There are no unimportant games at this time of the season in the Northern Sun. Especially, though for those teams who have a chance to extend their seasons beyond the 11 regular season games they are all scheduled to play.
There is a lot of that on the line this week for several teams in the Northern Sun. Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State are all fighting for a chance to go to the NCAA Division II Football Tournament. Teams like the University of Mary, Sioux Falls and Southwest Minnesota State are fighting for position for a Mineral Water Bowl appearance.
Minnesota Duluth (8-1) at University of Mary (5-4)
There are all kinds of post season implications in this one. But only in college football with crazy formulas to determine rankings could winning a game hurt your chances of making the post season.
Sure if the Marauders win they move to 6-4, and while that's great for them, it means a second loss for Minnesota-Duluth. That could knock them out of the top 6 in Super Region 3, and could mean that if the Marauders beat the Bulldogs on Saturday they would have just eliminated their hopes of going to the Mineral Water Bowl. Then the Bulldogs would become the highest ranking team in the Northern Sun not going to the playoffs.
But the Bulldogs are red hot again, winners of six straight following their only loss of the season to Minnesota State. Last week against Minnesota Crookston seven different Bulldogs found the end zone, and quarterback Drew Bauer tossed four touchdown passes in the game.
Overall, the series with Mary is heavily favored to Minnesota Duluth. They have never lost to the Marauders in their previous six meetings. In those victories the Bulldogs have outscored Mary by an eye popping 264-70.
Saturday's meeting is a matchup of two of the better defense's in the NSIC. The Bulldogs are ranked third in the conference in defense, giving up 16 points a game, while the University of Mary is fifth giving up 24 points a game.
Now, we'll see if that holds up past this week because Mary hadn't played either of the two highest scoring offense's in the conference yet this year either in Southwest Minnesota State, and Minnesota Duluth.
MSU Mankato (9-0) at Sioux Falls (5-4)
For some reason this one seems like a scary game to me. The Mavericks have been a lot better than everyone else in the Northern Sun for the better part of two seasons now. Still though, late in the season last year they ran across a scary offensive team in Southwest Minnesota State that they were able to fight off.
This one has that same feel. The Cougars can score points, and with or without starting Quarterback Luke Papilion on Saturday they have found ways to light up the scoreboard. It sounds like his status for the game is questionable.
USF's loss at Upper Iowa didn't help them last week, but a win over the Mavericks would put them right back in the hunt for a Mineral Water Bowl appearance.
The other thing for MSU is, that win or lose they are probably still in the playoff picture. They are the top team in the country and the #2 team in the region, and own a win over Minnesota Duluth already in Duluth, so even with a loss, they should be pretty safe.
There isn't too much secret to stopping the Mavericks, it's just not that easy to do. Minnesota State is running for nearly 270 yards a game between quarterback Jon Wolf who leads the team in rushing with 764 yards on the season. Running back Conner Thomas has given the ground game some balance for the Mavericks he has rushed for 698 yards on the year. Combined the two have scored 19 rushing touchdowns.
That will be a tough tandem for the Cougars to stop. They can be hurt on the ground as they are giving up just shy of 220 yards a game rushing.
Southwest Minnesota State (5-4) at Concordia St. Paul (4-5)
It has been hard for teams to stop the Southwest Minnesota State offense, and Saturday being that the two clubs are playing in the Metrodome it could be a lot harder.
Junior running back Tyler Tonderum last week broke the NSIC's single-season rushing record. There is not an NCAA player in the country with more rushing yards than Tonderum's 1,708 yards heading into Saturday's game (including NCAA Division I, II, or III).
While the Mustang offense has been strong, so has Concordia's defense. It has kept them in a lot of games this year, and while some inconsistent play at the quarterback position has hurt them, when they have had solid play out of that position they have been able to win games.
Concordia defensive end Zach Moore is drawing interest from NFL scouts. The defensive end has five sacks on the season, and has been a big playmaker for the Golden Bears since he was a freshman.
Look for the Golden Bears to stay close and slow the Mustangs down some. Last year this game came down to a late interception in the back of the end zone for Southwest to win them the game.