The FCS college football season officially got underway this past weekend with a trio of games. The schedule kicks into full gear this upcoming weekend, with North Dakota State getting into action against Mississippi Valley coming into Fargo.
Before the season gets going, The Spectrum sports staff shares their opinions on the upcoming football season.
Let’s start at home, the Missouri Valley is tight this year, isn’t it?
Taylor Schloemer (Sports Editor): Honestly, when isn’t it? NDSU looks to regain the national title. South Dakota State looks to knock off the Bison for the second straight year in the regular season. Youngstown State got the furthest in the playoffs of any Valley team. Northern Iowa looks to reload, as does Illinois State. Overall, the Missouri Valley had five in the Top 25 of the first coaches poll and another pair receiving votes.
Thomas Evanella (Sports Staff Writer): Once again this year, the gap between NDSU and the rest of the Missouri Valley — and the rest of the FCS for that matter — continues to narrow. Teams continue to circle like sharks in an effort to unseat the Bison as sole champions of the conference, but the team best positioned to do so this year is SDSU. The Jackrabbits boast a prolific offense and want nothing more than to finally stick it to the Bison. Tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke are two NFL-caliber players both on their final rides, and Tayrn Christion will play foil to Easton Stick in his second year as a starter.
Cody Tusler (Sports Staff Writer): The Missouri Valley is always tight. The Bison are looking to bounce back and be National Champions for the sixth time in seven years. SDSU wants to keep the rock in Brookings and beat the Bison for the second straight year. UNI and YSU are also two teams that always put up a challenge, and if you’re aren’t careful, they can beat you.
So, there is a Challenger Series between the Missouri Valley and Big Sky this year.
TE: Eastern Washington headlines the conference, and North Dakota ascended out of nowhere last year to the surprise of many. I think the Challenge Series will be an intriguing slate of games featuring top class teams, many of whom appear to be playoff locks. A team to watch that avoided the crosshairs of the Challenge Series is Weber State. The Wildcats are looking to build off a 6-2 conference record from last year and have stepped up their scheduling efforts for 2017, adding Cal to their non-conference schedule and Eastern Washington in conference.
CT: With teams like North Dakota and Eastern Washington, you bet there is a challenge there. Both teams didn’t make it to the playoffs last year by luck, especially EWU making it to the semifinals. I feel like EWU is the bigger threat of the two. They’re looking to redeem themselves from last year and make it to Frisco — I don’t know if I would want to get in their way.
TS: Is it me or does this just feel like a ploy between the two conferences to gain more attention? Is it not? This schedule had already been announced way before the Challenger Series was a thing? Wasn’t it? At least it’s two of the premier conferences in the FCS. The headline game is of course NDSU-Eastern Washington in Week 2, but it will still be interesting seeing all of these potential playoff match ups early in the year.
Is there anyone else to worry about?
CT: In all retrospect, everyone in the FCS. The great thing, and sometimes not so great thing, about sports is that any team can win at any given time. That’s why you go out and play the game. If you’re not careful, even a team that you think there is not a snowball’s chance to win, will win if not prepared for. But hey, you play to win the game.
TS: I agree Cody, but there is not very much for the Bison in the non-conference schedule. Besides, Eastern Washington, Mississippi Valley and Robert Morris will be easy pickings. The non-conference challenge will be in the playoffs again, where teams like Sam Houston State, James Madison, Jacksonville State and Richmond loom large.
TE: To expand on your list, Taylor, I’d add two teams that are currently flying under the radar, Villanova and Fordham. Villanova had the nation’s best defense in 2016, and are slotted at No. 9 in the preseason Coaches’ Poll. Tanoh Kpassagnon, their leader in sacks and tackles for loss a season ago, was drafted in the second round by the Kansas City Chiefs. Should they be able to survive his departure, their defense, which returns many starters, will once again be the envy of the nation. Fordham meanwhile presently resides as the first team out of the Top 25, but that could quickly change thanks to one man: Chase Edmonds. Edmonds figures to be one of the top running backs in all of college football this year, and if given the chance in the playoffs, can make like Khalid Abdullah did a year ago and run his team all the way to the title. No need to open old wounds, though.
At the end of the day, who ends up in Frisco?
TS: The Bison, but they will have to run through a gauntlet if they have a slip-up this season. A rematch with James Madison will almost be too good to be true. I can’t see that happening, but there is one matchup that would be nice to see. Since there always seems to be a Cinderella (Youngstown State technically qualified for that last year), how about a matchup of I-29 rivals? The Fighting Hawks will have to finish second in the Big Sky to get there though. It’s a bold prediction, but NDSU-UND in Frisco.
TE: I’ll go with the unpopular opinion here and say the Jacks. The Jackrabbits will be forged in the crucible that is the Missouri Valley Conference, and they’ll be better for it come playoff time. SDSU’s roster from the previous season remains mostly intact, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can finally get over the hump in the playoffs. Their opponent? I’ll sound like a homer, but it really figures to be NDSU. The Bison look to hit the ground running this season with a new attitude and a singular focus: starting a new streak. The roster is loaded with talent and experience across the board once again. A meeting between these two would be a savory all-MVFC matchup for the ages.
CT: I like to say the Bison will come back with a chip on their shoulder and make it back to Frisco. Eastern Washington is another team to come out of the gates hot. After a heartbreaking loss to YSU in the semifinals last year, I look for EWU to come out trying to prove that they belong. We can’t forget last year’s champs to make a run at a return. Being last year’s champs does put a target on your back though. I would like to see how JMU can handle it. I will say that this year the Bison will be back to take on EWU.