The lay of the Valley

NDSU, YSU only undefeated teams left, SDSU close behind

After five weeks, the non-conference football schedule has come to a close. The Missouri Valley is again shaping up to be one of the top conferences in the subdivision, so let’s breakdown each team as they head into conference play.

The undefeated

The Valley had a pair of teams come out of non-conference season undefeated, North Dakota State and Youngstown State.

NDSU got through a tricky month of football. A neutral site game is something different, a game against a rival is always intense, a difficult road game and a top-four matchup. The Bison got through each with a win, though they looked shaky at times against UC Davis in their last game.

Youngstown State meanwhile had a more straightforward start. The Penguins won each of their games comfortably. The strength of schedule is not in the Penguins’ favor, as they have only played one team that reached the playoffs last year, Duquense.

The contenders

It can be said that the South Dakota State Jackrabbits were two plays away from upsetting the University of Minnesota in their opening game. The close loss to the Gophers is the only blemish on the Jacks’ resume as they sit No. 3 in the FCS. Redshirt freshman quarterback J’Bore Gibbs missed two games due to injury, but the Jacks offense didn’t miss a beat.

Illinois State and Northern Iowa are also in the discussion, each with one FBS loss to their name, though UNI picked up another. The Redbirds took care of business against a quality Big Sky opponent in Northern Arizona last time, and now have two weeks to prepare for a visit from the Bison.

Northern Iowa pushed Iowa State into overtime the first week of the season and went .500 in a tough schedule. A loss in a top-10 battle with Weber State put the brakes on the Panthers’ momentum heading into the Valley. They can still compete for the conference crown.

The dark horses

It was trendy to pick Indiana State as a playoff contender in the preseason, and it hasn’t quite worked for the Sycamores this year. INS rebounded from a pair of losses to start the season with two wins, giving up a combined 13 points in the last two weeks. The offense needs to get in gear as the Sycamores have the conference’s worst passing offense.

Southern Illinois is off to an under the radar 2-2 start as well, despite playing three games on the road. A win at UMass is the highlight of the season, but the strength of schedule isn’t there. If the Salukis make a run, it will be under the radar.

The field

South Dakota is a bit of an enigma at this point. Quarterback Austin Simmons is one of the best in the subdivision, but the Coyotes have found themselves in shootouts. The ‘Yotes lost their first three games, and while Montana and Oklahoma were losses that weren’t surprising, dropping a 53-52 contest to Houston Baptist at home was. The conference-worst pass defense needs to improve if USD wants to make the playoffs, as well as running the table.

Missouri State and Western Illinois have started 0-3 and 0-4 respectively. The losses are definitely a negative, but at least one team will get a win next week when they face each other.

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