Before a single game was played in the 2013 season, there wasn’t a true consensus on the best team in the PSAC West Division. But it was awfully close.
IUP, the defending division champion and NCAA quarterfinalist, garnered seven of a possible eight first-place votes in the conference’s preseason poll and looked every part of a prohibitive favorite.
More than two months later, a game likely to decide the division’s regular-season champion will not involve the Crimson Hawks. Instead, it will be Slippery Rock or California that leaves Mihalik Thompson Stadium today with a crucial edge in the race for the division title.
Both The Rock and the Vulcans are 4-1 in the conference, giving them a one-game lead on the rest of the division with three games remaining.
Simple as it might sound, the matchup likely will come down to whether Slippery Rock’s prolific offense can be contained at all by California’s strong defense.
Led by the quarterback-wide receiver duo of Nigel Barksdale and John Schademan, The Rock has the fourth-highest scoring offense in Division II at 46.5 points per game and has not scored fewer than 27 points in a game.
The Vulcans, meanwhile, are among the top 10 teams in Division II in scoring defense (14.4 points per game) and total defense (298 yards per game). In five of their eight games, they have held opponents to 10 points or fewer.
Slippery Rock has won the past two matchups against California, including last season’s 28-26 victory.
Saint Francis (3-4, 1-1) at Duquesne (4-3, 2-1), 6:10 p.m., Rooney Field — The Dukes had a three-game win streak snapped last week, but they have gone 13-1 against the Red Flash, a Northeast Conference foe, since moving to Division I-AA in 1993.
Bryant (4-4, 2-1) at Robert Morris (3-4, 1-1), noon, Joe Walton Stadium — After a victory last week against Wagner, Colonials cornerback Antwan Eddie was selected as the NEC’s special teams player of the week and redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Prather was named the rookie of the week.
Washington (5-2, 0-0) at Carnegie Mellon (3-4, 0-0), noon, Gesling Stadium — Entering their first University Athletic Association contest, the Tartans have lost their past two games, allowing an average of 40.5 points per game. They have dropped the past three to the Bears.
IUP (6-2, 3-2) at Clarion (4-4, 2-3), 1 p.m., Memorial Stadium — The top-ranked pass defense about a month ago, the Crimson Hawks regained their form in a 28-6 victory against Mercyhurst last week and snapped a two-game losing streak in the PSAC. The Golden Eagles, too, ended a skid last week, as their victory against Seton Hill was their first in more than a month.
Waynesburg (6-2, 4-2) at Westminster (3-4, 2-3), 1 p.m., Harold Burry Stadium — Despite an overwhelming 42-16 victory in their PAC matchup last season, the Yellow Jackets have not defeated the Titans in back-to-back seasons since 2007-08.
Grove City (3-4, 1-4) at Geneva (4-3, 3-2), 1 p.m., Reeves Field — After starting the season 3-0, the Golden Tornadoes have lost three of their past four games and have averaged just seven points in their two most recent losses. Since PAC play started Sept. 21, the Wolverines have gone 1-4.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.