Game Time: Saturday, September 30, 2017, 4 p.m. ET
Location: Hanson Field, Macomb, Illinois
Where To Watch: ESPN3/WatchESPN
Betting Odds: South Dakota -6, O/U 64.5
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
The South Dakota Coyotes are doormats no more. For South Dakota’s first five seasons at the FCS level, it looked like the school had bit off more than it could chew. The Coyotes failed to win more than five games in any season from 2012 to 2016 and the postseason was just a fairy tale.
Now, it looks like the postseason is a formality for South Dakota. The Coyotes are 3-0 with an FBS win and a dominant victory over North Dakota in non-conference play. They will now kick off their conference slate with a tough test in the Western Illinois Leathernecks.
Reasons to Like South Dakota
The Coyotes have a legitimate candidate to win the Walter Payton Award in quarterback Chris Streveler. Streveler is a transfer from the University of Minnesota that is thriving in his second season at the FCS level. He has yet to throw an interception this year and has racked up the yardage both through the air and on the ground.
Streveler has averaged 280 passing yards a game and 75 rushing yards a game with 13 total touchdowns thus far in 2017. He has been the catalyst on offense and hasn’t been able to be stopped.
South Dakota boasts a solid run defense too. The Coyotes are allowing opponents to run for just 2.61 yards per carry and looked great in holding down a North Dakota running game that was one of the best in the FCS last year.
Reasons Not to Like South Dakota
Streveler has been great, but he has yet to face a good defense. North Dakota’s defense is a shadow of what it was in 2016 and Bowling Green is a winless FBS team. This Leathernecks defense will test him in ways he hasn’t been yet.
The Coyotes fell apart down the stretch last season and this team might not be that much better than the squad that went 4-7 last year. North Dakota got hammered last week by a previously winless Montana State team and that was the ranking that led to their rise in the rankings. The Missouri Valley is the toughest conference in the FCS and beating a team like Western Illinois is a different challenge.
Reasons to Like Western Illinois
This defense is legit. The Leathernecks brought the hammer down against Coastal Carolina in a 52-10 rout last week that was keyed by three interceptions. That was after Western Illinois handled Northern Arizona’s passing attack two weeks prior, holding Case Cookus to less yards than what he put up against Arizona.
The Leathernecks also boast a formidable run game. Western Illinois comes into this game averaging 5.37 yards per carry and has been able to move the chains against all three of its opponents. Max Norris has been solid in carrying the load and the coaching staff has done well to not overload him in the absence of Steve McShane. This duo will have a lot of success this year now that McShane seems to be fully recovered from an ankle injury.
Reasons Not to Like Western Illinois
Sean McGuire has played well, but he hasn’t taken the steps forward that the coaching staff was hoping this year. His peripherals aren’t bad at all, but he has greatly benefited from the Leathernecks jumping out to big leads with defense and a good ground game. He has not been used as the primary option in a game yet.
Both teams have an advantage coming into this one. The Coyotes got an extra week of preparation thanks to their bye last week, while the Leathernecks play this one at home. Western Illinois jet setted around the continent through its first three games and should relish the chance to play its first game in the friendly confines of Macomb.
I think the wrong team is favored here. There isn’t a lot of difference between these two teams and I would have made Western Illinois a slight favorite.
That’s why I love the Leathernecks to get the win here.
Final Score: Western Illinois 31, South Dakota 23