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MVFC Week 5 Primer

League play has started, but not everyone has started league play. In fact, three of the league’s ranked teams were not in action last week, and none of the ranked teams played each other. The entire membership will be playing this week, and the ranked teams miss each other again with one very big exception. All I’ll say is that in this author’s opinion ESPN2 is broadcasting the wrong FCS game. That said, a preview of week 5 in the MVFC is below.

-#16 Missouri State (2-1) @ Illinois State (2-2) – 1pm - ESPN+: Missouri State continued to make their case as one of the FCS’s top teams by coming back from an early deficit to beat up-and-coming South Dakota last week. I continue to be really impressed with Jason Shelley for MSU. He just seems to have that undefinable characteristic of a leader. The guy just balls out. I think the Bears are going to go just as far as he can take them this year. In other news, Illinois State had #8 Southern Illinois on the ropes, leading 17-0 in the third quarter last week. However, the wheels came off in the third quarter and they ended up losing 35-17. The ISU defense was stellar in the first half, but I presume ran out of gas in the second. Illinois State will need a strong defensive performance to compete in this one, because their offense just isn’t doing it. Cole Mueller has been a good weapon on the ground, but neither Bryce Jefferson nor Jackson Waring have looked like the answer under center. This doesn’t appear to be a good matchup for the Redbird offense, either, as the Bear defense has been more susceptible to the pass than the run this year. Illinois State is playing at home for the first time since the opening week, so they’ve got that going for them which is nice.

My Prediction: I think MSU is simply the better team here and will get the win by a score of 27-10.

-#5 North Dakota State (3-0) @ #10 North Dakota (2-1) – 2pm – ESPN+: This is without a doubt the game of the week in the Valley. With apologies to our friends out west, I think this is the game of the week in the FCS. North Dakota State has looked every bit as dominant as ever, but they also haven’t truly tested themselves. They’ve outscored their opponents (Albany, Valpo and Towson) by a combined score of 127-13. However, Albany is 0-3, Valpo is 1-3, and Towson at 1-3 is the only school of the group to have a win over a scholarship team. Don’t get me wrong, NDSU has done to those opponents what you would expect an elite team to do. They’ve blown them out. But this week will be their toughest test yet. The Bison defense has been as stout as anyone in the country and they have run the ball down the throats of their opponents, QB Quincey Patterson remains essentially untested. That will likely need to change on Saturday. The QB has performed well so far, but he is likely going to have to really step up and make some plays for the first time. As for UND, well, they are in the top ten but they still have some doubters in the FCS fandom. Those doubts aren’t without some merit. They struggled to pull away from a bad Idaho State team in week one and got blown out by an (admittedly underrated) Utah State team in their FBS game. UND gets high marks by being good at just about every facet of the game, yet they don’t appear to be elite in any (as of yet). QB Tommy Schuster, their running backs and their defense have all been very good. They are a just a good, solid FCS team. And good solid FCS teams win a lot of games, especially at home.

My Prediction: I picked North Dakota in the spring. That was a mistake. At this point, the state of North Dakota belongs to the Bison until proven otherwise (at least in football). It sort of feels like the Valley has two teams that are playing at the level of an FBS team right now, and the Bison are one of them. If the game were in Fargo, I would feel very comfortable picking the Bison. The fact that it is in Grand Forks and the Bison are untested relative to the rest of the league gives me reason to believe UND has more than a puncher’s chance to win it. That said, no offense to my friends in Grand Forks, but I gotta go with NDSU here. I have the NDSU 34-24. Either way I am looking forward to it.

