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.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

South Dakota's Identity Crisis

Football has reached mid-season. It's felt like a long month and a half for many Coyote fans as South Dakota is 1-4 coming into week #7. Although many fans were vocal, doubting South Dakota's admission to the Missouri Valley Football Conference was a good thing, I still think that the Coyotes have plenty of positives, despite the poor performance on the field so far, to bring to the conference.

As with any transition, the Coyotes are in the midst of an identity crisis. After moving up from Division II where South Dakota was extremely successful in many sports, Division I hasn't been as pleasant...yet. During the transitional years (2008-2011) the Coyotes have accumulated a record of 21-22. Here is a complete list of the wins and losses during that time:

South Dakota's QB Josh Vander Maten looks to throw
against Northwestern earlier this season. 
2008, St Ambrose 52-0 (D-II)
2008, Culver-Stockton 70-7 (D-III)
2008, Missouri S&T 34-3 (D-II)
2008, North Greenville 63-0 (D-II)
2008, Southern Oregon 37-0 (D-II)
2008, Southern Utah 42-20 (Great West) - First D-I Win
2009, William Penn 52-0 (D-II)
2009, Drake 51-31 (Pioneer)
2009, Southeastern Louisiana 44-13 (Southland)
2009, Southern Utah 45-21 (Great West)
2009, Cal Poly 50-48 (Great West)
2010, Minnesota 41-38 (Big Ten) - First FBS Win
2010, Northwestern Oklahoma State 48-14 (D-II)
2010, North Dakota 27-17 (Great West - Transitional D-I)
2010, Northern Colorado 34-6 (Big Sky)
2011, Eastern Washington 30-17 (Big Sky) - EWU #1 at the time
2011, Northwestern Oklahoma State 48-10 (D-II)
2011, Lindenwood 30-0 (D-III)
2011, Southern Utah 24-19 (Great West)
2011, UC Davis 27024 (Great West)
2011, Missouri S&T 48-14 (D-II)

Former USD QB, Dante Warren against future
conference mate Northern Iowa. South Dakota
lost this game 19-14, proving they could compete.
2008, Northern Iowa 24-13 (MVFC)
2008, Southeastern Louisiana 31-30 (Southland)
2008, Montana State 37-18 (Big Sky)
2008, Cal Poly 49-22 (Great West)
2008, North Dakota 34-31 (Great West - Transitional D-I)
2009, Northern Iowa 66-7 (MVFC)
2009, North Dakota 27-12 (Great West - Transitional D-I)
2009, UC Davis 24-23 OT (Great West)
2009, Montana State 31-24 OT (Big Sky)
2009, Northern Colorado 21-17 (Big Sky)
2010, Central Florida 38-7 (CUSA) - First FBS Opponent
2010, North Dakota State 38-16 (MVFC)
2010, UC Davis 17-13 (Great West)
2010, Northern Iowa 19-14 (MVFC)
2010, Southern Utah 31-14 (Great West)
2010, Cal Poly 38-24 (Great West)
2010, Lamar 24-20 (Southland)
2011, Air Force 37-20 (Mountain West)
2011, Wisconsin 59-10 (Big Ten)
2011, Illinois State 28-3 (MVFC)
2011, Cal Poly 27-24 (Great West)
2011, North Dakota 38-37 (Great West - Transitional D-I)

Looking through this list it is obvious to see that South Dakota has a very up-and-down transition from D-II. The first couple of years most of their wins came from D-II or D-III teams--which is a normal scenario for teams moving up to D-I. However, what separates the transitions of South Dakota from those of South Dakota State and North Dakota State was the overall success of the two "State U's" in the Great West Football Conference. Beginning in 2004, the Great West was composed of UC Davis, Cal Poly, Northern Colorado, Southern Utah, North Dakota State, and South Dakota State. Cal Poly dominated the the first two years of the Great West, however, the 2006 and 2007 were overwhelmingly dominated by North Dakota State and South Dakota State. The Coyotes did manage to perform very well against FBS competition, they beat Minnesota and they played well against against Central Florida and Air Force. South Dakota State has yet to beat an FBS team, their best performance was a 16-13 losing effort against...Minnesota. 

