Well folks….it felt like it’d never get here, but college football is back. We’ve got 9 games being played by Missouri Valley Football teams in the first week(end), 3 on Thursday, August 31st, and the remaining 6 on Saturday, September 2nd. Southern Illinois is sitting the first week out.
I don’t have a lot of info to go on this week, since it’s the first week and while you can kinda guess at some things, there’s a lot of big question marks that will take a couple of weeks to start to sort themselves out.
Here’s the full conference schedule for the first weekend (all times listed in Central), along with projected weather (at this point) and streaming video if available:
- Weather: Rain/Thunderstorms, high of 76, low of 65
- Streaming: http://ovcdigitalnetwork.com/watch/?Live=5674&type=Live (free)
- Weather: Cloudy/Overcast, showers possible, high 82, low 59
- Streaming: WatchESPN.com-ESPN3
- Weather: Partly Cloudy, high 78, low 60
- Streaming: WatchESPN.com-ESPN3
- Weather: Mostly sunny, high 83
- Streaming: WatchESPN.com-SEC Network
- Weather: Overcast/Rain, high 75
- Streaming: WatchESPN.com-ACC Network
- Weather (for tailgaters): Partly Cloudy, high 79
- Streaming: WatchESPN.com-ESPN3
- Weather: Mostly clear, low 60
- Streaming: http://godrakebulldogs.com/watch/?Live=39&type=Live (paid)
- Weather: Mostly clear, low 60
- Streaming: WatchESPN.com-ESPN3
- Weather: Clear, low 58
- Streaming: http://www.cyclones.com/watch/?Live=1262&category=Event&type=Live (paid)
Western Illinois University Leathernecks at Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (OVC)
TTU is coming off of a 5-6 season overall, but 5-3 in the OVC which was good enough for 3rd place in the final conference standings. The Golden Eagles don’t have a ton of offensive weapons, with QB Michael Birdsong finishing up a strong senior year last season (2577 yards & 17 TDs passing, 226 yards & 4 TDs rushing). They do have Sophomore RB Yeedee Thaenrat who ran for 707 yards and 6 TDs last season as a freshman and was named to this season’s preseason All-OVC team, as well as Senior WR Dontez Byrd, who caught for 933 yards and 7 TDs last season. Defensively, Junior LB Josh Poplar returns following a 105 tackle performance last season. Overall, in the OVC preseason poll, TTU is expected to finish 6th (out of 9 teams).
Western Illinois last season started strong (3-0 OOC), but finished on a 3-game losing streak to end up 6-5 overall, but only 3-5 in the conference (6th out of 10). On the offense, they’ve lost two of the top WRs in school history, although pretty much everyone else on that side of the ball returns, including Junior QB Sean McGuire, who set the school record for passing yards per game last season as a sophomore, and Junior RB Steve McShane. On the other side, FCS Preseason All-American (First Team) Brett Taylor returns for his senior season at LB looking to top his 134 tackles (94 solo) from last year. The Leatherneck defensive backfield, which was horrible last year against the pass has been revamped, with a new defensive coordinator (former LB coach at Louisville, Tony Grantham), a couple of experienced senior transfers, and a new defensive scheme (4-3 to 3-4).
Despite frequent matchups between Ohio Valley and Missouri Valley football teams, TTU and WIU have never played each other. Overall, I think that the Leatherneck offense should have very little difficulty moving the ball against the Golden Eagle defense, especially on the ground, although it’ll take a little bit to “knock the rust off”. I’m predicting something around a 10-point Leatherneck win.
Eastern Illinois Panthers (OVC) at Indiana State Sycamores
In another Thursday night MVFC/OVC matchup, the rather familiar (to many MVFC teams) EIU Panthers head across state lines (only about 43 miles, “as the crow flies”) to INSU. Due to proximity and for much of their history, being in the same conference, the two teams have played 83 times overall, with EIU leading the overall series 42-37-4. Eastern also has won the last 5 matchups against Indiana State, winning the last meeting 31-0 in 2009.
Last season, the Panthers were 6-5 overall, 4-4 in their conference and this year are predicted to finish 4th in the conference.They have 1 preseason all-conference player…Addison Bounds (Senior Tight End). Last year they had a fairly average defense, giving up 373.5 yards and 28.2 points per game, and a halfway-decent offense, putting up 404.8 yards per game and 26.7 points per game…so, overall a solidly “middle-of-the-pack” team.
