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Around the Missouri Valley: Jacks prepare for Northern Iowa

Getting the Dakota Marker is one thing. But one week removed from beating North Dakota State, South Dakota State is playing one of the biggest games in the history of its football program.

Getting the Dakota Marker is one thing. But one week removed from beating North Dakota State, South Dakota State is playing one of the biggest games in the history of its football program.

The 11th-ranked Jackrabbits host sixth-ranked Northern Iowa in a game that could put the Jacks in prime position for a Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff spot.

"This is a chance to change the face of SDSU football, if you will," said Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier.

The Jacks and Southern Illinois are the lone conference unbeatens at 4-0. UNI is 3-1.

"Right now, they're the top team in the league and that says enough for South Dakota State," said Panthers head coach Mark Farley. "They're a tough, hard-nosed football team is what they are. They're physical in what they do."

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The Jacks will go with freshman Thomas O'Brien at quarterback, although senior Ryan Crawford is making strides of coming back from a knee injury.

The game pits the top two defensive teams in the league - SDSU is giving up 12.3 points a game and Northern Iowa 13.1. Field conditions at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium may be questionable with rain this week combined with the Bison game last week and a high school game on Friday.

"I don't think it will be slippery but it will be different than in a dome or on FieldTurf," Stiegelmeier said.

In other games today:

Youngstown at Southern Illinois

The Salukis vaulted themselves into favorite's contention by marching into the UNI-Dome last week and beating Northern Iowa. Now they get Youngstown, which along with Missouri State are two of the most improved teams in the conference from last season.

"They're playing confident football right now and they have our attention," said SIU head coach Dale Lennon.

Youngstown was idle last week and the Penguins have won six straight games following a bye week dating back to 1998.

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SIU, meanwhile, has won 10 straight league games and have won its last 15 home conference games. But the Salukis are also coming off an emotional win, something that has Lennon concerned.

"You're concerned as a coach that you might be feeling too good right now and those concerns have been addressed," he said. "(Youngstown) is good enough to where there's a real possibility they can come in here and beat us."

Western Illinois at Indiana State

This is a matchup of two teams in a slide. Indiana State is 0-7 and the Leathernecks have dropped five straight since a season-opening win at Sam Houston State (Texas).

It's homecoming in Terre Haute, where the Sycamores last won a game in this series in 1999 - a triple overtime victory.

Last week, the Sycamores scored more than one touchdown in a game (a 38-21 loss to Illinois State) for the first time since the season opener against Quincy.

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