2021 MISSOURI VALLEY FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
The Week Ahead
All 11 MVFC teams are in action with five conference games and a non-conference finale for Missouri State (at Dixie State). South Dakota, ranked 16th in both polls this week, will look to claim a share of the MVFC crown (and force a three- or four-way tie for first) as it visits Fargo to take on fourth-ranked North Dakota State.
Saturday, Nov. 20
Indiana State at Illinois State, 12 p.m. CT (Marquee SN/ESPN+)
Youngstown State at #17/15 Southern Illinois, 12 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
Western Illinois at RV UNI, 1 p.m. CT (ESPN3)
RV North Dakota at #12/13 South Dakota State, 2 p.m. CT (Midco/ESPN+)
#16/16 South Dakota at #4/4 North Dakota State, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC ND/Midco/ESPN+)
#14/14 Missouri State at Dixie State, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
The 2021 FCS football championship selection show is Sunday, Nov. 21 at 11:30 a.m. CT on ESPNU. The top eight seeds receive a first-round bye and the remaining 16 teams will play first-round games on Saturday, Nov. 27. The FCS Championship Game will be played in Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
North Dakota State claimed its 10th MVFC crown with its 49-17 win at Youngstown State last week. The Bison also claimed the league’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs with the win (NDSU would win tiebreaker against any possible tied teams for first).
Winning Against the Schedule
All 11 MVFC schools rank in the Top 17 of the Massey Index “Strength of Schedule.” Amazingly, MVFC schools hold the top 5 spots in SOS, led by Youngstown State (1), Missouri State (2), UNI (3), Western Illinois (4) and Indiana State (5). Weber State (5-5) and Eastern Washington (8-2) are the only schools (outside of seven schools from the MVFC) with a .500 or better record that also have a schedule strength in the Top 20. Only six FCS schools are ranked in the Top 25 of the Massey SOS rankings and are also ranked in the Top 25 polls (Stats Perform & AFCA coaches) -- the five ranked MVFC schools are joined only by Eastern Washington from the Big Sky.
Massey Ratings (SOS)
1. Youngstown State
2. Missouri State
4. Western Illinois
5. Indiana State
6. Idaho State
7. Southern Utah
8. Cal Poly
9. Southern Illinois
10. North Dakota
11. Illinois State
12. South Dakota
13. Northern Arizona
14. South Dakota State
15. Weber State
17. North Dakota State
Five MVFC teams are ranked in the Top 16 of the AFCA coaches Top 25 (and five in the Top 17 of the Stats Perform). UNI and North Dakota are among schools receiving votes. North Dakota State leads the MVFC in both polls, clocking in at No. 4 in each ranking this week. The MVFC is top-rated FCS league in the Sagarin, ahead of three FBS divisions (C-USA-West; MAC-East; Sun Belt-West).
Sagarin Ratings (FCS Conferences)
1. Missouri Valley Football
2. Big Sky
5. Ivy League
6. AQ7 (ASUN/WAC)
7. CAA Football
MVFC is 18-2 vs. the FCS
Missouri Valley Football schools have built its FCS-best record against peer conferences to 18-2.
2021 FCS Leaders
Missouri Valley 18-2
CAA Football 19-5
Ivy League 17-6
Big Sky 12-7
Missouri State rallied late to beat UNI, 34-27, marking the four time this season the Bears have engineered a game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The Bears have been a dominant second-half team this year, outscoring their opponents by 69 points in the third/fourth quarters. NDSU leads all MVFC teams at +115.
How Seed It Is
Since the NCAA playoff field expanded to 24 teams (in 2013), the Missouri Valley Football Conference has earned two of the top 8 seeds six of seven seasons (2014-19 -- every year except 2013). The 16-team field this past spring only seeded four teams.
MVFC Success in the Playoffs
The Missouri Valley Football Conference is 109-60 during the past 24 years in the FCS playoffs (since 1997). That includes 15 intra-conference matchups, meaning the league is 94-45 against teams from other leagues during that span. An MVFC team (Illinois State-1; North Dakota State-8; South Dakota State-1; Youngstown State-1) has played in the FCS championship game for 10-straight tournaments, an FCS record.
Ranked vs. Ranked
Counting two games last week there have been 208 games in league history in which two ranked MVFC teams played one another. The home team is 120-87, and the higher-ranked team has an all-time mark of 129-79. One game this week feature a matchup of two MVFC ranked teams as #16 South Dakota travels to #4 North Dakota State.
