By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
The MVFC was also ranked as the top GPI (Gridiron Power Index) conference last year. Despite the top ranking, only co-MVFC champion Northern Iowa joined NDSU into the playoffs. Illinois State was the only other 7-DI win school within the league a year ago.
The MVFC will have one new addition this fall in South Dakota to get to ten total schools for the first time in league history. With the addition of USD, the league will not play the entire group of other members of the league for the first time in league history as well. Each member of the league will not play one other member on a two year rotating basis.
As for this year’s conference title hopefuls, NDSU and UNI still look to be atop of this highly competitive league. Youngstown State, Illinois State, and Indiana State look to also challenge for the league crown and at least a postseason berth.
North Dakota State won its first national title in the FCS ranks after winning eight prior titles at the Division II and College Division. The Bison won the 2011 title after defeating the Southland’s Sam Houston State 17-6. NDSU won its last title in 1990. The Bison won the title after making their first ever playoff appearance in 2010 and finished that season at 9-5 after upsetting seeded Montana State and narrowly losing at eventual national champion Eastern Washington in overtime in the quarterfinals. NDSU’s success is also seen when they play FBS opponents having won their last two contests—Kansas in 2010 and Minnesota last year. The Bison have a 5-3 mark against the top level of Division I opponents since moving up to the Division I ranks in 2004.
The Bison success was on the heels of two sub-.500 campaigns in their first two eligible playoff seasons of 2008 and 2009. The improvement came with an increased emphasis on defense. In fact, NDSU allowed just 27 total points in their four playoff games or an average under 7 points per contest.
That defense will look to continue this success and have an All-American cornerback in Marcus Williams to lead the team that loses a number of all conference defensive performers. Williams recorded seven interceptions with three of those going for touchdowns and opponents started to not throw to his side of the field after he shutdown opposing wideouts. Fellow junior in safety Colten Heagle is the leading returning tackler and the ball carrier usually knows he was tackled after he hits them. National Title game MVP linebacker sophomore Travis Beck returns as does fellow sophomore tackle Cole Jirik to lead their respective units.
The Bison offense will be centered around returning junior quarterback Brock Jensen. He will have returning running back Sam Ojuri to handle the running duties, which is what the Bison like to do first after he split time a year ago. Wide receiver and kick returner Ryan Smith will likely be asked to handle more receptions as the Bison return no receivers that caught a touchdown from a year ago. Sophomore Cooper Wahlo, Jr. will likely be asked to step up as another wideout option for Jensen. The Bison offensive line loses two all conference performers but should still be strong with junior tackle Billy Turner heading the group.
Last year’s co-champions of Northern Iowa have to start this season with a very tough schedule—playing two FBS Big Ten teams in Wisconsin and Iowa, along with traveling to contender Youngstown State and hosting NDSU all in the month of September. The Panthers also play DII Central (OH) State so UNI likely will have to win one of those other four games to be considered for the playoffs should the Panthers not win the league.
A year ago, UNI lost in the quarterfinal round at Montana in finishing 10-3 overall. UNI loses seven All-MVFC performers including the Defensive Player of the Year linebacker L.J. Fort and fellow All-American tackle Ben Boothby. In total, UNI will need to break-in 11 new starters this fall.
UNI does return five starters from last year’s defensive team and should be the strongest in the secondary with all four starters back led by All-MVFC cornerback Varmah Sonie after recording 70 tackles and three interceptions. The Panther defensive line will be headed by Chris Jepsen, who had six tackles for loss and three sacks a year ago. The UNI linebacker group will be all new starters in the hopes of continuing their statistics from last year of giving up just 19 points per game.
The Panther offense will be led by a new quarterback after the graduation of Tirrell Rennie. Last year’s back-up sophomore Jared Lanpher and redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen will continue to compete this fall for the starting spot. Whichever quarterback is selected, he will have two strong running backs behind him in senior Carlos Anderson and sophomore David Johnson splitting time as the feature runner.
The wide receivers for UNI will have senior Terrell Sinkfield and tight end Darion Howard returning and a new star may be emerging in tight end Tim Roth, who had a strong spring game performance after being converted from a quarterback spot. The offensive line should be another offensive strength with four returning starters up front.
UNI will have not only one of the best kickers in the MVFC but also the country in Tyler Sievertsen. He made 18-of-20 field goals with his only misses on attempts of 40 yards or more.
