Kolpack: Depth, not star power, is what wins Missouri Valley Football Conference titles
FARGO -- The ballots are mostly in and the winners for the Missouri Valley Football Conference all-preseason team will be announced on Aug. 2. But if you're a North Dakota State fan and you're going to be unproductive at work that day because you...
FARGO - The ballots are mostly in and the winners for the Missouri Valley Football Conference all-preseason team will be announced on Aug. 2. But if you’re a North Dakota State fan and you’re going to be unproductive at work that day because you’re constantly refreshing the Valley website waiting for that team to be released, you might want to reconsider.
The number of Bison all-preseason players in the last five years does not necessarily correlate into the finished product at the end of the season. Why? Because the league is so physical that, yes, you need some stars to lead the way but the team that ends up with the autobid to the FCS playoffs is almost always the deepest team.
You need players in this league more than stars.
There was no finer example than in 2012 when NDSU had just two - safety Colten Heagle and cornerback Marcus Williams - among the 28 on the preseason team. Indiana State, on the other hand, had six players named to that squad.
The Sycamores had a decent season finishing the Valley with a 5-3 record, but were left out of the playoffs at 7-4 overall. They had some star power starting with running back Shakir Bell, and had another four players named to the defensive team.
Statistically the Sycs measured up finishing second in the league in scoring defense, but the program has been haunted over the last several years of just not getting enough players to make it through the long haul.
Indiana State faltered at the finish line losing its last two games of 2012.
In NDSU’s last five FCS title years, the Bison have put the following number of players on the preseason team: five in 2011, two in 2012, 10 in 2013, seven in 2014 and three last year. That includes 12 on offense,12 on defense, punters, kickers, long snappers and return specialists.
The 2013 team was obviously the exception with a star-studded team that also happened to be deep. It went unbeaten and for a program to repeat that feat will take some extra-special circumstances.
The norm of a title team, however, is to have a handful of all-conference type players and another 30 capable of being productive on the field.
Again, we go to Terre Haute, Ind., as an example. Last year, the Sycamores had almost twice as many players as NDSU named to the Valley all-preseason team. It didn’t translate to the field - they went 3-5 in the league and 5-6 overall.
Three of the ISU all-preseason players were on defense - NDSU, by the way, had zero players named on defense - yet the Sycs gave up 31.5 points per game and over 400 yards of total offense per game. The Bison gave up 15.3 points per game and 270 yards of total defense, both of which led the league.
The nature of these teams is statistical in nature and good defenses don’t make for good statistical years with the exception of the scoring defense category. NDSU has been a master at time of possession (the number of minutes it has the ball in a game), and it’s hard to pile up the tackles when you’re on the sideline watching your offense control the ball.
Defensive end Kyle Emanuel, the 2014 Buck Buchanan Award winner that goes to the best defensive player in the FCS, never made a Valley all-preseason team. So if you’re looking for an indication of NDSU’s football fortunes this fall, you can start with the all-preseason team. It’s the Bison players that are not on that team, however, that will determine if Frisco will be in the picture again.