The other difference between The Coyote's transition was the expansion of the fanbase. North Dakota State and South Dakota State continually fill their venue for an afternoon or night of football. I remember back to the first year of South Dakota State's transition and just over 10,000 fans showed up on Hobo Day--and I was impressed. Today, if 15,000 fans don't show up on Hobo Day, that would be considered a disappointment. North Dakota State has done the same, and then some, today every NDSU game is a sell-out and the atmosphere is electric. 

The DakotaDome
Now, I've said alot on why South Dakota's transition has not been as successful as North Dakota State's or South Dakota State's, but I still think that the Coyotes have a football program that is rich with history and success that can make it a competitor in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The DakotaDome is out-dated, horribly configured, and a terrible venue--Coyote fans even know and admit that. In the next couple of years, there will be many adjustments being made. First, once South Dakota has build their new basketball facility, the DakotaDome will be available for reconfiguration. Also, if they build a new indoor track facility that also leave the DakotaDome to focus on football. For those who haven't ever been to the DakotaDome it is basically the same thing as the UNIDome except one-sided and not as pretty. 

Once those facility projects are completed and Joe Glenn has fully implemented and had a few years to recruit his players, I fully expect South Dakota to be competitive in the MVFC. Currently, it feels like the Coyotes are in limbo, they have talented players who have felt success in the past, but they just need an extra push to put them over the top. This year could certainly be a long year for the Coyote fans, but I wouldn't be surprised to see spurts of brilliant and confident performances come from this Coyote football squad. This team reminds me of Southern Illinois the past two years; they know they have talent they are just not consistent with how well they play. Be patient with the Coyotes, I'm certain that in a few years South Dakota will add to the MVFC conference strength. 

Weekend Prognosticator: Week 7

All ten Valley teams are in play this weekend, and a few match ups get pretty juicy. Let's dive right in. Rankings are from the TSN Poll because it's the one I have in front of me.

South Dakota (1-4, 0-2 MVFC) @ Missouri State (0-6, 0-3 MVFC)
Both teams are winless in the conference and each see the opponent as their best chance for that first Valley win. Missouri State managed to hold Indiana State to a single-score advantage for much of the game last weekend while the Coyotes put up 31 in a shootout with Illinois State two weeks ago. Who will win the battle for the MVFC's cellar?
Pick: Missouri State

Western Illinois (3-2, 1-1 MVFC) @ #19 South Dakota State (4-1, 2-0 MVFC)
South Dakota State is off to a hot 4-1 start, and the Leathernecks snagged themselves a win at South Dakota last weekend. Do the Jacks try to air it out behind sophomore QB Austin Sumner, who has been less than stellar in his second year behind the helm? Or do they continue to ride sophomore RB Zach Zenner, whose candidacy for the Walter Payton Award has helped propel the Jacks to the top of the Valley standings?
Pick: South Dakota State

#25 Northern Iowa (1-4, 0-2 MVFC) @ Southern Illinois (3-3, 2-1 MVFC)
The Panthers have had a bye week to try and refocus after a disastrous 1-4 start that leaves them virtually eliminated from the playoffs, though it came against a schedule that would devastate most teams in the country. Stud freshman QB Sawyer Kollmorgen faces the tall task of rallying the Panthers to salvage some pride while the Salukis have quietly redeemed themselves after a slow start to the season, going 3-1 in their last four. Though the Panthers are far better than their record indicates, playing in Carbondale gives the Salukis too much steam.
Pick: Southern Illinois

#28 Indiana State (4-2, 2-1 MVFC) @ #1 North Dakota State (5-0, 2-0 MVFC)
Indiana State faces the tall task of playing in Fargo, and after Shakir Bell was held under 100 yards in Terre Haute last year the prognosis doesn't seem much better. The Bison are on a roll right now and with a downgrade at quarterback, the Sycamores will need to come up with some magic to challenge the Bison in this one.
Pick: North Dakota State

