Friday, December 14, 2012

MVFC Playoffs: North Dakota State 14, Wofford 7

The Bison are two wins away from repeating as
National Champions.
Only a few days late on this. BUT, North Dakota State advanced again in the FCS playoffs as they denied Wofford 14-7 in the Fargodome on Saturday. North Dakota State's defense did not allow a touchdown for the second consecutive game as Woffords only points came on a pick-six early in the second quarter. Wofford did however put up the most rushing yards against the Bison defense all year. Standout Wofford FB, Eric Breitenstein, put up 135 yards on the Bison, however, all that is meaningless because none of it lead to points. RB Sam Ojuri capped a 5-minute opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. With 4 minutes left in the first half, Brock Jensen found Zach Vraa in the endzone to put the Bison up 14-7 which would be the final score. Next weekend the Bison will have a semi-final rematch with Georgia Southern. Georgia Southern is coming off a 49-35 win at Old Dominion and will bring the nations leading rushing attack to the Fargodome. Last year the Bison took care of Georgia Southern 35-7 on their way to a National Title.

North Dakota State will play Georgia Southern tonight at 7:00 CST on ESPN 2.

Monday, December 10, 2012

MVFC Playoffs: Eastern Washington 51, Illinois State 35

Illinois State WR, Lechein Neblett, tries to break free
from Eastern Washington's Jeff Minnerly.
(Photo: AP Photo/Tyler Tjomsland)
Illinois State couldn't keep up with Eastern Washington on Saturday as the Redbirds were eliminated from the playoffs losing to the Eagles by a score of 51-35. Illinois State didn't have any trouble moving the ball up and down the field as they racked up 520 total yards of offense; however, the three costly turnovers proved to be the knife in the back for Illinois State. Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Matt Brown, threw two interceptions; one which led to an Eastern Washington touchdown which was part of a quick 14-point swing to start the second half, the second was with 34 seconds left in the game in desperation time. At the end of the game Eastern Washington proved they belong in the FCS semi-final game next week against Sam Houston State. Although the Eagle defense gave up so many yards, they proved to be opportunistic and create the turnovers at just the right time.

2012 will be a season to remember for Illinois State; 9-4, a second-round win at Appalachian State in OT, and the MVFC Offensive MVP, all contributed to an outstanding season for the Redbirds. I'll be honest, it will be very strange seeing someone else quarterback the Illinois State offense next year. Without speculating too much on next year for Illinois State, they'll lose 13 seniors including big offensive performers, Tyrone Walker, Matt Brown, and Darrelynn Dunn. The Redbirds also lose big-time offensive line contributor Cary Pete, however, that is the only loss to the offensive line. Defensively, Illinois State loses a bit more and will need to replace star linebackers, Mike Zimmer, Austin Davis, and Evan Frierson. Here is a complete list of the outgoing players from Illinois State:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

MVFC Playoffs: North Dakota State 28, South Dakota State 3

NDSU QB, Brock Jensen celebrates with teamate
Garret Bruhn during a 28-3 NCAA Second Round
victory against rival South Dakota State
(Photo: The Forum/Dave Wallis)
Not much to say about this victory. North Dakota State erased any doubt that South Dakota State could play up to their level on Saturday as the Bison beat the Jackrabbits in convincing fashion. The Jackrabbits came into this game with a lot of confidence and momentum after outscoring their opponents 86-18 since the first SDSU-NDSU match up; however, that wasn't enough to pull off the upset in Fargo.

The Bison set the tone early as they drove the ball and chewed the clock in the first quarter, however, their first drive ended in a missed field goal. The missed field goal set up a South Dakota State opportunity to get on the board first--and they did. After a long pass set South Dakota State up inside North Dakota State territory the Jackrabbit drive stalled and Justin Syrovatka put up South Dakota State's only points of the game. After that it was all Bison; Brock Jensen was in prime performance on Saturday as he threw for two TDs and ran for another.

The Bison have now won four in a row against South Dakota State; this time, however, much more was at stake. North Dakota State earned a quarter-final date with Wofford of the Southern Conference which should be a very interesting match up with a run-heavy offense against the nations #1 run defense. After watching the game on Saturday, it looked like the Bison got all their kinks out and they look like they are in prime condition to do some damage to the Terriers this Saturday. The winner of North Dakota State-Wofford will face either Old Dominion or Georgia Southern.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

MVFC Playoffs: Illinois State 38, Appalachian State 37

Illinois State's Mike Zimmer (9) celebrates with Matt Goldsmith (14)
after the Redibrds blocked an extra-point in overtime to beat Appalachian State.
(Photo: AP Photo/Walk Unks)
Illinois State will advance to the quarterfinals all thanks to a blocked extra-point attempt in overtime. The Redbirds lead the entire game until the fourth quarter when Appalachian State tied the game via a tricksy wide-receiver pass with three minutes left to play to force overtime. In overtime, Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Matt Brown, connected with James O'Shaughnessey to take a 38-31 lead. Jamal Jackson and the Mountaineers answered three-plays later with a four-yard Andrew Peacock touchdown, however, the extra-point was block and the Redbirds escaped Boone victorious. Redbird quarterback Matt Brown was at his best on Saturday. He connected 20 times on 32 pass attempts for 322 yards 5 touchdowns, and most importantly, zero interceptions. Illinois State most definitely needed their passing game as the Mountain er rush defense kept Redbird RB, Darrelynn Dunn, in check all game; Dunn ended the game with just 67 total yards. At wide-receiver, both O'Shaughnessey and Tyrone Walker ended the day hauling in two TD passes a piece.

Next weekend, Illinois State will have to face Eastern Washington from the Big Sky. This matchup will be extremely interesting as Eastern Washington struggled all night with Wagner from the NEC. Eastern Washington has been said to have one of the best defenses in the Big Sky, however, the Seahawks marched the ball on them multiple times and were up on the Eagles 19-16 in the third-quarter. However, Wagner ran out of steam and Eastern Washington ran away from the Seahawks in the fourth quarter. There are multiple things to consider about this matchup between Illinois State and Eastern Washington. One, on paper, both of these teams run similar offenses; they like to throw the ball and keep a defense off-balance with screens and draws. Secondly, Illinois State's passing attack looks to match up well against Eastern Washington's pass defense. Finally, the long road trip and elevation could contribute to faster fatigue in Illinois State players, on the other hand, Illinois State is undefeated on the road this season.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MVFC Playoffs: Live Chat, Wednesday 9:00 PM (CST)

Monday, November 26, 2012

MVFC Playoffs: South Dakota State 58, Eastern Illinois 10

South Dakota State's Zach Zenner stiff arms an Eastern
Illinois defender. Zenner ran for 295 yards and 3 TDs.
(Photo: The Collegian/Nick Lowrey)
South Dakota State won their first ever FCS playoff game (in fact, first ever playoff game, period) on Saturday as they destroyed Ohio Valley Champion Eastern Illinois 58-10. It took the Jackrabbit offense approximately half a quarter to get going and that was all she wrote for the Panthers of Eastern Illinois. Standout running-back Zach Zenner ran for 295 yards and three TDs as he lead the march against the Panthers. Quarterback Austin Sumner added a touchdown as time expired in the first half to give the Jackrabbits a 34-3 lead entering halftime.

