November…the time when the FCS regular season winds down to a close and for all but 24 teams, coaches and players focus on the off-season…recruiting, scheduling, spending quality time in the weight room. The MVFC lately has been at the level where fully half the teams have a decent shot at postseason football, but even so, we already know that Indiana State, Missouri State, and most likely Youngstown State are out of the playoff picture. North Dakota State (as expected) and South Dakota (less expected) have both already reached 7+ wins…the “magic number” that will get nearly any MVFC team into the bracket. For everyone else, there’s still work to do.
This weekend’s matchups have been played an average of 72 times (with two of the 5 series being played 100 or more times as of this Saturday. In all instances, teams are playing either the closest (in the case of NDSU, YSU, WIU, and MSU) or second closest (everyone else) MVFC teams to their locations. All matchups have the potential to be close and exciting games. I’m not saying there won’t be any blowouts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if nearly all the games are decided by less than 10 points, so this could very well be one of the most exciting weekends of the year for MVFC football.
Disclaimer: For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’ve been a Western Illinois fan for over 20 years. I will do my best to be relatively unbiased, but I know that it’s impossible for me to be completely so. You’ll also notice that I generally will write a little more about my Leathernecks due to my familiarity with the team.
For reference, I use the AGS poll numbers for rankings. Also, now that all MVFC teams have played 5 conference games, I am switching over my reference stats that I use to conference-only numbers. It should be much more similar competition and you won’t have games against teams like Mississippi Valley State or Drake bumping the stats for one team or another. So, again…all stats listed are only in MVFC play from here on out (unless otherwise stated).
So, here are the games this week:
12:00 PM – #16 Western Illinois (5-3, 2-3 MVFC) at #13 Illinois State (6-2, 4-1 MVFC)
12:00 PM – Youngstown State (3-5, 1-4 MVFC) at Indiana State (0-8, 0-5 MVFC)
1:00 PM – Missouri State (2-6, 1-4 MVFC) at Southern Illinois (4-4, 2-3 MVFC)
1:00 PM – #5 South Dakota (7-1, 4-1 MVFC) at #24 Northern Iowa (4-4, 3-2 MVFC)
2:00 PM – #2 North Dakota State (8-0, 5-0 MVFC) at #9 South Dakota State (6-2, 3-2 MVFC)
All games listed in Central time and all games on ESPN3.
News and notes for MVFC and its schools — looking ahead to games of Nov. 4…. https://t.co/CxIFz7ssG9
— Valley Football (@ValleyFootball) October 30, 2017
#16 Western Illinois at #13 Illinois State
- Western Illinois lost to South Dakota Sate, 52-24
- Illinois State won at Youngstown State, 35-0
History: This will be the 100th meeting between the Leathernecks and Redbirds going back to 1904, with WIU holding the series lead 50-46-3. The two teams have played each other every year back to 1923 except 1973 when there was an odd schedule due to changes in conference/division affiliation, and played each other twice in 2015 (regular season and playoffs). The Redbirds have won the last 7 meetings between the teams, with last year’s matchup being a 31-26 where ISU got ahead early and stayed just enough ahead to win.
Distance: 104 miles, just under a 2-hour drive straight across central Illinois.
Western Illinois is coming off a 28-point loss to South Dakota State last weekend and are looking to put together at least two more wins out of their final three games to get into the playoffs. The Leathernecks still have a passing offense in the top half of the conference, averaging 266 ypg through the air, led primarily by WR Jaelon Acklin who has 152.2 ypg and 6 TDs against MVFC teams. Overall, Acklin is already over 1000 yards receiving, while the #2 receiver in the conference is over 300 yards behind, and is on target to demolish (current Dallas Cowboys Practice Squad WR) Lance Lenior Jr.’s school record for yards in a season as well as a few other season records. Defensively, they’ve been weak against the pass, giving up 294.2 ypg (9th in the conference), but is sitting in the middle in rushing defense, allowing 162.8 ypg. LB Brett Taylor leads conference (and the FCS) in tackles this season with 17.6 per game in MVFC play and 14.8 per game overall. Taylor’s 118 total tackles are 34 more than the #2 tackler in the conference currently. Also handling front-line duties for the Leathernecks is DL Khalen Saunders, who is 3rd in the conference in sacks, 8th in tackles for loss and tied for 1st in forced fumbles. You also have DBs Justin Fitzpatrick and Tyrin Holloway who are 4th and 7th in the conference in interceptions respectively.
