BROOKINGS, SD --  League-leading South Dakota State closes out the first half of its Missouri Valley Football Conference slate Saturday afternoon with a matchup at Northern Iowa.  Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The Jackrabbits enter the weekend in sole possession of first place in the MVFC standings and are the lone unbeaten team in league play with a 3-0 record. SDSU is 5-1 overall, putting together a five-game winning streak since a season-opening loss Sept. 1 at Kansas. In their last outing, the Jackrabbits did not allow a defensive touchdown in a 31-10 home victory over Western Illinois on Oct. 13.

Northern Iowa, meanwhile, is off to an uncharacteristic 1-5 overall start and is winless in league play at 0-3. Two of the Panthers' losses have been to Football Bowl Subdivision teams, while their three losses in league play have been to Youngstown State, North Dakota State and Southern Illinois. UNI's lone win so far this season has been against NCAA Division II opponent Central State (Ohio).

THE SERIES: Saturday's matchup will mark the 47th meeting between SDSU and UNI on the gridiron. The two squads met regularly from the time the series started in 1935 until UNI (formerly Iowa Teachers College) left the North Central Conference in the late 1970s to join the Division I ranks.

UNI holds a 27-17-2 advantage in the series, including wins in each of the last two meetings. The Panthers recorded a 24-14 victory at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, during the 2010 season, and notched a 31-14 victory on Oct. 15, 2011, at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.

SDSU's last victory in the series came on Oct. 24, 2009, when the Jackrabbits claimed a 24-14 victory of their own on Hobo Day, en route to their first-ever berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.  The Panthers had won the first three meetings since the rivalry resumed in 2006.

WINNING STREAKS: In their last outing, Oct. 13 against Western Illinois, the Jackrabbits recorded a 31-10 home victory to run their winning streak against Football Championship Subdivision opponents to eight games - the best run again FCS opponents since moving up from NCAA Division II at the start of the 2004 season.

SDSU also has won six consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference contests dating back to 2011. The Jackrabbits previously recorded seven consecutive league victories, winning the 2008 season finale at North Dakota State before winning the first six MVFC games en route to a playoff berth in 2009.

RABBITS RANKED: Following its win over nationally ranked Indiana State on Sept. 22, the South Dakota State University football team returned to the Football Championship Subdivision rankings for the first time since September 2010 with a 25th-place showing in the Sept. 24 Sports Network media poll.  The Jackrabbits moved up to 23rd in the Oct. 1 poll and climbed three more spots to 20th in the Oct. 8 rankings. The Jackrabbits remain at No. 20 this week.

In addition, the Jackrabbits are tied with Northern Arizona for sixth in the Gridiron Power Index, which is compiled by

SDSU, which is the top team among others receiving votes in the coaches' poll, is one of five Missouri Valley Football Conference teams to be ranked this week. North Dakota State holds the fourth spot in both polls, while Illinois State is 11th in the media poll and 13th in the coaches' rankings. Youngstown State checks in this week at 15th in the Sports Network poll and 16th in the coaches' poll, while Indiana State returned to the rankings in the 21st and 25th spots, respectively.

CAPTAINS: Leading the Jackrabbit football team on the field and in the locker room are five captains:
Seth Daughters, Sr., tight end, Winner, S.D.;
Bo Helm, Sr., defensive back, Childress, Texas;
Ross Shafrath, Sr., linebacker, Hampton, Iowa;
Austin Sumner, So., quarterback, Brandon, S.D.;
Winston Wright, Jr., defensive back, Lee's Summit, Mo.

The Jackrabbits broke from tradition this season by naming two non-senior players - Sumner and Wright - as captains. Previously, all team captains were selected from the senior class.

VALLEY PREVIEW: South Dakota State has been picked to finish sixth in the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Preseason Poll, which was announced in early August.  Defending national champion North Dakota State gained the top spot, receiving 37 of 38 first-place votes in the poll conducted by league coaches, sports information directors and select media. Northern Iowa, which tied NDSU for the league regular season title a year ago, finished second in the poll, followed by Youngstown State and Illinois State.