Indiana State finished 4-7 overall last season, but only 2-6 in the conference and are predicted to finish last (10th) in the MVFC this year. They have returning preseason all-conference placekicker Jerry Nunez, and honorable mention RB LeMonte Booker. Stats-wise, they were ranked in the bottom half of the FCS in most categories, and performed especially poorly at giving up turnovers, sacks, and allowing teams to score from the red zone.
This one’s a little harder to pick, since I think that both teams are actually fairly evenly matched. I’d normally give EIU a bit of an edge on a neutral field, but this game is in Indiana, so I think it’ll be a close game, but ISU’s placekicker will squeak out the game-deciding FG to win by 3 points.
Duquesne (NEC) at South Dakota State
The Duquesne Dukes play in the Northeast Conference and finished 8-3 overall last season and 5-1 in-conference. They are predicted to win the NEC this season, and have preseason All-NEC players: RB AJ Hines, OL Matt Fitzpatrick, OL Ben Huss, DL Andy Struttmann, LB Nathan Stone, and DB Abner Roberts. Huss was named to the STATS FCS Preseason Second Team and Hines was named to the CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year Trophy Watch List and was the recipient of the Jerry Rice Award last season for the FCS’s top freshman. The Dukes finished in the top half of rankings for most categories in the FCS last year.
South Dakota State finished 8-3 in the regular season last year and 1-1 in the playoffs. They were 7-1 in the conference (regular season) beating both the conference champion North Dakota State, and eventual national championship runner-up Youngstown State in the regular season before losing to North Dakota State in the second round of the playoffs. Technically they’re picked to finish second in the conference this year, but really, by voting numbers, it was practically a tie for first. They have the following players on the MVFC Preseason team: QB Taryn Christion, RB Brady Mengarelli, FB Kane Louscher, WR Jake Wieneke, TE Dallas Goedert, OL Charlie Harmon, OL Jacob Ohnesorge, DL Kellen Soulek, LB Christian Rozeboom, and honorable mention for punter Brady Hale. Wieneke, Goedert, Ohnesorge, and Rozeboom were all named STATS Preseason First Team All-Americans. Last season, the Jackrabbits had a few struggles on defense, but had one of the top offenses in the FCS and with nearly every part of that offense coming back this season, they should have a very good shot of doing even better this year.
Duquesne has a pretty solid team, but SDSU is just a “buzzsaw”…that will tear through just about any team that gets in their way. NDSU and Villanova (in the playoffs) were the only two teams that were able to hold the Jackrabbits to less than 20 points in a game last season, and they should be even better this year. I just don’t think Duquesne has the players needed to keep up with and cover all of SDSU’s offensive threats for all 4 quarters. They might be able to keep it close at first, but I think SDSU will pull away later in the game, eventually winning by around 20 points.
Just in case anyone is curious, it does appear that Duquesne and SDSU have played each other once before, with Duquesne winning 34-12. It’s probably not very relevant to this game, however, since it was in 1932.
Missouri State at Missouri (SEC)
The first of three FBS/FCS matchups for the MVFC this week will see the MSU Bears traveling up the road a ways to Columbia to take on Mizzou. I’m not going to lie…this is probably going to get ugly. Despite the proximity of the schools, they’ve actually only played each other one time before…back in 1923…a 10-0 Tigers victory.
Mizzou was 4-8 last season, and 2-6 in the SEC, so…they haven’t been a great team lately…for a P5-conference team. They’ve got a fairly solid O-Line, but aren’t great on defense and tend to turn the ball over fairly often, fumbling the ball away 13 times last season.
Missouri State also finished the season with 4 wins (4-7) and 2 conference wins (2-6), so…they haven’t been a great team lately either…but that’s by MVFC standards, which, despite being the most dominant FCS conference in the last few years, is not the SEC. I could, for the most part, use the same descriptors for the Bears as I did for the Tigers, but I don’t think it would matter even if they were pretty good on both sides of the ball.
