What to Watch

It may only be Week 6 of the college football season, but Saturday’s game between No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 3 Youngstown State will have a postseason feel to it.

The game between two undefeated Missouri Valley Football Conference teams will not only have implications in the race for the league title, but will also likely have an impact the national FCS playoff picture in November. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com at 2 p.m. ET.

Both teams are 4-0 heading into the contest at sold out Gate City Bank Field in the Fargodome, and have each survived clashes with formidable MVFC foe Northern Iowa during the past two weeks. Each team offers a balanced offensive attack, and is strong defensively. Both have beaten FBS opponents – YSU opened the season with a win against Pittsburgh, while NDSU upended Colorado State in the second week of the year.

And, both have great tradition. North Dakota State won eight Division II titles between 1965 and 1990, and after switching to FCS in 2004, won the championship last season. Youngstown State won four FCS titles between 1991 and 1997, and is trying to get back to that elite level.

Sept. 23, 1972 North Dakota State 16-10
Nov. 3, 1973 Youngstown State 12-10
Sept. 29, 2008 Youngstown State 32-24
Nov. 21, 2009 Youngstown State 39-35
Oct. 9, 2010 North Dakota State 34-29
Nov. 12, 2011 Youngstown State 27-24

There are three things to keep an eye on in this contest:

1. Turnovers: Youngstown State has lost the football just once this season, while NDSU has turned it over only three times. In contrast, the Penguins have caused five turnovers and the Bison have caused 10. NDSU ranks fourth in the nation with a +1.75 turnover margin and YSU is tied for 20th at +1.0.

“Anytime you play against a really good football team, that’s usually the deciding factor,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. “We’ll need to keep that turnover margin in our favor. Youngstown has done a good job creating turnovers and taking care of the football. Typically, the teams at the top are that way.”

2. Quarterbacks: YSU’s Kurt Hess and NDSU’s Brock Jensen are both mobile, tough quarterbacks who have the benefit of strong offensive lines and lots of weapons surrounding them. Hess leads the nation with a 175.89 pass efficiency rating, completed 66 percent of his passes, while Jensen has connected on 70 percent of his passes. Both have thrown for eight touchdowns, and neither has gotten picked off this season.

“I think they’re obviously two great quarterbacks and do a good job of managing the game,” YSU head coach Eric Wolford said. “They are very similar, and both make key plays in big games when the heat is on.” 

3. Revenge Factor: Yes, North Dakota State won the national title last year, but Youngstown earned the honor as the only team to beat the champion Bison. The Penguins topped NDSU 27-24 in Fargo last season and the Bison surely remember the sting of that setback but have gone on to win nine consecutive games since the loss. 

“Memories can serve you well, or they can be damaging, too,” Bohl said. “We certainly need to play the game with confidence. Without question,Youngstown beat us last year fair and square – it wasn’t a fluke. I think it is certainly mindful for our players to recognize this is a really good football team. We had a close game with them and some opportunities that weren’t there.”

“Every year is different than the last,” Wolford said. “I think last year’s result has no bearing on this year’s outcome.”

There are a few other interesting tidbits of note. NDSU starting running back Sam Ojuri will be serving a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons. He was one of 10 football players to plead guilty to misdemeanor voter fraud on Tuesday for faking names on petitions, but was the only one suspended and according to Bohl, not necessarily for this one incident. John Crockett, who leads the Bison in rushing with 82.2 ypg, is expected to get the start against the Penguins.

North Dakota State leads the nation in total defense, allowing just 204 yards per game, and scoring defense, allowing only 8.75 points per game. But the YSU offense should test the Bison as they are putting 40.75 points per game on the scoreboard.

And, lastly, look for this to be a close game. Only 28 combined points have separated the two teams in the previous six meetings in the series, and the margin of victory has been five or less in the last three contests.

While fall sports have been rolling for more than a month, some winter sports are just getting cranked up. Women's hockey is skating along, and the men get in full swing soon as well, while basketball and wrestling start practices next week. Check out what the Duke wrestling team did for a little team building during a recent football Saturday.

• Big Ten volleyball takes center stage this weekend as No. 4 Nebraska visits No. 12 Purdue on Friday as the Boilermakers look to stay on top of the conference standings. Purdue is riding an eight-match winning streak and boasts a 4-0 Big Ten record for the first time since 1990. The Huskers are looking to keep the title race close, bringing a 3-1 mark into the match. Nebraska’s only loss in league play is to No. 1 Penn State.

Purdue senior outside hitter Ariel Turner – the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year – paces the Boilermakers with 4.23 kills and 2.90 digs per set along with a team-leading 19 aces on the year. Nebraska outside hitter Gina Mancuso tops the team with 3.43 kills per set.

Nebraska leads the series 10-5, but Purdue won last year’s meeting, sweeping the then-No. 2 Huskers on Nov. 12.

Birmingham Southern only reinstated its football program five seasons ago, but the Panthers are already climbing their way to the top. BSC is No. 11 in the latest AFCA Division III Top 25 Poll after starting the season 5-0. However, the Panthers’ toughest test is looming in Delaware on Saturday as they travel to No. 6 Wesley. 

BSC will be the Wolverines’ fourth consecutive top-25 opponent – the first time in Wesley’s history that has happened. The Wolverines have beaten then-No. 6 Salisbury, lost to then-No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor and defeated then-No. 25 Louisiana College before taking a break with a bye week.

• The only match-up between nationally-ranked Division II football teams will be a Thursday night showdown as No. 13 Midwestern State visits No. 18 West Alabama in the First and Ten Challenge – a series of regular-season contests between the Lone Star Conference and Gulf South Conference. It will be broadcast live on ESPN3. It will mark the first time MSU plays in the state of Alabama, and the only time this season the Mustangs will leave the state of Texas.

