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Week 10: MVFC Power Rankings

FIVE BIDS! Holy cow. The committee showed the MVFC all the respect in the world by giving the league 66% of the at-large bids and including five Valley squads in the 16-team playoff field. If I were a fan of a team in another league, I would be a bit flabbergasted. But I’m not, so I am thrilled. Now that we have five teams in, those teams need to represent well to rationalize why so many MVFC teams were included. There are a lot of FCS fans that aren’t happy about it. Here is how I break down my final power rankings for the MVFC. Expect a breakdown of all the MVFC playoff games later this week.

1.) South Dakota State (No Change), 4-1, STATS #4: SDSU had about as good a weekend as you could hope to have. They went into Fargo, won the Dakota Marker, claimed the league title and were rewarded with the #1 seed in the playoffs. The Jackrabbits will host Holy Cross in a round one game they should win before welcoming Southern Illinois or Weber State in round two (barring an upset). This is SDSU’s chance to go for a national title. The Dakota Marker was a battle of freshman QBs with Cam Miller coming off the bench to play most of the game for NDSU. The Jacks’ Mark Gronowski won the battle as he threw for 149 yards and a TD (on 10-14 passing) while adding 126 yards on the ground. SDSU controlled the ground game as Pierre Strong added 95 yards on 11 carries and Isaiah Davis had 84 yards on 16 carries. Overall SDSU outgained NDSU 458-247 (309-98 on the ground). The first half was dominated by the defenses. The teams combined for eight punts (four from each team) as SDSU took a 10-3 lead into the break. The Jackrabbits didn’t punt in the second half. NDSU tied the game 10-10 with their initial drive of the second frame, but SDSU reclaimed the lead at 17-10. NDSU answered again with a TD to make it 17-17, but SDSU answered with a field goal to make it 20-17. At that point, the SDSU defense stepped up, holding NDSU to a quick punt that allowed the Jacks to go on another TD drive to take a 27-17 lead. After that, an interception sealed the deal on an MVFC championship and (ultimately) a #1 seed for SDSU. This is their chance.

2.) North Dakota State (No Change), 5-1 (6-1), STATS #2: This weird spring season is now even weirder as NDSU is not an MVFC champion. The Bison lost to South Dakota State on Saturday, 27-17 in Fargo, which leaves them on the outside of the league championship party. The Bison did make the playoffs as expected, but they are not seeded for the first time in years. They’ll host Eastern Washington in round one. If they win that one, they’ll likely head to Texas to play at Sam Houston State in what could be a whale of a game in round two. The crazy thing is that, judging off of SDSU’s #1 seed, the Bison could have been the #1 seed with a win on Saturday. The Bison finally benched Zeb Noland, going with the true freshman Cam Miller at QB after just one series. Miller was a Noland-like 9-16 for 149 yards and a pick but was able to use his feet to gain 38 yards and score both of NDSU’s touchdowns. That is a dynamic Noland doesn’t bring to the table. Miller was beaten at his own game, however, by his counterpart at QB. Mark Gornowski (who is also a freshman) completed 10-14 passes for 149 yards and a TD, while adding 126 yards on the ground. We could be looking at four more years of these two going at it for the Dakota Marker. As for the game itself, the Bison trailed 10-3 after a first half that included a total of eight punts. There was only one punt in the second half as the NDSU offense woke up for two third-quarter TDs to tie the game at 17. The Jacks sealed the game with a field goal and a TD, putting it away with an interception late. With a freshman QB who has technically never started a college game under center and no seed, this is the Bison’s toughest road to the title in over a decade. If they win it again this year, the rest of us just need to stop trying.

3.) North Dakota (No Change), 4-1, STATS #6: After North Dakota’s game against Youngstown was cancelled this week, the Fighting Hawks had to feel pretty good about their odds of getting into the field. They had wins over South Dakota State and Southern Illinois, and only a loss to NDSU as a blemish on their ledger. After SDSU was revealed to be the #1 seed, they had to feel even better. And they were, in fact, rewarded with a spot. The Fighting Hawks will host fellow MVFC co-champion Missouri State in round one of the playoffs. I don’t love an intraconference first round matchup, but when a third of the field is from one league these things can happen. North Dakota did not face Missouri State during the year, and in fact has never faced MSU as a member of the MVFC. It should a fun matchup in Grand Forks. The winner will face JMU or VMI. They’d face the Dukes on the road or VMI at home.

