MVFC Week 12 Preview
Well, we made it. The final week of the season. This is (probably) where we say adieu to six of the Valley’s teams. For them, it’s the last chance to make something out of this season. A chance to end things on a positive note. For five other teams, however, it’s a chance to get some momentum heading into the playoffs. For some, it is even a chance to win a conference title. Here is my preview of the final week of the regular season in the Valley.
Indiana State (4-6, 2-5) @ Illinois State (4-6, 2-5) – Noon – ESPN+
The “Battle For At Least a Tie For 8th Place”, as it is known to the locals, is between two teams who were probably hoping for more out of this season. Neither had high expectations, and while both had their moments, it will ultimately be a losing season for both. For Illinois State, it has been a precipitous drop from a quarterfinal berth in 2019 and a top ten preseason ranking in the spring, to two consecutive losing seasons. They have shown signs of life with wins over playoff bound South Dakota, and a clutch win over Northern Iowa. But they haven’t been able to move the ball with enough consistency to get the Ws needed to compete for a postseason spot. Quite frankly their offense stinks, and that is coming from someone who has watched every UNI game for the last decade. Indiana State was a big question mark preseason after they decided to forgo spring competition. They had a very exciting moment in beating Eastern Kentucky on the final play of the game, and also beat the two Valley teams they had the best shot to beat (Youngstown and Western at home). They’ve also played all five MVFC playoff teams and got just completely blown out by all of them. Their closest loss in the league was a 38-10 defeat at the hands of South Dakota. Overall, the Sycamores have been outscored 320-160 this season which is by far the worst negative margin in the league. They have scored the fewest and allowed the third most points in the league. The fact that they have a chance to finish just a game below .500 is quite remarkable when you viewed through that lens.
My Prediction: Illinois State has been playing decent ball as of late and I think they’ll win this one on senior day in Normal. I even think they’ll put up a few points. I have ISU Red winning 24-10.
Youngstown State (2-7, 1-6) @ #17 Southern Illinois (7-3, 5-2) – Noon – ESPN+
Southern Illinois put an end to their rough patch last week with a 47-21 dismantling of the Indiana State Sycamores. The blowout win moved SIU…..down……two spots in the polls because…..reasons. The Salukis are probably already in the playoff field with a 7-3 record, a 7-2 FCS record, no bad losses, and a quality win at South Dakota State. However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to avoid a loss to the last-place Penguins. Youngstown has had a rough year and is probably looking forward to the offseason. They’ve lost four straight and seven out of eight since a season opening win against UIW. Their other win came against Missouri State. That means both of their wins were against teams that will likely make the playoff field. Unfortunately for them, they also lost to four teams who will likely not (UNI, Indiana State, UND, and Western Illinois). We’ll see who they choose to start under center as freshman Demeatric Crenshaw has gotten most of the snaps this season with senior Joe Craycraft his typical understudy. But Junior Mitch Davidson has gotten some reps lately and he has made some noise. If I am YSU, I am giving the start to Davidson to see what he can do heading into next year. Southern Illinois will hope to pull away early in this one and get their guys some rest before the playoffs start next week.
My Prediction: I can’t imagine SIU losing this one at home on senior day. There is just so much on the line for Southern, and the Penguins have little to play for. Plus it is a pretty big mismatch. I have SIU by a 31-7 score.
Western Illinois (2-8, 2-5) @ Northern Iowa (5-5, 3-4) – 1pm – ESPN3
Some people say that UNI still has a shot to make the postseason. Despite what I have said here and in my previous article, I agree with them. UNI has three premier wins and if the committee looks at a 6-5 team the Panthers are first in line. Northern Iowa has qualified for the playoffs at 6-5 before, and the situation was very similar in that they had some very good wins that got them in. However, the landscape of the FCS was different in 2018 and it set up well for a 6-5 team to get into the field. I think that a lot will have to go wrong on the bubble for that to happen this year. You’ve got 9-2 FAMU, you’ve got 8-3 URI, you’ve got 8-3 SFA, and you’ve got 7-4 William and Mary and Chatty with good wins. You’ve got possible bid thieves in Monmouth and Mercer. I wouldn’t count on it happening this year, Panther fans. Most Northern Iowa fans, even the ones that think UNI is going to get in, don’t think they deserve it anyway. Fans are certainly frustrated, but honestly, they’re not really that frustrated. This has happened so many times now that the frustration has faded away and left apathy in its place. UNI is already the third attraction in a small population state, and if they continue to be just average, like they have been for a decade, there won’t be anyone left in the dome to watch next time they have a great season. Western Illinois has had a fun season, despite their 2-8 record. They were picked to finish last in the league, and unless Youngstown upsets SIU they have successfully avoided the cellar. They have a pair of wins, have given some solid squads (EWU, SIU) a good run for their money and have put up gaudy offensive numbers at times. The Leathernecks have the type of offense (one that is built upon a vertical passing game) that can give the UNI defense (built to stop the run) fits. It is also the type of offense the average UNI fan covets.
