BY JEREMY HOECK
By now, you’re probably tired of hearing people talk about ‘how good’ the Missouri Valley Football Conference has been during the 2014 season.
And yes, that season continues into 2015 with a historic first in the FCS ranks.
Three-time defending national champion North Dakota State (14-1) and Illinois State (13-1) will meet in Saturday’s FCS championship game down in Frisco, Texas, marking the first time in FCS history that two teams from the same league meet in the final.
And oddly enough, it’s a meeting between the league co-champs who did not meet during the regular season.
With that in mind, there had to come a time when both sides hoped to see the other with the title at stake?
“To be honest, I was hoping back in August,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack joked during Monday’s championship teleconference.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be good enough to get to that spot,” he added. “Absolutely we’ve cheered for them.”
As has the rest of the league, which is nearing the end of a historic season.
The Valley finished the season with a 30-2 record against non-conference FCS teams, with the only losses on the road to Montana (against the University of South Dakota) and Chattanooga (against Indiana State in the playoffs).
The league also has a record nine playoff wins, besting the previous record of eight by the Colonial Athletic Association in three different years. Saturday’s outcome down in Texas only guarantees that the Valley will get a 10th playoff win.
Three other MVFC teams also reached the playoffs, as you’ve read by now: South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State, and all three won at least one game.
“It validates what our conference has been saying the last four or five years,” Spack said.
Thing is, the league’s success also goes beyond the FCS ranks.
North Dakota State and Indiana State both upset an FBS team last fall, the Bison against Iowa State and the Sycamores against Ball State. Though Illinois State did not play a ‘guarantee game’ this season, Spack is all too familiar with the ‘top level’ to know that the MVFC couldn’t regularly compete at that level.
“I can tell you, I spent 22 years of my life in FBS football, and I would not want to schedule one of our teams if I was one of those guys,” Spack said.