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MVFC Week 8 Primer & Power Rankings

We are nearing the home stretch of the FCS season. With five weeks to go, the haves and have nots are starting to separate themselves. This week a few teams will try to maintain the status quo, and a couple will try and get big, much needed upsets on the road. My preview for the week is below. I’ll also briefly touch on some big games throughout the country and then I’ll do my weekly MVFC power rankings.

Youngstown State (2-3, 1-2) @ Indiana State (3-4, 1-3) – Noon – ESPN+ This is a matchup of two teams that would probably be in the thick of the playoff hunt if they played in a different league. The Penguins’ 2-3 record includes wins over #16 UIW and #17 Missouri State. Their resume is such that if they hadn’t lost to Western Illinois, they’d be right in it. Indiana State has a win at Eastern Kentucky (who is just outside the polls) among three DI wins total. Both have shown the capacity to be dangerous, but the Penguins a bit moreso. While Demeatric Crenshaw hasn’t blown the world up with his arm, he has been able to run for 487 yards and 6 TDs. If the freshman can improve his throwing and decision making, he has the tools to evolve into an elite QB at the FCS level by the time he graduates. Jaleel McLaughlin is one of the best backs in the league and has 588 yards and 7 TDs for the Penguins. As you can see, Youngstown is a very run oriented team and if you shut down the run you can shut down the Penguins. If you can’t, though, it may be a long day. Indiana State isn’t particularly adept at stopping either the run or the pass, but they have been a bit stingier against the run. YSU is the type of team that ISU might be able to slow down, and if they can do that and their hit-or-miss offense can get something going against Youngstown (which they should because the Penguin defense has struggled to stop anyone) they could win this game.

-My Prediction: I don’t know how to go with this one. The Trees were blown out three times in the last four games but when they got WIU at home they beat the Leathernecks. YSU has two ranked wins but also lost to WIU. I am going to go with the home Sycamores here, 24-23.

Illinois State (2-4, 0-3) @ #15 South Dakota (5-2, 3-1) – 1pm - ESPN+ No one in the league had a better week than South Dakota as they went into the UNIDome as underdogs and came away with an easy victory. USD jumped into the top 15 with the win, and now find themselves as heavy favorites at home against a struggling team. Here’s the thing. I’ve followed the Coyotes for a while now and these are the types of games they lose in both football and basketball. They set themselves up with a great situation and blow it by losing a game they should win. South Dakota has a golden opportunity to get to 7-2 by winning this game and winning at Western in two weeks. If they can do that, they’ll effectively have a playoff spot locked up in advance of their final two contests against SDSU and NDSU. I am rooting for them, as South Dakota has never played an FCS playoff game in the Dakotadome and I think it is high time that changed. This is a game they should win, too. Illinois State has a good defense, but so did UNI and North Dakota and the Coyotes didn’t have much issue in those games. Playing at home, I would expect the underrated USD defense to shut down ISU and get an easy win. For the Redbirds, the season is realistically over although if they can pull this one out there could still be a ray of hope as none of the league’s top three teams remain on the schedule. Still, it is probably time to find out what they have with Jackson Waring. Bryce Jefferson doesn’t appear to be the guy. If I were them, I’d have Waring under center starting this week to see if he is a QB you can build around moving forward. Either way, if South Dakota truly is the team that they have shown themselves to be thus far, the Coyotes should win this going away. Of the two games coming up for South Dakota, the trip to Macomb should be the one that worries them more.

-My Prediction: I know I said that USD loses these types of games, but they’ll be playing in the Dakotadome in front of what should be a good crowd. I think the Coyotes win big, 37-13.

Western Illinois (1-6, 1-3) @ North Dakota (2-4, 0-3) – 2pm- ESPN+ The playoffs begin now for the Fighting Hawks, who are probably the best two-win team in the country. It has been a rough few weeks for UND, who entered the conference season ranked in the top ten and are now out of the rankings three weeks later. The team is 2-4, so it is hard to say that their lack of a ranking is unfair, but UND has shown itself to be a good team in spite of their record. Consider that their three losses came to the teams currently ranked 3rd, 4th and 15th, and two of the games were on the road. They lost the three games by a combined total of 16 points and were within a possession at the end of each of them. While things do look grim, North Dakota is not quite out of it yet. If they can win this game, get past Missouri State on the road, and beat Youngstown and Illinois State at home they’ll be 6-4 heading into a year-ending showdown with SDSU. The Fighting Hawks will be big favorites in three of those games, and a trip to Springfield is tough but manageable for a team that has already gone toe-to-toe with two top 15 teams on the road. It isn’t where you want to be if you’re North Dakota, but it is something. Despite their 1-6 record, Western Illinois has shown itself to be pesky. UND cannot look past them and seeing as they haven’t won a game in a month, I doubt they will. The Leatherneck passing attack has slowed recently, but their defense has played better. I am still intrigued by this team and their weird results. This is the squad that went toe-to-toe with EWU and SIU (and beat Youngstown) on consecutive weeks before getting beaten badly by Indiana State. Can someone tell me what is their deal?

