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MVFC teams in battle for playoffs

FNS Photo by David Samson North Dakota State’s Colton Heagle returns an interception for a 35-yard touchdown against Indiana State on Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind.

FARGO — When it comes to getting more than two teams in the Division I FCS playoffs, the Missouri Valley Football Conference has some making up to do. The problem: They’ve been beating each other up.

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Of the five leagues that are considered the powers of the FCS, the Missouri Valley has the fewest teams with three or fewer losses. With four weeks left in the regular season, that’s not a good place to be.

“You would think the third place team in the Missouri Valley would have an automatic chance at making the playoffs,” said Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon. “But this year, it might not be that way. All we can do is play out the schedule and try to put a record out there that is respectable.”

North Dakota State is 8-0 overall and Youngstown State 7-1. The next five teams each have four losses.

The hope for Valley coaches is the FCS playoff selection committee takes the Gridiron Power Index into account more than it has in the past. The power poll has the Valley ranked as the toughest FCS league.

“But I have my skepticism,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “As you get to different parts of the country, I don’t think people on the selection committee recognize the amount of parity in the league. We can boast about our GPI rating, but for some reason, I get concerned for a school like Southern Illinois. I don’t think (the playoff committee) recognizes the skill level that comes into play.”

The Colonial Athletic Association has six teams with three or less defeats, led by Towson at 8-1 and Maine at 7-1. Delaware is 6-2 and James Madison and William and Mary each have three losses.

The Big Sky Conference has four teams with two losses each: Eastern Washington, Montana State, Northern Arizona and Montana. Southern Utah is in the hunt at 6-3.

The Southland Conference has four teams with three or less losses. With the departure of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to a FBS transition, the Southern Conference has lost power points and has three teams in the playoff hunt with three losses or less.

To catch a lot of these teams, the Missouri Valley needs at least one of the following scenarios to happen: South Dakota State to win three straight or SIU, Illinois State and the University of South Dakota to win four straight.

Illinois State and USD still have to travel to the Fargodome. SDSU still has to travel to Youngstown. SIU’s toughest game remaining on paper is at home against Illinois State.

“We’re in hopes every year to see as many teams from our league in the playoffs,” Bohl said. “Unfortunately, we beat ourselves up and eliminate ourselves.”

The FCS did increase the playoff field from 20 to 24 with three being at-large entrants. The last time a Valley school made the playoffs with four losses was NDSU in 2010 — and the Bison were the last team picked.

On the plus side, four-loss teams making the playoff field with an at-large berth is not unheard of. In 2009, 7-4 Weber State from the Big Sky got in. Maine and Texas State made it with four losses in 2008, the last year of the 16-team postseason field.

No at-large team with four losses made it last season.

“The league is very stout and I hope that is recognized when it comes time to pick teams from our league for the playoffs,” said Illinois State head coach Brock Spack. “We beat up on each other. I think our conference by far is the best league in the country.”

Yet, it’s debatable if that helps much. Northern Iowa didn’t make it at 7-4 in 2009 and Spack’s team didn’t make it at 7-4 in 2011. Indiana State and Youngstown didn’t make it with four defeats last year.

The FCS was considering using a Simple Rating System that apparently has more of a power ranking format built into it, but tabled it for another year.

“I don’t know what goes on behind those closed doors,” Spack said. “I’m biased. The conference is tremendous and we have tremendous schools.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.