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?

1 comment:

  1. That is about spot on to what I think. But I will say this, I was at the SDSU-MSU game over the weekend and I saw a very ugly game. If SDSU wants to continue their success they will definitely need Sumner to be more productive. Zenner is a stud, but you can't count on 150+ yards against North Dakota State, Youngstown State, or Northern Iowa. The Jackrabbits have a much-needed bye this weekend.