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Dakotas could further cloud playoff race
Four teams from the Missouri Valley Football Conference (formerly the Gateway) made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2003.
Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois University tied for first place in the league at 6-1. Western Illinois and Western Kentucky, both 5-2 in the league, tied for third.
For the only time in the history of the MVFC, four teams made the postseason. SIU fell 48-7 to Delaware, the eventual national champions. Western Illinois and Western Kentucky fell in the first round. Northern Iowa lost in the second round to the Blue Hens, 37-7.
This season Valley football might have the credentials to get four in again, but the records to deter the selection committee from making it so. Five MVFC teams were picked in The Sporting News’ preseason top 25. Three were picked to finish in the top 10 - UNI (third), North Dakota State (eighth) and Youngstown State (ninth).
With that kind of competition, the first nine-team MVFC could produce a champion with two, three, or, possibly, even four losses.
“That’s the hard part, if you will, when you come from a good conference, because you’re knocking each other out, because, as a league, you want to be strong, nationally,” Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said. “Yet, we all want to be there, individually, in the end.”
SIU, which reached the national semifinals last season, came in 21st in the country and was picked to finish fourth in its own league.
“From top to bottom, this is probably the best conference in FCS football,” South Dakota State quarterback Ryan Berry said.
Not necessarily. The 14-team Colonial Athletic Association boasts the national runner-up (Delaware), the No. 2-ranked team in The Sporting News’ poll (James Madison) and two teams that were picked to be better than both of them. Massachusetts and Richmond were picked to win the CAA’s North and South Divisions in the league’s preseason poll.
The CAA is the only FCS league ever to send five teams to the playoffs, when it did last year. Four CAA teams made the postseason in 2004.
SIU offensive lineman Aaron Lockwood is hoping for a performance like that from the MVFC.
“Just like the Colonial League, they got five teams in last year,” Lockwood said. “It could be the same thing with the Missouri Valley Football Conference this year. That level of play may now be in the MVFC, where as this year we may get a team that’s 7-4 in there.”
Valley football was pretty formidable before SDSU and NDSU entered the mix. The league produced two national champions and has had at least two teams make the playoffs every year since 1985. It’s also the only league in the country that has placed all of its members in the postseason at least once since 1978, not including SDSU and NDSU.
The Jackrabbits finished 7-4 last season and return 14 starters this fall. Like the Bison, they’ll probably have a little extra motivation, as they’re finally eligible for the postseason after completing the five-year transition from Division II to the FCS.
South Dakota State also has a favorable schedule. The Jackrabbits host YSU and WIU early in the year and goes to UNI Sept. 20. SDSU plays the Salukis and Bison on the road to close the regular season.
“We know it’s going to be tough competition, which is what we want,” SDSU quarterback Ryan Berry said. “It’ll be good for us.”
The Bison, picked to win the league, return 17 starters from a 10-1 squad that lost its last game.
“We got five or six teams in the top 25, so, you can’t look past anybody week in and week out,” Bison running back Tyler Roehl said.
Patty Viverito, the MVFC commissioner, said she brought in the two Dakota schools to make the league as good as it could possibly be. With the FCS expanding its field to 20 teams in 2010, she said, Valley football could be in good position to take advantage of more available at-large berths.
“We just have to believe that when you bring in strength, it motivates everybody to get better, and, so, that’s the principle,” Viverito said. “I will tell you the dogfight for the (automatic qualifier) just got harder. The season to put together an at-large didn’t come easier, but, the saving grace is, we’re looking at expanding those playoffs. We are positioned to be one of those leagues that can really take advantage, and capitalize on those opportunities when they become available.”
By Todd Hefferman