Illinois State vs Northwestern during an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill, Saturday, September 10, 2016 Photo/Matt Marton
AP Photo
September 11, 2016

(STATS) - Look at it this way with the Missouri Valley Football Conference: even recently struggling Missouri State has a 2-0 record to surpass last year's win total.

We've suggested the nation's strongest FCS conference will become the first to put six teams in the playoff field this year.

Through two weeks of the season, it's looking quite possible. All 10 teams are at least 1-1, with Missouri State, a mere 1-10 last season, the surprise among the 2-0 teams that also include top-ranked North Dakota State, Illinois State and Western Illinois.

The Missouri Valley won its mini-battle with the Big Sky over the weekend, capturing three of the four matchups - NDSU over Eastern Washington and Western Illinois over Northern Arizona within the Top 25 and South Dakota over Weber State. Only Northern Iowa, which has beaten Iowa State, was a loser, falling to Montana.

Last year's five playoff teams - NDSU, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Western Illinois - have done nothing to suggest they won't be back again, even with the upcoming conference schedule so brutal. All but WIU from that group are ranked in the Top 10, and Illinois State, the two-time defending Valley champ with NDSU, has an FBS win like UNI, taking down Northwestern on Saturday.

Youngstown State is the other viable playoff candidate. Coach Bo Pelini's team has an solid win over Duquesne and a credible loss to West Virginia. The Penguins are improved.

Six playoff teams is a number other people say won't happen. That's all MVFC teams usually have to hear.



Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:

1.) In addition to Illinois State's win, Eastern Illinois scored one as well as the two head to the 105th meeting of their rivalry next Saturday. EIU beat Miami of Ohio 21-17 on Mitch Kimble's 7-yard touchdown pass to Devin Church with 56 seconds remaining. The Panthers withstood a 2-hour, 45-minute weather delay to give third-year coach Kim Dameron his first non-Ohio Valley Conference win after nine losses.

2.) The team of the week is MEAC favorite North Carolina A&T, which went four overtimes to outlast Kent State 39-36 for its first win over an FBS team. Both teams scored in each OT, but the difference in the final one was Kent State kicked a field goal and the Aggies followed with Oluwafemi Bamiro's 15-yard TD pass to Denzel Keyes. Coach Rod Broadway used three different quarterbacks who threw at least 12 passes and All-America running back Tarik Cohen totaled 251 yards from scrimmage. With a trip to Tulsa next Saturday, the Aggies can go for another FBS win.

3.) The almost team of the week was Nicholls in defeat. A visit to FBS No. 9 Georgia appeared to be a lopsided FCS-FBS matchup, but the Southland Conference squad continued to show improvement under second-year coach Terry Rebowe as 92,746 watched a tight game in disbelief in Athens. The Colonels, in their season opener, had a 14-13 lead midway through the third quarter. But after closing within 26-24 with 3:42 left in the game, they never got the ball back. Freshman Chase Fourcade threw two touchdowns and Jeff Hall had a 91-year interception return in the loss.

4.) SWAC teams usually take a beating against the FBS and the last one from the conference to beat an FBS opponent was Grambling State in 1985 (23-6 over Oregon State). The Tigers had an opportunity to end the drought Saturday night at Arizona, but their 21-3 halftime lead wilted in the desert to a 31-21 loss. Coach Broderick Fobbs' squad lost the turnover battle 6-0.

5.) The Southern Conference lost its two standout quarterbacks after last season - Chattanooga's Jacob Huesman and Western Carolina's Troy Mitchell - but two new standouts are emerging. Chattanooga junior Alejandro Bennifield and Samford sophomore Devlin Hodges have each thrown eight touchdowns for their 2-0 teams. Bennifield has completed 79 percent of his attempts and also rushed for a touchdown. Hodges, the next big standout in the conference, has completed nearly 74 percent of his attempts and has led a big win at Central Arkansas.

6.) Eastern Washington must hope All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp's shoulder injury - considered a sprain that sidelined him for the second half against North Dakota State - doesn't linger this season. Of course, no team has the incredible depth at the position quite like the Eagles, including Kendrick Bourne, Shaq Hill and breakout sophomore Stu Stiles.

7.) The Big Sky has the feel of a conference headed for another wild, deep title race, but three of the teams expected to be in the mix are off to 0-2 starts. Northern Arizona was the preseason favorite and North Dakota and Weber State took big steps last season. NAU and Weber State have been outscored a combined 66-7 in the fourth quarter, with Weber letting a 21-point lead slip away at South Dakota. All three teams will play their first home game next Saturday and expect to get into the win column.

8.) Towson rallied from 28-10 down for a 35-28 win over Saint Francis and it might have found its quarterback, and perhaps it's not Oregon transfer Morgan Mahalak, who suffered a shoulder injury and was in a sling afterward. Backus Ellis Knudson led the rally, looking the most to wide receiver Christian Summers, who totaled 232 receiving yards and two touchdowns (94 and 43 yards) on only six catches.

9.) Have to wonder how the off-the-field mistakes at Charleston Southern are affecting fourth-year coach Jamey Chadwell's stock in the coaching profession. He's created an FCS power in a short time at the Big South school and is a young, articulate, innovative coach who should be rising. But to add his upcoming one-game suspension for an assistant's impermissible social media contact with a high school player on top of the 32 one-game player suspensions in the book "scandal," it's drawn a lot of negative attention nationally.

10.) The NFL season kicks off with Week 1 active rosters full of 140 FCS players, an increase of seven from one year ago. Each of the 32 NFL teams consisted of at least one FCS alum, with the New York Jets' 11 players leading the way and followed by Buffalo, Arizona, Detroit, Indianapolis and the New York Giants with seven each. Among FCS schools, Montana led the way with seven players, followed by Delaware and North Dakota State with six apiece, and Harvard, Northern Iowa, Samford and South Carolina State with five each. Another 39 FCS players were added to practice squads.



Top-ranked North Dakota State will put its five-game winning streak against FBS competition on the line at Iowa next Saturday.

Coastal Carolina will visit Jacksonville State and Northern Iowa will head to Eastern Washington in games matching nationally ranked teams. The list also will include Towson at Villanova in the CAA if the visiting Tigers re-enter the Top 25 on Monday.

Eastern Illinois will go to Illinois State for the Mid-America Classic, Western Carolina and East Tennessee State will play a Southern Conference game at Bristol Motor Speedway, and Stephen F. Austin at McNeese is a good Southland game. James Madison has an FBS matchup at North Carolina.

Also, the later-starting Ivy League will kick off its season with eight games, including Penn at Fordham.

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