MVFC Football Week 7 Power Rankings
Congrats to the 36% of MVFC football schools that were able to successfully complete a football game this week. The big story for most of the week in the world of the MVFC was Illinois State’s opt out, particularly the timing of it which allowed SDSU an extra week to rest and prepare for a huge game against NDSU. In the end, NDSU had a COVID issue in their program and were unable to play this week anyway. North Dakota also had a positive test and had to postpone their contest against Youngstown State (the NDSU-USD game was fully cancelled, not postponed). Between the two COVID issues and the ISU opt outs we only were able to play two MVFC games this week. One of those was a statement game though. Missouri State is in this. There isn’t much to discuss due to the lack of games, but here are the rankings for this week anyway.
Week 7: MVFC Power Rankings
1.) South Dakota State (No Change), 4-1, STATS #4: With none of my top three teams in action this week (and the fourth ranked team getting beat), it was easy to keep the top three in the same position. South Dakota State had an open week after Illinois State chose to opt out of the remainder of their season last Sunday. This cancelled the scheduled contest between the Jackrabbits and the Redbirds. The move caused some controversy (at least on the message boards) as it was perceived that SDSU would have the advantage of an extra week to rest and prepare for their huge game against North Dakota State the following week. While the Jacks did end up with an extra week of prep, it turns out the two squads will be equally well rested since NDSU’s game with South Dakota was cancelled at the 11th hour due to COVID in the NDSU program. The Bison and Jackrabbits are set to go at it this Saturday, assuming NDSU is past their COVID issues by that time. If the game is not played, it will be yet another obstacle in the committee’s unenviable task of choosing playoff teams this year. Although, it could end up benefitting the league to have one fewer loss amongst their top teams. That said, FCS fans everywhere hope this game does happen.
2.) North Dakota (No Change), 4-1, STATS #6: The Fighting Hawks faced the tricky prospect of a trip to the Ice Castle this week, but the game was postponed due to COVID in the North Dakota program. It might prove to be a positive thing for UND. For one, with Missouri State’s recent success their game this Saturday in Grand Forks suddenly becomes a key MVFC clash with playoff implications. It certainly doesn’t hurt UND to have an extra week to prepare. For two, UND’s final regular season opponent was set to be Illinois State before the Redbirds opted out. As it was, North Dakota would have had two open weeks after their last game with MSU before a potential postseason. Now the Fighting Hawks have a game scheduled on the season’s final week. That could help avoid rust going into the playoffs, although the Hawks will have to navigate that tough trip to Ohio without slipping up and possibly torching their season altogether. As I said earlier, UND hosts Missouri State this week. UPDATE: North Dakota's game with MSU has now been cancelled due to the COVID issues in UND program. UND on a pause for the week.
3.) North Dakota State (No Change), 4-1 (5-1), STATS #2: My ranking of NDSU third proved to be the most controversial thing I have written on this blog to date, including my entire season’s worth of MVC basketball lists. With good reason……I totally get it. Unfortunately, with all three Dakota schools off this week, there wasn’t much rationale to change anything. NDSU was supposed to face South Dakota this week, but the game was called off late due to COVID in the Bison program. Their opponents last week, North Dakota, also had a COVID issue this week that required a game be postponed. Coincidence? I have no idea, TBH. I’m not a doctor. What I do know is that NDSU was going to have to face a well-rested SDSU next week, but now both teams will be coming off an open week before their big-time clash (although SDSU did still get an extra week of prep). Despite their idleness, NDSU’s playoff chances jumped big time this week with SIU’s loss. NDSU can now probably lose to SDSU and still feel good about making the field.
