Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Three-peat.
It's all you're going to hear with the North Dakota State football team this
year. The Bison have championship DNA, having won the last two FCS
championships, and now are looking to stand alongside the 2005-07 Appalachian
State teams that are the only ones in FCS history to combine on a national
Coach Craig Bohl returns a veteran team to make the Bison a heavy favorite.
NDSU has been pulling away from the pack, but the rest of the conference is
tightening. Youngstown State has fallen just short of the FCS playoffs the
last two seasons and seeks to get over the hump. Missouri State and Western
Illinois, under new coach Bob Nielson, hope for big steps this season.
Northern Iowa released a 2013 schedule that listed every weekend of the FCS
playoffs dates. Yes, no doubt the Panthers are planning to get back to the
postseason after a forgettable 2012.
After a national quarterfinal finish, Illinois State has lost quarterback and
Missouri Valley offensive player of the year Matt Brown and 1,000-yard running
back Darrelyn Dunn. The Redbirds hope to plug in transfers Jared Barnett at
quarterback and Colin Keoshian at running back, and keep the momentum going.
South Dakota State quarterback Austin Sumner played better as a freshman
in 2011 than this past season and is coming off offseason thumb surgery, but
his Jackrabbits appear to be a Top 10 team.
Missing the playoffs the last two seasons has been agonizing at Youngstown
State. With a November wrap-up at Northern Iowa and then home games against
North Dakota State and South Dakota State, the Penguins better be sitting
pretty early in the month.
After a rough first season in the Missouri Valley under coach Joe Glenn, South
Dakota needs to start winning the close games. In conference play, the Coyotes
lost four times by three points and one time by seven points.
Missouri State coach Terry Allen has seven starters back on offense and nine
returning on defense, but last year's squad, which was dangerous despite a 3-8
record, has to reverse a minus-13 turnover margin.
Southern Illinois looked a little more like the Salukis of old last season,
but their strong defense lost its entire starting front and the two middle
linebackers. It might be outside linebacker Tyler Williamson's time to shine
New Western Illinois coach Bob Nielson, having moved up from two-time NCAA
Division II national champion Minnesota-Duluth, has made a smart move by
entrusting a lot in a coaching staff with a Missouri Valley background.
OH, YES, THEM AGAIN
Would you rather have to game plan for Indiana State speedster Shakir Bell or
South Dakota State 2,000-yard back Zach Zenner? They're both back this season.
Cornerback Marcus Williams is the FCS' version of Deion Sanders.
Like USD, linebacker Tyler Starr had a big drop-off last season, going from 14
sacks in 2011 to four. The 6-foot-5 senior needs to play like his last name
for the defense to stand out.
In a conference with terrific offensive linemen, it's easy to overlook Western
Illinois senior tackle Jimmy Holtschlag. That's a mistake.
Speaking of terrific offensive linemen, Youngstown State's Chris Elkins is an
All-America. He will move from guard to center this season.
At least last year's subpar season at Northern Iowa yielded a terrific young
quarterback, Sawyer Kollmorgen, to pair with junior running back David
With all-conference fullback Jordan Neukirch, emerging tight end James
O'Shaughnessy and four starting offensive linemen back, Illinois State has the
type of physical offense necessary in the Missouri Valley.
After opening the 2012 season as Georgia's starting tailback, transfer Ken
Malcome hopes to be an impact player for Southern Illinois. He was a four-star
high school recruit.
Colton Underwood, the Illinois State star, isn't the only Missouri Valley
defensive end in the family. Indiana State's Connor Underwood, who could
switch to outside linebacker, enjoyed a strong season last year, but this year
he will come out of some of his teammates' shadows and be the defensive
As if North Dakota State needed anything else, the Bison believe senior tight
end Kevin Vaadeland will take a big step in 2013.
Missouri State running back Ryan Heaston had two 100-yard games off the bench
before he missed the final three games. The Bears are anxious to see what he
can do as a possible starter.
Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess will look to his wide receivers more
after losing his running back (Jamaine Cook) and tight end (Will Shaw). Expect
lanky Andrew Williams, who came on late last season, to blossom as a go-to
North Dakota State needs someone to replace Andre Martin Jr. for the corner
spot opposite Williams. Brendin Pierre, C.J. Smith, Jordan Champion and Zach
Colvin will battle for the spot.
Having to replace its two leading receivers, South Dakota State is throwing
senior Trevor Tiefenthaler, juniors Jason Schneider and Dom Wright, and
sophomores Brandon Andrews and Trevor Wesley into the mix.
It's not a given Mike Perish will remain Indiana State's starting quarterback.
The Michigan State transfer will face competition from redshirt freshman
Robert Tonyan as new head coach Mike Sanford tries to take the offense to a
Southern Illinois' important noseguard position will go to T.J. Beelen or
junior college transfer Raysean Golden.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Illinois State: March 26-April 27
Indiana State: March 19-April 20
Missouri State: March 21-April 20
North Dakota State: April 4-27
Northern Iowa: TBA-April 27
South Dakota: March 23-April 20
South Dakota State: March 22-April 20
Southern Illinois: March 25-April 19
Western Illinois: March 20-April 19
Youngstown State: March 19-April 19
The Sports Network