Sunday, September 8, 2013

Miller's Power Rankings: Week #2

SDSU RB, Zach Zenner ran for 295 yards and scored four times
against North Dakota. Jackrabbits won 35-28.

#1 North Dakota State (2-0), 106.16(points)
North Dakota State rolled past Ferris State 56-10 in a game that was over by halftime. It was all Brock Jensen last night as he passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns--he also ran for a score. Sam Orjuri and John Crockett combined for 94 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 carries between the two running backs. Next week the Bison will have a bye week before resuming play against Delaware State. 

#2 Northern Iowa (2-0), 103.29
The Panthers welcomed in-state Pioneer League foe, Drake, into the UNI-Dome. As expected Northern Iowa rolled to a 45-14 win. Drake did not score until after halftime when the game was already out of reach. David Johnson continued to rack up yards on the ground after a huge performance last week at Iowa State; he had only 13 carries but took them 143 yards and found the endzone once (65 yarder). The Panthers will be on a bye week until they match up with Northern Colorado on September 21st. 
#3 Youngstown State (2-0), 63.93
Coming in at #3, Youngstown State rose a few spots from last weeks ranking. Although the Penguins did play a team from the Pioneer League they put up 718 total yards of offense. Kurt Hess performed much better than he did last week against Dayton; he threw for 282 yards, three touchdowns, and threw zero interceptions. All Hess's touchdown passes came in the first quarter. Youngstown State's rout of Morehead State also included two running backs who eclipsed the century mark--Jody Webb & Martin Ruiz. We'll know more about Youngstown State next week as they travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.

#4 South Dakota State (2-0), 59.02
Offensively, the Jackrabbits played as expected. However, defensively South Dakota State was torched through the air as North Dakota proved that their offense was as formidable as it has been advertised. Although the Rabbits gave up 437 yards through the air, they only allowed 21 yards rushing. Zach Zenner ran all over North Dakota; he ran for 295 yards and scored four touchdowns. Next week South Dakota State will host a much improved Southeastern Louisiana team.

#5 Illinois State (0-1), 58.30
Illinois State was on a bye week over the weekend. Next week the Redbirds will travel to Eastern Illinois to try and figure out Jimmy Garoppolo and the explosive Panther offense.

#6 Western Illinois (2-0), 47.36
Western Illinois exploded with some offensive firepower this week--although it was against Quincy. The Leathernecks find themselves in a similar position as they were in last year at this time; 2-0 against lesser foes. I do think, however, that this team has made alot of improvements. Quarterback Trenton Norvell passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns and running backs J.C. Baker & Nikko Watson combined for 199 yards and three touchdowns; this is what the Leathernecks needed--some balance. We will see if there success can be applied against more powerful opponents. 

#7 Southern Illinois (0-2), 43.09
Last week I watched part of the Southern Illinois--Illinois game and I have to say I was surprised to see how bad the defense played. This week affirmed the Saluki's defensive struggles. Southern Illinois allowed 622 total yards--440 through the air--as the Eastern Illinois Panthers edged past the Salukis by three points in a two-overtime thriller. Check this stat...Saluki quarterback Kory Faulkner was 28 of 50 for 294 and four touchdowns. Next week Southern Illinois should get an easy win as they take on the University of Charleston from Division II.

#8 Indiana State (0-2), 42.33
 Indiana State hung with the Purdue Boilermakers only losing by 6 points. The team was carried by Mike Perish as their run game was completely absent without star running back Shakir Bell. Perish performed admirably passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Play of the game? The Boilermaker's Akeem Hunt returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a TD. Special teams lost the game for the Sycamores. Indiana State has already dug themselves a hole in terms of playoff eligibility--the only remaining D-I non-conference game left on the schedule is Tennessee Tech. Next week they'll face the same Quincy team who just lost to Western Illinois.

#9 South Dakota (1-1), 35.78
The Coyotes were respectable against Kansas, however, they just didn't have the firepower on offense to truly challenge the Jayhawks. Quarterback Josh Vander Maten threw for only 67 yards. On a high note, Vander Maten also had 78 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown. USD did manage to run the ball well against he Jayhawks racking up a total of 219 yards on the ground. The Yotes will be on a bye week this week.

#10 Missouri State (0-2), 22.78
Missouri State managed to stay in the game for quite a while despite being completely over run by the Iowa offense. The Bears had only 197 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice as the Hawkeyes beat Missouri State 28-14. Next week Missouri State will try to get that first win as they take on Murray State from the Ohio Valley Conference. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Miller's Power Rankings: Week #1

#1 North Dakota State (1-0), 77.45 (points)
North Dakota State shocked Kansas State in front of the nation.
(Photo: USA Today)

North Dakota State battled through the Kansas State Wildcats Friday night in what is possibly the craziest game I've ever watched. The Bison chewed up eight and a half minutes of clock during the game winning drive. Brock Jensen did what he does best, win; he threw for just 165 yards but scored three total touchdowns for the Bison as they knocked off Kansas State 24-21. Sam Ojuri & John Crockett both had good games as they managed to find room for continual first-downs. Ojuri ended the game with 127 yards on the ground; featuring one 66-yarder as he busted out from within the Bison's own 5-yard line. Next week the Bison will pair off against Division II squad, Ferris State.

 #2 Northern Iowa (1-0), 76.35
Northern Iowa blasted past Iowa State with David Johnson scoring four touchdowns en route to a 28-20 win over the Cyclones. Last year, Northern Iowa got in trouble with their schedule, however, everyone always knew how good this Panther squad. QB Sawyer Kollmorgen was extremely efficient; completing 21 of 28 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Next week the Panthers will likely have their reserves in by the 3rd quarter as they take on the Drake Bulldogs. Northern Iowa is a serious challenger for the Missouri Valley title this year. 

#3 Southern Illinois (0-1), 48.15
 Southern Illinois surprised me. I anticipated the Saluki's would hang around with Illinois for a little while and that is just what they did. I saw some of the worst tackling from Southern Illinois during a stretch where the Illini scored 22 straight points. I turned off the TV at halftime figuring that the Saluki had given up at that point. However, the Salukis did not give up (they did give up a 100-yard kick return) and managed to get within 8 points by the end of the game. The offensive production was impressive by Southern Illinois but defensively they struggled. We'll see what will come of this Saluki team in the next few weeks. 

#4 South Dakota State (1-0), 41.20
The first two plays of the game; Zach Zenner for 39 yards, Zach Zenner for 36 yards and a touchdown. However, after those two bursts by Zenner the Bulldogs tightened up in the box and forced Austin Sumner to beat them. He did. Sumner misfired on a few ugly throws early in the game but eventually found his grove as he completed 22 of 32 passes for 326 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Its hard to judge a team when the match up on the field is uneven; however, this Jackrabbit squad looked very good on both offense and defense. Next week we'll be able to learn more as they travel to Grand Forks as they take on UND. 

#5 Illinois State (0-1), 40.30
Illinois State started off real strong against a Ball State team which is project to contend for a MAC championship. The Redbirds were up 21-9 at one point in the 2nd quarter. However, Ball State would reel off 28 straight points as they put Illinois State away 51-28. Transfer quarterback Jared Barnett had a good day throwing the ball for 282 and two touchdowns. Illinois State will have a bye week before entering the newly renovated stadium against Eastern Illinois on September 14th. 

