Which teams are for real in the Missouri Valley?

We’re three weeks into the college football season and that means a quarter of the season is in the books. After this weekend, every team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference will have played at least three games and the conference portion of the schedule kicks off next weekend with some very appetizing matchups. With that said, we’re not waiting around to see who’s going to be worthwhile or not, so we’ll break down the conference and separate the playoff contenders from pretenders. 

 

ILLINOIS STATE (0-2): The Redbirds appear to be one of those teams that probably scheduled themselves out of contention early on. They should beat Abilene Christian this week but they got throttled by Eastern Illinois last week and Panthers appear to be much improved. Illinois State isn’t even a pretender, they’re out. 

 

INDIANA STATE (1-2): The Trees looked good last weekend but that’s because they were playing Division II Quincy and so they should have won by the 70-7 margin they finished with. They faced two Big Ten teams in the opening weeks at Indiana and at Purdue, playing the Boilers close, 20-14. But this isn’t a team that’s going to run too far. Probably will finish with a .500 record. 

 

MISSOURI STATE (0-3): The Bears are bad and that’s unfortunate. They’ve played three games and all of them have been close but that middling program doesn’t look like it’s going to turn things around. All that said, they’re a team that spoil a season, especially at home. Both SDSU (Oct. 19) and UNI (Nov. 16) travel to Springfield, Mo., this year. 

 

NORTH DAKOTA STATE (3-0): I don’t even need to say it, do I? Of course, the Bison are contenders. Two straight national titles, a win over a BCS school in Kansas State and college football’s preeminent Saturday pregame show, College Gameday will be in Fargo this Saturday. That’s a surprise but nobody will be caught off-guard if the Bison are in Frisco, Texas in January playing for three-in-a-row. 

 

NORTHERN IOWA (2-0): The Panthers put these little Iowa decals on the back of their helmets to represent their state but UNI validated those claims by actually beating Iowa State in Ames. They’ve found their way back into Top 10, where they were stalwarts for all of those years. UNI should be a December contender, with a good defense and the nation’s second-best rusher behind Zach Zenner, David Johnson. 

 

SOUTH DAKOTA (1-1): Hey, these Coyotes aren’t too bad, especially when you consider they won one game in 2012. They get a good test in Flagstaff, Ariz., this week when they play Northern Arizona, who could be a playoff team. The Yotes aren’t contenders but at least their head coach can sing their fight song and play the piano. (Watch it on YouTube. It’s hilarious.) They can win five games this year but that’s the absolute maximum.

 

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (3-0): Don’t look now but this is probably SDSU’s best team ever, when you consider that they’ve got playmakers at every position and have never been this highly ranked at Division I. However, there’s no doubt the next two games will be a tremendous test: at Nebraska and home against NDSU. SDSU can certainly make a playoff run but the rest of September is worth watching. 

 

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (1-2): A huge week for Dale Lennon and the Salukis this week. They’re playing at Busch Stadium (yes, the baseball field where the St. Louis Cardinals play) against regional rival Southeast Missouri State and the game is important for setting the tone for the rest of the season. They played well at Illinois, with a chance to win on the final drive. Call them contenders, I say but not without a win this week. 

 

WESTERN ILLINOIS (2-1): The Leathernecks filled the annual role of the team that is bad but probably should have beaten Minnesota, leading 12-7 in the third quarter before the Gophers rallied. Before that, they beat up a couple patsies. They’re at UNLV this week for another paycheck and then get USD and Illinois State. They could legitimately squeeze seven wins from the schedule but I don’t think it’s a particularly strong team, especially on offense.

 

YOUNGSTOWN STATE (2-1): This very well could be Youngstown’s return to playoff prominence, especially with a good quarterback in Kurt Hess. The Penguins are going to want to rack up the wins early because they see the full gauntlet in the final three weeks: at UNI and then home games against NDSU and SDSU. Good luck.