As South Dakota State prepares to hit the road in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time in 2013, there's a new sense of urgency surrounding this team.

Thought by many to be the second-best team in the league behind North Dakota State, the Jacks currently sit dead last in the standings, with back-to-back losses to open conference play.

The latest loss came at the hands of Southern Illinois last weekend in Brookings, where much of the talk has been sloppy conditions at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium and a controversial no-call on potential pass interference against the Salukis late in the game.

But, head coach John Stiegelmeier isn't focusing on any of those issues is his assessment of the game:

After a pair of conference losses,  Stiegelmeier admits the Jacks hopes of winning the Missouri Valley are 'dead'.  But he believes there is still plenty to play for, especially when there are two additional playoff spots available in FCS this year:

BROOKINGS, SD - OCTOBER 5: LaSteven McKinney #21 from Southern Illinois tries to slip the grasp of Melvin Tavares #8 from South Dakota State University in the third quarter Saturday afternoon at Coughlin Alumni Stadium in Brookings. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

One of the things that surprised Stiegelmeier about Saturday's loss was Southern Illinois' ability to run the ball against the SDSU defense.  The Salukis finished with 189 yards on the ground:

BROOKINGS, SD - OCTOBER 5: Zach Zenner #31 from South Dakota State University looks for running room between Brandon Williams #82 and Leonard Garron #81 from Southern Illinois in the first quarter Saturday afternoon at Coughlin Alumni Stadium in Brookings. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

Despite the muddy field, the Jacks ran the ball with success as well.  Junior running back Zach Zenner topped the 100-yard mark for the fifth time in six games in 2013:

Western Illinois University

This weekend, the Jacks will face a team with a potent running attack of its own.

Western Illinois already boasts one of the top backs in the Missouri Valley in Nikko Watson, but this season the Leathernecks have added junior college transfer J.C. Baker.  Those two have combined for 910 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, and the Leathernecks are one of just three FCS teams to not lose a fumble yet this season:

This will be the first opportunity SDSU has to play on the road in conference action this season, but if you're looking for Stiegelmeier get excited about heading out of town - think again:

Kickoff in Macomb is 3:00pm Saturday.