#6 Youngstown State (1-0), 22.50
The Penguins hosted the Dayton Flyers on Saturday. The game was much closer than most Youngstown State fans would have liked to see... YSU shot themselves in the foot multiple times and Kurt Hess was less than spectacular; the senior quarterback was just 9 of 19 for just 73 yards and two interceptions. On the flip side, Adaris Bellamy had the game of his career thus far. He ran for 203 yards and a touchdown. Youngstown will stay home this week as they host Morehead State from the Pioneer League; last week Morehead State lost to a school named Pikeville. You guys can look that one up.

 #7 South Dakota (1-0), 22.34
 The Coyotes started off the on the right foot after a terrible 2012 campaign. Qaurterback Josh Vander Maten had a great game and set the tone for the Coyote offense all night. But offense was not the story of this game, defense was strong for both teams. The Yotes will get a chance to knock off Kansas next week as they travel to Lawrence to face the Jayhawks. How crazy would it be if three MVFC teams beat a Big 12 team--this could cause an uproar.  

#8 Western Illinois (1-0), 22.25
Western Illinois got a much needed blowout win against an inferior opponent. The Leathernecks torched Hampton 42-9 as Western Illinois forced 9 turnovers. Offensively Western only scored three touchdowns. Next week the Leathernecks will play Quincy in another warm-up contest. Western still needs to improve their passing game, it will be interesting whether Hayden Northern will get the start next week as transfer quarterback was shaky and inefficient. 

#9 Indiana State (0-1), 19.70
I don't envision Indiana State staying this low the entire season, however, the Hoosiers scored 73 points on them. That is embarrassing. The plus side--they did manage to score 35 points. The Hoosiers put up 632 yards of total offense, 319 in the air and 313 on the ground. Defensively, Indiana State will need to get better if they want to compete with the top teams in the Valley.

#10 Missouri State (0-1), 7.50
 What will it take for the Bears to change the culture of their football team in Springfield? Last year Missouri State was a dangerous team, although they didn't get many wins they scared a lot of teams and even beat Illinois State. Next week the Bears will face off with the Hawkeyes in a game that could get ugly.

Week 1 reactions and ramblings

Wow, what a first week in the college football world, particularly for the FCS and the MVFC in particular. A top-25 FBS team goes down, the Big XII goes 0-2 against the Valley, and a few surprises crop up in unlikely places. Let's break it down.

North Dakota State 24, Kansas State 21 
Jensen caps a nine-minute drive with a 1-yard TD run.

Bison QB Brock Jensen called it "the best win in program history" in his postgame interview. Some Bison fans would debate this but there's no doubt it's a monumental win in a very colorful history of this football team. The Bison got knocked around early in the third quarter and fell into a 21-7 hole before Jensen willed the team back into it. The final drive is one that will go down in NDSU history, as the team ran an absolutely soul-crushing 8:58 drive that left pretty much zero time on the clock. The defense gave up 280 yards through the air, which might seem concerning at first, but the Wildcats went pretty air-heavy later in the game and 13 catches and 225 of those yards came from a pair of preseason all-Big XII guys in Lockett and Thompson. The run defense was superb, and the offense looked like a machine at times for the Bison and there's little doubt this unit will return to its place at the top of the FCS world defensively. Right now the Bison are looking hard to stop and doubtless have to be in the forefront of everyone's minds as the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions.

David Johnson finished with 4 TDs vs. Iowa State Saturday.
Northern Iowa 28, Iowa State 20
Sawyer Kollmorgen and David Johnson are probably the least-talked-about-best-combo in the FCS right now. Johnson was key in the Panthers' upset of in-state big dog ISU with four touchdowns and 240 yards on 27 total touches. In particular, he looked fantastic on the game's final score early in the fourth quarter when he caught a pass, spun out of a two-man tackle, then fought off another defender before darting along the left sideline for the score. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a big fan of Kollmorgen, and after his effectiveness in his freshman year against FBS opponents Wisconsin and Iowa, it's good to see that he was able to bring that magic back and secure an FBS scalp for his team with a 21/28, 218-yard, two-touchdown performance. He mixed Johnson in for four of those throws, and the senior running back responded by scoring on two of them. What's crazy is that if not for a goal-line fumble, the Panthers could have won this one by two scores. I pegged the Panthers as a top-15 early on, and they've absolutely earned a top-5 ranking in my book.

Youngstown State 28, Dayton 10
It was a really, really ugly week for the Pioneer Football League, the non-scholarship conference that basically gives basketball schools a place to dump their unwanted football programs. How ugly? Well, two teams lost to sub-DI opponents, Mercer beat another 40-37, and the rest got beat in games with scores like 59-10 or 52-7 (that against a team who just started up their program). Not the greatest showing for a team that will receive an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs starting this year. Anyway, Dayton losing to #23 Youngstown State was probably the least embarrassing performance out of the bunch, and YSU is deservedly drawing a few raised eyebrows for only beating this team by 18 and committing a few blunders along the way.The Penguins did, though, pile up 367 rushing yards courtesy of Torrian Pace and Adaris Bellamy combining for 250 yards on 28 carries (Bellamy had 207). Kurt Hess went a pedestrian 9/19, 0 TD and 2 picks against a team that might be the recipient of the aforementioned autobid, but either way it's a game that both impressed and depressed fans of the Valley with the 'Guins' performance.

Ball State 51, Illinois State 28
This was one that I was sure was going to go in the FCS's favor, but alas, the much-heralded conditioning of the team with 22 extra scholarships won out. The Redbirds actually looked really good prior to halftime, but when BSU scored from 16 yards out with :04 to go in the second quarter it seemed to take something out of ISU's morale. The Cardinals rattled off five straight touchdowns after that, and it was over. From what I saw, QB Jared Barnett had an impressive first half and seemed to hit the dump-off pass and deep ball with equal vigor, totaling up 180 yards in the air in the first two quarters. He finished the day 20/29 with 2 TDs and pick to go with 282 yards, not bad against a MAC team that went 9-4 last season. Probably most alarming to ISU fans is the 340 yards passing the defense allowed, but considering that BSU QB Keith Wenning is a 2013 Dave O'Brien watch lister it's hard to look at that as a glaring weakness. Give it a few weeks and see how the Redbirds' defense shapes up.

Indiana 73, Indiana State 35
Easily the biggest story out of this game is the injury to do-everything running back Shakir Bell, as fans saw their hero leave the field with his arm in a sling and his future uncertain. Early reports weer that the x-rays came back good but you have to wonder what the damage is and how that will impact Bell in a season where circumstances collide to basically spell out that he's going to touch the ball thirty times a game for the rest of the season. Needless to say that a suspect Indiana State defense was exposed and with Bell out, or at the least shaken, the season suddenly looks a lot more dire for ISU-b than it did a week ago.