Indiana State rounded out the top half of the poll, with SDSU taking sixth. Southern Illinois, South Dakota, Western Illinois and Missouri State completed the poll.

Individually, three Jackrabbit players were recognized on the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Preseason Team. Offensively, senior wide receiver Aaron Rollin and tackle Bryan Witzmann were honored along with defensive back Winston Wright.

Rollin, an honorable mention all-league performer last season, tied for the team lead with 61 receptions last season. The Lee's Summit, Mo., native also gained 906 yards through the air and reccorded a team-best seven touchdowns in 2011.

Witzmann, a junior from Houlton, Wis., also earned honorable mention all-MVFC honors in 2011. He has started all 22 games at left tackle over the last two seasons.

Wright, a junior from Lee's Summit, Mo., was a second-team all-MVFC selection in 2011 after recording a team-best three interceptions from his cornerback position. Wright also notched 57 tackles and a team-best seven pass breakups.

Also recognized on the preseason team was honorable mention selection Andy Mink on the defensive line. A native of Ashland, Neb., Mink racked up 75 tackles, including team-best totals of 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2011.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: South Dakota State has racked up a number of Missouri Valley Football Conference player of the week awards during its current four-game winning streak.

Senior linebacker Ross Shafrath was the latest Jackrabbit award winner, earning MVFC Defensive Player of the Week recognition after recording a team-high 12 tackles and intercepting a pair of passes as South Dakota State defeated Missouri State, 17-7, on Sept. 29. Named the Outstanding Player of the 46th Annual Beef Bowl, Shafrath also broke up a pass. His two interceptions were half of the four Jackrabbit picks on the day.

Redshirt freshman linebacker linebacker T.J. Lally Lally was named as both the MVFC Defensive Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week for his performance in the Jackrabbits' league-opening win over 22nd-ranked Indiana State on Sept. 22. The Chicago native recorded 10 tackles, including a half-tackle for loss, and added an interception and two more pass breakups in the win over the Sycamores. For the game, SDSU held Indiana State to 23 net yards rushing on 25 attempts. The Jackrabbits limited Walter Payton Award candidate Shakir Bell to 54 yards on 18 carries and, other than on a fake punt, did not allow a rushing play of more than five yards.

Lally previously earned MVFC Newcomer of the Week and Sports Network National Freshman of the Week recognition after tallying four sacks in a Sept. 15 home victory over UC Davis. Sophomore punter Ethan Sawyer was named MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against UC Davis.

In addition, running back Zach Zenner was named MVFC Offensive Player of the Week and Will Castle received MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week recognition for their performances in the Sept. 8 win at Southeastern Louisiana.

SCOUTING NORTHERN IOWA: Perenially at or near the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings, the Northern Iowa football team has fallen victim to one of the toughest schedules in all of college football so far in 2012.

The Panthers enters Saturday's game with a 1-5 record and in search of their first league victory at 0-3. UNI has faced the likes of FBS opponents Iowa and Wisconsin, along with top-tier league opponents Youngstown State, North Dakota State and Southern Illinois.

UNI has been led offensively by redshirt freshman quarterback and Jerry Rice Award candidate Sawyer Kollmorgen. Through six games, Kollmorgen has completed 60.7 percent (108-of-178) of his passes for 1,538 yards. He has thrown 12 touchdowns and been intercepted only three times.

Four different receivers have already recorded at least 20 catches this season, led by Terrell Sinkfield with 25 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Chad Owens has notched 23 catches for 307 yards and a pair of scores, while Brett LeMaster has shown big-play ability by averaging 19 yards per catch as he has tallied 21 receptions for 398 yards.

Running back David Johnson has been a dual threat, posting a team-best 387 yards and six touchdowns on the ground to go along with 21 catches, 286 yards and four scores through the air.

All-purpose back Carlos Anderson has rolled up 771 yards as he has seen action all over the field. Anderson has averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return.
UNI is solid throughout its special teams unit as kicker Tyler Sievertsen has gone 5-of-6 on field goal tries and is a perfect 22-for-22 on point-after attempts for 37 points. Kyle Bernard is averaging 43.1 yards per punt and has landed seven attempts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

Defensively, the Panthers have given up an average of 36.3 points per game in their three league losses despite returning a solid nucleus.

