Dierks: With SDSU, NDSU atop the FCS, the Missouri Valley Football Conference should not be doubted again
It's time to quit using the worst as an indictment against the best. With South Dakota State and North Dakota State controlling the FCS, the MVFC remains the league to beat.
BROOKINGS — Reports of the Missouri Valley Football Conference's demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
Normally the clear top conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, a lack of playoff teams left many questioning if other large leagues such as the Big Sky Conference or Colonial Athletic Association had caught up to the MVFC or, at the very least, narrowed the gap significantly.
But the FCS playoffs provided an emphatic reminder: Other conferences may have a greater number of teams make the postseason or boast a team with the best player in the subdivision, but the MVFC showed again why it's at the top of the FCS hierarchy once stepping onto the field.
The Big Sky, which placed five teams in the postseason, had a combined record of 5-5 (two first-round wins). The CAA, also with five teams, went 4-5 (three first-round wins) and was largely uncompetitive in the losses, losing by an average of 26.4 points.
Outside of a first-round loss by North Dakota, the MVFC is 6-0. No matter what happens between South Dakota State and North Dakota State in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 8, the MVFC’s final record will be 7-2.
The Big Sky and CAA had their chances to shake up the balance of power in the quarterfinals and semifinals but came up well short.
CAA champion William and Mary was the No. 5 seed and was dismantled by Big Sky co-champion, No. 4 Montana State in the quarters. Then, the Bobcats turned around and were dominated by SDSU in the semis. No. 2 Sacramento State, the other Big Sky co-champ, had a chance to host NDSU in the semis but came up short against No. 7 Incarnate Word (of the Southland Conference) and crashed out in the quarters.
Make no mistake, measuring playoff worthiness is an unenviable task taken on by the FCS playoff committee every November, but this season, the MVFC wasn't given the benefit of the doubt (for better or worse) as it had been accustomed to over the past several years.
As recently as 2021, a 6-5 Northern Iowa squad was placed in the 24-team field. But 2022 was a significant deviation, with three MVFC teams with at least six wins — Youngstown State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State — left out of the field in favor of seven-win teams from the Big Sky (Idaho and Montana) and the Colonial (Delaware).
That non-MVFC trio went 2-3 in the postseason (Montana defeated Southeast Missouri State and Delaware defeated St. Francis (Pa.) in the opening round), with Montana and Delaware promptly losing to NDSU and SDSU, respectively in the second round. UND, the third and final MVFC playoff team, did fall to the Big Sky's Weber State in the first round.
These results all perpetuated a trend that started more than a decade ago when the Bison made their first of what will be 10 forays to Frisco.
Since NDSU's first championship in 2011, the MVFC has had at least one team (often the Bison) in the title game every single year. In 2014 (NDSU and Illinois State) and now 2022, the conference has had both finalists.
Every case against the MVFC is built on how poorly the bottom of the conference played this season. The bottom four teams in the Valley this season — Missouri State, South Dakota, Indiana State and Western Illinois — combined for as many wins (10) as SDSU had on its own in the regular season.
But it's time to quit using the worst as an indictment against those that have proven to be the best of the best.
With South Dakota State and North Dakota State controlling the FCS landscape, the conference whose membership includes the top two programs in the country will remain the league to beat until further notice.