South Dakota State 55, Butler 14
It was the tune-up game that everyone expected. Zach Zenner broke 116 yards on 17 carries and scored twice, Austin Sumner threw for 326 yards and three scores, the defense did some scoring, and the Jacks had a great opener against an overwhelmed opponent. SDSU is getting plenty of run as a top-ten team so far this season, and the polls on Monday will likely reflect that unless enough folks think that all the FBS-beaters deserve to be there instead. SDSU has a really fascinating matchup against Big Sky opponent North Dakota next weekend, and it'll be interesting to see how the Jacks' secondary fares against a very potent corps of receivers. A name that emerged from this game is Jason Schneider, a junior receiver for the Jacks who hauled in 10 catches for 167 yards and two TDs. If Sumner can establish some faith in a consistent receiving corps like in his freshman year, he could really have a dynamite season to complement what is expected to be known colloquially as "The Zach Zenner Show."

Western Illinois 42, Hampton 9
As we've detailed plenty on this blog, Western's offense last season was beyond bad. They responded in their opener by dropping 42 on helpless Hampton of the MEAC, yet did so with only 262 total yards in the game. Look no further than three defensive scores by WIU, two on interceptions and another on a fumble that turned a narrow 8-6 lead into a 28-6 lead. Ask yourself when the last time you saw a team commit 9 turnovers, because that's what the Leatherneck defense came up with. The offense still didn't seem exactly confident as WIU converted just 6-17 third downs and their quarterbacks combined for less than a hundred yards passing. The defense showed some chutzpah on Thursday, but the indication thus far seems to be that Western is in for a long season once conference play rolls around unless they can put the ball into the endzone on offense. Still, an intriguing look to see WIU's D play so well.

South Dakota 10, UC-Davis 7
A pretty pedestrian game that saw both offenses tally less than 300 yards of total offense, each committed one turnover, and neither converted more than a third of their third downs. The indications are that these are two bottom-feeder teams in their respective conferences, and South Dakota did just enough with the feet of Josh Vander Maten to eke out the win on home turf. If nothing else, it's a win that gives the MVFC some kind of moxie over the Big Sky, but not much beyond that. USD is likely to finish in the bottom three of the conference if the early indications are right.

Illinois 42, South Illinois 34
The Salukis found themselves in a 25-7 hole at halftime, but nearly pulled off the tying score and fell just short despite a furious 27-point second half that put some scare into the Illini. Illinois QBNathan Scheelhasse looked pretty snazzy as he threw for 416 yards against an overmatched Saluki D, but SIU fans can look to the performance of rising star Kory Faulkner as he threw for 312 and 3 on 63% completion against a Big Ten team. Not too shabby. SIU's MyCole Pruitt usually gets the nod as the best tight end in the conference, and his five catches for 86 yards and a score were the last points of the night. All in all, the biggest worry for SIU would be the 66 rushing yards they scraped together, but otherwise a respectable showing by a team that has struggled the past few seasons. SIU has been tagged as a team that could surprise some people this year, and they affirmed that in this game.

Northwestern State 23, Missouri State 17
We expected little and got as much, and Missouri State showed why they finished near the bottom of the Valley last year. Quarterback Kierra Harris showed some nice wheels as he scored twice on the ground but threw barely over 50% and didn't throw for a touchdown. The Bears' offense looked pretty bad, and against a team they probably should have beaten. I was entertaining the thought that MSU could be a snarky team in the Valley this season, particularly thinking back on how they were a pick away from a monster upset over NDSU last season, but the signs point downward when you're converting 5-16 third downs against one of the poorer teams in the Southland Conference, and at home no less.

All in all an exciting weekend. I'll have my Valley power rankings out tomorrow, and in the meantime feel free to tweet or comment with any insight or comments otherwise. Here's looking forward to Week 2!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Game Week! Picks and prognostication, Thursday games

Game week is finally here, and a few MVFC teams will be kicking off their 2013 campaigns tomorrow already. A few teams have some very intriguing early tests, most against FBS teams that are very beatable, and it should make for some good run through next week as we analyze what all went down. Let's go game-by-game and see what kind of hope the Valley has to notch a few Week 1 victories.

Thursday, Aug. 29th

Indiana State @ Indiana - The big story on the FCS side of this matchup is that Shakir Bell is going to be asked to do everything for the Sycamores this season, who narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last year despite going 7-4 with a win over eventual national champion North Dakota State. The Sycamores lost to the Hoosiers last year by a score of 24-17, putting up 387 yards of offense on a team that would go 4-8 and finish fifth in the Leaders division of the Big Ten. Two stats that stick out to me about last year's game is that the Sycamores finished just 3-12 on third downs and coughed up two turnovers to Indiana's zero. That tells me that if Indiana State can limit the mistakes and execute well, they have every chance to be right in this game against an Indiana team that's put up 10 wins in the last three seasons. My gut tells me that the Hoosiers will stave off a hungry ISU team that is ready to prove itself to their new head coach, but don't be surprised if the Sycamores lead at some point in this game.
Pick: Indiana 28, Indiana State 17

Illinois State @ Ball State - Illinois State is, in my mind, one of the biggest question marks in the Valley this season with former Iowa State QB Jared Barnett. Illinois State has obviously graduated a lot of good weapons on offense, but retains a few players who were effective in the passing game; particularly junior receiver Lechein Neblett, and to a lesser degree senior Phil Dudley. Those two were the second- and fourth-highest receivers in yardage last season, and face a Ball State secondary that gave up 3,319 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air last season. Senior rusher Cameron Hunt also returns for his senior campaign after finishing second on the team in rushing yards.
Illinois State memorably handled last year's FBS opponent, MAC member Eastern Michigan, in a 31-14 game that saw star QB Matt Brown (now graduated) tally only 155 yards and a touchdown in the game - it goes to show that Illinois State could beat teams without him. Ball State, however, ended up being a lot better than Eastern Michigan last season - 9-4 for the Cardinals versus a dismal 2-10 for the Eagles. The competition will be stiffer, but I think the Redbirds can find a nice core in Barnett and Hunt and can eke out a win in Muncie.
Pick: Illinois State 31, Ball State 28

Missouri State vs. Northwestern State (SLC) - Here's a matchup of two FCS teams that both finished two spots from the bottom of their respective conferences that's more intriguing than it sounds, at least for fans of the Missouri Valley. Northwestern State finished 4-7 in a Southland Conference last season that was reasonably lower than the Missouri Valley in terms of top-to-bottom competitiveness. Missouri State, on the other hand, scraped together three wins in the Valley but could potentially have notched one very impressive win over then- top-ranked North Dakota State if not for a timely Christian Dudzik interception in the endzone as time expired in the 4th quarter. The Bears are going to be an interesting team to watch this year with a developing offense and a defense led by a player garnering rare defensive honors for the team in junior safety Caleb Schaffitzel. MSU's offense managed to put a scare into the Bison last year - with a little more execution and some bounces their way, could they potentially do the same to some other teams? This game will depend on what the Bears can establish offensively - run or pass, get something going, and a team from a superior conference, should (operative word being "should") be able to handle a second-tier conference foe.
Pick: Missouri State 24, Northwestern State 13

