NDSU favored over Illinois St in Missouri Valley poll
FARGO, N.D. (AP) The two teams that gave the Football Championship Subdivision a thrilling finish last season were tabbed Monday by Missouri Valley Football Conference followers to once again decide the league title - and maybe more.
A poll of league coaches, media and sports information directors gives four-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State a slight edge over the Illinois State Redbirds, who took the Bison down to the final seconds of January's title game before falling 29-27. The two teams had tied for the conference crown.
NDSU earned 32 of a possible 40 first-place votes for 389 points. Illinois State received the other eight first-place votes and 366 points. Northern Iowa was picked to finish third in the league, followed by Youngstown State, South Dakota State, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Missouri State and South Dakota.
Bison coach Chris Klieman, who was an assistant coach during NDSU's first three titles before taking over for Craig Bohl last season, said his team and Illinois State were separated by one play. The Bison rallied to win when quarterback Carson Wentz scored a touchdown with 37 seconds left. It still took an interception by Esley Thornton in the final seconds to seal the victory.
''Obviously, they're a team that we think will be around at the end and have every opportunity to compete for a national championship,'' Klieman said of the Redbirds.
Patty Viverito, who is entering her 31st year as league commissioner, would be fine with another Bison-Redbirds finale.
''I had so much fun I wouldn't mind at all having a little deja vu and going through that again. It was really an incredible experience,'' she said. ''I also know from past experience that this league throws some curves and creates some challenges for even the best teams.''
The Bison have relied heavily on defense the last several seasons, but most of the returning standouts this season are on offense, including Wentz. The Bison lost two four-year starting safeties and the FCS player of the year in defensive end Kyle Emanuel.
Like NDSU, the Redbirds have the luxury of a standout quarterback in Tre Roberson, who along with running back Marshaun Coprich gives them perhaps the most explosive backfield punch in FCS.
Illinois State coach Brock Spack said the perspective has changed for his team, which was predicted last year to finish in the middle of the pack.
''Now the roles are going to change a little bit,'' Spack said. ''You're not going to sneak up on people. You're going to get folks' best effort every Saturday. So it will be a little different.''
The league also released its preseason all-conference team. Northern Iowa led the way with six first-team selections, followed by five for South Dakota State, four each for Illinois State and Indiana State, three each for NDSU and Youngstown State, two for Western Illinois and one for Missouri State.
The Missouri Valley has six national titles in its 30 years as a conference. Last year was the first time two teams from the same league played for the national championship.
MVFC preseason poll, team: http://www.valley-football.org/news/default/2015-16/8203/bison-tabbed-as-valley-football-favorite/