Youngstown State had an up and down season in 2011. The Penguins handed NDSU their only loss in Fargo—YSU’s first win over a top ranked team since winning at Villanova in the 1997 playoffs. But YSU had its lows with losses to sub-.500 teams in Missouri State and South Dakota State both in Youngstown. Overall, the Penguins finished with a record of 6-5. Coach Eric Wolford has much of his team returning and hopes for more consistency this year. The loss to MSU to end the season likely cost YSU a playoff spot.
Offensively, YSU had a historical season in 2011. The Penguins set a school record with 458.6 total offensive yards per game. The previous mark of 412.0 was set in 2010. They also recorded a school high in scoring averaging 36.2 points per game. The previous highs of 33.5 were set in 1978 and 2001. In setting these records, YSU did it with both the running and passing games. The Penguins were the only FCS team to rush for more than 2,500 yards and pass for more than 2,500 yards in the regular season. YSU also had 27 passing touchdowns and 26 rushing touchdowns.
Those record setting numbers should continue this year with senior running back Jamaine Cook and junior quarterback Kurt Hess returning. Hess set the school record for single-season touchdown passes (26), completion percentage (64.5), 200-yard games (eight), touchdown passes in consecutive games (11) and touchdown passes in a game (five vs. Missouri State). Cook had a career-high 1,386 yards, averaged a career-best 126 yards per game and scored a career-high 13 touchdowns. He tied a school record rushing for 100 yards in six consecutive games.
Hess will have sophomore wide receiver Christian Bryan as his main target after he set an YSU freshman record with 46 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns. His offensive line will be headed by All-MVFC members junior guard Chris Elkins and senior center Mark Pratt.
The Penguin defense will be less experienced than their offensive counterparts but still has some returning talent. The one thing with the YSU defense is getting more consistency after giving up over 350 yards and over 25 points per game. The Penguin defense will be headed by two sophomores named Williams—Teven and Travis, who are unrelated. Teven led the team in tackles with 67 and Travis ranked second on the team in total tackles with 58.
Like YSU, Illinois State had a chance to get to the playoffs with a win in their last regular season game. The Redbirds unlike YSU, however, did reach the seven win total which is the general guideline for being considered for postseason play. ISU lost to co-champion Northern Iowa to end the season in double overtime to place doubt in the playoff selection committee for their selection despite winning their prior five contests before the loss. This year, ISU has 11 starters to replace.
The best of the offensive performers in seniors quarterback Matt Brown and wide receiver Tyrone Walker. Brown, the 2009 MVFC Freshman of the Year, became just the third Redbird quarterback in history to throw for over 2,000 yards in three different seasons and finished the year with 2,187 yards and 18 touchdowns, with a school single-season record completion percentage of 65 percent. Walker led the team with 64 catches for 787 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
The worst side of the ball for experience is the offensive side where all five offensive linemen were lost to graduation. The Redbirds looked to the transfer route to seek some help for the lack of experience including Josh Aladenoye from FBS Oklahoma and Jermaine Barton from FBS Miami (FL). One blocker that ISU can use is All-MVFC performer Jordan Neukirch who played as a hybrid fullback/tight end player for the Redbirds. He served as the team's primary blocking back, but also caught four passes for 40 yards.
On the Redbird defense, three returning All-MVFC should pace this side of the ball. The three include seniors in linebacker Evan Frierson and end Nate Palmer, and junior tackle Colton Underwood. Frierson led the team and was second in the Valley with 15 tackles-for-loss and ranked second on the team with 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Palmer led the team and the MVFC with 9.5 sacks in 2011. Underwood ranked second on the team with six sacks and added 9.5 tackles-for-loss a season ago. The Redbirds also will see some help on this side of the ball with some FBS transfers including Ohio State defensive back Dominic Clarke and Colorado State safety Ezra Thompson.
The other ISU in Indiana State also hopes for similar improvements as Illinois State and YSU to get over the hump into the playoffs. The Sycamores finished 6-5 overall a season ago. This ISU felt some of the same issues as YSU in it defeated FBS Western Kentucky a season ago but then lost to sub-.500 Southern Illinois to end the season when a win would have put the Sycamores most likely into the playoffs. Despite the up-and-down play, ISU posted their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1995 and 1996.
