(Stats Perform) - North Dakota State and the other nationally ranked teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference have lost enough key players to grad transfers and NFL Draft declarations in the last year that there may be room for a surprising team this spring.
Maybe that team is South Dakota.
The Coyotes were picked sixth in the MVFC's preseason poll on Wednesday, but had the third-most all-conference selections with eight. It was more than even Northern Iowa or Illinois State, who were preseason Top 10 teams before the fall schedule was postponed to the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I couldn't have been happier with the way that our guys have hit the field running," South Dakota fifth-year coach Bob Nielson said. "You have a bunch of guys that had something pretty special that was taken away in the fall. The spring gives them a chance to play football again."
In the most recent MVFC season in 2019, South Dakota went 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the conference, finishing sixth.
All but one of the Coyotes' preseason honorees is a senior. Running back Kai Henry, tight end Brett Samson, offensive lineman Mason Scheidegger, linebacker Jack Cochrane and punter Brady Schutt were named to the 31-player team, while wide receiver Caleb Vander Esch, kicker Mason Lorber and junior long snapper Dalton Godfrey earned honorable mention.
Three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State was favored in the preseason poll to claim a 10th straight MVFC title. The Bison, who are riding an FCS-record 38-game winning streak, had nine preseason selections, including a league-best eight on the main team. South Dakota State, another of the MVFC's four Top 10 teams last summer, also had nine overall selections.
MVFC teams will play an eight-game conference schedule, kicking off over the Feb. 19-21 weekend.
"It's a game where you're literally playing a ranked team every week. It's a heck of a league," Nielson said.
Missouri Valley Football Conference Preseason Poll
1. North Dakota State, 101 points
2. Northern Iowa, 92
3. South Dakota State, 91
4. Illinois State, 80
5. Southern Illinois, 68
6. South Dakota, 52
7. North Dakota, 39
8. Youngstown State, 36
9.(tie) Missouri State, 23
9.(tie) Western Illinois, 23
Indiana State not participating in spring season