Welcome to the 2020 FCS summer preview series.
Every week will be dedicated to a conference as we break down the top teams, top players and what you need to know about the league heading into the season. We’ll have standings predictions, preseason All-Conference teams, top players to keep an eye on, podcasts and more.
The full conference-by-conference schedule and all of our preview content can be seen right here.
This week, we have the …
Missouri Valley Football Conference
For a more in-depth look at the conference, check out the new episodes of B-Mac and Herd’s FCS Podcast coming this week.
THE FAVORITE: North Dakota State — The Bison are loaded coming off of a 16-0 season. A majority of the offense comes back along with seven starters on defense. NDSU has won at least a share of the MVFC title in every season dating back to 2011, including winning it outright the last three seasons. Don’t expect that to change in 2020
THE THREATS: South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State — SDSU and UNI were No. 2 and No. 3 in our preseason Top 25 ranking while Illinois State was No. 12. All three are going to own some of the toughest defenses in the FCS. The question with each of them is the offense. UNI and Illinois State lacked explosiveness last year, as evidence by their quarterfinal losses. SDSU battled inconsistent play. Key injuries hampered these three teams as well. If they can stay healthy, the Bison are going to be pushed extremely hard in the conference title race.
THE DARK HORSES: Southern Illinois, North Dakota — SIU was one of the first teams left out of the playoffs last season. That should be offseason fuel for a team that remains mostly intact. Eight of the top 11 tacklers return from a much-improved defense. And Javon Williams Jr. is one of the best young RBs in the FCS. UND arrives in the MVFC after spending the last two seasons as an independent while playing a Big Sky schedule. The Fighting Hawks made the playoffs last year despite a tough schedule. Their defense will be strong, per usual. But the offense has a lot to replace, including the starting QB, top RB and top two WRs. Still, a new team in the conference that made the playoffs last season should have the attention of Valley opponents.
BEST OFFENSE: North Dakota State — The Bison averaged 37.3 points per game last season and bring back mostly all of their weapons. Reigning Walter Payton Award winner Trey Lance is back at quarterback and he has four great weapons in WRs Christian Watson and Phoenix Sproles and TEs Noah Gindorff and Josh Babicz. The NDSU OL returns four starters and the running back room stays intact minus Ty Brooks, but plus Seth Wilson coming back from injury.
BEST DEFENSE: Northern Iowa — Players like LB Chris Kolarevic, DE Elerson G. Smith, DT Jared Brinkman, LB Bryce Flater, DB Omar Brown and DB Xavior Williams are all All-American-level dudes. UNI has talent and experience back with nine of its 11 top tacklers returning after allowing 17.7 points per game last season.
Names To Know
THE NFL PROSPECT: Trey Lance, NDSU — We don’t even know yet if Lance will be on the board for the 2021 NFL Draft. After all, he will just be a redshirt sophomore. But the level of national hype Lance is getting may make it hard to stay at NDSU for another season. We’re talking not just first-round hype by the most well-known draft experts, but potentially being a Top 3 QB selected.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Trey Lance, NDSU — Lance was the first freshman to ever win the Walter Payton Award. He threw for 2,786 yards, 28 TDs and zero interceptions while rushing for 1,100 yards and 14 TDs.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Elerson G. Smith, UNI — The 6-foot-7 DE is a preseason First Team All-American for us. Last year, Smith had 63 total tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 14 sacks, 14 QB hurries and five forced fumbles.
Most Returning All-Conference Players From 2019
Any returning player that had a 2019 on-field honor from their conference counts toward their team total, including honorable mentions and All-Newcomer Teams.
12 – North Dakota State
9 – Northern Iowa
8 – South Dakota
7 – Illinois State, South Dakota State
5 – Southern Illinois
4 – Indiana State
3 – Western Illinois, Youngstown State
0 – Missouri State
N/A – North Dakota
Most Returning All-American Players From 2019
Includes HERO Sports 1st Team, 2nd Team, 3rd Team, Sophomore, Freshman
8 – North Dakota State: DL Spencer Waege (Soph.), DB Michael Tutsie (Soph.), OL Nash Jensen (Soph.), LB Jackson Hankey (Soph.), WR Christian Watson (Soph.), OL Dillon Radunz (1st Team), OL Cordell Volson (2nd Team), QB Trey Lance (1st Team)
6 – Northern Iowa: WR Isaiah Weston (3rd Team), LB Bryce Flater (Soph.), DL Elerson Smith (3rd Team), DB Omar Brown (Freshman), QB Will McElvain (Freshman), K Matthew Cook (Freshman)
4 – South Dakota State: RB Pierre Strong Jr. (2nd Team), WR Cade Johnson (3rd Team), DL Quinton Hicks (Freshman), PR Jaxon Janke (Freshman)
3 – Illinois State: DB Charles Woods (Soph.), OL Drew Himmelman (3rd Team), DB Clayton Isbell (Freshman)
3 – South Dakota: OL Kian Rexroat-Potts (Freshman), OL Isaac Erbes (Freshman), LB Jakari Starling (Freshman)
2 – Southern Illinois: OL Beau Branyan (Freshman), RB Javon Williams Jr. (Freshman)
1 – Youngstown State: DL DeMarko Craig (Freshman)