Missouri Valley Football Conference Preview

The Missouri Valley Football Conference is the gold standard in terms of FCS conferences as they have had a representative in the national championship game every year since 2011. The conference has also had two defacto conference championship games in Frisco. NDSU and Illinois State played in 2014, and NDSU played SDSU in 2022. 

The conference has won 10 of the last 12 national championships, and this year it appears that once again North Dakota State and South Dakota State are the odds-on favorites to win the title again and they may meet in Frisco again for the crown. Here are all 12 teams in the order of the preseason poll and their expectations coming into the 2023 conference season.

#1 South Dakota State, defending MVFC champion

The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State come into conference play as the reigning champions and have one of the best rosters in the country with depth at every position. They already have a statement win as they hosted and beat #3 Montana State, 20-16. The Jackrabbits also lucked out on their schedule as they get UND, NDSU, and Northern Iowa all at home. Their toughest road game might just be the Salukis of Southern Illinois as they have an FBS win and a ranked FCS win over Southeast Missouri State. If South Dakota State loses any conference games it will be either against NDSU or Southern Illinois but lookout for Northern Iowa as they have given SDSU fits over the years.

#2 North Dakota State

The Bison of North Dakota State are looking to reclaim the conference and national championships and they might just be able to do it as they have looked like the Bison teams of old. They have dominated non-conference play with help from their dynamic quarterback duo of Cam Miller and Cole Payton. NDSU got the short end of the stick when it comes to their schedule as they must go on the road to UND, SDSU, and UNI. The date that they and everybody in FCS are looking forward to is November 4th, when more than likely the conference title will be determined when NDSU visits SDSU in a possible #1 vs. #2 matchup.  The Bison appear to be back to their old selves and it will be hard to stop them in conference.

#3 Northern Iowa

The Panthers of Northern Iowa have followed the same script every year for the past few years, start slow and rally late in the year to make the postseason and they have started slow again this season as they have losses to Iowa State, and Weber State but did beat Idaho State to get into the win column. The Panthers are led by their quarterback Theo Day, a transfer from Michigan State. The strength of UNI is its defense they are led by defensive back Edwin Dearman who leads the team in tackles and interceptions. He was also a preseason 2nd team all-MVFC. The Panthers’ big game is at the end of the season when they host NDSU and knowing UNI they will be playing for a playoff spot.

#4 North Dakota

The Fighting Hawks of UND are entering conference play off a near miss where they hung around with Boise State on the blue turf and should’ve won if it wasn’t for two costly turnovers that allowed the Broncos to run away with it,42-18. UND has an explosive offense with the likes of quarterback Tommy Shuster, and wide receiver Bo Belquist. North Dakota will be a problem for most teams in the Valley, they get to prove themselves right off the bat as they head to Brookings to open conference play against South Dakota State. They also have the advantage of getting NDSU at the Alerus Center in hopes of beating the Bison for the first time since 2003 when both were division ll teams.

#5 Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois is being slept on, I believe due to NDSU and SDSU. They have a dynamic quarterback in Nic Baker and a stellar defense. Their non-conference wins are very impressive as they beat Austin Peay, an FBS win over Northern Illinois, and a ranked FCS win over Southeast Missouri State. They are going to be a threat in conference as their defense will keep them in any game they play in.

#6 Youngstown State

The Penguins of Youngstown State are at the end of a seven-year rebuilding process after the mess left by former head coach Bo Pelini. Current coach Doug Phillips has built a team that is a year away from being a real contender in the Valley. They hung around with Ohio State earlier this year only losing 35-7. They are not to be taken lightly as they could be a tough out for teams like South Dakota State.

#7 Illinois State

The Redbirds haven’t made the playoffs since 2019 when they were beaten by the Bison in the 2019 quarterfinals. Illinois State’s non-conference was almost perfect until a disaster at the hands of Eastern Illinois. The Redbirds are led by former Gopher quarterback Zach Annexstad who has passed for 674 yards and two scores. Illinois State opens conference play at home against South Dakota State.

#8 Missouri State

The Bears of Missouri State are a hollow shell of what they used to be as their head coach Bobby Petrino left to be the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and their quarterback Jason Shelley graduated leaving the cupboard bare. They have lost their first two non-conference games to Kansas, and UT-Martin but will more than likely beat Utah Tech to salvage one win in non-conference play. They open MVFC play at Southern Illinois.

#9 South Dakota

The Coyotes of South Dakota are coming off of a strong non-conference in which they beat St. Thomas and Lamar. They also held their own against Missouri in a 35-10 loss. USD had a solid defensive unit with playmakers like defensive back Dennis Shorter, and defensive lineman Brendan Webb. They also have a solid wide receiver in Carter Bell, the offense is led by Aiden Bouman who has become the full-time starter after last year’s starter Carson Camp transferred to Sacramento State. USD opens conference play at North Dakota State, a team they haven’t beaten since 2015.

#10 Indiana State

The Sycamores of Indiana State have had a rough start to the season after a surprising shutout loss to Eastern Illinois and then two FBS losses to Indiana and Ball State. Indiana State will struggle this season but they may have a chance to get to a win to open conference play as they open at the newcomer Murray State.

#11 Murray State

Murray State is the fresh face of the conference coming over from the Ohio Valley Conference, the Racers are best known for NBA player Ja Morant. They haven’t had a lot of success in football but they hope joining one of the marquee conferences will make their football program better. The team celebrated their 1,000th game by winning their opener against Presbyterian. The Racers open conference play with Indiana State.

#12 Western Illinois 

This will be the Leatherneck’s last season in the conference as they are headed to the Ohio Valley Conference to take over the spot Murray State left to join the MVFC. Western Illinois has never really been a serious contender in the conference since 2017. The Leathernecks open conference play at North Dakota.

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