#8 Youngstown State (4-1, 1-1 MVFC) @ #16 Illinois State (5-1, 2-1 MVFC)
My game of the week in the Valley pits two one-loss, Top-25 teams against each other in a battle for Who Can Remain the Most Relevant After Week 7. The Penguins will try to save some face after getting embarrassed by NDSU last weekend while the Redbirds will try to reverse a dangerous slump after getting shut out by SIU. Who wants it more? Which defense can do the best to slow the opposing offense?
Pick: Youngstown State

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roth's Power Rankings: Week 7

1. North Dakota State
Can anyone in the country stop the Bison after their 48-7 rampage over YSU? With the toughest part of their schedule behind them, NDSU is looking to coast through the rest of their Valley schedule.

2. Youngstown State
Still the second-best team in the conference despite the collapse on Saturday, though partially due to Illinois State laying an egg. South Dakota State is threatening their position. They need a big bounce-back from Kurt Hess to retain their hold on #2.

3. South Dakota State
Much-needed bye week for do-it-all back Zach Zenner to heal up. He cannot continue to average 26 carries a game in a Valley schedule and be expected to continue to carrying this team. 

4. Northern Iowa
Can the Panthers use the week off to refocus and salvage some pride from what is effectively a shot season? Great opportunity for freshman QB Kollmorgen to demonstrate some leadership and get his lumps out of the way as the team is playing for respect only from here on out.

5. Indiana State
The Sycamores had a surprisingly tough time fending off a feisty Missouri State team, but a fourth-quarter Bell touchdown provided the icing. Still not sold on their passing game and a trip to North Dakota State this weekend could get ugly.

6. Southern Illinois
The Salukis have suddenly found an identity on defense, and if their offense can do the same this could be a team that surprises some people. Shutting Illinois State out is a tall task for even NDSU's defense. 

7. Illinois State
No idea what to think of them going from arguably the second-best team in the conference to getting shut out at home in the span of three weeks. Starting with their struggle over South Dakota and ending at this past weekend, the Redbirds have slipped into a dangerous slump that could threaten what was once a likely playoff berth. Need to rally and perform better fast.

8. Western Illinois
Nice little win at South Dakota this weekend, but still don't have much else to look forward to. Even with a new QB, this offense can't effectively move the ball against the upper half of the Valley.

9. South Dakota
After playing Illinois State tough two weeks ago, Western Illinois at home should have been a win on a silver platter but the Coyotes couldn't deliver. This was one of the few games where they might have been nearly favored, and the schedule from here out doesn't look pretty.

10. Missouri State
I was mildly impressed with how the Bears hung with Indiana State, but they simply couldn't stop Shakir Bell in the second half.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Musings: Post-Week 6

On Saturday afternoon, as I was walking through the Fargodome's south lot on the way back to my car, I tweeted to the effect that there are victories that can constitute scariness and make a fan/broadcaster/beat writer tremble when considering what a team that defeats the third-best team in the country by 41 points could do in the long haul. That was my mindset after watching North Dakota State put on a clinic over #3 Youngstown State.

I've been selling positivity and prognostication on this NDSU team for the better part of the last five years and don't have the words to put to paper that captures just how magnificently the Bison performed on Saturday as they simply crushed the Penguins to the tune of 48-7 in the most recent game of a series where the winner has been decided by, at most, eight points over the past few years. The first reaction of the average fan will be to assume that NDSU got some breaks, and they did - but the chief point I want to impart to those same cynics is that forcing other teams into mistakes that benefit the Bison is simply what this team does and has done for the past two-and-a-half years.

Coming into the game, YSU's Kurt Hess was right near the top of the national passer efficiency metrics sitting right around the 175-mark, having yet to throw a pick in the 2012 season. NDSU's Marcus Williams changed that in the second quarter with a back-breaking 98-yard pick-for-score that put the Bison up 21-7 as the Penguins had been threatening to tie at 14. Carlton Littlejohn did the same in the third quarter sans touchdown, and Hess simply couldn't get into the rhythm of things as he completed a season-low 55.0-percent of his passes (11/20) for just 117 yards. All the credit in the world has to go to first-year NDSU defensive coordinator Chris Klieman (who was with Northern Iowa just two years ago) for putting together a game plan that had Hess rattled from the get-go.
Photo courtesy Nelson