4.) Missouri State (Up One), 4-1 (4-4), STATS #19: Every once in a while, a football team has one of those years where the bounces just seem to go their way. I have experienced it as a UNI fan in 2005 when UNI seemingly pulled six consecutive games out of their butts to advance to the National Championship game. Right now, Missouri State is having one of those years. After squeaking by Western Illinois (30-24), South Dakota (27-24) and UNI (13-6), Missouri State won another thriller at home against Southern Illinois by a score of 30-27. The Bears are now 4-1 in the spring with only a loss to North Dakota State holding on the negative side of their ledger. The question for MSU may come down to how much the committee takes the fall games into account. The Bears were 0-3 in the fall, with losses to Oklahoma and Central Arkansas twice. A record of 4-1 is better than 4-4, to be sure. But before we get caught up in that, let’s take a look at how this game went down. MSU took a quick 7-0 lead on a 75-yard TD pass on the first offensive play of the game. After that, though, their offense stalled for the remainder of the half. The Bears punted twice, had a safety, fumbled, and then punted three more times to end the half trailing SIU 19-7. After another punt to start the second half, the Bears finally put it together with an 11 play, 80-yard TD drive that took five minutes in the third quarter and pulled them within five at 19-14. The Bear defense stopped SIU on fourth down in the red zone on the next drive and after another punt, their offense finally found their groove for the rest of the game. They drove 51 yards in 5 plays to take a 20-19 lead. SIU scored to reclaim the lead 27-20 with five minutes to go, but the Bears responded going 75 yards in six plays to tie it back up at 27. After forcing SIU to go 3-and-out on their next possession, the Bears used the final 1:42 of the game to drive 50 yards and kick the game winning field goal, winning 30-27. Missouri State was outgained 431-377 overall but only committed one turnover to SIU’s two. Matt Struck was 18-26 for 245 yards and a score, while Tobias Little and Celdon Manning combined for 133 yards on the ground on 32 carries, with Manning finding paydirt three times while also catching 6 passes for 117 yards and a score. We can now talk seriously about an MSU playoff push. A win at North Dakota next weekend is probably required. The Bears do not play SDSU and were beaten 25-0 against NDSU, so they lack quality wins and the three fall losses don’t help much either. A win over UND would open the door to the possibility of the automatic bid, though, which is crazy. No matter what happens, MSU has to be happy with how this spring has gone down. UPDATE: North Dakota's game with MSU has now been cancelled due to the COVID issues in UND program. UND on a pause for the week.
5.) Southern Illinois (Down One), 3-3 (4-3), STATS #18: Well, it looks like Southern Illinois’ playoff drought will continue into the fall. The Salukis were on top of the world after thrashing NDSU early in the season, and were really feeling good after knocking off UNI. But a 44-3 loss to SDSU followed by a disappointing loss to Missouri State has effectively put the kibosh on the Salukis’ playoff hopes. All that said, their 30-27 loss to Missouri State was a heartbreaker. Third string QB Stone Labanowitz completed 25 of 34 passes for 270 yards and two scores. SIU had four runners combine for 122 yards on 34 carries, led by Romeir Elliott’s 42 yards on 13 carries. Southern Illinois fell behind after MSU scored on a 75-yard TD on the first play of the game (something that occurred in both MVFC games this week). Both teams then struggled offensively for a while, leading to an SIU safety that made it 7-2. On the ensuing drive, the Salukis scored on a 29-yard TD pass from Javon Williams to Branson Combs on 4th down giving SIU a 9-7 lead. They turned an MSU turnover into a TD on their next drive, and added a field goal at the end of the half to take a 19-7 lead into the break. MSU cut the lead to 19-14 in the third quarter after an 11-play 80-yard TD drive. SIU drove inside the MSU 10 on the next drive, but an interception on fourth down ended the effort with no Saluki points. That would prove to be the difference. The Bears took a 20-19 lead midway through the 4th quarter but SIU answered right back with a TD of their own on a 7 yard Stone Labinowitz pass to Avante Cox (set up by a 67-yard pass earlier in the drive). With five minutes to go, SIU had a 27-20 lead. But MSU answered with a quick TD drive of their own to tie the game and after forcing a Saluki three and out, went 50 yards in 1:42 for the game winning field goal. That provided the 30-27 margin for MSU and ended SIU’s playoff hopes. SIU’s scheduled game this week at Illinois State has been cancelled due to the ISU opt out, so they will finish their season at Western Illinois in two weeks.
