The 2016 South Dakota State football team accomplished a task that many former teams could not: win a Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Jackrabbits went north to the Fargodome to play the former five-time FCS champions. It was the first time the Jacks were able to beat North Dakota State University in the Fargodome since 2009.
This carried their season to their first ever top-eight seed in the FCS playoffs.
So what can we expect from SDSU next year?
SDSU is returning three of their top weapons in offense, two of which have been in discussions to be playing on Sundays. Tight end Dallas Goedert is a top NFL prospect.
For Goedert to improve even more in 2017, he must improve his run blocking ability.
No one is questioning Goedert’s physical status, but his technique can be sluggish and needs to improve.
Jake Wieneke is also coming back for his senior season. Look for him to continue his record-setting career at SDSU. He does have some downfalls, though.
One problem Wieneke could run into is when opposing defensive backs go into press coverage. Offensive Coordinator Eric Eidsness will have his hands full creating opportunities to get his top playmakers the ball.
The man throwing the ball for them is also solid. With a full season of starting, we can expect big things from quarterback Taryn Christion.
During the NDSU game, Christion showed how dynamic he can be, which benefits the Jacks who have struggled running the ball since the departure of running back Zach Zenner.
But Christion became a little inaccurate with his passes toward the end of the season, which could be something to watch during the start of the next season. If he struggles in 2017, the Jacks may just be dead in the water.
Running by committee was the theme for SDSU running backs Brady Mengarelli, Isaac Wallace and Mikey Daniels. Whoever the primary back in 2017 is has to manage to set up third downs that are in manageable range for easy first downs.
Yes, the Jacks have the ability to throw the ball all over the field. However, to win the MVFC again and to make a playoff run, they need a stable running game. Christion saw some time running in 2016 and led the team in rushing touchdowns with six in 2016.
If Christion is healthy and mature enough to take a bigger role in 2017, look for the Jacks to use him to get the running game going, which the Jacks need to come through next year.
The Jacks also need to step up their defense as a whole. If SDSU cannot stop the run, they will struggle, especially in the FCS playoffs.
One other key for the SDSU defense will be getting off the field on third downs, something that they had issues with during the season, specifically in the Fargodome during the FCS Playoffs. They get Christian Rozeboom back after a stellar freshman campaign, along with junior nose tackle Kellen Soulek.
The Jackrabbits have pieces in place to have a magical season in 2017, and hopefully into 2018.
The weight is on the shoulders of the upcoming returning seniors, who have now experienced what a deep playoff run feels like. They have tasted a MVFC championship, and it’s time to for a national championship.
Next year is the year to take a top-four seed spot in the playoffs and have a new team come play in the glacial temperatures of the Dana J. Dykehouse Stadium. There is no question that if the Jacks get home field advantage throughout the playoffs they will have a better shot to make it to Frisco, Texas.
It’s time for SDSU to stop being content with making the FCS playoffs. Instead they need to strive for a FCS Championship.
The road to Frisco starts now.