I'll have my power rankings out later in the week as I try to figure out what to do with a bye-week South Dakota State and Northern Iowa, but a few things of note in the meantime:

Illinois State needs to figure it out, fast. After struggling to get a win at South Dakota in a 34-31 thriller, the Redbirds laid an absolute egg in their own homecoming game as Southern Illinois shut them out 17-0. Playoff teams can't expect to stay in the hunt long if they play like that, and even the benefit of an FBS win over Eastern Michigan won't help them much if they continue to struggle against beatable teams. The good news for ISU is that they need to scrape just two wins out of home games vs. YSU, MSU, and NDSU and road games at Northern Iowa and Indiana State to reach the magical seventh win they need to be considered for the playoffs, and if NDSU in 2010 is any precedent, the FBS win should put them over the top.

Indiana State fended off a surprisingly stingy Missouri State defense and needed a fourth-quarter score from Shakir Bell to really ice their 31-17 victory. The Sycamores have been a bit of a mystery this year but I'm not above saying I overvalued them at fourth-best in the conference. Still need at least three wins out of games against NDSU, WIU, USD, ILSU, and YSU and I'm chalking at least two of those to losses right now.

We'll hammer more on the playoff implications later this week, but there's the weekend re-cap for Week 6. Curious to hear what fans think of the various teams, of YSU's road collapse, of Illinois State's stinker, and more.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 6

Southern Illinois just keeps finding ways to win.
(Photo: Steve Smedley/The Pantagraph)
#1 North Dakota State (5-0), 342 (points)
Again, for the second week, the Bison completely dominated a very good opponent. Quarterback Brock Jensen looks the same against every opponent North Dakota State has played, efficient, productive, and composed. Starting RB Sam Ojuri had to sit out against Youngstown State because of team rules, however, back-up RB John Crockett proved to be more dynamic than Ojuri; he ran for over 100 yards and two touchdowns against the Penguin defense. It really looks like the Bison will not be stopped. Next week the Bison will play Indiana State.

#2 Youngstown State (4-1), 229

Youngstown State clearly was over-matched in Fargo. This weekend they will prove they belong at #2 when they battle it out with Illinois State in another crucial MVFC game. The Penguins cannot make the same mistakes they did against North Dakota State. Kurt Hess will need to find his grove early on and out-play the Redbird defense if Youngstown State wants to get back to winning ways. 

#3 Illinois State (5-1), 201
The Redbirds are in a slump. Although they are still 5-1, Illinois State has not been playing as well as they had been at the beginning of the season. Next weekend Illinois State will get a chance to remind us why we were so high on Illinois State at the beginning of the season. Darrelynn Dunn did not play against Southern Illinois with a broken hand but is expect to start against Youngstown State. 

#4 South Dakota State (4-1), 179
The Jackrabbits were on a bye week this weekend but look forward to getting back into the swing of things as they welcome Western Illinois back to South Dakota. The Jackrabbits are looking to go 5-1 before they enter the grit of their conference season. 

#5 Indiana State (4-2), 123
The Sycamores again found a way to win and got a late explosion from Shakir Bell to seal the win against Missouri State on Saturday. Due up for Indiana State: North Dakota State.

#6 Northern Iowa (1-4), 92
After a week off, Northern Iowa will get a chance to get their first conference win when they play Southern Illinois this weekend. Southern Illinois has been a relatively hot team lately and has found multiple ways to win. Northern Iowa will likely show us why they have still been ranked despite having zero D-I wins. This could be the start of a long win-streak for Northern Iowa. 

#7 Southern Illinois (3-3), 91
After starting 0-2 Southern Illinois has found their identity on defense. Quarterback Kory Faulkner still hasn't proved to be an effective game changing presence, but he has done enough for the Salukis to pull out some wins. This weekend they will have a huge task when Northern Iowa comes to Carbondale. 

