By Kent Schmidt
College Sporting News
Parity is what the Missouri Valley Football Conference has and really, from top to bottom, there is no other FCS conference that can make a similar claim.
In fact, there was a six-way tie for third place in the MVFC standings a year ago with Northern Iowa winning and Western Illinois coming in second.
One of the third-place teams in North Dakota State, along with UNI and WIU made the playoffs.
Even former MVFC doormat Indiana State is no longer a given win as the Sycamores was one of the teams tied for third.
It was NDSU, however, that made it the farthest amongst the three MVFC playoff squads.
UNI lost in the opening round to Lehigh.
Western Illinois defeated Coastal Carolina in the opening round before losing to top-seeded Appalachian State in the second round.
NDSU defeated Robert Morris in the opening round and then defeated No. 4 seeded Montana State in the second round.
The Bison nearly defeated eventual national champion #5 seeded Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals but allowed the Eagles to tie the game on a late touchdown drive and then lost in overtime.
This year will be the last with the current nine-team group as a 10th school, current Great West member South Dakota, will join the conference starting next fall.
The addition of the Coyotes will mean every school in the MVFC will miss playing one of the other conference members yearly so the total of conference games will remain at eight. But this year, all teams will play each other.
The three 2010 playoff teams, along with Illinois State and Southern Illinois, appear to be the top teams this year, but as was the case last year, this year's race could be just as jumbled as it was last season.
Any of the teams predicated below these teams could find themselves in the upper echelon of the standings.
Northern Iowa won the MVFC crown last year in a year that was supposed to be somewhat rebuilding year for the Panthers.
What the rest of the league found out that a program like UNI never truly has a rebuilding season as the Panthers have won at least a share of the MVFC crown the past six of 11 seasons.
This year, the Panthers will return 18 starters from that conference championship team so expectations are high in Cedar Falls to repeat that championship.
The goal for UNI in 2011 is to be ready for the FCS playoffs after losing 14-7 to Lehigh at home in the opening round of the playoffs a year ago.
In fact, UNI lost its final two games of 2011 — falling to second-place finisher Western Illinois the week prior to the playoffs — and finished 7-5 overall.
The Panthers should have a prolific running game again lead by senior quarterback Tirrell Rennie and junior running back Carlos Anderson.
Rennie became the first Panther quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards when he tallied 1,291 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground last season. He also notched 1,526 yards and eight touchdowns passing on the year.
Rennie finished second in the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and was voted as the conference's newcomer of the year after transferring to UNI from nearby Ellsworth (IA) CC.
Anderson finished the year with 974 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Anderson was also prolific on special teams, returning two kickoffs for scores and leading the league with a 27.2 yard per kickoff return average.
While Rennie passed for 1,526 yards and eight scores, the air game needs improvement to keep the Panthers from being too one dimensional.
Rennie will have senior wide receiver Jarred Herring as his top target after Herring notched 31 catches for 549 yards and five touchdowns a season ago.
The UNI offensive line has four of five starters returning including seniors Jay Teply at tackle and Kaleb Admire at guard, along with junior guard Brian Palangi, who was a member of the All-MVFC Newcomer team after transferring from the now-defunct Northeastern.
The Panther defense does not have many question marks as 10 starters return, although leading tackler linebacker Jamar Thompson.
Senior Ben Boothby should lead the team from his tackle position. He led the league in sacks (9.5) a year ago and was second best in tackles for loss (16).
Boothby will be joined by fellow senior linebacker L.J. Fort and junior cornerback J.J. Swain.
Fort was second on the team with 92 tackles, 11.5 of them for a loss, and three interceptions last season. Swain broke up two passes and finished with 37 tackles on the year.
Two other All-MVFC honorees in seniors; end Darren Branch (37 tackles, 5.5 TFL) and linebacker James Conley (69 tackles, 12 TFL).
The Panther punting duties will be headed by junior Kyle Bernard, who averaged 42.4 yards per kick in 2010, including eight punts of 50 or more yards.
Like UNI, North Dakota State returns a plethora of talent this season.
That talent seemed to peak in the playoffs last year after the Bison were up and down during the regular season.
NDSU had highs of defeating FBS Kansas in the season opener and Big Sky co-champion Montana State in the playoffs, but had losses at Missouri State and Illinois State in league play.
One school that NDSU and Coach Craig Bohl has not been able to overcome is UNI. The Bison are 0-3 since joining the MVFC against the Panthers, the only school the Bison have yet to defeat since joining the conference in 2008.
