If the Missouri Valley Football Conference is going to get a third team in the FCS playoffs, the Indiana State (6-4, 4-3 MVFC) at Western Illinois (5-5, 4-3 MVFC) is going to play a big role in that. Not only is the loser eliminated and the winner is at least a part of the bubble discussion, but there are a few other teams who could benefit from this game.
MVFC member Northern Iowa should be keeping a close eye on this one along with Big Sky teams Montana and Montana State.
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Let's look at some scenarios:
If Indiana State Wins
What happens to the winner: The Sycamores would improve to 7-4 and be the only MVFC team outside of North Dakota State and South Dakota State with more than six overall wins. However, they would only own six Division I victories. The Valley has gotten six D1-win teams into the bracket before and Indiana State would end the regular season on a five-game winning streak, giving them a decent argument to make the playoff field.
Who else benefits: The one team that could stand in the way of a 7-4 Indiana State team is UNI if it beats Missouri State at home to finish 6-5. The Panthers could argue they have the same number of D1 wins as the Sycamores, beat them 33-0 head-to-head in late September and also knocked off then-No. 2 SDSU.
However, UNI would end the regular season 2-2 in its last four games with some bad losses: 37-17 at Western Illinois and 31-10 at Youngstown State this past weekend, a place Indiana State beat the Penguins 43-17 a couple weeks prior.
It all depends on what the committee values more: who seems to be playing better later in the season or a decisive head-to-head at the start of the season.
If UNI does make the field, this definitely benefits Montana if the Griz defeat Montana State to finish 7-4. The Griz have a 26-23 head-to-head win on the Panthers.
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If Western Illinois Wins
What happens to the winner: The Leathernecks would have the best argument to be the third team in from the MVFC. Illinois State is out of the discussion at 6-5 because of a non-counter win and the Leathernecks would own head-to-head wins on Indiana State and UNI. Does this mean they're in the playoffs? No. But if the committee gives the Valley respect like it has in previous years, it will get a third team in and WIU should be that team.
Who else benefits: The winner of the Montana vs. Montana State game, who would finish 7-4 overall. The playoff scenarios in that game can be found here. A WIU win really helps MSU's case if the Bobcats also win. MSU owns a 26-23 season-opening win on the Leathernecks. One would imagine if a 6-5 WIU team gets in the playoffs, a 7-4 MSU team needs to be in as well.
WIU beating Indiana State would slightly help Montana if the Griz beat the Bobcats. The Leathernecks beat Montana 31-27 in September. Say whatever you want about quality losses, but having a loss to a playoff WIU team looks better than a loss to a non-playoff WIU team. And bubble teams are going to want as many data points, big or small, going in their favor.
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