MVFC – Playoffs Round 1 Preview

MVFC LogoIt’s playoff time…er…well, for half of the conference anyway. The other half…they get to spend a bit more time with their families this Thanksgiving break. Since two of the MVFC teams are seeds and 3 are at-large teams, we’ve got 3 games in the first round involving MVFC teams. Here’s the full playoff bracket if you’d like to see what everyone is up to.

I’m going to have to change up the format a little bit and do something more like a stats comparison. In most cases, there’s very little in the way of direct comparisons that can be made between the teams (like with common opponents or something), so I’m kinda having to go off of season stats. Stats aren’t the be-all and end-all of comparisons though. You do have to consider who they played, so I’ll also be listing the strength of schedule rankings for both Sagarin (out of all D1 football programs) and Massey (just FCS programs).

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.

So, here are the games this week:
3:00 PM – Western Illinois (8-3) at Weber State (9-2)
3:00 PM – South Dakota (7-4) at Nicholls (8-3)
4:00 PM – Monmouth (9-2) at Northern Iowa (7-4)
All games listed in Central time and all games on ESPN3.
(guess you’ll have to bust out multiple devices if you want to watch all three at the same time).

Western Illinois (8-3) at Weber State (9-2)

This Season

  • Western Illinois went 8-3 overall with a 5-3 conference record. They were 3-0 OOC, all on the road, with wins at FBS* Coastal Carolina (Sun Belt), Tennessee Tech (OVC), and Northern Arizona (Big Sky). They were 2-2 at Hanson Field and 6-1 on the road. WIU’s schedule was ranked 131st in DI by Sagarin and 4th in the FCS by Massey.
  • Weber State finished their season at 9-2 overall with a 7-1 conference record. They went went 2-1 OOC, with wins over NAIA Montana Western and Sacramento State (Big Sky, but didn’t count as a conference game) and a 13-point loss at FBS California (Pac 12). They went 4-1 at home and 5-1 on the road this season. WSU’s schedule was ranked 151st in DI by Sagarin and 17th in the FCS by Massey.

The Leathernecks and Wildcats have played twice in the past as part of a H&H series back in ’75/’76. WIU won the first game at WSU 19-10 and the second one 21-19 in Macomb, so Western Illinois holds the series lead 2-0. Western Illinois will be making their 11th postseason appearance, while Weber State will be making their 6th appearance and their first time hosting a playoff game.

As I said, I’m going to change up the format a little bit, so first off, lets look at how things might go down when Western Illinois has the ball. The Leathernecks put up just over 405 ypg in their games this season (39th in the FCS) and scored at a rate of 35.5 ppg (13th). 160 ypg of that came on the ground (52nd) and just under 245 ypg through the air (27th). The WIU offense allows 5.36 tackles for loss per game (32nd) and has turned the ball over 11 times this season (10th).
The Wildcats defense allowed 338 ypg (37th) and 16.6 ppg (11th), with 196.5 ypg allowed to opposing run games (23rd) and 220.9 ypg to passes (67th). They get 7.1 tackles for loss per game (31st) and have nabbed the ball away 25 times this season (13th).
So, WSU has a good run defense and what I’d consider a mid-range pass defense, while WIU has a mid-range run game and pretty decent passing game. This makes me think that WIU might have a bit of trouble running the ball against the Wildcats, but should be able to get solid yardage through the air. WIU doesn’t turn the ball over much although WSU can create turnovers fairly well.

Flipping things around, when Weber State has the ball, they put up 408.5 ypg (37th in the FCS) and scored at a rate of 35.7 ppg (12th). 196.5 ypg of that came on the ground (25th) and 212 ypg through the air (57th). Their offense allows 6.18 tackles for loss per game (57th) and has lost the ball 15 times so far (33rd)
The Leathernecks defense allowed 343.2 ypg (39th) and 22.3 ppg (36th) with 160.3 ypg allowed against the run (24th) and 223.3 ypg allowed through the air (72nd). They get 8 tackles for loss per game (14th) and have forced 26 turnovers this season (6th)
Here WIU has a good run defense and mid-level pass defense, while WSU has a good running offense and mid-level passing offense, which points towards the Wildcats being fairly even offensively, probably relying a little more heavily on the ground game than WIU will be. WIU is better at getting tackles for loss than WSU is at preventing them and is very good at forcing turnovers, something the Wildcats have struggled with somewhat this season.

