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Permalink 11/05/09 , CSN West, CSN Columns

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CSN West: Pioneer Football League Race is Three Headed to End Season

floated rightBy Kent Schmidt, CSN West Columnist

Kind of forgotten in this race for automatic and at-large FCS playoffs, the Pioneer Football League has a race that might top all conferences in the FCS ranks. While it is unlikely any PFL team will make the FCS playoffs, the winner of the conference still will get a postseason bid to the Gridiron Classic.

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The PFL has been ruled by San Diego, Drake and Dayton in prior seasons and last year had an anomaly of Jacksonville winning the conference.

This year, San Diego and Jacksonville will not be the champion as both have fizzled after being considered frontrunners to start the season. Dayton and Drake are undefeated and are in the race, as is one surprising team in Butler, which is one of just three undefeated teams left in FCS play (top-ranked Richmond and second-ranked Montana are the others).

Those three teams will all sit at 5-0 within PFL play and all play one another in the last weeks of the season to set up a sort of round-robin tournament to determine the winner of the league and be the host of the Gridiron Classic against the Northeast Conference winner.

How have each of these teams of Butler, Dayton and Drake raced out to 5-0 starts within PFL play?

None of the three have been completely dominant in their five conference victories thus far. In fact, Butler has not defeated a PFL team by much more than a touchdown.

The victory over Davidson last week was Butler’s fourth by seven points or less in five PFL outings and the Bulldogs’ fifth league game that was settled in the closing minutes. Butler has an overtime victory against Morehead State and a victory on the final play against San Diego.

Drake’s 7-1 record is the best start at the school since the 1998 team, which also went 7-1. The Bulldogs only have two victories that might be considered easy with their PFL opener at Marist (34-6) and home against Valparaiso (34-14).

Dayton, at least in terms of how it has defeated teams, has been the more dominant as the Flyers have won four games by larger margins of more than two touchdowns — at Morehead State (30-15), at Campbell (35-17), at home against Davidson (17-0) and at Valparaiso (38-7).

Drake’s only loss was to the Great West’s South Dakota on the road 51-21. Dayton’s only loss came in its season opener surprisingly against Urbana of Ohio — a Division II school that sits at 4-5 overall at this point — by a score of 13-10.

In other nonconference play, Dayton defeated the Northeast Conference’s Robert Morris (21-14) on the road and defeated fellow NEC member Duquesne at home (24-17).

Drake defeated two lower-division schools in NAIA Grand View of Iowa (22-0) and DII Missouri School of Science & Technology (19-0).

Butler defeated all three of its nonconference, lower Division III foes of Albion of Michigan (42-3), Franklin of Indiana (49-19),and Hanover of Indiana (42-21).

What are the remaining schedules for the three Pioneer Football League contenders?

Each of the next three weeks will have a game of the week that will pit two of the three contenders against one another.

This week, Butler plays at Dayton, while next week (Nov. 14) Dayton travels to Drake and in the final week (Nov. 21) Drake travels to Butler.

The teams’ other games have Drake hosting Campbell this week. Next week, Butler travels to Jacksonville and in the final week, Dayton hosts Marist.

How do I think the Pioneer Football League race will play out?

To be honest, there seems to be no real advantages of any of the three teams. Each has a road and home contest against the other two contenders.

Butler also has a tough road game against defending PFL champion Jacksonville while Drake and Dayton get (at least on paper) easier opponents in Campbell and Marist, respectively. Both the Bulldogs and Flyers will have these other games at home.

But to pick one of the three, I think Dayton is that team to beat. The Flyers, as mentioned, have looked more impressive in their league victories and also own two other Division I victories. Plus, they have won seven straight games.

But we shall see in the final three weeks. While other FCS conferences will have their races potentially finalized this week, the PFL will go down to the last week before we know who will win. And that’s the way this writer likes it.

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CSN WEST GAMES OF THE WEEK

Butler (8-0, 5-0) @ Dayton (7-1, 5-0), 1 p.m. Eastern


As mentioned, this starts the round-robin play for the three undefeated teams in the PFL. Butler is 8-0 for the first time since 1961. Dayton is a perennial power in the Pioneer Football League — having won or shared nine PFL championships, which is the most of any PFL school. The PFL began play in 1993. Butler, on the other hand, has just one PFL title — in 1994.

This game will pit two of the top quarterbacks in league play in Dayton’s Steve Valentino and Butler’s Andrew Huck. Both are in the top two in terms of rushing by a quarterback. Huck leads the PFL and ranks 20th FCS in total offense (256.5), where as Valentino is just behind and ranks second in total offense per game (255.6), third in rushing (72.5) and second in touchdowns (9).

Butler leads the PFL in scoring offense (30.8), total offense (400.9), first downs (180) and pass interceptions (12). The Bulldogs are tied for first in the league in turnover margin (+7).

And the Bulldog defense is not far behind. The Bulldogs are ranked 12th in FCS in total defense (270.13) and scoring defense (15.63). Dayton is second in the FCS in total defense (223.0) and fourth in scoring defense (12.13). Linebacker Nick Caldicott and defensive end Grant Hunter are the Bulldog defensive leaders.