Western Illinois vs. Hampton (MEAC) - Western Illinois was unfathomably bad offensively last season, notching a mere 23 points against Pioneer member Butler last year and averaging less than 10 points per game in conference play. Other non-conference games for last year's Leathernecks included a 10-point win over D-II Indianapolis and a 34-point drubbing by Iowa State. The culprit last year was an offensive identity that seemed to always be in flux and an inability to simply advance the football - leading rusher Nikko Watson, who returns this season as the clear frontrunner at the tailback spot, put together just 673 yards and a single touchdown on the ground in all of last year, and the passing game fared little better with three players all taking significant snaps at the quarterback position and none of them earning better than an 81 passer rating. Logic dictates that head coach Bob Nielson has some tricks up his sleeve to slap the 'Necks into fighting shape, but with such poor offensive production (and correspondingly poor defensive production because, hey, when you're on the field all the time because your offense can't convert 75% of its third downs, what do you do?) it's difficult to tell what kind of future lies in wait. Needless to say my faith in WIU is not great, and if they weren't playing a team that only won three games with a MEAC schedule last season I'd pick the Valley team to lose. As is, I'll pick Western Illinois in a game that will have fans dozing off in the stands.
Pick: Western Illinois 18, Hampton 10

Youngstown State vs. Dayton (Pioneer) - Another non-scholarship out-of-conference opponent for a Valley team, but this one should land squarely in the home team's favor. Youngstown State has had a weird last few years, culminating in a campaign last year that started out great but was derailed after their mammoth collapse at North Dakota State (48-7). Quarterback Kurt Hess is entering his final season at YSU, and after last year's seven wins wasn't enough to get the Penguins into the playoffs this team is doubtless hungry for more. Hess has a few toys to play with on offense that will total half of last year's receiving yards and touchdowns, and running back Torrian Pace will be there to take some of the load off with his 5-11, 225-lb bowling ball-esque frame. The question is whether or not Hess can fashion his receivers into less a receiver-by-committee (oddly enough, the Penguins had nine players catch passes for 90 yards or more last season but not one eclipsed 430 yards for the season) and can establish a few targets as go-to guys that can consistently produce and demand respect form opposing defenses. Particularly, a big part of that passing anomaly was the fact that Jamaine Cook rushed the ball almost 300 times last season. He's gone now, and who knows whether Pace can handle that kind of workload. This is a game for Hess to get back to the superb form he showed in his early years, and if he can execute and his supporting cast can do their work, the Penguins should handle the Flyers easily.
Pick: Youngstown State 48, Dayton 18

I'll have the rest of the picks up before kickoff tomorrow. Enjoy the games!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

#8 Western Illinois

Bob Nielson will be looking to turn things around
in Macomb.
If you're a fan of Western Illinois, last year was a very long football season. Opponents scored an average of 28.3 points against the Leathernecks while Western could only muster a dismal average of 9.7 points per game. Throughout the season, Western was outscored 311-107. That was an awful, awful season. However, in 2013 there really is hope.

Western Illinois welcomes a new head coach. If you are unfamiliar with Bob Nielson, let me introduce you. Nielson has been a head coach since 1989. He started off at small Ripon College in Wisconsin. He spent two seasons there: first season 2-9-1, second season 7-2. After Ripon he left to take a job at Wartburg College in Iowa. He spent five seasons with the Knights. His first two were mediocre, finishing 6-4 and 5-5; his last three--9-2 (playoffs), 10-2 (playoffs), and 9-1. After his five seasons at Wartburg he moved back to college and took over the team at Wisconsin Eau-Claire. Again, he took over a team made significant improvement. He spent three seasons at Wisconsin Eau-Claire: 1996: (5-5), 1997: (7-3), and 1998: (10-3, playoffs). After three short seasons with Wisconsin Eau-Claire he took over at Minnesota-Duluth where he had his most success as a head coach. Nielson has posted a 170-59-1 head coaching record. I'll let you examine what he has done:

The biggest task ahead of Nielson will be turning around the Leatherneck passing game. Last year, Western threw the ball for just 1176 yards and only 2 TDs and 13 INTs. Yes, last year Western Illinois only had 2 passing touchdowns the entire season. Sophomore QB, Hayden Northern is slated to be the starter coming football season. Last year Northern threw for 321 yards, 0 TDs & 6 INTs. The running game should help out the development of the passing this year. Nikko Watson will take over the starting RB position after two solid seasons behind Caulton Ray. The big question mark will be whether or not the offensive line will continue to develop. Last year tackle, Sam Kachanuk, missed most of the season due to to injury. In 2011 he started the last two games. He, along with Jimmy Holtschlag and Jeff Lindsey, will provide leadership on the offensive line. 

Defensively, Martinez Davis and David McDaniel return at defensive back--between the two of them
Western Illinois Leathernecks 2013 Schedule
they have 9 interceptions, two returned for TDs. Western loses only one of its top tacklers (Theon Dixone) the rest, LB J.J. Raffelson, DB Jonathon Rollins, LB Devon Butler, LB Kevin Kintzel, and LB Luke Venegoni all return and should provide a solid base to a much improved Western Illinois defense.

The 2013 schedule should be favorable for Western Illinois. Although they have two FBS games--weak ones--their other non-conference games, Hampton & Quincy, are winnable games that should provide confidence early one. Of course, I said this exact same thing last season when Western faced Butler & Indianapolis. Western needs to beat South Dakota and Missouri State to keep themselves out of the bottom of the MVFC. I feel that with new leadership and the experience Bob Nielson brings to Macomb Western should make massive strives this season and get themselves out of a 2-year slump.

#9 Missouri State

QB Kierra Harris hands the ball to Mikael Cooper-Falls
against Western Illinois last season.
(Photo: Missouri State Athletics)
Missouri State finished the 2012 season 3-8. However, one of their wins came against Illinois State who made the playoffs and finished the season 9-4. They also came 5 points shy of upsetting #1 ranked North Dakota State. Here are some other close losses: Lost vs. Murray State 28-23, Lost vs. Southern Illinois 14-6, Lost @ South Dakota State 17-7. If the Bears were too find a way to win those close games they would have been looking at a 6-5 or 7-4 record instead of a 3-8--they also played Louisville and Kansas State last year as well.

Here is what makes this Missouri State Bears team interesting. Last year they decided to start a transfer QB from Missouri, Ashton Glaser. Glaser turned out to be a bust--half way through the season he put up dismal numbers (116-210 for 1221 yards, 2 TDs & 12 INTs). Kierra Harris finished the season with the starting QB job and although he wasn't phenomenal he was able to make big plays that helped the Bears get some momentum going. Kierra Harris finished the season with just under 1000 yards passing with 7 TDs & 8 INTs. If Harris could expand on his successes in 2012 the Bears might just find a grove and have a really good offense. The kicker, of course, is that they need to be consistent, balanced, and smart.

Missouri State's 2013 Football Schedule
The Bears return a few  running backs that should provide stability to the offense. Mikael Cooper-Falls, Scott Vernan, and Ryan Heaston all played a part in the running game last season. The running game needs to become more consistent for Missouri State if they hope to break through to that next level. In 2012, the Bears combined had only 1385 yards on the ground. Compare that to the top MVFC teams last year--North Dakota State had over 3000 yards on the ground (albeit they played 4 more games), South Dakota State had over 2300 yards, and Illinois State had 1700 yards (close, BUT Illinois State had 3400 yards passing compared to Missouri State's 2200 yards). Missouri State's offense just needs to become more dynamic--If they can't break through in the run game or the pass game, they'll continue to be at the bottom of the MVFC standings year-in & year-out.