On special teams, Weber State has a much better punter and punt return defense, but WIU has a better punt returner. The kickoffs and kick returns are much closer though.
WIU has a better turnover margin, has a few more sacks on other teams, and allowes fewer sacks on themselves. The Wildcats have the TOP advantage and don’t get penalized as much.

Honestly, just looking at the stats, these two teams form one of the most even matchups I’ve ever seen between football teams. Even the predictions that I’ve seen bear that out…Massey has WIU by essentially 1 point, Vegas says it’s dead even…I saw another site that gave WSU the nod by 1 point. My view on things is that usually predictions take into account something along the lines of a 3 point home field advantage. Thing is, I’ve seen Western Illinois play in 3 of the 4 home games and 2 of the road games. They actually get pumped up more when they play on the road. They really thrive on taking a loud opposing crowd and completely shutting them up…even more so than they do in front of a home “crowd”. Because of that, I think that home field advantage doesn’t really matter in most situations for the Leathernecks, so you can throw those 3 points out the window. My prediction is that Western Illinois gets by the Wildcats by just about that 3 point margin and moves on to another game in Utah…this time in Cedar City at Southern Utah.

South Dakota (7-4) at Nicholls State (8-3)

This Season

  • South Dakota went 7-4 overall with a 4-4 conference record. They were 3-0 OOC with wins over Drake (Pioneer), FBS Bowling Green (MAC) and North Dakota (Big Sky). They were 4-1 at the DakotaDome and 3-3 when playing on the road. USD’s schedule was ranked 125th in DI by Sagarin and 3rd in the FCS by Massey.
  • Nicholls State went 8-3 overall with a 7-2 record in the Southland. They were 1-1 OOC with a 24-14 loss to FBS Texas A&M (SEC) and a win over Prairie View A&M (SWAC). They were 5-0 at John L. Guidry Stadium and 3-3 when playing on the road. NSU’s schedule is ranked 213th in DI by Sagarin and 74th in the FCS by Massey.

The Coyotes and Colonels have never met before on the football field. It will be Nicholls’ 4th appearance in the playoffs and their first time hosting, while this is the first time that South Dakota has made it to the FCS playoffs.

We’ll start by taking a look at the numbers. When South Dakota has the ball, they put up 519 ypg (2nd in the FCS) and 37.8 ppg (5th). On the ground, they accumulate 207 ypg (22nd) and through the air, 312 ypg (9th). USD’s O-Line is allowing 5.91 tackles for loss per game (45th) and their offense has lost 10 turnovers this season (6th).
The Nicholls State defense allows 343 ypg (39th) and 24 ppg (49th). Of those yards, 152 ypg are on the ground (62nd) and 190 are through the air (33rd). They are averaging 8 tackles for loss per game (12th) and have created 13 turnovers this season (104th).
In this situation, South Dakota has one of the better offenses in the entire FCS…assuming QB Chris Streveler is something close to fully healthy (he’s been banged up a lot over the last few weeks). He is a significant portion of the Coyote offense, so if he’s not doing well, things could get a little dicey for them. Assuming he’s relatively ok, USD will likely have a fairly balanced offense. Their run game is decent and NSU’s run defense is relatively mediocre, meanwhile the Coyotes’ passing attack is in the top 10 of the FCS, but NSU’s pass defense isn’t ranked too badly either.

On the other side, Nicholls State comes in putting up 395 ypg (45th) and 28 ppg (44th). They run for 196 ypg (26th) and pass for 199 ypg (69th). Their offensive line allows 4.73 tackles for loss per game (18th) and the offense has lost 23 turnovers (93rd).
USD’s defense allows 382 ypg (76th) and 23.5 ppg (42nd). Their run defense allows 137 ypg (41st) and pass defense 245 ypg (97th). They get 8.5 tackles for loss per game (3rd) and have gained 17 turnovers (72nd).
So, the Coyotes do seem to allow quite a few yards, especially against the pass. However, NSU’s strength is their run game, which is USD’s defensive strength. One big difference is that NSU has lost quite a few turnovers this season. USD isn’t great at gaining turnovers, especially with their best DB having been suspended (kicked off maybe?) from the team, but might be able to get one or two.

