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MVFC Week 3 Primer

We are three weeks in and every MVFC team other than Western Illinois has a W (the Leathernecks can blame their tough schedule for that). The league took its first FCS loss of the year last week (Western Illinois @ #4 Montana) but is still a solid 10-1 against its own division. Eight Valley schools will wrap up their nonconference schedules this week. Youngstown State already wrapped theirs up last week (they only have two nonconference games), while Missouri State and SDSU have games against Dixie State scheduled for later in the year. Everyone else will face their final nonconference test of the year in week 3. Here is what to watch for.

-#7 Eastern Washington (2-0) @ Western Illinois (0-2) – Saturday, 3pm, ESPN+: I have done absolutely no research to back this up, but I feel comfortable guessing that Western Illinois has the toughest schedule in the FCS this year. They scheduled MAC favorites Ball State week 1, played at #4 Montana week two, and now come home for a game against #7 Eastern Washington in their home opener. This looks like the nonconference schedule of a school from a smaller league trying to earn an at-large bid, not a team from a power conference who will go on to face the likes of Southern Illinois, South Dakota State, North Dakota, and Northern Iowa in league play. As tough as the task is, it is yet another opportunity for WIU to prove it is better than its preseason polling of 11th in the MVFC would imply. Unlike the Leathernecks’ last two games, this one will be at home. Eastern Washington comes in at 2-0 with an overtime win over a very bad (but still FBS) UNLV, and a blowout win over Division II Central Washington. This road trip to Macomb will conclude a very odd nonconference schedule for the Eagles. If the Leathernecks can slow down the Eagles high powered offense, they might have a chance. That is a pretty big “if” though. EWU has averaged 49 points in its first two games and averaged over 40 per game in the spring season. WIU’s passing game under QB Connor Sampson (last year’s MVFC passing yard leader) and WR Dennis Houston is no joke. But they have consistently failed to establish the run which makes them very one-dimensional and easier to defend. In the end, I think Eastern Washington has too much firepower for WIU to keep up.

My Prediction: I think this game will feel closer to WIU’s contest at Ball State than its loss to Montana. Leathernecks will be competitive, but Eastern Washington is just too good to get over the hump. EWU 38-21.

-Drake (1-1) @ #11 North Dakota (1-1) – Saturday, 4pm, ESPN+: This is a contest between two teams that are coming off losses in which they were simply overmatched by a higher-level opponent. For the Fighting Hawks, it was a 48-24 loss to FBS Utah State. UND played hard and took a 21-7 lead at one point, holding the lead until midway through the third quarter. In the end, Utah State pulled away for an easy win. For Drake, who plies its trade in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, it was a 45-7 loss at #13 Montana State. The Bulldogs competed hard, and it took the entire game for MSU to amass their sizable advantage. In the end, they were simply outgunned by the Bobcats. Fans can expect more of the same for Drake, as UND will switch over to the role of heavy favorite for this game. Drake is a good Pioneer League team. They were picked third (behind co-favorites Davidson and San Diego) in the preseason poll and they handled D2 West Virginia Wesleyan 45-3 in their opening game. They are not a team that should be taken lightly, but they are also not a team that should challenge a top-15 FCS squad. One should expect a similar outcome as the Drake-Montana State game. North Dakota’s next game is against NDSU, and one might fear the Fighting Hawks might be looking ahead. But they have a bye week in between. That should allow them to give their focus to the Bulldogs. The Fighting Hawks have too many weapons to go down to a Pioneer League team, and Drake will struggle to contain the likes of Tommy Schuster and Otis Weah.

My Prediction: North Dakota wins 42-14.

-St. Thomas (1-0) @ #18 Northern Iowa (1-1) – Saturday, 4pm, ESPN3: Normally I would lead with the historical significance of this game. I would talk about how St. Thomas is in the first year of their unprecedented move from Division III to Division I, how they won their first game as a DI team last week, and how cool and exciting their story is. Instead, I am forced to talk about Mark Farley. Everyone in the world of FCS football knows UNI has a good defense and if they could get that offense going, they could make a run at this thing. Last week, UNI trailed 9-7 at halftime of their contest at Sacramento State. Their QB, Will McElvain was 2-6 passing for 7 yards. This came after McElvain threw 1 TD pass in five games last spring. He is a tough player and plays hard, but he is really struggling, and UNI’s offense was suffering. Farley finally gave Michigan State transfer Theo Day a chance under center to start the second half of last Saturday’s game. He responded by leading UNI on four consecutive touchdown drives and throwing two TD passes. UNI had a 34-9 lead by the end of the third quarter. Fans rejoiced! Unto us a new QB is born! Then Farley said he hadn’t decided who would start the next game. So now, I guess, we have a QB controversy. Now, this isn’t a knock against Will McElvain. He seems to be a good kid and competes his butt off. But everyone in the orbit of UNI football can tell pretty easily who the best QB on the Panthers’ roster is. If Farley sends Will McElvain out there to start this game, or even splits time between the two, there will be Panther fans that will leave the building. So I guess keep an eye on that? Anyway, this is an historic game. For those that don’t know, St. Thomas was the school that was kicked out of its D3 league for being too good. That started the (not really so) long road to DI which began this fall. St. Thomas will compete in the Summit League for most sports, and the Pioneer League for football. The Tommies won their first game as a DI team, 12-9 over Michigan Tech last week. UNI will be their first DI opponent…..maybe even in school history? While it is an awesome story and I am rooting for the Tommies this season, this should be a relatively easy one for the Panthers.

