CSJ Roundtable, Week of 2/27/21: What The Hell Did We Just Witness?

As our columnist Preston Adams said this week: “Oh. My. Goodness.

Like many other football fans across the nation of FCS, we watched North Dakota State’s 39 game winning streak come to an end in Carbondale, Illinois, but it wasn’t the only event this weekend that had us shaking our heads.

After the carnage was complete, we had to gather and discuss what the hell we just saw. So we did – and here’s the results.

To get caught up on all the results and links to all the official recaps and even links to video highlights of most of the carnage this weekend, click here.

To listen to our columnist Jamie Williams sitting in on the FCS Nation Podcast, talking about the carnage there, check out below.

College Sports Journal: What the hell just happened????

ROB BUTLER: How big was Southern Illinois’ win over North Dakota State? It had been the third-longest winning streak in Division I history, behind Oklahoma’s 47 from 1953 to 1957 and Washington’s 40 from 1908 to 1914. Furthermore, it was NDSU’s second-worst loss since becoming a Division I team in 2004, behind only a 37-6 loss to Cal Poly in 2005.

KENT SCHMIDT: Yes, NDSU lost its first game in 40 contests to a very good Southern Illinois team. I know everyone will say that SIU just lost at North Dakota in a similar blowout fashion in Week One of the spring but having watched both games, it was a different SIU team that played NDSU. SIU turned it over five times that led to that loss in Week 1 and to be quite frank, SIU basically quit in the second half after getting down a couple of touchdowns.

NDSU had two key turnovers by QB Zeb Noland (fumble and interception) that led to two touchdowns for SIU. It shows how critical turnovers in a game can be and how it can turn a game around.

At the time of the first turnover, NDSU seemed to finally find its offense in getting a couple of key first downs and were driving when trailing 17-7 mid-way through the third quarter. If that drive instead goes for a score, rather than a turnover, this game may have turned the other direction. There are six and possibly seven quality teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference this spring and after two weeks it shows that this will be a race that I think will likely be won with a team with at least two losses in conference play.

CHUCK BURTON: Lost in the earthquake of Southern Illinois’ win and North Dakota’s win was South Dakota’s win over Illinois State 27-20. The Coyotes’ defense didn’t just force seven turnovers against a top Missouri Valley contender – a true freshman, Carson Camp, led the Coyotes to a win which, in any other week, would be the upset of the week.

I mean, who thought back in January a Thursday football game in March between North Dakota and South Dakota would be a must-watch game on ESPN+? It’s become one.

PRESTON ADAMS: My biggest takeaway was this: Over half the active top 25 teams lost on Saturday, and some of them lost incredibly ugly. One or two upsets is one thing, but what we saw was unprecedented.

JAMIE WILLIAMS: This biggest chaos came from the Missouri Valley. It sure seemed upside down this week. Southern Illinois made the big splash ending the Bison’s streak. North Dakota has two huge wins under its belt already. And North Dakota State was very underwhelming. They have a problem on offense, starting with the quarterback. They didn’t run the ball especially well either. South Dakota State got a nice performance from Gronowski and the Janke twins. They’re still good. But Illinois State is not good. Seven turnovers will never get it done.

BEN SCHLEIGER: Any given Saturday, anything can happen. NDSU can lose, SDSU can lose, North Dakota can lead the MVFC, the refs can look away when a field goal is being kicked, lightning can delay a game in February, and whatever other very real but unlikely headlines that happened this past weekend. During this pandemic, season expect nothing and enjoy the rollercoaster ride this season will provide.

CSJ: No, seriously, what the hell just happened????

BEN: Chaos and parity are on the way, at least temporarily. Although some may disagree, I believe this is necessary and beneficial to FCS fans alike since a change of power even for a week is refreshing. New competition at the top just encourages further advancement of the skill and cunningness of the teams shooting to be in that top spot. NDSU did lose this week, but pump the breaks on the world is ending narrative. If any team is a win factory and knows how to produce them it would the Bison of all teams. Next week should be an easier road game for the Bison to try out some different QB scenarios in an effort to energize the offense. Missouri State although should not be looked over since they kept their games against Central Arkansas to only one and two score losses.

CHUCK: You know it’s an unbelievable week when Kennesaw State’s cupcake of a cupcake opponent, Division II Shorter, held a 3-0 lead over the Owls until midway through the second quarter, and it doesn’t even land on the Top Ten Crazy moments this week! How big of a patsy was Shorter? THEY WERE 1-43 IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF COMPETITION, their only win coming against an NAIA School, Allen. Kennesaw State ended up winning comfortably 35-3, but Shorter was such a patsy that their really sketchy start has to be judged harshly.