#8 Western Illinois (2-3), 69
I've been calling for it for weeks--a quarterback change. Western Illinois started senior quarterback Wil Lunt against South Dakota and they were effective in their offensive production in their win against South Dakota. Next weekend will be a tougher task when they travel to South Dakota again, this time it will be outside against the Jackrabbits. 

#9 South Dakota (1-3), 51
The Coyotes need some answers and solutions to some big problems. First, quarterback Josh Vander Maten can't do it all, he needs some help--consistently--from his defense. Should the Coyotes find a way to play some good defense, they could be a good team. However, they are a long ways from being at that point. 

#10 Missouri State (0-6), 19
Missouri State shoots themselves in the foot every week. This week they benched Ashton Glaser after another poor performance and Kierra Harris gave the Bears a boost on offense. In the third quarter Missouri State took the lead against Indiana State, then the defense stopped playing and Shakir Bell ran wild. Missouri State could grab a win this weekend against South Dakota, but they will need to stop beating themselves for that to happen. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Thoughts

Saturday proved to be a wild one in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. North Dakota State once again proved to all of us why they are ranked #1, Southern Illinois reminded us that they are still competitors, Indiana State found their way to four wins, and South Dakota told us they are not quite "there" yet in terms of talent and execution. Northern Iowa and South Dakota State enjoyed the weekend off.

North Dakota State WR, Trevor Gebhart
(Photo: David Samson/The Forum)
Saturday Results:

North Dakota State 48, Youngstown State 7
Southern Illinois 17, Illinois State 0
Indiana State 31, Missouri State 17
Western Illinois 24, South Dakota 17

Starting with the North Dakota State/Youngstown State game--As I watched that game it was incredible to me that the Bison continuously control the entire game and force the opponents to play to their pace and their strengths. I predicted North Dakota State to win because they had the home-field advantage. Youngstown State certainly--up to this point--proved that there were a different team than the one that lost to Missouri State last year, but North Dakota State has a tendency to make teams look silly. The Bison stopped the run early and forced Kurt Hess to throw the ball. The short throws weren't there and Hess had to find the deep routes. The problem with that was that there wasn't enough time. The Bison front four dominated and forced Hess into making mistakes. There were not to many positives for Youngstown State in this loss. Next week, Youngstown State will be able to take out their frustrations on what seems to be an overrated Illinois State team.

I was surprised by the score of the Illinois State game. I was following it throughout the North Dakota State game, but I always expected the Redbirds to find their grove and put the Salukis away--they never did. Southern Illinois dominated this game, beginning to end. The thing that confuses me the most about this game is that I'm not sure whether Illinois State is that over-rated, or if Southern Illinois is just finding their grove. My first reaction is that both are correct. Illinois State struggled against South Dakota last week and the Coyotes lost to Western Illinois this week. The Saluki's defense is what is turning things around in Carbondale. The Salukis gave up 79 points in their first two games, since then, they have given up 44 points in four games and have gone 3-1. Southern Illinois could be a mid-season darkhorse. 

Indiana State had a scare against Missouri State, however, they pulled away late in the game to seal the deal. Since being held to less than 50 yards in the game against South Dakota State, Shakir Bell has rolled off 271 yards in the past two weeks. One thing that I noticed about this game was that after Missouri State benched Ashton Glaser, Kierra Harris came into the game and provided a burst on offense for the Bears. Missouri State pulled off 10 straight points to take a 17-10 lead, after that the Bear defense stopped showing up and Indiana State rolled through to a 31-17 victory. Missouri State is still winless and its crazy how often they shoot themselves in the foot. Next week the Bears will host South Dakota in a game that could decide who finishes last in the Valley.

USD QB, Josh Vander Maten
(Photo: Jim Lee/Sioux City Journal)
Western Illinois really needed this win. After two straight losses where they were outscored 60-6, the Leathernecks solidified on defense and kept the Coyotes in front of them. Western also made a quarterback change, something I have been calling for since week 2. Wil Lunt, the senior quarterback out of Rochester, IL, threw for a modest 170 yards and two touchdowns. If Western can continue to be effective in the pass game like they were on Saturday, they could surprise a few teams. Next week Western will travel back to South Dakota, this time playing outside in the elements when they battle South Dakota State.