Wilmot Wellington leads the UNI defense with 52 tackles, followed by Garrett Scott and Jake Farley with 51 each. Tim Clark has five tackles for loss and two sacks among his 13 total tackles.

Xavier Williams also has been a force, racking up 33 tackles, to go along with a forced fumble and three blocked kicks. As a team, UNI has forced eight turnovers in its first six games.

ZENNER ON PAYTON WATCH LIST: South Dakota State University running back Zach Zenner has been officially added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List.

The Walter Payton Award, presented by The Sports Network, and in its 26th year, is presented to the outstanding player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
A sophomore from Eagan, Minn., Zenner leads the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing with 1,248 yards through six games - an average of of 208 yards per game. Second in total rushing yards among all players in NCAA Football this season, Zenner is only the third back in Missouri Valley Football Conference history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in five games.

The Payton Award will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season on Nov. 19. The top three vote-getters will be invited to the FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation on Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.

Zenner set career highs with 23 carries and 183 rushing yards in the Jackrabbits' 2012 season-opening loss at Kansas on Sept. 1. He opened the scoring with a 99-yard touchdown run - the longest offensive play from scrimmage in program history, surpassing Mike Lunde's 95-yard run against North Dakota in 1976. Zenner also caught four passes for 27 yards, giving him 210 all-purpose yards in the contest.

He followed that performance by again establishing career highs with 34 carries for 278 yards at Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 8. Zenner scored on a 35-yard touchdown run in the third quarter at Southeastern Louisiana, then added a pair of touchdowns - including the game-winning 23-yard score - en route to 197 yards Sept. 15 versus UC Davis as he crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career.

Zenner tallied runs of 57 and 87 yards Sept. 22 at Indiana State en route to 237 yards on 29 carries, then turned in a 30-carry, 182-yard performance Sept. 29 against Missouri State that included an 88-yard touchdown run.

In his latest outing, Oct. 13 versus Western Illinois, Zenner scored on runs of 46 and 60 yards en route to 171 yards on a season-low 19 carries. All six of his single-game performances rank in the top 42 among FCS players in 2012, with his 278-yard outing at Southeastern Louisiana ranking third. Zenner is averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

As a kick returner and running back during his redshirt freshman season, Zenner ranked third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2011 with an average of 123.1 all-purpose yards per game, earning him a spot on the league's all-newcomer team.

LALLY RECEIVES RICE ATTENTION: For the second year in a row, the South Dakota State University football team has a player under consideration for the Jerry Rice Award, which is presented to the top freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Last week, linebacker T.J. Lally was officially named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List following his strong start to the 2012 season.

A redshirt freshman from Chicago, Lally ranks second on the nationally ranked Jackrabbits for tackles with 48 and ranks in a tie for second on the team lead with four sacks. He has twice been named Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week and also was named MVFC Defensive Player of the Week following the Jackrabbits' conference-opening win at Indiana State on Sept. 22. Lally also has intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble in 2012.

Lally is one of four Missouri Valley Football Conference players on the season's initial watch list. Missouri State running back Ryan Heaston, Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen and Western Illinois linebacker J.J. Raffelson also are being considered for the Jerry Rice Award, which is named for the legendary wide receiver, who played in the FCS (then Division I-AA) at Mississippi Valley State.

The award will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The list will grow to 20 finalists by then, with the award to be presented Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.

During the 2011 season, Jackrabbit quarterback Austin Sumner placed third in the balloting for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award.

SUMNER AT THE HELM: South Dakota State University quarterback Austin Sumner will attempt to build off an impressive freshman season a year ago.

Although not expected to play in the Sept. 1 season opener at Kansas due to an injury suffered in practice the previous week, Sumner entered the game in the third quarter and led the Jackrabbits on two scoring drives, including throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyrel Kool early in the fourth quarter. Sumner finished the game 14-of-31 passing for 175 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted four times. He followed with a two-touchdown performance at Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 8.

