FCS predictions: MVFC playoff contenders don't have it easy

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - The regular season has been going so well for the Missouri Valley Football Conference yet a lot can crumble as it nears a conclusion.

Over the next two weekends. the nation's top-ranked FCS conference seeks to become the first one to gain six playoff bids. But the way its member teams have been beating each other, the Valley may not get five qualifiers, let alone six.

North Dakota State, South Dakota State, South Dakota, Western Illinois, Illinois State and Northern Iowa are all nationally ranked and chasing playoff bids and seeds, perhaps at each other's expense.

The pool of candidates for at-large spots is large across the FCS, making it tougher for a 6-5 team to gain one like the last two years (Western Illinois in 2015 and Illinois State last year). So the Valley teams don't want to leave anything for chance, meaning they have to keep beating each other.

"We all have the same chore," Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said. "We play against each other all the time, so we have to find ways, and new ways, to win, and not just keep doing the same thing because we know each other well enough, too, that we can make adjustments.

"You hope that when it's all said and done … the people making the decisions understand that. We live in our own bubble right here and see it through our eyes. We just have to make sure as a league that it's seen in that way other places, too."

North Dakota State (8-1) is in first place despite coming off its first loss to South Dakota State. The path to the MVFC's automatic bid to the playoffs isn't easy considering the Bison end the regular season by hosting South Dakota and traveling to Illinois State.

South Dakota (7-2) doesn't just face NDSU, it hosts South Dakota State as well. SDSU (7-2) gets a double shot of Illinois State and South Dakota, while Illinois State (6-3) has the brutal finish of SDSU and NDSU.

Western Illinois (6-3) and Northern Iowa (5-4) have it easier. WIU travels to winless Indiana State and hosts Southern Illinois, while UNI, which has the smallest margin for error, travels to Missouri State and hosts Indiana State.

Then again, nothing in the MVFC comes easy.

WEEK 11 FCS TOP 25 PICKS

All Times ET

X - Predicted Winner

Week 10 Record: 14-7 (.667); Season Record: 149-43 (.776)

Saturday, Nov. 11

X-No. 11 Western Illinois (6-3, 3-3 Missouri Valley) at Indiana State (0-9, 0-6), 1 p.m. - The Leathernecks could get to 8-3, but with an average home attendance of 3,698, they may be headed to the FCS playoff road.

Savannah State (2-7, 2-4 MEAC) at X-No. 9 North Carolina A&T (9-0, 6-0), 1 p.m. - A&T left tackle Brandon Parker, invited to the Senior Bowl this week, has been named MEAC offensive lineman of the week six times this season.

Wagner (3-6) at X-No. 12 Stony Brook (7-2), 1 p.m. - The Seawolves' team high in tackles is up for grabs: Tyrice Beverette and Shayne Lawless have 62 stops each and Noah McGinty has 61.

X-No. 8 Wofford (8-1, 6-1 Southern) at VMI (0-10, 0-7), 1:30 p.m. - No close game this week, the Terriers will clinch at least a share of the Southern Conference title and the automatic playoff bid.

The Citadel (5-4, 3-4 Southern) at X-No. 21 Furman (6-3, 5-1), 2 p.m. - The Paladins have to go through the two-time defending champ and Samford (a road game Nov. 18) to claim a share of the SoCon title.

No. 7 Elon (8-1, 6-0 CAA) at X-No. 18 New Hampshire (6-3, 4-2), 2 p.m. - UNH is 4-0 at home this season and 55-8 since the start of the 2007 season. Since opening night on Aug. 31, every Elon game has been close (decided by eight points or less) and every UNH game has been decided by 10 or more.

No. 19 Eastern Washington (5-4, 4-2 Big Sky) at X-North Dakota (3-7, 2-5), 2 p.m. - It's been a disappointing season for the two 2016 Big Sky champs. EWU's star quarterback Gage Gubrud is suspended for this game.

Mercer (4-5, 3-4 Southern) at X-No. 22 Western Carolina (7-3, 5-2), 2 p.m. - The visiting Bears can finish with a winning record by sweeping Western Carolina and Alabama.

ETSU (4-5, 2-4 Southern) at X-No. 16 Samford (6-3, 4-2), 3 p.m. - Like Mercer, ETSU hasn't quite gotten over the hill in the SoCon, although the Bucs upset Samford last season.

X-No. 13 Grambling State (8-1, 5-0 SWAC) at Alabama State (3-5, 3-2), 3 p.m. - If Alabama State pulls off the upset, interim coach Donald Hill-Eley, who's 3-0, should be considered for SWAC coach of the year. That's a good way to get the interim tag removed.

X-No. 25 Northern Iowa (5-4, 4-2 Missouri Valley) at Missouri State (3-6, 2-4), 3 p.m. - It would seem the heavy lifting is over for UNI, but Missouri State has won two in a row heading into its Senior Day.

No. 17 Illinois State (6-3, 4-2 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 6 South Dakota State (7-2, 4-2), 3 p.m. - Illinois State is a team that's hard to figure out.

X-No. 2 Jacksonville State (8-1, 6-0 Ohio Valley) at UT Martin (5-4, 3-3), 3 p.m. - John Grass' .854 career winning percentage (41-7) is the highest among all active Division I coaches.

Richmond (5-4, 3-3 CAA) at X-No. 1 James Madison (9-0, 6-0), 3:30 p.m. - Maybe, just maybe …

Charleston Southern (5-4, 2-1 Big South) at X-No. 23 Kennesaw State (8-1, 3-0), 3:30 p.m. - Although Kennesaw's triple option leads the FCS in rushing, CSU is stout against the run, led by defensive end Anthony Ellis.

No. 10 South Dakota (7-2, 4-2 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 5 North Dakota State (8-1, 5-1), 3:30 p.m. - Having rebounded from a loss 14 straight times, the Bison haven't suffered back-to-back defeats since 2009.

X-No. 14 Weber State (7-2, 5-1 Big Sky) at Portland State (0-9, 0-6), 5 p.m. - Weber freshman Trey Tuttle leads the FCS with 16 field goals.

X-No. 4 Sam Houston State (8-1, 6-1 Southland) at Abilene Christian (2-7, 2-5), 7 p.m. - SHSU milestone watch: P.J. Hall is tied for the FCS all-time lead in tackles for loss (80), Jeremiah Briscoe is 436 passing yards shy of 10,000 in his career and Corey Avery needs 71 rushing yards for 3,000 in his career.

X-No. 3 Central Arkansas (8-1, 7-0 Southland) at Incarnate Word (1-8, 1-6), 7 p.m. - UCA has posted 33 sacks and surrendered just six.

Northwestern State (3-6, 3-4 Southland) at X-No. 20 McNeese (7-2, 5-2), 7 p.m. - Southeastern Louisiana's FCS No. 3 rushing offense managed just 77 yards off McNeese. Of course, that was above the Cowboys' national-best average (59.7).

Montana State (4-5, 4-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 24 Northern Arizona (6-3, 5-1), 7 p.m. - NAU quarterback Case Cookus' penalty for last week's targeting ejection at Montana was served in the second half, so he is eligible against the Bobcats.

X-No. 15 Southern Utah (7-2, 5-1 Big Sky) at UC Davis (5-4, 3-3), 7 p.m. - UC Davis better punt on fourth down because Southern Utah opponents have converted only once on 15 attempts.

Updated November 9, 2017

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