Obviously anything is possible in the playoffs…upsets happen every year, but I don’t really see this one being close unless Chris Streveler has to sit out for a significant portion of the game. He’s the type of QB who can turn a broken play into a first down on a regular basis, either by running the ball himself (he’s not easy to take down) or by scrambling and finding a receiver (he can make very accurate throws on the run while being pressured). I think he’ll probably be a bit too much for the Colonels defense to handle and the Coyotes will come away with about a 14-point victory and head over to Sam Houston State in a week.

Monmouth (9-2) at Northern Iowa (7-4)

This Season:

  • Monmouth University went 9-2 this season, with a 4-1 record in the Big South. OOC, they went 5-1, with wins over Lafayette, Lehigh, Hampton, Bucknell, and Holy Cross, and a loss to Albany. They were 5-0 at newly-renovated Kessler Stadium and 4-2 on the road. The Hawks’ schedule was ranked 215th in DI by Sagarin and 80th in the FCS by Massey.
  • Northern Iowa finished their regular season at 7-4 with a 6-2 conference record. OOC, they went 1-2 with a 42-24 loss to FBS Iowa State (Big 12), an OT 45-38 win over Cal Poly (Big Sky) and a 24-21 loss at eventual Big Sky Conference Champ Southern Utah. They were 4-1 at the UNI-Dome and 3-3 when traveling. The Panthers’ schedule is listed at 98th in DI by Sagarin and the #1 toughest schedule in the FCS by Massey.

History: This is the first time that Northern Iowa and Monmouth University have played each other. This is Monmouth’s first appearance in the playoffs and Northern Iowa’s 19th.

On with the digits…Northern Iowa’s offense marches down the field at a rate of 338 ypg (77th in the FCS) and puts up 28.5 ppg (41st). They get 111 ypg on the ground (93rd) and 227 ypg through the air (40th). The Panther offense allows 6.18 tackles for loss per game (57th) and has lost 20 turnovers this season (79th).
Monmouth’s defense has been holding teams to 380 ypg (74th) and 25.9 ppg (63rd). They only allow 131 ypg on the ground (35th) but give up 249 ypg through the air (102nd). They have gotten 5.5 tackles for loss per game (85th) and forced 17 turnovers this season (72nd).
So, UNI has a halfway decent passing game and Monmouth (do they go by MU?) is in the bottom 20 for pass defense. I see the Panthers have a pretty big day passing the ball. Monmouth has been pretty decent at stopping RBs, but I’m not sure they’ve faced a RB quite like UNI’s Marcus Weymiller.

When the Hawks have the ball, the put up 413 total ypg (33rd) and 35.2 ppg (15th). They get 210 ypg of that on the ground (20th) and 202 ypg through the air (65th). Their offense allows 6.18 tackles for loss per game (57th) and has turned the ball over 18 times (55th).
The Panthers’ defense allows 373 ypg (63rd) and 23.9 ppg (45th), with 130 ypg allowed against the run (34th) and 249 ypg through the air (93rd). They get 5.5 tackles for loss per game (92nd) and have forced 24 turnovers this season (36th).
In this case, Monmouth’s offensive strength is running the ball, but that also happens to be UNI’s defensive strength. I’m honestly surprised UNI’s tackles for loss is so low, because LB Ricky Neal is one of the best players I’ve seen this year at getting pressure on a QB. He’s leading the conference in sacks and is #2 in tackles for loss.

This is one of those situations where the pure stats don’t really tell the full story. According to most strength of schedule rankings, UNI has played a tougher schedule than all of the FCS…and really…a good chunk of FBS G5 teams, whereas Monmouth has played a schedule that is rated in the bottom 20% of the FCS. Another issue is likely going to be crowd noise. Monmouth has played in front of 5k or more fans three times this season…at Albany (6,384) which was a loss, at Hampton (5,123)…a win, and and at Kennesaw State (6,808)…a big loss. Meanwhile, UNI has averaged over 10.8k fans per home game this season, and while it’s no Fargodome or Wa-Griz Stadium, I can attest from personal experience that the UNI-Dome can get very loud at times. If the Hawks want to do well at the Dome, they’ll need to have really practiced non-verbal counts and cues. I think overall the Panther defense will make things very difficult for the Hawks and UNI will come away with about a 20 point win and move on to face South Dakota State again next weekend.

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Father, runner, drum corps alumnus. Former member of the Western Illinois Marching Leathernecks. Following Leatherneck football and I-AA/FCS football since 1996.

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