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MVFC Football Week 3 Power Rankings

We all knew that spring football in the time of COVID was going to be weird, and this week was VERY weird. Four MVFC teams entered play on Saturday with a top seven national ranking, and three of those teams lost this week. NDSU ended their 39-game winning streak with a blowout loss to SIU, who got blown out themselves by North Dakota the previous week. The Fighting Hawks are the early winners of the season with wins over SIU last week and SDSU this week. I didn’t do the research on this, but I can’t imagine both SDSU and NDSU have lost on the same day many times in their respective MVFC runs. Illinois State was the final top ten victim as they committed seven turnovers and lost at home to South Dakota. All of this made the league extremely difficult to rank, and really exposed how dumb early season national polls are as the rankings did not know what to do with the MVFC teams (ultimately seven are now ranked in the top 20). My best effort is below.

Week 3: MVFC Power Rankings

1.) North Dakota (Up Five), 2-0, STATS #4: Emerging from the bloody mass that is the current MVFC standings is North Dakota. There are a lot of question marks with these rankings, but the only thing that is clear is that the Fighting Hawks deserve to be on top (although they remain behind UNI in the national poll because polls are dumb). Their blowout win over SIU week one was surprising but mostly innocuous at the time, but after pairing it with SIU’s subsequent thrashing of NDSU and North Dakota’s win over #3 SDSU this week you suddenly have a new league leader. Their exploits have seen them rise from being unranked before week one to a ranking of #4 two weeks later. There is a long way to go on this season, but UND is looking like a strong playoff contender. The Hawks’ 28-17 win over the 3rd ranked Jackrabbits was simply a hard-fought game between two good teams. SDSU had a 14-7 lead at the half, but the UND defense held them to a field goal in the second half. The Fighting Hawks set the tone in the second half with an 8 play 75-yard drive to start the 3rd quarter to tie the game. After an SDSU field goal and a missed field goal by North Dakota, the Fighting Hawks got the key play of the game with a blocked punt. That allowed UND to stage a short, 18-yard TD drive to take the lead. The Hawks forced another turnover on their next possession and put the game away later on with a 40-yard TD run to take a 28-17 lead. SDSU had three more drives that ended in two turnovers on downs and a pick. The Hawks controlled the ground game with 177 yards on 39 carries and they picked off SDSU QB Mark Gronowski twice. North Dakota plays its third consecutive home game on Thursday against South Dakota.

2.) South Dakota State (No Change), 1-1, STATS #8: Normally when the #2 team on a list takes an L, you move them down but with all the nonsense that went down last week there was really nowhere else to put SDSU. The Jackrabbits have now played two hard fought road games against tough opposition and on the balance of all the results in this league they probably belong in this spot. If these rankings are actually accurate, and there is absolutely no chance they are, SDSU has gone 1-1 against their two toughest opponents in the league on the road and now have home games in four of their last six contests. It was a good battle for SDSU and their freshman QB but unlike last week against UNI, SDSU was unable to pull this one out. Like last week, they took a halftime lead and were much less effective in the second half. SDSU only scored 3 points in the second frame this week after not being able to score until the final minute of the second half in week one. A blocked punt led to North Dakota’s go-ahead drive and their final five possessions ended in two turnovers (a pick and a fumble each by Goronowki), two turnovers on downs and a punt. Goronowski was inconsistent in the air as he threw for 309 yards and two scores, but also threw two picks and fumbled the ball. Pierre Strong was solid with 95 yards, but SDSU was unable to get anyone else going. The Jackrabbits welcome Western Illinois next week for their first home game of the year.

3.) Northern Iowa (No Change), 1-1, STATS #3: Unlike the rest of the league slate, there were no surprises in Youngstown as the Panthers beat Youngstown State 21-0. We knew the Panthers had a great defense and a spotty offense and that is exactly what we saw in this game. The fact that UNI avoided the upset bug that fellow top ten teams NDSU, SDSU and Illinois State caught, however, should be noteworthy. They certainly had the easiest assignment of the four, though. The Panthers dominated the Penguins statistically, outgaining YSU 369-135. McElvain was his normal self at QB with a cautious 15-30 for 178 yards and a pick. Tyler Hoosman was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 68 yards, although six Northern Iowans got carries. The outcome was still in doubt in the fourth quarter as the Penguins’ defense held tough for most of the game despite almost no contribution from their offense. It was 6-0 after three periods before the UNI offense finally broke Youngstown down and got into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter. The Panther defense has now allowed just one solid drive, SDSU’s game winner in the fourth quarter last week, in its last six quarters. If UNI makes the playoffs this year it will be on the strength of their defense. The Panthers will welcome a desperate Illinois State team to the dome on Saturday.

