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!