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MVFC Week 6 Preview

I took a little stroll over to the Massey ratings to see what they think of the MVFC so far this year. It turns out, according to Massey, the Valley is a cut above. I can’t disagree. Massy has SDSU at #1, NDSU at #2, Northern Iowa at #4, Southern Illinois at #6, Missouri State at #8, South Dakota at #11 and North Dakota at #13. He also has Western Illinois at #21, Youngstown at #22, Illinois State at #30 and Indiana State at #39 out of 128 FCS teams. These rankings may be a little bit inflated, but I don’t think by much. WIU has shown up against two very good teams, YSU has a win over a ranked team, and the ISUs have multiple FCS wins. If you go by the Massey ratings, there are two top-six matchups in the Valley this week and another top-15 matchup. The UNI-NDSU game features the FCS’s top two defenses according to Massey. This is the stuff we have been waiting for! A preview of the crazy week that is coming is below.

-Western Illinois (1-4, 1-1) @ Indiana State (2-3, 0-2) – Noon – ESPN3: There are several high-profile FCS games in the Valley this week, but this is not one of them. That doesn’t mean this won’t be an entertaining game. While the Leathernecks have only managed one win, they have turned some heads with their play in the last few weeks (including the one attached to the neck of the person writing this). As I said above, WIU is listed at #20 in the Massey rankings despite a 1-4 mark. That is due to close calls against top ten teams like EWU and SIU, and a close game against FBS Ball State. The only game Western hasn’t had a chance to win was at Wa-Griz, and that is a fate that befalls a lot of good teams. It is too early to call WIU “good”, but I feel safe in saying they are not “bad”. QB Connor Sampson and WR Dennis Houston are always going to be studs for WIU if they are healthy. However, their defense has stepped up and played better the last few weeks as well, especially in the second half. They also got a rare contribution from their run game last week. This is a team that should not be taken lightly. Indiana State’s players and coaches must be happy to be playing a team from a state other than South Dakota this week. They have opened Valley play with losses to USD and SDSU in which they scored a total of 10 points and allowed 82. I still don’t believe ISU is a bad team per se, but they may be in over their head in the Valley this year. Wins against EIU and Eastern Kentucky have showed that in the grand scheme of the FCS, the Sycamores are at least a middle-of-the-pack squad. They might be the worst team in the MVFC though. To have a chance in this one, Anthony Thompson (assuming he gets the start) will need to be sharp, and they will need to be able to establish the run with Peterson Kerlegrand. WIU’s defense is likely more forgiving than the ones they’ve faced the last two weeks, but can the Sycamores slow down the WIU offense? That will be the key, as ISU’s defense has played well at times this year, but not the last two weeks.

My Prediction: Indiana State is playing at home which will help, but I am high on the Leathernecks right now. I have WIU winning this one, 31-24.

-#15 Missouri State (3-1, 2-0) @ Youngstown State (1-3, 0-2) – 1pm – ESPN+: Here we have a matchup of two squads who seem to be going in different directions since the start of league play. Missouri State’s has been a story of success. Coming into the year they were ranked, but most people (including me) thought that maybe their spring playoff season was smoke and mirrors. They are proving those haters wrong so far. After taking Oklahoma State to the brink in week one, the Bears handled quality Central Arkansas and South Dakota teams over their next two games and got a 21-point win on the road last week at Illinois State. None of those wins reach the level of being elite, but they are all very good, and MSU had to rally from behind in all of them. The Bears can’t rest on their laurels, though, as their upcoming contest at Youngstown feels like a bit of a trap. The Penguins have not played well for their last three halves of football. After blowing a 35-7 lead against Western Illinois at home (losing 38-35) and falling behind 31-0 at halftime at UNI (ultimately losing 34-7), their confidence level cannot be high. Between the last half of the WIU game and most of the UNI game, YSU went essentially three halves of football without scoring a point, and getting outscored 69 (nice)-0 before they finally scored a late TD at UNI. Stud running back Jaleel McLaughlin was held to 20 yards on the ground by the Panthers. Freshman QB Crenshaw has shown an ability to make plays with his feet, and he completed 25-37 passes against UNI. But the vertical game isn’t there. The Bear defense looks to be more forgiving than UNI’s, but YSU has a long way to go to establish offensive consistency. Still, this is a decent team that does have a win over a (now) ranked UIW team. The Bears are dealing with a wounded animal here, and you never know what a wounded animal is going to do. Tread lightly.