Those three teams will all have to visit the Fargodome this year.
Overall, the Bison return 15 starters overall with seven on offense and eight on defense.
The Bison won last year mainly because of their defense and this year, the defense should continue to be strong.
NDSU ranked seventh nationally in both scoring defense (18.21 ppg) and turnover margin (+1.07 avg.).
The Bison will be headed by preseason All-American senior defensive end Coulter Boyer, who led the team in tackles for loss (13), sacks (10), and quarterback hurries (18) to go with 58 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown.
The linebacker group will be headed by a pair of seniors in Preston Evans and Chad Willson.
Evans led the team in tackles for a second straight year with 95 and Wilson was third with 74.
The secondary will be headed also by a senior in safety Daniel Evans, who tied Willson for third on the team in tackles with 74.
Evans will be joined by a pair of sophomores in safety Colton Heagle (64 tackles, 6 TFL) and cornerback Marcus Williams (12 pass breakups, 4 INT, 1 for a TD).
The NDSU offense is mostly a run-first group that will be headed by senior running back D.J. McNorton, who had 1,559 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in 2010. McNorton also added 433 yards and four more scores through the air.
Passing the ball this year will be sophomore quarterback Brock Jensen, who split time as a starter last year but led the Bison during their playoff run.
Jensen totaled 950 yards and seven touchdowns after starting seven games and will likely be the key to the Bison making a further run into the postseason.
His leading receiving target again should be senior Warren Halloway (49 receptions, 698 yards, 5 TDs).
Seniors tackle Paul Cornick and guard Austin Richard, along with sophomore tackle Billy Turner, will head the returning starters on the line.
Southern Illinois hopes to return the postseason after missing the playoffs, ending a string of seven straight appearances.
The injury-plagued Salukis finished just 5-6 overall last season, but still have won 75 games since the 2003 season, which is the third-most among all FCS schools.
Only Montana (87) and Appalachian State (84) have won more games than SIU has over the last eight seasons.
This year's SIU team will return 14 starters, six on each side of the ball and two on special teams for Coach Dale Lennon.
The Salukis were led a year ago by their defense that ranked top in the MVFC after giving up 332.1 yards per game.
Seniors safety Mike McElroy and defensive end Chance Coda headline the group coming back this fall.
The All-American McElroy missed most of 2010 with a severe ankle injury, but in 2009, he intercepted seven passes and made 78 tackles in being named to a number of All-American teams.
Coda was named as a 2010 second team All-MVFC member after recording 30 tackles with eight for a loss last year.
The linebacker corps should be headed by junior Joe Oken, who is the leading returning tackler (71) for SIU.
Sophomore E.J. Clark (41 tackles, 1 TFL) moves from his safety spot into a linebacker spot and should be another key contributor.
The SIU offense will be headed by all five linemen returning upfront including seniors center Bryan Boemer and tackle David Pickard, who were both All-MVFC members.
Quarterback Paul McIntosh, who started seven games in his sophomore season a year ago, is back for his junior season.
Senior tight end C.J. Robertson and fullbacks John Goode will help open up holes for the running backs, where SIU is stacked with talent.
Senior Shariff Harris (604 yards, 8 TD) and junior Steve Strother (567 yards, 2 TD), along with FBS Iowa transfer junior Jewel Hampton, will all be vying for playing time. Hampton set a Iowa freshman rushing record with seven touchdowns in 2008.
Sophomore punter Austin Pucylowski was a member of the All-MVFC newcomer team a year ago. He had a 39.8 average for his punts last season.
Another team that hopes for a better season is Illinois State.
The Redbirds finished 6-5 for the second straight season, ISU's first back-to-back winning seasons since 2005-06.
While the winning record was a good achievement, ISU hopes for more as they defeated two Top 25 ranked teams in NDSU and SDSU but lost to Indiana State and Southern Illinois by wide margins.
Coach Brock Spack's team will return 16 starters in the hopes of being more consistent in 2011.
One thing that will help is that the Redbirds will not play a FBS team for the first time in 16 years and will play six home game this year.
The Redbird offense is headed by possibly the best passing quarterback in the league in junior Matt Brown and likely the best stable of wide receivers in junior Tyrone Walker, senior Marvon Sanders, and FBS Minnesota transfer junior Bryant Allen.