Illinois State has spent the last two weeks recovering from losses to Northern Arizona and SIU with a 16-point win over previously unbeaten USD and a 35-point shutout of defending FCS championship runner-up Youngstown State. Of their remaining three games, this will likely be their easiest to pick up the 1 win needed to get them to 7 overall wins and likely into the playoffs. The Redbirds strength this season is their defense…second only to NDSU in scoring (16.9 ppg allowed), yardage (293.4 ypg allowed), and rushing defense (77.3 ypg allowed). Their pass defense is a little weaker, but still pretty good at 4th in the conference allowing 216.1 ypg. Their top tackler is LB Tyree Horton with 53 tackles and 3.5 sacks against MVFC foes. DL Dalton Keene is #2 in the conference in sacks and #3 for both tackles for loss and fumbles recovered. Offensively, ISU is sitting mostly in the middle of the conference, putting up 30.3 ppg and 425.5 ypg. Their forte is the run game, where RB James Robinson is the #2 back in the conference at 85.1 ypg and 9 TDs, and their second back is still only 7th in the conference with 62 ypg and 4 TDs. WR Spencer Schnell is a solid receiver, coming in at 5th in the conference with 80.1 ypg and 4 TDs including a huge performance if 191 yards and 2 TDs against South Dakota two weeks ago.
Personally, I think this game will really come down to who steps up more between the ISU run game and WIU’s run defense. Western has not allowed a 100+ yard rusher all season…ISU had two in last week’s game against YSU, so something has to give there. Another factor could be the weather…currently projected to be about 60 degrees and rainy at game time. This could affect WIU’s passing game somewhat, although I’ve heard that rain actually makes it harder to defend passing teams because the receivers know where they’re going…defenders do not, and have a higher likelihood of slipping or losing their footing. Either way, weather could be a factor. I think that overall, the two teams are pretty evenly matched, so I’ve gotta go with my Leathernecks here. Thanks to a generous ISU season ticket holder who is unable to attend the game, I will be there…surrounded by ISU fans, but I’ll be there. I think the Leathernecks will make the rainy day a little more miserable with a 6 point win over the Redbirds.
Youngstown State at Indiana State
- Youngstown State lost to Illinois State, 35-0
- Indiana State lost to Missouri State, 59-20
History: The Penguins and Sycamores have played 26 times starting in 1988. YSU holds the series lead 21-5. Last year’s matchup was a 13-10 Youngstown State Homecoming victory.
Distance: This is the one “far” game of the week, being ~425 miles apart or a 6 1/5 hour drive.
Youngstown State, last year’s national championship runners-up, preseason poll “darling” and a team that started off the season 3-1 with an OT loss to FBS Pitt as their only blemish has seen their season essentially go right down the drain, losing their last four straight including being shut out by Illinois State last weekend. Despite the fact that they stand a good chance of winning their last three games, they are effectively out of the playoff picture and are now playing for pride. On the offensive side of the ball, they have a really good running game…or more accurately, they have one really good RB, Tevin McCaster, who is averaging 82 ypg (3rd in the MVFC) and has 9 TDs in MVFC games. Beyond that, however, they have very little going offensively since starting QB Hunter Wells was injured early in the conference portion of the season. When they’re defending, they are pretty solid at stopping teams, allowing 19.5 ppg and 316.6 ypg against the MVFC, with their specific strength being the pass defense, where they are #2 in the conference. FS Jalyn Powell and S Kyle Hegedus are 7th and 8th in the conference in tackles with 63 and 60 respectively.
