This is it folks. The final weekend of the regular season. Pretty much regardless of what happens, NDSU and SDSU will be in the playoffs and YSU, SIU, MSU, and INSU will not. For UNI, USD, WIU, and ILSU, it’s likely most of them will be, but there are some crazy scenarios that could play out that could exclude some or all of them. They have one more chance to make themselves look good to the playoff committee before the final decision comes down.
As a preeminent wordsmith of the modern age once said:
“If you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip…Yo”
I plan on being a bit more brief on my game rundowns this week. We’re to the point where, if you’ve kept up with the articles and pay attention to FCS (and MVFC) football, you’re pretty well aware of each team’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ll try to point out a few interesting bits, but I think most everyone is familiar with the Chris Streveler show, NDSU’s defense, or whatever the hell is going on over in Terre Haute.
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 and all stats listed are only in MVFC play from here on out (unless otherwise stated).
So, here are the games this week:
11:00 AM – Missouri State (3-7, 2-5 MVFC) at Youngstown State (5-5, 3-4 MVFC)
12:00 PM – #2 North Dakota State (9-1, 6-1 MVFC) at #26 Illinois State (6-4, 4-3 MVFC)
1:00 PM – Southern Illinois (4-6, 2-5 MVFC) at #11 Western Illinois (7-3, 4-3 MVFC)
2:00 PM – #5 South Dakota State (8-2, 5-2 MVFC) at #15 South Dakota (7-3, 4-3 MVFC)
4:00 PM – Indiana State (0-10, 0-7 MVFC) at #17 Northern Iowa (6-4, 5-2 MVFC)
All games listed in Central time and all games on ESPN3.
6 MVFC teams ranked in the final regular-season Top 25 STATS poll…. https://t.co/9Wai1HWrak
— Valley Football (@ValleyFootball) November 13, 2017
Missouri State at Youngstown State
- Missouri State lost to Northern Iowa, 25-10
- Youngstown State won at Southern Illinois, 28-20
The Bears and Penguins have played 19 times starting in 1996. YSU holds the 14-5 series lead and last year’s meeting was a 65-20 YSU victory in Springfield, MO.
YSU’s once-promising season will get one final tally this weekend; a tally that will determine if the Penguins will have a winning season, or if the defending FCS Championship runners-up will finish with a losing record this year. Their strengths are in their pass defense, which is second in the conference, and their ability to move the ball on the ground with RB Tevin McCaster putting up nearly 89 ypg. The Penguin O-Line has allowed 33 sacks this season, which is the worst in the conference (by a significant margin), and on defense, they are also worst at getting sacks, only getting to opposing QBs a total of 9 times.
MSU, who was expected to be bad this season, mostly is, but has put together a few wins here or there to help separate themselves from the last place team, beating Indiana State by 39 and then Southern Illinois by 8 in back to back weekends. A win would equal last year’s 4-7 record. Missouri State has the 3rd best rushing offense in the conference and they’re roughly in the middle of the conference for their pass defense. The rest of their defense has been rather swiss cheese-like. They have one of the best kick return guys in the conference which can help with field position battles.
I think the two teams are actually fairly similar now…both decent running teams, both with good pass defenses. I think this is going to be a fairly low scoring “ground game”, although overall, I feel like the Penguins have a bit of an advantage with a (depending on who plays) decent running QB as well as a really good RB. In a matchup that has pretty much no bearing on the playoffs, I think Youngstown State gets the home victory by 7 points to close out their season with a winning record.
#2 North Dakota State at #26 Illinois State
- North Dakota State beat South Dakota, 49-14
- Illinois State lost at South Dakota State, 27-24 in OT
The Bison and Redbirds have played 9 times starting in 2007, with NDSU having the 7-2 series lead. Last year’s meeting was a 31-10 NDSU victory at their Homecoming game and the matchup before that was the FCS Championship Game for the 2014 season and unofficial MVFC Championship game. NDSU won that one as well, 29-27.
NDSU is already in the playoffs, likely already a seed regardless of the results of this game, but they are looking to stay with a high seed so that they’re able to play the majority of their playoff games at home. Last weekend they came out angry after the previous week’s loss and demolished a good South Dakota team. NDSU has the best rushing offense in the conference, but is middle of the pack on their passing game. Like I said before, their defense is solid on pretty much all facets. They also win “in the trenches” where they are the best team in the conference at both not allowing sacks themselves and getting sacks on the opposition. The special teams can be a bit suspect at times though, with a “spotty” kicking game, and the 3rd lowest punt return average in the conference.