Offensively, the Sycamores will have Payton Award finalist junior Shakir Bell back at his running back position. He led the nation in rushing with 1,670 total yards in 2011 and had a 151.8 per game average. His yardage total last season broke the school record for single-season rushing yards and ranks eighth in league history. The ISU quarterback situation is less defined after the graduation of Ronnie Fouch. Senior Travis Johnson and freshman Trent Lancaster, along with transfers Mike Perish and Blake Loncar all saw action in the spring and will be fighting for the starting spot coming into this fall.
Whichever quarterback is selected he will have Donald Spencer, a 2011 All-MVFC newcomer, back for his junior season after leading the team with six receiving touchdowns last season, totaling 459 yards on 31 catches. The Sycamore offensive line will be headed by returning All-MVFC senior center FN Lutz.
The ISU defense will be headed by returning All-American senior end Ben Obaseki, who led the team with 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Also returning are fellow seniors in linebackers Aaron Archie and Jacolby Washington. Archie led ISU in tackles, finishing tied for 12th nationally and second in the conference with 122 stops for the season. Washington finished last year third in the conference and second on the team with 120 total tackles.
The ISU special teams will have All-MVFC punter in senior Lucas Hileman back after leading the league with his 42.2 yards per punt average.
South Dakota State is yet another team that hopes to get back to winning ways after advancing to their first FCS playoff berth in 2009. The Jackrabbits have followed that postseason berth by two back to back 5-6 seasons. SDSU will need to overcome playing just five home games and visits to FBS Kansas and last year’s co-champions of NDSU and UNI to get back to a winning record. To turn things around SDSU will count on 15 starters returning.
On the offensive side, SDSU will be led by sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner, who was last year’s MVFC Freshman of the Year. Sumner threw for a MVFC freshman passing record of 2,382 yards to go with 16 touchdown passing and he added three more on the ground. His leading receiver in Dale Moss graduated but will have fellow All-MVFC performer Aaron Rollin back to be the top target for Sumner after tying for the team lead with Moss with 61 receptions for 906 yards and a team high seven scores.
The running game for the Jacks should be a combination of senior Tyrel Kool and All-MVFC newcomer team member sophomore Zach Zenner. Kool led the team with 534 yards, while Zenner tabulated 470 yards. The combo totaled seven touchdowns on the ground and another three threw the air. The offensive line should be headed by junior tackle Bryan Witzmann, who was an All-MVFC Honorable Mention performer.
The Jacks defense likely will be the side of the ball that will make the determination if SDSU improves on the five win total. The defense allowed over 24 points per game but will have an All-MVFC performer to use to improve that statistic in junior cornerback Winston Wright. He led the team with three interceptions and seven pass breakups and also had a fumble return for a touchdown.
Another team that hopes to get back to winning ways after two sub-par seasons is Southern Illinois. The Salukis finished last year with a 4-7 mark and were 5-6 in 2010. In 2009, SIU was the MVFC champions. Coach Dale Lennon’s team will return 15 starters this year but will have just five home games to turn things around.
The Saluki defense will be the area that will need to improve, which has typically been the strong side of the ball. In fact, SIU will be changing up their defense this season to be similar to that of FBS Georgia Tech. They will play a 3-4 alignment. With that formation, they will look to two All-MVFC performers to upgrade their defensive fate in two seniors in safety Kayon Swanson and end Kenneth Boatright. Swanson led the team with 52 tackles and was second on the team with 4.0 sacks. Boatright led the team with 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, which ranked fourth in the conference, and was second on the team with 51 tackles.
The SIU offense will have a battle at quarterback between junior Kory Faulkner and senior Paul McIntosh. Faulkner took over after McIntosh season-ending shoulder injury in the fourth game of the season a year ago. Whichever quarterback emerges this year, he will have sophomore wide receiver MyCole Pruitt as his main target after he led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2011. He caught at least three passes in the last eight games of the year.
The running back situation looked good to end the 2011 season with would-be senior Jewel Hampton coming off a MVFC Newcomer of the Year award. The FBS Iowa transfer, however, decided to enter the NFL Draft so SIU will look to fellow All-MVFC honoree Steve Strother, who earned the first-team nod as a return specialist. Strother led the conference in kick return average by more than three yards per return. He had seven returns of 35 yards or longer. He rushed for 277 yards in a backup role a year ago. SIU may also look at two FBS transfer running backs in Antonio Banks (Indiana) and Mika'il McCall (Iowa) to help the running game.