I think that MSU’s one chance at looking fairly respectable in this game is if (STATS Preseason Third Team) kick returner Deion Holliman is able to make some defenders miss in key spots on a couple of kick returns and get the Bears some really good field position on some of the drives. MSU also has WR Malik Earl and DL Colby Isbell on the conference preseason team, as well as Honorable Mentions for OL Coleman Clanton and LB McNeece Egbim. The combination of Egbim and Isbell, if they’re able to both have essentially “career games” could also slow things down for the Tigers. Still…I don’t see it likely that MSU ends up staying within 20 points of Mizzou. I know that you’re always trying for the win, but if MSU does stay within 20 and comes away without any serious injuries, I think I’d consider that a “moral victory” in this case. So, I’m going to predict Mizzou by 20.
Youngstown State at Pitt
FCS vs FBS game #2 for the conference has the Penguins of Youngstown State “waddling” about 60 miles down the road to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to take on the Pitt Panthers. The two teams have played each other 4 times before, with Pitt taking 3 out of the 4, and the only YSU victory being a 31-17 win in 2012.
Pitt was 8-4 during the regular season last year (5-3 in the ACC) and lost their bowl game (Pinstripe Bowl) against Northwestern. Last season, they had a very high-scoring offense (40.9 points per game) although they did give up quite a few points as well (35.2 per game). Most of the yardage given up was through the air, so teams that had a strong passing attack could do well against them. They only allowed 3 sacks all season, which was the 6th best in the FBS last year.
Youngstown State brings back very little of the dominant defense that helped them make it all the way to the FCS national championship game last year. They do have STATS Preseason Third Team O-Lineman Justin Spencer back, as well as MVFC preseason O-Lineman Vitas Hrynkiewicz, LB Armand Dellovade, and punter Mark Schuler. They finished 8-3 in the regular season (6-2 in-conference) before winning four straight in the playoffs against Samford, Jacksonville State, Wofford, and Eastern Washington, and then finally going down in the championship game against James Madison. For much of the season, they had a relatively “anemic” offense, but a stellar defense that helped keep them in games. The offense started to progress more later in the season, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough to prevent them from some regression without a large part of that defense this year.
I think Pitt will likely win the 5th matchup of their series, roughly in the neighborhood of a 17 point margin.
Mississippi Valley State at North Dakota State
Ok, so I know that I said that MSU and Mizzou was probably going to get ugly. Well, unfortunately for MVSU fans, I think this one will be worse.
Last year, the Delta Devils were 1-10 overall, 1-8 in their conference. They were shut out twice , were second to last in the FCS in points allowed with 48.8 points per game, and were 5th to last in points scored with 14.0 points per game. MVSU does have a preseason All-SWAC First Team DB in Everett Nicholas and Second Team O-Lineman Alvin Solomon. They are picked to finish last in the SWAC East in the conference preseason poll.
The Bison are essentially the mirror image of MVSU. For the last half-decade or so, they have been essentially the most dominant FCS team, with a solid offense (39th last year in scoring in the FCS) and a stellar defense (5th last year in scoring). Last year they went 10-1 in the regular season, losing only to conference rival SDSU by 2 points. Then in the playoffs they won their first two (including one against the only team to beat them in the regular season, SDSU) and lost to eventual national champion James Madison. They are picked to win the MVFC this season, have 7 players on the preseason All-MVFC list (and an additional 3 on the honorable mention list) including 5 players that are on the STATS preseason All-American teams and 2 that are on the Buck Buchanan watch list (including legitimate NFL draft prospect LB Nick DeLuca, who would be in the NFL this season if not for a shoulder injury early last season).
If there is good news for MVSU it’s that:
- They get to play football at one of the premiere venues in the FCS
- They have nothing to lose.
Everyone expects them to lose…by quite a bit. If they somehow keep it close this game, then that’s a “win” for them. They might as well test things out, try some plays they wouldn’t normally try if they were playing more conservatively, and get some guys who maybe haven’t played much before some much-needed experience. I don’t think they stand much of a chance of winning the game though, and the margin is probably just…whenever the NDSU coaching staff decides to “call off the dogs”, put in their third string, and go for just basic running plays every down. My guess….45 points.
South Dakota at Drake
The Drake Bulldogs are, like half of the MVFC member teams, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference for their “Olympic” sports. Unlike those MVC/MVFC teams, they play football in the non-scholarship Pioneer League. Last year, they finished 7-4 overall (with one loss to DII Quincy University and one win over DII McKendree University, both of the GLVC) and 6-2 in their conference. They are picked to finish 4th in the Pioneer League this season and bring back Preseason All-Conference D-Lineman Mack Marrin and STATS Preseason All-American Third Team Punter Terry Wallen.
