A few weeks ago when the FCS revealed its playoff field, both the Big Sky and Missouri Valley conferences each sent a record number of representatives to the postseason. Five Big Sky teams made this year’s bracket while a whopping six MVC programs were in the fray. With nearly half of all of this year’s playoff teams hailing from one of these two leagues, it was only a matter of time before they started to meet each other.
Southern Illinois @ North Dakota State
Last weekend we already saw a Missouri Valley clash in the first round when Southern Illinois beat South Dakota. Normally there is a rule that prohibits teams from the same conference from meeting in the opening weekend of the FCS tournament but because the Salukis and Coyotes did not play each other in the regular season, their pairing was allowed. In the second round, though, no such rule is in place and this year we have been gifted with two more conference rivalries.
The aforementioned Salukis will again see MVC competition this weekend as they prepare for a trip to Fargo to take on North Dakota State. Like South Dakota, SIU did not play the Bison in this year’s regular season. They did, however, face then-#1 NDSU during the shortened spring season and shockingly dismantled them 38-14.
The Bison, though, are 9-4 all time against Southern Illinois and, perhaps more significantly, are nearly impossible to beat at home in the playoffs. In fact, NDSU has only lost one home postseason game since 1995 and that was to eventual national champion James Madison in 2016. The Salukis will have their hands full on Saturday but you can sometimes throw all logic out the window when two conference teams square off in a postseason setting.
Eastern Washington @ Montana
The Big Sky will also see two of its teams meet up in the second round on Friday night when Eastern Washington hits the road to take on Montana. The Eagles and the Griz did actually meet earlier this season back in October in what turned out to be an excellent game that was flexed to ESPN2. EWU held on at the very end to escape with a 34-28 win.
That contest, though, was played over in Cheney and Montana quarterback Cam Humphrey got hurt in the game. This time the two will meet in Missoula on what could be a frigid game with an evening kickoff. Humphrey is back and healthy and the Grizzlies would love nothing more than to send their “Governor's Cup” rivals packing and dish out some revenge for the last game.
EWU and Montana have met in the postseason once before. Back in 2014 the two faced off in the second round of that year’s playoffs in Cheney with Eastern winning 37-20. The Griz are 28-18-1 all time against the Eagles and Friday could spell another intense chapter in the rivalry, especially as Montana may have some extra motivation going in thanks to EWU receiver Talolo Limu-Jones.
Per a report, Limu-Jones was asked in a video interview about Eastern not receiving a seed despite a 9-2 overall record. He said, “I feel like, personally, we got snubbed... Montana State deserved [a seed]. Montana, I feel like they didn’t deserve it. So, kind of glad that we’re in the same, like, bracket as them... They have to see us again, and I’m pretty sure they don’t want to.”
In their first meeting this season Limu-Jones caught 11 passes for 231 yards. Whether or not he’ll put up similar numbers this go-round remains to be seen but you can bet that the Griz defense will hone in on him just a tad bit more now. Washington-Grizzly Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the whole country but Eastern is clearly quite confident. There could be some real fireworks here.
One more notable: If UC Davis had not lost to South Dakota State last weekend, then there would have been a third conference game in the second round between them and Big Sky champion Sacramento State.