Western Illinois has been kind of an up and down team the past three seasons. Three years ago, WIU finished 1-10 but rebounded to 8-5 with a playoff bid in 2010 but then went down again to 2-9 a season ago. Last year, the Leathernecks were a very young team and also played three FCS playoff teams including the two finalists of NDSU and Sam Houston State. Coach Mark Hendrickson hopes the experience for his youthful team from a season ago will turn the record around like it did two years ago. In total, 15 starters are back this fall in Macomb.
The Leatherneck offense should be led by its ground game with its top two running backs returning in senior Caulton Ray (620 yards, 4 TD) and sophomore Nikko Watson (485 yards, 3 TD). The WIU quarterback situation is wide open coming into fall camp with three signal callers back that started at some point last year in Josh Hudson, Wil Lunt, and Cody Reardon.
The passing and running games should have good play from the offensive line with senior Andrew Robiskie and junior Jimmy Holtschlag leading the way. The wide receivers for whichever quarterback wins out should be headed by two seniors in Charles Chestnut (23 receptions, 296 yards) and Justin Morgan (14 catches, 202 yards, 1 TD).
Defensively the Leathernecks will have a new alignment under new coordinator Brian Ward, who is coming from last year’s Pioneer League co-champions Drake. Moving to a 4-3 arrangement, WIU will look to improve on a unit that ranked near the bottom nationally in almost every defensive category, including scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks and tackles for loss. He will look to two All-MVFC honorable mention performers in defensive lineman Dwight Harris (37 tackles, 3 sacks) and defensive back Kieron James (45 tackles, 3 INT) to lead the turn around this side of the ball.
The lone new school in the MVFC is South Dakota and while the Coyotes move in from the defunct Great West Conference, they will also have a new look with new head coach Joe Glenn. Glenn is a USD graduate and is used to winning having won national titles twice with DII Northern Colorado in the mid-1990s and then an FCS title with Montana in 2001. He replaces Ed Meierkort despite the Coyotes finishing at 6-5 a season ago. USD is fully eligible this year after completing its DI transition.
The Coyotes will have two All-GWC performers to help on offense in wide receiver Will Powell and running back Marcus Sims. Powell led the GWC a year ago in receiving yards with 763 on 42 receptions. Sims led the team in rushing with 678 yards despite splitting time with the now graduated Chris Ganious.
The Coyote quarterback situation appears to be going to sophomore Josh Vander Maten, who backed up the now departed Dante Warren last year. In his brief appearances last year, Vander Maten threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns. The USD offensive line will lose NFL drafted Tom Compton but will return senior All-GWC second team center Tim Ross.
The USD defense will be led by their line with junior end Tyler Starr and senior tackle David Giese. Starr led the GWC in sacks (14), tackles for loss (19) and forced fumbles (7). Giese was the plug in the middle and totaled 32 tackles a season ago.
USD also had two strong kickers in senior punter Cole Zwiefelhofer and junior place kicker Kevin Robb. Zwiefelhofer 43.1 average per punt, while Robb tied the school-record for field goals made in a season with 17 and led the GWC in field goals made per game with a 1.55 average.
Missouri State just cannot seem to get over the hump despite having the winningest coach in MVFC history in Terry Allen. The Bears went just 2-9 overall last year and have had just two winning seasons in the six seasons under Allen with six wins in each of those two winning seasons. This year’s team will return 24 players with starting experience but for the second straight season, MSU will have to overcome playing two BCS conference FBS opponents (Kansas State and Louisville) to start the season.
Offensively, the Bears will be slowed by the dismissal of junior quarterback Trevor Wooden. Wooden threw for 1,853 yards and 17 touchdowns and led the team in rushing as well with 567 yards on the ground with seven more scores. But one of the leading returning targets senior tight end Matt Thayer caught 20 passes for 247 yards and three scores as All-MVFC honorable mention returns. Sophomore signal-caller Kierra Harris may end up as the starting QB.
