By Joe Scalzo
For much of the past decade, the Missouri Valley Football Conference was like the world’s best boyfriend. No matter what it did, the rest of the country would say, “Yeah, but where’s the ring?”
North Dakota State changed that last season, giving the MVFC its first Football Championship Subdivision title since 2005.
So far this season, the MVFC may have earned another title: best conference in the nation.
The MVFC is tied with the Big Sky for the most wins over FBS teams this season (they each have three of the FCS’s eight).
The MVFC has the highest Sagarin Rating in USA Today. (And is actually closer to the bottom FBS league, the Mid-American Conference, than it is to the second-ranked FCS league, the Southern Conference.)
The MVFC has the No. 1 team in both The Sports Network poll and the Coaches Poll (North Dakota State).
The MVFC has the No. 1 team in Phil Steele’s poll (Youngstown State).
The MVFC has five teams ranked in The Sports Network poll and four in the Coaches Poll, second-best to the Colonial Athletic Conference’s six in both.
For the past several years, the Colonial has generally been considered the FCS’s best conference, but with UMass jumping to the MAC this season, Georgia State (Sun Belt) and Old Dominion (Conference USA) planning to leave next season and Villanova mulling a jump to the Big East, the conference is in flux.
The Missouri Valley, meanwhile, has gotten more competitive in recent years thanks to the addition of NDSU (in 2007), the emergence of Indiana State and the re-emergence of YSU. That has made the league less reliant on Northern Iowa, which has only made the national title game once (losing to Appalachian State in 2005) and whose playoff stumbles have historically hurt the conference’s reputation.
“I’ve seen tremendous growth in the MVFC,” said YSU senior left tackle Andrew Radakovich, who has started more games than anyone else on the team. “When I first got here, you really didn’t see teams beat FBS teams. We’ve started making games a lot closer and even in our conference, we’ve beat a couple FCS teams.
“So you’ve seen a lot of growth in the talent and the publicity of our conference. I’m not going to claim us to be the best conference, but we’re a very competitive conference. Back before, you really saw Richmond and Villanova and Appalachian State as the dominant teams, but you’ve seen us have our coming-out period. It’s nice to see because there’s a lot of talent on the field every time we play a conference game.”
YSU coach Eric Wolford said the conference’s biggest strength is on the sidelines.
“There’s a lot of really good coaches in the league right now,” he said. “They’re very creative, they do a good job recruiting and they know how to utilize the players they have.
“I think the players definitely are better than when I first got in here, but I think you can’t deny the coaching.”