This week’s MIAA schedule gives the conference’s top programs very winnable games. As we saw last week, an upset is never out of the picture, though.
Missouri Southern State (1-2) at Washburn (2-1)
Both the Lions and the Ichabods came away winners in the third week of the season — Missouri Southern downed Nebraska-Kearney at home while Washburn went into then-No. 4 Pittsburg State and shocked the Gorillas.
It was a wacky win for the Lions, who ran 25 fewer plays than the Lopers and totaled just 13 first downs. They likely would have been out-gained if it wasn’t for a 73-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. The Ichabods grinded out a win on the back of junior quarterback Derek McGinnis, who tossed three touchdowns on the young Pitt State defense.
After dropping their opener in heartbreak fashion at Lindenwood, the ‘Bods are back above .500 and should have all the confidence in the world. Missouri Southern did give new head coach Denver Johnson his first win as a Lion, but his second win will have to wait for another week. McGinnis will have another big game at home and bring Washburn to Hays with a 3-1 record.
However, Missouri Southern stomped the ‘Bods in a 42-21 victory last year.
Prediction: Washburn tames the Lions 38-7.
Lindenwood (1-2) at Missouri Western State (2-1)
It has not been a dream start for Lindenwood, which brought in former USC and Arizona quarterback Jesse Scroggins. He is completing 46 percent of his passes with just three TD tosses and three picks. Missouri Western has bounced back from a one-point loss in Warrensburg, Mo., with a home victory against Central Oklahoma and a too-close-for-comfort victory against Northeastern State, where the Griffons scored 14 points in nine seconds in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
The Griffons allow just 17 points per game, good enough for third in the MIAA, while Lindenwood allows more than 33. The Griffons’ defense is as consistent as it comes, allowing 17, 16 and 17 points in their first three games, respectively. MWSU senior cornerback Michael Jordan is as good as there is in the MIAA, recording six pass breakups and three picks thus far. Sophomore QB Skyler Windmiller and senior receiver Dee Tolliver are one of the top combos in the league while senior running back Raphael Spencer has back-to-back 100 yard games for the Griffons.
The Lions, despite the play of probable two-time All-American linebacker Connor Harris, have been uninspiring this year despite the pieces they have in place. Starting the season with a late win against Washburn was nice, but they have lost big to Pitt and Fort Hays in two straight weeks, and it doesn’t get easier with Emporia and Northwest in Weeks 5 and 6.
Missouri Western held a stagnant Lindenwood team in check with a 26-9 victory in 2014.
Prediction: Missouri Western at home is too much for Lindenwood and improve to 3-1 with a 28-7 win.
Northeastern State (0-3) at Emporia State (3-0)
After being on the receiving end of a mollywhopping from Pittsburg State to open the season, the RiverHawks have given Fort Hays State and Missouri Western scares late into the fourth quarter the past two weeks. Emporia was able to hold off the Mules in Week 2 and controlled the Week 3 matchup in Edmond, Okla.
Emporia’s senior QB Brent Wilson looks to be an early candidate for MIAA Offensive Player of the Year with his league-high 364 passing yards per game, which ranks fifth in the country, and nine touchdowns at a 73.8-percent clip. He is sharing the wealth to his receivers, as three are averaging better than 74 receiving yards per game and have multiple TDs. The Hornets are averaging better than 40 points per game but giving up yards and points on defense.
That might come back to haunt them when their tough stretch starts Week 6, but Northeastern is an underwhelming team. How they hung around with Missouri Western is unsure, as they threw five picks and lost one fumble while accumulating just 215 yards of offense.
Last year’s contest took overtime to decide a winner before Emporia prevailed 42-35.
Prediction: Emporia rolls to a perfect 4-0 record with a 45-7 home victory.
Central Oklahoma (0-3) at No. 3 Northwest Mo. State (3-0)
This game was deservedly tabbed as the MIAA TV Game of the Week before the season. But with the direction each team is going in, it might be one the Bronchos’ fans want to avoid on their cable guides.
Picked third in the MIAA by the coaches in the preseason, expectations were insurmountably high coming off an unexpected 8-3 campaign in the MIAA. It took the Bronchos all but three weeks to equal their amount of losses from one year ago in 2015, and Maryville, Mo., is not the place to go when looking for your first win. The Bronchos have been unable to win the turnover battle like they did in 2014 when they led the MIAA with a plus-14 margin and had just 13 turnovers. Through three games, the Bronchos have given the ball away eight times to just four takeaways, though their opponents thus far (Fort Hays State, Missouri Western and Emporia State) will finish in the top half of the league this season.
The Bearcats overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half to clinch a 34-30 road victory at Central Missouri thanks to 287 yards passing from senior Brady Bolles. The impenetrable UCM rush defense allowed just 59 yards on the ground, but Bolles’ connection with freshman receiver Shawn Bane for six catches and 105 yards proved to be too much for the UCM secondary.
Northwest rolled to a 36-13 road victory in last year’s contest.
Prediction: It’s home sweet home for the Bearcats as they comfortable move to 4-0 with a 31-10 win.
Central Missouri (1-2) at Nebraska-Kearney (0-3)
The Mules have battled through arguably the league’s toughest three games to start the season with a home winner against Missouri Western, a loss at Emporia and a home loss to Northwest Missouri. The Lopers’ offense has remained stagnant against the Bearcats, Ichabods and Lions of Missouri Southern thus far.
Under new head coach Josh Lamberson, hopes were high that junior running back Romero Cotton and senior quarterback Bronson Marsh could lead the offense but have combined for just four total touchdowns. Marsh, a former Husker, has completed just 38.6 percent of passes with four interceptions for the Lopers who still have some time before they grab their first win.
The Mules very well could be a 3-0 team if it wasn’t for a fumble inside the 5-yard line that would have given them a 38-31 lead at Emporia and allowing a Northwest TD with under one minute to play in a four-point loss. Junior quarterback Garrett Fugate has flawlessly transitioned into their full-time starter under center but the exit of LaVance Taylor at running back has seen a decline in their running game, though the Griffons and Bearcats pose two of the best in the conference.
The secondary has been a cause for concern, though. After picking off 24 passes and allowing just 250 yards per game last season, the Mules are allowing 32 points and a league-worst 348 passing yards per game, though they have snagged five picks. This could be the game where they come to fruition.
The Mules downed the Lopers 45-28 in last season’s meeting.
Prediction: The Mules get back to .500 with a 30-7 victory.