Like a frazzled and hungover freshman, I woke up Sunday asking myself one question: What the heck just happened?
Just like Bo Wallace managing to not stumble against Alabama, this past Saturday was full of unimaginable performances in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. South Dakota State’s early turnovers led to a clobbering from Illinois State, while No. 10-ranked Northern Iowa let one slip away against a suddenly relevant Indiana State team.
North Dakota State narrowly escaped the same fate as its fellow heavyweights before a trick play and stout defense held Western Illinois at bay.
The first bloody slate of Valley games ended with one remaining team in the top-10 rankings, but six more in the top 25. Conference parity has led me to say goodbye to last week’s list and introduce a second installment of the Missouri Valley Power Rankings.
Super heavyweight: North Dakota State
The Bison survived Western Illinois’s best-shot Saturday by handling numerous special teams mistakes with poise and relentless defense. The Bison weren’t supposed to win that game in Macomb, Ill., but they did. An FCS record 29-game winning streak was extended Saturday against all odds.
That’s why I have created a new “weight class” to single out the habitual winning the Bison can’t seem to snap.
Quarterback Carson Wentz flashed greatness by seamlessly keeping plays alive, and he even hauled in his first touchdown reception from a beautifully run halfback pass. If Wentz keeps playing at a high level, the Bison will be impossible to dethrone.
Heavyweights: Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Youngstown State
The Bison are on upset alert this week as SIU (5-1, 2-0 MVFC) comes to the Fargodome looking to spoil Homecoming weekend. The Salukis are led by running back Malcolm Agnew, who leads the Valley in rushing yards and is tied for a conference-high 10 touchdowns.
Welterweights: Illinois State, South Dakota State, Indiana State, Missouri State
Illinois State’s stock is rising faster than any other team in the Valley. They rank first offensively in the conference with 49 points per game and rank first defensively, only allowing 7.8 points a game. But coming off an impressive clubbing of SDSU, I’m still not sold that ISU deserves to be considered in the heavyweight division of the Valley.
The Jackrabbits turned the ball over three times in the first quarter Saturday on the way to losing 45-10, the worst defeat in the short time in the Valley. ISU raced out to a 38-3 lead by halftime, eliminating Zach Zenner’s effectiveness in the second half, and with Austin Sumner still sidelined with an injury, the Jacks stood no hope for a comeback.
What’s on the surface isn’t the reason why I still don’t trust ISU to stay on par with their play through the first four games.
ISU goes on the road for the first time this week to play an Indiana State team that’s made a complete 180 turnaround from last year. The Redbirds will also play UNI, YSU and SIU for three of their last four games of the season. If they can squeak by with only a blemish or two on their schedule, I’ll start to pay closer attention.
Featherweights: Western Illinois, South Dakota
The Valley will continue to be the conference to watch for as the playoffs approach. With more chaos looming this weekend, the Valley will be more unpredictable than ever with teams fighting for a highly-coveted bid into the FCS playoffs.