Brown passed for 2665 yards and 22 touchdowns, while Walker and Sander combined for a school record nine 100-plus-yard games and combined for over 1700 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.
Allen comes to Normal, Ill. after starting three games for the Gophers and hauled in 16 catches for 201 yards and a score a year ago.
ISU is also loaded at the running back position with senior Ashton Leggett and junior Erik Smith back after the pair split time in the backfield last year.
Leggett led the team in touchdowns with eight to go with 599 yards on the ground, while Smith led the team in yardage with 656 yards to go with his four scores.
The line will have four seniors and three that started last year back with the other seeing significant time.
The group will be anchored by All-MVFC second team center Cal McCarthy and guard Nick Bledsoe, who was a 2009 All-MVFC second team honoree.
The area that the Redbirds will need to improve is on defense, after giving up almost 40 points per game in 2010.
A couple of bright spots from last year to help grow this side of the ball are seniors; tackle Eric Brunner and linebacker Josh Howe.
Brunner led the team with four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss to go with his 53 overall tackles. Howe led the team in tackles with 112 — the most by a Redbird defender since 2007.
Junior Austin Davis should be another leader from his linebacker position, after finishing second on the team with a career-high 75 tackles a season ago.
Western Illinois hopes to duplicate its playoff efforts from a year ago.
But the Leathernecks will have to do so without their leading quarterback (Matt Barr), wide receiver (Lito Senatus), and linebacker (Kyle Glazier) — a trio of All-Americans who have been lost to graduation.
Coach Mark Hendrickson's team is used to overcoming obstacles after turning around a 1-10 record from 2009 to one that won a playoff game in 2010 and finished 8-5 overall.
While WIU loses those key members, they still have six returning starters on each side of the ball back this fall.
For the Leatherneck offense, two running backs that shared time in the backfield return in junior Caulton Ray and sophomore Bryce Flowers.
Ray led the team a year ago with 1,075 yards and nine touchdowns while Flowers was just behind him with 849 yards and eight scores.
The two backs will be running behind three returning starters upfront in sophomore guard Jimmy Holtschlag, senior tackle Enock Presendieu, and senior center Jordan Valle.
Senior fullback Josh Gabelmann should also provide a blocking aid to the running backs but also can an effective short yardage ground gainer as he recorded three touchdowns on the ground last year and added two more through the air.
The WIU quarterback spot appears to be going to last year's backup in junior Wil Lunt, who saw limited action but did manage to throw for a touchdown in his brief appearances.
Lunt's main receiving target will likely be last year's second-leading receiver senior Terriun Crump, who had 56 receptions for 888 yards and five scores last year.
The defense for WIU will rely heavily on their secondary for experience.
The Leathernecks return four starters in the defensive backfield.
Junior cornerbacks Kieron James (42 tackles, 7 PBU, 1 INT) and Chris Boone (27 tackles, 5 PBU, 1 INT) and senior safeties Ryan Davis (29 tackles, 6 PBU) and Tim Franken (29 tackles, 2 TFL) are those returning.
Upfront, defensive tackle Emeka Nwankwo could provide some senior leadership as he transfers in from FBS Norte Dame where he saw limited action (just 3 tackles in 7 games) with the Irish.
The linebacker group leadership will need to come from senior Kevin Palermo, who despite only starting nine-of-13 games was still fourth on the team in tackles with 52.
South Dakota State hopes to return to 2009 playoff form after falling to a 5-6 season in 2010.
The Jackrabbits lost their first four games but turned around things in their final seven contests, winning five of those.
The poor start is not something new for SDSU with the exception of the playoff team two years ago.
Taking out the 2009 season which it started 3-1, SDSU is just 4-12 since 2006 in their opening four games of the season.
A key for the Jackrabbits success will be how they start the season and SDSU will only have one home contest in their opening four games against 2010 Great West champion Southern Utah, with road contests at FBS Illinois, Cal Poly, and Illinois State.
The Jacks lost a number of key contributors from last year, but still returns 14 starters.
The offense will miss four-year starter Kyle Minnett at running back spot, but Tyrel Kool will look to replace him after returning to the backfield. The junior was the leading wide receiver with 64 catches and 808 yards but will be moved back to his original position.
The blocking upfront for SDSU will miss All-MVFC center Ryan McKnight but the other four starters are back.
SDSU returns starting quarterback Thomas O'Brien for his junior season after he passing for 2236 yards and 10 touchdowns but also 15 interceptions last year. The interception to touchdown ratio will need to be reversed for SDSU to improve this fall.