Indiana State is just full-on winless this year. They’ve been playing for pride for weeks already and despite having a couple of close games early in the season OOC, the closest they’ve been to a conference win is losing by only 11 to Illinois State. They are at the bottom of the conference rankings in both offensive scoring (16.4 ppg) and defensive scoring (42.8 ppg allowed). Pretty much the only aspect where they aren’t last or second-to-last in the conference is in passing offense, where they have WR Bob Pugh who’s catching 71 ypg and 3 TDs in their MVFC games and WR Jacquet McClendon who has 57.4 ypg and 3 TDs as well. RB LeMonte Booker has been doing fairly well considering all the struggles that the team has had, with a 78 ypg rushing average and 4 TDs. On the other side of the ball, LB Jonas Griffith is sitting at 4th in the conference for tackles with 74 and 3 sacks and CB Rondell Green is 2nd in the conference in passes defended with 13…10 breakups and 3 INTs. Really though, outside of a few players who are doing well, it just doesn’t look to be a good season for the Sycamores at all.
So, we get to see just how far YSU has fallen from their early season success. I know they’re down, but I just can’t imagine that they’ve dropped so much that they’ll lose to Indiana State (sorry Sycamore fans). I think we’ll see the Penguins essentially just hand off to McCaster nearly every play and do well enough to come away with a win. He’s good enough for a couple of TDs himself usually, so I think they’ll probably take the victory by about 14.
Missouri State (2-6, 1-4 MVFC) at Southern Illinois
- Missouri State beat Indiana State, 59-20
- Southern Illinois lost at South Dakota, 42-0
History: The Bears and Salukis have played each other 84 times starting in 1909, with MSU holding a 40-36-8 series lead. Last year’s meeting was a 30-22 SIU victory in Springfield, MO, and SIU has won 8 out of the last 10 meetings.
Distance: Springfield, MO and Carbondale, IL are slightly more than 300 miles away from each other…just under a 5 hour drive, although that’s mostly because there’s no good “direct” route between them (“as the crow flies”, they’re only 225 miles apart).
Missouri State picked up their first conference win of the season last weekend when they chopped down the Sycamores. They have shown the ability to put up quite a few points on teams, averaging 27.8 ppg against fellow conference teams. The strength of their offense is their running game, which is averaging over 212 ypg. QB Peyton Huslig is actually the second most productive runner in the conference, with 92 ypg and 2 TDs, although he’s only getting 123 ypg and 3 TDs through the air. When Huslig does air it out, it’s mostly to WR Malik Earl, who has just under 70 ypg in MVFC matchups. Defense is where the Bears struggle and is primarily the reason they haven’t done well this season. They are allowing just over 40 ppg and 473 ppg, both second-to-last in the conference. DL Colby Isbell is the top talent on that side of the MSU team, ranking 4th in the conference in sacks with 3 for 21 yards and has 6 tackles for loss, and is the conference leader in forced fumbles with 3 in 5 MVFC games. WR/RS Deion Holliman is the top dog…er…bear…in the MVFC for returns, leading in both kick returns (23.4 yards per) and punt returns (16.4 yards per).
Southern Illinois was in a similar boat as Missouri State…decent offense (3rd in the conference in ypg with 461) although relying primarily on their passing attack (2nd in the conference with 286 ypg) and led by the 4th best passing QB in the conference, Sam Straub, who had a 239.8 ypg average with 10 TDs. That was…until early in last week’s game with Straub was sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his throwing hand. Now they have to rely on a Sophomore QB (Tanner Hearn) who hasn’t started a game and has, in four games played in, thrown 19 completions for 276 yards, 1 TD and 5 INTS. Most of those yards, completions, and 4 of the INTs came last weekend against USD when he had to fill in for the injured Straub early in the game. Like Missouri State, the SIU defense isn’t much to write home about, giving up just under 30 ppg and 383.2 ypg against the MVFC, although they do have a couple of decent DBs with S Ryan Neal having the 6th most tackles in the conference with 42 and at #4 in INTs with 2 taken back for a total of 70 yards, as well as CB Craig James at #4 for passes defended with 7 (1 INT). Because of this, they are a bit stronger against the pass than the run. They also have one of the best punters in the conference, Lane Reazin, who is averaging 43.1 yards per punt.
