Commentary and picks by Backseat Coach. Photograph by Anthony Nunez.
Last week’s record: 5-1 (83%)
Record in 2017: 211-40 (84%)
It’s WBowl Championship Weekend! The spectacular finale of a fantastic season. Thanks everyone who read my regular game previews and predictions. I hope you enjoyed them.
DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
ARKANSAS WILDCATS (8-2) vs. ORLANDO ANARCHY (8-2) — It is very uncommon that we see two “Cinderella” teams face off in a championship game. The heartbreaking tribulations the Orlando Anarchy have endured off the field have been at the forefront of all of our thoughts and conversations about the Anarchy all season. If those tragedies were already monumental obstacles to succeeding on the field, no one could have expected Orlando to go 8-2 and be competing in a championship bowl based on their past performance alone.
The Central Florida Anarchy showed promise in the 2010 season when they qualified for the WFA playoffs with a 4-4 record. As the Orlando Anarchy, they followed up their inaugural season with a 5-3 campaign in 2011. They went a subpar 2-6 in 2012, losing some close games but pulling out a win against the historically tough Miami Fury. From 2013 through 2016, however, the Anarchy were dismal to put it bluntly. They posted winless seasons in 2013, 2015, and 2016, winning only a single game in the 2014 season. Their record over that period was 1-31. Their winless 2015 season was due in some part to being unable to field a team at all, forfeiting a majority of their matches. The team did show fortitude in returning from the brink in 2016, though they completed another winless season.
It is a different story for the Anarchy in 2017. While three forfeit victories pad their record, Orlando has won games on the field this season. In the playoffs, they demolished one of the early Division III favorites, the Cincinnati Sizzle, 57-6. They then took down the top seeded Toledo Reign who possessed the highest ranked defense in Division III. These are credible wins. While their story seems surreal, the Orlando Anarchy are the real deal.
While Orlando had gained at least some national recognition for their winless streaks, the Arkansas Wildcats have been flying under the radar since being established in 2011. Before their remarkable run this season, only their regional opponents have had some sense of who this team is, and several of those historical opponents do not exist anymore. With the Wildcats failing previously to advance any further than a wildcard playoff round (2012, 2013), in addition to being dormant in 2014 and 2016, it’s no surprise they weren’t in the national conversation leading into 2017.
That’s not the case now. Arkansas’s 6-2 regular season campaign and two playoff victories — including one against the American Conference’s top seed — are made most exceptional by bucking the trend of one of the most dependable indicators of a team’s competitiveness — roster size. The Wildcats have played out the season with a roster of just 12 or 13 players. The level of success achieved by a roster so small may be unprecedented in women’s football. I’ve not heard a story similar to this. As I wrote previously, Head Coach Earnest Dukes should be the frontrunner for Coach of the Year, because what Arkansas has accomplished is truly astonishing.
Orlando are heavy favorites over Arkansas according to the predictive models. But so was Southern Oregon. Wildcats running back Kiara Vinson possesses speed and quickness, with an elusiveness that is exceptional. I think Arkansas will successfully control the line of scrimmage on on both sides of the ball. But, as always, the question is will they be able to go for the full 60 minutes? If they can build an early lead, I like the Wildcats’s chances at fending off an Orlando rally late in the game.
Massey prediction: Orlando 34-13
Pure Points prediction: Orlando 29-11
Backseat Coach picks: Arkansas
DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
TAMPA BAY INFERNO (11-0) vs. ST. LOUIS SLAM (9-1) — Late in the Division II American Conference Championship, St. Louis pulled away from the Mile High Blaze, posting 22 points in the final frame of the game. Up until that point the game was very much in contention. The Blaze truly impressed against a juggernaut; they even held a seven-point lead for some time during the third quarter. One might now have questions about the strength of the Slam, seeing that a relatively new team with only a little bit of playoff experience were threatening to take a championship berth on St. Louis’s home field.
But like the best teams do, the reigning champs rose to the occasion and slammed the door on Mile High. I do not know what sparked the late offensive surge. Maybe it was a particularly effective adjustment, perhaps the defense finally wore down, and it’s possible the offense just came alive in a way they hadn’t been able to do sooner. However it happened, the Slam scored on three consecutive possessions while holding the Blaze scoreless to secure a return trip to Pittsburgh to defend their title.