With Kool moving to the running back spot, the leading returning wide receiver will be sophomore Brandon Hubert (32 receptions, 332 yards, 2 TDs).
The Jackrabbit defense will be headed by a pair of All-MVFC senior honorees that will need to replace three other such honorees that graduated.
Linebacker Mike Lien will head his position group after tallying a team second best 98 tackles a season ago. He added five of those tackles for a loss and also recorded an interception.
Defensive end Zacharia Bowers should lead the group upfront after recording 26 tackles with 2.5 sacks, as well as a team-high eight quarterback hurries.
A program that may continue to be on the rise is Indiana State.
The Sycamores were a combined 2-54 the five seasons prior to 2010, but coach Trent Miles' team tripled that win total a year ago in finishing 6-5 overall in his third season at ISU.
The further good news in Terre Haute is that 19 starters return this fall in what could be a playoff contender.
The Sycamores will need to overcome playing two FBS teams at Penn State and former MVFC member Western Kentucky.
The ISU offense was definitely the strength of the team last year and should be again this year, with quarterback Ronnie Fouch back to orchestrate this side of the ball.
The Sycamores actually set a school record for points scored with 351 for a season a year ago and much of that came off the arm of Fouch, who threw for 2252 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
That passing yardage ranked second in school history and his touchdown number is a new school record.
Fouch's main should remain senior Justin Hilton after he finished last season with 40 pass receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns.
Fouch will also have his second leading target back in senior tight end Alex Jones (30 receptions, 545 yards, 4 TDs).
The Sycamore running game will take a hit with the graduation of All-MVFC Darrius Gates, but his backup is not without experience.
Shakir Bell, who gained 649 yards with two scores. Bell will have help in the backfield with All-MVFC full back Brock Lough, who gained 243 yards and a score himself. The line will be headed by senior guard Ben Geffert.
The defense for ISU will be anchored by junior end Ben Obaseki, who finished tied for second in the league's voting for defensive player of the year and is a preseason All-American.
Obaseki finished 2010 with 70 total tackles, with 16 tackles for loss and nine quarterback sacks. He also helped the offense by rushing the football twice for two yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Juniors Jacolby Washington and Aaron Archie should head the linebacker corps. Washington led the team with 92 total tackles, including 10 of those for loss and five quarterback sacks.
Archie saw his 2010 season cut down to just eight games because of an injury but still tallied 60 total tackles. Two sophomores should head the secondary in cornerback Calvin Burnett (46 tackles, 6 INT) and safety Larry King (65 tackles,3 INT).
A team looking to rebound to their former elite status is Youngstown State.
The Penguins finished 2010 in the outright in the last place position for the first time since they joined the MVFC in 1997 (also tied was in a four-way tie for last in 2004).
YSU finished just 3-8 overall with just one win coming against MVFC competition.
While Eric Wolford's first season as coach in Youngstown was not great, there has to be some optimism as most of the losses were close games. In fact, five of the eight losses had less than a touchdown margin.
This year's Penguin team will have a number of returning members in what was a young team a season ago.
Heading the Penguin offensive will be sophomore quarterback Kurt Hess, who was last year's MVFC Freshman of the Year.
Hess set a freshman school record with 2,117 yards passing and had 12 touchdown throws. He will lose his main receiving target in All-MVFC wide receiver Dominique Barnes but will have the second leading wide out in senior Ely Ducatel. (27 receptions, 336 yards, 2 TDs).
Sophomore Jelani Berassa, who was lost early in the 2010 fall camp to a knee injury, will look to be a major contributor in 2011.
YSU's running game should be just fine with the top two running backs returning in junior Jamaine Cook and sophomore Adaris Bellamy returning.
Cook rushed for 1,276 yards with 11 touchdowns a season ago. Bellamy also rushed for 11 touchdowns and that tied a school mark for a freshman scoring on the ground, while adding 545 yards overall.
The offensive line lost three All-MVFC members but junior tackles tackle Andrew Radakovich and D.J. Main return to be the anchors up front.
The defense is the area that needs most improvement after giving up over 31 points per game.
Returning linebacker senior John Sasson will likely lead this group. He sparked YSU with a team-best 89 tackles, with two of those for a loss and also added four quarterback hurries.
On special teams, sophomore punter Nick Liste, who was an all-newcomer MVFC team pick , returns after he averaged 41.4 yards per kick and had six boots of 50 yards or more.
