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Around the Valley: Missouri State poised to make a run at conference title

Head coach Bobby Petrino has orchestrated one of the great turnarounds in FCS football

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Missouri State receiver Tyrone Scott set a school record for receptions in one season in 2021.
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.
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FARGO — Sometimes it just takes the right head coach to turn a program around and look no further than Missouri State. The Bears mostly lived in the basement of the Missouri Valley Football Conference for a couple of decades, rarely reaching the first floor to get a glimpse of daylight.

No longer. Bobby Petrino, entering his third season with the Bears, has MSU thinking it can find another level in Division I FCS football. Having enough talent to compete for a conference title no longer seems to be the issue; it’s the other factors like confidence and team unity.

“We worked hard in the offseason finishing and coming together as a team,” Petrino said. “For two seasons, we played with a chip on our shoulder and tried to earn respect. If we were upset we didn’t get ranked at a certain place, we just went out to try and prove ourselves. Now we have high expectations. We have earned some respect and now it’s about going there and being able to do things in practice to win games. We have to push each other to get better.”

The Bears got respect in the FCS coaches poll getting a preseason ranking of No. 8. They were even better in the Stats Perform top 25 media poll with a No. 5 standing.

After a strong finish to the regular season last year — the Bears won five of their last six — they quickly exited the FCS playoffs with a 32-31 loss to Tennessee Martin at home in the second round. MSU committed six turnovers.

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There’s plenty of returning firepower, starting with senior quarterback Jason Shelley, the returning MVFC Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for a school-record 3,347 yards last season and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award that goes to the top offensive player in the FCS.

The Bears added Kansas State transfer Jacardia Wright at running back after moving leading returning rusher Kevon Latulas to receiver. Wright played three seasons with K-State in a limited role.

“He gives us that big physical back who can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Petrino said of the 6-foot, 220-pound Wright.

Leading receiver Ty Scott is back after a school-record season for receptions with 66. Larry Wright is a transfer from the University of Minnesota who did not play in a game with the Gophers in three years. Jordan Jones is a transfer from Cincinnati.

Petrino is no stranger to winning. As the head coach at Arkansas and Western Kentucky, his teams went 119-56 in 14 seasons with 11 bowl appearances and seven teams ranked in the top 25 poll at the end of the season.

One team that won't have a say in Missouri State's hope for a Valley title is North Dakota State. The teams don't play because of the rotating Valley schedule.

“I like high expectations,” he said. “It’s something I enjoy and we have to be able to handle it and show we belong there.”

Missouri Valley Football Conference preview lineup:

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Day 1: Illinois State Redbirds

Day 2: Indiana State Sycamores

Today: Missouri State Bears

Day 4: North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Day 5: Northern Iowa Panthers

Day 6: South Dakota Coyotes

Day 7: South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Day 8: Southern Illinois Salukis

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Day 9: Western Illinois Leathernecks

Day 10: Youngstown Penguins

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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