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Picking the Big 12: Week Seven. Also, Missouri Valley preview.

In which the Boss will be accused of treason.

Kyle Emanuel was a beast. Will NDSU's defense remain one without him?
Kyle Emanuel was a beast. Will NDSU's defense remain one without him?
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Lead

Forgive the brevity of the Lead, please, and see the end of the post for your explanation. Here's our staff's picks for Week Seven.

West Virginia at Baylor

Pervis is trolling Baylor for actually losing to West Virginia last year, but the remainder of the staff is picking the Bears to get revenge in a 10-1 split.

TCU at Iowa State
Texas Tech at Kansas

Both of these games are clean sweeps. The first one is patently obvious; the second one isn't quite as much, but then you didn't think anyone on this staff would actually pick KU, did you?

Oklahoma at Kansas State

And here's where things get tricky, because once again the staff is forcing the decision into your fearless leader's hands. JT, Derek, wildcat00, KSUEMAW!, and Pervis all picked Oklahoma to win. Pan, Luke, Bracket, Nugget, and PB picked K-State.

It's funny. The media down here in Oklahoma seem to think the Sooners are going to be terrible, despite all evidence. And the conventional wisdom about K-State is that they're not going to be that good, but will still manage to win 7-8 games. This isn't going to be one of them, partially because until either K-State or Oklahoma actually manage to win this game at home again I'm sticking with the road team. But I will point out that if anyone's going to grind Oklahoma's offense to a halt this fall, it's the K-State defense.

This game is the key to the entire season, folks. And while you may be upset that I'm picking Oklahoma and therefore pushing the staff pick in that direction, you'd all rather me be wrong this way than wrong the other. 6-5, Oklahoma.

BotC's Projected Big 12 Standings after Week Seven
TCU 7-0 (4-0)
Oklahoma State 6-0 (3-0)
Baylor 6-0 (3-0)
Oklahoma 6-0 (3-0)
Texas Tech 4-3 (2-2)
Iowa State 3-3 (1-2)
Kansas State 3-3 (0-3)
West Virginia 3-3 (0-3)
Texas 2-4 (0-3)
Kansas 0-6 (0-3)

Missouri Valley Football Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
1 North Dakota State University Bison Fargo ND 7-1 15-1
2 Illinois State University Redbirds Normal IL 7-1 13-2
10 University of Northern Iowa Panthers Cedar Falls IA 6-2 9-5
12 South Dakota State University Jackrabbits Brookings SD 5-3 9-5
22 Youngstown State University Penguins Youngstown OH 4-4 7-5
19 Indiana State University Sycamores Terre Haute IN 4-4 8-6
rv Southern Illinois University Salukis Carbondale IL 3-5 6-6
rv Western Illinois University Leathernecks Macomb IL 3-5 5-7
Missouri State University Bears Springfield MO 1-7 4-8
University of South Dakota Coyotes Vermillion SD 0-8 2-10

If you think eight teams receiving votes at year's end was insane, every single Valley team received votes in the preseason media poll this month. Even South Dakota. That's how powerful this league has become, and their non-conference results last year make it hard to argue the point. The only team that lost even one non-conference game against an FCS opponent was South Dakota -- who lost by eight points to Montana, a team that ended the season ranked #13.

And then there's your four-time defending national champions, North Dakota State, who beat Illinois State in the Missouri Valley championship game held in January. You probably thought that was the NCAA Division I championship game, but since the Bison and Redbirds tied for the conference title and didn't play each other in the regular season, it was the defacto conference championship too.

To the surprise of precisely nobody, North Dakota State is the favorite to repeat in the Valley, picking up 32 of 40 votes in the combined coaches, media, and SID poll. Illinois State came in second, receiving the other 8 first-place votes. Everyone else followed along behind as follows, with pretty even spacing except for a relatively close fight between Southern and Western Illinois for seventh place.

