Week 2 of the MVFC was nuts. Upsets abounded and chaos was the name of the day. However, order was restored in Week 3. All the higher ranked teams in the poll won their games. Everyone in the Valley except North Dakota now has at least one loss going into this week, and five MVFC teams sit in the top ten of the national poll. In a season where there are only six at-large bids available and little hard evidence to demonstrate the relative strength of the conferences, the question becomes will parity help or hurt the league? If the league champion has two losses, will that hurt our seeding? If the runner up has two or even three losses, will that keep us from getting a second bid? Will a three-loss third place MVFC team be left at home, or will the presumed strength of the league get us three bids even if that third team is 5-3? Will we lose out to leagues who are probably weaker but who’s top two teams are more defined and their runner ups only have one loss? As this is unprecedented territory, there is literally no way of knowing.
Week 4: MVFC Power Rankings
1.) North Dakota (No Change), 3-0, STATS #3: The Fighting Hawks kept on rolling and are now the only undefeated team in the FCS after beating South Dakota 21-10 at home. Their performance was enough to see them leapfrog UNI into 3rd in the FCS poll, providing even more evidence polls are dumb. That is not to say UND doesn’t deserve to be the top ranked MVFC team because they do, but the fact that they jumped the Panthers this week instead of last week tells me that some of the pollsters simply aren’t paying attention. Anyway, it was a solid win for UND. They outgained the (then) 20th ranked Coyotes 489-328 in total yards, racking up 249 yards on the ground on 40 carries. They had more turnovers than USD, 2-1, but were still able to win by a healthy margin and controlled the game throughout the second half. The stud of the day was sophomore running back Otis Weah who carried 16 times for 163 yards and two scores. The Fighting Hawk defense was stellar as well, forcing the Coyote offense to punt on five of their six first half drives. North Dakota will hit the road for the first time this week as they travel to Western Illinois to face the Leathernecks on Saturday.
2.) South Dakota State (No Change), 2-1, STATS #8: As expected, the Jackrabbits had little trouble with the Leathernecks of Western Illinois this weekend, winning 45-10 in their 2021 spring home debut. SDSU was able to put up 531 total yards and outgained the Leathernecks 328-87 on the ground, averaging 7.6 yards on 43 carries while holding WIU to 3.6 yards per carry. SDSU’s defense did allow 382 yards but kept WIU off the field by holding them to just 2-15 on third down while picking off the Leathernecks three times. The Jackrabbit offense just torched WIU out of the gate, scoring touchdowns on six of their eight first half possessions to take a 42-10 lead into the break. After kicking a field goal on their first possession of the second half, SDSU removed their starting QB Mark Goronowki for the remainder of the game. Despite playing less than three quarters, the freshman QB was the star of the game throwing for 197 yards and two TDs and adding for 120 yards and two TDs on the ground (including an 80 yard scamper). Isaiah Davis added 118 yards on 9 carries for a 13.1 average and a TD. SDSU will stay in Brookings to host Youngstown State this Saturday.
3.) Northern Iowa (No Change), 2-1, STATS #4: UNI once again relied heavily on their defense in pounding out a 20-10 win over Illinois State on Saturday in the UNI-Dome. The Panthers were only able to muster 239 yards of total offense, including just 91 on the ground on 33 carries. But they held Illinois State’s offense to 185 total yards, just 69 (nice) of which were through the air, and kept the Redbird offense out of the end zone (their lone TD was a pick six). I hope that no neutral fans sat through this one to see what FCS is about, because it was kind of brutal. The Panthers were 4-16 on third down while ISU was 5-18. The two team’s QBs were a combined 27-60 through the air and threw more TD passes to the other team than their own. The Panther special teams and defense set up both UNI TD scores. They scored on a 35-yard drive following a solid kickoff return to begin the game and a 24-yard drive that followed a fumble recovery to end it. In between the Panthers punted eight times, threw a pick-six and managed two field goals. The UNI defense, however, was nearly perfect. They held ISU to nine punts, a fumble, a turnover on downs, and one measly field goal. If the Panthers do get to the postseason this year they’ll likely do it on the backs of their stellar defense that has not allowed 200 yards to any opponent this season. If they can get to the point where they’re getting even just an average performance from QB McElvain and their offense, they could be a championship contender. They certainly have a championship defense. UNI heads to Carbondale to face SIU in a big one this Saturday.