The most important aspect of this game was the Jackrabbit defense. Eastern Illinois came into this game boasting a powerful offensive attack that featured two Walter Payton Award finalists, Jimmy Garoppolo and Erik Lora. Garoppolo was held to 221 yards (half to Lora) and most importantly was kept from throwing a touchdown the entire game. The Jackrabbit defense was stout and put Eastern Illinois out of the game almost before it got started. Erik Lora did have 12 catches for over 100 yards but his impact was kept minimal as he was frequently unable to do anything after the catch.

Zach Zenner's day was basically done halfway through the third quarter, Reggie Gandy came in and put up insane numbers as a back-up. Gandy ran 16 times for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns. In other words, South Dakota State's offensive line absolutely destroyed the Eastern Illinois defensive front on their way to over 434 yards of rushing. Here are some more numbers to show you how dominant the Jackrabbit performance was:
Zach Zenner runs away from the Eastern Illinois
defense on his way to a 68-yard TD run.
(Photo: Elisha Page/Argus Leader)

Total Offense:
South Dakota State LB's, Ross Shafrath (44) and Chris Tracy (7)
wrap up Eastern Illinois receiver Sam Hendricks
(Photo: Elisha Page/Argus Leader)

 Eastern Illinois - 399
 South Dakota State - 580

Time of Possession:

 Eastern Illinois - 22:57
 South Dakota State - 37:03

Penalty Yards:

 Eastern Illinois - 9-100
 South Dakota State - 4-20

First Downs

 Eastern Illinois - 17
 South Dakota State - 29

Most importantly, the score, 58-10, showed how dominant the South Dakota State Jackrabbits were on Saturday. Not only does this score show how good South Dakota State was on Saturday, but it also shows how good the Missouri Valley Football Conference really is. Now, the Ohio Valley has been getting some more rep this year with Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin, Eastern Kentucky all ending at 8-3 with Tennessee-Martin getting an FBS win (20-17) over Memphis. However, Eastern Illinois won the OVC auto-bid going 6-1 in the conference and 7-4 overall.

What does all this mean? Well, In my opinion it means one of a couple things. First, maybe Eastern Illinois just didn't come to play. We saw it when South Dakota State traveled to Northern Iowa earlier this year (although, I'm still certain that Northern Iowa was a more powerful team than their record shows) Secondly, maybe the OVC isn't as good as they've been pumped up to be this year. Or thirdly, the Missouri Valley really is as good as its been pumped up to be this year. One thing is for certain however, the selection committee really messed up this years bracket. It was stated that South Dakota State was one of the last two selected (along with Stony Brook) but South Dakota State was obviously not the worst, or even the second worst, team in the playoffs this year. This next week matchup between North Dakota State and South Dakota State should not be happening and it is an absolute slap in the face to the Missouri Valley Football Conference that it is, in fact, happening. However, regardless of our opinions, North Dakota State and South Dakota State will battle it out again after three weeks, this time the loser's season will be done.

Next weekend, three Missouri Valley teams will be playing. Two, North Dakota State and South Dakota State will be playing each other and the third, Illinois State, will be traveling to Boone, North Carolina to take on Appalachian State. We all know the how the Bison and the Jacks match up, since we've seen it once before. However, Illinois State at Appalachian State is a very interesting game. Appalachian State will feature a very dynamic quarterback Brett Jackson, however, their defense is allowing close to 24 points a game. Looking back at their schedule, the Mountaineers have been very consistent. Winning 30-something to 20-something has been a common theme in their 2012 season. Illinois State will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to walk away from Boone with a win and a chance to move on in the playoffs.

Illinois State at Appalachian State will begin at 2:00 EST while North Dakota State vs South Dakota State will begin at 4:00 EST.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The South Dakota Showdown: In Pictures

Jackrabbits warming up. 
Jackrabbit QB's, Sumner & Kline, warming up.
The Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center. 
A quick look at the Coyote fans in their corner of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium
MVFC Pre-game hand shake. The crowd has definitely filled in. 
A look at the south Endzone before the game. 
Opening kick-off; the rivalry is officially back.
SDSU's front seven; the Jackrabbit defense allowed just 22 yards of rushing.
Not the best picture quality here; tried to get a LOS shot. I guess my camera just can't handle that level of zoom.
Tough start for the Coyotes, excellent start for the Rabbits. 
Just some random action. 
Jackrabbit Pre-game, pre-game, warm-ups. First look at the throwback jersey's. 
Coyotes warming up. Yes, I was there early.

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 12

#1 North Dakota State (10-1), 542 (points)
South Dakota State's LB, Chris Tracy, scores on a fumble
recovery in the first quarter against South Dakota.
North Dakota State won the Missouri Valley outright Saturday night as they pulled way from the Redbirds late in the game to seal the victory. in doing so, North Dakota State also secured the #1 seed in the playoffs. It is very likely that the Bison should make a push for a second-straight national champion. However, the team the Bison might need to worry about the most is #4 Old Dominion who are on their way to the FBS next season.

#2 Illinois State (8-3), 326

Illinois State had a chance to beat North Dakota State but blew several chances to pull away in the second half, instead, the Bison put on the pressure and the Redbirds collapsed. However, Illinois State did enough this season to earn a second-round playoff game at Appalachian State. Illinois State will have a monumental task putting together a big playoff run. If they beat App State, they will have to go through (presumably) #2 Eastern Washington and #3 Montana State. 

#3 South Dakota State (8-3), 297
South Dakota State snuck into the playoffs with a respectable, but not over-powering, 8-3 season. The Jackrabbits earned the their way into the playoff over the weekend with a 31-8 stomping of long-time rival South Dakota. Although a larger crowd was expected, the healthy crowd of 15,200 was good enough for 7th largest crowd in Coughlin-Alumni Stadium history.  Austin Sumner showed once again that he has regained some of his confidence from last season and proved to be lethal as he was finding wide-open receivers all day. Zach Zenner also had a day; he slowly put together 164 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Jackrabbits were extremely stout; the Coyotes sniffed the endzone once but ended up turning the ball over on fourth down. Next weekend South Dakota State will be the only Valley team playing in the first-round of the playoffs. The Jackrabbits will host Eastern Illinois and their electrifying passing-attack; should the Jackrabbits win, they will have a second chance at knocking off conference rival North Dakota State. 

#4 Youngstown State (7-4), 276
Youngstown State needed one more win to get into the playoffs. The losses against Illinois State and Southern Illinois hurt the worse; in both those games the Penguins were winning at halftime and failed to come back out to play in the second half. Kurt Hess & Company will be back next year. However, they'll lose standout running back Jamaine Cook. Besides that loss, this Youngstown State team is still very young and will only improve over the offseason. 

