I would say Welcome Back as in the John Sabastian mid-1970s hit song that was also the theme song to the television show in the same era Welcome Back, Kotter to those that follow my column. I am back now and will be writing for the remainder of the season.
By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
To get back into the swing of this season, this week I will see how the two months of the season has started. And boy what a dominate start for those in the West of the Missouri Valley, Southland, and Big Sky Conferences.
After the season is complete, I see half the playoff field coming from these three plus the Pioneer League champion.
Who are the teams have started well?
To no one’s surprise, two time defending champions North Dakota State sit at 8-0 and atop of the GPI rankings. The Bison have been again the top team including a win at FBS Kansas State. With three games to go, the Bison look to close out the season undefeated but will have a tough road contest left with Youngstown State and two home contests with Illinois State and South Dakota. NDSU has a bye this week to get ready for these last three games and likely is already in the playoffs already but are playing for the top seed to have teams come to the Fargodome in the playoffs.
Speaking of Youngstown State, the Penguins are perched at 7- 1 overall with their lone loss to the Big 10’s Michigan State. They sit well in the Missouri Valley standings tied right now with NDSU and look to get back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Like NDSU with their quarterback Brock Jensen, YSU is led by their senior quarterback Kurt Hess. The Penguins will need to overcome two dome road games in a row upcoming with South Dakota and Northern Iowa, and then home games with NDSU and South Dakota State and likely needs just one win in their final four to make the postseason. YSU is doing this well despite being picked #5 in the preseason conference poll.
In the Big Sky, the top team right now is Eastern Washington. The Eagles played two FBS teams in beating currently Top 25 ranked Oregon State but lost at Toledo as well to two time national finalist Sam Houston State. The Eagles also hold a 6-2 record and look to get back to the national championship game after winning the national title in 2010. EWU has also been headed by a top flight quarterback in sophomore Vernon Davis. The Eagles have already defeated Montana on the road and have another road game at Cal Poly and Idaho State to go with two home games against Montana State and Portland State. The Cal Poly and Montana State games will likely be the Eagles toughest games remaining.
Montana, Montana State, Southern Utah, and Northern Arizona all are in the playoff mix and each look very likely to reach this year’s expanded 24-team field. All reside currently with 6-2 records with the exception of Southern Utah, which is 6-3.
The Grizzlies have three of four on the road to finish their season—at Sacramento State, South Dakota, and rival Montana State to end the season. The lone home game for the Griz will be against Weber State just before the Brawl of the Wild game in Bozeman.
Montana State has two road and then two home games to finish their season. Starting with road contests at Northern Colorado and then a tough game at Eastern Washington, thry finish at home against Southern Utah and then the aforementioned Montana game.
Southern Utah has just three games left but have a nice FBS win on their resume with the FBS newcomer, South Alabama. The Thunderbirds have three games left following a bye this week—Utah rival Weber State and Montana State on the road and then Northern Arizona at home to end the season.
Northern Arizona has beaten Montana but lost to Montana State so far but the Lumberjacks seemingly have the easiest schedule of the Big Sky five playoff contenders with home games against North Dakota and Northern Colorado, and then the road game at Southern Utah.
In the Southland, Sam Houston State looks to make it three appearances in a row to their home state national title home of Frisco. The Bearkats own an impressive win over Eastern Washington but also lost to conference rival McNeese State. SHSU sits at 6-2 overall with the other loss to FBS Texas A&M. The Bearkats have rival Stephen F. Austin this week in Houston and then close out their home state with Nicholls State. SHSU finishes on the road against two top rivals in Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas so the playoffs are not a guarantee yet for this team.
The team in the Southland that has been the best so far is the team that beat SHSU in McNeese State, who ride at 7-1 overall. The Cowboys own a blowout win at FBS South Florida, as well as the win over Sam Houston State. MSU alternates home and road games in their final four contests starting with a battle of SLC undefeated teams in Southeastern Louisiana in Lake Charles. The final three will be Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State, and Lamar.
Speaking of Southeastern Louisiana, the Lions look to make the playoffs for the first time in the program’s history since being a rekindled program in the early 2000s. The Lions sit at 6-2 overall with the two losses early at South Dakota State and FBS Texas Christian. SELA has two road games this week at McNeese State and then Central Arkansas before finishing at home against Sam Houston State and Nicholls State.
All of these teams seem to have an easy road to this year’s playoffs.
But what teams need to do a lot of work to get into the postseason play?
A number of teams sit at or near the .500 mark and have much work to do to get into the playoffs. These teams include the following:
-South Dakota State
All of these teams above are still alive for at-large playoff spots but will likely need to win out to get a spot.
Who do I see making the playoffs from the West?
Big Sky: I think five teams will make it from the Big Sky. Those teams look to be Eastern Washington, Montana State, Montana, Northern Arizona, and Southern Utah
Missouri Valley: North Dakota State, Youngstown State, Northern Iowa
Southland: McNeese State, Sam Houston State, Southeastern Louisiana
Pioneer League: Right now there is a four way tie with three games to go. San Diego, Butler, Dayton and Marist all sit with 4-1 league records. This week’s Dayton-Butler game will start to determine the first playoff PFL champion.
Well, it is good to be back. I am coming back at the right time just before the playoffs start. And what could ever lead you. Back here where we need you. That is exactly how I feel. It is good to be home.