We're nearing the halfway point of the Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule. And here's what we have so far:
- South Dakota is 3-0 in the conference and 6-0 overall while South Dakota State is 1-2 in Valley play.
- Illinois State, once 4-0, got blown out last week by Southern Illinois.
- Western Illinois is 4-0 on the road and 1-1 at home.
- Youngstown State is 3-3 and still looks like a Top 5 team in the FCS.
So, what surprises are we in for during Week 4 of games? Who knows, honestly. But here are five storylines to watch for Saturday.
COMPARISON TOOL: FCS Players | FCS Teams
Where is YSU at emotionally?
The national runner-ups are painfully close to being 6-0. With two straight losses to Top 10 teams by late field goals along with an overtime loss to FBS Pittsburgh to open the season, you have to question the psyche of the 3-3 Penguins. The team is unquestionably tough. But coming off emotional losses sometimes makes the week of prep work for the next opponent more challenging.
And the next hurdle is getting past Northern Iowa in the UNI-Dome. The Panthers just had a huge, dominating 38-18 win at No. 7 SDSU to get their season back on track. They smell blood after being 2-3. But YSU really needs a win here as well.
COMPARE: YSU vs. UNI
Can WIU stay perfect on the road at North Dakota State?
WIU didn’t have its first home game until Sept. 30, which was the conference opener. The Leathernecks play seven games on the road this season and just four at home. But so far, they are 4-0 on the road. Northern Arizona is a quality team out of the Big Sky Conference. Coastal Carolina is transitioning to the FBS. And the UNI-Dome is always tough. WIU went 3-0 in those away games and are 5-1 overall.
The biggest challenge is Saturday at the Fargodome, though. Most of NDSU’s regular season losses have actually come at home in its historic run since 2011. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Bison fans expected a competitive game against WIU in 2015 and NDSU ended up rolling 59-7.
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What’s the state of Illinois State football?
A promising 4-0 start is now a 4-2 season with back-to-back blowout losses. Losing at Northern Arizona isn’t terrible, but last week’s 42-7 loss at SIU makes you wonder what is happening in Normal, Illinois.
The Redbirds are just three seasons removed from the national championship game and have an experienced team this season. The defense has struggled these last two weeks. And in comes USD, the FCS leader in total offense. We’ll see if the home team can show some fight in its Homecoming game.
COMPARE: South Dakota vs. Illinois State
Does SDSU make any changes?
There’s just something off in Brookings right now. The Jackrabbits have gone from being considered the third best team in the country to not only being out of the conversation nationally, but in their own conference. They are 1-2 in Valley play with the record-setting offense from a year ago getting shut down in those losses.
Taryn Christion’s completion percentage has gone from 64.3 percent last season to 57.5 through the first six games this year. Tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke are combining to average 123 yards receiving per game, down from 200.7 in 2016. The defense, meanwhile, is giving up 20.2 points per game. The Jacks should blow out Missouri State this weekend. But we’ll see if this team figures it out the next two weeks at WIU and against NDSU.
COMPARE: South Dakota State vs. Missouri State
How does the playoff picture change after this weekend?
We’re getting to the point in the season where every MVFC game has huge implications on the postseason. It might be more true than ever this season after terrific nonconference performances. Seven teams are realistically in the hunt for a playoff spot. But that number will start to take a hit thanks to this weekend.
UNI vs. YSU is a massive game for both 3-3 teams. A loss possibly could cost UNI a shot at the playoffs with games against NDSU and USD remaining. YSU’s schedule eases up after this week, but a 7-4 record doesn’t get a seed. Going 8-3 is key for the Penguins to get homefield advantage early in the playoffs.
Illinois State desperately needs a win and USD can’t suffer its first loss this week against an inferior opponent. The Bison, even with one loss, can still get a top two seed at 10-1. But a loss to WIU puts a lot of pressure to win games against UNI, SDSU and USD. And people have gone from predicting the Jackrabbits as a national championship sleeper pick to questioning if they can even get a seed. They need to turn things around this week.