#5 Southern Illinois (6-5), 256
The slow start to 2012 hurt the Salukis who turned out probably the third best defense in the Valley behind North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Next season the Salukis will look much the same, similarly to Youngstown State the Salukis are still young and show promise. Steve Strother who was a big producer on offense for the Salukis will graduate and also Kenneth Boatright's presence on the defensive line will be missed next year. At 6-5 the Salukis looked to have a mediocre season, but there was plenty to be happy about after two straight losing seasons. After comparing the 2011 SDSU-SIU & 2012 SDSU-SIU (games that I've watched in their entirety), I think the Salukis have alot to look forward to. In that 2011 matchup against South Dakota State, the Salukis looked completely defeated and lackadaisical; in 2012, they showed spirit and pride--the confidence factor cannot be overlooked and 2012 was definitely a successful confidence building season for the Salukis. An argument can be made saying that Southern Illinois should be above Youngstown State with a head-to-head win, however, I'll stand by the argument that it is a little more complicated than that. Remember, Indiana State beat Southern Illinois who beat Youngstown State who lost to Indiana State. So in all actuality, we can probably arrange these teams any which way and still make a legitimate argument. I think that the computer does an okay job of arranging them (Youngstown State with the best FBS win in FCS & Indiana State with wins over Quincy and Drake brought them up and pulled them down respectively)

#6 Indiana State (7-4), 231
Indiana State had a disappointing end to 2012. After their upset victory in Fargo it looked like Indiana State might end 9-2 and grab a seed in the playoffs. Illinois State was playing inconstantly and Youngstown State was in free-fall and most predicted Indiana State to win against those two teams. However, the opposite happened and the worst-case scenario came into fruition in Terre Haute. After setting #1 North Dakota State, the Sycamores did not even get the necessary 7 D-I wins to be eligible for the playoffs. We've seen it before, scheduling an FBS team and a D-II team makes it extremely difficult for teams to make the playoffs. However, Indiana State, Shakir Bell, and Mike Perish will be back next season. Hopefully with a playoff-friendly schedule. 

#7 Northern Iowa (5-6), 202
Everyone predicted this was how the Panther season would end. After losses to Iowa and Wisconsin, then losses to Youngstown State and North Dakota State, Northern Iowa would get to a point in their schedule where they shouldn't lose another game. The Panthers won 4 of their last five and reminded us that they are still Northern Iowa, and they'll be back next year.

#8 Missouri State (3-8), 103
Missouri State showed promise, but still made alot of glaring mistakes that will inhibit this team from being a threat in the Missouri Valley. It seemed that the Bears were competitive in each of their games and even pulled off an upset win against Illinois State. However, offensively the Bears are going to need to find some sort of identity if they want to push their squad to the next level--defensively, they're on the right track. 

#9 South Dakota (1-10), 40
The conference newcomer South Dakota had a very rough season, winless in the conference was definitely not the way many Coyote fans had hoped to see. The good news is that the Yotes are young, and Joe Glenn will continue to mold this team into a better, more competitive version of themselves. Inconsistency was the word of the season for Coyote fans. Offensively the Coyotes had times where they looked pretty good, but most times the offense was ineffective and fizzled out before anything ever got started. The same can be said about the defense, there were games where the defense kept them in the game, then there were others (North Dakota State, Indiana State, South Dakota State) where the defense played on their heels and did not create any chaos to get the opposing offense out of rhythm. I will say, it will be interesting to watch this Coyote team over the next couple season. 

#10 Western Illinois (3-8), 13
Although Western Illinois finished the season with two more wins than the Coyotes, both of those wins game against non-scholarship Butler, & sub-D-I Indianapolis (of course, their other win came against, the Coyotes). However, in the last five games, Western scored only 17 points and was shut-out twice. Their max output on offense during those five games was 224 total yards of offense. The difference between South Dakota and Western Illinois was that the Coyotes showed some promise at the end of the season against Northern Iowa and Youngstown State; Western, on the other hand, got completely outplayed in the second half of the season. The Leathernecks will need to do some major soul-searching to prepare for 2013. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 11

The Dakota Marker will stay in Fargo for another year. The
Bison clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley
title on Saturday.
(Photo: Dave Walls/Fargo Communications)
#1 North Dakota State (9-1), 485 (points)
North Dakota State clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley title over the weekend as they edged South Dakota State in a defensive battle. Defensively the Bison are everything they are hyped to be and their offense does exactly what it needs to do to win the game. Next weekend the Bison will have the opportunity to win the Missouri Valley outright with a win over Illinois State.

#2 Illinois State (8-2), 339

Illinois State has put themselves in good position for a post-season invitation. However, they could win a share of the Missouri Valley title if they beat North Dakota State next weekend. After a bye-week the Redbirds should be well rested to take on the Bison. Matt Brown will need to play a flawless game and the defense will need to keep the Redbirds in the game. 

#3 South Dakota State (7-3), 265

South Dakota State played well in Fargo but made a couple of crucial mistakes that might have cost them the game. At any rate, the Jackrabbits never had the lead and the Bison defense shut Austin Sumner/Zenner down when it counted the most. Next week South Dakota State will rekindle their rivalry with South Dakota. The Jackrabbits will need to win next week if they want to keep their post-season hopes alive. 

#4 Indiana State (7-3), 261
Indiana State had a bye-week last week and will need to come up with a big win this weekend against Youngstown State to keep their slim chance of playoffs alive. Indiana State's defense has developed into one of the best in the Missouri Valley and that unit will give Kurt Hess and company alot of trouble. However, the Sycamores cannot sleep against this Youngstown State team. Although the Penguins have been down since their loss to North Dakota State, last week they scored 31 points (the most since since their win against Northern Iowa) which showed that they still have the ability to score points. Also, Indiana State has one victory over a Division II school (Quincy) which is proving to be a bad scheduling decision because it will likely keep this very good Sycamore football team out of post-season play.

#5 Youngstown State (6-4), 221
Youngstown State got another much-needed win last week as they dismantled Western Illinois and won comfortably. Jamaine Cook ran for 133 yards and 2 TD's on Saturday as they Penguins put the most points on the scoreboard since September 22nd. However, Kurt Hess again proved to be regressing as he threw for only 152 yards and an interception. Hess will need to be his best if the Penguins want to knock off Indiana State to get to 7 wins this season. 

#6 Southern Illinois (5-5), 218
Southern Illinois was on a bye week and hopefully they figured out how to get their offense to complement the defense. The Saluki's have proved to be stout on the defensive side, however, Kory Faulkner and the offense has been stagnant in the most crucial of times this season. Southern Illinois should have no trouble with Western Illinois next weekend and will likely end the season with high-confidence. 

#7 Northern Iowa (4-6), 202
Northern Iowa played very poorly against South Dakota last weekend in Vermillion. Kollmorgen was less-than-spectacular and the defense was sub-par. I'm not sure if the Panthers didn't show up or were not motivated to play a 1-8 team. Whatever the reason, if the Coyotes had another five minutes, they could have won. Northern Iowa will end the season against Missouri State, which suddenly is not a gimmie win. 