4.) Missouri State (No Change), 5-1 (5-4), STATS #19: The Bears were idle this week, hoping for things to go their way to get them into the playoffs for the first time since the 90s. Just about everything did go their way, and they were ultimately rewarded with a playoff bid (as was every MVFC team with a winning record). They’ll be matched up against fellow MVFC member North Dakota in the first round. I don’t care for intra-conference first round matchups. But in this case MSU and UND didn’t play during the year and when a third of the field comes from one league things are going to happen. I was a bit worried about MSU’s inclusion when I saw Jacksonville State was seeded. That indicated that fall results did matter. I became even more worried for MSU when I saw Southern Illinois in the field. I didn’t think they’d give one league five bids. But the Bears name eventually popped onto the screen and all was right with the world. The committee chair was MSU’s AD, but we won’t mention that. The winner of this contest will play at JMU or host VMI in round two.

5.) Southern Illinois (No Change), 4-3 (5-3), STATS #18: Well how about that? The strategy worked. SIU scheduled one more game against Southeastern Louisiana this week and beat the Lions by a score of 55-48. The move was intended to be a last-ditch effort by both teams to strengthen their NCAA resumes and it seems to have worked. The committee showed respect for the gauntlet that SIU faced, going up against each of NDSU, SDSU, MSU, UND and Southeastern Louisiana. SIU is in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and will head to Weber State for their first-round game. It is a tough draw, but it also might be the league’s most important game. SIU winning this game on the road against a squad most thought would be seeded would help rationalize the league’s five bids. The game against SELA was a doozy. It was 14-13 Salukis after one quarter and 34-27 ‘Dogs at halftime after they scored a TD with ten seconds to go. SIU opened a two TD lead early in the third quarter but SELA battled back to tie the game at 41 late in the third. SIU took a TD lead to end the third quarter and increased the lead to 55-41 in the fourth. SELA got one more TD to make it 55-48, but SIU was able to run out the final five minutes on their last drive to seal the deal. This game featured a combined 1,365 yards of total offense, 15 touchdowns and just two punts. The Salukis had 808 goddam yards on their own, while SELA was “held” to “just” 557. Stone Labanowitz was 20-24 for 328 yards and two TDs. Justin Strong ran for 159 yards on 16 carries with two TDs, while Javon Williams added 145 yards on 24 carries with two TDs. The Herculean effort ultimately got the Salukis into the playoffs.

6.) Northern Iowa (No Change), 3-4, STATS RV: The Panthers did one thing better than everyone else this year……play their schedule. UNI didn’t have any COVID cancellations that were their fault (they had one that was the fault of South Dakota), they never had any facilities issues and they didn’t opt out when it became clear they wouldn’t make the postseason. It would have been pretty easy to opt out too, with several defections and injuries and with their second-to-last game cancelled due to COVID at USD. They only had one game against NDSU left to play, and who really wants to play that? Mark Farley even admitted he would have opted out of the season if he would have known how it was going to go. But they finished it out. Good for them. Other than that, the team that was ranked 3rd in the nation finishing with a losing record leaves little else to be positive about. Here’s hoping they come back stronger next year.

7.) Youngstown State (No Change), 1-5, STATS NR: Youngstown State opted out of their final game of the season with North Dakota, ending their season. It wasn’t a great one for YSU, with the highlights coming against teams from South Dakota. The Penguins trashed the Coyotes and nearly pulled off a big upset against SDSU. Jaleel Mclaughlin was the bright spot for the Penguins, rushing for 697 yards on 134 carries. They’ll build around him as they look for a stronger campaign next season.

8.) South Dakota (No Change), 1-3, STATS NR: The Coyotes ended their season with four consecutive cancellations. Two were due their own COVID, one was from the other team’s COVID and one was due to an opt out. But they got some valuable experience for their true freshman QB and have reason for optimism next year (but also have a lot of work to do).

9.) Illinois State (No Change), 1-3, STATS NR: The Redbirds came into the season ranked 7th in the nation. Instead of contending for a playoff berth, the Redbirds went 1-3 before opting out of the second half of the season. There isn’t much to say here except that it simply didn’t go the way they played. ISU has some questions to answer under center after the paltry play of Bryce Jefferson. If they can’t figure it out at that position it might be a long fall in Normal as well.

10.) Western Illinois (No Change), 1-5, STATS NR: The Leathernecks also opted out of their season midstream, although they made it through 75% of their schedule before they did so. No one can really blame WIU for wanting this season to end as they took on the chin regularly. A win over Youngstown State ended up being their final game, though, and they will head into fall with that confidence building event fresh on their minds. That said, there isn’t a lot of reason for optimism heading into the fall in Macomb.

That is it for my final rankings. Good luck to all five MVFC playoff teams next week!

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