November 1st, 2019 12:00am
NSIC Week Nine Preview
Saturday, November 2
Wayne State (3-5) at Minnesota State-Mankato (8-0)
Wayne pulled one out of the fire last week at Mary but now embarks on a tough final stretch in which the Wildcats play both Mankato and Sioux Falls. MSU hung 81 on Crookston a week ago and seems primed to have its way with anyone in the NSIC. The closest game so far for the Mavs is a 15 point win in the opener against SMSU.
Sioux Falls (6-2) at Upper Iowa (3-5)
UIU pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Peacock history at Duluth last Saturday. Let’s be clear, the Bulldogs are not themselves since starting quarterback John Larson went down. As is, they could very well lose to half the NSIC at this point and time. Nonetheless, UIU has to feel good as a win over UMD is historical for the program.
Sioux Falls didn’t have a cakewalk at Aberdeen. That’s probably good for a Cougar team that hasn’t experienced much adversity outside of the losses to CSP and Augie. That said, the Cougars kept NSU at arms-length and limited the Wolves offensively.
This has the making of a big time trap game for USF. While UIU might make the game ugly, I expect the Cougar defense to disrupt the Peacock offense enough to control the action.
Winona State (6-2) at Southwest Minnesota State (3-5)
Just when I thought SMSU was starting to prove me wrong and put together a solid offense, the Mustangs stub their toe against a Moorhead team that had been struggling badly. Considering the separation between the North and the South divisions of the NSIC (23-9 South, head to head this year), the Mustangs should have won their matchup against the dinged up Dragons.
Winona has worked through the haze of a less than ideal season start. The Warriors have won three games in row and look more like the top squad most thought they’d be. Their one-sided win over St. Cloud doesn’t look like much now that the Huskies are 3-5, but the SCSU defense has been decent so the effort by the Warriors should give the underperforming offense a lift.
I’m taking the Warriors to retain the sledge hammer in this newer rivalry game but don’t be surprised if the erratic Mustangs play them tight.
St. Cloud State (3-5) at Bemidji State (5-3)
When the season opened this looked like a matchup of two of the best squads in the North. It’s now a showdown between a BSU squad that looks wounded (like UMD) and struggling to play good offensive football and an SCSU club that’s dropped five games in a row.
I was very high on Bemidji early but the Beavers are extremely fortunate to be at 5 wins. They just don’t look like typical Bemidji. St. Cloud was bad a week ago at Winona and I really don’t know why I’m taking them. Yes I do. I have more faith in their quarterback play at the moment.
Minnesota-Crookston (0-8) at Minnesota-Duluth (5-3)
Crookston lost 81-0 last Saturday night against Mankato and is winless. There isn’t a lot more to be said.
UMD is now at the lowest point in the last 10 plus years of Bulldog football. Three losses isn’t the end of the world, but blowout road setbacks at Mankato and Sioux Falls and then a home defeat vs. Upper Iowa is a look that’s very foreign to Duluth. I’ve said it for weeks, without QB John Larson this is a much different team. UMD looks like the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers, a completely different squad without their star given how much that one player holds the weight of the offense. However, it cannot be all on the quarterback position though. The Dogs simply haven’t seen the rest of the offense step up and fill the void of making plays and owning the responsibility of success. UMD was so out of sorts it turned over the ball six times against the Peacocks. Not finishing drives isn’t the norm for UMD.
Considering how UMC has performed, this should be a get-right week for Duluth in some form or fashion.
Mary (1-7) at Northern State (4-4)
Mary can compete with the mid-level squads when Logan Nelson is at the helm. The dual threat signal-caller is a load in the running game and effective in the air attack. Keeping Nelson healthy and the fact the Marauders are real bad defensively have been the challenges.
NSU had two nice drives a week ago against USF with the Trautman to Larson combo clicking, yet the Wolves only walked away with 3 points on those possessions. I’ve said it before, this NSU offense should be better than it is. The Northern defense has been better than not but has struggled against the upper echelon offensive teams.
Concordia-St. Paul (5-3) at Augustana (6-2)
Augustana started the year off in explosive offensive fashion with high expectations, then struggled badly. The Vikings have now put together a few strong weeks on both sides of the ball. QB Kyle Saddler has found a groove by utilizing underneath passes to help the Vikings get big plays. He has also spread the ball around to a variety of targets as Augie has some of the depth receiver depth in the conference. Freshman running back Jarod Epperson continues to impress as a playmaker with a few long scores making Augie a tough defend. Having said this, one must realize the Vikings last two opponents were Moorhead and Minot. But it’s progress nonetheless.
The Viking defense is still the bigger story in the success of Augie this season. The unit clamped down on Minot State a week ago and produced points as well.
Concordia outlasted Bemidji State last week. The Bears pass rush bothered the Beavers young, third string quarterback and forced some turnovers that helped CSP win in overtime. The Concordia offense is doing just enough. Coupled with a disruptive defense, they’ve earned 5 wins. QB Maxon Hutton supplements the ground attack with his ability to scoot every so often but I still feel CSP should be a better passing team than what’s been shown. But, eight weeks into the season I’m starting to think this is just who they are offensively.
My gut tells me Augie hammers CSP. Concordia has found a way to win plenty of close games this year with a pestering defense. I’m just not sure this is a good matchup for the Bears, given how well Augie has defended against the run. Unless the CSP passing game finds itself, I’ll take the Vikings to keep things rolling.
Minnesota State-Moorhead (4-4) at Minot State (3-5)
Minot State looked to be riding high off a surprise win over Concordia but then the Beavers didn’t compete in their 51-6 defeat at Augustana. MSU produced only 8 first downs against the Vikings, taking a step back after earning a promising third win.
Moorhead is a bit of an enigma. So what else is new? The Dragons looked terrible leading up to their SMSU win last week. One just can’t figure them out week-to-week. Ty Jochim ran for 98 yards which is one of the few times MSUM’s had a rusher over 50 yards this season. Crazy, I know. They even got 50 yards from Herman Gray, who’s seemingly been part of the Dragon’s program as long as Coach Laqua.
The Dragon defense had one of their top efforts at SMSU, netting seven sacks and limiting the Mustangs to 14 points (despite allowing over 400 total yards). That’s an odd pairing, but the yards don’t get put up on the scoreboard, just the points.
If each team plays to their ceiling, I like the Dragons by a few scores. Since I’m not sure who’ll show up, the pick is MSUM escape with a win.
The first edition of the Regional Rankings were about as expected. MSU at #2, Augie #7, USF #8, and Winona State in the #9 spot. With the top seven squads making the big dance, there are two huge, remaining games that will help shape the playoff field. On November 9th, Sioux Falls hosts Mankato while Augustana travels to Winona. The Cougars are a 14 point underdog per the computer rankings (Massey), while Winona is a 2 point favorite. USF needs a win over the Mavs to leap into the top 7 while the Winona/Augie winner should land in the post season. Augie has a head-to-head tie-breaker over USF, while USF has the same over WSU. With a win over Sioux Falls, the Mavericks would likely have a better SOS (Strength of Schedule) than the current top dog in the region, Tarleton State (TX).
Some have mentioned the Northern Sun might be a one-bid league, but I’m fully expected two squads to make the dance, without an outside chance a third could make it with three losses. Crazy talk, I know. But I think it’s possible once the smoke has cleared.