EDIT: I wrote this two days ago and we did get word that Day will be starting! Huzzah!

My Prediction: I am going to say UNI is up 35-0 at the break and cruises to a 45-3 win.

-#5 North Dakota State (2-0) @ Towson (1-1) – Saturday, 5pm, Flosports: This will be the only MVFC game this week that is not on the ESPN family. It will be on FloSports, which requires a subscription that I will not pay for. I suspect, however, that several Bison fans will. And they should because, while this will probably be their toughest challenge yet, NDSU should win this game. This will be the first time NDSU leaves the friendly confines of the DakotaDome this season. It will be interesting to see what type of impact, if any, that has on the Bison. NDSU beat a decent Albany team out of the CAA 28-6 in their first game, and I would expect Towson to be a similar kind of team. The Tigers come in at 1-1 with a dominant 31-0 win over the MEAC’s Morgan State and a hard-fought 26-14 loss to a ranked New Hampshire. They used two QBs in the New Hampshire game and neither was terribly effective, but they had a little more success on the ground. The defense was OK-but-not-great. In the end, I don’t think they’ll be able to slow down NDSU’s rushing attack. The Bison should get their yards on the ground and the D should make life difficult for the Towson offense. I am interested to see what Bison QB Quincy Patterson does in this one as he may be called upon to step up more than he did in game one and game two. It may be his first opportunity to really show how dynamic he can be.

My Prediction: I think this will be NDSU’s toughest test to date, but they win it 31-16.

-Indiana State (1-1) @ Eastern Kentucky (1-1) – Saturday, 6pm, ESPN+: File this one under “quietly intriguing” in your……MVFC football games categories…..file….cabinet? I lost the thread a bit there, but you know what I mean. Indiana State is not thought of as a team that will be competing for a playoff spot, and they will be hitting the road against a team with a decent amount of tradition. This is the kind of game that if the MVFC wins, it can really help prove how solid the league is top-to-bottom. But that is easier said than done. The Sycamores won a home game against EIU, despite being statistically outplayed in many ways. Then they went to Evanston and played tough with the B1G Wildcats. The defense was especially impressive, holding NU to less than 300 yards and just 24 points total. There hasn’t been a lot to see out of ISU that makes you think they’ll compete for a playoff spot, but there also hasn’t been anything to make you think they are not a good team. I think we’ll learn more about the Trees in this game than in any of the others so far. Eastern Kentucky will also look to learn a bit about their squad. They are playing their home opener after nipping Western Carolina on the road (31-28) and getting handled by Louisville (30-3). EKU has been an above average FCS program for a while now and should be an interesting part of the AQ7 mix this year. This will be a crucial game for them if they hope to challenge for a playoff spot. The same could be said for ISU, although their conference path is a bit tougher. It would certainly be a quality win for the Sycamores if they were able to get it.

My Prediction: This is a tough one to call but leaning homer has done me well so far. I am going to go with a 17-16 Indiana State victory.

-Illinois State (1-1) @ Eastern Illinois (0-3) – Saturday, 6pm, ESPN+: This game features two teams who are licking their wounds after rough performances last week. Illinois State put up 57 yards of total offense for the entire game in a 28-0 loss to Western Michigan. There is no shame in losing to a good FBS program like WMU, but the Redbirds put up some silly “Madden-CPU-Opponent-On-Easy” numbers in this one. Their leading rusher had 13 yards on one carry. Their QB threw for a total of 29 yards on 8-19 passing. They had four first downs the entire game (to WMU’s 24), and they averaged 1.27 yards per play. That is remarkably rough (and as a UNI grad, I have seen some rough offensive performances). Eastern Illinois’ game wasn’t as statistically rough as Illinois State’s, but the outcome may have been more embarrassing. The Panthers were outscored 17-0 in the 3rd quarter and were held out of the end zone until the final moments of a 17-10 loss to Dayton. Dayton is a member of the non-scholarship Pioneer league, so EIU lost to a team with no scholarships and were shut down offensively while doing so. Dayton isn’t a bad team. In 2019 (their most recent season) they went 8-3 and opened the season with a win against Indiana State. But still……if you’ve got the full allotment of schollys and your opponent does not and they shut you down….that is a rough day. Illinois State also played a Pioneer League team, Butler, earlier in the year and won the game 49-7. ISU still has problems at quarterback, but I think they still have enough in the tank to be the favorites in this one.

My Prediction: I think the Redbirds will come out on top, 27-13.

