The Dakota Marker matchup has turned into a top rivalry game in the FCS. A big reason for that is the national implications have gotten bigger and bigger with playoff ramifications.
NDSU is a modern-day dynasty with eight FCS national titles in the 2010s. But SDSU has closed the gap, beating the Bison in 2016, 2017, and the spring of 2021 while advancing to the national title game last season. NDSU is 4-0 against the Jackrabbits in the playoffs (and the two are probably due for yet another postseason showdown this year).
Saturday’s game in South Dakota once again has a lot on the line for both teams.
No. 2 NDSU is 8-0 overall with two wins against currently-ranked teams (No. 13 UNI and No. 17 Missouri State). The Bison’s last two games are at Youngstown State and versus No. 23 South Dakota.
No. 9 SDSU is 6-2 overall with an FBS win (Colorado State), a non-counter win, and two losses to ranked teams (No. 7 SIU and No. 13 UNI). The Jacks do not own any ranked FCS wins. Their last two games are at No. 23 USD and versus UND.
What does this weekend’s result mean for both teams?
Let’s start with if the home team wins.
RELATED: FCS Bracketology
If SDSU Wins…
SDSU straight-up needs to win to stay alive in the seeding discussion. Really, the Jacks need to go 3-0 in November to get a seed, meaning two ranked wins against NDSU and USD and beating a scrappy UND team that will want to win in Brookings just to get an outside shot of making the playoffs with a 6-5 record.
A 9-2 SDSU team with eight D1 wins (one being against FBS Colorado State) and two ranked wins is probably going to be in the 6-8 seed range. Teams like SHSU, JMU, EWU and/or Montana State, SIU, and yes even a 10-1 NDSU team may/will have arguments to be seeded higher than the Jacks. A win against NDSU will carry a lot of weight and could move SDSU past a one-FCS-loss Villanova team or an unbeaten-against-the-FCS SLU team in the seeds order.
The Jacks should be cheering for SIU or UNI to slip up and lose. The committee may “forgive” SDSU’s loss to UNI or SIU if the Jacks finish hot with two ranked wins and one of those teams finishes cold.
If SDSU beats NDSU and then drops a game to USD or UND, that could cost the Jacks a seed.
Unless I’m mistaken, an SDSU win on Saturday means NDSU will lose. If so…
In 2016 and 2017, NDSU went 10-1 with a loss to SDSU and still earned the No. 1 or No. 2 playoff seed. The chances of that happening in 2021 is possible, but not probable. A 10-1 NDSU team means three wins against currently-ranked teams — UNI, Missouri State, and USD. UND is no longer ranked. And we’ll see if No. 23 USD is still in the Top 25 after playing SDSU next week.
Is a 10-1 NDSU team with 2-3 ranked wins (four if the committee puts stock into then-ranked wins versus current-ranked wins) a Top 2 seed? How would that stack up with a 10-0 defending national champs Sam Houston who may only have one win against a currently-ranked team? Or a 10-1 JMU team with an FCS loss to Villanova and two wins against currently-ranked teams. Or a 10-1 EWU team with an FBS win and three ranked wins? Or a 10-1 (and undefeated against the FCS) Montana State team with three ranked wins?
If NDSU wants home-field advantage until Frisco, it needs to win out. One loss could mean going on the road in the semifinals.
If NDSU Wins…
If NDSU beats SDSU and then beats YSU and USD, the Bison are a Top 2 seed. An 11-0 NDSU team with four wins against currently-ranked teams (possibly three if USD is no longer ranked) will very likely be a No. 1 or 2 seed along with SHSU. Montana State or EWU also would have arguments for a Top 2 seed if one of them won out. But it’s hard to see an 11-0 NDSU team not being No. 1 or No. 2, and SHSU has been ranked No. 1 in the polls all season as the defending national champs.
The Bison, QB question and all, will be in the driver’s seat for a return to Frisco if they beat SDSU and avoid upsets against YSU and USD.
Not only would NDSU be one step closer to securing a Top 2 seed while getting the Dakota Marker back with a win, but the Bison would also knock SDSU to playing in the first round. (Which ultimately could mean facing the Jacks again in the second round based on regionalization).
If SDSU loses Saturday, it will not earn a seed. The Jacks would have to beat USD and UND to finish 8-3 and hit seven D1 wins. One FBS win and one ranked win against USD probably won’t be enough on their resume for a seed, and they will have to play on Thanksgiving weekend.
Lose twice? And there is no guarantee a 7-4 SDSU team with six D1 wins is in the bracket.
NEXT: What’s At Stake For No. 4 Montana State vs. No. 5 EWU?
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