JAMIE: The Southland showed they have three teams who may be as good as anyone. Nicholls has not played anyone tough, Nicholls hammered both teams the way they should have. They look like a solid top five team at this point. Sam Houston looked good against a good Southeastern Louisiana. Incarnate Word looked pretty good on offense. The Southland looks like it could get two at large if teams keep performing.

CHUCK: Sam Houston beat Southeastern Louisiana 43-38 in a hugely entertaining shootout, yet it barely cracks the Top Ten discussion points for the week.

ROB: Behind the play of true freshman quarterback Cameron Ward, Incarnate Word routed McNeese 48-20 Saturday afternoon in the Southland
Conference opener for both teams. The loss was the first in a home opener for the Cowboys since 2004. And Dixie State made the most of its Division I football debut Saturday, as the underdog Trailblazers knocked off No. 22 Tarleton State 26-14 at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas.

PRESTON: NDSU lost their winning streak not going down swinging but with a whimper. North Dakota looks like they might be the most complete team. Conferences we thought would be locked up (CAA, Big Sky, SoCon) all now wide open. It feels like a free for all in the spring!

KENT: North Dakota beating South Dakota State 28-17 and South Dakota defeating Illinois State further shows the depth of this league. The teams this spring will continue to knock each other off as NDSU has come back to the pack. Losing two Top 40 NFL talents in QB Trey Lance and OT Dillion Radunz, along with another season ending injury to starting RB Seth Wilson has shown that even the Bison are not just a plug and play team.

The Bison offense seems to be calling plays meant more for Lance and not for Noland. Noland is not much of a running signal caller and yet it is the same plays we say with Lance under center last year with read options that the opposing defense knows will almost never go to Noland keeping the ball. This will have to change for NDSU to continue its conference dominance it has seen over the past decade.

CSJ: Nationally, how does North Dakota State’s loss (and the overall rock-em sock-em nature of the MFVC this spring) affect the national picture and seeding for the playoffs down the road?

KENT: The MVFC will likely continue to be ranked as the top conference despite not having a dominant top team this spring. As I mentioned before, this league will likely have several two and three loss teams. Will the playoff committee look at the league as a whole or will a one-or-two- loss conference runner-up in lesser ranked league be selected over them? I fully expect two at-large bids still coming from the MVFC being selected this spring if the past is any indication for the playoff committee even though record-wise, the MVFC teams may have more losses. As for the rankings, the MVFC conference titlist will still be a playoff seed but likely will be tough to be a top 1 or 2 seed. Also remember, NDSU beat a Southland team (Central Arkansas) and SIU beat a OVC team (SEMO) last fall. Those two wins will help the MVFC in the eyes of the committee. But an undefeated Weber State and/or James Madison will get the higher seeds over what I think will be a two-loss MVFC champion.

BEN: Normally this would be too early to talk playoffs, but each loss across the country narrows the competition each week. NDSU is far from out of the playoffs. The more severe problem to address is the functionality of the offense and QB play. No matter the talent, gameplan, and situation NDSU needs to fix its productivity. The MVFC like the SoCon and a few other conferences will become ugly dogfights in which everyone is clawing over each other to reach the top. This will now become a week-to-week situation to put a microscope on.

ROB: With a smaller FCS playoff bracket this spring – 16 teams instead of 24 – the Bison might not be able to afford another loss if they want to make the field. The MVFC schedule is its own beast.

JAMIE: What a lot of people will think is that the Valley is so good that they just beat up on each other. I actually think the Valley may be down this spring. North Dakota State has actual flaws they cant cover up for once. Northern Iowa really struggles on offense. South Dakota State looks like a pretty complete team, but North Dakota just ran them over. Illinois State showed itself to be extremely over rated. As we go through the spring I think we see the Valley as a two bid league but will probably get three based on perception.

PRESTON: The MVFC is going to eat itself alive. They’ll be lucky to have 1 seed once this is all said and done, but I think they’ll get it. In terms of an AQ, woof. They’ll still get 2 teams in, but my goodness, what happens if they continue to beat each other up? Where we thought three would be a lock we now might see only two, which would be great for a seemingly very strong Southland.

Photo via Pluto TV/SWX.