Also senior Cadarrius Dotson is back at a wide receiver position, who is actually the leading returning pass catcher after 22 receptions for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bear defense hopes to improve on its 37.1 point per game average. To do this, MSU will have two sophomores to build upon in linebacker Andrew Beisel and safety Mike Crutcher. Beisel led the Bears in total tackles (84), making him the first freshman to lead MSU in defensive stops since 1998. He was also the club leader in tackles for loss (6.0) and third on the squad in sacks (2.5). Crutcher finished with a team second best 83 total tackles with one sack, one interception and four passes defended.
MISSOURI VALLEY PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. North Dakota State
2. Northern Iowa
3. Youngstown State
4. Illinois State
5. Indiana State
6. South Dakota State
7. Southern Illinois
8. Western Illinois
9. South Dakota
10. Missouri State
MISSOURI VALLEY TOP PERFORMERS
Offensive Player of the Year:
Shakir Bell, RB, Indiana State, Jr.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Marcus Williams, CB, North Dakota State, Jr.
Biggest Shoes to Fill:
L.J. Fort, LB, Northern Iowa
MISSOURI VALLEY GAMES OF THE WEEK
Southern Illinois @ Eastern Illinois, Aug. 30
These two out of conference Illinois rivals meet for the first time since the Salukis defeated the Panthers in the 2009 playoffs.
South Dakota State @ Southeastern Louisiana, Sept. 8
The Jackrabbits visit the Southland Lions. The last time these two met in Brookings, SDSU came out victorious. Can the Jacks do again this time on the road at Hammond?
Southeast Missouri State @ Southern Illinois, Sept. 15
These two out of conference rivals meet in Carbondale. The Salukis defeated the Redhawks last year. Can they make it two wins in a row this year?
Northern Iowa @ Youngstown State, Sept. 22
The Panthers narrowly defeated the Penguins in Cedar Falls last year by a 21-17 score. Will the home field help YSU defeat UNI this year?
North Dakota State @ Northern Iowa, Sept. 29
The Bison finally defeated the Panthers last year after three losses in their MVFC history. The Bison try to make it two in a row but will have to win in the UNIDome to do it.
Western Illinois @ South Dakota, Oct. 6
The Coyotes will have a couple MVFC games already under their belt but this might be the best chance for USD to post a victory over the Leathernecks at home in the DakotaDome.
Indiana State @ North Dakota State, Oct. 13
The Bison have never lost to the Sycamores in their history within MVFC play. Will this be the year that ISU breaks through even though this contest is at the Fargodome?
Southern Illinois @ Youngstown State, Oct. 20
This midseason battle between the Salukis and Penguins might see who will remain in the MVFC championship chase.
Illinois State @ Northern Iowa, Oct. 27
The Panthers defeated the Redbirds in overtime a year ago in what ultimately kept ISU out of the playoffs. Can ISU get revenge on the road this year over UNI?
Illinois State @ Indiana State, Nov. 3
This battle of the ISU’s will likely mean a lot in both the MVFC championship and playoff chase. Will the home field in Terre Haute help the Sycamores defeat the Redbirds this year?
South Dakota State @ North Dakota State, Nov. 10
The battle for the Dakota Marker is in Fargo this year. The Bison defeated the Jacks last year in Brookings for the first time in four tries. Can SDSU return the favor this year in Fargo?
South Dakota @ South Dakota State, Nov. 17
These two Rushmore State rivals have not played since 2003 when both were DII squads. Will the first meeting as DI opponents be one for the history books?
MISSOURI VALLEY MEMBERS
Illinois State Redbirds
Location: Normal, IL
Stadium: Hancock Stadium (9,500)
Head Coach: Brock Spack (19-14 @ ISU & overall), 4th Season
Who's Gone: RB Ashton Leggett, OL Nick Bledsoe, CB Otis Merrill, LB Josh Howe, OT Cody White.
Who's Back: LB Evan Frierson, QB Matt Brown, FB Jordan Neukirch, DE Nate Palmer, WR Tyrone Walker, DL Colton Underwood, WR Lechein Neblett, WR James O'Shaughnessy, CB Mike Banks, P Patrick Wright.
Historical Fact: Illinois State was home to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's Defensive Player of the Year each season from 2002-06.
Last Season: Illinois State narrowly missed the postseason after a 7-4 campaign.
This Season: Coach Spack hopes build on last year’s young squad to get ISU into the postseason play for the first time since 2006.
