The Missouri Valley Football Conference is once again well represented in the FCS playoffs. While it didn't send five teams like years past, the Valley got a 6-5 team in for the second year in a row. A few 7-4 teams from other conferences might not agree with it, but the bracket is stronger with more MVFC teams in it.
North Dakota State (10-1), South Dakota State (8-3), Youngstown State (8-3) and Illinois State (6-5) all made the field. NDSU is the No. 1 overall seed, while SDSU received No. 8, meaning yet another playoff showdown is possible. YSU and ISU are unseeded on opposite sides of the bracket and have solid opportunities to shake up the tournament if they make it to the second round.
From the Bison's perspective, this year's bracket is more favorable than last year's. Neither Cal Poly or San Diego, who play in the first round for the right to go up against NDSU, have experienced the Fargodome in the playoffs. The Dome reaches a new level when December rolls around, and the Bison have never lost in that building during the postseason.
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Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State on the other side of the bracket creates an easier road for NDSU. But a potential quarterfinal matchup with SDSU looms. This team is not intimidated by the Fargodome. Of course, the Dakota Marker is sitting in Brookings right now thanks to the Jackrabbits beating NDSU 19-17 on Oct. 15 in Fargo.
The committee could have avoided this rematch by giving the Jackrabbits the No. 7 seed and North Dakota No. 8. This would have given the old rivals of NDSU and UND a shot at the most talked about quarterfinal matchup in a long time. Instead, the Jacks and the Bison could meet for the third time in the playoffs since 2012. It almost happened a year ago, but Montana held on to defeat SDSU in the first round.
South Dakota State quarterback Taryn Christion (Photo: SDSU Athletics)
"Personally I wish they wouldn't do that," NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "Because I think it's a way of trying to ensure that there's not a two-Valley (title game) … It's too bad that every year South Dakota State and North Dakota State are potentially matched up against each other."
That's not to say either team or fan base should look too far ahead. Cal Poly defeated SDSU 38-31 on Sept. 17 and brings a tough option attack. Bison standout linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker went down with an MCL sprain against South Dakota. His timetable to return is questionable, and his absence would be noticeable against the impressive Cal Poly rushing attack.
The other first round game in that pod is Villanova against Saint Francis. Longtime head coach Adam Talley is in his final season at the helm with 'Nova. The Wildcats are playing hard for their head coach, and bring a terrific defense to the party. Brookings isn't exactly warm in December. Weather could be a factor in SDSU's prolific passing attack and the Jackrabbits may have to get it done on the ground. Villanova is third in the FCS in scoring defense and sixth in passing yards allowed.
If the Bison get past the quarterfinal round, you have to like their chances to make it back to Frisco. No. 4 James Madison's quarterback Bryan Schor is dealing with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. And No. 5 Sam Houston State's defense is still a question mark to many around the country.
A rematch with JSU in the title game, or a rematch of this season's overtime clash with EWU would likely await the Bison in Frisco. But both those teams may first have to get past MVFC teams in the second round.
If YSU can beat Samford in the first round, the Penguins would head to JSU. Bo Pelini's squad is always going to be coached up with a great defensive game plan. While the offense has been somewhat inconsistent, it put up 65 points on Missouri State last weekend. The Penguins rank sixth in the FCS in scoring defense, and they're an intriguing matchup for the Gamecocks and quarterback Eli Jenkins. On that list at No. 4, by the way, is JSU.
(Photo: Illinois State Athletics)
One of the best first round games could be Central Arkansas versus Illinois State. ISU snuck into the field at 6-5 out of the MVFC. But the Redbirds are on a roll with three straight wins, two of which were over ranked opponents. The Bears were a top eight team in the playoff committee polls during the last three weeks of the season. But their second loss of the season to SHSU last weekend dropped them from a bye to a first round game.
It's a tossup who wins that game, but it could be an indication of how strength of schedule prepares a team for the playoffs. And let's just say an ISU-EWU second-round game has the potential to be a classic.