With a 20-1 record against non-conference FCS opponents, the Missouri Valley Football Conference has solidified themselves as the Southeastern Conference of the FCS.
Before this past weekend, the SEC had eight of its 12 members ranked in the top 25 teams of the FBS poll. The MVFC had six of its 10 in the FCS poll. Both conferences have three teams in the top 10 and one team looking like the best in the country. But what makes the Valley stick out is that all 10 of its members received votes in the FCS top-25 poll last week.
Before the Bison kickoff their conference schedule against Western Illinois this weekend, let’s take a brief deep-dive and hash out who is who in the Valley by separating the contenders and pretenders by weight class.
North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa
The heavyweights in the Valley are in the top 10 of the FCS poll for a reason. All three have built their programs around a stout defense and running games led by active FCS rushing leader Zach Zenner (SDSU), David Johnson (UNI) and John Crockett (NDSU).
Luckily for UNI, they will be hosting both NDSU and SDSU this season. The Panthers also have health on their side unlike SDSU, which lost quarterback and FCS active leader in passing yards Austin Sumner after he broke his foot and will miss another month. The Jacks should be back to full health before their date with super heavyweight NDSU.
The Bison look stout to run the table again this year and fulfill Brock Jensen’s “quad squad” prophecy by winning a fourth-consecutive FCS title. But like 2011 and 2012, there are some teams laying low in the weeds of the Valley that could surprise the No. 1-ranked Bison.
Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Youngstown State and South Dakota
The welterweight division of the Valley is interchangeable. Each week, teams are both coming and going, but all are hoping to impress the playoff selection committee enough to earn a bid into the playoffs. With the Valley only getting two teams in last year, history is out of the question, and these teams will have to prove it on the field.
A 20-1 record was a good start, but will more than one team receive a bid after a rough Valley schedule?
It’s likely one of these teams will be thrown into the playoffs, assuming all of the heavyweights keep their current pace. Out of this group, three have new quarterbacks, testing the waters of the Valley for the first time.
That’s why I like MSU’s chances this season. The Bears’ senior quarterback Kierra Harris, who leads the MVFC in total yards, is the Valley’s most athletic quarterback by a landslide. Given his running and throwing ability, the heavyweights should be put on upset alert when Harris rolls into town.
Illinois State, Western Illinois and Indiana State
Like the welterweight’s, the featherweight division is always changing, and whenever you have a ranked team in the country among the bottom three in your conference, you know you’re doing something right.
But I don’t trust Illinois State. It has a first-year starter at quarterback in Tre Roberson, but it might have the best running back you haven’t heard about in Marshaun Coprich, who’s averaging 5.7 yards a carry. The Redbirds schedule is back-loaded with nine games in the final nine weeks. They avoid playing the Bison, but eight Valley games in a row will be a daunting task for an unproven team.
With the first week of Valley play already in the books, buckle up because it’s going to be a fun two months of football.