Dayton leads FCS in total defense (208.7) and leads the PFL in scoring defense (11.9), pass defense (125.6), pass-efficiency defense (90.5), first downs allowed (10.3), opponent third-down conversions (20.6%) and red zone defense (62.5%).

With these statistics, I believe this game likely will be a low-scoring game given the two strong defenses. With this game, however, at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium, I believe Dayton will come out on top to hand Butler its first loss. I will take the Flyers by a touchdown. Dayton 21 Butler 14.

Southern Illinois (7-1, 6-0) @ South Dakota State (7-1, 6-0), 1 p.m. Central

A couple weeks ago, I had Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa as the game of the year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. No one told South Dakota State of this apparently, as this now is basically the MVFC championship game as the winner of this game will garner the league’s championship and automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. It marks the first time that two 6-0 MVFC record teams will meet in a contest.

SIU and SDSU have defeated the league favorite Northern Iowa and both have similar styles of running the ball first on offense. SDSU runningback Kyle Minett leads with 13 total touchdowns scored (12 rushing and one receiving) and he averages 110.8 rushing yards a game, which is sixth best in FCS. Quarterback Ryan Crawford returned in SDSU’s 17-3 victory last weekend after missing the previous three games with an injury. He has thrown for 912 yards in six games with six touchdowns. Thomas O’Brien has seen action under center as well — adding 744 yards passing with five touchdowns. The two have combined to throw just four interceptions.

Southern Illinois’ offense revolves around runningback Deji Karim is the nation’s second-leading rusher. Karim has averaged 139.1 yards per game and he has 1,113 yards with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2009. He also ranks second in all-purpose yardage with 195.4 per game and he averages 35.1 yards on his nine kickoff returns this year. SIU, however, will be without its starting quarterback Chris Dieker, who was injured two games ago. His backup freshman Paul McIntosh did perform well in the Salukis’ 33-0 triumph over Indiana State in throwing for 313 yards and touchdown.

This matchup, however, likely will be won on the defensive side of the ball. South Dakota State leads the nation by allowing just 11.4 points per game and will be going up against the Saluki offense that is 11th nationally in scoring offense by averaging nearly 34 points per game. The Saluki defense ranks eighth in the FCS by allowing just 14.1 points per game and it leads the league in sacks.

A year ago, the result between these two teams was quite different than I think this game will end. Last season, the Salukis won a shootout in Carbondale. Saluki kicker Kyle Dougherty made a 28-yard field goal and James Wheeler intercepted a pass in the last three minutes to give SIU a 38-35 triumph.

This year, I think the scoring will be much less. I know that earlier in the season, I didn’t think SDSU would be able to compete with the UNI and SIU, but its play has been making a believer out of me. I like SDSU by a field goal. SDSU 23 SIU 20.

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CSN WEST NEWS & NOTES

- Montana is on the verge of extending its record of consecutive Big Sky Conference championships to 12 following last week’s action. Montana beat Weber State 31-10 in Missoula, improving its conference record to 5-0 and handing Weber State its second league loss. Only Oklahoma, which won 14 straight title championships, has won more consecutive conference titles in the history of Division I football.

- Northern Arizona, which entered last week with 4-1 mark in BSC play, suffered a 27-24 upset at Sacramento State. Sacramento State trailed 24-17 at the half, but it shut out NAU in the second half. QB Jason Smith scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 2:09 left in the third quarter. NAU’s Matt Myers missed a 55-yard field goal try on the final play of the game.

- Eastern Washington linebacker Matt Johnson tied a Big Sky single-game record with four interceptions in the Eagles’ 47-10 triumph over Portland State. He’s the first player in 20 years to pick off four passes in a game in the Big Sky. Weber State’s Mike Babb picked off four Idaho State passes in a 1989 game.

- Montana State closed its 41-10 victory over Idaho State with 38 unanswered points. Montana State was led by runningback Aaron Mason, who came back from two weeks off due to a concussion to rush for 108 yards while senior quarterback Mark Iddins came off the bench to throw for 169 yards.

- Northern Colorado has three victories this season, matching its combined total for the first three years it was in the league. UNC defeated South Dakota last week 21-17 to get its third victory.

- Idaho State will retire 2003 Buchanan Award winner Jared Allen’s No. 41 this Saturday at Holt Arena. The Minnesota Vikings, his current NFL team, have a bye this weekend so Allen will be at the game.

- Southern Utah defeated visiting UC Davis, 56-35. In the game, Thunderbird runningback Major Gray rushed for an SUU-record tying four touchdowns, while quarterback Cade Cooper threw two touchdown passes to Tysson Poots.

- North Dakota’s Mitch Sutton rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Jake Landry passed for 181 yards and rushed for 92 more, including a touchdown in the Sioux 31-17 victory over Cal Poly.

- Missouri State tight end Clay Harbor posted his third 100-yard receiving game of the season – and second in three games – in the Bears’ 24-14 loss against Illinois State, pulling in eight passes for 102 yards. His eight receptions matched a career high and pushed him into first place on Missouri State’s career pass receptions list at 138.

- North Dakota State runningback Pat Paschall scored on a 24-yard run with 3:10 left and the defense came up with eight sacks and four turnovers to lead North Dakota State to a 14-7 victory over Western Illinois. North Dakota State (2-7, 1-5 MVFC) snapped a five-game losing streak with the victory, the program’s longest since 1975.