#8 Missouri State (3-7), 140
Missouri State is 3-1 in the past four games, their only loss was by four points to top ranked North Dakota State. Defensively the Bears have found a pretty good rhythm and have been able to frustrate opposing offenses. This weekend the Bears will face Northern Iowa, they will need to shut down David Johnson and Carlos Anderson if they want to beat the Panthers. 

#9 South Dakota (1-9), 15
Although the Panthers played very poorly over the weekend, give some credit to South Dakota. The Coyotes came out to play on Saturday and proved that they can compete and shouldnt' be overlooked. The Coyotes have only 1 win (over Colgate, now a playoff team) but that is not stopping them from playing with some motivation. That tell me alot about the character of this team and this weekend when they play South Dakota State the Coyotes will give the Jackrabbits all they have. 

#10 Western Illinois (3-7), 13
Western Illinois has been outscored 167-27 over the past five games, two of their three wins are from sub-division I schools, and to make matters worse, they'll face a very good Southern Illinois team to end the season on Saturday. Confidence will likely end on a low-note in Macomb and the Leathernecks will look toward the off-season to get better. Remember, two years ago the Leathernecks were a playoff team who beat Coastal Carolina in the first-round. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Western Illinois will be back. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SDSU@NDSU Live Chat, Wednesday, 9:30 PM CST

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Missouri Valley Playoff Projections: Week 10

Matt Brown and the Redbirds have put themselves in a
very good spot in terms of playoff selection.
(Photo: GoRedbirds)
The playoff picture in the Missouri Valley got a little more clear over the weekend. However, it looks as if only three MVFC teams have legit shots at the playoffs this year. North Dakota State and Illinois State have already notched 8 D-I wins which is considered a lock coming from a conference like the Missouri Valley. South Dakota State currently sits at 7-2 which is a great spot for them as they have South Dakota coming to Brookings for the last game of the season. However, they must win one game before they get too comfortable. North Dakota State and South Dakota State are the only teams that control their own destiny for the Missouri Valley crown; if they win out, they'll get the auto-bid and most likely a seed, although it is argued that the Bison will receive a seed regardless.

The situation becomes more tricky for Illinois State to win the auto-bid. Essentially, South Dakota State must beat North Dakota State then lose to South Dakota to end 8-3. North Dakota State will need to lose to both South Dakota State and Illinois State to end 8-3. Illinois State will need to beat North Dakota State and they would end 9-2. I would assume Illinois State would grab the auto-bid and North Dakota State and South Dakota State would enter the playoffs, albeit, seedless.

There are, however, two teams who could end up with 7 D-I wins which would place them eligible for playoff selection. However, ALOT would have to happen across all conferences in the FCS landscape for a 7-win team to be selected. Both Youngstown State and Indiana State have opportunities to end with 7 wins. In this extreme scenario where a 7-win team from the Missouri Valley would be selected it would be tough to determine which team has the better resume. On one hand, the early season success of Youngstown State is nothing to scoff at, however, Indiana State proved they can compete with the best as they knocked off top-ranked North Dakota State in Fargo. So, what is more impressive? A win against North Dakota State or a win against Pittsburgh? In my opinion, the Indiana State win against North Dakota State was far more impressive. The relative success of Pittsburgh in the middle of the season (as depicted in their game against #4 BCS Notre Dame) has shown us that this is not the same Pittsburgh team that played against Youngstown State. It is a very valid argument when a new head coach comes in, the first few games can be rocky, as was the case in Pittsburgh. I'm not trying to downplay the significance of the win, I'm just saying there is something to think about there. North Dakota State, on the other hand, has had continued success and is a strong program with an amazing coaching staff. For Indiana State to come into Fargo and beat a #1 ranked team, with confidence, is a far larger statement than beating an FBS team right out of the gate.

So that is a quick review of where the anticipated eligible Missouri Valley teams stand. However, as we all know determining playoff teams requires a comprehension of the entire FCS field and how each conference is doing. For example, this year it will be very unlikely that a 7-win team will be selected into the playoffs because of the amount of 8+ win programs. Here is a list of teams who are anticipated to have 8+ wins at the end of the regular season:

Big Sky
Northern Arizona (8-1)
Eastern Washington (7-2)
Montana State (8-1)
Cal Poly (7-2)

Big South
Stony Brook (9-1)

New Hampshire (8-2)
Old Dominion (8-1)
James Madison (7-2) (If they beat 'Nova)
Richmond (6-3)
Villanova (6-3) (If they beat JMU)

Bethune-Cookman (7-2)

North Dakota State (8-1)
South Dakota State (7-2)
Illinois State (8-2)

Wagner (6-3)
Albany (7-2)

Ohio Valley
Tennessee-Martin (7-2)
Tennessee State (8-2)
Eastern Kentucky (7-3)

Patriot League
Lehigh (9-0)
Colgate (6-3)

Georgia Southern (7-2)
Wofford (7-2)
Appalachian State (7-3)

Central Arkansas (8-2)
Sam Houston State (7-2)

Obviously, there is a lot going on in the FCS the next couple weeks and talk up until now is purely speculation and guesswork.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Roth's Power Rankings: Week 10

1) North Dakota State
The Bison escaped thanks to a last-minute endzone interception against a surprisingly game Missouri State team. Right now the Bison offense is in full-fledged 2009 mode and the defense is going back to its old job of bailing the team out, but despite that NDSU is still the best team in the conference, especially with Indiana State losing this weekend. A huge Dakota Marker game looms this Saturday for at least a share of the conference title.

2) South Dakota State
Austin Sumner got back to his form last season as he threw against Southern Illinois 45 times and completed 26 of them without an interception. Meanwhile Zach Zenner had just 17 carries and the SIU defense held him to 49 yards. Is he running out of steam, or does the coaching staff recognize that teams are starting to key on the sophomore back and are going to the air as a result? Sumner needs to have a huge game if they want to win at NDSU on Saturday.

3) Illinois State 
Right now it looks like the Valley will get three into the playoffs and Illinois State is playing the part of the third team. With just one game left to play at home versus NDSU in the final week of the season, the Rebirds effectively have their ticket punched with eight wins. Good enough for a first-round bye? Probably not.

4) Indiana State
The loss to Illinois State was a back breaker, and playing D-II Quincy early in the season might not be enough to let the Sycamores sneak into the playoffs. They get a bye week to prepare for a monster game at Youngstown State to cap off the regular season, and a win there leaves them at seven D-I wins and on the bubble for the playoffs. They'll need some help from around the country (and will be rooting for Lehigh this weekend versus Colgate) if they want in to the field of 20.

5) Southern Illinois
It's almost too bad to see their loss to SDSU as they still had a snowball's chance of being considered for the playoffs at 6-4 if they win, with just cupcake WIU to play to end the season. SIU will want to get their first winning season in three years and should vent their frustrations on a hapless Western squad after their bye week.

