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September 13, 2012

It's only Week 3 of the 2012 season and while there's a long way to go, one conference, the Missouri Valley, has certainly made a case for being the top dog conference to date.

Traditionally, the MVFC has always had its fair share of talented teams, players and competitiveness, but it's often overshadowed by the likes of the Southern Conference, CAA Football and the Big Sky Conference.

Currently, the Missouri Valley has five teams ranked in the FCS Top 25 - three top-10 teams, No. 1 North Dakota State, No. 5 Youngstown State and No. 7 Northern Iowa, as well as Illinois State and Indiana State, which have quietly hovered around the 15-25 spots.

Rankings aside, it's been the way the conference has competed and the development of a handful of playmakers whom have impressed many across the FCS. Illinois State, Youngstown State and North Dakota State, all 2-0, have picked up three FBS victories collectively. On top of that, the MVFC is a perfect 8-0 in home non-conference games this year.

"Nothing surprises me in the Missouri Valley Football Conference," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said. "I think our conference is very strong and I think everyone involved in the league thought it would be even better this year. It was a great league last year, which North Dakota State proved by winning the national title. This league has been one of the better conferences in FCS football for a long time and I hope it continues to get the national attention it deserves."

Many of the conference's top playmakers have put up impressive numbers already. South Dakota State's Zach Zenner leads the FCS in rushing with 461 yards, while Indiana State's Shakir Bell and Illinois State's Darrelynn Dunn follow closely behind at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. The defenses haven't be bad, either, with five teams holding opponents under 282 yards or better.

"I don't know what the other leagues are saying, I can just tell you our league is really tough," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. "When we line up as coaches and when we get together at conference meetings, we always say that our best competition usually comes within our own conference."

Consider CAA Football, which has three teams sitting at 2-0, Delaware, Old Dominion and James Madison, all of whom have played relatively easy opponents. Towson (0-1) and New Hampshire (1-1) could make a title run in conference play, which begins this week; however, traditional contenders William & Mary, Villanova and Richmond and Maine seem to be in the middle of a rebuilding process.

No to take anything away from the SoCon or the Big Sky - which is definitely home to some of the best teams and standout players in the FCS - but at this point in time, the Missouri Valley has looked solid.

"Every year in this league it seems like one of the teams knocks off a FBS opponent and this year three of us have done that," Spack said. "It just shows how strong this conference is from top to bottom and, hopefully, that will be shown come playoff time, with more teams in this year. There are five ranked teams right now and I think we could all be potential playoff-caliber teams come the end of the season. But there is a long way to go."

One of those wins came in the hands of North Dakota State, which dominated the line of scrimmage in a 22-7 road win at Mountain West foe Colorado State. The Bison defense gave up just 72 rushing yards and allowed CSU to convert just one third-down play.

"Going in watching the tape, we felt like we would have some physical advantages and we played really well, we won by 15 points, so it didn't surprise us," Bohl said. "Nonetheless, I don't want to make light of Colorado State, I think they're a good team, but it wasn't like we got done at the end and were like, 'Wow, holy smokes, we won the game.' I think our players expected to win the game. As coaches, we expected to win the game."

A fitting attitude which the conference has seemed to live by in the early going of the season.


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