Missouri Valley FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Missouri Valley FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Missouri Valley FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Missouri Valley FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


The Missouri Valley Football Conference boasted five teams in the FCS Playoffs. Those five teams won a record ten games. Of course it was North Dakota State and Illinois State who paved the way and played for a national championship. But Indiana State, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State all won playoff games too. In fact, Indiana State was the only team to lose to somebody besides another team from the MVFC. It will be a tough act to follow, but once again it looks like the MVFC is ready to dominate the FCS football landscape.


1. North Dakota State

North Dakota State is going for their fifth straight title and there are plenty of familiar faces to lead them to another championship. Quarterback Carson Wentz highlights an offense that returns eight starters. Zach Vraa and R.J. Urzendowski will again be his favorite targets. Running back John Crockett and his 1,994 yards and 21 touchdowns are gone, but King Frazier, who rushed for 616 yards and four scores as a reserve, is ready to take over the starring role. The defense lost Kyle Emanuel and Carlton Littlejohn, but there is more than enough talent on the roster to replace them.


2. Illinois State

With running back Marshaun Coprich and quarterback Tre Roberson returning, Illinois State is ready to make another run at the FCS title game. Coprich rushed for 2,274 yards and 27 touchdowns, while Roberson threw for 3,221 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 1,029 yards and 11 more scores on the ground. Nobody really found a way to stop those two and the senior duo will give everybody in the MVFC fits yet again.


3. Northern Iowa

In back-to-back weeks Northern Iowa beat both Illinois State and North Dakota State last season. It saved their playoff hopes. The Panthers crushed Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the playoffs before running into Illinois State once again. This time, just a month after beating the Redbirds 42-28 in the regular season, UNI lost at Illinois State 41-21. The defense is strong, but Northern Iowa could struggle to replace running back David Johnson. Rutgers transfer Savon Huggins provides some hope for the offense though.


4. Youngstown State

Youngstown State made a big splash in the coaching carousel by hiring former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. Coach Pelini and his cat head back home to Youngstown and should provide a much needed spark to a team that lost their last three games in 2014 and missed the playoffs. Those three games were against Illinois State, Indiana State and North Dakota State, so losing is certainly understandable. The Penguins boast strong lines on both sides of the ball and that should help quarterback Hunter Wells and running back Martin Ruiz keep the offense rolling.


5. Indiana State

The Sycamores had a great turnaround season in 2014, going 8-6 overall and winning a playoff game against Eastern Kentucky. The defense is absolutely loaded with linebackers Connor Underwood and Kendall Walker joining defensive backs Mark Sewall, Travis Starks and Alex Stowers. Quarterback Mike Perish, who threw for 3,515 yards during his senior season, must be replaced. Backup Matt Adam and former Cal Bear Zach Kline will battle for the job.


6. Western Illinois

Western Illinois should be an interesting team to watch this season. The Leathernecks had an absolutely brutal schedule and they only played three FCS teams who were unranked at the time of the game. They won those three games and picked up victories over ranked squads Youngstown State and Indiana State as well. The slate is not much easier this season, but WIU seemed so close to getting over the hump. The defense, especially the secondary, must improve, but the offense is loaded. Quarterback Trenton Norvell (2,891 yards, 24 touchdowns) and receiver Lance Lenoir (1,030 yards, 7 touchdowns) should have plenty of time to operate behind an experienced line.


7. South Dakota State

Of all the MVFC playoff teams in 2014, South Dakota State appears to be in the worst shape. However, the Jackrabbits have been to the playoffs four years in a row, so writing them off is not a wise idea. Replacing running back Zach Zenner and his 2,019 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns is just the beginning. Also gone are quarterback Austin Sumner and receiver Jason Schneider. The good news is Zach Lujan spent time under center last season when Sumner was hurt and threw for 1,943 yards and 13 touchdowns. He will have receiver Jake Wieneke back too. Wieneke stole the show from Schneider as a freshman, catching 73 passes for 1,404 yards and 16 touchdowns.


8. Southern Illinois

The Salukis got off to a 5-1 start last year with the loss coming at Purdue. But as the MVFC schedule got tougher, Southern Illinois could not keep pace. They lost five of their last six to end up 6-6 on the year. The slate is similar this year with the tougher conference games in the second half of the season. If quarterback Mark Iannotti can find new weapons to replace tight end MyCole Pruitt, receiver Tay Willis and running back Malcolm Agnew, this is a team that could finish well above eighth in the conference.


