SDSU-YSU just part of being in Missouri Valley

South Dakota State quarterback Taryn Christion (3) passes as linemen Charlie Harmon (68) and Jacob Ohnesorge (62) block TCU defenders during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

(STATS) – With Missouri Valley Football Conference teams suggesting their title chase is as strong as ever, South Dakota State and Youngstown State can’t help but know Saturday’s exceptional matchup is just one step in the race.

But No. 4 SDSU (3-0) and No. 6 Youngstown State (2-1) want it to be a winning first step, even though there are many more big games ahead in the 10-team conference, whose five matchups on Saturday feature at least one nationally ranked team.

The big one in Youngstown will be the first matchup at Stambaugh Stadium between two Top 10 teams since the No. 4 Penguins closed out the 1979 regular season by hosting second-ranked Western Illinois.

“I think Saturday will be a good test for us, for South Dakota State,” YSU coach Bo Pelini said. “I think you learn a lot about your football team in a game like this. It’s not a definitive thing of what you learn. You kind of have your next assessment of where you are.”

“It’s the start of the Missouri Valley,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier, whose team earned a share of last year’s MVFC title with North Dakota State. “If you have aspirations of being a top whatever (playoff) seed, you need to beat good teams, you can’t go on the road and stumble right out of the chute. For us, going on the road, playing Youngstown, it’s going to be a big crowd, it’s a huge game.”

SDSU has won four straight games at Youngstown State, but the Penguins are back to being a national power, having finished as the FCS runner-up to James Madison last season.

In disregarding an overtime touchdown by Pittsburgh, Youngstown State has allowed only 16 points in its last 10 quarters. That type of defense matches up well against SDSU’s potent offense, which has scored in all 12 quarters and is led by quarterback Taryn Christion, the 2016 MVFC offensive player of the year.

The visiting Jackrabbits have been preparing for two Youngstown State quarterbacks. Starter Hunter Wells has been sidelined for over a game and a half with a shoulder injury, but coming off the Penguins’ bye week, he could be ready for a return. His replacement, Nathan Mays, is more of a running threat, having gone for 159 yards and three touchdowns on only 11 carries while Wells has been sidelined.