Defensively, Missouri State returns alot of their key players. However, their top tackler is their safety--thats a problem. Kudos to Safety, Caleb Schaffitzel, who had 109 tackles and 5 INTs last year, but if you're making that many tackles as a safety...your front seven are not getting things done. At LB, Andrew Beisel & Nick Canavan will likely be the catalyst on how well the Bears will stop the run. Grady Anthony will return the most experience on the line with 49 tackles and 5 sacks.

Overall, Missouri State needs to find a sense of identity. With that identity will come consistency and momentum. The last time the Bears had a winning record was 2009 when the team finished a mediocre 6-5. Seven of the last 10 seasons, the Bears have finished under .500.

#10 South Dakota

South Dakota will need to improve on defense to be
more successful in 2013.
(Photo: USD Athletics)
The Coyotes had a disappointing first year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference last year. They
ended up 1-10 and didn't win a game in the conference. South Dakota will be a team to keep a close eye on the next couple years; they get good talent, but the inconsistent coaching--i think--has been what is keeping them down the last couple of years.

Last year they started a freshman quarterback, Josh Vander Maten, who is a dual-threat quarterback that can turn the burners on. Vander Maten struggled at times during the season, making costly mistakes that  restricted the Coyote offense from getting in a grove. If Vander Maten can limit his turnovers and become more efficient leading the offense, the 'Yotes could get hot. Vander Maten will not have standout receiver Will Powell this year, and also it looks like he might be without impact senior RB Jasper Sanders; Sanders injured his wrist in the gym recently. The Coyotes will need to find their niche' early in the season and if they desire to get out of the bottom of the MVFC there will need to be multiple players who have breakout seasons in 2013.

South Dakota Coyotes Schedule 2013
The Coyote defense is lead by All-American LB Tyler Starr. South Dakota needs to improve on defense--6 times last year the Coyote defense allowed more than 30 points--if they want to rack up some wins. South Dakota returns DB's Aaron Swift & Devin Taverna. Taverna led the Yotes in interceptions last year with 3 INT's returned for 37 yards. The secondary should be a strength for South Dakota. Kyle Guziec will provide some support alongside of Tyler Starr at Linebacker. However, both will need to be in overdrive to help out with the lack of experience on the defensive line. Drew Iddings returns the most experience up front--last year Iddings had 35 tackles (6 TFL) and .5 sacks.

South Dakota also has a very tough non-conference schedule (UC Davis, @ Kansas, @ Northern Arizona, & Montana). It will be important for the Yotes to get a solid win against UC Davis at the beginning of the season; if they don't there is a good chance that South Dakota will start 0-3 (assuming Northern Arizona will be as formidable as last year) and it will be a hard climb out of the hole the rest of the season. On the other hand, their first two conference games are against fellow bottom dwellars, Western Illinois & Missouri State. If the Coyotes can establish themselves with two conference wins, they'll be able to climb out from the bottom.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Preseason Poll Consternation and FCS Thoughts

I, and I'm sure many other fans and advocates of the Football Championship Subdivision, frequently find myself defending the FCS from its detractors by submitting that there is, in fact, a great deal of parity in the upper half of the subdivision. Just the other day I had a quick debate with a work client who said off-the-cuff that one NFL prospect on an FCS team would make them more or less a shoo-in for an FCS championship, or at least playoff appearance. Needless to say that to people like you and me this sounds completely ridiculous, but this is the stigma that we as fans of the "lesser" Division-I face and have to consider when interacting with fans of the FBS. This is all leading somewhere, rest assured.

I don't think it's any secret that NDSU is the team to beat in the race to the national title game this coming season, and I think a lot of preseason polls (my own submissions included) are going to reflect that. The Bison return a bevy of starters from a squad that's won ten playoff games in the last three years and boast a BCS-caliber defense. Your average FBS fan would note that the Bison have some legit NFL prospects in guys like Marcus Williams and Billy Turner and cite that that much talent on an FCS team is obviously going to run amok in that subdivision the way NDSU has.

The purpose of this exposition is to establish that even though there is one very dominant team in the FCS now, there is plenty of quality to be found in the top echelon of the FCS. Fans of the subdivision know this, and guys like me get Twitter follows for mashing on it. It's a swell deal.

However, I came to an odd conclusion as I was submitting my preseason poll submission when I suddenly found that Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, and Old Dominion weren't eligible for poll nomination as they've all announced intent to move up to the FBS. My top five was pretty solid, but after that I suddenly realized I had no clue who should be going in spots 6-25 (and gods help the folks who submit their 26-35 or beyond spots on some of those submissions). I'm sitting there perusing ESPN and looking over schedules of teams last season and actually almost included three teams from the Patriot League because I flat-out ran out of teams to consider with the exclusion of so many mainstay teams that had qualified success last season. Is that a knock on me for not knowing my teams as well as I probably should? You could make the case. But does it also allude to the coming disparity that's starting to show itself in the FCS with so many teams starting to migrate to the perceived greener pastures of the FBS? Perhaps.

In an ideal league, the top-25 are all fairly competitive with one another. Obviously teams at the top are going to fare better against the teams that are sneaking in to the 20-25 spots, but in the case of the coming season and perhaps beyond, I think we're going to start to see a subdivision where the top five-to-eight teams would just absolutely crush even middling teams in the ten-to-twenty range. My top five ended up looking like this:

1. North Dakota State
2. Sam Houston State
3. Eastern Washington
4. Montana State
5. Illinois State

Right there are three teams that would be supplanted by the aforementioned FCS departed, and three teams that would help build a demonstrable bridge between the top echelon and the middle-of-the-road teams in the FCS. Suddenly now we're including a team like Illinois State, who I think will be good-not-great, and two Big Sky teams that will probably go 6-2 or 7-1 in conference play but then get smacked as their penance for not playing defense (although EWU does have one of the top DB prospects in all of college football as a transfer from UCLA in Tevin McDonald). It makes for a poll that will probably stay fairly consistent at the top (though my Illinois State prediction here is probably going to go all over the place) and get shaken up every single week in reasonably dramatic fashion.  I'm certainly making no assertions that my poll is "right" and preseason polls are, of course, a massive crapshoot as you can't factor in the months without games that teams have used to either progress or regress, so maybe this entire post will be rendered moot when twenty legit teams are starting to form a meniscus-like barrier in the subdivision.

In any event, it's almost a little unsettling to start to see the divide emerging in the FCS not unlike that which came about in the twilight years of Division-II, a yawing gulf that prompted NDSU, Northern Colorado, North Dakota, and a whole bunch of other schools to try their luck in Division-I. Obviously for some like NDSU, that move worked out pretty well. Other schools like Northern Colorado haven't had a whole lot of success, and for fans it's probably tough to rationalize the move up when your team(s) are having the kind of year-in, year-out struggles that the Bears are having. Is this some manner of dark precursor to an en-masse FBS move up as those FCS teams with the finances to do it are forced to jump the FCS ship and crowd the FBS? What kind of ramifications will that have on the teams themselves, their financial and athletic futures, and the ever-depleting FCS? It's a sobering scenario, and one that will be interesting to watch unfold over the next season or two as we adjust to life without a few of the FCS mainstays that are now leaving.

