College football’s best conference has grown into perhaps the sport’s most ubiquitous debate over the last half-decade or so.
I can’t pinpoint where the conversation started, nor will I try to assign blame to any one league for igniting it — though I will put responsibility squarely on SEC honks for perpetuating it to such a point that it dominates college football.
The SEC’s reputation has taken a hit, particularly over the last season-and-change. Its standing as college football’s best conference has clearly been usurped thus far into the 2015 season by the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Yep, the MVFC is Div. I football’s premier league, fulfilling all the criteria the most ardent conference-defender could want. The current FCS STATS Top 25 has four MVFC teams ranked in the Top 7, and five in the Top 13:
3. North Dakota State
4. Illinois State
6. South Dakota State
7. Northern Iowa
13. Youngstown State
North Dakota State’s dominance of the Football Championship Subdivision is well-documented enough that College Gameday paid two visits to Fargo the previous two years. The Bison’s on-going run of four consecutive national titles buoys the MVFC in much the same way Alabama’s three championships from 2009 through 2012 fueled the SEC’s fire.
The most recent NDSU championship came in an instant classic against Illinois State, MVFC co-champ in 2014. The Redbirds’ run to January’s title round brought the football version of Arch Madness to Frisco, Texas.
And, unlike the 2012 BCS Championship Game, Illinois State had to earn its way into the final round with road wins over the Big Sky’s Eastern Washington and Colonial Athletic Association’s New Hampshire.
Both the CAA a few years ago and Big Sky more recently serve as reminders that the best conference argument isn’t limited to the FBS. A popular saying surrounding the CAA circa 2010 was that it was the FCS’s SEC, then boasting a pair of national titles and three different championship game participants in three straight years.
The Big Sky is the MVFC’s primary foil now. It has five ranked teams, just one fewer than the MVFC’s six (Indiana State checks in at 22).
The Big Sky also scored a huge win for conference supremacy with Montana’s Week 0 defeat of North Dakota State — the Bison’s first loss outside of the Missouri Valley since dropping a 2010 FCS Playoffs game to Big Sky opponent Eastern Washington.
However, the MVFC quickly scored a measure of revenge: Montana lost to Big Sky opponent Cal Poly the next week. The Mustangs, fresh off an impressive performance Week 2 at Arizona State, hosted Northern Iowa in Week 3 and lost by the same margin to the Panthers that they fell to the Sun Devils.
Nos. 1 and 2 in the FCS poll are Jacksonville State, the Ohio Valley Conference representative that took Auburn to overtime in Week 2, and undefeated Coastal Carolina.
CCU, of the Big South Conference (for now), took North Dakota State to the brink in last year’s Playoffs, employing the innovative offensive style of rising-star head coach Joe Moglia.
Both the Gamecocks and Chanticleers can end the stranglehold the Bison, and by extension the Missouri Valley Football Conference, have on the FCS title.
It’s just as likely one of the MVFC’s many, quality teams could bring an end to the Bison dynasty. Nowhere else will a championship contender face so many ranked opponents.
The Missouri Valley has indeed established its as college football’s best conference. And hey, with one former Big Ten coach there — ex-Nebraska head man Bo Pelini — what’s to stop another? If things don’t work out at Arkansas, Bret Bielema could keep crowing about strength of conference coaching one of the MVFC’s programs.