Imagine saying the following sentence in 2014: The FCS Game of the Week no doubt belongs to North Dakota at South Dakota. But here we are in 2017, and two of the more impressive turnaround programs square off in Vermillion, S.D., this weekend.
UND, ranked No. 10 in the Coaches Poll, made the FCS playoffs for the first time in program history last year in Bubba Schweigert’s third season as head coach. He has increased UND’s win total by two every season.
Bob Nielson is in his second year as head coach for USD, who cracked the rankings at No. 23, and the Coyotes look poised for a run at their first FCS playoff berth at 2-0 and a win against FBS Bowling Green.
Both teams are on the rise. There’s no question about that. But we will get an answer to this big question on Saturday: Just how good are the Fighting Hawks and Coyotes?
Along with making the playoffs, UND won the Big Sky title last season, going 8-0 in league play. But several detractors pointed out the Fighting Hawks didn’t play the top teams in the conference and only beat teams like Idaho State, Montana State and Northern Arizona by one score. They also defeated USD 47-44 in double-overtime. The Coyotes went 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Another interesting nugget is the Fighting Hawks join the MVFC in 2020. This weekend gives UND a chance to prove it is a top team in the FCS that belongs in the high-powered Valley.
On the flip side, USD beat up on non-scholarship Drake and defeated Bowling Green 35-27. Bowling Green was 4-8 last season with a 27-26 win against UND. Any FBS win is impressive. But is it impressive enough to show USD can climb to the top half of its conference and not just compete with North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Youngstown State, but starting getting those resume-building wins?
The Coyotes lost five games by a touchdown or less in 2016. Defeating the reigning Big Sky champs may show they’re over that hump and a threat in the MVFC.
Other revealing games
Is Eastern Washington a good football team? Is Gage Gubrud a great, good or average quarterback? After two games, those are actual questions we are asking.
The Eagles have played Texas Tech and North Dakota State. An 0-2 start is understandable. But how they’ve lost and the struggles they’ve had on offense is alarming, even if three receivers with NFL talent are gone. Gubrud is completing just 50 percent of his passes with one touchdown and three interceptions.
If they don’t have success against Fordham, it could be a long season for the Eagles.
And as far as the Rams, they put up a clunker in a 64-6 loss to Army before squeezing by Central Connecticut State 38-31. The two performances have been underwhelming after coming into the season with big expectations with Kevin Anderson returning at quarterback and Chase Edmonds chasing the all-time rushing record. But Edmonds has ran for just 115 yards and one score this season, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He is nursing a bad ankle and hamstring and is questionable this weekend.
How about Howard so far this season? The Bison pulled off the biggest point-spread upset in NCAA history in Week 1, defeating UNLV 43-40 as 45-point underdogs. Then last week, they almost got a second straight FBS win, losing 38-31 to Kent State.
Out of the MEAC, Howard will get a chance to show its worth against a Top 10 team in the FCS, Richmond.
For the Spiders, they're trying to prove they’re still a Top 10 team. They gave up 683 yards in a 48-34 loss to No. 3 Sam Houston State. Then last week, Richmond barely edged No. 25 Colgate 20-17, needing 13 fourth quarter points to win.
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