If you’d asked me prior to last Saturday, who would win this game, I would have said that SIU has the better offense and a QB who can make plays happen, as well as a slightly better defense, so the Salukis would likely take the win. However, they are a much different team without Straub, and I think they’ll end up being much less effective throwing the ball. MSU’s strength is the run game, which SIU’s defense is weak against, so I think that Missouri State will actually pull out a win this time by about 10 points.
#5 South Dakota at #24 Northern Iowa
- South Dakota beat Southern Illinois, 42-0
- Northern Iowa lost at North Dakota State, 30-14
History: The Coyotes and Panthers have faced off 47 times in their teams histories, with Northern Iowa holding a 19-27-1 series lead. Their first meeting was back in 1899 and resulted in a 0-0 tie. UNI has won 7 out of the last 10 meetings and last year’s matchup was a 28-25 South Dakota win at the DakotaDome.
Distance: UNI and USD are ~254 miles apart, which is about a 4 hour drive straight west across Iowa on US 20, then up I-29 a bit from Sioux City to Vermillion.
Northern Iowa’s season has been rather up and down so far, going 1-2 in OOC (with the win being in OT), then a win vs SIU and loss to WIU before starting to turn things around with wins over SDSU and YSU. They’ve definitely been a much better team the last few weeks, but a loss last weekend at the Fargodome means that UNI probably needs to win out to make the playoffs. The Panther offense and defense are averaging nearly the same numbers in terms of points scored/allowed, with 24.8 ppg for the offense and 23.4 ppg allowed for the defense. In MVFC games, they’re pretty much in the lower-middle of the standings. RB Marcus Weymiller has reinvigorated what was a stagnant UNI offense, putting up 123.6 ypg and 4 TDs in the three conference games he has played in, and WR Daurice Fountain is the #5 receiver in the conference, averaging 85 ypg w/ 4 TDs. The Panther run defense is the strongest aspect of that side of the ballgame, currently second in MVFC games allowing only 112.6 ypg and led by the #3 tackler (47 tackles) in the conference, LB Jared Farley. LB Ricky Neal is 1st in the conference in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (9.5).
South Dakota started off the season on a hot streak, winning their first 6 straight games before being taken down by Illinois State, but then following it up with a 42-point shutout of SIU last weekend. At 7 wins, they’re likely already in the playoffs, but they have three very tough games to finish the season (@UNI, @NDSU, vs SDSU) and make a push for a good playoff seed. They also have to deal with the added distraction of two players (one who was one of the team’s top tacklers) being suspended from the team due to charges of alleged sexual assault. USD is currently tied with SDSU for having the #1 scoring offense in the conference, putting up 37.6 ppg, and they also have a very good defense, only allowing 20.8 ppg in the MVFC. QB Chris Streveler, despite being knocked out of the game early last week against SIU and only netting 12 passing yards, is still the top passing QB in the conference, averaging 295.4 ypg through the air w/ 12 TDs and only 2 INTs. WRs Shamar Jackson and Brandt Van Roekel are his primary targets, catching for 72.4 ypg + 1 TD and 67 ygp + 4 TDs respectively. DB Andrew Gray leads the Coyotes in tackles with 39 in their 5 MVFC games with 1 sack, and Andrew’s twin brother, LB Alex Gray, is #4 in the conference in tackles for loss with 6.5.
This one is really tricky to predict, I think. UNI is a lot better now than they were in the first half of the season, while USD has shown some signs of weakness and might come into the game a little distracted. Also, UNI has their backs against the wall really, needing to win to stay in the playoff picture. If Streveler is 100%, then he might have a great game, but if he’s less than that, and Farley and Neal are able to get a lot of pressure on him and get him a bit more banged up, then USD could really struggle offensively. My best guess is that UNI is able to make things a bit rough for Streveler and since it’s at the UNI-Dome, they’re able to come away with a win…by a FG.