4.) Southern Illinois (No Change), 2-1 (3-1), STATS T#10: I was ready to leapfrog SIU ahead of UNI after another lackluster offensive performance by the Panthers, but the Salukis also struggled a bit in their game against Youngstown at the Ice Palace. SIU got the win, which is the most important thing, but those that fancy SIU as contenders probably hoped to see more out of the Salukis in this one. To start, the YSU offense that could only generate a total of seven points in its first two games opened the game with three touchdown drives. That isn’t ideal. When the dust settled, SIU did outgain the Penguins 341-297 overall and the Salukis were much stingier in the second half. But SIU was down 12-0 and 19-7 early on in this one. They had a clutch 9-play, 75-yard, 1:27 TD drive to get back within six at the half, 19-13. They then took the lead on a long TD drive to start the second half and never gave it back. YSU had a field goal to get within one at 23-22 but a quick SIU TD put them up eight again. YSU drove down to the SIU 25-yard line in the final minute before a stop on fourth down put the game away for a 30-22 win. While the defense was suspect, there was a lot to be happy about with the Saluki O. Nic Baker completed 13-18 passes for 139 yards, two TDs and a pick. Romeir Elliott had another good game with 97 yards on 18 carries. SIU begins what will probably be the defining stretch of their season as they host UNI and SDSU in the next two weeks. They begin on Saturday against UNI in a game that may ultimately determine a playoff spot when it is all said and done.
5.) North Dakota State (No Change), 2-1 (3-1), STATS #5: The FCS scheduling Gods gave NDSU a bit of a break after their thrashing at the hands of SIU last week ended their 39-game winning streak. Instead of sending the Bison to Grand Forks, Brookings or Cedar Falls to lick their wounds the Bison ended up in the much-more-forgiving grounds of Springfield, Missouri to take on Missouri State. NDSU still didn’t look invincible, but they handily throttled the Bears by a score of 25-0. The Bison certainly dominated the game statistically. They outgained MSU 407-221 while outpacing the Bears 272-63 on the ground. North Dakota State preserved the shutout despite two turnovers and a mediocre 3-13 conversion rate on third down. They had reason to worry early on as Zeb Noland threw an interception on the Bison’s first drive setting up MSU deep in NDSU territory. But the Bears immediately fumbled on their first play to give the ball back, NDSU followed with a long TD drive on their next possession, and the Bison defense blocked a 42-yard MSU field goal attempt on the ensuing Bears drive. They never looked back from there, taking a 25-0 lead into halftime and cruising to the win despite being held to four punts, a turnover on downs and a fumble in the second half. Zeb Noland was only asked to throw 15 passes and he completed ten for 135 yards and two TDs (and a pick). NDSU had three guys with at least ten carries and 56 yards as they spread the wealth on the ground and combined for 272 yards. The Bison will return to Fargo to host Illinois State on Saturday.
6.) South Dakota (No Change), 1-1, STATS #21: The Coyotes hung tough, but ultimately fell short against the red-hot North Dakota Fighting Hawks in Grand Forks on Thursday. The game started off well as USD forced a turnover or a punt on North Dakota’s first three possessions while putting a field goal on the board for themselves for an early 3-0 lead. After a UND touchdown the Coyote offense continued to flounder while the D stood tall. They forced another punt and got a pick to end the half down 7-3. The defense broke down in the second half as the Fighting Hawks engineered two long TD drives in the third quarter to take a 21-3 lead. A 15-play 95-yard TD drive for USD late in the game was impressive, but it wasn’t enough as USD lost 21-10. This is the kind of inconsistency you might expect with a true freshman QB as Carson Camp threw for 193 yards on 19/31 passing with a pick and no TDs. Kai Henry led USD running backs with 84 yards on 15 carries and a scored a TD. USD was outgained 489-328 but the defense forced two turnovers to push their total to nine in two games. The Coyotes will finally be able to show off the new and improved DakotaDome this weekend when they host Missouri State on Saturday.