Indiana State Sycamores
Location: Terre Haute, IN
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (12,746 Capacity)
Head Coach: Trent Miles (13-32 @ ISU & Overall), 5th Season
Who's Gone: QB Ronnie Fouch, WR Justin Hilton, FB Brock Lough, TE Alex Jones, OG Ben Geffert, S Alex Sewall, S Larry Carter, DL Rod Hardy, LB Ryan Roberts.
Who's Back: RB Shakir Bell, LB Jacolby Washington, DE Ben Obaseki, S Larry King, CB Calvin Burnett, OC FN Lutz, LB Aaron Archie, DE Josh Scott, WR Donald Spencer, P Lucas Hileman
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 the second season in a row and were in the playoff hunt until the last game where they lost to Southern Illinois to miss the postseason.
This Season: ISU hopes to build on the continued momentum from the past two seasons to finally get back to the postseason since 1984.
Missouri State Bears
Location: Springfield, MO
Stadium: Plaster Field (16,300 capacity)
Head Coach: Terry Allen, (25-41 @ MSU, 120-100 Overall) 7th Season
Who's Gone: WR Jermaine Saffold, RB Chris Douglas, DE Mikel Ruder, CB Jimmie Strong, P Jordan Chiles.
Who's Back: OT Zack Cooley, OG Kurt Kutter, OC Harrison Menke, OT Randy Richards, TE Matt Thayer, WR Dorian Buford, WR Julian Burton, WR Cadarrius Dotson, QB Trevor Wooden, RB Vernon Scott, DE Tevan Ferguson, DE Martin Montgomery, NT Eric Pearce, LB Rodney Kelly, LB Nick Canavan, LB Andrew Beisel, FS Mike Crutcher, CB Sybhrian Berry,
Historical Fact: The Bears moved to NCAA Division I status for the 1982-83 season and joined the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 1985 where they have been a member ever since.
Last Season: Missouri State finished 2-9 in its sixth season under Coach Allen losing its first seven games but did win two of their last four contests.
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 (Kansas State & Louisville) and four other road contests.
North Dakota State Bison
Location: Fargo, ND
Stadium: Fargodome (18,700 Capacity)
Head Coach: Craig Bohl (75-31, NDSU & Overall) 10th Season
Who's Gone: OT Paul Cornick, OG Austin Richard, RB D.J. McNorton, WR Warren Holloway, TE Matt Veldman, LB Preston Evans, LB Chad Willson, DE Colter Boyer. K Ryan Jastram, P Matt Voigtlander.
Who's Back: QB Brock Jensen, WR/RS Ryan Smith, RB Sam Ojuri, FB Andrew Grothmann, OC Joe Lund, OG Tyler Gimmestad, OT Billy Turner, CB Marcus Williams, FS Christian Dudzik, DE Cole Jirik, NG Ryan Drevlow, DT Leevon Perry, SS Colton Heagle, LB Travis Beck.
Historical Fact: NDSU has now won nine eight national titles in its history — the last being at the DII level in 1990 before last year’s FCS title.
Last Season: NDSU finished with just one lose and garnered the #2 seed in the Division I playoffs enroot to defeating top seeded Sam Houston State 17-6 in the national title game.
This Season: NDSU hopes to continue the winning ways in 2012 and should be favored to win the league with a strong core of the team returning from the 2011 team.
Northern Iowa Panthers
Location: Cedar Falls, IA
Stadium: UNI-Dome (16,324 capacity)
Head Coach: Mark Farley (99-40 @ UNI & Overall), 12th Season
Who's Gone: QB Tirrell Rennie, WR Jarred Herring, WR Josh Collins, OT Jay Teply, LB L.J. Fort, DT Ben Boothby, LB Jordan Smith.
Who's Back: RB Carlos Anderson, RB David Johnson, K Tyler Sieversten, WR Brett LeMaster, WR Kevin Vereen, TE Will Roth, DL Xavier Williams, CB Varmah Sonie, QB Jared Lanpher, FS Wilmot Wellington, 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 sixteenth MVFC title (tied with NDSU) last year but bowed out in the first round of the FCS playoffs in the quarterfinals at Montana to finish 10-3 overall.
This Season: Coach Farley's team hopes to win another conference title but will have to do it with a number of new starters and overcome playing two FBS teams in Wisconsin and Iowa.