Missouri State is another team that hopes for better results in 2011.
The Bears had an up and down season where they seemed to be a different team at home than on the road. MSU won all five of their home games but lost all six of their road games to finish 5-6 overall.
The Bears have legendary FCS coach Terry Allen as their head man, but he has not brought the success he had at UNI to Springfield, MO. in his five seasons.
This season will be somewhat of rebuilding season for Allen and the Bears as just nine starters return. Another area of concern is that MSU has just four home games this year and two of their road contests are against FBS competition in Oregon and Arkansas.
The Bears offense will be without the departed Cody Kirby at the quarterback spot and it appears as if last year's wide receiver sophomore Trevor Wooden will be Kirby's replacement this year.
Wooden had 21 catches for 284 yards a year ago and had two attempts throwing the ball. He will have the two leading receivers back in senior Jermaine Saffold (53 recept, 869 yards, 5 TD) and junior Cadarrius Dotson (38 recept, 495 yards, 1 TD).
The MSU running game will have two seniors to split time again in Chris Douglas and Stephen Johnston.
Douglas led the team with 1052 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Johnson added 752 yards and five scores.
The offensive line will lose four starters so will look to the remaining starter in senior guard Travis Simmons to lead the young line.
On defense, the Bears will have just four starters back and will look to senior corner back Jimmie Strong and sophomore linebacker Nick Canavan to be the leaders this fall.
Strong recorded 31 tackles and four interceptions, while Canavan had 50 tackles with six for a loss and an interception.
Missouri Valley Football Conference Games of the Week
Southern Illinois @ Southeast Missouri State, Sept. 3
These two out of conference rivals meet in Cape Girardeau. The playoff bound Redhawks handed the Salukis a loss a year ago in Carbondale. Will the Salukis get revenge this year?
Northern Iowa @ Stephen F. Austin, Sept. 10
These two 2010 playoff participants meet this year in Texas. The Lumberjacks defeated the Panthers in Cedar Falls last year. Can UNI repeat the favor in this one?
Illinois State @ Youngstown State, Sept. 17
These two teams finished below expectations a season ago. Who will get the conference slate off on the right foot this year?
Western Illinois @ Northern Iowa, Sept. 24
The Leathernecks defeated the Panthers in Macomb a year ago to end the conference season. This year, the two get to start their conference play against each other.
Indiana State @ South Dakota State, Oct. 1
The Sycamores are an improving program. Have they improved enough to win in Brookings this year?
Illinois State @ Missouri State, Oct. 8
These two teams always seem to give a close contest. Will it be that way this year too?
Northern Iowa @ South Dakota State, Oct. 15
The two teams have split their last two contests with the home team winning both times. Will the home field help the Jackrabbits in this one?
North Dakota State @ South Dakota State, Oct. 22
The Bison and Jackrabbits battle again for the Dakota Marker Trophy. NDSU won it last year but have lost the last four contests in Brookings. Can they reverse their road woes this year?
Northern Iowa @ North Dakota State, Oct. 29
These two teams don't seem to like each other much but it has been a one way contest since NDSU joined the MVFC towards UNI. Can the Fargodome help NDSU finally get into the win column against the Panthers?
Western Illinois @ Illinois State, Nov. 5
These two Illinois schools battle in what could be a very meaningful game in at this time.
Indiana State @ Missouri State, Nov. 12
These two teams have historically been towards the bottom of the MVFC standings but could this yearís game mean more?
North Dakota State @ Western Illinois, Nov. 19
Both of these schools made the playoffs a year ago and were the last two standing in the FCS playoffs amongst MVFC teams. Will this game be like a playoff game for both or at least one of the teams to end the regular season?
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Northern Iowa
2. North Dakota State
3. Southern Illinois
4. Illinois State
5. Western Illinois
6. South Dakota State
7. Indiana State
8. Youngstown State
9. Missouri State
Offensive Player of the Year:
Tirrell Rennie, QB, Northern Iowa, Sr.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Ben Obaseki, DE, Indiana State, Jr.
Biggest Shoes to Fill:
Matt Barr, QB, Western Illinois
Illinois State Redbirds
Location: Normal, IL
Stadium: Hancock Stadium (10,000)
Head Coach: Brock Spack (12-10 @ ISU & overall), 3rd Season
Who's Gone: DB EJ Jones, P/K Steven Fetzer, QB Drew Kiel.
