs stared down an FCS opponent and walked away winners. They are ready to go.

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No. 2 Lenoir-Rhyne | Previous: 2
Freshman running back Dwayne McGee hit the ground, well, running in the abbreviated spring season, teasing DII football fans with what he was capable of doing. He proved it was no fluke as he led the Bears to a 48-7 victory rushing for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Oh, he also caught a touchdown pass from veteran quarterback Grayson Willingham. This offense looked good and will be tough to slow down with a slew of weapons. 

No. 3 Ferris State | Previous: 3
Jared Bernhardt stole just about every headline this weekend while leading the Bulldogs to a 54-14 victory over Findlay. Bernhardt — the top Division I college lacrosse player in the land last year and Maryland's all-time leading scorer — threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns while running for 120 and four scores. What's lost in the shuffle is Ferris State has three very good quarterbacks who all did well in limited action on Saturday as well. Tony Annese has another monster team brewing in Big Rapids, Mich.

No. 4 Slippery Rock | Previous: 4
This offense is going to be fun. Henry Litwin wasted little time showing why he is one of the best receivers in DII football, earning ESPN top plays of the week honors with an athletic grab. Andrew Koester — who has the dubious honor of replacing the last Harlon Hill Trophy winner — took a little bit to get comfortable, but finished strong with 314 yards passing, a team-high 54 yards rushing and two total touchdowns. We're expecting this offense to light up scoreboards all season long. 

No. 5 Minnesota State | Previous: 5
It took some late, fourth-quarter dramatics, but the Mavs came from behind to extend its NSIC winning streak to 36 games. We had big question marks coming in with the loss of Nate Gunn and Shane Zylstra, but some of those were answered. As head coach Todd Hoffner told us this preseason, despite the big losses there was plenty returning with playoff experience that just know how to win. Quarterback JD Ekowa, who fueled the comeback, showed us that was true.

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No. 6. Texas A&M-Commerce | Previous: 6
Jake Viquez, take a bow. The Lions kicker was responsible for all the Lions' scoring in a hard-fought road battle against then No. 12 CSU Pueblo. He connected on a 40-yard and 52-yard field goal in the third quarter that put the Lions ahead 12-6 for good. Harlon Hill candidate Miklo Smalls was absent in this one, so we expect the offense to be better next time out. But as we projected, this Lions defense is going to do damage, and we think they are the team to beat in Super Region Four. 

No. 7. Northwest Missouri State | Previous: 7
We saw a classic Rich Wright defense in action this past week. The Bearcats shutdown one of our top under-the-radar offenses in Fort Hays State, holding the Tigers to 48 rushing yards, registering one sack and one safety while picking off Chance Fuller twice. Now, the passing game was held in check but as we projected, Al McKeller is a game changer. He was just that, rushing for 161 yards and a touchdown in the 15-7 victory.

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No. 8. Colorado School of Mines | Previous: 8
We were higher than most on the Orediggers in the preseason and none of that has changed after a commanding 42-3 victory last week. Quarterback John Matocha is so much to handle with his arm and his legs, tossing for four touchdowns in the win. Michael Zeman is a load to stop at running back, and he piled up 111 yards and two scores on the ground. This offense comes at you so many ways that when the defense is rolling the Orediggers are a near unstoppable force.

No. 9. Valdosta State | Previous: 9
The Blazers looked great in their 2021 debut, defeating Savannah State 53-7. Ivory Durham appears to be the next fun Valdosta State quarterback, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns in his debut as the full-time field general. Seth McGill and Jamar Thompkins are a one-two punch at running back that can beat you outside or up the middle. All-American candidate Lio'undre Gallimore showed there was no rust from the one-year layoff going for 112 yards and two scores. If you don't already have the West Florida vs. Valdosta State game circled on your calendar to end the season... you probably should do that now. 

No. 10 Notre Dame (OH) | Previous: 10
It took overtime, but the Falcons eked out a victory against a very impressive Ashland team to open the season. It shouldn't come as a surprise that it was a Chris Brimm to Devanaire Conliffe touchdown that won the game. The duo has been one of the best quarterback-to-receiver combos in the MEC for a couple of years now. Tyris Dickerson handled the load at running back with 80 yards and one touchdown but has huge shoes to fill. He will be one to watch for the next few weeks.

 

3 games to watch: Week 2 breakdown, schedule and predictions

Kutztown at Indiana (Pa), Saturday, Sept. 11, 2 p.m. ET
A top-25 PSAC showdown is always an exciting one. This one should be no different as IUP — which was idle in Week 1 — makes its much-anticipated 2021 debut. The Crimson Hawks will host a Kutztown team coming off a 19-0 victory over Assumption. The Golden Bears defense was stifling, holding the Greyhounds to 139 total yards. The offense took a while to get going as some new faces shook off the offseason rust. They will have to come out much more quickly to have a chance in this one. This will be too close to call. Prediction: IUP

CSU Pueblo at Grand Valley State, Saturday, Sept. 11, 7 p.m. ET
The Lakers had to cancel its opening weekend game due to COVID-19 protocols on the Edinboro roster. Grand Valley State couldn’t find any takers to play a game and it just feels like the team is going to come out pedal to the metal. CSU Pueblo lost a defensive battle, holding Texas A&M-Commerce to just 206 total yards. That said, the offense struggled and traveling to a Lubbers Stadium that has been waiting more than 600 days for live football is a daunting task. Prediction: Grand Valley State 

Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth, Saturday, Sept. 11, 7:05 p.m. ET
The Mavericks — those same 2019 national runners-up Mavericks should you have forgotten — needed overtime to eke out their first victory of the season. Exciting returning quarterback JD Ekowa was instrumental in the fourth-quarter comeback scoring a pair of game-changing touchdowns. Minnesota Duluth, on the other hand, left no question in its 41-14 victory. Quarterback John Larson had a monster game, throwing for 447 yards and six touchdowns. Minnesota State has its 36-game NSIC winning streak on the line in very unfriendly territory in Duluth. This may be the game that streak ends. If not, pencil in Minnesota State as a prime contender to be playing in McKinney, Texas this December. Prediction: Minnesota Duluth 

Also worth watching:

  • Will Texas Permian Basin extend its winning streak to eight over a tough West Texas A&M team?
  • What will Jared Bernhardt do as an encore? Ferris State travels to Ashland in a battle of former GLIAC foes.
  • Angelo State’s defense hits the road against Chadron State. The Eagles' Dalton Holst is one of the more under-the-radar quarterbacks in DII football and this will be another good test for that Rams defense.

(Please note: Game times and the games themselves are subject to change due to COVID-19 protocols.)

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