-Indiana State (2-2) @ South Dakota (2-2) – 2pm - ESPN+: Last week, Indiana State went into a home game with the 2nd ranked SDSU Jackrabbits riding high in confidence after a trio of impressive nonconference performances. They came out with bruised egos after a 44-0 beatdown at the hands of the Jackrabbits. Similarly, South Dakota went into their game with 18th ranked Missouri State feeling like a playoff team after a trio of very impressive nonconference performances. They too went home with their tail between their legs after they blew an early double-digit lead and lost to the Bears. This is a contest between two teams that are looking to regroup. Last week showed that ISU Blue is good enough to hang with decent FCS programs like Eastern Kentucky, but they aren’t to the level where they can really hang with the big boys quite yet. South Dakota isn’t a “big boy” but they are probably thinking they’re at least a middleweight, even after their loss last week. I still see the Coyotes as a playoff caliber team, although the gauntlet that is the MVFC might be too much to overcome this season. Still, with underclassmen in so many key positions, no matter what happens this year the future is bright in Vermillion (even if they can’t see it because they have a hard dark cold steel roof).

My Prediction: If they want to stay in the hunt, the Coyotes have to have this one (although you could technically say the same thing about ISU). I think the Yotes win this one at home, 35-17.

-#7 Southern Illinois (3-1) @ Western Illinois (1-3) – 3pm – ESPN+: Last week, Illinois State put a scare in the Salukis. It was looking like SIU might stub their toe in a very winnable opener, as they trailed 17-0 in the third quarter and their offense was being completely shut down. Then a switch flipped, and Southern Illinois ended up scoring TDs on five of six possessions to win 35-17. A similar thing can be said about Western Illinois who trailed Youngstown State 35-7 just before halftime of their game. A switch flipped. The WIU defense put up a second half shutout and the offense chipped away until the Leathernecks found themselves celebrating a game winning field goal. It was a great week for both teams. One avoided disaster, which happens at some point to almost every championship team. The other mounted a huge rally and won their third game in three seasons. It should go very differently this week. WIU can throw the ball. That much we know. But they struggle to stop anyone, and SIU has averaged 40 points a game this year. SIU has been particularly stingy defensively against the pass, and we all know that is WIU’s strength. I think WIU will be able to score points, but I don’t think this will be competitive. SIU is a top ten team for a reason, and their balanced offense will be tough for WIU to contain.

My Prediction: I have the Salukis winning this one, 49-21.

-Youngstown State (1-2) @ #15 Northern Iowa (2-1) – 4pm – ESPN+: I am probably quite a bit biased, but I think UNI is one of the biggest wildcards in all the FCS right now. The Panthers have a typically solid defense, a good veteran offensive line and several talented running backs and receivers. This has been the case at UNI for several years now, but the purple and gold have wallowed in FCS purgatory for the last decade because they haven’t been able to find a QB who could pull it all together and make it click. In week two, things seemed to be going as normal as UNI trailed 9-7 at half to Sacramento State. They scored their TD on a run-only drive set up by a turnover, and QB Wil McElvain was 2-6 for 7 yards. It was typical UNI-in-the-2010s stuff. Enter Michigan State transfer Theo Day who led the Panthers on four third-quarter TD drives en route to a 34-16 win. After that solid half, UNI played St. Thomas of the Pioneer League and then had a bye. This week’s game against Youngstown State will be his first start against a full-scholarship team. So, what will it be? Will Day be another mediocre UNI signalcaller, or will he be the guy who will finally make UNI’s offense purr? We’ve been waiting three weeks to find out. If it turns out Day is good, not just OK but truly good, with the supporting cast he has UNI is capable of beating anyone in the Championship Subdivision. It is a big week for UNI fans. It is a big week for Penguin fans too. Youngstown comes in at 1-2 after a disappointing loss to Western Illinois in which they blew a 35-7 lead and didn’t score in the second half against a bad WIU defense. That is a rough week by any measure, but YSU isn’t a bad team. Their OT win over UIW, who is now rated in the top 25 after three straight wins (including an FBS W) attests to that. A team can respond to a game like Youngstown had last week in a couple of ways. They could let it linger into the next game and negatively impact their play. Or they could use it as motivation and play with a chip on their shoulder. I expect Youngstown is the second type of team. No one likes to be embarrassed, and they will be anxious to get that bitter taste out of their mouths. You can expect YSU to let it fly at the UNI-Dome next week.

My Prediction: YSU is a good team, but their offensive strength is in the run. This also happens to be UNI’s defensive strength. With that in mind and with this game being played in Cedar Falls I am going to go with UNI by a score of 30-17.

