College football Week 12: What we learned

College football Week 12: What we learned

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Watch highlights from South Dakota State's win over the University of South Dakota on Saturday in Vermillion.

SDSU and USD have taken their football rivalry to another level in the last three years.(Photo: Briana Sanchez)

Before we get into the weekly recap and breakdown, a note on Saturday’s rivalry clash between South Dakota State and South Dakota.

It took the state’s biggest rivalry a while to get going again after USD moved up to the Division I level in 2012, but the last three meetings between the teams have all been excellent and entertaining football games, and Saturday’s 31-28 Jackrabbit win was the best yet, probably one of the best in the 100-plus years of the series.

I made mention of this on Twitter after the game, but it bears repeating here: There is some tremendous football being played in the Dakotas and Missouri Valley Football Conference right now.

When SDSU and North Dakota State took the Division I plunge in 2004, it was a highly controversial decision, and even those who supported the move were unsure of how it would play out. The North Central Conference was one of the best Division II leagues around – it kind of felt like the D2 Big Ten. It was understandable that people would be hesitant to break that up.

More than a decade later, it seems that from a football standpoint, things have worked out better than even the most blind optimist could’ve imagined.

Saturday’s game had an electric atmosphere, with two playoff-bound rivals locking horns in a game that was evenly-matched and well played. There was about the right amount of chippiness, and SDSU’s peculiar difficulties with cramps and other injuries give USD fans a conspiracy theory to stoke the fires until next year.

USD was led by Chris Streveler, a Big 10 transfer who in just two seasons has solidified himself as one of the best players to ever wear Coyote Red. SDSU was led by tight end Dallas Goedert, who made a spectacular one-hand catch that USD fans will play over in their minds every time they see Goedert playing on Sundays next year.

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More:South Dakota State nabs No. 5 seed in FCS playoffs

More:South Dakota Coyotes headed to FCS playoffs for first time in program history

The crowds are bigger. The stadiums are nicer. The rosters are peppered with potential NFL talent, and the emotion USD coach Bob Nielson struggled to contain in the postgame press conference indicates just how much is at stake in these games.

We haven’t even acknowledged what North Dakota State has done, winning five FCS titles and sending their last quarterback to the NFL where he’s already an MVP candidate; or the filter-down we see in the area Division II programs, where Sunday’s Vikings win was sparked by former NSIC stars Adam Thielen and CJ Ham.

The NCC created a storied football culture that thrived in Minnesota and the Dakotas for decades, but the breakup of the beloved conference has led to something even better.

FCS

The committee finally gave the Valley a break. SDSU and Northern Iowa are in the same quadrant of the bracket and will square off in second round if UNI wins its first round game vs Monmouth, but other than that, we finally have a 24-team playoff field that doesn’t force the best league in the Division to cannibalize itself.

SDSU will not have to go to Fargo under any circumstance. USD will not have to go to Brookings.

The Coyotes got a pretty good draw – Nicholls State is a team they should handle, even on the road (though it’s mildly surprising they couldn’t outbid them to host), and a second round matchup with 6th-seeded Sam Houston State is intriguing. The Coyotes would enter that game far more battle-tested than the Bearkats, who beat Nicholls State 66-17 earlier this year.

More:Zimmer: South Dakota State's win over South Dakota Coyotes the culmination of an impressive turnaround

SDSU’s draw seems a bit less favorable than USD’s given their differing circumstances, but it’s intriguing. They downplayed it on Sunday, but I’m sure SDSU players would love nothing more than to get another shot at UNI after they allowed the Panthers to embarrass them on homecoming a month ago. UNI played well that day, yes, but the Jacks played their worst game in years. Good spot for redemption.

I’d also like SDSU’s chances the next round should 4th-seeded Central Arkansas advance, and if the Jacks could survive a trip to Conway, Ark., what would be more fun than taking on the top-ranked, defending national champs in James Madison in the semis?

Then again, Western Illinois would get a shot at JMU before the Jacks. What if the Leathernecks pulled the upset? And what if USD knocked off Sam Houston and won again to reach the semis?

See where I’m going with this? We could – could– have an all-Missouri Valley final four: SDSU vs. Western Illinois and NDSU vs. USD.

If that happens, expect to see every playoff team from the Valley in 2018 placed in the same quadrant of the bracket.

I’m kidding. Sort of.

NSIC

It wasn’t a great weekend for the NSIC in the Division II playoffs. Top-ranked MSU-Mankato, the team many of us here in the Midwest felt got hosed out of the top seed in the region, needed overtime to defeat 7th-seeded Colorado State-Pueblo, the team many of us thought should not have even been in the playoffs.

More:MWSU rallies from 17-point deficit to end USF's season

And that was the NSIC’s bestshowing in the postseason. USF blew a 17-0 lead at Midwestern State on the way to a 24-20 loss in Texas, while 3rd-seeded Winona State lost at home to 6th-seed Texas A&M Commerce 20-6.

Considering this was practically a rebuilding year for USF, just getting into the playoffs was significant for the Cougars, and anything beyond that would’ve been gravy, but blowing a big lead has to sting.

And Winona getting whupped and Mankato barely surviving just doesn’t speak real well for the conference considering how much complaining their often is in regards to the NSIC’s playoff representation.

On the other hand, a few coaches and NSIC observers told me more than once this year that it was a down year in the conference when it came to overall talent, and perhaps the Week 1 results speak to that.

NAIA

Morningside (remember them?) won their playoff opener 63-7 over Sterling to improve to 12-0. They host St. Xavier this Saturday in the quarterfinals.

Is this the year the Mustangs finally win their first national championship? They were the only worthy challenger USF had in the Cougars’ GPAC days, and when USF left NAIA to join Division II it seemed to open the door for the Mustangs to win it all, but it still hasn’t happened yet.

The Mustangs were ranked 3rd in the final NAIA poll. No. 1? The USF Cougars. That is, Saint Francis (Ind.), the team South Dakota's USF beat in the 2006 NAIA title game.

Source : http://www.argusleader.com/story/sports/college/2017/11/20/college-football-week-12-what-we-learned/881742001/

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