My Prediction: If UNI truly does have a shot to make the playoffs, they will almost certainly lose. But I am going with the Panthers 49-21.
North Dakota (5-5, 3-4) @ #12 South Dakota State (7-3, 4-3) – 2pm – ESPN+
Both these teams have had quite a year. The Jackrabbits are going to the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game, and North Dakota is almost certainly not. The path to how we got here, though, shows that the talent gap between the two teams might not be as vast as it appears at first glance. South Dakota State opened the year with a banger. They blew the Mountain West’s Colorado State Rams out of their own (big beautiful) building with a 42-23 win on opening week. They trounced their next three opponents and were looking every bit like a national championship and MVFC contender through four games. But they’ve gone 3-3 since. They blew out lowly Youngstown and Western like you would expect a top team to do. But they lost at home to SIU and UNI. Then they went ahead and beat North Dakota State, giving them the signature win they needed, only to turn around and lose to South Dakota on a “Hail Mary” play. So SDSU has gone 2-3 against FCS teams with a winning or .500 record/FBS squads this year. I can’t figure this team out. We’ll see if someone in the playoffs can. North Dakota has been a tough luck 5-5, and if they would have had even a little bit of luck in one of their several losses to the Valley’s playoff squads, they might be playing for something besides pride in this game. They lost to NDSU by 6, at South Dakota by 7, at SIU by 3 and at Mo State by 4. This is not a bad team, but it simply hasn’t worked out for them this year.
My Prediction: I think the Jackrabbits will win this one at home to get themselves some momentum going into the playoffs. I have SDSU 24-14.
#16 South Dakota (7-3, 5-2) @ #4 North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1) – 2:30pm – ESPN+
For a league with so many top teams and so many exciting matchups throughout the season, the final week’ s slate is a bit of a dud. This game is the exception, though. South Dakota is coming off arguably their biggest win as an FCS squad, and North Dakota State is trying to put themselves in position for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Also, this game is for the Valley title. North Dakota State has at least a share of the title wrapped up, but can win it outright with a victory here. A South Dakota win would give them a share of the title, as well as Missouri State and possibly SIU. Both teams are going to see their names called on Sunday. But where they will be on the bracket remains a mystery. The Bison can probably still get a seed with a loss but will be one of a handful of candidates for one of the top two seeds with a victory. South Dakota has a puncher’s chance at a seed with a victory too, as they would be 8-2 against the FCS with wins over SDSU and NDSU in their pocket. The Bison have been tough to beat in Fargo (they’re always tough to beat in Fargo) but it wouldn’t be the first time South Dakota got a win in the FargoDome. That would be 2015, when the Coyotes ended a long conference losing streak (and ended a long NDSU home winning streak) in one of the most unlikely upsets in recent Valley history, beating Carson Wentz and the Bison 24-21. Rumor has it that Wentz hurt his hand punching a locker after the game, which is why he missed a significant part of the season after that. But I digress. THIS game has substantially more on the line for both teams than the contest in 2015 (when USD ultimately missed the playoffs and NDSU won the league and national title like always). South Dakota might have their best team in the FCS era, and North Dakota State wants to set itself up for another championship run. The Coyotes are a balanced team, and NDSU prefers to run the ball. They amassed 454 yards on the ground last week against Youngstown. If the Coyotes can find a way to slow down that rushing attack, they will have a chance. If not, North Dakota State will literally run away with it.
My Prediction: Will South Dakota be able to put the focus into this game that will be required to be competitive? They’re playing for a league title, but they’re also coming off a miracle win over their rival that put them into the playoffs. One couldn’t blame them if they’re unable to bring their A-game here. I hope they do, though, because it could be a doozy. That said, the Bison are tough in Fargo. I’ll go with NDSU by a 27-17 score.
#14 Missouri State (7-3) @ Dixie State (1-9) – 8pm – ESPN+
The Valley regular season ends with a nonconference tilt between Mo State and the no-longer-winless-and-soon-to-be-no-longer-named Dixie State Trailblazers. Dixie State may be 1-9 this season, but you can’t say they backed down from any challenge. They started with nine consecutive losses to Sacramento State, Weber State, UC-Davis, South Dakota State, Montana, Tarleton, Stephen F Austin, Delaware, and Sam Houston State. Some of those squads are among the best in the nation. Other than Tarleton, every one of them was an FCS playoffs contender at some level this year. They finally got a win last week over the Fort Lewis Skyhawks, a winless D2 team. I’d say they earned the right to play a patsy. The Trailblazers will be playing their final game as Dixie State before they change their name to Utah Tech next season. For the Bears, this is a bit of a trap game on the road. They are coming off a trio of big wins over North Dakota, SIU and UNI, and are probably already locked into a playoff spot even with a loss. A win will get them in the seed conversation. They can also win a conference title if USD beats NDSU. So, there is plenty on the line for Mo State in this contest.