Who's Back: QB Matt Brown, RB Ashton Leggett, RB Erik Smith, WR Marvon Sanders, WR Tyrone Walker, OL Cal McCarthy, LB Josh Howe, LB Austin Davis, LB Mike Zimmer, DL Eric Brunner, DL Nick Broome.
Historical Fact: The Redbirds first postseason game came in 1950 in the Corn Bowl, a 7-6 loss to Missouri-Rolla.
Last Season: Illinois State went 6-5 for the second season in a row in Coach Spackís second season.
This Season: Coach Spack hopes build on last yearís young squad to become a contender this year.
Indiana State Sycamores
Location: Terre Haute, IN
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (12,464 Capacity)
Head Coach: Trent Miles (7-27 @ ISU & Overall), 4th Season
Who's Gone: RB Darrius Gates, WR Bryant Kent, OL Pat Burke.
Who's Back: QB Ronnie Fouch, WR Justin Hilton, TE Alex Jones, FB Brock Lough, PK Cory Little, LB Jacolby Washington, DL Ben Obaseki, DB Alex Sewall, DB Larry King (DB), DB Larry Carter, DB Calvin Burnett.
Historical Fact: The Sycamores played in their first postseason game in 1949 in the Shrine Bowl played in Carbondale, IL, a 41-14 loss to Southern Illinois.
Last Season: The Sycamores went 6-5 for their first winning season since 1996 when they finished with the identical record.
This Season: ISU hopes to build on the budding momentum of a young team with 19 starters returning from last year into this year.
Missouri State Bears
Location: Springfield, MO
Stadium: Plaster Field (16,300 capacity)
Head Coach: Terry Allen, (23-32 @ MSU, 118-91 Overall) 6th Season
Who's Gone: OG David Arkin, QB Cody Kirby, LB Antoine Wilkinson, S Skylar Smith, LB Adam Beauchamp.
Who's Back: RB Chris Douglas, RB Stephen Johnston, WR Jermaine Saffold, P Jordan Chiles, PK Austin Witmer, CB Howard Scarborough, CB Jimmie. Strong.
Historical Fact: The Bears were last in the FCS playoffs in 1990, a home loss to the then Big Sky Idaho 41-35.
Last Season: Missouri State finished 5-6 in its fifth season under Allen but did win all five games at home.
This Season: Allen hopes to win on the road this year to improve on last year's mark but will have to overcome two FBS opponents (Arkansas and Oregon) and five other road contests.
North Dakota State Bison
Location: Fargo, ND
Stadium: Fargodome (18,700 Capacity)
Head Coach: Craig Bohl (61-30, NDSU & Overall) 9th Season
Who's Gone: QB Jose Mohler, OT Michael Arndt, DT Matthew Gratzek, CB Josh Gatlin, LB Matt Anderson, P John Prelvitz.
Who's Back: QB Brock Jensen, OT Paul Cornick, OG Austin Richard, OT Billy Turner, RB D.J. McNorton, WR Warren Holloway, NG Leevon Perry, LB Brandon Jemison, LB Preston Evans, LB Chad Willson, CB Marcus Williams, FS Daniel Eaves.
Historical Fact: NDSU has won eight national titles in its history — the last being at the DII level in 1990.
Last Season: The Bison narrowly made the FCS playoff field but won two postseason games and nearly won their quarterfinal game at eventual national champion Eastern Washington and finished 9-5 overall.
This Season: NDSU hopes to build on last year's first ever FCS playoff appearance and go even further into the postseason this year.
Northern Iowa Panthers
Location: Cedar Falls, IA
Stadium: UNI-Dome (16,324 capacity)
Head Coach: Mark Farley (89-39 @ UNI & Overall), 11th Season
Who's Gone: TE Schuyler Oordt, OC Austin Zlab, LB Jamar Thompson, PK Billy Hallgren.
Who's Back: QB Tirrell Rennie, RB Carlos Anderson, WR Jarred Herring, OT Jay Teply, OG Kaleb Admire, OG Brian Palangi, LB L.J. Fort, DT Ben Boothby, S Andre Martin, CB J.J. Swain, LB James Conley, DT Will Eilert, P Kyle Bernard.
Historical Fact: UNI reached the FCS national championship game for the first time in school history in 2005, losing 21-16 to Appalachian State. The Panthers have reached the FCS semifinals on seven occasions.