-My Prediction: WIU certainly has it in them to win this one, but I think North Dakota is about to take a month’s worth of frustration out on the poor Leathernecks. I think the Fighting Hawks win going away, 41-21.

#20 Northern Iowa (3-3, 1-2) @ #6 South Dakota State (5-1, 2-1) – 2pm – ESPN3 Northern Iowa has backed themselves into a corner, and they’re going to have to scratch and claw their way out if they want to be a part of the postseason. The Panthers are 3-3 after their home loss to South Dakota last week. Nothing on their resume is damning (losses to the 3rd and 15th ranked teams plus a six-point loss to Iowa State, and a win at #19 Sacramento State), but UNI is simply going to have to start winning some games if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. Three of their next four games are on the road, three of those four games are against teams in the top 17 and two are against teams in the top 6. Northern Iowa is probably going to have to win three of those four games to have a good shot at the playoffs. It is possible, but it is a tall order. A win in Brookings would be a fantastic way to get back on track. It is a place UNI has had some success, but these are not your older brother’s Jackrabbits. They are maybe the most talented Jackrabbits we have seen at the FCS level. The squad has blown through most of their schedule and are likely aching to prove themselves after their loss to Southern Illinois at home two weeks ago. SDSU struggled for two and a half quarters last week against Western Illinois before pulling away and have won all of their games decisively other than the SIU toe stubbing. The Jackrabbits have a balanced attack, and the Panthers want to run you to the ground and then surprise you with a long one over the top. If one team can slow down the other’s running attack, they will have a distinct advantage. Based on last week’s results, SDSU is more likely to be able to do that. These two teams’ previous three meetings have all been interesting. UNI and SDSU met at the UNI-Dome week one of the spring season as two of the top five ranked teams in the nation. South Dakota State scored a TD with less than 30 seconds to go to win. The teams went their separate way from there, with SDSU making it to the National Championship game and UNI finishing 3-4. In 2019, the teams met late in the season in Brookings with SDSU winning a decisive victory, only for the Panthers to come back and clip the Rabbits a few weeks later in the playoffs back in Brookings.

My Prediction: This matchup has produced unexpected results several times in the last few years. That said, I think the Rabbits are too strong and balanced to lose this one. South Dakota State will likely force UNI to win on the arm of Theo Day. Even if Day is killing it, the Panther defense struggles when they face a strong and balanced offense. They prefer to key on either the run or the pass, which isn’t an option against SDSU. I have the Jackrabbits winning 31-17.

#17 Missouri State (4-2, 3-1) @ #3 North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0) – 2:30pm – ESPN+ In a league as tough as the Missouri Valley, a playoff contending team can’t afford to lose too many games against teams occupying the bottom of the standings. That is exactly what Missouri State did when they lost to Youngstown State two weeks ago. They recovered nicely with an easy victory over Indiana State last weekend, but the cushy part of their schedule is now behind them. Sitting at 4-2, they are about to face a gauntlet of @NDSU, UND, @SIU, and UNI. If the Bears split those games, which is doable but not a given, they should handle Dixie State on the final week of the season and be safely into the field at 7-4. The key to getting there will likely be winning their home games. So they have fortunately put themselves into a position where they don’t HAVE to have this game in Fargo. And that is good, because Fargo is a very difficult place to win. If they do come out of the great white north with a victory, though, they’ll be sitting VERY pretty and have gotten their margin for error back. It has been said (by other people…. definitely not me) that the MVFC is wide open this year and the Bison are down from the perch on which they usually sit. If that is so, we are still waiting for it to be reflected in the results. It seems like we take for granted how good NDSU is year in and year out. The fact that they are 6-0 and have allowed a total of 43 points in six games in a year that they are supposed to be “a bit down” hasn’t even really become a talking point in FCS circles. While it should be amazing what they are doing yet again, it is not, because it is what they always do. All that said, Jason Shelly is probably the most dynamic quarterback that NDSU will have faced to this point. The Bear QB has thrown for 1600 yards, 13 TDs and 3 interceptions while adding 242 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. Quincey Patterson has thrown for half as many yards and TDs (although he has done a bit more on the ground and has better support from his run game). It is a dynamic that the Bison haven’t yet seen. Will that be enough for the Bears to break through against this stingy defense?

