NDSU looks to end league season with unbeaten mark

DAVE KOLPACK (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- While top-ranked North Dakota State is looking to polish off an unbeaten Missouri Valley Football Conference season this weekend, other ranked teams in the league are staring at unfavorable numbers for the FCS playoff picture.

The Bison (10-0, 7-0 MVFC) are favored to defeat visiting South Dakota (3-4, 4-7) on Saturday and gain the top seed when a Championship Subdivision committee announces the 24-team playoff field a day later.

League observers believe the winner of the South Dakota State (4-3, 7-4) and Youngtown State (5-2, 8-3) game should be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, but too many of the other top teams took turns beating each other.

''The league has mathematically backed itself into a corner,'' said Mike Kern, Missouri Valley associate commissioner.

Kern said the loser of South Dakota State-Youngstown game should be in the playoff conversation, along with Southern Illinois (4-3, 6-5) and Northern Iowa (2-5, 6-5) if the two teams win on Saturday.

North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said a tournament with only two Missouri Valley teams would be a ''real misrepresentation'' for the league. His players who have been part of two straight national titles tell him they've had tougher sledding in the league than in the playoffs.

''I don't think many people on the national committee understand the rigors of the league,'' Bohl said. He added that the committee is good at what it does, but the members represent different regions with different perspectives.

Kern put out a release Wednesday that shows the Missouri Valley as the top-rated conference under a so-called Gridiron Power Index, or GPI, a compilation of computer and human polls. Five Valley teams - NDSU, Youngstown, SDSU, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois - are rated in the top 20 of the GPI in the FCS.

Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon said he hopes the committee looks at head-to-head competition.

''I just hope that the reputation of the league helps everyone,'' he said.

There are 13 at-large bids available. The conference scenario that generally creates the most bids, Kern said, is to have a top-heavy league with three or so dominant teams at the top and the same number of sacrificial lambs at the bottom.

The Big Sky Conference, for example, has five teams with league records of 5-2 or better and four with two wins or fewer, including two winless clubs.

There's no arguing NDSU's numbers. The Bison have not gone undefeated in the regular season since the 1990 NCAA Division II championship team went 10-0 in the regular season and 4-0 in the playoffs. Their 19-game winning streak dating back to last season is a Missouri Valley record, the longest active streak in FCS, and the second longest streak in all of Division I behind Ohio State.

South Dakota coach Joe Glenn, who butted heads with the Bison for 10 years when he coached Northern Colorado in Division II, said he's ''been there, done that'' when asked about going up against a powerhouse.

''We're all trying to be like North Dakota State,'' Glenn said. ''You can see it in recruiting, the level of athletes they're getting. They're strong, right down the line.''

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