North Dakota State

All-MVFC selections (total, gone/returning): 13 (8/5)

Preseason selections: 9

Key losses: RB John Crockett (1994 yards/21 TD; 394/1 receiving), OL Jesse Hinz, All-American DL Kyle Emanuel (97 T/32.5 TFL/19.5 sacks), LB Colton Littlejohn (117 tackles/7 TFL), DBs Christian Dudzik (4 INT) and All-American Colten Heagle (99 T)

Key returnees (first-team preseason picks in italics): QB Carson Wentz (3111 yards, 25 TD/10 INT; 642/6 rushing), RB King Frazier (616/4), FB Andrew Bonnet, WRs Zach Vraa (637/4) and R.J. Urzendowski (626/5), TE Luke Albers, OLs Zach Johnson, Jeremy Kelly, and All-American Joe Haeg, DBs C.J. Smith (35 PD) and Jordan Champion (68 T/20 PD), P Ben LeCompte (45.3 avg), LS James Fisher

Incoming FBS transfers:

These guys, I think they might be pretty good at the footballing. Four straight nattys is probably evidence of that, and no, it's not "easier" to win them in FCS or any other level. It's only been done once before, by Division III Augustana in the early 1980s.

But... are there cracks in the armor for 2015? Crockett is a huge loss. Can Frazier, a former Cornhusker from Lee's Summit who transferred in last year, adequately replace the star back? Urzendowski wasn't a phenomenal talent, but the Bison don't win the title without his 78 yards receiving on the final real drive of the national championship game. Can he be replaced as Wentz's #2? This being North Dakota State, the answer to the latter is almost certainly "yes", and while Frazier may not run for 2000 yards you can probably expect at least a grand. In short, the offense won't dip much, and they racked up almost 7000 yards last season.

(Ed. note: when preparing this preview, Urzandowski was mysteriously absent from the roster -- or we didn't see him, even after doing a double-take and checking again. Now he's back on it, which either means something screwy happened or we're going blind. We apologize for the error.)

Which brings us to the defense. Champion is the team's leading returning tackler; the top five are all gone, including Buck Buchanan Award winner and MVFC Defensive POY Emmanuel. As strong as the Bison defense was, we can't ignore this: Emanuel, all by himself, was responsible for over a third of NDSU's TFL and very nearly half the team's sacks. He was that important. If we showed you a player like that and said his team allowed 280 yards and 14 points per game, how far do you imagine they'd slip in his absence? Five percent of the plays run by opposing offenses resulted in either a TFL or a sack as a direct result of Emanuel himself. That is, um, a bunch. Most teams seem to average about a 10% stop-for-loss rate on defense. Replace Emanuel with just a pretty good DL -- 22.5 TFL/9.5 sacks -- and NDSU's rate would actually have only been about average. (Caveat: it's fair to note that some of Emanuel's tackles in the backfield may have been made by other players in his absence.)

All of this is just to say that Emanuel was vitally important and irreplacable, but that doesn't mean NDSU will be awful on defense next year. Far from it; the Bison have already proven they can reload. After all, you don't win four straight titles if you can't. And that, more than anything, is why North Dakota State is still the #1 team in the nation and the favorite to repeat in the toughest conference in the country. But it's a crack. A tiny crack. Enough of one to cause voters to actually pick Illinois State to win the thing this fall.

Illinois State

All-MVFC selections: 17 (11/6)

Preseason selections: 4

Key losses: WRs Cameron Meredith (1061/9) and Lechein Neblett (1039/8), TE James O'Shaugnessy (544/9), OL Jermaine Barton, DL Bradon Prate (13 TFL/7.5 sacks), LB Collin Keoshian (12.5 TFL/9 sacks), KR Tevin Allen (27.9 avg/1 TD), LS Chris Highland, DB Mike Banks (93 T/36 PD)

Key returnees: QB Tre Roberson (3221, 30/10; 1029/11), RB Marshaun Coprich (2274/27), DLs Teddy Corwin (98 T/12.5 TFL/7.5 sacks) and David Perkins (12 TFL/8 sacks), LB Pat Meehan (115 T)

Incoming FBS transfers: none

Roberson earned Newcomer of the Year honors, and Coprich is the reigning Offensive POY. The pair combined for 3300 yards just on the ground. That's a heck of a one-two punch. But there are red flags for the Redbirds in 2015, and they're a large part of why they aren't perceived as even more of a threat to the Bison hegemony. The first is that while Roberson threw for all that yardage, there are only two receivers returning who had more than 60 yards on the year, and neither of them reached 250. So unless some new faces step up to replace over 2600 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns... well, this offense might find its dimensions reduced significantly.