ILSU has their backs against the wall needing a win to make it into the playoffs. By most estimations, they’re in a situation where they win and they’re in, they lose and they’re out…so, you know…no pressure. They had an unexpected win over South Dakota a month ago, and last week took SDSU to OT (and very likely could have won if they’d been a little more agressive on play calling near the end of regulation). The Redbirds have the second best scoring defense in the conference and a pretty decent run game, with RB James Robinson putting up just under 100 ypg.
This could be a pretty close game, with the Redbirds fighting to keep their season alive. I think they’ll be able to keep it close, but unfortunately, I think they had their best chance last week against SDSU and they weren’t able to come away with the win. This game will be tougher, and I don’t think it’ll make it to OT. North Dakota State wins this one by 14 and hits the playoffs with one of the top few seeds.
Southern Illinois at #11 Western Illinois
- Southern Illinois lost to Youngstown State, 28-20
- Western Illinois won at Indiana State, 45-0
History: The Salukis and Leathernecks have matched up 62 times going back to 1933. WIU leads the all-time series 35-23-4. Lately it’s been a rather “streaky” series with WIU winning 18 straight from 1984-2001, then SIU winning 9 straight from 2002-2010. Last year’s game was a 44-34 Saluki win in Carbondale that ended WIU’s playoff hopes.
Southern Illinois was rolling along with one of the better offenses in the conference, until their starting QB suffered a season-ending broken hand (throwing hand). Their replacement QB, former backup Safety Matt DeSomer, is very much a running QB, putting up less than 100 passing yards per game in the two games he’s played. In those two games, the Salukis lost to Missouri State and Youngstown State, both in Carbondale. He is helped by the SIU O-Line, who has only given up 8 sacks this season. SIU’s pass defense has been pretty decent, but they have trouble stopping the run…ahead of only INSU and MSU in their run defense. They also have a pretty solid punter and lead the conference in net punting average.
Last year, Western Illinois won 3 straight OOC with the 3rd being a FBS team, lost their first conference game against a team from the Mt. Rushmore state, had a close conference win, a win over Missouri State, and then a loss to NDSU to put them at 5-2 going into the final 4 weeks of the season.
This year, Western Illinois won 3 straight OOC with the 3rd being a FBS team, lost their first conference game against a team from the Mt. Rushmore state, had a close conference win, a win over Missouri State, and then a loss to NDSU to put them at 5-2 going into the final 4 weeks of the season…(notice a trend?)
In both cases, WIU needed two more wins to get them into playoff contention. Last year, they went 1-3 in those final 4 weeks, 6-5 for the season and missed the playoffs. This is where the parallels end…this year, WIU has gone 2-1 in 3 of those 4 and have a good chance at 3-1 to finish 8-3 to get into the playoffs. Even with a loss, WIU has a very good chance at still getting in at 7-4. The Leathernecks have a very balanced offense with the top yardage receiver in the conference, a couple of solid RBs, and an experience QB who can take advantage of all of his weapons. Because of this they have the second-best passing offense in the conference. On defense, the ability to defend passes has been suspect, although significantly better than last year (2016 – 297.4 ypg allowed overall, 120th in the FCS; 2017 – 239.4 ypg allowed overall, 85th in the FCS). They do have a very good run defense headlined by the #1 tackler in the FCS, LB Brett Taylor. WIU is the best team in the MVFC at returning punts and is #3 at returning kickoffs. They are a perfect 6-6 on FGs this season, but the punting game is the worst in the conference.
This game is a matchup of the two most penalized teams in the MVFC…SIU with 47 penalties for 62.4 ypg and WIU with 64 penalties for 74.6 ypg. SIU’s current QB is a good runner, but WIU has a good run defense, so it’ll be interesting to see which breaks first in that matchup. Personally, I feel like WIU should be able to handle SIU’s run game, and the current forecast is windy (in the 20 mph range with gusts up to ~40), which should really knock down the passing game. WIU is currently on a streak of 6-straight quarters of shutout football, and while I don’t think it’ll extend all the way to the end of this game, WIU should be able to do enough to stop the Salukis to come away with a victory by about 12 points.
#5 South Dakota State at #15 South Dakota
- South Dakota State beat Illinois State, 27-24 in OT
- South Dakota lost at North Dakota State, 49-14
History: The Jackrabbits and Coyotes have faced off 109 times in their histories, with SDSU having the 52-50-7 advantage. South Dakota State is riding an 8-game win streak over South Dakota, with last year’s matchup being a 28-21 victory in Brookings.