I'll post the rest of my poll when AGS gets their submissions out and will break down the official poll when it comes out as it's pertinent to the MVFC. Should be a good five or six teams that make the cut, by my reckoning.

UPDATE: Here's the poll, feel free to tear it apart because it's not great - that's the joy of doing preseason polls. This will certainly look way different after week one.

1: North Dakota State Bison
2: Sam Houston State Bearkats
3: Eastern Washington Eagles
4: Montana State Bobcats
5: Illinois State Redbirds
6: Villanova Wildcats
7: Montana Grizzlies
8: Stony Brook Seawolves
9: Wofford Terriers
10: Cal Poly Mustangs
11: Central Arkansas Bears
12: James Madison Dukes
13: South Dakota State Jackrabbits
14: Richmond Spiders
15: The Citadel Bulldogs
16: Towson Tigers
17: Murray State Racers
18: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
19: Colgate Raiders
20: McNeese State Cowboys
21: Chattanooga Mocs
22: Northern Iowa Panthers
23: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
24: Eastern Illinois Panthers
25: Southern Illinois Salukis

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blog Resurrection, Preseason Rankings, Player Watch lists, and more!

It's been a quiet summer for us here at the MVFF, but with kickoff of the 2013 season just a scant month ahead it's high time to get talking about what will likely shape up to be, once again, the most daunting conference in the Football Championship Subdivision. With North Dakota State returning as the back-to-back champion of both the nation and conference the table looks set to have the Bison continue their dynastic run through the slate, but make no mistake that plenty of challenges await as some very good teams appear to be shaping up here in the Midwest. The league boasts (in my opinion) six or seven teams that have a reasonable shot at being in the top half of the conference, and as all Valley fans will attest, any of the Valley members could steal a couple of games and surprise some folks. With that said, let's get right to my preseason rankings for the Valley - the numbers in parentheses indicate a team's 2012 record followed by their record in conference play.

Craig Bohl and the Bison are 37-7 over the past three seasons.
Photo credit:
1. North Dakota State (14-1, 7-1) - No surprise here, as the Bison return 19 starters from a team that has won ten playoff games and two national championships in the last three years. Senior quarterback Brock Jensen returns behind center to continue as the rock on offense, and a few tools at wide receiver will only benefit a passing game that has largely been the only weakness of this squad for the past few years. This year's Bison defense should again cement itself as one of the top units in the country, and a number of players on that side of the ball have pro prospects to live up to. The Bison have a good early litmus test at Kansas State on August 31st, and a victory there would be an early herald of the continuing dominance the Bison are showing the FCS.

Kollmorgen returns as the reigning MVFC Newcomer of the Year
Photo credit: Getty Images

2. Northern Iowa (5-6, 4-4) - A rare losing season from Cedar Falls will be quickly rectified, in my opinion, as sophomore QB Sawyer Kollmorgen should continue to improve from what was a remarkable freshman campaign that nearly resulted in an early upset of ranked Wisconsin last season. The Panthers also return running back David Johnson, who's found himself on the 2013 Walter Payton watch list and should factor in as a potent weapon behind Kollmorgen. Tab October 5th as a slobberknocker, as the Panthers travel to Fargo to face the Bison in what should be the usual slugfest we expect between those two teams. Otherwise, the Panthers face some adversity in games at South Dakota State and Illinois State; can they endure?

Zach Zenner broke out last season with a 99-yard touchdown
run versus the Kansas Jayhawks. Photo credit: ESPN 99.1
3. South Dakota State (9-4, 6-2) - The Jacks are the sexy pick at second in the league, and have a very favorable home league schedule as NDSU, UNI, and both ISU's come to Brookings. The Jacks also return most key pieces from their playoff-earning campaign from last season. Those factors aside, the question for the Jacks is whether or not junior quarterback Austin Sumner can take the pressure off of last year's 2000-yard rusher Zach Zenner at running back. Zenner is on a nearly endless list of award watch lists for 2013, and rightfully so, but if Sumner can't improve on last year's 15-14 TD:INT ratio, then it will be all teams need to do to load the box and force the diminutive Zenner to pound out tough yards. The Jacks will be a good team, but it's up to Sumner to make them a great team in 2013.

Barnett's claim to fame is Iowa State's 2011 stunning upset of
then-second-ranked Oklahoma State. Credit:

4. Illinois State (9-4, 5-3) - The Redbirds don't go higher by virtue of losing do-everything quarterback Matt Brown last season, and although they are bringing in a few promising candidates to replace the position (including Iowa State transfer Jared Barnett, whom my partner-in-crime detailed in the blog post prior to this one), they still face a number of questions on offense that preclude any discussion of placing them higher than about here. The Redbirds defense fared surprisingly well last season, and though they lose beastly interior tackle Shelby Harris, that unit should be playing with a bit of pride this year that could lead ISU to shake up the conference standings and possibly repeat their playoff contention of last season.

You look Dale Lennon's mustache in the eye when you let
it down. Credit:
5. Southern Illinois (6-5, 5-3) - Salukis head coach Dale Lennon once again found himself as the target for fans' ire following an unremarkable 6-5 campaign that seemed to feature as many defensive scores as offensive ones (which was to say, not many). Nevertheless, SIU finished with a winning record and returns a fair number of pieces, but has to travel to UNI, SDSU, and Indiana State in the coming season. Maybe that isn't so daunting, though, considering that the Salukis had a brilliant three-game stretch last year that included wins over ranked Illinois State and Youngstown State, both of which came by double-digits and were separated by a win over scrappy Northern Iowa. SIU found ways to win tough games, and sometimes in convincing fashion, and a feisty returning defense (the kind always fielded by 3-4 mastermind Bubba Schweigert) should have SIU trending upward for 2013.

Hess's numbers last year: 63.3% completion, 15 TDs, 7 INTs. Zero
career playoff games. Credit:
6. Youngstown State (7-4, 4-4) - Kurt Hess entered the MVFC as a superstar freshman three years ago,
and in his final year at YSU he'll doubtless look to return to the that form and bring the Penguins back to conference relevance after two debacles last year that saw the then-ranked  'Guins get crushed by first NDSU (falling 48-7 after a 4-0 start and a top-five ranking) then SIU (losing at home 38-21 to the unranked Salukis). Youngstown State has a lot to live down this year, and while I think they have the ability to do better than sixth, they haven't demonstrated that they can be better year and, more importantly, that they can deliver in the big game. I want to believe, really.

Bell was a 2011 Payton finalist and averaged 5.5 yards per
carry last season. Credit:
7. Indiana State (7-4, 5-3) - Trent Miles and lowly Indiana State was one of the best feel-good stories in college football: 33 straight losses snapped when the hometown hero returns to coach his alma mater and brings the Sycamores to conference relevance the next few years. All ruined when Miles accepted a position to coach at FBS-bound Georgia State. Now the Sycs are feeling targeted as many are predicting a fall from glory back to the cellar days of lore, and outside of running back Shakir Bell, there isn't much they can do about it. Granted, Bell needs just over 700 yards and four touchdowns to take over the career leader spots in both categories at InSU, but that might be all the team can look forward to with the new coaching staff.