6) Northern Iowa
The Panthers put a nice little thumping on WIU to remind folks that at one point they were considered among the favorites to win the conference. Panther fans have to be ready for this season to be over and freshman QB Kollmorgen will be ready to get working on the preface to his sophomore campaign which should hold plenty more promise. I'm interested to see what they do to South Dakota and Missouri State to finish their season. 

7) Youngstown State
From third in the nation to barely squeaking out a win over South Dakota, breaking a four-game losing streak. I've cited elsewhere that YSU's defense is not good enough to keep the 'Guins in the game when their offense isn't clicking, and so far that looks to be the case. Luckily they played a mostly-garbage USD team and were able to steal a 13-10 victory that won't earn them any respect. Playoffs are still a shadow of a chance and could set up a big finish when they play Indiana State to finish the season.

8) Missouri State
NDSU barely managed to snap a three-game win streak and needed a last-minute endzone pick to do it. MSU got feisty at the end of the year, and it's too bad their body of work leading up to this was so bad that I couldn't rank them higher than eighth.

9) South Dakota
Only ranked above Western Illinois by virtue of having scored points this weekend.

10) Western Illinois
40-0. Ouch.      

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 10

South Dakota State reciever's Trevor Tiefenthaler gets up
after catching the game-winning TD with 7 seconds remaining.
(Photo: Joel Hawksley/TheSouthern)
#1 North Dakota State (8-1), 445 (points)
As expected, North Dakota State won in Springfield and likely sealed a spot in the playoffs. However, it was more of a challenge many Bison fans expected. Brock Jensen had another sub-par day (3 INTs) but should likely get back into rhythm next week if wideout Zach Vraa is 100%. The Bison defense stepped up and bailed the offense out with another stellar performance. Despite allowing 17 points, the defense only allowed 149 yards of total offense (only 22 yards of passing) and forced three turnovers. Next week they'll take on the Jackrabbits for the Dakota Marker and likely the Missouri Valley title should either team win out. North Dakota State will have multiple key aspects of the game going for them next Saturday. One, the pass defense; South Dakota State has been held to season lows the past two weeks which has been countered with a late-season surge of quarterback Austin Sumner. However, if North Dakota State forces the Jacks to throw the ball the Bison will likely force young Sumner into making crucial miscues. Should the Bison defense shut down the Jackrabbits early, the Bison should win Saturday mostly uncontested. On the other hand, the South Dakota State defense has been a high-point for this Jackrabbit team all season. The Jackrabbits certainly have talent and the ability to force turnovers and create chaos for the opposing offense. Next weekend will likely be a barnburner in Fargo... of course, I've used that phrase once before in week #5 and we all know how that turned out.

#2 Illinois State (8-2), 313

Illinois State likely knocked the Sycamores out of the playoffs over the weekend and again are finding themselves in a position to shoot for a Missouri Valley title. The Redbirds will have a week off to prepare for a battle against top-ranked North Dakota State. Over the weekend the Illinois State pass defense came up with 2 INTs to help seal the victory against Indiana State, if the defense brings the same intensity and focus to Fargo the Redbirds could make some noise. However, the two losses that Illinois State did suffer came from teams they should have beaten, to me that shows a lack of focus and maturity which could play a role in the fate of this Redbird team. With eight wins Illinois State has a good chance of punching an at-large bid to the playoffs. However, they will be routing for no upsets in other leagues or else they could be on the outside looking in. 

#3 South Dakota State (7-2), 265

As soon as many South Dakota State fans wrote off playoffs, Sumner led the Jackrabbits 94 yards for a touchdown with seven seconds left to keep playoff hopes alive in Brookings. What is concerning about this Jackrabbit team is that the offense seems to have flip-flopped. The past two weeks South Dakota State has accumulated 635 yards of passing opposed to 103 yards of rushing. We can argue that the success of the passing game has been an opportunistic transition as teams boxed up defenses at the line to stop breakout running-back Zach Zenner. Sure. However, great teams have the ability to mix-up play calling and run an effective balanced offensive attack; South Dakota State has proved powerful, either passing or running, but not at the same time. They will have to do BOTH if they want to keep a stout Bison defense on their heels this weekend. Again, both North Dakota State and South Dakota State control their fates, if they win their games, they win the Missouri Valley outright. SDSU+NDSU+Dakota Marker+Playoffs+MVFC title=Barnburner. 

#4 Indiana State (7-3), 262
Indiana State had a real let-down this past weekend against Illinois State. The Sycamores looked posed to control their destiny and find themselves in the playoffs. However, offensively Indiana State did not have control and made crucial mistakes that cost them the game against Illinois State and, ultimately, the playoffs. The good news for Indiana State is that Mike Perish is young and will have plenty of time to develop into a great Valley quarterback, also, Shakir Bell will be back next year. At the beginning of the year, it looked like this matchup between Youngstown State and Indiana State would be a game with playoff implications, however, after Youngstown State's collapse and Indiana State's slip-up this game will ultimately be about pride for these two squads. If Indiana State wins, they will finish the season 8-3, which is a great record. However, with that win against Quincy (D-II) not counting in the eyes of the playoff selection committee a 7-3 Indiana State team will likely be left out. 

#5 Southern Illinois (5-5), 193
Southern Illinois nearly pulled off a big win against South Dakota State over the weekend. However, the defense stopped playing 2 minutes early and Jackrabbit quarterback Austin Sumner threw a late TD to end all playoff hopes for the Salukis. The playoff hopes were a stretch before this loss as the Salukis could only end 7-4, however they can now only reach 6 D-I wins which leaves them ineligible for playoff selection. Thats the bad news. The good news is that the Salukis have proved alot this year and next year Southern Illinois should be a real contender with a very, very good defense. Saluki quarterback Kory Faulkner also proved that he can be an effective quarterback. Southern Illinois will face Western Illinois in two weeks for their final game of the year and should end with a winning record despite a rough start to 2012. 

#6 Youngstown State (5-4), 183
Well, Youngstown State ended the losing streak, but this unimpressive win really captures what has happened to this Penguin team. All life has been sucked out of Youngstown State and it will take everything they have to finish 7-4. Despite being outgained significantly in yardage in the first half, the Coyotes hung with Youngstown State and took the game all the way to the final minutes. Kurt Hess and company will take on Western Illinois who has a world of problems of their own. This game should allow the Penguins to gain a little confidence before they match up with Indiana State. 

#7 Northern Iowa (3-6), 174
Northern Iowa got a good confidence-building win against a weak Western Illinois squad. 40-0 was the final score in Macomb as the Panthers smothered any possibility of momentum for Western. Running back David Johnson ran for 149 yards and quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen threw 2 TDs in the rout and will look to do the same next weekend against South Dakota. The best Northern Iowa can do is 5-6 and with a surging Missouri State team, 4-7 could be a realistic ending for a season-to-forget in Cedar Falls. 