4.) Southern Illinois (Up Three), 1-1 (2-1), STATS #11: SIU has probably had one of the more unique seasons in the FCS so far. They played a single fall game against Southeast Missouri, winning on a last second field goal. They opened the spring season with a blowout loss to the at-that-time-unheralded North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Then on the cusp of seeing their season unravel before it even got off the ground, they pulled off an absolutely monster win against the #1 team in the nation, ending the Bison’s 39-game winning streak with a dominant 38-14 victory at home. This game was no fluke, ladies and gentlemen. Southern outgained NDSU 443-268 overall, with 170 yards on the ground on 48 carries and another 273 through the air. All of the things that went wrong last week that led to their blowout loss to UND seemed to reverse this week. They had zero fumbles or interceptions and won the turnover battle 2-0. There were no special teams miscues. Nic Baker played the entire game (until the end when a new QB came in in garbage time) and completed 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards while Elliott Romeir had 91 yards and two scores. The Salukis just thoroughly dominated this game. It remains to be seen if NDSU is going to be down this year, or if SIU is just that good. My guess is a mixture of both. The Salukis will look to continue their momentum at Youngstown on Saturday.

5.) North Dakota State (Down Five), 1-1 (2-1), STATS #6: It may seem a little harsh, moving the squad that has dominated FCS for a decade all the way down to fifth after their first loss in forty games. And it probably is. But the way things have panned out in the MVFC this year, and the way NDSU was so thoroughly beaten, I was given little choice. This game was not a fluke, and it was not close. NDSU’s two TDs were on a desperation heave right before halftime, and in garbage time late in the third quarter with the Bison down 38-7. NDSU was not that far off from getting shut out. Throw in a pick and a fumble recovery while forcing no turnovers themselves and getting outgained 443-268 and this may have been the worst NDSU performance in a decade or longer. The Bison have had three straight quarterbacks playing on Sundays, and they might be suffering from the effects of having a QB who is human. That isn’t an insult to Zeb Noland, I am just saying he has a lot to live up to. He has been pedestrian in both games this season. NDSU struggled to establish a run game too. They ran for 120 on 21 carries, but 63 came on one play. At the end of the day, they just got popped. Does this mean the Bison are just a regular team this year, or was this a blip on the radar of another championship season? NDSU heads to Missouri State next week with the hopes of starting a new streak.

6.) South Dakota (No Change), 1-0, STATS #20: South Dakota came into this season a bit of a wildcard. They were not highly touted but had several highly touted individuals, so they were hard to peg. They opened the season on the road against the #7 team in the nation and walked away with a 27-20 win in their QBs collegiate debut. Carson Camp, the freshman QB playing miles away from his hometown of Bloomington in his first game, had a sparkling debut for the Yotes. If this game was any indication, the Coyotes have their QB for the next half decade. After falling behind 17-0, an unfazed Camp took advantage of several Illinois State miscues to bring the team back even with 17 points in the final five minutes of the half. He ended up completing 20 of 35 passes for two TDs (and a pick), while adding 44 yards and a score on the ground. The star of this game was the Coyote defense, however, as they forced seven (seven!) Illinois State turnovers. The first batch gave the Coyote offense the opportunity to recover from their 17-0 deficit and the last one sealed the win late in the game. The turnovers allowed the Coyotes to win despite being outgained 447-300 by ISU. USD is at red-hot North Dakota next weekend.