Playoff Implications

With Illinois State and Youngstown State losing and Southern Illinois winning, it certainly raises some questions on what this week could have meant for playoffs. Illinois State needs to rebound next week against Youngstown State or else they might find themselves aboard a sinking ship. Southern Illinois although unlikely to make the playoffs (they would need to win out--not happening) they could easily upset some team's playoff hopes, that might have just happened today (if Illinois State finishes 7-4) Even so, the Valley has multiple teams still positioning themselves for the playoffs:

North Dakota State (5-0)
Youngstown State (4-1)
Illinois State (5-1)
South Dakota State (4-1)
Indiana State (4-2)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Roth's Power Rankings: Week 5

1. North Dakota State
Road win over a UNI team fighting for its life, and by a greater margin than YSU got over the Panthers in Ohio. Hard to find a more balanced offense, let alone another that is complemented by arguably the best defense in the country.

2. Youngstown State
The 'Guins have a bye week to prepare for a nasty game at NDSU this weekend. Will that be enough to give YSU a second-straight win in the Fargodome?

3. Illinois State
The Redbirds survived a scare in South Dakota but are still looking like a likely candidate for a playoff berth. How well the defense can give Matt Brown and company some breathing room will be the determining factor as they enter the thick part of conference play.

4. Northern Iowa
UNI gets this spot purely because I think guys like Varmah Sonie will be playing angry the rest of the season, and still plenty of talent on the Panthers despite the 1-4 record. Effectively eliminated from playoff contention, will the Panthers phone it in or play for pride and try to upset the apple cart as they emerge from a brutal first two Valley games?

5. South Dakota State
The Jacks are in over the Sycamores by virtue of the head-to-head win, but the Jacks were underwhelming against Missouri State. They desperately need Austin Sumner to start producing if they expect to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.

6. Indiana State
Convincing win over Southern Illinois in Carbondale, where the Salukis just don't lose. Another performance like that and I'll be willing to overlook the Jacks' win over ISU.

7. South Dakota
Respectable performance against Illinois State, but the defense just couldn't keep up. If the offense can continue that kind of production the 'Yotes could surprise some people.

8. Southern Illinois
Tough home loss to Indiana State and Dale Lennon has to be on the ropes at this point as a 14-6 win over Missouri State two weeks ago just isn't enough to salvage some pride. Still face the meat of their conference schedule with games at Illinois State, Youngstown State and North Dakota State yet this season.

9. Western Illinois
Six total points scored in the last three weeks (@ Iowa St., @ Illinois St., BYE) and a two-week road trip to USD and SDSU coming up. The 'Necks could be 0-3 to start conference play.

10. Missouri State
At least their stadium renovation plans look promising.

Disclaimer: Roth's Power Rankings are at his own discretion and whim and are not governed by any formulae or mathematics. Pretty much all gut feeling.

Miller's Power Rankings: Week 5

NDSU WR, Zach Vraa
Photo: Matthew Putney/Waterloo Courier
#1 North Dakota State (4-0), 311 (points)
North Dakota State took care of business in Cedar Falls over the weekend and reclaimed their spot on top from Youngstown State who was on a bye week. This week Youngstown State and North Dakota State will battle it out in probably the biggest game of the year in the MVFC. 

#2 Youngstown State (4-0), 288 

Youngstown was jumped by North Dakota State on their bye week, but they'll have the opportunity to reclaim top spot as they go head-to-head with the Bison this weekend in Fargo. 

#3 Illinois State (4-0), 260
Illinois State struggled against South Dakota this past weekend in Vermillion. The Redbirds will definitely need to work on their defense if they want to compete with Youngstown State and North Dakota State for the MVFC title this year. However ugly it was, a win is a win, and the Redbirds are still undefeated.

#4 South Dakota State (4-1), 132
Like Illinois State, the Jackrabbits also pulled out an ugly win last weekend. The Jackrabbit offense just could not push in the points in the redzone and made way to many mistakes. If they keep making those mistakes they will not beat UNI, YSU, or NDSU and will not make it to the playoffs. The Jackrabbits will have a much-needed weekend off and will look to get healthy before continuing MVFC play against Western Illinois.