9. Missouri State

Missouri State won just one conference game last year, against South Dakota, but they did beat Northwestern State, North Dakota and Central Arkansas out of conference. It is hard to fault the Bears for losing seven conference games when they did give Youngstown State, South Dakota State and Indiana State very tough games. But Missouri State brought in former Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel to take over the team. The front seven has experience, so Coach Steckel’s has some defensive playmakers to work with. The offense will rely heavily on running back Calan Crowder, who rushed for 766 yards and four touchdowns in 2014.


10. South Dakota

South Dakota is in the basement of the MVFC pecking order after finish 0-8 in conference play in 2014. But this was a very young Coyotes team last year and 20 starters are back to try and crawl their way up. It is hard to see where this team can pick up a conference win besides the home game against Missouri State. They do also get Southern Illinois and South Dakota State at home late in the year, but by then both of those teams should have filled the holes they have heading into the season.


Conference Game To Watch:

Northern Iowa at North Dakota State, October 10 – Just about every game in the conference is interesting, but the game we all want to see, a rematch of North Dakota State and Illinois State, is not happening during the regular season. So we will have to settle for North Dakota State looking for revenge against Northern Iowa. The Panthers held NDSU to just three points and a 13 point fourth quarter led to what looked like a relatively easy 23-3 victory.


Another Conference Game To Watch:

Northern Iowa at Illinois State, October 3 – Speaking of revenge, a week before UNI travels to North Dakota State, they head to Illinois State. The Panthers beat the Redbirds during the regular season, but lost at Illinois State when the two met again during the second round of the playoffs. Tre Roberson threw four touchdown passes in the playoffs and the Northern Iowa defense will again have their hands full.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

North Dakota State at Montana, August 29 – In 32 nonconference games against FCS opponents, MVFC teams lost just twice. That is absolutely amazing. The Bison will look to get a similar record started against Montana in the season’s debut game on August 29th against Montana. In the friendly confines of the Fargodome last year, NDSU beat Montana 22-10.


Another Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Eastern Illinois at Western Illinois, September 3 – If WIU is going to make a playoff push, they will need to win a nonconference game and avoid starting 0-3. With trips to Illinois and Coastal Carolina the next two games, their best shot is at home against Eastern Illinois. EIU is expected to be much better this year, but this is the type of game the MVFC was winning last year.


FBS Upset Watch:

Illinois State at Iowa, September 5 – With the exception of North Dakota State (good thinking FBS schools), every team in the conference will have at least one shot at an FBS team. There is certainly easier competition than Iowa, but Illinois State has the offensive firepower to give Iowa’s defense problems. The Hawkeyes have a strong defense this year, but they are breaking in a couple new defensive tackles and that could be a problem in the first game of the season. And just for fun, Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson made his first career start at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa back in 2011 while playing for Indiana. Roberson threw for 197 yards and one touchdown, while also leading the Hoosiers with 84 rushing yards in the 45-24 Iowa victory. Marshaun Coprich will give Roberson more help than that.


Another FBS Upset Watch:

Indiana State at Purdue, September 12 – Not to pick on the Big Ten (and this could just as easily be SIU at Indiana or WIU and Illinois), but Indiana State tends to play FBS teams pretty well. Last year they lost at Indiana 28-10 and beat Ball State 27-20. Purdue’s offense is nothing special and the Indiana State defense will keep them in this game. If the Sycamores can find a new quarterback in week one against Butler, week two at Purdue could be very interesting.


Top NFL Prospect:

Connor Underwood, LB, Indiana State – There is a lot to choose from here, but Connor Underwood has the size and production to be a rush linebacker or end at the next level. In his three years with Indiana State, Underwood has totaled 27.5 sacks and 52.5 tackles-for-loss. At 6-3 and 240 pounds, Underwood is a beast of a player and a big hitter.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

Jamal Brown was once committed to Western Michigan before joining Illinois State. The defensive back steps into a situation where Coach Brock Spack needs bodies in the secondary. It may be asking too much for a true freshman to step into a starting role, but Brown could be the team’s best playmaker in the secondary by the end of the year.


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews