At the midseason mark of the DII football campaign, a number of teams and players have continued their winning ways, while others have exceeded expectations with strong starts to the year.
NCAA.com's DII football analyst Wayne Cavadi broke it all down:
Business as usual
Count Ferris State among those firmly meeting expectations so far this season. The No. 1 Bulldogs are defending their national title about as best they can, jumping out to a 4-0 record and outscoring opponents 170-35 in the process. Defensive end Caleb Murphy has led the defense and solidified himself among the best in Division II.
It's no surprise to see No. 2 Grand Valley State right on the Bulldogs' heels. Off to a 5-0 start with three wins against top-25 opponents, the Lakers have one of the best resumes in football. A big matchup at Ferris State on Oct. 15 looms large.
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At Shepherd, the reigning Harlon Hill Trophy winner, quarterback Tyson Bagent, has the No. 4 Rams on a roll at 5-0. Meanwhile, some other Rams are staking their claim to a new-look Lone Star Conference as No. 3 Angelo State holds a 5-0 record, picking up where they left off from last season.
No. 5 Ouachita Baptist (5-0), No. 10 Northwest Missouri State (4-1) and No. 11 Harding (4-1) are all formidable squads once again as well.
Delta State has turned the Gulf South Conference on its head to start the season, going 5-0 even after starting the season with four straight road games. In their last three contests, the No. 13 Statesmen have defeated an FCS program in Mississippi Valley State, 28-17, as well as then-No. 6 West Florida, 45-42, and then-No. 13 Valdosta State, 70-31.
Ashland has opened the season with a 5-0 record with quarterback Austin Brenner and running backs Gei'vonni Washington and Larry Martin firing on all cylinders. The No. 6 Eagles have the best offense and defense in the Great Midwest, scoring 37.3 points per game while allowing just 12 per game.
Pittsburg State had all the makings of a good team entering the season, and so far things have come together with a 5-0 start. The No. 7 Gorillas have a tough matchup with Northwest Missouri State on Oct. 8, and it will be an even bigger surprise if they remain undefeated.
No. 12 Virginia Union is 5-0 for the first time in decades, thanks in large part to running back Jada Byers, who is putting himself in the mix for some top hardware at the end of the season. Meanwhile, No. 22 Texas A&M Kingsville (5-0), Davenport (4-0) and Benedict (5-0) have already matched each of their win totals from last season.
Black Hills State (5-0) had a big rivalry win over South Dakota Mines, while Limestone (4-1) is currently on a four-game winning streak after totaling four wins altogether from 2019 to 2021.
Top Harlon Hill Trophy candidates
There are about 30 viable candidates for Division II football's top honor at the midway point of the season, but there's still plenty of time left in the year and a lot of names to sort out.
Tyson Bagent is making a strong case to repeat as Player of the Year, leading DII in passing yards (1,781) and yards per game (356.2). He's on pace to easily throw for over 4,000 yards again, and has a great supporting cast of wide receivers and pass-catching running backs around him.
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McKendree's Turner Pullen is in the mix among the quarterback candidates, with over 1,700 passing yards to go along with 18 touchdowns and just three picks. Meanwhile, South Dakota Mines signal caller Jayden Johannsen has almost 1,900 yards combined and 15 touchdowns as one of the most dynamic dual-threat QBs.
Looking at running backs, there are the usual suspects like Sioux Falls' Thuro Reisdorfer and Ouachita's T.J. Cole, but two to keep a close eye on are Byers and UIndy's Toriano Clinton. Byers seems like a lock for 150 yards and two touchdowns each week, while Clinton is reminiscent of a college Barry Sanders with loads of talent and the ability to turn apparent losses into big gains.
This year's wide receivers crop is loaded, but Southeastern Oklahoma State's Marquis Gray and Indiana PA's Duane Brown are separating themselves from the pack.
Final Four predictions
With this being just the first week of October, these picks could go completely wrong by season's end, but let's go with Ferris State, Delta State, Angelo State and Shepherd.
Super Region One is Shepherd's to lose at this point in the season but not if Indiana PA or any of the other talent in that region have anything to say about it.
Super Region Two feels completely up for grabs at this point, but perhaps Delta State can keep it up. The Gulf South and South Atlantic conferences are all over the place. Even No. 19 Newberry has a loss, while No. 14 Lenoir-Rhyne looks good again. It would be a great story if Delta State can pull it off.
Like Super Region Two, Super Region Three has been wild so far this season with a lot of teams showing out. However, that's still Ferris State's to lose, considering the Bulldogs haven't lost a regular season game since 2017, but don't count out Grand Valley State, Northwest Missouri State or even Pittsburg State just yet.
In Super Region Four, Angelo State is on a mission, playing with tons of purpose after losing out on a Final Four appearance last season. Even with two early season losses, No. 21 Colorado School of Mines can't be counted out so soon, though.