Thursday, September 29, 2011

MSU football season begins for real

The South Division of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football season is nearly always going to be a four-team race between Minnesota State, Winona State, Augustana and Wayne State.

Which means Saturday's homecoming game between the Mavericks and Winona State is one of the three most important contests of the season.

Minnesota State's first three games were more of a preseason, with two victories, then last week, the Mavericks eased into the South Division games with a road win at Concordia-St. Paul.

Winona State is the best team the Mavericks have faced yet, and the winner keeps alive hopes of a South Division championship and postseason invitation. The loser will need to win out and get help, either from other league teams or the regional committee, to make the playoffs.

At this point, Winona State has been very impressive, rolling up 677 yards and 72 points in a victory against Upper Iowa. The Warriors also have a win over St. Cloud State, which was ranked ninth in the country at the time.

Augustana lost in the much-hyped opener to Minnesota Duluth, then lost games to Bemidji State and Mary, probably falling out of postseason contntion in the first month. It's tough to say what a win against Southwest Minnesota State last week will do for the Vikings, who remain a dangerous team.

Wayne State got done by Nebraska-Kearney in the opener, then struggled against hapless Minnesota Crookston. A 7-0 victory over Minnesota Duluth opened some eyes so Wayne State probably is still a threat in the South Division.

The Mavericks are also a wild card. The loss at Northern Michigan was explainable, and the victories against Northern State, Minnesota Crookston and Concordia-St. Paul haven't been much of a test.

That makes the game with Winona State a lot of fun. In this league, you don't get a marquee matchup every week. You need to enjoy them when you can.

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