#8 Missouri State (3-7), 116
Missouri State played well against North Dakota State, defensively. However, as I mentioned last week, quarterback Kierra Harris needs to turn that corner and make less mistakes if the Bears want to challenge teams. The Bears will have a week off before they take on Northern Iowa. The game against the Panthers will be a confidence builder and a way to end 2012 on a positive note. 

#9 Western Illinois (3-6), 24
Speaking of ending seasons on a positive note, Western Illinois needs to seriously find a way to play defense or else they might not grab any momentum by the time the offseason arrives. The next two games for the Leathernecks include Youngstown State and Southern Illinois. Both of those teams  have had their struggles, but none of their struggles can compete with the amount of frustration Leatherneck fans have seen this season. Offensively, the Western Illinois line has been the worst in the Valley. This has contributed to multiple problems included poor quarterbacking, sub-par running, and terrible confidence. The past two weeks Western has been outscored 82-3. Leatherneck fans, this team is young and Western will be back in the coming years. 

#10 South Dakota (1-8), 13
South Dakota is still winless in the conference. However, they played better against the Penguins. Quarterback Josh Vander Maten got the starting nod despite poor performances the past two weeks, while he didn't turn the ball over against Youngstown State, he also didn't get in the endzone. Running-back Jasper Sanders scored the only Coyote touchdown of the day as he scampered from 22-yards out. South Dakota has two games left, they'll host Northern Iowa this weekend and then travel to Brookings, SD to take on rival South Dakota State. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 9

Illinois State got a much-needed win
this weekend in Cedar Falls.
(Photo: Waterloo Courier/Dawn Sagert)
#1 North Dakota State (7-1), 423 (points)
North Dakota State took care of the surging Salukis last weekend in the Fargodome. The Bison win over the weekend proved that the Bison can win tight games and come out on top. With upcoming games against Missouri State, South Dakota State, and Illinois State the Bison have a good chance to prove their might once more.

#2 Indiana State (7-2), 302

Indiana State followed suit after North Dakota State's trashing of conference newcomer South Dakota. Although the Sycamores allowed the Coyotes to score, Indiana State put 45 points on the board in a blowout win. Can the Sycs keep it up? Next up for Indiana State is Illinois State is a big game with serious playoff implications. 

#3 South Dakota State (6-2), 282

South Dakota State came out to play this weekend after a terrible showing in Cedar Falls. The jackrabbits asserted itself worthy of playoff consideration after blasting through Youngstown State in popular fashion. What is more interesting was the reappearance of the daunted Jackrabbit passing attack that was suppose to be the strength of this South Dakota State team--the question is now.. will it stay? This weekend the Jackrabbits will travel to Carbondale, Illinois to take on Southern Illinois

#4 Illinois State (7-2), 281
Illinois State is sitting at 7-2 but has had a couple of bad beats at home. The Redbirds traveled to Cedar Falls last weekend and handled Northern Iowa--something that I didn't think would happen. Each week Illinois State either proves they belong, then they have a let down, then the next week--they prove themselves again. I literally don't know what will happen with Illinois State, all I know is that they will have to win one of their next two games to be in playoff consideration. That will not be an easy task, their next two games are against Indiana State and North Dakota State.  

#5 Southern Illinois (5-4), 224
After finding themselves at the top half of the Power Rankings last weekend the Salukis got beat by North Dakota State. However, they put up a good showing in Fargo over the weekend and only dropped on spot. I think this Southern Illinois team has really found their identity and will find some more wins this season. Southern Illinois has won 5 of their last 7, and in only 1 of those games they out-gained their opponent in offensive yardage. This weekend the Salukis will host South Dakota State. 

#6 Youngstown State (4-4), 173
Make if a four game losing streak. The Penguins have certainly seen better times and will need to regroup and find their rhythm this weekend against South Dakota. After watching the South Dakota State-Youngstown State game, the Penguins just looked out-of-sync. Kurt Hess was not connecting with his receivers and the defensive secondary looked like they were running around with they heads cut-off. This is not the same Youngstown State team from the beginning of the season. With three games left, they still have a shot to end the season 7-4 with an outside shot of an at-large bid to the playoffs. However, Indiana State will be a roadblock for them in the last game of the regular season. 

#7 Northern Iowa (2-6), 151
Northern Iowa lost to Illinois State over the weekend which surprised me. After watching a dominant performance against South Dakota State I expected Northern Iowa to cruise to a 6-5 record. However, after losing to Illinois State the best they can hope for is 5-6. The Panthers last three games feature Western Illinois, South Dakota, and Missouri State. All those games should be wins, however, with the type of season the Panthers are having, you never know. 

#8 Missouri State (3-6), 150
Missouri State now has three wins on the season and will have a shot to battle it out with North Dakota State over the weekend. Kierra Harris is a pretty athletic player, he makes plenty of ill-advised decisions. However, his presence and leadership has willed his team to wins the past three weeks. Harris through three TDs last weekend in a blowout victory against Western Illinois (however, three picks as well) that kind of production is what the Bears were looking for at the beginning of the season. This weekend Harris will have a tougher task when he faces the Bison defense. 

#9 Western Illinois (3-4), 52
We all knew Western was in trouble after two ugly wins over sub-division I competition. Last weekend the Leathernecks tried their luck with their 3rd new starter of the year, Hayden Northern. However, Northern finished the game with three interceptions and no touchdowns. Three wins might be the max for this Leatherneck squad as they face Northern Iowa, Youngstown State, and Southern Illinois to finish off the season. The good news? This team is young and the Leatherneck tradition is deep, Western Illinois will be back in future years. 

#10 South Dakota (1-6), 17
The Coyotes got another upsetting defeat last weekend against the Sycamores. It now appears the the defense and offense are getting weaker each week and the motivation is continuing to drop. Head Coach Glenn better get his players prepared for the next few weeks or else the Coyotes could end the season with only 1 win. This weekend the Coyotes will travel to Ohio to take on a struggling Penguin squad. South Dakota has three games left with only 1 home game--Northern Iowa. Tough season in Vermillion. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Missouri Valley Attendance

The Fargodome as it hosted Georgia Southern last year in the playoffs. 
The Missouri Valley Football Conference has a pretty good showing so far this season attendance wise. As of October 21st, six of the ten Valley teams are in the top 30 in attendance according to the NCAA; all six of those schools are averaging more than 10,000 fans per game. Of course, it is usually about this time of the season where attendance tends to drop off. The weather gets colder and more people tend to stay home and follow the game online or watch a larger BCS game with title and Heisman implications from Buffalo Wild Wings. Here are the attendance averages thus far in the Missouri Valley:
Coughlin-Alumni Stadium renovation plans for an upgrade
to over 20,000. 