Counting NDSU and SIU this season, a league team has started Conference play with a 4-0 MVFC record 40 times in league history. Of the previous 38 occurrences, 32 teams made the playoffs, and 29 teams won/shared the league title. The MVFC has had two teams start 4-0 in the same season nine times, before this year most recently in 2014 when NDSU (5-0) and Illinois State (4-0) did it.
“Hail Mary” -- First Time Ever
South Dakota’s Jeremiah Webb’s 57-yard catch in the end zone on the final play of the game gave the Coyotes’ a 23-20 win against SDSU Saturday. It secured USD its first winning record in the Valley. Notably, it marked the first successful game-ending “Hail Mary” completion in league history. It marked the 16th time in conference games in which the game was decided on the final play of regulation. In addition, nine non-conference games, including one earlier this year (Indiana State Eastern Kentucky) have been decided on the last play of regulation. Only four games in MVFC history have ended on a pass play with no time left on the clock (two have occurred this year.)
Not Just in the Polls
In addition to the AFCA and Stats Perform Top 25 polls, the MVFC’s 11 schools are well-represented in all the metrics. In the Massey FCS ratings, the league holds 5 of the Top 8 spots, led by North Dakota State (1) and South Dakota State (2). All 11 members rank among the top 40 teams in that index, and the MVFC has seven of the top 14. In the Sagarin ratings, the league has five of the Top 8, including NDSU (1) and SDSU (2) at the top of all of FCS.
Against the FBS
Counting South Dakota State’s win at Colorado State on Sept. 3, MVFC schools have combined for 47 wins all-time against FBS opponents. During that last decade, the MVFC combined for 19 wins against FBS schools. The FCS has combined for 12 FBS wins during the 2021 fall season.
Big Sky-MVFC Challenge Series
The Missouri Valley Football Conference has won the 2021 Big Sky-MVFC Challenge Series. The 2021 season is the fifth year of the series. Last year’s series had no regular-season games, but the MVFC won both playoff meetings. The previous three seasons (2017-19) featured 26 total regular-season matchups. Including the six games this year, MVFC schools have a 20-12 overall edge in regular-season games played and have won the series each season (5-3 in 2017, 5-3 in 2018, 6-4 in 2019, 4-2 in 2021).
South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. leads the MVFC and ranks second in the FCS in rushing yards per game (124.5). Jaleel McLaughlin of Youngstown State ranks sixth (106.0). Notably, McLaughlin, who was a Division II star also, is the NCAA’s active rushing leader with 6,393 career yards, and Strong is No. 2 (4,086). Strong’s 15 rushing TDs rank second in the FCS.
Bison Rolling with Defense
North Dakota State currently leads the FCS in scoring defense (10.9 ppg) and ranks sixth in total defense (259.2 ypg) through its first 10 contests. The scoring defense average would be an all-time MVFC record. NDSU established the league’s scoring defense record in 2013 (11.3 ppg); and the Bison set the standard for fewest yards allowed in 2012 (235.1 ypg).
Youngstown State Still Perfect
Youngstown State has converted all of its trips into the Red Zone, and the Penguins are one of just two schools nationally (Southeast Missouri State) to do so. YSU has 22 trips into the Red Zone with 17 TDs (11 rush, 6 pass) and five FGs. South Dakota State is next-best in the MVFC as the Jackrabbits are 42 of 46 this season (8th in the FCS). Missouri State has converted 36 of 40 trips into the Red Zone to rank 11th in the FCS.
In a year that has seen several young Redbird players get their first game experience, those young players have often stepped up in big ways for the Redbirds and make big contributions in year one. That held true at North Dakota, as freshmen Joshua Wright and J’Kalon Carter started for the first time in their young careers on offense and each played well. Freshman tight end Brett Spaulding also showed up in a big way, as he broke free for a 28-yard touchdown catch from fellow freshman Jackson Waring to tie the game in the fourth quarter. It was Spaulding’s first career touchdown for the Redbirds, who have had five newcomers all score touchdowns this season.
Approaching A Milestone
Illinois State freshman running back Cole Mueller heads into the final game of the 2021 season with 878 yards and is just 122 yards rushing away from the 1,000 mark. If he were to eclipse that plateau, Mueller would become just the 16th player in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season and would crack the Top 20 single season rushing marks in program history. With a big game, he could also eclipse the freshman single-season rushing record set by Cameron Smith in 1993 of 1,016 yards.
