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MVFC Newcomer North Dakota State Voted Preseason Favorite
ST. LOUIS – Most of the time, the new kid has to earn respect. North Dakota State already has respect in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
That surprises Tyler Roehl, a returning all-American running back for the Bison.
“I feel that we have got to earn it,” Roehl said Tuesday at the league’s media day after learning North Dakota State, a league newcomer, was named the preseason favorite in the Valley.
“We haven’t played a down yet and to be picked No. 1 is something we appreciate and it’s humbling,” Roehl added. “But it doesn’t mean anything. We have to go out and earn it.”
The Bison earned top billing by a slim margin and actually have two fewer first-place votes than second-place and defending league champion Northern Iowa. NDSU collected 289 points in balloting by league coaches, media members and sports information directors.
It was then well back to third-place Youngstown State, followed by Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and South Dakota State, the other newcomer.
All six have received some top-25 mention in various publications.
Missouri State checked in seventh, just ahead of Illinois State and Indiana State.
“It makes our conference better and even more competitive,” MSU offensive lineman Seth Reichert said of the Dakota schools. “We have to step up even more with a couple of great teams coming into our league.
“It’s going to make it even more fun.”
Bears coach Terry Allen might not fully agree with the “fun” part as an already challenging league – which is going by a new name after 23 years as the Gateway Football Conference – has become downright scary.
“No, I don’t think I would call it fun, but it will be interesting,” Allen said.
NDSU, ranked as high as No. 2 in some national preseason Football Championship Subdivision polls, has the credentials of a program to be reckoned with. The Bison posted 10-1 records the last two seasons and were No. 1 nationally for seven weeks last season.
Coach Craig Bohl’s team returns 43 lettermen, including eight starters on offense and eight on defense.
“We have the lion’s share of our team back,” Bohl said, noting 20 returning starters. “We feel good about our team going in but recognize the competition we are going to see in the Missouri Valley.”
Roehl said Valley teams and fans won’t get anything fancy from the Bison.
“We’re a blue-collar, hard-working team that brings its hard hats and comes to work every day,” said Roehl, a 232-pound senior who rushed for 1,431 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
“We’re a power football team. We like to establish the run on offense and stop the run on defense. We’re just a hard-nosed, Midwestern team.”
Both Dakota schools were in the Great West Conference as they completed the five-year transition period from Division II. They are eligible for the FCS playoffs for the first time.
The Bison and Jackrabbits both have some experience against Valley teams. NDSU defeated Illinois State last season, and SDSU lost to Youngstown State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State.
Youngstown State all-conference defensive lineman Mychal Savage said his advice to players on the newcomers is simple.
“Games in this conference almost always come down to a few plays,” Savage said. “It often comes right down to the end of the game.”
South Dakota State quarterback Ryan Berry said he knows what he’s getting into.
“This is the toughest conference in FCS football,” Berry said.
MSU placed three players – sophomore quarterback Cody Kirby, junior tight end Clay Harbor and sophomore offensive lineman David Arkin – on the preseason all-league team.
“That’s impressive,” Allen said. “Of the 11 all-conference players on offense, those three are underclassmen and the rest, except for one (NDSU junior lineman Keith Buckman), are seniors.
“That’s kind of the state of our football team. We’re still young, but we have some good young players.”
MSU finished 6-5 last season, a four-win improvement over 2006, and 3-4 in the Gateway.
“I think we’ll be better,” Allen said. “Whether we’ll win more games remains to be seen.”
Bears No. 7 in Valley poll
By Lyndal Scranton, The Springfield News-Leader (MO)