No. 1 North Dakota State hosting No. 3 South Dakota State lived up to the hype. Momentum swings, crushing hits, two senior quarterbacks dueling it out and a raucous Fargodome crowd were part of two legitimate FCS national title contenders. The Jackrabbits, as expected, weren't rattled by the home crowd with an early 7-0 lead. But like they've done so many times in the past, the Bison took their opponent's punches in stride and scored the lone fourth-quarter touchdown to win 21-17.
When you've won six of the last seven national titles, there's no panic on the sidelines or in the huddle. That winning mentality showed for NDSU late in the game.
So let's look at the big picture. With these two teams looking to be playoff powers, how does this impact the postseason picture?
For NDSU, the Bison control their own destiny. This was such an important win, because a loss meant having to finish the MVFC slate 7-0 to earn a No. 1 or 2 seed, and that's a tough task. The Bison can afford a loss anywhere on their schedule now, whether it's next week at Northern Iowa or in the final week versus Southern Illinois. A 10-1 NDSU team is going to get the No. 1 or 2 seed, even if a team like Kennesaw or Eastern Washington is undefeated against FCS opponents.
We've seen in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 the Bison suffer bad regular season losses and still get home-field advantage in the playoffs. So yes, while this win is big for conference standings and bringing the Dakota Marker back to Fargo, this is also a huge win for playoff seeding.
As far as SDSU, this is a tough loss to suffer this early in the season. This is still the second-best team in the Valley, especially after Illinois State lost a head-scratcher to Missouri State. And the second best team in the Valley is always going to get a playoff seed.
But now it's going to be an uphill battle for the Jacks to get a Top 4 seed. KSU and EWU are rolling and look like they could make it through this season with zero FCS losses. A one-loss SDSU team should be seeded in the Top 5 at the end of the year.
Easton Stick carries it in from 5 yards out, and we're back on top!
21-17 with 13:00 left. pic.twitter.com/h5gXfBjjii
— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) September 29, 2018
But here's why this early loss is massive. As stated above, finishing 7-0 is going to be incredibly hard for the Jacks. Road games include at Northern Iowa and Illinois State along with home games against Youngstown State and rival South Dakota.
No question this team proved today they can win out. But that's a gauntlet to finish this season 9-1.
SDSU shouldn't be punished with this loss and drop outside the Top 5 in the national rankings or the playoff seeding picture. But if a second loss happens, the consequence could be a No. 7 or 8 seed and an early trip to NDSU or James Madison.