South Dakota finished last season 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the MVFC. Like Western Illinois, South Dakota got off to a relatively strong start, going 3-1 in the conference, but then losing four straight to close out the season. They are picked to finish 7th in the conference this year and received preseason All-MVFC honorable mentions for their “running threat” QB Chris Streveler, Long Snapper Brandon Godsey, and DB Danny Rambo. They did have a lot of struggles on defense last season especially against the run, so we’ll see if they’ve been able to shore that up during the offseason.
Drake isn’t a bad team for a non-scholarship team, but there’s a pretty big jump in talent from a team like Drake to even a “middle-of-the-pack” MVFC team. I think USD will probably win this one by about 20 points.
Butler at Illinois State
Butler is another Pioneer League team heading to play a MVFC team this week, at Normal to take on the Redbirds. Butler, a team known significantly more for their basketball team than for their football team, finished 4-7 overall last season (with 2 of those wins non-DI teams) and 2-6 in the Pioneer League. They were actually really good against the run last year, but their defense was horrible against passing games, and they had a tendency to turn the ball over fairly often. They’re picked to finish 7th in the Pioneer League this year, and they have two preseason All-Conference players with WR Pace Temple and FB Duvante Lane.
Illinois State snuck into the playoffs last season as only the second FCS team to ever make the playoffs with only six wins. They finished 6-5 in the regular season, 4-4 in the MVFC, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Central Arkansas. They were pretty good defensively last season, allowing only 21.8 points per game, and had probably the best defensive backfield in the MVFC, although they had some issues with their offense allowing more than 3 sacks per game. The Redbirds are picked to finish 5th in the MVFC preseason poll, and welcome back preseason All-MVFC and STATS Preseason Second Team DB Davontae Harris as well as All-MVC WR Spencer Schnell, D-Lineman Dalton Keene, DB Alec Kocour, and honorable mention placekicker Sean Slattery.
This game is second annual Spack Stache Bash game for ISU, so they’ll be breaking out the ‘staches and celebrating with fireworks after the game. They should be feeling pretty good following what I expect to be a roughly 35 point win for the Redbirds on Saturday night.
Northern Iowa at Iowa State
And the final MVFC game this week involves in-state FCS/FBS rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State. UNI plays ISU on average about every other year, although they did play them last season. ISU has the advantage in the overall series, 21-6-3, however, over the last 10 years, UNI has won half the games, going 3-3 since 2007.
Last season, the ISU Cyclones finished 3-9 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12 conference, including losing 25-20 to UNI. For the most part, it was their defense that let them down, allowing 452.9 yards and 31.3 points per game throughout the season. They are picked to finish 9th (out of 10) in the Big 12 preseason poll, and have the following preseason All-Big 12 players: WR Allen Lazard and DB Kamari Cotton-Moya.
Northern Iowa finished 5-6 overall (including the previously mentioned win over Iowa State) and went 4-4 in the conference. They had a quality defense allowing only 310.2 yards and 22 points per game, but had some significant offensive issues, not the least of which was some seriously questionable decisions by the coaching staff. Much of the coaching staff is new this season, however, from the sounds of many UNI fans, the biggest problem remains in charge. If the coaching staff can get out of their own way, they have a chance to win this game, but it won’t be easy. UNI is picked to finish 4th in the conference in the preseason poll and have STATS Preseason Second Team and All-MVFC LB Jared Farley returning for his senior year in addition to preseason All-MVFC DB Malcolm Washington, and honorable mentions for RB Trevor Allen, O-Lineman Cal Twait, DB Elijah Campbell, Punter Sam Kuhter, and return specialist Jalen Rima.
Last year, it all came together for UNI to win by 5 points, but I don’t see that being the likely scenario this year. UNI does seem to “play up” usually when they’re playing P5-level teams, especially those that are fairly close proximity (Iowa, Iowa State, Wisconsin), but I feel like this year they’ll fall just a bit short. I don’t think it’ll be a blowout like we often see between P5 FBS teams when they play against the FCS, but ISU will probably win by about a TD.