Missouri Valley football not for the faint of heart

Missouri Valley football not for the faint of heart

Two weeks ago, Western Illinois was flying the W and Illinois State’s Redbirds were flying low. Now, on the doorstep of November, the roles have been reversed.

Such is life in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

It’s Division-I football, so every game is tough. No game is a breeze,” said ISU safety Alec Kocour, whose team has since scored a pair of convincing wins over nationally ranked MVFC opponents. His Redbirds are 4-1 in the league standings.

There are no off weeks. Any team can beat you any week. Every week you have to prepare like it’s the best team in the conference. It’s tough. It’s almost like playing in an FBS conference,” said WIU offensive lineman James Torgerson, whose team has dropped two straight games to league foes. His Leathernecks are 2-3 in the conference standings.

What a difference a week (or two) makes

Flash back to Oct. 15:  Unranked Southern Illinois hammers Illinois State 42-7 at Saluki Stadium. SIU’s arrow was suddenly pointing upward and ISU’s was in a nosedive via a pair of one-sided losses to unranked teams (ISU lost to Northern Arizona 36-16 in a nonconference road game a week earlier).

Western Illinois outslugs Missouri State 49-30 to stake a 5-1 start. The Leathernecks jump into the Top 10 of one national poll.

Update:  Since those mid-October meetings, costume sales have risen and so has Illinois State’s stock. Head coach Brock Spack’s Redbirds have taken on a new persona and knocked off then-No. 4 South Dakota and last year’s national runnerup Youngstown State.

And since those mid-October meetings, leaves have fallen and so has Western Illinois’ stock. Head coach Charlie Fisher’s Leathernecks have lost to No. 2 North Dakota State and No. 11 South Dakota State in successive weeks.

The plot thickens

Both ISU and WIU are still very much in the playoff hunt. 

Illinois State hosts Western at noon Saturday.


Both teams have strong reasons for wanting the win. Throw in the fact that it’s the 100th meeting between the two rivals.

That is a big game, plus it’s the 100th meeting. There will be a big crowd for that one. It’s definitely a game we’re looking forward to,” Kocour said back at ISU’s media day in August.

Torgerson said, “It would be awesome to get a win in the 100th meeting, but it’s more important to this year. We haven’t beaten Illinois State since I’ve been here. I want to win more than anything.”

After Saturday’s clash, Illinois State plays South Dakota State on the road and North Dakota State at home. Western Illinois plays Indiana State on the road and Southern Illinois at home.

“With The Valley, that’s the way it is. We knew this was coming,” ISU senior kicker Sean Slattery said.

Dawg days

Following its rousing Homecoming triumph over ISU, Southern Illinois has seen mixed results.

SIU football

Head coach Nick Hill’s Salukis followed up the win over the Redbirds with another victory over a school that goes by ISU–Indiana State. Southern pulled away from winless Indiana State to post a 45-24 victory. Saluki quarterback Sam Straub threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. The junior from Ames, Iowa was on pace to challenge the MVFC regular season record for touchdown passes.

Things changed drastically on Saturday. Straub was injured and the Salukis were waylaid by No. 7 South Dakota 42-0.

“The margin for error in this league is very, very small,” Hill said afterward. “If you don’t come out and do the right thing in all phases of the game, things can get away from you, and we weren’t able to really get anything going.”

Final words

“To be honest, I don’t think this is just a 2017 quirk. For the last half decade, the MVFC has been the best conference in FCS from top-to-bottom. In any given month, a team could have four or five straight games against Top 25-caliber teams. If you look at the current Sagarin ratings, 7 of the best 8 teams in FCS are in the Missouri Valley. That’s insane.”

–Erik Pitzer, creator and operator of nobowls.com

“There are usually upsets, but what stands out is the margin of victory of some of these upsets. SIU over ISU is one. South Dakota State over WIU is another. ISU over YSU. Though it wasn’t an upset, the size of South Dakota’s victory over SIU fits the same bill. So does South Dakota State over Northern Iowa. Usually the games are tight. There have been some serious blow outs this season. One thing hasn’t changed, though. North Dakota State is still the best team. ”

–Mike Reis, SIU Saluki Radio

This conference season has felt like one big tilt-a-whirl.  Unpredictable, chaotic, and a constant reminder of the ruggedness of the Missouri Valley.  You have to bring the laser focus every week in order to be one of the premier teams atop the league.  Everybody else gets tossed around on any given Saturday and is left to pick up the pieces- how and if they will fit in the 24-team jigsaw puzzle that is the postseason.  It’s a matchup-driven league, so while I try to make sense of the lop-sided scores and head-scratching losses, it’s an impossible task this year.  It’s the beauty and confounding nature of college football, and it re-validates why the Missouri Valley conference is such a must-watch race week-to-week and respected league in the FCS.”

–Kelly Burke, host of the Valley Football “First and Goal” podcast



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