It's a huge week in FCS football play this weekend as most of conference play starts in full. No where does that feel more important right now than in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, where a couple of huge matchups could have major implications.
Here's a look at 5 storylines to watch this weekend:
Is South Dakota State the third best team in the nation?
For the most part, every poll, rankings or predictions have had James Madison and North Dakota State as the 1A and 1B teams in the FCS and then South Dakota State the next best. It’s high praise for the Jackrabbits, who have yet to make it past the quarterfinal round. But with their offense, it’s a well-deserved spot for them to sit.
Now it’s time to prove it. SDSU has beaten two weaker FCS opponents and held off a much-improved Montana State team. The Jacks get a big-time challenge on the road this week, facing last year’s national runner-ups Youngstown State. [divider]
How good is YSU?
Are the Penguins flying under the radar? Or is it OK for people to be cautious about them after the loss of a talented senior class? So far, it’s tough to get a read. An overtime loss to Pittsburgh was an impressive performance. Two following wins against Robert Morris and Central Connecticut don’t reveal a whole lot else.
This can be a statement game for YSU. Everyone is talking about NDSU and SDSU battling for the MVFC title again. But no love for the team that made it to Frisco? Saturday could change that. [divider]
Who's taking that next step? Western Illinois or South Dakota
Both teams were popular picks to climb up the Valley ranks. But not many predicted both to be 3-0 with FBS wins. This is a huge game for the two programs, especially if both have the same records at the end of the season.
Amazingly, it's WIU's first home game. It's also Homecoming. Oh, and it's also the return of former head coach Bob Nielson, who's now the head guy at USD. This one is going to be a battle. [divider]
Is Northern Iowa in playoff mode already?
Right about now seems to be the usual time when we say the Panthers are in playoff mode. Give them credit, their nonconference schedule the last handful of years show they aren’t afraid of competition. But what’s it done is make the road to the playoffs that much tougher.
It seems every year the Panthers have four losses by mid-October. UNI is already 1-2 with a challenging game this weekend at Southern Illinois before five straight games against teams currently ranked. This is a must win already. [divider]
Will Lance Dunn be tackled?
Kidding, of course. Although NDSU’s running back touched the ball four times last week and scored on each one.
It’s been an anticlimactic start for the Bison compared to last year’s exhilarating September. The coaches will take it and so will the players as they have developed depth with blowout wins and are feeling fresh for another run at a conference title.
This week’s game will probably be along those same lines against Missouri State with backups getting reps in the second half. The Bison may not be challenged until mid-October when they travel to Youngstown. It's a little hard to judge after these three games, but NDSU does look like a better team than last year. But we’ll find that out for sure in the last six weeks of the regular season.