A native of Brandon, S.D., Sumner started the final eight games of the 2011 season, leading the Jackrabbits to a 4-4 record and setting the Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman record with 2,382 yards passing. Sumner, who finished third in the voting for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision, also tied a Jackrabbit single-game record with 37 completions versus nationally ranked Northern Iowa on Oct. 15, 2011.  Sumner topped the 300-yard mark five times in 2011, including throwing for a career-best 377 yards in a double-overtime win over Missouri State.

DUAL THREAT: South Dakota State's Tyrel Kool has shifted all around the field during his Jackrabbit career and will see action both in the backfield and at wide receiver in 2012.

A senior from Yankton, Kool began his collegiate career as a running back and kick returner, but switched to wide receiver during the 2010 season, when he led the team with 64 receptions for 808 yards. His receptions total is fifth-most in a season by a Jackrabbit player, while his receiving yards mark stood 10th in a single season as he earned honorable mention all-Missouri Valley Football Conference recognition.

In 2011, Kool moved back to running back and led the team with 534 yards rushing. He made the most of his first career start at running back, racking up 107 yards on the ground and another 79 through the air in the Jackrabbits' 2011 season opener against Southern Utah.

Kool started at wide receiver in the Sept 1 season opener at Kansas and recorded a team-high eight receptions for 76 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter. He stands at 108 career receptions entering Saturday's game.

In the Oct. 13 game against Western Illinois, Kool returned the opening kickoff 100 yards untouched for a touchdown. It tied the longest kick return in school history and was the first kick return for touchdown by a Jackrabbit player since October 2007.

Additionally, Kool saw time at defensive back late in the 2009. He recorded 10 total tackles, including three in the Jackrabbits' playoff game at Montana.

ROLLIN RETURNS: Senior wide receiver Aaron Rollin rejoined the Jackrabbit lineup Sept. 22 at Indiana State after being injured in the Sept. 8 game at Southeastern Louisiana.

A native of Lee's Summit, Mo., Rollin is poised to enter the Jackrabbit career top 10 in a pair of receiving categories during the 2012 season. He recorded 96 receptions for 1,311 yards in his first three seasons with the Jackrabbits, but has been held to 13 receptions for 151 yards thus far in 2012. Rollin, who recorded season highs of six catches and 73 receiving yards last week against Western Illinois, stands seven catches away from cracking the SDSU careeer top 10 and 196 receiving yards shy of top-10 status.

Rollin put together a breaktrhough 2011 campaign, leading the team with seven touchdowns while sharing the team lead with 61 receptions. He teamed with Dale Moss to give SDSU one of the top receiving tandems in the nation as both receivers topped the 900-yard mark.

Rollin was held without a catch in the 2012 season opener at Kansas, ending his streak of consecutive games with a reception at 21, dating back to the 2009 season.

SHAFRATH STICKING OPPONENTS: Senior linebacker Ross Shafrath has led the team in tackles each of the first six games of the season for a team-best total of 69. Shafrath opened 2012 with a career-high 16 tackles Sept. 1 at Kansas. His total was the most by a Jackrabbit player since linebacker Mike Lien notched 18 tackles in a 2010 game at North Dakota State. He then notched eight stops in the Sept. 8 win over Southeastern Louisiana and shared team-high honors with 10 stops versus UC Davis on Sept. 15. He again led the squad with 11 tackles in the Jackrabbits' league-opening win at Indiana State on Sept. 22, followed by a 12-tackle, two-interception performance Sept. 29 versus Missouri State en route to being named Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

Shafrath has tallied double digits in tackles in seven of the last nine games dating back to last season, including 12 in the Oct. 13 game against Western Illinois.

A senior from Hampton, Iowa, Shafrath ranked fourth on the team in 2011 with 66 tackles despite being a part-time starter. His previous career high was 13 tackles at Missouri State on Oct. 29, 2011.