#5 Indiana State (3-2), 112
The Sycamores rebounded nicely after their loss against SDSU. The Sycamores looked good against Southern Illinois and Shakir Bell was back in his form. If Indiana State continues that success they could rise in the power rankings in future weeks.

#6 Northern Iowa (1-4), 79
Northern Iowa took a big hit this week. After five weeks, Northern Iowa has only one win--a division two school. There is good news for the Panthers though, the schedule gets easier from here. Northern Iowa will still have to face Illinois State and South Dakota State, but I think that Northern Iowa will prove that they are still a powerful team sometime down the road. Unfortunately, last weeks loss most likely killed any playoff hopes from the Panthers.

#7 Southern Illinois (2-3), 48
Southern Illinois slipped last week against Indiana State and looks like they will likely repeat a poor record again this year. The rest of their schedule is: Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Youngstown State, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Western Illinois. I see one win against those teams.

#8 South Dakota (1-3), 38
I think that the Coyotes will be on the rise in the next few weeks. After they're strong showing against Illinois State, they will take on Western Illinois and Missouri State in consecutive weeks. However, after those two games, there are only tough games left on the Coyote schedule.

#9 Western Illinois (2-2), 36
Western Illinois needed their bye week last weekend. After a 2-0 start, they have fallen to .500 and will need to take care of business against USD this weekend in order to prove all the nay-sayers wrong. It is true, Western Illinois has many weaknesses. We'll see if they have improved on those weaknesses in the coming weeks--two straight trips to South Dakota are looming in the next two weeks.

#10 Missouri State (0-5), 8
Penalties, coaching mistakes, poor performance, and lack of team unity. Those were some observations I saw over the weekend at the South Dakota State--Missouri State game. Missouri State has talent but it will take alot of work before the talent is being used in a productive and successful way. Missouri State will take its non-performing talent to Terre Haute to battle it out with the Sycamores this weekend.

Teams on the Rise:

Northern Iowa - It is easily possible that Northern Iowa does not lose another game the rest of the season. Many folks are talking about a possibility of playoffs for Northern Iowa if they do win out.. that would set them at 7-4, but with only 6 D-1 wins. We'll see.

South Dakota - South Dakota played extremely well against Illinois State last weekend, many people were knocking the Redbirds on the poor performance, however, I think that it said more about the Coyotes than it did Illinois State. In the next couple weeks, South Dakota should take care of Western Illinois and Missouri State and put themselves in position to be a middle-of-the-pack MVFC team.

Mystery Teams:

South Dakota State - South Dakota State has proven to be a much improved team than they were last year. However, at 4-1, they'll have to continue their success and beat one of the top three teams in order to end the season 8-3; that should be enough for the playoffs. Also, remember that the Jackrabbits do not play Illinois State this year, they must beat Northern Iowa, Youngstown State, or North Dakota State--only one of those games is at home, however, that game is Hobo Day--South Dakota State's homecoming--and a game the Jackrabbits have traditionally played very tough. 

Indiana State - Indiana State is in an odd situation, just like South Dakota State, and will need to pull of a couple of upsets in order to consider the playoffs a reality. Illinois State on November 3rd could be a crucial game for the Sycamores.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 4 Recap and Early Playoff Chat

Huge, huge win for North Dakota State on Saturday as the Bison finally answered the age-old question of "what have you done for me lately?" by handing Northern Iowa an ugly loss (uglier than the last-minute touchdown made it seem, as the game very well could've been 33-14 or worse) that effectively eliminates UNI's playoff hopes. To this point, the Bison have played something of an underwhelming schedule that even a double-digit win at FBS opponent Colorado State couldn't salvage, defeating handily FCS cupcakes Robert Morris and Prairie View A&M by a combined margin of 118-7. Obviously the polls weren't exactly unkind to the Bison, who have been atop the Top 25 for the entirety of the FBS season, but NDSU is finally starting to cement its position as being clearly the top team in the country. Even more huge game in Fargo versus Youngstown State this weekend, more on that later on.