The other is the defense, which didn't lose that much but then also gave up over 5000 yards on the year. The front seven was fine, and put plenty of pressure on the opposing backfields; the problem was the secondary, which allowed a mind-blowing 3355 yards. Yes, it was a bend-but-don't-break scheme, but if there was anything that epitomized the Redbird secondary's problems last year it was the aforementioned final drive of the title game when they were burned to a crisp by R.J. Urzendowski.

These are repairable problems, but this is also the Missouri Valley. If the Redbirds can't reload at receiver and shore up the defense, they're not only going to fail to repeat as champions (co- or otherwise), they're going to get passed up by teams like Northern Iowa.

Oh, and yes: that David Perkins is indeed the former Ohio State linebacker who tackled Brutus Buckeye.

Northern Iowa

All-MVFC selections: 13 (7/6)

Preseason selections: 6

Key losses: QB Brion Carnes (1182, 6/5; 314/4 rushing), RB/KR David Johnson (1521/17; 536/2 receiving; 36.5 avg/KOR), WRs Kevin Vereen (569/6) and Brett LeMaster (485/3), OL Jack Rummells, DLs Xavier Williams (14 TFL/8 sacks) and Mac O'Brien (15.5 TFL), LBs Jake Farley (125 T) and Max Busher (102 T)

Key returnees: QB Sawyer Kollmorgen (1635, 12/5), RB Darrian Miller (332/3), TE Braden Latham, DLs Isaac Ales (18.5 TFL/9 sacks) and Ronelle McNeil (10.5 TFL), LB Brett McMakin (103 T/12.5 TFL/9.5 sacks), DBs Tim Kilfoy (4 INT), Deiondre' Hall (5 INT/17 PD), and Makinton Dorleant, K Michael Schmadeke (27-29 FG/51-53 PAT)

Incoming FBS transfers: QB Aaron Bailey (Illinois), WRs Rod Hall (Clemson) and Dalton Ferch (Iowa State), DE Bryce Douglas (Illinois)

We could have kept listing wideouts all day in the above list, as the Panthers had a ton of them with at least a couple-hundred yards. So the losses aren't as icky as they seem. At running back, on the other hand, Miller will have to step up and get some help. On defense, a lot of talent is gone, and a lot returns. The unit was beastly last year, racking up nearly 10 TFL and 4 sacks a game, holding opponents to under 20 points a shot.

Youngstown State

All-MVFC selections: 7 (5/2)

Preseason selections: 5

Key losses: QB Dante Nania (784, 6/1), WR Jelani Berassa (564/6), DBs Julius Childs (17 PD) and Donald D'Alesio (91 T)

Key returnees: QB Hunter Wells (1772, 14/7), RBs Martin Ruiz (1320/10) and Jody Webb (715/9) WR Andrew Williams (976/6), OL Justin Spencer, DLs Derek Rivers (17 TFL/13 sacks) and Terrell Williams (9 TFL/8.5 sacks), LBs Dubem Nwadiogbu (104 T) and Jaylin Kelly (84 T)

Incoming FBS transfers: DE Avery Moss (Nebraska)

After five years of missing the playoffs by an eyelash, the Penguins parted company with former K-State offensive lineman Eric Wolford and hired former K-State coach-choker Penguin Bo Pelini as their new head coach. Ultimately, a three-game losing streak at the end of the year -- including losses to NDSU and Illinois State -- sealed Wolford's fate.

