Eight teams from the Valley have already hit or are still in a position to hit that number. South Dakota State is 9-0. South Dakota is 7-2. Northern Iowa, North Dakota, Youngstown State, North Dakota State, and Southern Illinois are 6-3. And Illinois State is 5-4.
Six of these squads square off this week, setting up for a huge Separation Saturday.
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No. 1 South Dakota State at No. 22 Youngstown State
YSU is ranked below six MVFC teams in the national polls. While it does have a head-to-head 31-3 win over SIU for a ranked win, YSU’s placement in the polls could be a reflection of where the playoff committee also views the Penguins. Six bids from one conference have happened before, but it is rare. Seven bids is not impossible, but it has yet to happen.
Beat the No. 1 team, and YSU secures an at-large bid by reaching seven wins and likely hitting eight wins by winning at Murray State next week. Lose on Saturday, and YSU will hope its 7-4 resume stands out among several 7-4 resumes on the bubble and the committee values its head-to-head on SIU more than the polls.
SDSU, at 9-0, has six wins over teams currently ranked. Everyone else in the seed conversation has three or two. The Jackrabbits’ resume is loaded, so much so that they could probably afford a loss Saturday, beat Missouri State at home next week, and get the No. 1 seed at 10-1 and its number of ranked victories.
No. 10 North Dakota at No. 6 South Dakota
USD looks to add to its resume as a potential Top 5 seed, while UND looks to prove it is a Top 10 team despite a few underwhelming performances after throttling NDSU.
UND, with its head-to-head on NDSU, likely just needs one more win to get a bid at 7-4. Losing at USD turns on the pressure to get a home win vs. Illinois State. The Redbirds could be 6-4 going into Week 12 if they beat Murray State on Saturday, making it a playoff elimination game in Grand Forks. If the Fighting Hawks win both to finish 8-3, they will be in the discussion for a seed, although a potential 8-3 UNI team would push UND down in the seed argument.
USD has an opportunity for a really good playoff resume. If the Coyotes win out, beating UND and winning at Western Illinois, they will be 9-2 overall and 9-1 vs. the FCS with four ranked wins and a Top 20 strength of schedule. That has a strong argument for a Top 5 seed. If USD loses to UND, though, an 8-3 USD team could be pushed all the way out of the seeds and to the first round, getting bumped by some 9-win CAA teams and/or 8-3 UNI and UND teams.
No. 11 Southern Illinois at No. 12 North Dakota State
The winner here may seal a playoff bid.
For SIU, it makes an 8-3 finish promising with a home game vs. Indiana State in Week 12. At 8-3, a couple of ranked wins, a close loss to No. 1 SDSU, and an FBS win over Northern Illinois, the Salukis would be in the conversation for a seed.
For NDSU, a win gets the Bison to 7-3. Even if they lost at No. 15 UNI next week, a 7-4 NDSU team bumps a 7-4 SIU team for the fifth bid from the MVFC behind SDSU, USD, UNI, and UND. If the Bison beat UNI, an 8-3 NDSU squad ending the regular season with back-to-back ranked wins would be considered for a seed.
The loser Saturday is getting nervous.
SIU would have to beat Indiana State to finish 7-4. The Salukis would likely be behind SDSU, USD, UNI, UND, and NDSU in the MVFC pecking order for bids. If the MVFC gets a sixth bid, it would come down to 7-4 SIU vs. 7-4 YSU (assuming SDSU beats YSU and UND beats Illinois State). The argument for SIU is it has been ranked well above YSU for most of this season and has a better overall resume. The argument for YSU is that it owns a 31-3 win over SIU. The committee could go either way. Or they could just not give the MVFC a sixth bid and keep YSU and SIU out in this scenario.
A loss Saturday for NDSU sets up a playoff play-in game for the Bison in Week 12 at No. 15 UNI. UNI can hit seven wins at Missouri State this week. If the Bison go to UNI and win, both teams are 7-4 and the Bison’s head-to-head gets them into the bracket. UNI still probably gets into the playoffs at 7-4 because of its head-to-head wins over potential 7-4 YSU and 7-4 UND teams. If the Bison lose these last two, they are left out of the postseason at 6-5.