Last Season: The Panthers won their tenth outright MVFC title (five other shared titles) last year but bowed out in the first round of the FCS playoffs to Leigh to finish 7-5 overall.
This Season: Coach Farley's team hopes to win another conference title but advance further in the playoffs with a team that returns 18 starters.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Location: Brookings, SD
Stadium: Coughlin-Alumni Stadium (15,000 Capacity),
Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier (88-66, SDSU & Overall), 15th Season
Who's Gone: RB Kyle Minett, TE Colin Cochart, OC Ryan McKnight, LB Derek Domino, P Dean Priddy.
Who's Back: OT Jonathan Fick, QB Thomas O'Brien, RB/WR Tyrel Kool, LB Mike Lien, S Anthony Wise, LB Dirk Kool, DT Andy Mink, DE Jake Steffen, PK Kyle Harris.
Historical Fact: Before making the FCS playoffs in 2009, SDSU last made the postseason in 1979, with a 50-7 loss to Youngstown State in the DII playoffs.
Last Season: SDSU lost their first four games but finished winning five of their last seven to finish 5-6 overall.
This Season: The Jacks hope to get back to the 2009 playoff form and also start the season the way they ended 2010.
Southern Illinois Salukis
Location: Carbondale, IL
Stadium: Saluki Stadium (15,000 capacity)
Head Coach: Dale Lennon (25-11 @ SIU, 127-43 Overall) 4th Season
Who's Gone: WR Joe Allaria, WR Jeff Evans, QB Chris Dieker, CB Korey Lindsey, LB Stephen Franklin, PK Kyle Dougherty.
Who's Back: OC Bryan Boemer, OT David Pickard, FB John Goode, QB Paul McIntosh, LB Joe Okon, LB Jayson DiManche, DE Chance Coda, LB E.J. Clark, CB Nick Clark, P Austin Pucylowski.
Historical Fact: The Salukis have made the postseason eight times in their football history with an 8-7 overall record and won the FCS title in 1983, with a win over Western Carolina
Last Season: SIU finished just 5-6 overall and ended their seven year consultative FCS playoff streak.
This Season: Coach Lennon hopes to start a new playoff streak but will have to do it with just 12 returning starters.
Western Illinois Leathernecks
Location: Macomb, IL
Stadium: Hanson Field (15,000 capacity)
Head Coach: Mark Hendrickson (13-15 @ WIU & career), 4th Season
Who's Gone: LB Kyle Glazier, QB Matt Barr, WR Lito Senatus, OL Mike Lamphear, LB Brandon Kreczmer.
Who's Back:, FB Josh Gabelmann, RB Caulton Ray, RB Bryce Flowers, WR Terriun Crump, LB Kevin Palermo, CB Chris Boone, S Ryan Davis, S Tim Franken, DE Dwight Harris, CB Kieron James.
Historical Fact: Western Illinois holds the distinction of being the only non-military institution to officially have its nickname derived from a branch of the military service. The school began use of the Marine Corps official nickname, The Fighting Leathernecks, in 1927 when then athletic director and head baseball, basketball and football coach Ray "Rock" Hanson was granted permission by the U.S. Navy, based on his status as a Marine hero, to use the Marine's official seal, bulldog mascot and nickname.
Last Season: The Leathernecks had their best turnaround in school history (+7 games) and won their opening round game before losing at Appalachian State in the second round to finish 8-5 overall.
This Season: Coach Hendrickson hopes to continue the winning ways this season but will have to do it without 2010 MVFC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Barr and 10 other starters lost.
Youngstown State Penguins
Location: Youngstown, OH
Stadium: Arnold D. Stambaugh Stadium (20,630 capacity)
Head Coach: Eric Wolford (3-8 YSU & Overall) 2nd Season
Who's Gone: WR Dominique Barnes, OT Bobby Coates, CB Brandian Ross, DT Torrance Nicholson, PK Stephen Blose.
Who's Back: RB Jamaine Cook, QB Kurt Hess, RB Adaris Bellamy, LB John Sasson, FS Donald DíAlesio, LB David Rach, LB Deonta Tate, P Nick Liste.
Historical Fact: YSU has won four national titles and finished second twice in their FCS history. Their last FCS playoffs appearance was in 2006.
Last Season: The Penguins finished 3-8 in Coach Wolfordís first season but five of the losses were margins of less than a touchdown.
This Season: The Penguins hope to turnaround the close losses into wins this year but had 21 seniors lost from last year's team.