The offense is mostly unchanged, but the defense will need to retool the secondary a bit. The Penguins only allowed 220 yards a game through the air last year, so disaster isn't imminent, but Childs and D'Alesio definitely need replaced with solid newcomers. Whether Pelini can right the ship in just one season isn't certain, but his experience at a higher level suggests long-term improvement is.

South Dakota State

All-MVFC selections: 10 (5/5)

Preseason selections: 5

Key losses: QB Austin Sumner (1634, 15/5), All-American RB Zach Zenner (2019/22; 331/4 receiving), WR Jason Schneider (876/6), OL Trevor Greger, DB Trey Carr (22 PD), K Justin Syrovatka (19-20 FG/50-50 PAT)

Key returnees: QB Zach Lujan (1943, 13/10), RB Brady Mengarelli (332/1), WRs Jake Wieneke (1404/16) and Trevor Wesley (427/1), OL Jacob Ohnesorge, DL Cole Langer, LBs T.J. Lally (117 T/9.5 TFL) and Jesse Bobbitt (90 T), DBs Jimmie Forsythe (19 PD) and Nick Mears (96 T), DB/KR Je Ryan Butler (18 PD)

Incoming FBS transfers: none

Obviously, the loss of Zenner is a serious blow to the offense. Zenner had three 2,000 yard seasons and ran for over 6500 yards in his career, and racked up another 1650 receiving and returning. And it wasn't just chump yardage; Zenner roasted both Kansas and Nebraska for near-200 yard games in his career. The loss of Sumner is far less problematic, as the signal-caller was often injured. As a result, Lujan has quite a bit of experience under his belt along with a stable of receivers including Freshman of the Year Wieneke to depend on. On the bright side, the Jackrabbits return nearly the entire defense, although that defense was not exceptionally wonderful. Still, one can hope a year of experience will help. South Dakota State will not be the threat they've been, and may even slide. But they're still a good bet to take down Kansas on opening weekend, so there's that.

Indiana State

All-MVFC selections: 8 (2/6)

Preseason selections: 6

Key losses: QB Mike Perish (3515, 21/12), RB Buck Logan (797/7), WR A.J. Johnson (633/4)

Key returnees: RB/RS LeMonte Booker (367/3), WRs Gary Owens (815/5) and Robert Tonyan, Jr. (747/4), TE Jamar Brown, LBs Connor Underwood (94 T/25 TFL/12.5 sacks) and Kendall Walker (123 T), DBs Mark Sewell (114 T/4 INT/32 PD) and Travis Starks (4 INT/38 PD), LS Josh Appel

Incoming FBS transfers: WR Chris Overton (Kent State), TE Calvin Blank (Ball State), DB Antonio Allen (Indiana)

A deep defense with a bunch of playmakers, but they're hamstrung by an ineffective line. Even with the eye-popping stats of the returning four stars in the back seven, Indiana State coughed up over 5200 yards and 24 points a game. That was more yardage than the offense, although not quite as many points. And now the offense has troubles. Mike Perish, the former Western Michigan slinger, has graduated and not even Indiana State beat writers have clue who's taking over at quarterback yet. Booker, the team's kickoff return specialist, is the leading returning ball carrier. There's talent coming back out wide, but the situation isn't pretty -- especially for a team that finished 8-6 last year.

Allen, arrested on drug charges at Indiana, joined the team just last week. He'll be redshirting this season, so isn't a factor. He may not be one next year, either, as he hasn't completely dealt with the legal issues yet. It's a big risk to take with a scholarship, but Sanford was extremely diligent in his research before ever even contacting Allen.

