Jackrabbits Know a Win Over Coyotes is a Must to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive
Now that we've entered the coldest part of the season, South Dakota State is playing its hottest football of the year, with back-to-back blowout wins, in what the Jackrabbits hope is a third straight run to the FCS Playoffs.
With one game to play in the regular season, the Jacks need a win, and they need some help.
The best SDSU can finish is 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Jacks come into play in a three-way tie for fourth in the league, a game behind third place Northern Iowa.
If the Panthers lose at home to Missouri State Saturday, and the Jacks win, the two would finish tied and SDSU, by virtue of their 31-28 win over UNI October 18th, would take a tiebreaker.
The Jacks would also have a tiebreaker over Indiana State if both teams finish 5-3, but SDSU does not own a tiebreaker over Youngstown State, who beat the Jacks 30-27 in Brookings October 25th. The one silver lining for SDSU is that the Penguins would have to win at North Dakota State Saturday to notch their fifth MVC victory.
FCS Playoff forecasts have the Jackrabbits making the 24-team field if they finish with a win this weekend. NoBowls.com has six Missouri Valley teams qualifying for post season, while College Sports Madness has five league schools in the playoffs. Those projections are a bit of a departure for the MVC, who only qualified two teams last season, and three teams in 2012.
I asked SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier about his approach to the playoffs heading into the final weekend of the regular season:
South Dakota State's last outing was their most impressive offensive showing of 2014, a 59-24 win at home over Western Illinois.
It was a game that saw senior quarterback Austin Sumner notch a career day with 366 yards passing and six touchdown throws, taking over as the all-time leader in TD tosses in SDSU history.
The game also saw running back Zach Zenner become the MVC career leader in touchdown runs, while becoming just the fourth back in FCS history to run for more the 6,000 yards in a career.
Wide receiver Jake Wieneke also had a record setting day, becoming the first freshman in league history to top 1,000 yards in a single season.
All-in-all it was the best of offensive performances in some of the least desirable weather conditions:
That leaves SDSU with one final hurdle in the 2014 regular season, a date with their in-state rivals USD, Saturday afternoon in Brookings.
The Jacks have won five straight in the series with the Coyotes, both games since the two programs moved up to Division I.
The two teams have totally different motivations for victory this weekend, the Jacks needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Coyotes needing a win to avoid going 0-8 in Missouri Valley play.
I asked Coach Stiegelmeier about where the rivalry is three years into the Division I era:
Kickoff Saturday is 2:00pm in Brookings.