Missouri State went 30 years without making the Division I-AA/FCS playoffs. After hiring Bobby Petrino, the Bears are 2-for-2 in postseason appearances during the 2021 spring and fall seasons. That, coupled with a roster full of talent, has resulted in high preseason hype.
Yet Missouri State is 0-2 in those two recent playoff games. Ranked No. 5 in the Stats Perform Preseason Top 25 media poll, can the Bears live up to the expectations and compete at a national level? Let’s take a look at the team and discuss.
The Bears finished 8-4 overall (including a 23-16 loss to FBS No. 22 Oklahoma State and a 27-20 loss to eventual FCS national champs North Dakota State) with a 6-2 mark in the MVFC. They lost at home in the first round of the playoffs, 32-31 to UT Martin.
Mo State ranked No. 12 in FCS scoring offense (34.2 PPG) and No. 57 in scoring defense (26.2 PPG).
The talent transformation under Petrino has been remarkable. Mo State has quickly gone from a Valley bottom-dweller to a contender.
The Bears haven’t been afraid to hit the transfer portal, and it’s worked out well so far. Looking down the “Previous School” section on the 2022 roster, the Bears have more than 45 transfers, whether they came in this year or in previous years. Twenty-one of those players are from the FBS.
Some of them are now the top players for the team. Jason Shelley (Utah State) is HERO Sports’ No. 1 returning FCS QB. Tyrone Scott (Central Michigan) is our No. 4 returning FCS WR. Montrae Braswell (Central Michigan) is our No. 3 returning FCS CB. And Kyriq McDonald (Cincinnati) is our No. 7 returning FCS safety.
Overall, Mo State returns 17 starters and has a conference-high eight returning All-MVFC players: DB Kyriq McDonald (HM), DB Montrae Braswell (1st Team), DL Kevin Ellis (1st Team), K Jose Pizano (2nd Team), OL Landon Bebee (2nd Team), P Grant Burkett (1st Team), QB Jason Shelley (1st Team), WR Tyrone Scott (1st Team).
The Bears also added roughly 12 transfers, 10 from the FBS.
- @ Central Arkansas
- vs. No. 18 UT Martin
- @ FBS Arkansas
- vs. No. 2 South Dakota State
- @ North Dakota
- vs. No. 9 Southern Illinois
- @ No. 21 Northern Iowa
- vs. Western Illinois
- @ South Dakota
- vs. Youngstown State
- @ Indiana State
This is a tough schedule for Mo State to position itself for playoff success. The Bears go to a decent FCS team in UCA (received Top 25 votes) to start, then get a postseason rematch against UT Martin before facing P5 Arkansas. They do avoid NDSU but play four MVFC playoff teams from last fall (SDSU, SIU, UNI, USD), plus a tough road trip to UND.
For being a four-loss team last year and 0-2 in the playoffs the last two seasons, a lot of people are very high on Mo State. And I’m right there with them, ranking the Bears No. 5 on my ballot.
In my opinion, Shelley is the best returning QB in the FCS, and Scott is a top-tier WR. Last season, Shelley finished 215-of-362 passing for 3,088 yards, 30 TDs, and six interceptions, including 398 yards rushing and 10 scores. Scott had 66 catches for 1,110 yards and eight TDs. Expect the Bears to have a bit more balance offensively as Kansas State transfer RB Jacardia Wright looks to be a difference-maker. This could be one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS.
But the Bears are not without questions. And if they don’t answer these questions, a deep playoff run won’t happen.
First, the offensive line needs to get better. While Shelley is just as electric with his legs as his arm, the o-line did not do him many favors. Mo State ranked No. 119 last season with 3.92 sacks allowed a game. Secondly, having the No. 57 scoring defense won’t get it done. At some point in the playoffs, your defense is going to need to get a key stop late. If they can’t, as EWU has learned many times in the 2010s, you’re going to fall painfully short in big games.
Even with the OL and defensive questions, it is hard to ignore the overall talent on this roster. And it is easy to believe this team can make national noise. Mo State had both Oklahoma State and NDSU on the ropes last year before losing by a score. Most of the big names are back looking to be one year better, plus double-digit transfers coming in.
The Bears should be favored to beat two quality FCS opponents (UCA and UT Martin) to strengthen their playoff resume. They avoid NDSU. And they get Top 10 opponents at home (SDSU and SIU).
The team hasn’t been shy to say they have national title expectations this season. Whether they are quite to the level to knock off the dynasty Bison in the playoffs is uncertain. But the roster talent and the rapid rise under Petrino suggest this team can challenge deep into the bracket.
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