Southern Illinois

All-MVFC selections: 7 (5/2)

Preseason selections: 2

Key losses: RB Malcolm Agnew (820/10), WR/KR Tay Willis (624/5; 26.4 avg/KOR), All-American TE MyCole Pruitt (861/13), DB Boo Rodgers (22 PD)

Key returnees: QB Mark Iannotti (2241, 22/8), RB Cameron Walter (323/2), FB Hans Carmien, OL Ethan Wirth, LB Chase Allen (95 T)

Incoming FBS transfers: QB Mark McIntosh (Northern Illinois), OL Reid Sealby (Iowa), DE Devante Lee (Western Michigan), LB Deondre Barnett (Central Florida), DB Devan Ingram (Northern Illinois)

Iannotti came in from Eastern Michigan last year and took over immediately. He returns, which is nice, but all his playmates have abandoned him. Whether the Salukis are able to succeed on offense is all dependent on whether replacements step in and are effective. On defense, however, the question is really more about whether incumbents get better. This was actually not one of the worst defenses in the league; it's just that the Salukis had very few impact playmakers on defense. Some guys who were merely solid in 2014 are going to have to step it up this year, or it will be a very long season.

Western Illinois

All-MVFC selections: 5 (2/3)

Preseason selections: 2

Key losses: RB J.C. Baker (1265/5), WR Hi-C Scott (660/6), DB Kevin Kintzel (92 T)

Key returnees: QB Trenton Norvell (2891, 24/11), RB Devon Moore (337/5), WRs Lance Lenoir, Jr. (1030/7) and Joey Borsellino (549/4), OL Matt Zobrist, DL Kris Harley (35 T), K/P Nathan Knuffman (11-12 FG/36-37 PAT)

Incoming FBS transfers: QB Craig Slovik (Buffalo)

There's nobody left on defense. Harley, who transferred in last year from Virginia Tech, is the leading returning tackler; he was eighth on the roster last season. No matter what the Leathernecks are able to do on offense, a defense which held opponents to under 400 yards per game last year is going to have a ton of issues.

Missouri State

All-MVFC selections: 6 (3/3)

Preseason selections: 4

Key losses: QB Kierra Harris (1984, 19/8; 478/7 rushing), WR Julian Burton (727/5), All-American DB Caleb Schaffitzel (96 T/23 PD)

Key returnees: RBs Calan Crowder (766/4) and Phoenix Johnson (575/2), WR Malik Earl (302/1), OLs Robert Booker and Sam Ellifrits, LB Dylan Cole (92 T/14.5 TFL), P Chris Sullens

Incoming FBS transfers: DL Riley Herrold (Arkansas State)

The Bears finally decided it was time to move past Terry Allen and dismissed him at the end of the season. To replace him, Missouri State reached over to Missouri and tabbed defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. His first order of business is replacing Harris; his second is building the defense in the wake of Schaffitzel's graduation.

South Dakota

All-MVFC selections: 3 (0/3)

Preseason selections: 2

Key losses: RB Jasper Sanders (697/5)

Key returnees: QBs Kevin Earl (1588, 8/8) and Ryan Saeger (660, 3/3), WRs Eric Shufford (703/5) and Riley Donovan (490/1), DL Drew Iddings, LB John Wessel (86 T), DB Tyson Graham (98 T), K/P Miles Bergner (16-17 FG, long 50/19-21 PAT; 41.9 Pavg)

Incoming FBS transfers: none

Since the Coyotes open against K-State, we'll just direct you to our early opponent preview from a couple of months ago.

Game of the Year

Once again, North Dakota State and Illinois State will miss one another on the schedule. So we're going to list two games here on back-to-back weeks, because it's the most important pair of games for the entire conference: on October 3, Northern Iowa visits Illinois State. The following week, the Panthers visit Fargo to take on the Bison.

Executive Decision

I was planning to do FBS conference previews as well, but I'm scuttling that. In fact, I'm only going to finish FCS previews because we've gone this far, may's well finish them, even though I'm convinced my audience for these is about zero.

After finishing the Valley last night, I crashed hard -- 12 hours. In short: cranking out 5000 words a day (and doing the research required to do so) for a month straight is killing me. Although I may do it again next season, I'll definitely get most of the groundwork laid out much sooner than suddenly deciding like an idiot that this would be a great idea in late July.


So, that means that after our staff picks for week eight, we'll get the MEAC. Friday, we'll skip forward and do the Big Sky, because we want to get that done before Montana takes on NDSU on Saturday, when we'll get back on track with the Ivy League.