-Dayton (1-0) @ #8 Southern Illinois (1-1) – Saturday, 6pm, ESPN+: This is a matchup of two teams that performed well against teams from a higher-level last week. I just described Dayton’s game against Eastern Illinois in the preview above. But that was from the EIU perspective. From the Dayton perspective it was a great, but not unprecedented day. The Flyers handled fully funded EIU, 17-10. It was a big win for the non-scholarship Pioneer League, but it was the second season in a row that Dayton has handled a fully-funded team. They beat Indiana State 42-35 in 2019 en route to an 8-3 record. In 2018 they led Southeast Missouri in the 4th quarter before the Redhawks pulled away with three straight touchdowns, and they beat SEMO the previous year in 2017. They also beat Kennesaw State in 2015. This is a team that does not get intimidated by fully funded teams and does not back down. They will come to Carbondale expecting to win. SIU expects to win too, and for good reason. They blew out their rival SEMO in week one, and came back and took the Big 12’s Kansas State to the wire last week. The contest completed a quartet of MVFC vs. Big 12 games that were all won by the Power 5 league, but all by a TD or less. The Wildcats won 31-23, but the game was still in doubt in the final minutes. Nic Baker is proving he was the right choice under center, and SIU has the ability to beat you in many different ways. Dayton is good too, and after the performances of some of their league contemporaries so far, they might emerge as the favorites in the Pioneer League with a good showing this week. SIU should be better, though, and should win easily.

My Prediction: I think Dayton will make SIU work a little harder than they want to, but the Salukis win 31-10.

-South Dakota (1-1) @ Cal Poly (1-1) – Saturday, 7pm, ESPN+: South Dakota made a statement against an above average Big Sky team last week, beating Northern Arizona 34-7 at home. It was a performance that I thought (coupled with their near miss against Kansas from the Big 12) would be good enough to get the Coyotes some votes in the STATS FCS poll, but I guess I was wrong. It seems weird to me that pollsters can disregard things like Kennesaw State’s 45-17 loss to Georgia Tech, VMI’s 60-10 loss to Kent State, and Monmouth’s 50-15 loss to Middle Tennessee as a meaningless “loss to an FBS team”, but near misses like South Dakota’s 17-14 loss to Kansas, UNI’s 16-10 loss to #7 Iowa State and Missouri State’s 23-16 loss to Oklahoma State had no value. If FBS teams are so all-powerful that a 50-point loss to a MAC team doesn’t impact your ranking……I would think a close loss to a P5 team would help it. It is almost like early season polls are stupid. But I digress. USD has had a great start to their season and would probably be ranked had they scored 4 more points against Kansas. Cal Poly has not looked as impressive. They beat San Diego 28-17, then followed that up with a 63-10 loss to Fresno State. It is hard to gauge a team based off a game against a Pioneer League team and a game against an FBS team…..but those certainly aren’t promising returns. West coast road trips are difficult, and before the season started I would have called Cal Poly the favorite in this one. But the Coyotes really impressed me last week. They looked like a team that may just surprise some people this year. So I have the Yotes as favorites on the road.

My Prediction: Coyotes keep rolling with a 28-17 road win.

That is all for MVFC action coming up this week. There are a few big FCS games coming up outside our league as well. A smattering of them are mentioned below.

-Chattanooga (1-1) @ Kentucky (2-0): This one is probably not going to work out for the FCS team, but Chatty is supposed to be a good team (just outside the top 25) and Kentucky is a basketball school, right?

-#6 Delaware (2-0) @ Rutgers (2-0): A vulnerable Big Ten team against one of the better teams in FCS? I will have my eye on this one.

-Elon (1-1) @ Appalachian State (1-1): For those that pine for the old SoCon days, here you go. What would have been a prime-time SoCon matchup 15 years ago is now a CAA-on-Sun Belt affair. Assuming neither team changes leagues between now and Saturday.

-#22 VMI (1-1) @ Cornell (0-0): Ivy League squads return to action for the first time in two years this week and this is probably the best matchup of the bunch on paper. If VMI is as good as they hope to be (and their ranking says they are) they should win this one.

-#21 Richmond (2-0) @ #12 Villanova (2-0): This is an early FCS game with significant playoff implications.

-Sacramento State (1-1) @ Cal (0-2): Here we have a pretty good Big Sky team against a Pac-12 team that has not won yet. We hope that is still the case after Saturday.

-Presbyterian (2-0) @ Campbell (0-2): Can the Blue Hose continue their gunslinging ways against a real D1 opponent? Probably not?

-Furman (2-0) @ NC State (1-1): The Paladins sit just outside the top 25 and have an opportunity to make a statement against an ACC institution.

-#3 James Madison (2-0) @ #9 Weber State (1-1): The first truly prime-time matchup of the season (not including every Jackson State game). The winner of this will have an early leg up on everyone else in the playoff race.

And that’s it. I will see you next week for regular recaps and previews, and I also intend to power rank the FCS conferences. Thanks for reading.

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