VERMILLION, S.D. | Whether or not seven wins is enough to get the South Dakota Coyotes into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs remains to be seen, but the fact that they’re on the bubble entering Saturday’s regular season finale adds more intrigue to the South Dakota Showdown Series.
South Dakota State visits the DakotaDome for the latest renewal of the longstanding rivalry between in-state schools. For most of the season, it was the Coyotes making the headlines, winning their first six games to rise to No. 4 in the national rankings.
USD, though, has lost three of its last four and takes a 7-3 mark (4-3 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference) into the tilt and has dropped to No. 16. SDSU, meanwhile, has won four in a row and is 8-2 and 5-2.
And, the odds favor the Jackrabbits, who’ve won eight straight over the Coyotes, including all five since they’ve met as Division I schools.
“Our approach is this needs to be a playoff game for us,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “It’s a game that we have to get back to playing our best football. We have a very good opponent that’s going to cause us to have to do that.”
In most cases getting seven victories while competing in the best FCS conference in the nation produces a strong enough resume for the postseason. But there have been years where seven-win teams haven’t made the playoffs.
The ultimate decision, of course, will lie in the hands of the selection committee.
“I’ve been on those committees and I know our league is really balanced with a lot of quality teams which has shown through the non-conference records,” Nielson said. “I feel without question that if we were to win Saturday we’d be in a position of strength heading into the playoffs. Whether we can make the same case (with a loss), the strength of our league would probably indicate that should be the case, but I also know it doesn’t always work that way.”
USD quarterback Chris Streveler, making a strong bid for the Walter Payton Award, given to the FCS player of the year, feels Saturday is a must-win game.
“It’s obviously an in-state rivalry, a game where no matter what the records are, both teams are going to be fired up to get after it and play each other,” Streveler said. “They’re a great team, it’s going to be a great challenge. It’s going to be a great crowd in here and with the way our last couple of games have gone we look at this as a very important game for us. It should be a great atmosphere in the dome.”
After Illinois State handed the Coyotes their first loss, they rebounded with a 42-0 shutout of Southern Illinois. However, back-to-back setbacks to Northern Iowa (34-29) and North Dakota State (49-14) have them reeling a bit leading up to SDSU.
This is Streveler’s second game against the Jackrabbits and he realizes the importance, but admits that much of the hype involves fans and alumni.
“There’s a lot of trash talking that goes on between the fans,” Streveler said. “Every game is important to us and we’re kind of playing for our playoff lives and it’s a big game. We’ve dropped the last couple of games and it’s going to be a great challenge. You’re so close to the other school so it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of that but this is the game this week so it’s the most important one.”
South Dakota State handed NDSU -- which clinched at least a share of its seventh straight MVFC title -- its only loss a couple of weeks ago and pulled out a 27-24 overtime win over Illinois State last week.
Senior linebacker Jim Litrenta will be playing his fourth game against South Dakota State.
“I think there’s a little extra just because it’s against an in-state team but we have to go out and win to keep playing probably, so that’s the only job we have to get done,” Litrenta said. “We shouldn’t leave anything up to the committee, none of the guys want that, so if we can get this one we should be good to go.”
SDSU came from behind to win 30-23 the last time it played at the DakotaDome and pulled out a 28-21 victory last season in Brookings, South Dakota.