South Dakota State started the season well, although had a close game against Montana State early on. Youngstown State and Northern Iowa handed them their only losses of the season, with the highlight so far being a 33-21 win over rival (and highly ranked) NDSU. They are solidly in the hunt for a playoff seed at this point. The Jackrabbits have the top scoring offense in the conference, putting up points at a rate of over 35 points per game with two legit NFL prospects in TE Dallas Goedert and WR Jake Wieneke. Both of those guys are actually having down years as compared to last year, but are still doing well enough, obviously. They also have the best pass defense in the country, holding opponents to under 170 ypg through the air and led by LB Christian “oh god we have to deal with him for two more years” Rozeboom.
South Dakota was having a great season, winning their first 6 straight, including beating a (not great) Bowling Green team. Illinois State handed them their first loss, and then a dominant win over SIU got them to 7-1, but also severely banged up their QB Chris Streveler, who is a HUGE part of their offense (more so than most other team’s QBs). They then proceeded to lose their next two against a surging UNI and the always-dominant NDSU Bison. Their last game is also a tough one, but one they need to win to be solidly considered for a playoff spot. They put up the most yards of any MVFC team…nearly 500 ypg, with around 325 ypg of that coming through the air via Streveler. The Coyote defense has been roughly in the middle of the pack in most areas, but has been hurt by the legal troubles of a few of their defensive players (suspended from the team), so that’s taken somewhat of a hit the last few games.
On their best day, I think both teams are pretty evenly matched. Two very good offenses against decent but not stellar defenses would generally be a pretty close and high-scoring affair. However, USD with their banged-up Streveler and down a few defensive players is going in the underdog. The game is at USD’s DakotaDome though, and I feel like the Coyotes have a bit more to play for (SDSU for a playoff seed, USD for a playoff spot), so that helps. Still, I think SDSU has a little bit of an advantage and will come away with a narrow victory of roughly 4 points.
Indiana State at #17 Northern Iowa
- Indiana State lost to Western Illinois, 45-0
- Northern Iowa won at Missouri State, 25-10
History: The Sycamores and Panthers have played 31 times dating back to 1983. UNI has a distinct series advantage of 26-5. Last year’s meeting was a 39-6 Panther win.
Despite close losses to Eastern Illinois (by 2 points in the final seconds of the game) and Liberty (by 1 point after a last-second missed FG), Indiana State has not been able to put anything in the win column this season. If anything, they seem to be getting worse as the season progresses, losing by only 11 to a decent Illinois State team, but by an average of 42 points in their last three games against a decent WIU team, a mediocre YSU team, and a pretty bad MSU team. Despite having some talent in certain spots, they are last in the conference in all major offensive and defensive categories. RB LeMonte Booker is solid at 74 ypg and WR/RS Bob Pugh is second in the conference in all-purpose yards, being a decent WR as well as a quality kick returner.
Northern Iowa had something of a rough start to the season, going 2-1 OOC with their one win being in OT at home, against Cal Poly. Things weren’t looking any better after a loss to WIU brought them to 2-3 on the season, but then a newfound run game and some modifications to the defensive scheme helped the Panthers to strong wins over some good teams (SDSU and USD mostly) and find themselves needing one more win to reach 7-4 and be heavily considered for a playoff at-large spot. UNI could be rolling with a backup QB after QB Eli Dunne suffered a concussion last weekend (Dunne is listed as “questionable”). Offensively, they haven’t been great, recording the second-fewest number of yards in conference games and the strength has been the passing game, so that could be an issue in this game. On the other side of the ball, UNI has the top run defense in the MVFC with standout LB Rickey Neal leading the conference in tackles for loss (13 vs #2’s 9, and with 12 of them solo tackles) and not surprisingly…sacks (8.5 total, 8 solo). UNI also has the top pass defender in the conference with DB Elijah Campbell batting down 2.14 per game with 4 INTs. They are also a perfect 10/10 on FGs.
So, UNI’s offense might be down a bit on Saturday, however their defense has been really exceptional against some pretty high scoring teams. INSU is not a high-scoring team. I think the Sycamores will struggle to get points on the board this game, and while the Panther offense might not put up the 42 points that have been averaged against them in the last few games, I think they’ll get close. UNI, with their backup QB, should take this one by about 30 points, which should punch their ticket to the playoffs.