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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 10 2008

UNI has best mix in Valley

The Missouri Valley Football Conference is essentially just two games old. Trying to pick a winner at this point is a little like trying to figure out what the stock market is going to do these days.

But after just a few games, it is clear that the home-field advantage in this league is at least a touchdown advantage, if not more. The home team is 6-2 with the only two losses by the bottom two teams.

So if you’re looking ahead to conference title possibilities, the schedule is a good place to start.

“Getting the right guys at home and the right guys on the road can help,” said Illinois State head coach Denver Johnson. “Who the right guys are can change from year to year. There are a lot of dynamics in that and you can’t look too far ahead. I can tell you it’s very difficult to win this conference.”

So just who are the right guys this year?

Ideally, you would like to have Indiana State, Missouri State, Youngstown State and Illinois State on the road. Indiana State, Illinois State and Missouri State are the only three teams that haven’t been ranked in Division I Football Championship Subdivision polls this season, and of those three, only Illinois State is a threat to crack the top 25.

Normally, Youngstown is not the type of program you would want to play away from home. But there have been more injuries in the Youngstown area since the Revolutionary War and the Penguins are just trying to find players not walking on crutches or wearing casts. Last week, they had a receiver taking snaps at quarterback, which sort of explains a loss at Southern Utah.

It should make NDSU’s loss at Youngstown three weeks ago all the more nauseating to the players and coaches.

It’s called the Big Five/Less Big One/Smaller Three theory.

- The Big Five: NDSU, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa.

- Less Big One: Illinois State.

- Smaller Three: Youngstown, Missouri State, Indiana State.

With that, Northern Iowa is the favorite to win the league because the Panthers have the Smaller Three all on the road.

“There might be a two- or three-way tie at the end,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “Probably two losses, but it’s hard to tell. I do think this: having certain games at home and certain games on the road – it’s a huge factor in this conference. We don’t pay attention to it, but in the end, it can be a difference.”

The theory takes into account all the favorites will hold serve at home. That probably won’t happen, but it’s a good bet you’ll get a 90 percent success rate.

It also means to win a league title, NDSU will have to win all of its Fargodome games and most likely next week on the road at UNI.

Readers can reach Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546 or jkolpack@forumcomm.com.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com