8. South Dakota (0-8, 1-10) - Joe Glenn's first season at South Dakota was a harsh wake-up call, and it goes to show that even a famed FCS coach can't make the necessary changes overnight. South Dakota should be a bit better, though their schedule does them no favors. There isn't much to take away from last season except that things can't get much worse (55-0 "home" loss to NDSU in Sioux Falls, anyone?), and really any movement almost by default has to be upward. This feels like more of a "dark horse" pick than UNI at second, that's for sure.

9. Missouri State (3-8, 3-5) - Missouri State lost some baffling games last year, and in a few were a mere score away from notching as many as three more wins in their docket last season. They even had a chance to defeat reigning champ NDSU, save for a timely last-second endzone interception by Bison DB Christian Dudzik. A 19-34 seven-year record in the Valley is all you need to look at to know why Bears' fans are clamoring for Allen to be fired despite his impressive resume. MSU does face just one FBS opponent this year, but as they face Southland foe Central Arkansas as well on their non-conference schedule, seeing more than four or five wins for the Bears is a tough call.

10. Western Illinois (3-8, 1-7) - WIU managed to score ten points just once in their final six games, and cracked 20 just three times (albeit to Butler, South Dakota, and something called Indianapolis). The team got flat-out run over in conference play, and doesn't seem to be trending any better, though with Missouri State, South Dakota and a DII team coming to Macomb, the opportunities for crowd-sating victories are there. Otherwise, it's going to be a long season if last year's finish is any indication.

2013 Offensive Player of the Year: Sawyer Kollmorgen, QB, Northern Iowa
2013 Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Williams, DB, North Dakota State
2013 Coach of the Year: Mark Farley, Northern Iowa
2013 Newcomer of the Year: Jared Barnett, QB, Illinois State

Eager to hear your thoughts and takes on the upcoming season. The countdown is barely a month off!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Illinois State Lands Playmaking Transfer Quaterback

Former Iowa State quarterback, Jared Barnett, will transfer
to Illinois State and play for the Redbirds next season.
(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Former Iowa State quarterback, Jared Barnett, who led the Cyclones to a 37-31 OT upset victory over #2 Oklahoma State in 2011 will transfer to Illinois State and play for the Redbirds next season. Barnett will fill an obvious void in the Illinois State lineup as Matt Brown, the 2012 Offensive Player of the Year is lost to graduation. This addition of an experienced and talented quarterback may give the Redbirds that added push they need to repeat their stellar 2012 campaign. So what does this addition look like on paper? You decide; Barnett's career stats: He completed 162 passes from 328 attempts during his first two years for 1825 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. That is better experience than any other quarterback on the Illinois State roster.

The talent gap from playing in the Big Twelve to the Missouri Valley Conference bodes well for Barnett, considering--of course, that he displayed periodical flashes of brilliance against Big Twelve foes; most notably (as stated previously) his three touchdown, 376 yard day he had against Oklahoma State in 2011. Of course, this type of transfer quarterback has happened before. Rhett Bomar transferred from Oklahoma to Sam Houston State in 2007 where he would end up breaking the school record for career passing yards (5,564) in two seasons. Joe Flacco transferred from Pittsburgh to Delaware in 2004, although, his situation might not be compatible with Bomar's or Barnett's; Flacco completed one pass during his tenure at Pittsburgh. I'm sure there are multiple more stories of BCS QB's dropping down to FCS schools and finding success; but it is late and I've mentioned the three I can think up off the top of my head--that should be good enough to make my point.

Another topic to note is that teams do not necessarily automatically become wildly successfully and turn into powerhouse teams overnight after they land a transfer like this. I'll continue with my Bomar-Flacco comparison. Bomar, who started 10 games with Oklahoma before being released from the Sooners led Sam Houston State 4-4 start in 2007 before going down in the Nicholls State game. In 2008, his last season, the Bearcats ended 4-6. Flacco, as most of you know, had an awesome career at Delaware and led them to the FCS National Championship game in 2007.

The most influential aspect for these transfers must come from the level of comfort and the confidence they have in fitting into the offensive playbook that already exists, in other words; coaching. How will Jared Barnett fit into the offensive style at Illinois State? Well, I've extensively seen both Iowa State and Illinois State play the past few seasons and it is clear the difference some confidence makes. For Cyclone fans, watching Iowa State try to run the ball is like hitting your head against a metal pole; it is literally painful. All of Iowa State's quarterbacks had trouble running the Cyclone offensive sets; because all of the pressure was on their back--the Cyclones had no balance. Although the stats will show you that Iowa State averaged 4.2 yards per rush attempt; consistency was nonexistent. On the contrary, Illinois State's offense has the ability to play smash-mouth football with alot of success. Now, Matt Brown stole the show, but Darrelynn Dunn quietly ran for 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012. With a steady, traditional, power-backfield, Jared Barnett could easily find the balance that allows him to blossom into a very, very effective quarterback.

Season finale catch-up

Similar to my blogging cohort, finals plus the trip to Frisco itself left me in blog-Purgatory and thus unable to give you the juicy, tender pontification you love so much. That said, here's a few thoughts on the season past, the repeat national champion, and what's in store for next year. First off, the Bison won with a very simple formula both in the playoffs and in their 39-13 walloping of Sam Houston State: ball control on offense, stinginess on defense. It's a point exemplified by the fact that the Bearkats started four of their first six drives, marking all of their possession of the ball in the first half, ahead of their own 25-yard line or better, yet the Bison got that same starting position just once in their first five series. Bell's mistakes in the game ultimately will go down as the catalyst for the second-straight championship-game loss for SHSU, but the Bison were so effective at choking them up anyway that it might not have mattered. Four interceptions certainly helped, though. The fact that the Bison stomped the Jackrabbits in the second round makes me wonder what the NCAA's attitude toward scheduling same-conference teams like that in the future. With the impending move to 24 teams coming up very soon, is regionalization going to be more of a factor in the playoffs? Good news for teams like Wofford whose small-school status lends itself to a poorly-traveling fan base (though credit to those fans that did show up for the NDSU-WC game), but it also means that playing conference mates, especially for teams west of the Mississippi, is a greater likelihood. I would cite the wild change in score from the first meeting of NDSU-SDSU to the second as evidence that a quality team can absolutely overcome the edge that a conference mate might have in a potential playoff scenario, but it had to have Coach Bohl just a little worried to play a team that knows NDSU so well in the team's first playoff game of the year. All that said, will that result encourage the committee to do more of the same in the future, or dissuade them? Or do they even care? Without much else to mash on at this point, here's my anticipatory rankings for the conference coming up next year. I'm not sure what we have planned for coverage during the off season, but doubtless one of us will make a post every so-often on something relevant, so keep your eyes peeled on here and by all means leave a comment somewhere if there's something you're curious about or want to see coverage on. Thanks for a great 2012! 1. North Dakota State 2. South Dakota State 3. Northern Iowa 4. Youngstown State 5. Indiana State 6. Southern Illinois 7. Illinois State 8. Western Illinois 9. South Dakota 10. Missouri State

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Out of Nowhere, Its 2013.

