BY JEREMY HOECK
Is South Dakota State due for an upset of a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent?
While the Jackrabbits have come close in guarantee – ‘paycheck’ – games, they have yet to join their conference brethren in picking up a victory over a big-time college team.
Perhaps their best chance may be Saturday when the Jacks travel to Lawrence, Kansas, to play the University of Kansas, which has struggled in recent years and has a brand-new coaching staff.
Would such a win be a feather in SDSU’s cap?
“Without a doubt,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said in a Tuesday teleconference.
Despite having reached the FCS playoffs in three consecutive years, the Jackrabbits have come up short in every guarantee game since becoming post-season eligible in 2008.
There have been plenty of close calls, however. There has been a 3-point loss at Minnesota (2009), a 14-point loss at Nebraska (2010), a 14-point loss at Kansas (2012) and a 20-point loss at Missouri (2014).
Certainly picking up a win against a Big Ten or a Big 12 opponent would generate some added buzz for a program like SDSU, but its coach was quick to also point out that it’s not the main goal for a season.
“It will happen, and it’ll be a feather in the program’s hat, and an exciting time,” Stiegelmeier said. “But it’ll also be a time to draw a line and move on to the next goal.”
Of the 10 Missouri Valley Football Conference members, just under half have picked up an FBS win in recent years: North Dakota State (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), Indiana State (2011, 2014), Northern Iowa (2013), Youngstown State (2012) and Illinois State (2012).
The University of South Dakota beat Minnesota in 2010 when the Coyotes were members of the Great West Conference – the closest USD has come in FBS games since? Seventeen points.
One aspect that has changed for SDSU, in particular, as the years have gone on has been the approach to games like those, according to Stiegelmeier. He referenced the 2008 game at Iowa State, where the Cyclones rolled past the Jacks 44-17 in what was SDSU’s first foray into big-boy football.
“I’m not saying we should have beat Iowa State, but we just played poorly,” Stiegelmeier said. “I think our guys thought they were going through a different world to play a different game.”
That’s not the case anymore.
The Jacks have progressed to the point where they expect to compete in FBS games, their coach said.
“Our measure is how well we play; not being in awe of the stadium or a program,” Stiegelmeier said. “It’s been more business-like and less trying to infuse some Superman into our players.”