BY JEREMY HOECK
As I sat at my work computer late Sunday night, trying to formulate a prediction that would appear in our special preview section on Friday, I found myself thinking that I wasn’t yet ready to make a prediction.
For a game that has been nine years in waiting, I suddenly found myself surprised that this game is already upon us.
USD vs. SDSU.
Coyotes vs. Jackrabbits.
Hard to believe, right? I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life covering USD athletics, both as a student reporter and a daily newspaper beat writer. All that time, deep in the back corners of my mind was this game. At some point, I knew it would happen.
Now that it’s officially game week, I have a hard time grasping the magnitude. On one level, it’s simply a meeting between conference foes (that’s the line you’ll hear a lot this week, that it’s ‘just another game’). But on the other side — mostly from the folks in Vermillion — is the idea that State-U goes beyond football. No, it’s more than that in South Dakota. It’s beyond athletics, you could argue.
It’s a pride issue. People in our state take sides; I fully understand that as a native South Dakotan. I’m not talking red state or blue state, I’m talking simple stuff, like sports. We align ourselves with our sports teams, and grow to resent — sometimes in a light-hearted way — the ‘other side.’ I experienced that first-hand in my freshman year while at USD in Vermillion; getting a taste of the State-U rivalry. My only regret was that everything changed after 2003. Something was missing around campus, around the DakotaDome and subsequently, around the fan support.
What was missing is now coming back in mere days.
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The University of South Dakota sits at 1-9 overall and 0-7 in its debut season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. In other words, not much has gone right in Coyoteland.
Still, there’s a chance for USD to erase most of those frustrations with one win. One victory.
With South Dakota State needing a win to make the FCS playoff field, the Coyotes can certainly play spoiler on Saturday in Brookings. And in fell swoop, they can also put a positive capper on an otherwise miserable campaign.
Isn’t the most dangerous team one that has nothing to play for?
If that’s true, the Jackrabbits — at 7-3 and 5-2 overall — could be in for a battle. Everybody in the region, and certainly most everyone in the state, acknowledges SDSU as the obvious favorite. The Jacks will be expected to win.
That will be a topic of conversation around the DakotaDome this week, how the Coyotes will scheme to upset the Jackrabbits and spoil their playoff hopes. Joe Glenn, himself a former player and coach in this rivalry, probably won’t get much sleep this week as he gears up for another trip to Brookings.
On the other hand, yes, one victory doesn’t completely erase what has gone wrong for USD this fall. It’s not so much talent that has led to the 8-game losing streak, it’s been penalties — particularly costly ones.
The Coyotes have proven they can compete in their new league, but they just haven’t proven they can win. Doing so Saturday in Brookings will therefore be a significant challenge.
But again, isn’t the most dangerous team one that has nothing to play for?
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Oh, and for the record, I picked the Jackrabbits to win 38-24.