My Prediction: In a perfect world, the Bears could start subbing out starters in the third quarter to get them rested up for the playoffs. I think they’ll have to play them into the fourth, though, to be safe. I have the Bears by a score of 38-17.
AROUND THE FCS
That is all for the Valley, but here are some of the key games to keep an eye on throughout the FCS on the final week of the season.
-Nicholls (5-5) @ #15 Southeastern Louisiana (8-2) (Thursday): The Lions are 8-1 against the FCS and have no bad losses so they are probably in the playoffs win or lose. A win would leave no doubt and would clinch at least a share of the Southland title, though.
-Charleston Southern (4-5) @ #1 (FBS) Georgia: I mean…..this is going to be a slaughter. But this is the only FCS game this week that could have an impact on the OTHER “playoff” race. It is one of several FCS/FBS games scheduled for the week. None look good for the good guys.
-Sacred Heart (7-3) @ Long Island (2-7): The Pioneers would clinch the NEC autobid with a win here.
-Western Carolina (3-7) @ VMI (6-4): The Keydets’ playoff hopes are already slim, but they are gone if they lose here.
-Monmouth (7-3) @ #9 Kennesaw State (9-1): The Big South title will go to the winner of this game. Kennesaw has a much better shot at an at-large with a loss, so bubble teams should root for the Owls.
-#6 Villanova (8-2) @ Delaware (5-5): The Wildcats have a good shot at a seed and would clinch at least a share of the CAA title with a win.
-#21 Mercer (7-2) @ #9 East Tennessee State (9-1): The winner will be the SoCon champion and get an automatic bid into the playoffs. ETSU will likely get a bid either way, while Mercer would be on the bubble. Bubble teams should root for ETSU.
-Drake (2-7) @ Davidson (7-2) AND San Diego (6-4) @ Stetson (3-6): If Davidson wins, they’ll be back in the playoffs with the Pioneer League automatic bid. If they fall, San Diego can claim the playoff spot with a win. Both clinch at least a share of the league title with a win.
-The Citadel (3-7) @ Chattanooga (6-4): The Mocs are on the soft side of the bubble and need a great performance here to have a shot.
-Jacksonville State (5-5) @ Eastern Kentucky (6-4): EKU is VERY MUCH on the soft end of the bubble and needs a win here and help from the good Lord to get in.
-#1 Sam Houston State (9-0) @ Abilene Christian (5-5): SHSU can put a bow on a perfect season and set themselves up for a very high seed…..possibly as high as #1…..in their quest to defend their FCS title before they bail.
-#3 Montana State (9-1) @ #7 Montana (8-2): If the Bobcats win on the road in the Brawl of the Wild, I have them as my #1 seed. If Montana wins, they are probably looking at a high seed as well. Both are locks to be in the field. This is probably the game of the day.
-#25 Rhode Island (7-3) @ Elon (5-5): If I had to pick the bubbliest team of them all, I would pick the Rams. They need to win here and cross their fingers. Would be tough to leave an 8-3 CAA team with an FBS win out. Does the committee consider all FBS wins equal? Because it doesn’t seem fair to give a team a big boost for beating UMass.
-Towson (4-6) @ #2 James Madison (9-1): Dukes just need to win to clinch a share of the CAA title and a very high seed. How high remains to be seen.
-#13 UT-Martin (9-1) @ SEMO (3-7): The Skyhawks are undefeated against the FCS and think they are worthy of a seed. It’s a longshot, but a win this week would be a requirement.
-#18 Incarnate Word (8-2) @ Houston Baptist (0-10): Cardinals can clinch a Southland title and an automatic bid with a win at winless HBU this week.
-Richmond (5-5) @ William & Mary (6-4): The Tribe are another very bubbly team. Squads on the bubble should cheer for Richmond this week.
-#23 Florida A&M @ Bethune-Cookman (2-8): The Rattlers might be the most interesting case of the bunch. With an AD campaigning hard for their inclusion and no chance to make the SWAC title game, could a squad with a 9-1 FCS record (and only a one-point loss to Jackson State) get left out?
-#11 Sacramento State (8-2) @ #10 UC-Davis (8-2): Two squads that are safely in the field face off with the winner having a good shot at a seed (especially if its Sac State). The Hornets can also clinch a league title with a win (outright if Montana State loses at Montana).
-#22 Stephen F. Austin (7-3) @ Lamar (1-8): SFA is sitting right there on that bubble and needs to make a statement with a dominant performance here.
-#5 Eastern Washington (8-2) @ Portland State (5-5): The Eagles are another squad with a solid shot at a seed with a win this week.
That is it for this week. I hope to have another close look at the playoff field tomorrow if I have time. I’ll see you then?