Saturday Around the Valley
The 2023 College Football season officially kicked off Thursday night. Four MVFC teams competed Thursday. Reigning champs, SDSU, dominated Western Oregon for Jimmy Rodger’s first win as the head man 45-7 (led 45-0 at halftime). Youngstown State displayed an explosive offense and electric special teams play in a 52-10 drumming of Valparaiso. South Dakota hung around with Mizzou in the first half, but the Tigers ultimately pulled away to win 35-10. The most disappointing performance came from Indiana State. In a 6-0 game, ISU threw consecutive pick sixes in the final minute of the first half. They went on to lose 27-0 to non-conference rival Eastern Illinois. Missouri State rounded off the early games last night versus Kansas. MSU cut the lead to 10 points early in the fourth but could not stop the Kansas offense leading to a 48-17 loss.
The remaining 8 Valley teams begin their 2023 campaigns today. Headlined by Northern Iowa taking on Iowa State, it’s shaping up to be a FANTASTIC day of Missouri Valley Football.
Illinois State vs Dayton
Kickoff: 12 pm
Location: Hancock Stadium (Normal, Illinois)
Coach Spack is hopeful the Redbirds have found their groove back for the first time since Covid ripped through the world. Zach Annexstad won the quarterback battle this fall and is returning weapons from last year. Cole Mueller is set to make his return to the backfield after missing 2022 with a broken leg. He will split responsibilities with Wenkers Wright. Receivers Daniel Sobkowicz and Jalen Carr highlight a talented room. The defense is the biggest question mark for ISU. Josh Dinga is tasked to replace Zeke Vandenburgh at the Jack position. The Redbirds have a young, inexperienced front 7 and will rely on Josh Dinga to provide leadership and big plays on the defensive line. Dayton, a member of the Pioneer League, achieved an impressive 8-3 record last fall and look to start hot with a big road win. ISU won the only previous matchup 56-14 in 2012.
Prediction: 8-3 in the Pioneer League? Nice! Only problem for Dayton is that this ain’t the Pioneer League… Illinois State starts 1-0 in dominating fashion.
#23 Northern Iowa @ Iowa State
Kickoff: 1 pm
Location: Jack Trice Stadium (Ames, Iowa)
Northern Iowa has a lot to be excited about coming into 2023. They have the best quarterback (Theo Day) surrounded by a plethora of returning production from 2022. The defense is anchored by Khristian Boyd and will feature 2 new faces on the back end (Benny Sapp III, Stefan Black II). The Panthers are ranked #23 and were picked to finish 3rd in the MVFC preseason polls. The more interesting side of this matchup is Iowa State. After going 4-8 last fall, the Cyclones were in the news for all the wrong reasons this summer. A gambling probe revealed that multiple Iowa State players gambled on multiple games in 2022.
Prediction: Tough to prepare for a game when you have the off field conflict that Iowa State is experiencing. Northern Iowa has something to prove, and Iowa State isn’t gonna stand in their way. UNI will leave Ames with a WIN to accompany the few hundred thousand dollars they are getting paid.
#2 NDSU vs Eastern Washington
Kickoff: 2:30 pm
Location: US Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, MN)
NDSU is starting 2023 in an unfamiliar position. After losing the national championship game in January, the Bison brought on defensive coordinator Jason Petrino to call the shots defensively. They lost considerable production on both sides of the ball, but lets not forget who we are talking about. NDSU is still NDSU. They are retooled, reloaded and ready to get back on top. Cam Miller returns to lead a dangerous Bison offense with notable weapons TaMerick Williams (RB) and Zac Mathis (WR). They also return an experienced offensive line that will be the strength of the offense. Defensively, NDSU will rely on DT Eli Mostaert to anchor the dline. LB Nick Kubitz patrolls the middle and is backed by a talented DB group headlined by Cole Wisniewski and Jayden Price. Eastern Washington is trying to rebound from an abysmal 3-8 record last fall. This will be the 6th matchup between the 2 teams (3 in playoffs). NDSU holds a 4-1 record. Today also marks the first time college football will be played in US Bank Stadium.
Prediction: NDSU reminds all the doubters that they are still a top dawg. Coach Entz gets career win #50 in dominating fashion.
#17 North Dakota vs Drake
Kickoff: 3 pm
Location: Alerus Center (Grand Forks, ND)
North Dakota opens play today with big hopes for 2023. A first round playoff exit in 2022 has left the Hawks with a desire to achieve more. The 17th ranked team in the country welcomes Drake to the Alerus Center as they look to extend their home opener winning streak to 37 games. Tommy Schuster is driving the bus offensively. Look for him to connect early and often with WR Bo Belquist. Ben McNaboe anchors a Dline that's looking to stuff the run and put pressure on the quarterback. Drake is coming off a 3-8 season (won the last 3 games) and looking to start 2023 with a huge upset on the road.
Prediction: North Dakota dominates and extends the streak to 37.
SIU vs Austin Peay
Kickoff: 6 pm
Location: Saluki Stadium (Carbondale, IL)
My Salukis are interesting this year. Coming off a 5-6 season (4 losses by 3 or less), the dawgs lost DC Jason Petrino. His replacement then left SIU 1 day before fall camp started, and Antonio James stepped up to run the defense. The defense returns 5 starters and will rely on its veterans and new talent. The dline will be anchored by Bowdry, Varga and Dante Cleaveland. Branson Combs leads a talented linebacker room while PJ Jules (Reese's Senior Bowl watchlist) anchors the back end. Iverson Brown is also expected to play a huge role at safety. Nic Baker is 2 completions away from the all-time record, and he has weapons. Justin Strong returns from injury to compliment Ro Elliot in the backfield. Izaiah Hartrup is also healthy and joins D’Ante Cox to form an explosive receiving duo. Austin Peay posted a 7-4 record in 2022. They returned the majority of their offensive weapons and have one of the best return men in college football (Kam Thomas). The defense returns 3 starters and is reliant on graduate transfers. This will be the 8th time SIU and Austin Peay play (SIU leads series 5-2).
Prediction: Expect a 4 quarter battle with the… SALUKIS taking the win in a close one.
Murray State vs Presbyterian
Kickoff: 6 pm
Location: Roy Stewart Stadium (Murray, Kentucky)
Murray State is celebrating 2 milestones tonight. Not only is it their inaugural game as a member of the MVFC, it is also the 1,000th game in program history. The Racers, coming off a 2-9 season, couldn’t have asked for a better week 1 matchup. Presbyterian is simply bad at football. WR Taylor Shields will be the focal point of the Racers offensive attack along with RBs Dj Williams and Jacob Bell. LBs Cody Goatley and Cade Shuppard are expected to be catalysts for the defense.
Prediction: Racers celebrate game #1000 with a win.
Western Illinois @ New Mexico State
Kickoff: 8 pm
Location: Aggie Memorial Stadium (Las Cruces, NM)
Western Illinois kicks off its final MVFC season with nothing to lose. After an 0-11 season, Coach Hendrickson says the Leathernecks are playing with a chip on their shoulder. QB Matt Morrissey leads an offense that will feature heavy doses of RB Ludovick Choquette. LB Juan Delacruz is the heart and sole of a defense that has depth and experience on the front 7. JJ Ross leads a defensive backfield that is hoping for an improved 2023 season. New Mexico State is led by a familiar face in SIU legend Jerry Kill. The Aggies are looking to rebound from a week 0 loss to UMass.
Prediction: I believe Western will get a couple wins this season… but not today. New Mexico State wins big.