Years from now, when historians are looking back at the 2016 South Dakota football season, it might be easy to dismiss the Coyotes' 4-7 finish as just the latest in a five year run of losing campaigns.

But the end result doesn't tell the entire story.

Let's break down the five one-score losses:

  • One (North Dakota) came in double overtime, in a game they led by 20 in the second half.
  • Another (Western Illinois) was by a field goal, after leading by 17 at halftime.
  • The final three of the season (Southern Illinois, South Dakota State, North Dakota State) each came by seven points. In all three games, the Coyotes had the ball on the opponents' side of the field on their final possession and did not score.

A razor thin margin between a losing season and a potential playoff season.

South Dakota finished tied for sixth in the ultra competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference, with five games against teams ranked in the FCS Top 15 at the time.

More than half of the Coyotes' games this season (6) came against teams that eventually qualified for the FCS Playoffs. USD beat two of those teams (Weber State and Illinois State).

But there are no medals for coming close and head coach Bob Nielson knows that winning close games needs to be the next step in the progression of the program he took over this season.

The 2017 schedule begins with a very winnable FBS game at Bowling Green against a team that needs a win this week to finish 4-8.

From there, it's a game at Drake, then home for a rematch with North Dakota, before opening MVFC play.

The 2016 season ending 28-21 loss to North Dakota State looked very familiar to Coyote fans. The opposing team takes an early lead, USD has an answer, but is unable to ever get ahead and eventually runs out of time, needing one more scoring possession to tie, or even win a game.

The Coyote defense did give up more than 300 yards on the ground for the second straight week, but managed to force two second half turnovers and keep the Bison of the scoreboard in their final six possessions.

I talked with USD head coach Bob Nielson about the loss to NDSU, the season overall, and what's ahead next year:

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