STOUT DEFENSE: The Jackrabbit defense has been a resurgent unit in 2012, currently ranking in the top 10 of five different categories among Football Championship Subdivision programs:
Pass Efficiency Defense, third, 88.94;
Sacks, fourth, 3.33 per game;
Scoring Defense, fourth, 13.33 points per game;
Total Defense, seventh, 289.17 yards per game;
Rushing Defense, 10th, 102.00 yards per game.

During its current five-game winning streak, the Jackrabbit defense has not allowed more than one offensive touchdown in any game. Three of the opposition's six touchdowns in that span have been on either an interception or fumble return.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: The Jackrabbit kickoff return unit has helped the team win the field position battle throughout the 2012 season. Entering play this week, SDSU ranked second among FCS programs with an average kickoff return of 29.20 yards, trailing only top-ranked Eastern Washington (30.25 yards per attempt).
Five different players have returned kicks this season, including Tyrel Kool, who ran back the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown Oct. 13 against Western Illinois. Trevor Tiefenthaler has added an average of 30.2 yards on six returns, including a long of 46 yards.

BIG PLAYS: South Dakota State has patched together a number of big plays during the 2012 season. In all, the Jackrabbits have totaled 10 plays from scrimmage and a pair of kickoffs of more than 40 yards. Six of Zach Zenner's have covered at least 42 yards, with his eight touchdowns covering a total of 469 yards, an average of 58.6.

Rushing (8)
Zach Zenner 99-yard run (for TD), at Kansas, 9-1-12
Zenner 42-yard run, at Southeastern Louisiana, 9-8-12
Zenner 61-yard run (for TD), vs. UC Davis, 9-15-12
Zenner 57-yard run (for TD), at Indiana State, 9-22-12
Zenner 87-yard run, at Indiana State, 9-22-12
Zenner 88-yard run (for TD), vs. Missouri State, 9-29-12
Zenner 46-yard run (for TD), vs. Western Illinois, 10-13-12
Zenner 60-yard run (for TD), vs. Western Illinois, 10-13-12

Passing (2)
Brandon Hubert 42-yard reception from Austin Sumner, at Kansas, 9-1-12
Jason Schneider 46-yard reception (for TD) from Sumner, at Southeastern Louisiana, 9-8-12

Kickoff Returns (2)
Trevor Tiefenthaler, 46-yard return, at Southeastern Louisiana, 9-8-12
Tyrel Kool, 100-yard return (for TD), vs. Western Illinois, 10-13-12

Conversely, the Jackrabbit defense has given up only two plays of more than 40 yards - both of which came in the Sept. 1 season opener at Kansas. The first was a 43-yard pass from Dayne Crist to Kale Pick on the opening play of the game, followed by a 47-yard run by Tony Pierson.

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS: The Jackrabbit football team received valuable contributions from brothers Winston and Dom Wright during the 2011 season.

Natives of Lee's Summit, Mo., and Blue Springs South High School, both joined the SDSU football program in the fall of 2010. A junior, Winston Wright started all 11 games at cornerback last season en route to earning second-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors. He led the team with three interceptions to go along with 57 tackles. He began his colllegiate career at Missouri, redshirting during the 2009 season.

Dom Wright is a sophomore wide receiver who saw most of his action as a kick and punt returner. In nine games last season, he averaged 15.6 yards on 10 kickoff returns to rank second on the squad. This season, he has returned six punts for 50 yards (8.3 yards per return), including a career-long 39-yard return Sept. 8 at Southeastern Louisiana.

COACH STIG: John Stiegelmeier has built the South Dakota State University football team into a consistent winner in the ranks of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

Overall, Coach Stig has led the Jackrabbits to a 98-73 record (.573 winning percentage). SDSU has posted eight winning seasons in the last 10 years, including six of the school's first eight campaigns at the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) level. The Jackrabbits have had a winning record in 11 of Stiegelmeier's 15 full years as head coach, and have a 24-11 record (.686 winning percentage) in Missouri Valley Football Conference games.

A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits return home to face Youngstown State Oct. 27 as part of Hobo Day centennial events.  The game will be televised regionally on Midco Sports Net and also will be available on

Courtesy:  South Dakota State University