My Prediction: Probably not? The Bison are just so, so tough at home. I don’t think they’ll struggle too much here. Bison win 27-17.

That’s it for MVFC previews this week. Here is a look at what to expect from around the Championship Subdivision.

-Morehead State (4-2) @ Marist (3-2): Believe it or not, this one’s got playoff implications. The team whose name is a funny innuendo faces Niles Crane’s wife as two of three remaining undefeated Pioneer League teams.

-Duquesne (4-1) @ Sacred Heart (4-3): The Dukes are the favorites in the NEC and this one is probably their biggest hurdle for the league title.

-New Hampshire (3-3) @ Elon (3-3): Neither team is likely going to make the playoffs, but you can really stick a fork in the loser.

-Chattanooga (3-3) @ Samford (3-3): The Mocs got themselves back in the playoff picture with a win over ETSU but face the possibility of immediately falling on their face with this tricky matchup.

-San Diego (3-4) @ Presbyterian (2-4): I am thinking some weird stuff is going to happen in this one. Blue Hose gonna Blue Hose, ya know?

-Harvard (5-0) @ #22 Princeton (5-0): The Ivy is only technically FCS, but this is a big one in that league.

-#14 East Tennessee State (6-1) @ Furman (4-2): The Bucs will be trying to get back on that perch after getting knocked off by Chatty last week. Furman will be trying to establish themselves as playoff contenders. It is probably their last chance.

-Jacksonville State (3-3) @ #1 Sam Houston State (5-0): The Gamecocks have had such an odd year, there is no telling what will happen here. They could win this.

-#7 James Madison (5-1) @ #23 Delaware (3-3): Delaware is still somehow ranked because rankings are dumb. Let’s go ahead and end this nonsense, eh Dukes?

-#18 Rhode Island (5-1) @ #5 Villanova (5-1): The Rams took it on the chin last week after a hot start. Now they have a chance to make up for it. This might be the biggest hurdle left between Villanova and a CAA title.

-Towson (3-3) @ William and Mary (4-2): Look at Towson’s schedule and results. I think they may be playoff contenders if they win this one. Tell me I’m wrong.

-Weber State (2-4) @ #2 Eastern Washington (7-0): The playoffs start now for Weber. If they can pull this off, they’re not out of it.

-Northern Arizona (3-3) @ #19 Sacramento State (4-2): Winner of this gets to be the team that is right on the bubble in the Big Sky at the end of the year.

Here are my updated power rankings after last week’s action.

11.) Illinois State (2-4, 0-3, No Change): I had the Redbirds last in my previous power rankings and getting shut out at home (even against NDSU) gave me no reason to push them up. The defense did play very well.

10.) Western Illinois (1-6, 1-3, No Change): The Leathernecks hung tough with SDSU for two-and-a-half quarters but ultimately got beat soundly. Nothing there to really change my mind on their ranking.

9.) Indiana State (3-4, 1-3, No Change): I foolishly uttered the words “playoffs” and “Indiana State” in the same sentence last week. They got blown out by MSU. Their record of 3-4 is respectable but they have been outscored 212-109 overall.

8.) Youngstown State (2-3, 1-2, No Change): The Penguins had a bye and remain one of the weirder teams in the FCS with two top 20 wins and a 2-3 record overall.

7.) Northern Iowa (3-3, 1-2, Down 3): Perhaps I am overreacting to my favorite team losing in moving the Panthers down three spots, but they got beat real bad at home. Real bad.

6.) North Dakota (2-4, 0-3, Up 1): Up a spot after a loss? Yes. The Fighting Hawks have gone toe-to-toe with North Dakota State, South Dakota and SIU the last three weeks. While all were losses, UND could have won any of those games. UNI has gotten beaten soundly twice in a row by two of the same teams.

5.) South Dakota (5-2, 3-1, Up 1): The Coyotes have looked outstanding during their three-game winning streak including a big win at UNI. Feels like they’re playing better than Mo State even, but a loss in Springfield keeps them behind the Bears.

4.) Missouri State (4-2, 3-1, Up 1): Missouri State rebounded nicely from their upset loss to Youngstown State by trouncing Indiana State. A huge game in Fargo looms.

3.) South Dakota State (5-1, 2-1, No Change): No reason to move the Jackrabbits after an easy win in Macomb. The two squads above them also won.

2.) Southern Illinois (6-1, 4-0, No Change): Salukis won another close one, this time over UND, and they remain unscathed in Valley play somehow, some way.

1.) North Dakota State (6-0, 3-0, No Change): After SDSU lost, the Bison became unquestioned kings of the Valley until proven otherwise. SIU and NDSU do not play each other this year.

And that is it for this week’s preview. See you on Monday for the recap. GO VALLEY.

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