-My Prediction: I am getting some significant upset vibes from this one, but I am going to stick with MSU for the win. I think it will be close though. I will go with the Bears by a score of 30-24.

-#16 Northern Iowa (3-1, 1-0) @ #5 North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0) – 1pm – ESPN+: If you are a follower of the Massey rankings (and I am right now because they tend to support my worldview), this is a much bigger FCS matchup than even the polls would lead you to believe. According to Massey, NDSU is the #2 team in the nation and Northern Iowa is #4. Massey also has the Bison and Panthers as the top two defenses in the country. I don’t know if that is true, but it is certainly not far off. UNI is coming off a 34-7 win over Youngstown State in which the Penguins did not get on the board until late into garbage time. St. Thomas only managed 105 yards and 3 points against UNI, and Sacramento State was only able to manage three field goals until a garbage TD. Even Iowa State was only able to put up 16 points. UNI has allowed just 42 points overall in four games, but the Bison have been even better. NDSU has allowed just 23 points in four games. They’ve allowed an average of 220 yards per game, and just 245 yards total on the ground. UNI has only allowed 320 rushing yards total, and half of that came in their opener at Iowa State. Offensively, NDSU has gained 1,281 yards on the ground and only 475 through the air. UNI is a little more balanced as it has gained 678 yards on the ground and 738 through the air. But the Panthers clearly prefer to run the ball too. So, what we have here are two of the better FCS teams in the nation. Both have outstanding defenses, and neither gives up much of anything on the ground. In addition, both teams prefer to run the ball on offense. All signs point towards this being a defensive, black-and-blue type of game. So, it will probably be a shootout. We know both teams can play defense and run the ball. The question will be whether either one will be able to establish the run against the other’s defense, and whether either unproven QB can take control of the game and make plays through the air when the time comes. Both QBs have shown they are capable of it, but neither has been forced to do it in a situation like the one we will likely have at the Fargodome on Saturday. The X-factor, of course, is the Fargodome. It is homecoming for NDSU, and that crowd is going to have a say in the outcome of this one.

My Prediction: I think UNI has as good a chance of coming out of Fargo with a win as they have had in a while. They have a good, veteran defense, a capable offensive line, good backs, and now seem to have found an above mediocre QB. NDSU’s strengths play into UNI’s, and while Theo Day has not been truly tested, Quincey Patterson hasn’t either and he doesn’t come in the with the pedigree of some other recent NDSU QBs. These teams are closer matched than the rankings say. That said, I think the homecoming crowd in Fargo is going to be the difference in this one, and I am going to pick the Bison. I’ll go with NDSU by a score of 21-17. I’ll be glued to my TV for this one for sure.

-#13 North Dakota (2-2, 0-1) @ South Dakota (3-2, 1-1) – 2pm – ESPN+: This might be the most underrated game in the FCS this week. While all the attention will likely go to the games in Fargo and Brookings, there is plenty of reason to put this one on TV2. These are two great FCS teams. North Dakota is coming off a tough 16-10 home loss to North Dakota State. That game really shouldn’t change how anyone feels about the Fighting Hawks. The Bison have a tough defense and scoring against them comes at a premium. UND was able to slow down the NDSU offense, particularly through the air where they held the Bison to 48 passing yards. To this point North Dakota has only faced off against FCS also-rans (Idaho State, Drake) and FBS teams/FCS powerhouses (Utah State, NDSU). We will probably learn more about the Fighting Hawks this week than we have in any of the first four, as USD is no pushover but isn’t a powerhouse either. South Dakota is coming off a big win over Indiana State, 38-10, and are not ranked (but are creeping closer each week). Playing at home, this is their best opportunity so far to show they are for real. Fighting Hawk running back Otis Weah was able to gain 85 yards against a tough Bison run defense last week, nearly double what any other single rusher has been able to do against NDSU. He is one of a stable of runners that UND can turn to in a time of need. Tommy Schuster has been good enough when supported by the run game, but not elite. The future is bright on the other sideline as the Coyotes’ freshman QB Carson Camp has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards with 7 TDs and two picks, and the Yotes top four running backs and top receiver are all freshmen as well. These two teams remain a bit of mystery, but we will start to peel away the onion this week.

