The state of South Dakota has two schools who participate in division one athletics. Last year was the first year both the University of South Dakota Coyotes and the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits competed in all division one athletics together.
The Jackrabbits of SDSU and the Coyotes of USD are natural rivals. But in 2009 South Dakota State transitioned from Division two to division one athletics. Last year USD followed suit and now both schools are in the same conference for football and the rivalry is back.
The USD Coyotes are coming off a rough first year in division one football. In 2012 USD put together a 1-10 win loss record. The positives…five of those games were decided by one possession or less. A few plays separated the Coyotes from a 1-10 record to possibly going 6-5. USD Football coach Joe Glenn says his team is prepared to compete and improve this season.
"The spirit and that attitude, it all started after last season; I’m not going backwards. But from that point going forward they have outworked any team that I have ever been a part of. They’ve lifted and run and done anything they can within the rules and they’ve given it their all so now it’s our point to get them to the game and get them healthy and ready to go; and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do," Glenn says.
Glenn says he is confident his team has what it takes to compete at a high level in a tough Missouri Valley Football Conference. He says their schedule for this upcoming season is not easy.
"We’re looking forward to the first game and I think out of teams that we play right now, eight of them are top ranked in the top 25. We’re gonna have to line them up and hit them one at a time and then just keep mowing them down and you take them one at a time and you don’t look past anybody, Glenn says.
Drew Iddings is a defensive lineman for the Coyotes who is entering his sophomore season. He says he works every day to make himself a vital part of the team’s defense.
"For me personally, it’s a lot faster passed game and I’m use to that more. We’ve realized that the Missouri Valley Conference is, it is probably the toughest conference in the FCS. So we’re just getting use to that, just learning a lot more and getting bigger and stronger and faster I guess to compete with those guys," Iddings says.
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits had their best season in school history in 2012. They ended with an 8-3 win loss record and made the FCS D-1 playoffs. The Jacks won a home playoff game over Thanksgiving weekend, which was the first D-1 playoff win in team history. The next week SDSU was eliminated at the Fargo Dome against North Dakota State who went on to win its second straight National Championship. This season, SDSU is looking to raise the bar another notch. SDSU Coach John Stiegelmeier says the team has a lot of tough games this season including a trip to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers. Stiegelmeier says he doesn’t get caught up in the hype.
"When we made the division one move, one of the theories was look where you get to play. We’ve never thought about that. We went to Thibodaux Louisiana. Where the heck is Thibodaux Louisiana? We play Nickel State down there you know. So we’re going to Lincoln to play the Cornhuskers and so much history and so much success and so on but our deal is first play or last play do what you can to win the football game" Coach Stiegelmeier says.
Another game gaining a lot of momentum on this years SDSU schedule is a home game against defending champs, NDSU and a road game against the University of South Dakota. Coach Stiegelmeier says he is excited for both because they are rivalry games. He says the USD game is special because it’s the first time SDSU has played at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion since 2003.
"I can’t wait, but I’m gonna have to wait because it is a long ways away but those are fun games. But the difference in South Dakota State and University of South Dakota football now is it’s not the highlight of the season. The highlight is every game, playing in some special places like Nebraska but when you get to that game and you get those three days of preparation…that’s a fun fun time. And I think last year it was a great environment here, I think some people have learned from stuff. I think it will be a great environment in Vermillion," Stiegelmeier says."
Zach Zenner is the all conference running back for the Jackrabbits who led the FCS last season in rushing yards. He says he is excited for the potential but he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
"Well in the Missouri Valley no game is a guarantee. I had a really good conference in high school and obviously this is totally different level but in terms of the competition it’s similar where as no game is a guarantee," Zenner says.
With both SDSU and USD rising with potential, it makes the Missouri Valley Football Conference that much more competitive. Mike Kern is the associate commissioner for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. He says the conference is following a path laid by history.
"The Missouri Valley Football Conference has been good from start to present. We’ve competed at a very high level. And now with the addition of our three Dakota schools which has happened in the last five years or so we’ve kind of branched into a new region. Our competition and what we do on the football field there’s not a league that’s better than ours," Kern says.
Kern says the University of South Dakota may have struggled last season but he expects them to bounce back soon
"With Joe at the helm they’re going to be really good. They’re going to catch up to everybody else and they’re going to surpass a lot of people and it won’t take long," Kern says.
Kern says good coaching can make or break teams. He says Coach John Stiegelmeier with South Dakota State is one that can make a team very good.
"John Stiegelmeier is an excellent leader of football and he teaches them how to play football the right way. They play it in a way that football should be played and they like North Dakota State and University of South Dakota have been excellent ambassador for our conference and certainly for the states of both North Dakota and South Dakota," Kern says.
The University of South Dakota hosts South Dakota State on November 16 this fall at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion. It’s been 10 years since the Jackrabbits visited the campus of USD and the hype is continuing to rise. Mike Kern with the Missouri Valley Football Conference says both teams are a vital part of making division one football great.
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