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NDSU conference 'topsy-turvy'

FARGO -- The Missouri Valley Football Conference has reached the halfway point of its season, and even the best of psychics couldn't have predicted this. Take North Dakota State out of the equation, and topsy-turvy is the norm.

South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State - three topsy programs that were considered playoff caliber either this year, last year or both - occupy three of the four bottom spots in the league standings. At one point, UNI was 4-0 including a victory over Big 12 Conference foe Iowa State.

The Panthers were getting second-place votes behind NDSU in the FCS top 25 polls.

Now they're 0-3 in the league, and scrambling to get back in the FCS playoff picture.

"I would not have picked it that way at the beginning of the year," said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. "To say Northern Iowa is at the bottom of the league right now with three losses after beating Iowa State. We're at the meat of the conference schedule, and there's a lot to play for. I'm sure there will be some upsets as we finish out the season."

The Panthers are 0-3 along with Indiana State, NDSU's opponent Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind. The Sycamores were on the doorstep of the FCS playoffs last year before faltering late. They were the only team to beat the Bison, winning 17-14 at the Fargodome.

Now they're 1-6 overall and 0-3 in the league.

South Dakota State is turning in an equally disappointing season after being ranked in the top 10 for the first month of the season. The Jackrabbits, who reached the second round of the FCS playoffs last season, are 1-3 in the conference and 4-4 overall after getting thumped at Missouri State.

Meanwhile, the University of South Dakota, which was winless in the Valley last season, is a half-game out of first place at 3-1. The kicker was an overtime win at UNI last Saturday.

"That's Joe Glenn. He's a pretty resilient guy, and I also make it out to be that there's a lot of parity in our league," Bohl said, referring to the USD head coach. "Every Saturday somebody's going to go down, and they've been on the upside. The win over Northern Iowa is certainly impressive."

The Bison maintained their unanimous No. 1 standing in both the coaches and Sports Network top 25 polls. NDSU may be missing only backup linebacker Nick DeLuca at Indiana State. The freshman from Omaha, Neb., had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he's listed as doubtful.

Bohl said starting linebacker Carlton Littlejohn, who has missed the last two games with an MCL knee sprain, will return to the lineup. Backup linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker, who missed the Southern Illinois trip with a shoulder injury, should be back this week.

"Things look promising considering the types of injuries that we've had," Bohl said. "We came through the (SIU) game awfully healthy."