My Prediction: This is a better matchup than it looks like at first glance as the Coyotes are probably underrated and are playing at home. I think the more experienced Fighting Hawks are probably the slightly better team, but the Dakotadome is the equalizer. I expect this to come down to the wire, and I am going to go with it as my upset special. Coyotes get the upset at home, 27-24.

-#8 Southern Illinois (4-1, 2-0) @ #2 South Dakota State (4-0, 1-0) – 2pm – ESPN+: The final of three big time FCS matchups taking place in the Dakotas this week is this top-ten showdown betwixt Southern Illinois and South Dakota State in Brookings. The Rabbits are rolling, having steamrolled their last three opponents by a combined score of 151-14. Those teams were certainly overmatched, as none will be sniffing the postseason this year. But the Jackrabbits have not really been challenged this season, even in their FBS contest. Chris Oladokun has an 11-0 TD-INT ratio, Pierre Strong is averaging 8.8 yards per carry, the defense has only allowed two garbage time TDs in the last three games, and everything appears to be clicking in Brookings. Southern Illinois will present by far their toughest challenge since at least week one (if that) and SDSU may need to adjust to a higher level of play after a steady diet of cupcakes over the last month. SIU’s great start has not come as easily. After a 2-1 start which saw them blow out SEMO and Dayton and take K-State to the brink, SIU has flirted with disaster in their two MVFC contests. They trailed Illinois State 17-0 in the third quarter two weeks ago before rallying for a 35-17 win and blew a 21-0 lead at Western last week before hanging on to win 31-30 in OT. It hasn’t been pretty, but the Salukis have continued to win. The concern has to be the long droughts their offense has suffered the last two weeks, as they have been unable to put together a complete game in league play. They’ll have to stop that trend, as a win in Brookings will require a complete performance. The close calls may be a sign of rough waters ahead, or they may be completely meaningless. EWU also played a close game against Western Illinois and turned around and beat Montana a couple weeks later. It is impossible to know which version of SIU is the “real” one, but we might get a better idea after this weekend.

My Prediction: I think good SIU is the “real” version, and their inconsistency the last couple weeks isn’t truly indicative of what they are. That said, I don’t know if that is going to matter. SDSU is playing like the favorite for the national title. They are good in all phases of the game and will be playing this one at home. I think even if SIU plays a complete game the Jackrabbits are the favorites. I am going with SDSU by a score of 31-21.

That is it for MVFC action in week six. But, if that isn’t enough for you ungrateful jerks, check out some of the action going on around the FCS this week below.

-Bryant (3-2) @ Duquesne (3-1): Last week I said the Duquesne/Merrimack game might decide the NEC title. I am going to say it again about this game, but totally mean it this time.

-#9 Delaware (3-1) @ #18 Rhode Island (4-0): There is some question as to the legitimacy of both teams relative to their rankings. One of them will take a step toward proving themselves in this one.

-Morehead State (2-2) @ Presbyterian (2-2): My Blue Hose are back and taking on a low-key contender in the wide-open Pioneer League.

-#14 Southeastern Louisiana (3-1) @ #25 Nicholls State (2-2): Are the Colonels worthy of their top 25 ranking? We’ll find out this Saturday during this Southland showdown.

-Princeton (3-0) @ Monmouth (3-2): Here we have an Ivy contender and a Big South contender that would be ranked 27th and 28th if the polls went that far.

-Chattanooga (2-2) @ VMI (3-2): Both of these SoCon teams are receiving votes in the polls and need a win to keep realistic playoff hopes alive.

-#11 Villanova (3-1) @ #3 James Madison (4-0): The game of the week in the CAA has big playoff and CAA title implications. These are arguably the two best teams in the league. A Wildcats win would put them in the top tier of FCS squads.

-Murray State (2-2) @ #21 UT-Martin (3-1): This one might have OVC title implications. If the Skyhawks win they’ll be 1-0 and everyone else in the league would already have an L.

-#23 Stephen F. Austin (3-2) @ #24 Jacksonville State (2-3): SFA got ranked for the first time after nearly upsetting top ranked Sam Houston State. A win here would go a long way to locking them in as playoffs contenders. The Gamecocks desperately need a big win.

That is all for this week’s preview. We will be past the midpoint of the regular season after this week, so I’ll be adding some content starting with the next recap. I’ll start posting my FCS playoff projections with each recap and my MVFC power rankings with each preview starting this weekend. So, you’ve got that to look forward to. Until then, GO VALLEY!

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