South Dakota Coyotes
Location: Vermillion, SD
Stadium: DakotaDome (10,000 Capacity)
Head Coach: Joe Glenn (0-0, USD & 188-100-1 Overall) 1st Season
Who's Gone: OT Tom Compton, QB Dante Warren, RB Chris Ganious, LB Adam Broders, WR Jeremy Blount.
Who's Back: WR Will Powell, P Cole Zwiefelhofer, K Kevin Robb, DE Tyler Starr, RB Marcus Sims, OC Tim Ross, LB Tim Marlette, S Aaron Swift, LB Darius Hogans, CB Alphonso "Rico" Valdez.
Historical Fact: The Coyotes have made the playoffs three times, including a championship game appearance in 1986 as a Division II member.
Last Season: USD finished 6-5 but was not enough to save now former coach Ed Meierkort's job as USD played in the final season of Great West Conference play.
This Season: The Coyotes are playoff eligible for their first season in the MVFC and hope that veteran coach Glenn, who won a FCS national title with Montana in 2001 will bring similar results for USD.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Location: Brookings, SD
Stadium: Coughlin-Alumni Stadium (15,000 Capacity),
Head Coach: John Stiegelmeier (93-72, SDSU & Overall), 16th Season
Who's Gone: P Jason Schlautman, WR Dale Moss, LB Mike Lien, FB Kyle Sheehan,
Who's Back: CB Winston Wright, WR Aaron Rollin, OT Bryan Witzmann, QB Austin Sumner, RB/RS Zach Zenner, RB Tyrel Kool, WR Brandon Hubert.
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 three of its first four games but finished winning four of their last seven to finish 5-6 overall but did win its last three games.
This Season: The Jacks hope to use the strength of their last three contests to start off stronger in 2012.
Southern Illinois Salukis
Location: Carbondale, IL
Stadium: Saluki Stadium (15,000 capacity)
Head Coach: Dale Lennon (29-18 @ SIU, 131-51 Overall) 5th Season
Who's Gone: OC Bryan Boemer, OT David Pickard, RB Jewel Hampton, S Mike McElroy.
Who's Back: RB/RS Steve Strother, NT Kayon Swanson, DE Kenneth Boatright, K Jackson MacLachlan, WR MyCole Pruitt, QB Kory Faulkner, OT Richard Wilson, LB Jayson DiManche, LB Joe Okon, FS Boo Rodgers.
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 4-7 overall but the Salukis did win their final two games including knocking out Indiana State in their final contest.
This Season: Coach Lennon hopes to get back to the winning ways that SIU enjoyed after seven straight FCS playoff appearances that ended after the 2009 season.
Western Illinois Leathernecks
Location: Macomb, IL
Stadium: Hanson Field (16,368 capacity)
Head Coach: Mark Hendrickson (15-24 @ WIU & career), 5th Season
Who's Gone: WR Terriun Crump, LB Kevin Palermo.
Who's Back: DE Dwight Harris, OG Jimmy Holtschlag, DB Kieron James, LB Theon Dixon, RB Nikko Watson, QB Josh Hudson, RB Caulton Ray, WR Charles Chestnut.
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 were 2-3 heading into their bye week and lost their final six games of the year to finish 2-9 overall.
This Season: Coach Hendrickson hopes to return to the winning ways of two years ago when WIU made the FCS playoffs with a total of 15 returning starters back this fall.
Youngstown State Penguins
Location: Youngstown, OH
Stadium: Arnold D. Stambaugh Stadium (20,630 capacity)
Head Coach: Eric Wolford (9-13 YSU & Overall) 3rd Season
Who's Gone: DT Andrew Johnson, LB Josh Lee, DE Obinna Ekweremuba, FS Scott Sentner.
Who's Back: RB Jamaine Cook, QB Kurt Hess, OC Mark Pratt, TE Jamaine Cook, LB Teven Williams, OG Chris Elkins, WR Christian Bryan, LB Travis Williams, K David Brown, P Nick Liste.
Historical Fact: YSU has won four national titles and finished second twice in their FCS history.
Last Season: The Penguins improved to 6-5 overall in Coach Wolford’s second season in Youngstown.
This Season: Coach Wolford hopes to improve even further and get to the postseason for the first time since 2006.