Let the grind begin.

#9 South Dakota State pulls back the curtain on another Missouri Valley Conference season this weekend when they open at #22 Illinois State Saturday afternoon.

The Jackrabbits are coming off a bye week that head coach John Stiegelmeier told me was crucial to getting his team healthy:

As for the game with Redbirds this week, there will be several intriguing match-ups in Normal.

Illinois State (3-0) has put up points in bunches (151 in three games) while the Jackrabbits (3-1) have given up just 15 points in the last 10 quarters.

The game also features the top two running backs in the Missouri Valley Conference: SDSU's Zach Zenner (161 yards per game) and ISU's Marshaun Coprich (143 yards per game).

The Redbirds feature Indiana transfer Tre Roberson at quarterback and deep threat Lechein Neblett at wide receiver.  Those two have combined for five touchdowns in three games.

I asked coach Stiegelmeier about Saturday's opponent; a team the Jacks haven't seen in a while:

Saturday's game kicks off South Dakota State's seventh season in the Missouri Valley Conference.  A lot has changed since 2008, but one thing remains constant: the MVC's stature as one of the toughest leagues in the country.

This week alone, eight different conference teams are ranked in the Top 25 in FCS.

I asked coach Stiegelmeier about the advantages and disadvantages of playing at such a high level:

Kickoff is 2:00pm in Normal Saturday.

SDSU is back home next Saturday to host Missouri State.