-Dixie State (0-3) @ #2 South Dakota State (3-0) – 6pm – ESPN+: In a nonconference tilt, South Dakota State will take on Dixie State, a school that is newly up from the D2 ranks. With a name like Dixie State, one would expect this team to hail from Alabama or Mississippi or something. But one would be wrong. DSU is in Utah. The connotation has not gone unnoticed though, and the university has recently voted to change its name due to the connection of the term “Dixie” with the south. The original name was going to be Utah Polytechnic State University, but the school decided to go with “Utah Tech” after public outcry over the original name. Several folks pointed out the historical connection between the word “poly” and the state of Utah, while others noticed the school’s initials would be “UPS”. The Trailblazers are currently playing as an independent and are straight up not backing down from anybody. They are 0-3, but their losses include both defending Big Sky Champions (Sac State and Weber State) as well as a top ten Cal Davis. After they get through with this contest in Brookings, they’ll prepare to face Montana in Missoula next. They also have Delaware, Sam Houston and Missouri State on the schedule. Zoinks. Their men’s basketball team will open the season against……checks notes…Gonzaga. So this is a school that doesn’t mind a challenge or embarrassing themselves. Dixie got knocked around pretty good by their most recent opponents, and they don’t look like they should challenge SDSU in Brookings. The Jackrabbits have blown out all of their opponents this year, and they look like an FBS team competing at the FCS level right now. I have them as my national title favorites at the moment. I don’t think this will be close.

My Prediction: I will say Jackrabbits win 49-10.

That is it for the Valley this week, but here are some games of note from around the FCS.

-Gardner-Webb (2-2) @ Monmouth (2-2): This game could loom large in the Big South title race. The league favorites (Kennesaw, Monmouth and NC A&T) have left much to be desired so far and it makes me wonder if GWU might be a dark horse conference title candidate. The Bulldogs played Georgia Southern close and blew out Western Carolina. Monmouth is still one of the league favorites despite a blowout loss to Holy Cross.

-Duquesne (2-1) @ Merrimack (3-1): The Dukes beat an FBS team (Ohio), and Merrimack beat a team that beat an FBS team (Holy Cross/UConn). That makes both of these teams title contenders, if not title favorites, in the NEC. Merrimack is not eligible for the playoffs.

-#17 Jacksonville State (2-2) @ #20 Kennesaw State (2-1): Neither team has fully lived up to expectations and both have had weird seasons. One will get a big boost with this one.

-#3 James Madison (3-0) @ #25 New Hampshire (3-1): The Wildcats got off to a surprising 3-0 start but just got absolutely destroyed by Pitt last week (77-7). This is an opportunity to play the #3 team at home and show the FCS world they are not smoke and mirrors.

-#1 Sam Houston State (3-0) @ Stephen F. Austin (3-1): SFA blew out a couple bad teams and played Texas Tech tough. Like New Hampshire, this is an opportunity for the Lumberjacks to play an elite team at home and finally show us if they’re legit or not.

-Samford (2-2) @ Mercer (2-1): Two teams who got votes in the polls have a chance to establish their SoCon bonafides here. Mercer is kind of my dark horse team in that league, as they have two easy wins and kind of hung in with Alabama (48-14 loss).

-Central Arkansas (1-3) @ Abilene Christian (3-1): This is an absolute must win for UCA who is a good team but has had a tough schedule and some tough luck. ACU has confidence, coming in with three straight 25+ point wins.

-#4 Montana (3-0) @ #6 Eastern Washington (4-0): I poked fun earlier when comparing this game to UND-NDSU, but this is about as big a game as they come in the regular season in the FCS. We have arguably the two top teams in the second-best league playing live on the red turf on ESPN2. The winner of this one will have the inside track to multiple home games in the playoffs. All die-hard FCS fans should be tuned into this one. Hopefully the NDSU-SDSU game will get the same treatment by ESPN.

That’s all for this week. I’ll see you on the other side for the week’s recap.

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