In this week’s My Thought’s Exactly, Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson takes a look at the Missouri Valley Football Conference and break it down. He gives his thoughts on the teams, predictions on how they will finish and gives out some end of the season awards.
North Dakota State University Bison
Why not start with the best? The Bison will come in as the favorite to win the MVFC this year and a heavy favorite to repeat as National Champions. The two things that stand in their way is lack of senior leadership and a highly competitive conference. Teams like Illinois State and Indian State have been mention as possible dark horses when it comes to dethroning the champs. The usually suspects are Northern Iowa and Youngstown State.
NDSU’s greatest asset is their defensive depth, specifically in the secondary and on the line. Don’t expect teams to score a lot of points against the Green and Gold this year and when the defense does give the ball back to the offense, expect a much more explosive team. Young wide outs won’t deter Brock Jensen from making the throws and John Crockett will bring back memories of Lamar Gordon. Until, that is, we all realize Mr. Crockett is much better than Lamar.
Prediction: 9-2 Overall / 7-1 MFVC T-1st Place
They won’t lose at home, but road games against Colorado State and Illinois State will prove to be their only downfalls.
Team MVP: John Crockett
Illinois State University Redbirds
The Redbirds didn’t lose much from last year’s team in terms of production. Guys like Matt Brown (2,187 yards passing, 18 TD) and Tyrone Walker (787 yards receiving, 8 TD) are back for another crack at living up to expectations. Their biggest weakness will be in the running game as they lose 1,000 yard rusher Ashton Leggett to graduation.
The defense will also need to step up. This team could’ve been a playoff team if not for four road losses. This year, the schedule has ISU taking on three of those four teams in Normal, Ill. The defense is a year older and largely intact from last year. Look for a Shelby Harris (49 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 9 games played) to really emerge as a defensive nightmare on the interior line.
Prediction: 9-2 / 7/1 T-1st Place
Don’t think of this record as a stretch. They have Eastern Illinois, YSU and NDSU all at home. Those three teams beat them last year on the road. Expect losses to Eastern Michigan and UNI, but they will end the season with huge victories over Indiana State and NDSU.
Team MVP: Matt Brown
Youngstown State University Penguins
This team seems to be everybody’s favorite to upset the Bison this year in the MVFC. They return most of their offense, including their quarterback Kurt Hess (2,460 yards passing, 26 TD) running back Jamaine Cook (1,386 yards rushing, 13 TD) and their top two receivers Jelani Berassa (722 yards receiving, 6 TD) and Christian Bryan (522 yards receiving, 8 TD). They will be able to score with ease, but will they be able to finish a game? The Penguins were outscored in the fourth quarter 73-49 last year.
Losses to UNI and South Dakota State University hurt, but it was allowing Missouri State to outscore them 28-7 in the second half of the season finale last year that might have kept them out of the playoffs. They won’t get to exact revenge on MSU this year, but UNI and SDSU might not be so lucky.
Prediction: 8-3 / 6-2 T-3rd Place
They take on NDSU and ISU in back-to-back weeks on the road. Don’t expect any victories from those contests, but believe that they will finish the season on a 5-game winning streak.
Team MVP: Kurt Hess
University of Northern Iowa Panthers
The Panthers were good last year and could’ve been in the best team out of the MVFC going into the 2011 playoffs last year. They lost to Iowa State University by one point and got beat up by NDSU in the Fargodome. They will return a dual threat running back in David Johnson (822 yards rushing, 422 yards receiving, 12 total TD), but it is what they lose that bothers me.
MVFC Defensive Player of the Year L.J. Fort and his 184 tackles are now in Cleveland playing with the big boys. In fact, 506 of the teams 1,096 tackles are gone from last year. That’s 46 percent of UNI’s stops. Somebody will step into those roles, but the simple plays you came to expect from a stout “D” won’t come as easily.
Prediction: 7-4 / 6-2 T-3rd Place
They open up the season with Wisconsin, Iowa and Youngstown State all on the road. NDSU will come to town facing a 3 loss team and drop them to 1-4. A 6-game winning streak to finish the season might not be enough to get them into the playoffs.
Team MVP: David Johnson
Indiana State University Sycamores
Indiana State surprised a lot of people last year. The Sycamores started the season out 5-2, including a complete domination of Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky. It was the way the team finished, 1-3, that kept the team from making the playoffs. We have to remember that entering 2010, Indiana State had won just two conference game since 2005. Since then, it has been eight.
Players like quarterback Ronnie Fouch (2,064 yards passing, 18 TDs) and running back Shakir Bell (1,670 yards rushing, 14 TD) turned the team around on offense. Linebacker Aaron Archie (122 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss) and defensive lineman Ben Obaseki (69 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) are trying to do the same on defense.
Prediction: 7-4 / 5-3 5th Place
Even though most of the key players return, the field general Fouch will not and that is going to hurt. The Sycamores will be 5-1 going into a key match-up with NDSU in Fargo. That game will be the beginning of a tough 5-game run to end the season.
Team MVP: Shakir Bell
South Dakota State University Jackrabbits
The Jackrabbits had a great run in 2009, going 8-3 and had a 48-21 lead on the University of Montana in a first-round FCS playoff game. Then, it all fell apart and has continued on a downward spiral for the last couple years. The Jackrabbits gave up 40 unanswered points to Montana, losing 61-48, and went on to have back-to-back 5-6 seasons, including starting quarterback Thomas O’Brien leaving the team after the third game of the 2011 season.
Quarterback Austin Sumner took over after that and gave the team a great boost, throwing for 2,382 yards and 16 touchdowns. Also returning is wide out Aaron Rollin who went for 906 yards on 61 catches and 7 touchdowns. It is the rushing game on both sides of the ball that gave SDSU the most fits last year. If they find one on offense and stop it on defense, though could come up with some wins.
Prediction: 6-5 / 4-4 6th Place
They have an extremely tough conference road schedule, including visits to Indiana State, UNI and NDSU. A late October home game against Youngstown State could be the tipping point on whether or not they have a bounce back 7-win season.
Team MVP: Austin Sumner
Southern Illinois University Salukis
Talk about a team that has really taken a step back. A one point, this team was winning MVFC titles. Now, they are lucky to get out of a season with four wins. They have not done a good job of restocking their talent pool and continue on a downward spiral. Running back Jewel Hampton was the lone bright spot on last year’s team with 1,121 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. However, he is not coming back.
In fact, the Salukis don’t have much coming back in the way of talent. Defensively, guys like Kayon Swanson (9.5 tackles for loss), Kenneth Boatright (13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) and Jayson DiManche (42 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss) return, but that might not be enough.
Prediction: 3-8 / 2-6 7th Place
Losing the best player offensively hurts quite a bit for a team that is looking to rebound. Last year, they went through a 6-game losing streak. Expect that streak to repeat itself in 2012 as well.
Team MVP: Kayon Swanson.
University of South Dakota Coyotes
The ‘Yotes are entering their first full season as members of the MVFC. They’ve made some noise in their transition from D-II with big wins over the University of Minnesota in 2010 and a home victory over then number one Eastern Washington in 2011. They were also undefeated at home in 2011, going 6-0 in Vermillion, S.D.
It was the road that proved to be the biggest issue, as they lost all five games. It doesn’t help that you’re best player from last year, quarterback Dante Warren, (1,729 yards passing, 23 total TD) has graduated. The first year in the MVFC is going to be a rough one for USD, but brighter days are ahead.
Prediction: 3-8 / 1-7 T-8th Place
Dante Warren was a game changer and was the reason behind the success they saw in the transition years. Without him, they will struggle to find their identity on offense.
Team MVP: Tyler Starr
Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks
Last year, WIU couldn’t score and they couldn’t stop the opponent from crossing the goal line. They lost offensive star wide receiver Terriun Crump (61 catches, 944 yards receiving) and defensive star line backer Kevin Palermo (105 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss).
JUCO transfer quarterback Josh Hudson had a big year last year with 1,528 yards passing and 12 touchdowns in his first year under center. He’s going to need some help on the other side of the ball and from the receiving core if he wants to lead this team out of the basement of the MVFC.
Prediction: 3-8 / 1-7 T-8th Place
Their first road game is in Ames, Iowa against Iowa State and that will begin the downfall of the Fighting Leathernecks’ season. A late season visit to Missouri State will give WIU their lone MVFC victory on the season.
Team MVP: Josh Hudson
Missouri State University Bears
Missouri State had two wins all of last year. One of those wins, a 38-34 victory on the road against Youngstown State, essentially prevented the Penguins from reaching the FCS playoffs. MSU almost did the same thing to NDSU back in 2010, beating the Bison 3-0 in Springfield, Mo. Don’t expect the same upset specialties to happen in 2012.
MSU lost their two best offensive players in quarterback Trevor Wooden (2,420 total yards, 24 TD) and wide out Jermaine Saffold (911 yards receiving, 8 TD). Wooden’s loss might hurt more because Wooden was dismissed for violation of team rules. Because of this, the Bears will have to rely on inexperience at quarterback in the 2012 season.
Prediction: 1-10 / 1-7
Wooden was good enough for at least three wins during the season. No Wooden, a tough opening stretch of the schedule and you’re staring at a 10-loss season.
Team MVP: Andrew Beisel
Missouri Valley Football End of Year Awards
Coach of the Year: Brock Spack/Illinois State University
Offensive Player of the Year: John Crockett/North Dakota State University
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyler Starr/University of South Dakota
Number of Playoff Teams: 4
Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson is the prodcuer of the "Mike McFeely Show," which can be heard on 790-KFGO from 2-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can follow him Facebook or on Twitter @pintoKFGO.