7.) Illinois State (No Change), 0-2, STATS #22: It is probably too early to make a definitive statement, but the Redbirds might have a quarterback problem. ISU’s defense hung on as long as they could against UNI’s inept offense, even adding a TD themselves on a pick six, but they couldn’t overcome the lack of offensive production as UNI held on to beat the Redbirds 20-10. For ISU, the defense was the story. After keeping the Redbirds in the game last week despite seven turnovers, they had a similar performance in week two. The Redbirds held UNI to just 239 yards of total offense, keeping the Panthers’ running game to just 2.8 yards per carry and forcing UNI to go to the air which they struggled to do. They kept Northern Iowa to just 4-16 on third down and added a TD on a pick six. Both of UNI’s touchdowns came on short fields as the first was set up by a long kickoff return and the second by a Redbird fumble. The Redbird offense punted the ball nine times, turned it over on downs, fumbled and mustered a field goal drive. That was it. Bryce Jefferson was 13-27 for 69 yards and no TDs (although he did add 60 yards on the ground). Phaleak Brown was the ‘Birds top running back with 42 yards on 11 carries. You can blame the first game on rust, and you can blame the second on the fact that UNI has a stellar defense. But ISU started the season ranked 7th in the nation and is now staring down the barrel at being effectively out of the playoff race before March if they can’t come up with an answer this week. Oh, and this week brings a trip to Fargo to face NDSU.
8.) Youngstown State (No Change), 0-3, STATS NR: They still don’t have a win to show for it, but YSU showed signs of life this week against Southern Illinois. After two weeks in which they had decent defensive performances but got nothing from their offense, the Penguin offense set the tone early in this one. They scored touchdowns on each of their three first half possessions (not including the kneel to end the half). They took 12-0 and 19-7 leads before a long SIU drive to end the half saw their lead decrease in to 19-13. Things went a little bit back to normal in the second half as SIU opened the frame with a long TD drive to take the lead and then added a field goal to go up 23-19. YSU then went on an 18-play 55-yard drive to kick a field goal and get back within one at 23-22. Trailing 30-22 in the final minutes, the Penguins drove to the SIU 25 but stalled there and that effectively ended the game. Overall, the Penguins’ 297 yards were nearly as much as the 306 they got in their first two games combined. Their 203 yards on the ground were certainly more than the 122 they got in their first two games. Mark Waid played the entire game at QB and was a pedestrian 10-22 for 94 yards, but he added 73 yards on the ground on 23 carries. Jaleel McLaughlin was the star for YSU with 124 yards and two scores on 26 carries. The gauntlet doesn’t get any easier as YSU heads to SDSU this weekend.
9.) Missouri State (No Change), 1-1 (1-4), STATS NR: The Bears were thoroughly beaten by NDSU this weekend, 25-0, but avoided total embarrassment in the loss. MSU had the Bison on their heels early. An interception by Zeb Noland had Missouri State with the ball deep in Bison territory on their second possession. But a fumble cost them a chance to score. NDSU scored a TD on the ensuing drive and MSU missed a field goal. It was off to the races from there for NDSU. The Bison added two more TDs and a field goal before half for a 25-0 lead. The second half was pretty kind to MSU. The defense played solid ball and held the Bison to four punts, a forced fumble and a turnover on downs while keeping NDSU off the board in the second half. The offense was mostly shut down by the North Dakota State defense the entire game, however. MSU had five three-and-outs and were outgained 407-221 overall. Jaden Johnson did complete a respectable 13 passes on 21 tries for 132 yards, but MSU could only muster 63 yards on 34 carries on the ground. Missouri State heads to the Vermillion to face South Dakota in the debut of the new DakotaDome next week.
10.) Western Illinois (No Change), 0-2, STATS NR: It seems unlikely that Western Illinois will win a football game this spring. South Dakota State had no trouble with Western this week. The Jackrabbits scored six first half touchdowns in jumping out to a 42-10 lead at the break. They added a field goal on their first possession of the second half to take a 45-10 lead, then called off the dogs. They played with several backups the rest of the way and neither team scored again to end the game with that 45-10 margin. Although they were outgained 531-382 overall Western did do more damage through the air than SDSU, 295-203. Starting QB Connor Sampson completed 29 of 48 passes for 278 yards and a TD, but he was also responsible for three interceptions. Western Illinois will host North Dakota next week.
That was a lot easier than last week, that much I can tell you. Stay tuned for more FCS content coming soon as the basketball season winds down and I have more time. Until then, see you next week!