1. North Dakota State (18,655)
2. Youngstown State (15,886)
3. Northern Iowa (13,696)
4. Western Illinois (12,878)
5. South Dakota State (12,148)
6. Southern Illinois (10,784)
7. Missouri State (9,073)
8. South Dakota (8,998)
9. Indiana State (6,771)
10. Illinois State (6,441)

With the amount of success Indiana State and Illinois State are having this season the numbers are surprising. However, remember that Illinois State is in the midst of a remodel and I believe half of their stadium is under construction. Indiana State does not have the support. After more than a decade of being at the bottom of the Gateway/MVFC, Indiana State's football support has dwindled. However, at 6,771, Indiana State's attendance is on the rise. In 2008, the Sycamores averaged 3,885 fans per game. South Dakota also has something to look forward to. Even though the performance on field has struggled this season, I do expect the Coyotes to field a competitive MVFC team in the near future. South Dakota also has plans to build a basketball arena which would allow the Dakota Dome to be reconfigured--presumably into something similar to the UNI-Dome.

Northern Iowa's UNI-Dome, holds up to 16,000. South
Dakota's Dakota Dome is essentially a one-sided UNI-Dome.
South Dakota State also has big plans to increase attendance in the future. So far this season the Jackrabbits have averaged just over 12,000 per game. With two home games left (Hobo Day & in-state rival South Dakota) that average will soar--both games have only standing-room-only tickets available. South Dakota State will break ground within the next year on a new Indoor Practice Facility which is the first step into completely renovating the area around Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, and the stadium itself. The amount of enthusiasm for South Dakota State has gone through the roof; the last season of division II the Jackrabbits were averaging just over 5,000 fans per game.

North Dakota State has the most electric game-day experience, not only because of the amount of fans, but because of the culture and atmosphere the Dome provides. It is incredible how loud the Fargodome gets. I wonder sometimes what the future of the Bison football program holds. The Bison sold out every football game this year and will likely repeat that for years to come. The fan support in Fargo could easily make an argument for a 25,000-35,000 seat stadium that could easily be sold out like the Fargodome.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 8

South Dakota QB, Josh Vander Maten is sacked
by Bison DE Kyle Emanuel

#1 North Dakota State (6-1), 360 (points)
After a loss to Indiana State, North Dakota State took out their frustration on a weak South Dakota opponent in Sioux Falls. Just how dominating were the Bison? North Dakota State won 54-0 and allowed South Dakota only 76 yards of TOTAL offense. Next up for the Bison: Southern Illinois. The Salukis have won five of their past six games.

#2 Indiana State (6-2), 241 

As expected, Indiana State won at Western Illinois. The Sycamores defense played well again after a solid performance at the Fargodome. Indiana State gave up a total of 144 yards to the Leathernecks and picked off two passes on their way to a solid 23-7 victory in Macomb. Next week the Sycamores head back home to take on struggling conference newcomer, South Dakota. 

#3 Illinois State (6-2), 228

Illinois State got upset by Missouri State at home over the weekend. What seems to be evident throughout the season is that Illinois State's defense is definitely the weak point on this Redbird squad. Also, when Illinois State's passing attack gets shut down they have a hard time moving the ball consistently. The Redbirds definitely need to find some consistency or else they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time.  

#4 Southern Illinois (5-3), 210
Southern Illinois now has wins against Youngstown State, Illinois State, and Northern Iowa. Those are all quality wins and this Saluki squad has me believing they might make an end of the season push for playoff selection. Southern Illinois has their defense turned around and their offense has found effective ways to score. However, this week they'll have a huge take as they face North Dakota State in Fargo. 

#5 South Dakota State (5-2), 209
The Jackrabbits have finally ran into a team that was more powerful than their running attack. The problems were obvious--defensively South Dakota State could not match up and contain Northern Iowa's skill position players. South Dakota State looked flat all game and the passing game is still crippling the Jackrabbits. Next week South Dakota State will host Youngstown State on Hobo Day. Traditionally South Dakota State has played very well on Hobo Day, that better be the case next week as this will be a must-win for the Rabbits. 

#6 Youngstown State (4-3), 170
Youngstown State is now on a three game losing streak after losing to Southern Illinois over the weekend. What seemed to be strengths at the beginning of the season now look like weaknesses as teams have found ways to match up and contain Youngstown State's offense. This weekend the Penguins will travel to Brookings to take on South Dakota State. 

#7 Northern Iowa (2-5), 146
Northern Iowa got a must-needed win against South Dakota State over the weekend. I was at this game and I noticed a few things about the Panthers. One: Kollmorgen is a fine quarterback and, as a freshman, good things are to come. Two: Northern Iowa fans have been too hard on their defense. Three: Northern Iowa won't lose another game this season. Lastly, maybe it was the fact that it was UNI's homecoming or because SDSU has a mental block when playing Northern Iowa, but Northern Iowa looked good, very good. 

#8 Missouri State (2-6), 90
Missouri State has pulled themselves far from the bottom of the conference the past two weeks. Missouri State has turned from a pass heavy type offense that was really reliant on Ashton Glaser to a more controlled run-centered offense. On Saturday, Ashton Glaser and Kierra Harris each ran for a touchdown and the defense played lights out. The result was a huge win against Illinois State. Missouri State plays Western Illinois next weekend; the Bears could easily win three straight. 

#9 Western Illinois (3-4), 71
Western Illinois lost to Indiana State over the weekend. Their offense, even with Wil Lunt at quarterback, lacked any threat that could challenge the Indiana State defense. Western Illinois is having a hard time this season and defensively its hard to keep opponents in check when you're on the field the entire game. Western Illinois will likely fall far below .500 by the end of the season and will rebuild for next season. 

#10 South Dakota (1-6), 17
South Dakota continues to struggle in the Valley. The Coyotes have now lost five straight and with Indiana State, Youngstown State, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State left on the schedule, the Coyotes could look at a very ugly end to a long 2012 campaign. USD almost needs to rebuild in all aspects of their football team. The only good news is that their team is young and will have time to develop into a decent football team. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Musings: The Valley gets flipped

 A dramatic re-enactment of Johnny Towalid's two pick sixes
 versus NDSU on Saturday

Saturday was a day of much confusion for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that my once-solid faith in the ability of North Dakota State's football team to absolutely dominate the remainder of their schedule was found wanting. Not only was that which was unshakable in fact shaken, but the Bison seemed to regress from the juggernaut of an offensive-defensive combo nightmare that we all know and love to the defense-heavy nosebleed-passing game that helped contribute to a 14 losses in 2008 and 2009. Brock Jensen seemed slow running out of the tunnel, and after throwing three picks (two for defensive scores that simply broke the back of a rattled offense - see video) the Bison simply couldn't recover. I could break down this game ad nauseum, but we've got other games to get to. Suffice it to say that the Bison will bounce back and are still entirely deserving of their top-five ranking across the TSN, Coaches', Media, and polls.

