Hi Wedge Fans. Some of you may be familiar with me, some not so much. I’m Scott, also known as ST_Lawson on AnyGivenSaturday.com as well as on LeatherneckNation.com (where I’m the admin). I’ve been following Leatherneck, Gateway/MVFC, and FCS football since 1996 when I was a freshman at Western Illinois and a member of the Marching Leathernecks.
One more thing, since I’m not a football player and I never played football myself (just watched a ton of games both live and on tv/computer), I’m not a huge X’s and O’s kind of guy. I like to look at the stats, compare numbers…yards, TDs, INTs, etc. but talking about the strengths of various defensive schemes, for example, is not really my forte. Still, I try to do my research, so hopefully I’ll be able to put out information that you all find interesting and useful.
As for my first “column” for the FCS Wedge about the upcoming weekend for the MVFC, this is probably the best weekend to get started, since a lot of the MVFC is off this week. There are 3 games involving MVFC teams, with 4 teams playing. North Dakota State, South Dakota State, South Dakota, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, and Youngstown State are all on bye this week.
For reference, all ranking numbers listed are the current AGS poll rankings, unless otherwise stated. Also, since most of the MVFC is located in the Central Time Zone, I’ll be listing times for that region (sorry Sycamores and Penguins).
So, in Week 4, here’s what we’ve got:
Through the first 3 weeks of the season, both ISUs are 2-1 and have actually had a fairly similar series of opponents. Both opened with a home victory over a non-scholarship Pioneer League team, then played at a Big Ten team, and most recently took on an Ohio Valley team.
The Redbirds are currently ranked #12 in the AGS poll. They started the season with a 50-13 dismantling of perennial FCS “doormat” Valparaiso and followed that up with an exciting 9-7 win on a last second FG over the Big 10’s Northwestern (the first of 2 MVFC wins over Big 10 teams this season). ISU then went back home to play in their longest-standing rivalry…the “Mid-America Classic” against Eastern Illinois. In the 104th meeting of the series, a somewhat unexpectedly good EIU team knocked off Illinois State, 24-21 (EIU is now ranked #19 in the AGS Poll).
The Sycamores are also 2-1 on the season so far, with a win over Butler (41-25) a loss at Minnesota (58-28, the MVFC’s only loss to a Big 10 team this year) and a hard-fought, come from behind, 27-24 victory over Southeast Missouri State.
Illinois State has had to adjust somewhat from being the offensive powerhouse of the last few years after losing RB Marshaun Coprich and QB Tre Roberson, and it appears that they’ve done a pretty good job at it, switching focus to the other side of the ball and becoming currently the #2 team in the FCS in terms of total defense giving up only 223.3 total yards per game.The Illinois State defense is pretty balanced, ranking 11th currently in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed.
Indiana State, on the other hand, looks to have a pretty decent QB on their hands with Sophomore Isaac Harker. Harker played in 4 games last year, but has really hit his stride this year, throwing for an average of 284.7 yards per game and 2.6 TDs per game with no interceptions so far. His performance against SEMO of 302 yards and 3 TDs garnered him a MVFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
Illinois State looked strong in their first couple of games, but had problems with turnovers in the game against EIU (1 INT and 2 fumbles) which they couldn’t overcome. Outside of that, I think Illinois State has the advantage. The Redbird defense is one of the best in the FCS right now and their offense is decent enough to get the job done usually. The Sycamore offense is fairly solid, but their defense isn’t so great. I think that if Illinois State keeps the turnovers to a minimum (1 or 0), then they’ll be back to their winning ways…likely by about a TD.
TL:DR – Illinois State by 7
Western had a bye last weekend, so they only have two games under their belts so far, whereas most teams have three. So far, the 8th ranked Leathernecks have been fairly impressive, starting off the season with wins over an (as previously mentioned) unexpectedly good (and now #19) Eastern Illinois team in Charleston (38-21) and the currently ranked 26 (in the others receiving votes section) Northern Arizona Lumberjacks back in Macomb to the tune of 34-20.
Northern has played three games and it seems like their fan base is wishing they’d just skipped this season right about now. The Huskies are 0-3 with losses at Wyoming (40-34 OT), at South Florida (48-17) and back home against San Diego State (42-28). Despite the fact that WIU and NIU are not in the same division, they have a 4-4 record against each other since the I-A/I-AA split, with WIU holding a 3-1 advantage in games in the last 20 years. The only loss was in the second year of Coach Kill at NIU and was when WIU was in the midst of a 1-10 season (percentage-wise, the worst season since a winless 1944 season for the Leathernecks).
