The Missouri Valley Football Conference is considered one of the best conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision. It is also one of the toughest conferences. The separation between the middle of the pack and the top is slim. This is why the Valley may only send two teams to the playoffs this season.
The layout of the standings right now has North Dakota State University sitting on top with a 5-0 conference record. Behind them is Youngstown State with a 4-0 conference record. What lies below them is a jumbled mess.
Illinois State, South Dakota, Southern Illinois and Missouri State all have two conference losses while South Dakota State University has three. Indiana State and Western Illinois figure to be out of the playoff hunt while the University of Northern Iowa is hanging on by a thread.
Here is how I see things playing out the rest of the season. Illinois State, Missouri State and South Dakota will not make the playoffs so we can throw them out of this conversation right away. That leaves SDSU, SIU and UNI.
UNI has the biggest road to climb as they have yet to win a conference game (I KNOW!) and would need to win out just to be considered. They do have a win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team in their back pocket which may push them over the hump.
The Jacks have the second toughest road to climb, needing to win out in order make the playoffs. Winning their next three games would include a road win over Youngstown State, which could be fighting for their own playoff life at that point, but, more on that later.
Southern Illinois has the easiest path to the playoffs. The four games remaining are very favorable for the Salukis. They may be able to go 3-1 and still make the playoffs due to the fact they already have victories on the road against SDSU and UNI.
Back to Youngstown State. The Penguins are no lock for the playoffs either. They have the toughest remaining four games with road dates against USD and UNI in back-to-back weeks followed up by home games against SDSU and NDSU to finish off the season.
Even with seven wins overall the Penguins may need two more conference wins just to secure a playoff spot. So, as you can see, even figuring out who that second team to make the playoffs from the Valley is a head scratcher. Trying to find a third team may be an issue.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.