Hendrix Streak Continues
Dante Hendrix continues his 26-game catch streak on Saturday afternoon as the redshirt junior wide receiver hauled in a game-high 10 receptions in the contest. It marked Hendrix’s second double-digit catch effort in the last four games and gave the Florence, Ky. native 32 receptions for 340 yards over the four-game span since returning from injury. Hendrix’s two-touchdown game was his first of the season and third of his career after hauling in a pair of one-yard scores on Saturday afternoon. He joins Phazione McClurge (Eastern Kentucky) as the lone Sycamore wide receivers with multi-touchdown receiving games in the 2021 season.
Ware/Henderson Shutting Down
The Sycamores’ dynamic duo is back in the defensive backfield as Indiana State welcomed back bookend cornerback Mekhi Ware to join JJ Henderson on the outside of the defensive attack. Ware returned to the field with an eight-tackle, two-pass breakup game and looked comfortable in his first action on the field in nearly two months, while Henderson continues to shine with two more breakups this past Saturday. Overall, Indiana State has posted 10 interceptions and 40 pass breakups as a defensive unit on the year with Henderson (2 INT, 9 PBUs) and Ware (6 PBUs) among the primary ball-hawks on the team this season.
Turning It Up
For the first time since 1990, the Bears have scored 30 or more points in 8 different ball games this. MSU has hit the 30-point plateau in 8 of its last 9 games overall and ranks 23rd nationally in scoring (32.5). The 1990 Bears -- also the last MSU team to win 8 games -- tallied 30 or more points on 10 occasions.
The Bears enter the final week of the regular season with the No. 2 strength of schedule rating, according to Massey, and the No. 6 SOS according to WarrenNolan -- both tops among ranked FCS programs. The Bears, who have locked up a top-two finish in the MVFC for a second straight season, are looking to secure back-to-back NCAA playoff berths for the first time since 1989-90.
Turner Becomes Sack King
Jaxson Turner of UND recorded a pair of sacks, including one in the fourth quarter, to become the program’s all-time leader for career sacks at the Division I level with 21.0. He leads the team with five sacks on the season, with four of them coming over the last three games.
Following back-to-back wins, North Dakota has worked its way back to a .500 record at 5-5 heading into the final game of the regular season. With the FCS playoffs still in thought, UND has a chance to secure its fourth straight winning season and sixth over the last seven years with a win over South Dakota State.
Big Play Bison Strike Again
North Dakota State is averaging a league-best 7.1 yards per play, which ranks third in the FCS. The Bison scored four touchdowns on drives of two plays or less last week and had seven plays of 40-plus yards including TD runs of 49 yards by Hunter Luepke, 50 yards by TaMerik Williams, 61 by Jalen Bussey and 84 by TK Marshall. Quarterback Cam Miller threw a 71-yard TD pass to Christian Watson and also had a 40-yard pass to tight end Josh Babicz. Marshall added a 60-yard run and was NDSU’s leading rusher at Youngstown State with three carries for 146 yards.
Williams Boosts Rushing Game
SMU transfer TaMerik Williams made his first career start at Youngstown State and finished with a career-high 18 carries and 137 yards with two touchdowns in the 49-17 Bison win. It was the most carries and yards by an NDSU running back this season. The Bison rolled for 454 yards on the ground – the most by NDSU in an MVFC game and the team’s second 400-yard rushing game this year. NDSU averaged 10.1 yards on 45 rushing attempts.
WR Isaiah Weston leads the FCS by averaging 24.68 yards per reception. He has 31 catches for 765 yards. North Dakota State’s Christian Watson ranks 9th-best (20.58).
Cook Tied for Third in FCS
PK Matthew Cook of UNI is joined by Missouri State’s Jose Pizano among the national leaders with 1.80 field goals per game. Cole Frahm of South Dakota State ranks 7th (1.60).
Hail South Dakota
Carson Camp’s 57-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Webb on the final play of the game gave South Dakota an improbable 23-20 win against rival South Dakota State Saturday inside the DakotaDome. It was the first time a Valley game was won on a Hail Mary pass. Webb entered the game with three career catches for 32 yards, but had six catches for 153 yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown.
South Dakota senior linebacker Jack Cochrane became the seventh player in program history to record 300 tackles during the Coyotes’ win against South Dakota State Saturday. Cochrane has started 37 consecutive games. He got his Valley-leading fourth interception of the season Saturday and leads South Dakota with 83 tackles including eight for loss this season.
Ending on a High Note
Since joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008, South Dakota State has fared well in its final regular season games of the season. The Jackrabbits have compiled an 11-2 record in those finales, including seven consecutive victories from 2008-14. SDSU faced this week’s opponent, North Dakota, in one of those season-ending matchups, posting a 21-0 victory at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium on Nov. 20, 2010.