7.) Illinois State (Down 3), 0-1, STATS #15: If you turn the ball over seven times you aren’t going to win many games, no matter who you are playing. The third in our trio of top 7 ranked upset victims, Illinois State lost their season opener at home to South Dakota 27-20. The game started swimmingly for Illinois State as the Redbird defense overwhelmed USD’s true freshman QB and the offense clicked early on as ISU jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead. Then the turnovers started, and they never stopped. Three late turnovers in the first half allowed USD to come all the way back to tie the game at halftime, and another set up their 3rd quarter go ahead score. At the end of the game, with the ‘Birds trailing by a TD but deep in USD territory they threw another pick to seal the USD win. In all they had four interceptions and three fumbles. Seven of Illinois State’s eleven drives after establishing the 17-0 lead ended in turnover. Bryce Jefferson has always been known to be a competent runner (and he ran for 88 yards if you don’t count the sacks), but his ability as a passer has been questioned. His 15-33, 1 TD, 4 INT performance today wont do much to assuage those concerns. The Redbirds will have another shot at their first win when they head to UNI on Saturday.

8.) Youngstown State (No Change), 0-2, STATS NR: The Penguins showed some defensive strength but continued to get nothing from their offense in a 21-0 loss to UNI. While YSU has not gotten any breaks from the MVFC scheduling committee in opening the season with North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, they have gotten very little contribution from their offense and have now been outscored 46-7 in two games. YSU has managed just 306 yards total in their two games combined and need to get something figured out before their defense runs out of gas. Kudos to their defense, though. They hung in tough against the 5th ranked Panthers holding them to two field goals in the first three quarters despite spending a lot of time on the field. UNI finally broke through in the fourth quarter for two TDs against the exhausted Penguin defense. Youngstown QBs Mark Weid and Joe Cravecraft actually combined to complete 15 of 19 passes, but they were only good for a TOTAL of 64 yards. Their leading rusher, Jaleel McLaughlin, was only able to muster 38 yads on 8 carries. A team can win with YSU’s defense if they get something from the O, but so far they have gotten nothing. They’ll host Southern Illinois on Saturday.

9.) Missouri State (No Change), 1-0 (0-4), STATS NR: While the MVFC’s top teams spent the day battling it out, pulling upsets, and fighting for playoff positioning, the MVFC’s (probably) two worst teams quietly met in Macomb. In a game that was actually an exciting back-and-forth affair with multiple lead changes MSU ended up pulling out a 30-24 win. Leading 14-0 in the first quarter and headed toward a blowout win, two Bear turnovers allowed WIU to score two TDs to tie the game. Another interception before the half allowed WIU to take a 17-14 lead. After tying the game on the first drive of the third quarter, MSU had another promising drive derailed by penalties, MSU kicked another field goal for a 20-17 lead. After a 5 minute, 89 yard WIU TD drive gave the Leathernecks the lead back, MSU went 92 yards on two plays (a 74 yard pass and a 22 yard run) to retake the lead. WIU threw a pick that led to the final MSU field goal, and the Bear defense sealed the 30-24 win with a fumble recovery. Obviously, turnovers were the name of the game in this one as Western had 4 and MSU 3. The Bears outgained the Leathernecks 433-329, with Jaden Johnson throwing for 278 yards, a TD and a pick. Celdon Manning had a nice game on the ground with 69 yards and a score (taking it all the way on a 5-yard run). The Bears will host NDSU in Springfield next week.

10.) Western Illinois (No Change), 0-1, STATS NR: The Leathernecks missed probably their best opportunity to secure a W this year when they lost at home to Missouri State 30-24. WIU made the best of three first half MSU turnovers to turn a 14-0 deficit into a 17-14 lead, including a 75-yard fumble return for a TD. MSU took the lead with consecutive field goals, but WIU rallied to take a 24-20 lead on an 89-yard drive that included five tries from inside the ten (helped by a penalty) before they finally punched it in. Conversely, MSU needed just three plays (really two as the first was a run for no gain) to cover 92 yards on their next possession and reclaim the lead. WIU’s last possessions ended with an interception and a fumble. The Leathernecks could only gain 48 yards on the ground on 30 carries and were very dependent on senior QB Connor Sampson who completed 34 of 46 passes for 281 yards, a TD and two picks. Western will head to SDSU next Saturday.

These rankings are sure to be controversial. That was my best effort. You could make a lot of arguments for a lot of teams to be a lot of different places with the strange results we have had so far. Let me know what you think! I can take it!

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