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Kolpack: After flat first week, Valley football has some making up to do

Quarterback Austin Simmons and South Dakota nearly pulled off an upset at Kansas State last week, before losing 27-24. Scott Sewell / USA TODAY Sports

Fargo

The Missouri Valley Football Conference has had its share of King Kong moments over the last several years. The league has been a beast in the FCS not only with one member winning national titles but an overall balance that was better than anybody else.

Take away Missouri State and everybody has made the FCS playoffs at least once since 2009. Take away MSU and Southern Illinois and everybody has reached postseason at least once since 2014.

In the immortal words of MC Hammer, you can't touch that.

There wasn't much dancing in the opening two weeks of 2018, however. The Valley is getting touched and it's getting to the point where the league will need a good September if it wants to maintain its gorilla status in the FCS jungle.

The Valley is 1-2 against the Big Sky Conference. Montana held off Northern Iowa and Montana State beat Western Illinois, both by 26-23 scores. Then there was Youngstown State losing to non-scholarship Butler. Illinois State and Indiana State played two lower-division teams from Illinois that most people haven't heard of in St. Xavier and Quincy, respectively.

South Dakota State had its game at Iowa State canceled by weather. Missouri State got crushed by Oklahoma State. South Dakota almost pulled the upset at Kansas State, but it was still a loss.

The two favorable moments were NDSU's 49-3 win over Cal Poly of the Big Sky and Southern Illinois' 49-10 victory over Murray State (Ky.) of the Ohio Valley Conference. In a sense, you could say the Valley came out 2-8 in positivity in its first 10 games.

That makes Saturday a crucial day—and SDSU athletic director Justin Sell knows it. His Jackrabbits host Montana State.

"Absolutely, definitely," Sell said. "We're in tune with that and wanting to make sure we do our part in the Valley."

The Valley and Big Sky are in their second year of a challenge series, games that could matter in late November when leagues lobby to get as many teams into the playoffs as it can. The Valley won the series 5-3 last year.

South Dakota hosts Big Sky Northern Colorado also on Saturday. With quality non-conference games seemingly harder to get, especially for teams in the western United States, Sell likes to play programs the Jackrabbits have a history with like the Bobcats.

"When you look at mid-major scheduling or in this case the FCS, you're trying to get quality opponents, good games and things that help you in the playoffs," Sell said. "Our ability to work together as a mid-major is super important. The fact they're willing to step up and willing to do that is a credit to them."

Especially since Montana, Montana State and Eastern Washington are three teams that typically challenge for postseason selection. Those three in a scheduling rotation with NDSU have had some wild games over the years. The Jackrabbits defeated Montana State 47-40 and 31-27 the last two times they played. A touchdown off a fake field goal won it last year.

"I think when you look down the road and with seeding, wins in these games become important" Sell said. "Those schools are usually in the mix."

It makes you wonder why Illinois State would schedule St. Xavier. Word is the Redbirds wanted six home games and couldn't find an FCS team to come to Normal, Ill. I can see why Indiana State played Quincy, the Sycamores need to build some confidence after going 0-11 last year.

The Valley needs a rally. Problem this weekend is four schools play FBS programs and will be decided underdogs. But before the league schedule begins on Sept. 29, a switch needs to be flipped or Selection Sunday on Nov. 18 could see fewer teams making the playoffs.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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