Meanwhile, about three and a half hours south, South Dakota State fans are wondering what they need to do to catch a break and get some recognition in the polls. The cynic in me points to three other Valley teams claiming FCS wins and the fact that outside of a win over the suddenly-hot Indiana State Sycamores the Jacks don't own a really great win that the majority of the top ten can claim. The Jacks made my poll submission at #10, and with the meat of their conference schedule still ahead of them (don't forget, they don't play Illinois State this year), they'll have the opportunities to show what they're made of. SDSU manages to keep winning despite Austin Sumner channeling his inner Tom O'Brien (barely over 50-percent completion and two picks in the 31-10 win over WIU) and the reason is Zach Zenner. Just 19 carries, and he throws up 171 yards and 2 scores. My questions about his long-term durability stand, but if he can keep that kind of production up it's hard to see how he doesn't win Offensive-POTY in the Valley, and likely helps the Jacks secure a playoff bid. Only two wins to go for the Jacks.

Youngstown State continues its disastrous slide after falling to a resurgent Illinois State team that was able to shake off getting shut out by Southern Illinois the week before. For those who didn't catch the box score, the Penguins held a 28-7 lead until the :32 mark of the second quarter when Matt Brown decided he was going to win this one. Three passing TDs and a rushing score with 2:44 remaining in the fourth and Brown's comeback tour was complete with an ailing YSU team in the wake of his rampage. The Penguins are suddenly a hard team to figure out, and they face a third test when Southern Illinois comes to town this weekend. If they lose this one, a season that once seemed on a track for greatness is all-of-a-sudden very vulnerable.

Speaking of Southern Illinois, where did these guys come from? The Salukis have won four of their last five and have nocked wins over Illinois State and Northern Iowa, but face the gauntlet of @YSU, @NDSU, and at home vs. SDSU in the next three weeks. If they can steal two of those three, they'll be 5-2 in the Valley with just lowly Western Illinois to go. That defense has found its identity, and if they can play like NDSU did last year and ride that with a steady offensive performance to complement, surprises could be in store for SIU's future.

Good for Missouri State getting that first win of the season.

Power rankings are going to be a bearcat this week, but we'll have those out in the next day or two. Meanwhile, what's the scoop, Valley fans? Is NDSU still the team to beat? Can SDSU hang on to their top spot in the conference? What is YSU's fate? Is SIU for real? Which teams can rally and secure one of those precious playoff spots?

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 7

South Dakota State RB, Zach Zenner finds a hole
against Western Illinois; Zenner was held to a
season-low--171 yads and 2 TDs.
(Photo: Stuart Hughes/SDSU Collegian)
#1 North Dakota State (5-1), 306 (points)
North Dakota State got knocked in the mouth over the weekend against an inspired Indiana State team. The Bison are still the team to beat since Indiana State had a prior MVFC loss to South Dakota State. Brock Jensen had an off day and the Bison just simply looked flat on offense and defense. This weekend the Bison will travel to Sioux Falls for an "away" game against the South Dakota Coyotes.

#2 Illinois State (6-1), 281

After being shut-out by Southern Illinois, Illinois State came back strong against Youngstown State. Matt Brown proved again why he should still be viewed as one of the top quarterbacks in the Missouri Valley. Illinois State also proved they can fight back and win from behind. The Redbirds were down 28-14 at half; they allowed zero points in the second have and completely demoralized Youngstown State. This week Illinois State will take on Missouri State who is fresh off of their first win of the year. 

#3 South Dakota State (5-1), 235

South Dakota State handled Western Illinois and once again the Jackrabbit defense is proving itself one of the most effective in FCS. South Dakota State is currently 5-1 and sits on top of the Valley standings with a perfect 3-0 record against conference foes, however, up to this point their only quality win was against Indiana State. The next three weeks will be crucial for this Jackrabbit squad; they'll face Northern Iowa, Youngstown State, and Southern Illinois. If they can escape those three games 2-1, or even 3-0, they'll be in the drivers seat for a defacto Missouri Valley Championship game in Fargo. This week they'll test themselves against a good Northern Iowa team who is now playing the role as spoiler. 

#4 Youngstown State (4-2), 209
Youngstown State fell for the second week in a row and it appears as if the Youngstown State defense has been exposed. If Youngstown State can quickly make some adjustments and solidify on defense we could see a late season surge from the Penguins. However, one step at a time; this week they'll look to get on track against a resurgent Southern Illinois squad. 

#5 Indiana State (5-2), 123
Indiana State has proven themselves to be one of the top teams in the Valley. However, after last weeks shake-up, what is even considered a top team? Is it #1 through #3? or is it #1 through #7? Its hard to make out what will become of this Sycamore squad, they now have wins against Quincy, Drake, Missouri State, North Dakota State. Before this week an argument could have been made that Indiana State was a middle-of-the-road team that would likely not beat a top team from the Missouri Valley, now, it appears as though Indiana State has the ability to beat any team. This week they'll travel to Macomb, Illinois to take on the Leathernecks. 

#6 Southern Illinois (4-3), 137
Southern Illinois is coming off a nice win against Northern Iowa. Its becoming more clear each week that the Salukis were a team that was figuring things out at the beginning of the season--it now seems that they have figured whatever it was they needed figured out. With a decent defense and a consistent offense, the Salukis should pose a significant threat to any team they play from here on out. 

#7 Northern Iowa (1-5), 83
Northern Iowa continues to fall and has now officially fallen out of playoff contention. The strength of schedule argument is legit. However, now that Northern Iowa has lost three straight against FCS competition the mental toughness of this Panther team will be challenged. I have no doubt in my mind that Northern Iowa will "upset" either South Dakota State, Illinois State, or both. However, if Northern Iowa loses this weekend to South Dakota State a four-win season could be a possibility in Cedar Falls. 

#8 Western Illinois (3-3), 76
The Leathernecks fell to South Dakota State over the weekend but still proved to be more dynamic on offense than they have in the past. Wil Lunt threw the ball well, but was forced into a few key mistakes that resulted in points for the Jackrabbits. The most important statistic from the SDSU-WIU game was the fact that the Leathernecks only had 60 yards rushing. 

#9 Missouri State (1-6), 64
Missouri State finally got a win over the weekend as they took down conference newcomer South Dakota. Missouri State scored 17 points with a little over 5 minutes left in the game to win 27-24 against a slumping Coyote squad. At halftime, the 'Yotes were up 21-3. Missouri State quarterback Kierra Harris really came into his own in the fourth quarter and gave a huge burst in offense to provide the late-game surge. If Harris can command that kind of offensive production throughout an entire game, the Bears could have a potent offense. This weekend Missouri State will travel to Illinois State. 

#10 South Dakota (1-5), 50
At 1-5, the Coyotes have a lot to figure out before they get their first Valley conference win. They have played competitively, but they lack the depth and the skill to put opponents away and finish the game. Quarterback Josh Vander Maten has been their main weapon on offense with little help from the running game and offensive line. Defensively, they play more like a sieve; letting big plays happen over-and-over. The Coyotes need to stop the bleeding quick before the season gets too ugly; their last five game provide no relief from opponent strength: North Dakota State, AT Indiana State, AT Youngstown State, Northern Iowa, and AT South Dakota State.