FCS First Round Playoff Matchup: San Diego (Pioneer) at Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley)
Where: UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls, Iowa
When: Saturday, November 30th, 2:00 PM EST
TV/Streaming: ESPN3 (subscription req’d)
San Diego Toreros (9-2), Head Coach: Dale Lindsey
Pioneer Football League
San Diego, California
The PFL Champion Toreros enter their fourth straight trip to the FCS Playoffs. San Diego is also the PFL champions for the sixth year in a row and eighth time in the last nine years, are on a nine-game overall winning streak thanks to a recently-hot ground game within the nation’s second-best offense and a defense that has forced 26 turnovers.
The San Diego defense is not on the same level as the USD offense, but are more than respectable. The Toreros are 48th in total defense and 62nd in rushing defense.
The nine-game winning streak for USD is the third-longest active streak in the FCS. These two teams have never met before. USD is 0-2 all-time against teams from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, both of which are losses against North Dakota State in the FCS Playoffs (2016, 2017).
San Diego is 2-4 all-time in its four trips to the FCS Playoffs, with its last win occurring in 2017 at Northern Arizona in the first round.
The Toreros have advanced out of the first round twice in program history: 2016 (at Cal Poly) and 2017 (at NAU). In both cases, they lost to NDSU in the second round.
Last year, USD lost at Nicholls, 49-30. The Toreros fell behind 35-10 at halftime and trailed by as much as 42-10, but three straight touchdown in the second half to close the gap.
Key Player: QB Reid Sinnett is among the nation’s leaders and commanding one of the top offenses in the FCS He will need to lead a turnover free and make the right changes of calls at the line for the Toreros to pull off the upset. The reshirt senior is second in the FCS in passing efficiency (177.9), fourth in completion percentage (67.8%) and fifth in total offense (319.5). The Iowa native (Johnson) comes back to his home state and ranks fourth in the FCS in passing yards per game (303.7) and passing touchdowns (32).
Northern Iowa Panthers (8-4), Head Coach: Mark Farley
Missouri Valley Football Conference
Cedar Falls, Iowa
UNI is 8-4 on the year and finished the season in sole possession of second place in the MVFC and the Panthers may feel like they were slighted in not being a seeded team in this year’s playoff field. UNI lost in overtime to FBS Iowa State and also road games against top seeded North Dakota State, seventh seeded South Dakota State, and third seeded Weber State. The Panthers top win was another road win at another MVFC playoff team in Illinois State.
The Panthers have won because of their defense. UNI is 11th in the FCS in total defense, 14th in scoring defense, 32nd in tackles for loss and 17th in sacks. After four games with three or more turnovers, the Panthers are now 10th in the FCS and second in the MVFC in turnovers gained.
The Panthers makes its 21st Playoff Appearance and the fifth in six seasons. A season ago, the Panthers edged Lamar in the first round of the playoffs at home 16-13 but fell in the second round at UC Davis 23-17.
With this appearance, UNI is now tied with Eastern Kentucky for second all-time with 21 appearances in the FCS Playoffs. Only Montana (24) has more.
UNI again hosts this first round game inside the UNI-Dome–a place it has not lost this season (6-0).
The winner of the Toreros and Panthers match-up will face No. 7 seed South Dakota State on Saturday, December 7.
Key Player: QB Will McElvain is having an outstanding redshirt freshman season for the Panthers. He was twice named the MVFC Newcomer of the Week this year and has completed over 54 percent of his passes for 2,354 yards and 20 touchdowns. He only has six interceptions and added an additional 340 yards on the ground with another score. He has shown signs beyond his age and now that it is playoff time, he will have to continue to make good decisions for the Panthers to move on in the FCS tournament.
Fearless Prediction: The Panthers may have felt slighted for not getting a playoff seed despite finishing second in the MVFC standings and must not come out complacent in this game as USD in the past has shown it can complete with the major FCS conference teams and win. I believe, however, that with its strong defense, the Panthers will win this game fairly easily. Northern Iowa 31 San Diego 14
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Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football is the Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
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