NIU has put up some fairly decent numbers so far, with much of the production coming at the hands of their senior WRs Kenny Golladay (a UND transfer from a couple years ago) who has 86.3 yards per game and 3 receiving TDs + 2 rushing TDs, and Aregeros Turner who has 1 rushing and 1 receiving TD, but also puts up decent numbers on the kick return game. It sounds like Turner may have to sit out the game, however, due to personal issues. Their defense, however, has given up an average of 382.7 yards per game with 271.3 yards of it on the ground, and has been prone to getting a lot of penalties, racking up 86.33 penalty yards per game.
WIU has been very solid on offense, with currently the #1 rusher in the FCS in terms of yards per game, Steve McShane, who has 181 yards and 2 TDs per game so far. Defensively, the Leathernecks are very “bend, don’t break”, giving up quite a bit of yardage, but holding teams to an average of 20.5 points per game on the scoring front.
I think that the Leatherneck offense is trending up at this point, still getting their feet under them, but very good, and NIU’s defense has been vulnerable to the run. The Huskies offense is better, but I’m not sure they’re really that much better than a team like Northern Arizona. Western has been vulnerable to the long pass plays, but they were able to minimize that with extra pressure on the QBs by the front line and LBs. If they can do the same against Northern IL, I think it’ll be roughly the same result. I think NIU will put up a few more points than NAU did, but Western has the ability to score quite a few points as well. The Leathernecks will be able to come away with a win, starting the season 3-0 and snagging their first FBS scalp since 2003. Maybe not entirely unexpectedly, all of the FBS wins that Western has had in their history came against MAC teams: 4 against NIU, 1 each against Ball State and Eastern Michigan.
TL:DR – Western Illinois by 4
Missouri State is off to their first 2-0 start since 2007. Like in 2007, MSU started the season with a blowout win against a lower-division foe…this year a 57-0 win over Southwestern College (KS), and then followed it up with a close win at an Ohio Valley team…this year 28-22 over Murray State. Also like in 2007, the Bears will take their 2-0 record into Manhattan, KS to take on K-State of the Big 12.
On the other side is K-State, who is sitting on a 1-1 record after losing at FBS #8 ranked Stanford (13-26) and then crushing Florida Atlantic (63-7). Their game against Missouri State will be their last non-conference game before heading into Big 12 play.
MSU is led offensively by Sophomore QB Breck Ruddick, who put up 295 passing yards and 3 TDs with 1 INT against Murray State. Their top rusher, Junior Calan Crowder, had a decent day, running for 97 yards and 1 TD, and their top receiver, Junior Malik Earl caught 4 passes for 98 yards. Three other players had receiving TDs in that game. Defensively, the “top Bear” is Senior LB Dylan Cole. Cole, a preseason MVFC all-conference team selection, leads the team with 19 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. The MSU defense held Murray State to 72 total yards rushing and 0 rushing TDs, however, the Racers picked up 356 yards and 2 TDs through the air. On the plus side, the Bears also picked off the Racers QB 3 times and sacked him twice.
K-State meanwhile, is led by QB Jesse Ertz. Ertz hasn’t put up huge numbers in their first couple of games (162 yards per game, 2 TDs) and their rushing attack boasts of nobody that rushes over 50 yards per game at this point. Their best rusher averaged 48.5 yards through their first two games and no TDs. They do apparently have a “TD Machine” in FB Winston Dimel. Dimel, a hometown boy from Manhattan, KS, broke the plane 4 times for TDs in the first half of their game against Florida Atlantic last week, but only had a total of 19 yards rushing, so he’s apparently the guy you call when you really want to get those last couple of yards to the end zone. On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats are pretty solid. They are currently the 5th best defense in the FBS, only giving up 241.5 yards per game and are allowing an average of 16.5 points per game. One good thing for Missouri State though, is that K-State has been averaging 74.5 penalty yards per game.
In 2007, MSU took their 2-0 record into K-State and was steamrolled 61-10. By the looks of things at this point, I think we can probably expect a fairly similar result. If the Bears are able to put up 10 points against the Wildcats, I would consider that a “win”, honestly. I think the spread will probably be close to what it was back in ‘07 though. However, that ‘07 season, the Bears did finish 6-5, which would be a pretty big step up from how they finished last year. I don’t think they’ll get there this year, but there are signs that the Missouri State team is starting to turn a corner, just a bit, and maybe starting to get better again.
TL:DR – Kansas State by 51