While many eyes will be in Brookings, two other games are noteworthy: South Dakota at Northern Iowa and Western Illinois at Illinois State. Both games could decide what happens when the FCS playoff committee comes together to form the 24-team bracket.
Here are 5 main storylines to pay attention to this weekend in the Missouri Valley Football Conference:
How good is SDSU?
The Jackrabbits unexpectedly began conference play 1-2. The two losses included their high-powered offense being shut down by two solid defenses. They look to have figured things out now, though, scoring 62 and 52 points the last two weeks. The 52 points were at WIU, SDSU’s first quality win of the season.
It’s still up in the air how good the Jacks are. They weren’t shy about their national title aspirations. But Youngstown State and UNI may have found a blueprint to stop SDSU’s passing attack. Now NDSU comes to town with the No. 1 passing defense in the FCS. We’ll get to see if the Jacks have turned the corner this season and are a championship-caliber team. [divider]
Does NDSU get revenge?
Sure, the Bison avenged their 19-17 loss to SDSU last October by defeating the Jacks 36-10 in the playoffs. But that was half the battle. Now NDSU wants to bring the Dakota Marker back to Fargo.
This rivalry continues to get more heated. A motivated NDSU team is a scary one. But as mentioned above, the Jacks are playing their best football of the season and are at home Saturday. This was one of the more anticipated games coming into the season. Even though SDSU might be out of the conference title hunt, the stakes remain high for this game. [divider]
Does WIU vs. Illinois State determine a playoff seed?
Perhaps no other game in the Valley has bigger playoff implications than this one. WIU is 5-3 and the Redbirds are 6-2. The Leathernecks may be able to clinch a seed with a win, assuming they handle their business against Southern Illinois and Indiana State to finished 8-3.
For the Redbirds, a win here is huge. Sitting at 7-2 is a good place to be when you look at their remaining schedule: at SDSU and against NDSU. Those two games are going to be absolute battles. So getting to seven wins this weekend is key. [divider]
What’s USD going to look like against UNI?
The Coyotes have two experienced defensive backs, one of which is a co-captain, suspended indefinitely with rape and attempted rape charges. UNI has big-play abilities in the passing game and will attack the defense through the air. USD quarterback Chris Streveler was knocked out of last week’s game with a shoulder injury, but appears to be ready to go. The Panthers defense is one of the most hard-hitting units in the FCS.
With all that said, it will be interesting to see how USD performs at the UNI-Dome. Currently 7-1, the Coyotes need to keep building momentum in order to earn a playoff seed. UNI, NDSU and SDSU stand in their way. [divider]
What kind of character does YSU have?
Here’s a postgame quote from YSU head coach Bo Pelini after last week’s 35-0 home loss to Illinois State: “That was an embarrassment. And obviously I’m the head coach. I’ve never been so disgusted in my whole life … That was the worst football team I’ve ever seen to play the game. Right across the board. Worst coached. Worst playing. No character. No heart. No discipline. No fundamentals.”
The loss dropped the Penguins to 1-4 in the Valley and 3-5 overall, likely eliminating them from the playoffs with only one quality win against SDSU. At one point this season YSU look like a Top 5 team in the FCS, even at 3-3 with close losses to Pittsburgh, USD and NDSU. But then there were back-to-back losses to UNI and the Redbirds. The 2016 national runner-ups are now on a four-game losing streak.
So what’s there to play for? Pride, your teammates and coaches, your school, your town, momentum for next season, etc. We’ll see if the Penguins buy into that. Especially after their head coach called them out last week.