6.) Youngstown State (No Change), 1-4, STATS NR: Youngstown State was set to face the North Dakota Fighting Hawks at the Ice Castle this week, but the game was postponed to the end of the season due to COVID in the Fighting Hawks’ program. It’s a bit of a bummer for YSU, who is currently playing their best football of the year after a narrow loss to South Dakota State and a blowout win over South Dakota. The Penguins will have a shot at another win when they head to Macomb to face the reeling WIU Leathernecks next weekend.
7.) Northern Iowa (No Change), 3-3, STATS #23: The Panthers got a win for the first time in three weeks, but the effort didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence in the preseason #3 team. The winless Leathernecks put up 413 yards of total offense and outgained the Panthers who had 356. WIU QB Connor Sampson proved he was a man by completing FORTY passes (on 58 attempts) for 355 yards and a TD (plus a pick). The offense continued to struggle. They were 3-12 on third down (they are now 22-77 on the year and 13-63 if you omit one game) and after a long TD pass on the first play were only able to amass 94 yards on 33 plays, good for just one field goal, the rest of the half. UNI did wear down the WIU defense and had some success in the second half, but this is a team that was averaging nearly 500 yards allowed per game coming in and UNI got just 356 (and it took a late TD drive in garbage time to crack 300…..even after they spotted UNI 75 yards on the first play of the game). All that said, there were some positives here. That 75-yard TD pass on the opening play was one of very few big plays the UNI offense has mustered all year. UNI’s defense was lockdown in the first half and didn’t start giving up large chunks of yards until later in the game when the Panthers had the win locked up. UNI’s special teams made a big play by blocking a field goal and returning it for a TD at the end of the first half. Tyler Hooseman carried for 82 yards and two scores, and at the end of the day UNI won this one going away. We’ll see if the Panthers can get another W next week at the Dakotadome when they visit South Dakota on Friday.
8.) South Dakota (No Change), 1-3, STATS NR: South Dakota didn’t play this week due to a COVID issue with their opponents, NDSU. The Coyotes have a newly renovated DakotaDome that is a substantial improvement over the old one, but there must be some higher power that doesn’t want to see them use it. Their first season in the new digs was postponed due to COVID (I assume the pandemic was caused by USD trying to better their facilities). Then when the season finally did start, their first home game was moved to the end of the season when WIU had a COVID issue in their program. They snuck one game in against MSU, but this week another home game was cancelled due to COVID in their opponent’s program. It will be April before USD gets to play their second game at home. That will come Friday when they host the UNI Panthers. You know…..hopefully.
9.) Western Illinois (No Change), 0-5, AGS NR, STATS NR: Western hosted Northern Iowa and were once again solidly defeated, but there were a lot of positives that came out of the 34-20 loss. Connor Sampson was forced to throw 58 passes and was able to connect on 40 of them for 355 yards and two touchdowns (plus a pick). WIU has historically struggled with their run game, and did so again, but Ludovick Choquette was able to get 47 yards on the ground averaging nearly four yards a carry. That isn’t much, but it’s a lot for WIU. Western outgained Northern Iowa 413-356 on in total yards and had 19 first downs to the Panthers’ 17. The Leatherneck defense has struggled to get teams off the field this year. WIU forced the UNI offense to punt four times in the first half, and UNI attempted field goals on two other drives (their only offensive TD came on a 75-yard TD pass on the first play of the game). After UNI scored early, WIU answered with an 11 play 58-yard TD drive to tie it. The score was 10-7 right before half when WIU lined up for a 46-yard field goal that would have tied it. Instead, UNI blocked the kick and returned it for a TD. If it weren’t for that play, it would have been a much more competitive game. UNI was only able to muster 93 yards on 34 plays in the first half after their initial 75-yard TD pass. Western allowed a long TD drive to fall behind 24-7 to start the second half, and the Leatherneck defense wore down after that. But the offense moved the ball in the second frame, going on drives of 52, 55 and 80 yards. The final margin was 34-20 in favor of UNI. WIU plays their final home game of the season against Youngstown State next week.
Here's hoping most of the league actually gets to play this round. Into crunch time here folks. See you next week.