Both squads are led by running backs averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game. MSU’s junior Keidrick Jackson is averaging 105.2 yards per game, and has rushed for eight TDs, while West Alabama senior Matt Willis has grounded out 107.0 yards per game with four scores.

• Hours after cracking the NSCAA Division II Top 25 Poll, the No. 25 American International women’s soccer team knocked off defending champion and No. 1 Saint Rose 1-0 on Tuesday. AIC held the nation’s top scoring team scoreless for the first time this year, and picked up its fourth consecutive shutout. The Yellow Jackets look to sting Merrimack, another Northeast-10 foe and regionally-ranked opponent, on Saturday.

• The Central Missouri football team is on the verge of cracking the AFCA Division II Top 25 Poll as the first team receiving votes, and if the Mules upset No. 1 Pittsburg State on Saturday, they will be sure to be ranked next week. Central Missouri is looking for its first win against a No. 1 opponent, however, it defeated No. 3 Northwest Missouri State earlier this season. Upending the Gorillas will not be an easy feat as they average 46.50 points per game, which ranks sixth in the nation, and rack up 471.50 yards of total offense.

• The LIU Post men’s soccer team claimed the top spot in the NSCCA Division II Top 25 Poll for the first time in program history, and will look to remain unbeaten when the Pioneers host Bridgeport on Saturday for an East Coast Conference match-up. The Pioneers boast a perfect 11-0-0 mark as they have outscored opponents 33-10, led by eight goals from Eivind Austboe. The Pioneers rank sixth in Division II scoring offense with 3.33 goals per game.

• It will be another Big East battle of unbeatens for No. 2 Connecticut men's soccer as the Huskies travel to No. 9 Marquette for a top-10 clash on Saturday night. The Huskies knocked off No. 5 Georgetown 2-1 on the road Wednesday, handing the Hoyas their first loss of the season.

UConn’s match-up with the Golden Eagles will be the third consecutive contest against a top-10 opponent. The Huskies defeated No. 8 Notre Dame on Sept. 29. 

The game will feature two of the top goalkeepers in the nation. Marquette’s Charlie Lyons, who garnered Big East Goalkeeper of the Week on Oct. 1, ranks sixth in the nation with a 0.48 goals against average, and fourth in Division I with a .886 save percentage. UConn’s Andre Blake, the reigning Big East Goalkeeper of the Year, tops the league with a 0.36 GAA, and boasts an .892 save percentage. 

UConn and Marquette are two of just eight programs that have yet to experience a loss this season.

• The No. 6 BYU (11-1-0) women’s soccer team looks to stretch its nine-game winning streak when the Cougars host No. 21 Santa Clara to open West Coast Conference play on Friday. The Cougars have posted seven consecutive shutouts, and lead the WCC with a 0.50 goals against average and in scoring with 2.17 goals per game.

The Broncos (7-2-3), who were voted by WCC coaches as the preseason favorites, are 5-0-3 in their last eight games. Santa Clara lost two games in August to nationally ranked squads Stanford and Notre Dame, which are currently No. 2 and No. 24 in the NSCAA poll, respectively.

•  No. 7 St. Thomas (Minn.) will look to extend its 14-game winning streak this weekend when the Tommies head to the Knights Classic hosted by No. 15 Wartburg. The Tommies’ only loss of the season was in five sets to Emory, currently ranked No. 6 in the AVCA Division III Poll.  St. Thomas leads the nation with 14.0 kills per set and ranks second with a .299 hitting percentage.  

• When No. 1 Mount Union travels to Wilmington (Ohio) on Saturday for a Division III Ohio Athletic Conference contest, the Quakers may want to lock the gates before the Purple Raiders arrive. But they won’t; they’ll suit up and play despite how the matchup looks on paper.

Rushing Offense 232.50 27.50
Passing Offense 274.75 143.25
Total Defense 134.25 442.75

Mount Union – the perennial national contender – has outscored opponents 208-7 in four games, and has shut out four opponents. It is the fewest points the program has allowed through four games since 1936. 

On the flip side, Wilmington has lost 30 consecutive games and is giving up 48.0 points and 442.75 yards of total offense per game. Last week, the Quakers were shut out by Muskingum 45-0, and have been outscored 192-26 in four games.

Following the Quakers’ loss to Heidelberg on Sept. 22, head coach Ken Minor resigned and Jay Niswonger, the offensive coordinator, was named interim coach. Despite the coaching change, the questions still remain the same. 

“Do the kids want to compete?” Niswonger said. “Are they gonna accept getting hit in the face all game, because they are gonna hit you in the face.”

• The No. 8 Northeastern field hockey team has kept its spot in the NFHCA Division I Coaches Poll for the fourth consecutive week after compiling a 9-2 mark. The Huskies have been successful despite playing only two of their first 11 games at home. Heading into this week’s schedule, just 10 teams (out of 79 Division I field hockey teams) had played twice at home through 10 games. Northeastern heads to Delaware for a Colonial Athletic Association contest as it looks to move to 10-2 for the program’s best start since 2005.

The Huskies are fresh off a 3-1 victory against Harvard in which senior forward Crystal Poland notched a pair of goals to become the school’s all-time leading goal scorer with 68.

• The No. 20 Western Kentucky women’s volleyball team owns its highest ranking in program history after winning 10 consecutive matches and starting Sun Belt Conference action with a 4-0 record. They have swept their last five opponents, and have posted 3-0 wins against in all four Sun Belt contests. Against conference competition, WKU is hitting a league-leading .380, while holding foes to a SBC-best .111 clip. The Hilltoppers head to North Texas on Friday as they look to continue their winning ways.  

Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy