Valley, FCS playoff prospects are a mess
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Yes, North Dakota State’s victory over Missouri State was impressive. Quarterback Easton Stick was surgical early, the Bison defense could’ve been arrested for assault and larceny and if head coach Chris Klieman’s phone hasn’t been buzzing with job offers from bigger schools there is something wrong with the world.
But NDSU’s 48-7 crushing of the Bears wasn’t the most impressive Bison-connected victory Saturday. Not even close.
No, that would’ve been Minnesota State University Moorhead’s 13-10 win over St. Cloud State at frozen and ice-packed Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium. The victory got the Dragons to 8-3 and earned them a spot in the NCAA Division II Mineral Water Bowl, their first postseason game since 1994.
The Dragons are coached by former NDSU linebacker Steve Laqua, who has grinded against the odds in south Moorhead for eight years. Getting the Dragons to eight victories and an extra game is, with all due respect to three-time national champion head coach Klieman, more impressive than pounding sad-sack Missouri State into the Plaster Stadium turf.
Is it time to rename Nemzek Hall? Maybe Laqua Hall?
The MSUM win was only one of the wacky things that happened in college football.
The FCS Division I ranks, of which the Bison are king, was filled with upsets, shockers, head-scratchers and general chaos. Which has sort of been standard operating procedure this season in the division.
Take the Missouri Valley Football Conference, of which NDSU is again the champion, for example.
There are the Bison and there is second-place South Dakota State, which is rolling late in the season.
After that, there is a muddled mess of mediocrity.
Teams you thought were ready to make a late-season run were planted face-first Saturday. Teams you thought were ready to fold the tents broke some hearts. Up was down, down was up and the league might end up with an awful lot of teams sitting home in December.
Look what happened:
Down-and-out Youngstown State beat Northern Iowa 31-10, probably ending the Panthers’ playoff hopes.
Nose-diving South Dakota beat Western Illinois 17-12, probably sticking a knife in the Leathernecks’ postseason aspirations.
Once-lofty Illinois State fell 28-23 to Indiana State, which at 6-4 heading to the final weekend of the regular season might be the Valley’s best chance at getting a third team into the playoffs.
Just one problem with the feel-good Sycamores: They have a win against a Division II team, which doesn’t count in the eyes of the FCS playoff committee. So even if Indiana State wins at Western Illinois next Saturday, the Sycamores will only have six Division I wins.
There’s a chance the mighty Missouri Valley will only get two teams in the playoffs.
“What happened today in the league was a disaster,” was the assessment given by Missouri State athletic director Kyle Moats, the Valley representative on the playoff committee.
It’s ugly out there. Just like the rest of FCS.
Delaware, which controlled its fate in the powerful Colonial Athletic Conference, lost Saturday. Southeast Missouri State could’ve clinched the Ohio Valley Conference title, but lost. That opened the door for Jacksonville State to again claim that league’s automatic bid.
Out in the Big Sky Conference, league-leading UC Davis was clobbered by Eastern Washington. Davis was ranked third by the playoff committee a couple of weeks ago.
Another team that seemed to be rising for a possible seed, Elon, was drilled by Towson in the CAA.
The postseason field will be 24 teams. The question might be: Are there going to be 24 teams worthy of getting an invitation?
The other thing Moats and his committee friends will have to untangle is which eight teams deserve seeds and first-round byes?
NDSU, with Southern Illinois at the Fargodome to end the regular season, will be 11-0 and the clear top seed. I’d argue SDSU should be the No. 2 seed, if the Jackrabbits beat rival South Dakota. And James Madison, which seemed to solve its offensive issues by scoring 48 points in an easy win over Rhode Island, could be in the conversation for the third seed if the Dukes defeat Towson. Or maybe it could be Weber State.
Kennesaw State, Eastern Washington, Wofford, Maine, Jacksonville State and Colgate all might be among the other seeded teams — depending on who wins and loses on the last weekend.
And Bison fans will love this: North Dakota, once left for dead, will finish 7-4 if the Fighting Hawks are able to beat Northern Arizona. That would give them a chance for an at-large bid.
One more Saturday of games and so many possibilities. All dependent on who wins and loses.
With the way the Valley and FCS are going this year, who knows how this will turn out?