Two Near Century Mark
South Dakota State kicker Cole Frahm and running back Pierre Strong, Jr. are both within striking distance of reaching the 100-point mark for the season heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against North Dakota. Frahm, a senior kicker from Omaha, Nebraska, leads the team with 92 points. Strong, a senior running back from Little Rock, Arkansas, has 90 on the strength of 15 touchdowns this season. He has scored a pair of touchdowns in a game six times this season to up his career rushing touchdown total to 37 (fourth in school history) and career points total to 240 (eighth in program history). Frahm and Strong would be the third Jackrabbit tandem in five seasons to hit the 100-point mark in the same year, joining Jake Wieneke (104) and Chase Vinatieri (103) in 2017, followed by Vinatieri (114) and Cade Johnson (102) in 2018.
Bock Racking Up Tackles
South Dakota State linebacker Adam Bock has posted consecutive double-figure games in tackles, collecting 13 in a Nov. 6 win over North Dakota State, followed by a 14-tackle performance Nov. 13 at South Dakota. With 88 stops this season, Bock has more than twice as many tackles as his next closest teammates — Isaiah Stalbird and Michael Griffin II with 41 each. A sophomore from Solon, Iowa, Bock has registered double figures in tackles five times this season — with a high of 17 Oct. 9 against Southern Illinois — and eight times in his career.
RB Javon Williams had his most productive game in six weeks when he ran for 79 yards and two TDs at Indiana St. Williams is one of SIU’s 11 career 2,000-yard rushers and is tied for 10th on the Salukis’ career rushing list with 2,021 yards. Williams moved into ninth place on the Salukis’ all-time scoring list with 210 points. His 35 career TDs are good for fourth place all time and his 33 career rushing TDs are good for third place all-time.
PK Nico Gualdoni moved into a sixth place on SIU’s career scoring list Saturday when he scored 11 points at Indiana State. He has 234 career points, 39 career field goals (4th place), and 117 PATs (5th place). Gualdoni and RB Javon Williams (Centralia, Ill.) are the only two Southern Illinoisans on SIU’s top 20 scoring list.
On Top of the Hill
Sixth year Head Coach Nick Hill tied Dick Towers (1967-73) for sixth place in SIU coaching wins with Saturday’s win at Indiana State. A win over Youngstown State would give Hill his winningest season as SIU’s coach and would give the school it’s winningest season since 2009. The Salukis would also clinch their highest MVFC finish under Hill with a win over the Penguins.
Coming Off a Bye Week
Western Illinois football enters its final week of regular-season play for the 2021 fall campaign, visiting Northern Iowa on Saturday (Nov. 20) for a 1 p.m. faceoff. WIU is coming off a bye week after falling to South Dakota on Nov. 6 during the team’s final fall showing at Hanson Field.
Leading the FCS
Three Leathernecks continue to lead the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in one or more stat categories: Darius Joiner (solo tackles and total tackles), Dennis Houston (receptions per game), and Michael Lawson (fumbles recovered, tied with nine other players).
Oliver Scoring TDs
WR Bryce Oliver has six receiving touchdowns, highlighted by two scores against South Dakota State and North Dakota State.
For the season, Oliver has 21 catches for 249 yards and six scores. He has receiving touchdowns against UIW, Indiana State, SDSU and NDSU. YSU had four receiving touchdowns in the seven-game spring season. This fall, Oliver has six of the Penguins’ nine receiving TDs, including the last five.
Crenshaw Makes Impact
QB Demeatric Crenshaw, a member of the Jerry Rice Award Watch List, has rushed for the second most yards in a season by a quarterback in school history. This season, Crenshaw has rushed for 569 yards on 120 carries and seven touchdowns. He has the most rushing TDs by a QB since Jeff Ryan had seven in 15 games in 1999. Ryan and Crenshaw are the only two QBs in school history to rush for more than 500 yards in a season. Ryan holds the record of 638 set back in 1999.
McFadden Having Best Year
PK Colt McFadden has been having the best year of his YSU career this campaign. McFadden is 8-of-9 on field-goal attempts and 24-of-25 on PAT tries. He opened the season making a 41-yard field goal at the end of regulation to tie the contest against UIW. In overtime, he added a 27-yard walk-off field goal in the 44-41 win. McFadden is 8-of-8 from 45 yards or less and his lone miss was a 56-yard try at UNI, which had the distance, but was just wide. In the spring, he made four of his final five kicks with the lone miss coming in a rainy-windy situation at Missouri State.