Just like most of you, I anxiously awaited the announcement of the Division I playoff field this past Sunday. Most of the schools I expected made the field but there were a few exceptions such as the Big Sky’s Northern Arizona being left out but that was not entirely unexpected as I thought they might be the last team in. The biggest surprise, however, were the seeding of the teams in the field in my opinion. For some reason it seems the Missouri Valley Football Conference got seemingly the shaft in this year’s selection.
By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
While the conference did receive the field’s top seed in North Dakota State, its second place team somehow got selected as one of the final teams in the field.
For me, that is the most befalling selection of the entire field.
What Missouri Valley team was this that was selected so low?
This is the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. SDSU finished with an 8-3 mark overall and played an entire DI schedule. Its three losses were all road losses to FBS Kansas, Northern Iowa, and North Dakota State.
These three losses really have no shame. NDSU is the field’s top seed and while UNI finished a disappointing season at 6-5, most that follow the FCS level of football understand that coming into the UNIDome is not an easy task to pull off a win. And the Kansas game, it is another team that is down this season but still is an FBS squad with 22 extra scholarships to give that SDSU stayed very competitive against until the end before falling by two touchdowns, 31-17.
This SDSU team won two games against highly ranked teams at the time in Indiana State on the road and Youngstown State at home. They defeated a Southland team and a Big Sky team that each finished in the top half of their respective conferences in Southeastern Louisiana and UC Davis.
For that, SDSU was selected as one of the final two teams in. I just don’t get that.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference wound up as the highest ranked league in our Gridiron Power Index and for some reason the second place teams in other power conferences are playing or even hosting second round games such as similar record Sam Houston State out of the Southland, Cal Poly out of the Big Sky, Wofford out of the Southern, New Hampshire out of the Colonial, and even fellow MVFC foe Illinois State.
All of these schools had similar resumes as SDSU with similar 8-3 overall records but will get to enjoy a week off, whereas SDSU will host a playoff game for the first time in school history this Thanksgiving weekend.
Just to note, Illinois State and SDSU did not play each other this year due to the MVFC rule of one team not facing another team in the league with the addition of South Dakota this year. But the Redbirds finished in third place—a game behind SDSU in the MVFC standings.
Are there any other West playoff committee selections that seemed odd?
Yes, and this also involved SDSU. If one can get over the fact that SDSU is playing in the first round, the bracket that the Jackrabbits will face includes the top seeded North Dakota State in the second round should SDSU take care of business against their first round foe of Eastern Illinois.
I understand the argument of travel. Brookings, the home of SDSU, is just 150 miles away to NDSU’s home of Fargo so should SDSU win on Saturday, they will face a bus trip rather than a plane trip.
But I thought the top seed in the playoffs should get the luxury of facing the bottom seeded teams in the field which I can’t believe SDSU or EIU were either ranked, below Wagner or Colgate or Bethune-Cookman or Coastal Carolina. All four of these teams received automatic bids in the playoffs and per the GPI, were all ranked lower than either SDSU or EIU.
While this selection of SDSU to play in the first round and to be in the same bracket as rival NDSU seems odd to me, we can see the silver lining. SDSU gets a home playoff game for the first time in program history and with a first round bye, this probably would not have happened.
We likely will always find flaws in the playoff committee selections every year but I think we all can agree that we will still crown a champion on the field and not in the polls like our FBS friends.
For that, I will take this any day over the poll voting system.
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CSN West Playoff Game of the Week
Eastern Illinois (7-4, 6-1 OVC) @ South Dakota State (8-3, 6-2 MVFC), 3:00pm EST
South Dakota State is making only its third-ever appearance in the NCAA football playoffs, and the Jackrabbits are in search of their first postseason win.
SDSU reached the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time in
2009 after finishing the regular season with an 8-3 overall record and 7-1 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. An at-large selection, the Jackrabbits fell at top seeded Montana, 61-48 in giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter.
South Dakota State’s only other postseason game came in the opening round of the
1979 NCAA Division II Playoffs, when the Jackrabbits came out on the short end of a 50-7 decision at Youngstown State.
Eastern Illinois is much more versed in the playoffs. The Panthers are making 14th FCS playoff appearance and first since the 2009 season. EIU enters as the champion of the Ohio Valley Conference having won four of its last five games. The Panthers fell at No. 10 Central Arkansas in a non-conference game to end the regular season.
Eastern Illinois is making its 9th FCS playoff appearance as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference (joined in 1996). EIU has twice advanced to FCS quarterfinal round with the last time taking place in 1986.
This marks the third straight playoff appearance that EIU has opened with a road game. It is also the seventh straight playoff appearance that EIU has faced a Missouri Valley Conference team in the first round.
Eastern Illinois has returned to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference under the guidance of first-year head coach Dino Babers. Previously an assistant coach at Baylor, Babers has implemented a fast-tempo offense anchored by an outstanding quarterback and wide receiver combo.
Junior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has attempted 499 passes this season, completing 306 (61.3 percent) for 3,602 yards. He has thrown 31 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions.
Garoppolo’s primary receiver has been fellow junior Erik Lora, who leads the nation with 124 receptions for 1,531 yards. He has caught 12 touchdowns and also serves as the team’s punt returner.
Three other receivers have caught more than 30 passes. Chris Wright has tallied 49
receptions for 834 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Chavar Watkins has 45 receptions for 504 yards and four touchdowns. Sam Hendricks rounds out the receiving corps regulars with 34 catches for 294 yards and a pair of scores.
On the ground, Jake Walker has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, entering play Saturday with 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As a team, the Panthers rank sixth in passing offense (345.3 yards per game), sixth in total offense (480.5 ypg) and seventh in scoring offense (38.9 points per game).
On the flip side, the Panthers rank 50th or lower among FCS programs in nearly every defensive category except for tackles for loss, where they rank 10th with an average of 7.55 per game. Senior defensive end Artavious Dowdell leads the way with 13.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Greg Mahan has contributed 10 tackles for loss and five sacks during his senior season.
South Dakota State is led by the nation’s second leading rusher Zach Zenner with 1,703 yards on the ground as the Jackrabbits average 168.1 yards per game rushing. Zenner has 252 of the team’s 407 rushes and all but 146 of the team’s rushing yards.
SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner has passed for 2,101 yards and 14 touchdowns to give the Jacks a somewhat balanced attack.
On defense for SDSU, linebacker Ross Shafrath ranks eighth in the nation in tackles with 125 on the season. Linebacker T.J. Lally has six sacks and eight tackles for loss as SDSU has 30 sacks on the season. The Jacks’ defense is ranked eighth in total defense and fourth in scoring defense.
The weather might also play a role in this game as temperatures will be in the mid-to-upper 30s at game time and likely will see a brisk wind with it.
Given this, I see SDSU being able to shutdown the high attack of EIU. At this time of the year, strong defense seems to outshine strong offense and I think this is what will happen in Brookings on Saturday.
I like the Jackrabbits by two touchdowns.
South Dakota State 28 Eastern Illinois 14