How about South Dakota State making a little magic early in the season? The Jacks are suddenly a quiet 4-1 (2-0 MVFC) after getting a 10-point win over Missouri State, and once again it was Zach Zenner carrying the load with 182 yards on the ground, including an 88-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Zenner has to be a leading candidate for Offensive Player of the Year, especially when teams like North Dakota State and Youngstown State have so much talent elsewhere on the team for superstars like Brock Jensen and Kurt Hess (not to mention Illinois State's Matt Brown) to lean on. The Jacks still play Western Illinois and South Dakota at home, and need just one road win out of Southern Illinois, North Dakota State, Youngstown State or Northern Iowa to reach that magic number seven and have a shot at a playoff bid. Hand it to Coach Stig, the Jacks have come to play this year and if sophomore QB Austin Sumner can figure his game out (just 50.9% completion, 5:9 TD:INT ratio this year) the Jacks could be, perhaps, a dangerous team if they make the playoffs as a probable fourth Valley team.

Indiana State has had me stumped this year. I thought Shakir Bell would be a leading candidate for the Payton Award, and after dropping 349 on Drake in Week 3 I was ready to buy their Valley stock before SDSU absolutely stymied the Sycamores and shackled Bell to just 54 yards a week later. Now they go and beat Southern Illinois 24-3 in Carbondale, where the Salukis have been a different team - point in case, last year's national championship NDSU team won just 9-3 at Southern Illinois. I pegged Indiana State as the fourth best team in the Valley to start the season behind NDSU, YSU, and ISU (red) and ahead of UNI on the basis that Bell's offense combined with a quietly stout defense led by Ben Obaseki could secure a fourth Valley playoff bid; at this point I consider NDSU, YSU, and ILSU more or less locks on the basis that all need just three more wins to be playoff eligible in an absolutely brutal Valley and ILSU plays four of their last six at home (including vs. MSU and SIU). Toss in an FBS victory for each and suddenly that SDSU victory over the Sycamores is huge if a fourth Valley bid is in the mix. We'll know a lot more about INSU after they play Missouri State this weekend, really more probably how much they win by as opposed to whether they win or not.

Speaking of Illinois State, I admit my usually-strong confidence about Matt Brown and Friends is a bit shaken after USD put a scare into them to the tune of a 34-31 gem that went down in Vermillion. The Redbirds have a sneaky-tough game against Southern Illinois this weekend, and a win puts them in a good spot to secure a playoff bid with, as mentioned above, four of their last six at home. I think they beat Northern Iowa on October 27th, and with that they could very well end up being 9-2 or possibly better. I think at worst they go 7-4, and that win over an FBS team gets them in as the third Valley team.

Finally, what does Northern Iowa do? Do they phone it in now that the playoffs are more or less out of the picture, maybe give some young guys a shot with Sawyer Kollmorgen ready to metamorphose into a preying mantis feasting on the hapless defenses the conference's bottom-half presents? Do they play for pride and watch players like Varmah Sonie rack up a whole bunch of frustration-PI penalties when he's doing things like refusing a pre-game handshake (sorry Panther fans, had to sneak that one in)? I'm genuinely interested to see what the Panthers do the rest of the season because I think they have the talent on their team to make the playoffs if a combination of a broke State of Iowa and Savannah State University didn't royally screw them over with a schedule that damned them the moment it was conceived. That said, I see them winning at most five games yet this season, and 5 D-I wins isn't enough to put the Panthers in the playoffs.

NDSU-YSU looms on the horizon as the Valley game of the century (bigger than NDSU-UNI last season, which felt like World War III in Fargo) with all the incredible storylines playing out on Gate City Bank Field. Student tickets for the game were sold out by 3 p.m. today and the Homecoming atmosphere is going to be an absolute riot. I like the Bison by a score in this one, but the Penguins showed last year they can solve NDSU's defense. Don't undervalue the return of bulky Bison run-stopped Ryan Drevlow, who was out of the game last season and consequently allowed the Bison to cough up a bunch of bad rushing yards against. Might be a different case this year, but we'll find out on Saturday.

What do you think, Mitch?