College Sports Journal Missouri Valley Football Conference Game Previews: Week of 9/21/2019

Week 3 saw another good showing for the Missouri Valley Football Conference as a whole (See the recap here). The league went 6-3 as a whole in non-conference action. This week will be the last where the full conference has out-of-conference games with another nine games this week (Youngstown State is the lone conference team with a bye this week).

The biggest game this week again involves North Dakota State, who plays another Top 10 ranked team at home in the Big Sky’s UC Davis. This is one of five Big Sky-MVFC games this week, which includes the following:

Idaho State at Northern Iowa
Northern Arizona at Illinois State
South Dakota at Northern Colorado
Southern Utah at South Dakota State

The Big Sky leads the challenge 2 games to 1 thus far with one more game to be played next week (UNI @ Weber State).

Elsewhere, Missouri State has a challenge of its own with Top 10 ranked Big South member Kennesaw State at home. Indiana State and Western Illinois will play two Ohio Valley foes in Eastern Illinois and Tennessee Tech respectively.

And the final FBS game for the conference pits Southern Illinois at Arkansas State. The Salukis already own a FBS win earlier over UMass and will try to make it two in the same season for the first time since 1987 when Indiana State accomplished that feat.

Game of the Week

UC Davis (2-1) at North Dakota State (3-0)
Where: Fargodome, Fargo, N.D.
When: Saturday September 21st, 2:30 pm CDT
TV/Streaming: NBC North Daktoa / ESPN+ (subscription req’d)

UC Davis Aggies

The Aggies began its season with an FBS loss to California 27-13 and then narrowly escaped the Pioneer League’s and in-state foe San Diego 38-35 but bounced back last week in its home opener to blowout Lehigh 41-13. This team has a lot of returning talent from last year–a team that was a few game minutes away from defeating eventual finalist Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals last year. The Aggies have all but one of its top 10 receivers back this fall along with two productive running backs and four starting offensive linemen. The defense had seven starters so this team’s expectations are to not only make the playoffs but be a serious candidate for making it to the national title game.

The Aggies were once a very proud Division II school that did not have much success at the Division I level until last year under Coach Dan Hawkins. Last year was the first DI playoff appearance and first overall postseason game for the Aggies football team since it reached the DII playoffs in 2002.

UC Davis and NDSU were founding members of the Great West Football Conference in 2004 as both were in the midst of the Division I football transfer from the Division II ranks. The Bison won 3 of 4 meetings as conference foes. NDSU won the Great West in 2006 and joined the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008. UC Davis won Great West titles in 2005 and 2009 and remained a league member through its final season in 2011 before joining the Big Sky Conference in 2012.

Key Player: QB Jake Maier may not have seen an environment like the Fargodome so his play will be key to the Aggies success not just with this passing but trying to get UCD in the proper calls. The key for the Aggies will be to jump out to an early lead to quite the Bison home-standing crowd.


North Dakota State Bison

The Bison have yet really to be challenged in any of its first three games, including last week’s first road game (a 45-27 win) at Delaware, who like UC Davis was ranked in the Top 25 polls. The NDSU other blowout wins came against Butler (57-10) and instate rival North Dakota (38-7).

I have said this in my recap but this is really astounding what NDSU has been able to do with so many new starter (a number of which are freshman) as well as a freshman head coach in Matt Entz, who seems like he has the same kind of temperament and pursuit of perfection that his predecessors had.

UC Davis is one of four teams NDSU has played four times in the NCAA playoffs. The Bison are 3-1 against UC Davis in the playoffs, 2-2 against DII Pittsburg (KS) State, and 4-0 against both Sam Houston State and South Dakota State. The first four meetings between NDSU and UC Davis all came in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Aggies hosted semifinal games in 1982 and 1983 winning the first meeting 19-14 before falling to what now is known as Texas State in the 1982 title game (an Aggie team where current Coach Hawkins was a fullback). NDSU won 26-17 at Davis in 1983 before winning its first of five Division II crowns 41-21 over Central (OH) State. The Bison won back-to-back quarterfinals against UC Davis at home in 1984 (31-21) before a runner-up finish and 31-12 on the road in the 1985 championship season.

Key Player: QB Trey Lance continues to produce beyond his years. The redshirt-freshman leads the FCS in pass efficiency currently. He only has 10 incompletions with nine passing touchdowns through three games. Lance is 39 of 49 passing for 542 yards while spreading the ball to 13 different receivers. The Bison offense seems to have changed a little from its traditional run first mentality to one that might throw it first (or might be a number of quarterback draws. This type of game action will keep defenses guessing and will be a key in this game.

Fearless Prediction: If this game was at a neutral site or in Davis, I think this game might be close. I have to be honest that I thought there might be a little stumbling out of the gate for the Bison but this team looks really as good as last year’s undefeated, national title team looked. The Bison defense maybe giving up a little more but the offense has been ahead of last year’s team and overall. The Aggies nearly losing at San Diego caught my attention as one that the team might have been taking its opponent lightly. UC Davis will put up a fight and stay within striking distance for the first half but the Bison will pull away in the second half for a comfortable win. NDSU 38 UC Davis 21

Fearless predictions for the rest of the slate

Eastern Illinois at Indiana State | Terre Haute, Ind. • 1 pm ET [ESPN+ (subscription req’d)] The Sycamores got back on track last week against EKU and now get another OVC team in EIU. The Sycamores win a fairly close game in this one. ISUB 34 EIU 26

Kennesaw State at Missouri State | Springfield, Mo. • 2 pm CT [KOZL/ESPN+ (subscription req’d)]
The Bears get the Top 10 ranked Owls at home in this game. Unfortunately, the Bears stay winless after this game. KSU 36 MSU 20

South Dakota at Northern Colorado
| Greeley, Colo. • 3 pm CT [Pluto]
This is a battle of two winless teams of two former DII North Central Conference teams. The Coyotes come out on top here. USD 38 UNC 31

Tennessee Tech at Western Illinois
| Macomb, Ill. • 3 pm CT [ESPN3 (subscription req’d)]
WIU hosts the OVC Golden Eagles and will get a notch in the win column. WIU 31 TTU 21

Idaho State at UNI | Cedar Falls, Iowa • 4 pm CT [PSN/ESPN+ (subscription req’d)]
The Panthers are coming off a bye week and get the Big Sky Bengals in town this week. The Panthers roll in this one. UNI 41 ISU 24

Southern Utah at South Dakota State | Brookings, S.D. • 6 pm CT [Midco/ESPN+ (subscription req’d)]
SUU played two weeks ago at UNI and lost big. The same result will happen in Brookings with the Jacks. SDSU 38 SUU 17

Southern Illinois at Arkansas State [ESPN3] | Jonesboro, Ark. • 6 pm CT [ESPN3 (subscription req’d)]
Southern Illinois is on a two game win streak in including a win at another FBS team in UMass. It won’t happen twice though. ASU 45 SIU 28

Northern Arizona at Illinois State | Normal, Ill. • 6:30 p.m. [ESPN+ (subscription req’d)]
The Redbirds get to host the Lumberjacks, who already defeated Missouri State earlier this year. Illinois State is stronger and come out with the win in this one. ISUR 38 NAU 24