#2 North Dakota State at #9 South Dakota State
- North Dakota State beat Northern Iowa, 30-14
- South Dakota State won at Western Illinois, 52-24
History: The Bison and Jackrabbits have played each other 106 times starting in 1903 with NDSU holding a 60-41-5 series lead. NDSU has also won 9 out of the last 10 meetings…which actually only takes you back 7 years, due to the two teams playing each other three times in the playoffs in that span. The only SDSU win was a 19-17 victory at the Fargodome during the regular season last year, which NDSU was able to get revenge for roughly 2 months later, beating SDSU 36-10 at the Fargodome in last year’s FCS Playoff Quarterfinals round.
Distance: NDSU and SDSU are a quick 190 mile trip up (or down) I-29, which (according to Google Maps) will take you a bit over 2 1/2 hours to drive.
North Dakota State has already punched their ticket to the playoffs, winning their first 8 straight games. The last few games are probably going to be some of their toughest, though, having to play @SDSU, vs USD, and @ILSU. They’re good enough to win all of the games, but it wouldn’t entirely surprise me to see them drop one of them at some point. The Bison have the best defense in the conference (and by most estimations…in the entire FCS). In MVFC matchups, they’re only allowing 12.2 ppg, are the only MVFC team allowing under 100 ypg on the ground (94), and the only MVFC team allowing under 350 ypg…giving up a stingy 237 ypg. They have playmakers at all positions on the defensive side of the ball…and honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one or two players from each “section” (DL, LB, DB) end up playing in the NFL in the next few years. If they have a weakness on defense, it’s against the pass, although it’s not really that big of a weakness compared to teams like INSU or WIU. The Bison also have the top rushing offense in the conference, rolling out with 218 ypg on the ground primarily due to RBs Bruce Anderson (79 ypg) and Lance Dunn (58 ypg) and QB Easton Stick who is also a running threat at 61.4 ypg. The passing game isn’t quite as strong, only putting up 178 ypg in the MVFC, but it obviously has done enough for them to keep them from losing a game.
South Dakota State is more in the “still work to do” category with conference losses to YSU and UNI holding them back. One more win should get them in, although they also have a tough slate of games ahead of them with Illinois State and South Dakota up following this weekend’s game against NDSU. It does seem like their offense has started to kick back into gear after something of a slump in the first part of conference season, having put up an average of 57 points over their last two games (both away games). They have the second best yardage offense in the MVFC behind South Dakota led by the #2 passing QB, Taryn Christion and with two targets that will likely be on NFL rosters next year, WR Jake Wieneke and TE Dallas Goedert. Wieneke holds many of the school and conference receiving records, but Goedert is actually having the better season this year, ranking second in the MVFC in receiving with 98 ypg and 2 TDs. Wieneke is very good at coming down with catches in the end zone though, currently tied for #1 in the conference for receiving TDs with 6 against MVFC opponents. The Jackrabbit defense has had some trouble stopping the run, allowing 195 ypg on the ground, but is pretty good against the pass (170 ypg). LB Christian Rozeboom is second in the conference in tackles, with 60 in their 5 conference games.
Another tough one to predict. NDSU is favored, but as is often the case with big rivalry games, you can kinda throw the predictions out the window. Both teams are going to fight tooth-and-nail for every yard in this game and won’t give up until someone is walking off the field holding a big rock (Dakota Marker Trophy). I think that you’ll see SDSU get some decent yardage through the air, but will struggle getting anything going on the ground. NDSU will have a solid day running the ball, but maybe not do quite as well when Stick is trying to throw the ball. My guess is that at some point in the 3rd quarter, NDSU will pull ahead by about a TD and hold the lead until the end; so I’m thinking, Bison by 7.