CSJ: Holy cow – how awesome was Week One of the Big Sky?

BEN: Awesome? 🤨 There were some fantastic scoring plays, sloppy ball-handling, impressive new faces, a walk-off win for a trophy, and a missed field goal call. I wrote about that here. Idaho deserved the win, but the sour aftertaste of the circumstances of their win leaves EWU and others in the conference concerned if this can happen once will there be a second time? Northern Arizona and Southern Utah both have developed gritty teams overall which made for an exciting finish. The walk-off touchdown pass was exciting even from a rival fan like myself. Good for them in keeping the trophy and hopefully keeping the trophy within the Big Sky Conference once Southern Utah leaves.

Weber State’s freshmen QB Bronson Barron looked like a stud in his first performance, while Tyler Vander-Waal (Wyoming transfer) looked like he wanted to simply outrun the competition or force risky passes since he was uncomfortable with the offensive line.

CHUCK: Though Weber State, as expected, overwhelmed Idaho State, Eastern Washington/Idaho and Southern Utah/Northern Arizona were both thrilling, well-played games that went down to the wire. It was awesome! Though the officiating blunder on the field goal put EWU/Idaho in the news for all the wrong reasons, I don’t think it affected the ultimate outcome.

JAMIE: How do you miss the field goal call in the EWU/Idaho game? That is unacceptable. The league came out and said they erred, so good on them for that. Weber did what they needed to do. They look like a team who will make noise this spring. Idaho may be that second Sky team to get a bid. EWU and UC Davis (who did not yet play) have some work to do.

PRESTON: The two games I focused on were great. EWU and Idaho went down to the wire and with controversy, and Weber State took care of business. However, I am not as sold on them as everyone else. They looked dominant on offense but gave up huge chunks of yards on defense surprisingly. A more experienced team can do some damage. SUU and NAU? Of course that happened the way it did.

KENT: I watched the Idaho-Eastern Washington game, and it had a big controversy with a called missed field goal by EWU. There was not a camera angle that showed what the Eagles were saying the ball hitting the scoreboard in the Kibbie Dome. The call stayed as it was on the field as no good mid-way through the fourth quarter. The Vandals took the ball from that missed field goal and scored the game winning touchdown. Weber State showed it is likely worthy of taking over the #1 spot with its easy win at Idaho State in the first week of play and with Wildcats not playing Eastern Washington or Idaho this spring, they very well could be undefeated this regular season.

ROB: Northern Arizona beat Southern Utah on the final play of the game; Idaho quarterback Mike Beaudry proved why he could be the best QB in the conference – he connected with Hayden Hatten on a 25-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to give Idaho its first lead and eventual upset of 12th-ranked EWU; Weber State demolished Idaho State 49-21 and proved why they’re the best team in the country.

CSJ: Could the SoCon be any crazier? Are they a one-bid league now?

ROB: Chattanooga’s 24-13 win over No. 11 Wofford was the highest-ranked win for the Mocs since the 23-21 triumph at No. 8 Samford in 2017.

KENT: The win by Chattanooga was huge for the Mocs over Wofford. I think it is a little early to say if the SoCon is a one-bid league. I believe if say Chattanooga and Wofford both win out, they are both in the field, but I think two from the SoCon will be the maximum.

CHUCK: To me, the egg Wofford laid in Chattanooga was one of the more shocking developments of the weekend. Though I didn’t pick VMI to upset Furman 14-13, I’m not stunned they won. VMI is a sneaky good team.

BEN: Yes and Yes. As the SoCon chops away at each other and upsets continu,e the eventual winner of the SoCon may be so roughed up that they will be unable to get a good playoff seed and make it anywhere significant in the postseason. Right now anyone could take it.

PRESTON: Like the MVFC, they’re likely to cannibalize themselves into fewer bids than thought possible. However if the bigger conferences continue to do the same, it’s really anyone’s ball game. The SoCon should root for chaos in the leagues perceived to be above them so they have a shot at two teams.

JAMIE: The SoCon is absolutely a one bid league. The teams you thought were the best, Wofford and Furman, both lost. Chattanooga to me looked good on paper but I saw so many reports that they were essentially mailing in the Spring and prepping for the fall – clearly they are not. They looked very good. The Citadel is done. They are not good. VMI beat Furman, but they aren’t a contender. The Southern Conference is in the dumps and they are a one bid league. And I am not sure that’s just for the Spring – that’s just the way they have been regressing.