Well, Its been a while since I've posted last; alot has happened. Beginning mid-way through December, I ducked down to Mexico for a week for my honeymoon (dodged the big Iowa blizzard, however, our car in Des Moines didn't). Mexico was full of margaritas, good food, swimming pools, and bartering. The warm humid air was beyond therapeutic; my wife and I definitely made the right decision to do a winter honeymoon after getting married this past July. Once we got back to the freezing Midwest, We traveled up to South Dakota, back to Iowa, back to South Dakota, back to Iowa, up to Minnesota--in the span of two weeks. I was able to catch most of the National Championship game in Minnesota. So, after a month of spinning around and around, normalcy couldn't feel more pleasant; and although scenes of palm trees and swim-up bars still dance in my head--the cold, drizzly, foggy, snowy, cloudy Midwest winter feels even more like home.

North Dakota State's Kevin Vaadeland gets some
extra yardage in the National Championship.
(Photo: AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez)
With such a crazy holiday break, it seemed almost impossible to keep in touch with the 2012 football season that was slowly fading. However, I think I did alright; although my recruiting page is extremely behind. So, as most of you know--especially since these were the talking points on AnyGivenSaturday, Georgia Southern again couldn't win in Fargo, although this time they made it interesting; Sam Houston State won a Big Sky Conference Championship after beating Eastern Washington in the Semi's. Lastly, North Dakota State won another National Championship and Sam Houston State lost another. Bison fans across the country have the right to brag and gloat again for another offseason; and it doesn't look like the Bison will be stopped next year with almost the entire squad back again.

Looking back on 2012, the Missouri Valley, in general, experienced another wave of success. In 2011, North Dakota State and Northern Iowa were the only MVFC teams to make the playoff field after Illinois State and Indiana State blew their chances to become playoff eligible and South Dakota State and Southern Illinois had relatively down years after going 5-6 and 4-7 respectively. However, in 2012 we saw a surge of power from multiple teams in the out-of-conference schedule that setup for a very interesting conference season. Below is some recap to how the 2012 season played out, and how the teams moved up or down in relation to the 2011 season.

1.North Dakota State (7-1, 14-1)

North Dakota State once again proved that they were the team to beat in 2012. After pounding Robert Morris, handling FBS Colorado State, and throttling Prairie View A&M. The Bison looked determined to make a second run at the National Championship. The did it. However, they weren't flawless, Indiana State managed to beat the Bison 17-14 in Fargo on October 13th. Regardless, the Bison rebounded--much like they did in 2011--and won four straight, undefeated, in the postseason, which only means one thing: National Champion.

2.     South Dakota State (6-2, 9-3)

South Dakota State was the 2012 darkhorse and proved to be a powerful team in 2012. Most improved in this squad was the defense which was one of the worst in 2011; in 2012, the Jackrabbits were top five in many important defensive team statistics. The Jackrabbits also found a running game--Sophomore Zach Zenner ran for over 2000 yards. South Dakota State ended the regular season 8-3 with loses to Kansas, North Dakota State, and Northern Iowa; like Illinois State the Jackrabbits went 1-1 in the postseason beating Eastern Illinois and falling to North Dakota State. 

3.     Illinois State (5-3, 9-3)

Illinois State was team that pushed for a conference title. Like Youngstown State, the Redbirds fully powered past an FBS squad (Eastern Michigan) and cruised through non-conference play to be a perfect 5-0 before finally losing to Southern Illinois. Illinois State ended the regular season 8-3 and went 1-1 in the postseason, beating Appalachian State in a thriller and losing to Eastern Washington. Matt Brown was the heart and soul of this Redbird squad, and it will be interesting to see how Illinois State responds after losing its fearless leader. 

4.Indiana State (5-3, 7-4)

Indiana State improved on their 2011 record both overall and in the conference. However, scheduling a Big Ten opponent and a non-counter D-II team hurt the Sycamores in the long-run as they were not playoff eligible. Coach Trent Miles bolted for another chance to bring a struggling program to success as he accepted a job at Sun-Belt bound Georgia State. The Sycamores will return standout RB Shakir Bell and freshman QB Mike Perish proved to be an effective replacement to 2011 gunner Ronnie Fouch. Next season the Sycamores will face two in-state Big-Ten schools, Purdue and Indiana. They must not schedule a non-counter, or else making the playoffs in 2013 will be near impossible.

5.   Southern Illinois (5-3, 6-5)

Southern Illinois really turned it around in 2012. After a shaky 2-3 start, the Salukis went 4-2 over the last six weeks as they improved on their 2011 campaign with the help of a stingy defense that found its identity mid-way through the season. Their only two losses on the back-end of the season came against North Dakota State and South Dakota State. If the Salukis find some offensive rhythm in 2013, we could see Southern Illinois push for a conference title and a post-season berth. 

6.   Youngstown State (4-4, 7-4) 

Youngstown State started off extremely hot, dismantling Pittsburgh and starting off 4-0 after beating Valpo, Albany, and Northern Iowa. Youngstown State climbed as high as #3 in many FCS polls, however the Penguins would lose four straight before winning three straight to end the season at 7-4. Youngstown State once again ended the season 4-4 in the conference and could not find that rhythm against conference squads. Defensively, Youngstown State will need to improve in 2013 if they are going to climb in the MVFC. 

7.Northern Iowa (4-4, 5-6)

Northern Iowa was easily the most disappointing team in terms of talent and expected production. However, the extremely tough 2012 schedule proved to be the downfall for this Northern Iowa team. With non-conference games again Wisconsin, Iowa, and non-counter Central State; Northern Iowa had an uphill battle the entire season. Northern Iowa needed to go 6-2, or better, in conference play in order to be playoff eligible. Defensively, this was the worst UNI team in years and with a young QB, albeit Freshman Player of the Year, the Panthers just didn't have the firepower to make a strong push for the conference title. Expect the Panthers to be back in 2013.

8.    Missouri State (3-5, 3-8)

Progress is progress, even if its only one win. Last season Missouri State ended the season 2-9 and was  second to last in the conference. This season, the Bears played a little better. Their defense was definitely improved and they played with most teams all year. However, they couldn't finish and lost a few close games that could have had a dramatic impact on the season. Missouri transfer QB Ashton Glaser turned out to be a bust, and the Bears turned to Kierra Harris to lead the Bears. Harris made some big plays, but he also made huge mistakes which cost Missouri State in the long run. 2013 could go either way for the Bears, if their defense improves and the offense learns how to control the ball and move it consistently, Missouri State might look like a team on the rise. 

9.    Western Illinois (1-7, 3-8)

Western Illinois struggled much the same in 2012 as they did in 2011. Two of their three wins came from non-scholarship Drake and D-II Indianapolis. The Leathernecks, and their new head coach, Bob Nielson, have alot of work to do. A defense, an offense, and some confidence are all required if the Leathernecks want to get out of this slump. In 2012, Western tried out three different quarterbacks with mixed results. However, this program isn't lost, remember it was only two years ago when Western was in the post-season.

10.   South Dakota (0-8, 1-10)

It was a very long season for Coyote fans. Can't really give the red arrow, since this is their first season in the conference. However, in terms of their overall record, the Coyotes fell considerably in 2012. The MVFC definitely gave South Dakota a rude awakening in terms of power-FCS football. On the other hand, South Dakota's football program is traditionally not terrible and this season was very much an anomaly. The Coyotes were very young in 2012, and they lost a few key contributors from 2011. I have no doubt that in the next few years South Dakota will claw their way out of the bottom.