In a rematch of the 2016 Division II title game, St. Louis will face the Tampa Bay Inferno. The Inferno has made an impressive playoff run this season, first by defeating an always-tough divisional rival the Miami Fury 27-6, then by posting very convincing victories over the Carolina Phoenix (35-26) and the Montreal Blitz (58-26), both of whom were favorites to win. With those upsets in hand, Tampa has become a heavy favorite (-15.5) in the title game. But I’m not really buying into that spread. I’m more in the camp of “well, maybe Carolina and Montreal are a bit overrated by Massey”.
That said, the Inferno are certainly an improved team over last year, and they do benefit from having more competitive teams in the National Conference. St. Louis is also better than they were last season as indicated by their sheer dominance over regional rivals and their visibly improved performance in a losing contest against the Chicago Force. Regardless, Tampa will be ready for St. Louis. Having seen the Slam face-to-face last season, the Inferno will not be taken by surprise. I think this will be an exciting game. I think it is very possible that it may come down to the final play of the game.
Before the season began, I stated on MyWSports Sports Monday that St. Louis would repeat as Division II champions and I am sticking by that prediction.
Massey prediction: Tampa Bay 43-28
Pure Points prediction: Tampa Bay 40-25
Backseat Coach picks: St. Louis
WBOWL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
DALLAS ELITE (8-0) vs. BOSTON RENEGADES (9-0) — It seems befitting that these two teams have reached the championship. The Elite and the Renegades have risen from the ashes of two of the sports greatest franchises, the Dallas Diamonds and the Boston Militia. While both clubs carry with them the deep history and winning traditions of their predecessors, they are the new school of women’s tackle football. Established by women with pedigrees of excellence in football, they are self-funded and self-determined. And while they share a kindred experience in their origins, they couldn’t seem more different.
Following the 2013 WFA National Championship in which the Dallas Diamonds lost to the Chicago Force, Diamonds owner Dawn Berndt called it quits. Quarterback Odessa Jenkins and others regrouped, deliberately taking a year to create and execute a thoughtful plan to reestablish1 their team. The name they chose — The Elite — reflects their aspirations. Since setting foot on the field in the 2015 season, the Elite have done nothing but live up to the purposefully constructed image and promise of their name.
Boston Militia owner Ernie Boch Jr., discontinued his franchise mere weeks before the 2015 season was to begin. As the 2014 National Champions, the players wanted what all reigning champions want, which is to defend their title. With an unofficial slogan of “less money, same awesome,” they pressed on, creating an internal organizational structure, organizing a coaching and support staff, developing marketing materials, launching a fundraising campaign, securing practice facilities and a playing field, and procuring uniforms and practice equipment, all while conducting practices three times a week. They pressed on despite voices from all corners advising them to wait a year. They pressed on despite knowing they were no longer the juggernaut of past seasons. But that didn’t matter. If they were to be underdogs, they would own it. The name they chose — The Renegades — reflects their chippy disposition as well as their desire to succeed in a way that hasn’t been seen before.
On the field this season, the Elite have yet to be threatened. Every game has gone to script. They have dispatched every competitor with deadly precision. They play to their own strengths and have not given their opponents even a whiff of opportunity. Every game they have played so far has been predictable.
The Renegades have faced the toughest competition the league has to offer in several close contests. Every game has presented them with unique challenges and a multitude of scenarios. The Renegades have thrived in pressurized environments. While almost every game they have played has been an adventure, they have persevered every time.
The Elite’s running game is formidable. Boston has a defense capable of confronting the rush. The Renegades’ offense is stacked. So is Dallas’s defense. They are both great teams. I think situational football is an area where one team has a clear advantage. Dallas hasn’t been strongly challenged in any game they have played this season, so they haven’t seen any situation when they weren’t tied or leading. How adept will they be at situational football? Will they successfully manage field position or the game clock? Can they make necessary adjustments at various stages in the game? How will they handle the unexpected? When two great teams play, I expect situational football to be a key factor, and Boston has the edge.
1. Shelley Burnson, Dallas Diamonds Ring of Honor Inductee adds this clarification: “Just a comment – the Elite are not a “re-establishment” of the Diamonds. They are their own. They have some former Diamonds but that’s where it ends. The Diamonds started in 2002 and ended with Dawn’s retirement. The Elite are a new team. And if I’m not mistaken, there was a non-compete and that was the year break. Not a regrouping. Just a clarification.”
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