Previewing The Valley: Top 5 Players

The Missouri Valley Football Conference announced their 2017 All-Conference Pre-Season team this last Tuesday. North Dakota State and South Dakota State combined for 20 players on the team. SDSU had nine make the first-team. NDSU had seven players named to the team.

These lists are usually a good indication of what established players we will be on the lookout for during the 2017 season. The last several years, the best players have hailed from one of three schools, NDSU, Northern Iowa and SDSU. Probably a reason that those teams have had so much regular season success. Just a hunch.

But who is the best of the best? Not just best at their position but the best player, regardless of what side they line up on? I think it’s time to start this discussion.

This list is completely arbitrary but so are all bar-room style discussions. I will give my players, in no specific order, and explain why I believe they are one of the top 5 players in the Valley.

Let’s begin with the obvious ones.

Nick DeLuca – North Dakota State

DeLuca might not only be the best defensive player in the Valley, he might be the best player period. He has been nominated for the Butkus award watch list two years in a row and was the only FCS player nominated to this list in 2016.

He hurt his shoulder in the first game of the season last season and still played through the injury to collect 15 tackles against Eastern Washington and another eight against Iowa. How hurt was the shoulder? It required surgery and sidelined him for the rest of the season. That’s tough, man.

DeLuca’s presence will be best felt against teams like South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits have the best air attack in the conference and rely heavily on tight end Dallas Goedert to cause match-up issues. Goedert lines up at 6’5″ and 260 pounds. DeLuca comes in at 6’3″, 246 and athletic enough to stay with Goedert on passing downs. That flexibility makes life a whole lot easier for NDSU.

That match-up could decide NDSU’s game against SDSU on November 4. That game has a good chance at being the game that decides who wins the Valley. That’s what the pre-season voters believe anyways.

Jake Wieneke – South Dakota State

Wieneke was a one-man wrecking crew last season. He led the MVFC in receiving yards (1,316), reception yards per game (101.2) and receiving touchdowns (16). He had 196 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the 2016 season opener against TCU.

He did all of this while playing with first-year starting quarterback Taryn Christion. Wieneke enters his senior season, with Christion his second year as a starter, with even higher expectations. Especially now that the FCS’ premiere wide out, Cooper Kupp, is playing on Sundays.

Expect Wieneke to be on plenty of pre-season watch lists and to receive plenty of double-teams during the regular season. That’s fine with SDSU as their offense seems to find Wieneke when they need a key catch. He’s not a volume guy, like Goedert, but more of the one who is going to catch the big touchdown or make the play to help SDSU convert.

It’s not a stretch to think of Wieneke as the most complete receiver in the nation. Expect him to solidify this every game in 2017.

Taryn Christion – South Dakota State

Taryn Christion won the Offensive Player of the Year award and was a Walter Payton Award Finalist. He led the Valley with 3,714 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. He threw for 303 yards and ran for another 141 in SDSU’s 19-17 victory over NDSU in the Fargodome last season. Dude was a stud.

There are a lot of hopes pinned on Christion’s shoulders this season. The offense for the Jacks shifted from a running to passing one last season. The reason being Christion’s performance. The expectation is that offense is going to be even more amped up. Christion is a year older, Goedert, Wieneke are in their final season and the offensive line looks to be stacked.

This team has the potential to have one of the best offenses not only in the conference but in the country. It all comes down to how Christion performs.

This conference is not used to the quarterback being the most important player on the offense. It’s usually the running back being the main focal point. David Johnson at Northern Iowa and SDSU’s Zach Zenner come to mind. Even last season, Youngstown State and NDSU made deep playoff runs with moderate to poor quarterback play. Both teams relied heavily on a two-back system that was extremely effective.

In Christion, you get a runner, a thrower and the conference’s best playmaker. Expect big things out of him this season.

Now, the two that are not quite so obvious.

Greg Menard – North Dakota State

Bison fans know the impact a dominate pass rusher can have on a team. Kyle Emanuel’s 2014 season is case and point. While you cannot expect that type of season out of Menard, you should expect him to be the most feared pass rusher in the conference this season. Menard was one of just four players with double digits in sacks in the Valley last year. He is the only one of those four returning in 2017.

The conference continues to be a run happy league, keeping it unique in the college football realm. That doesn’t mean a pass rusher is not a need but you can still win in this conference without them. If that’s true, than why does Menard make the list? Because he’s more than just a pass rushing specialist. He’s a dude with an endless motor.

As players fatigue and wear down, Menard continues to play with the same speed he had on play one. The tackle that was able to block him in the first quarter is no match for him in the fourth. The motor, along with a ton of talent, makes Menard the scariest of pass rushers.

 

Nate Tanguay – North Dakota State

I understand that this list includes a TON of home cooking. Three NDSU players and two from SDSU. Even more atrocious is that the three NDSU players come from the defensive side. I beg of you, however, that before you disgustingly click away from this post, read my explanation behind why I picked Tanguay.

Tanguay played in nine games last year for the Bison before tearing his ACL against Youngstown State. During his nine games, NDSU held teams to 93.5 yards rushing per game. This included holding Youngstown State to under 100 yards rushing. The first time all season the Penguins had been held below 100.

The next five games saw NDSU give up an average of nearly 130 yards per game, including 154 to the Valley’s worst rushing team in Indiana State and 201 to James Madison in the FCS Semifinals. The timing was not a coincidence.

The loss of DeLuca may have been the loss of the team’s most talented player but the loss of Tanguay was more of a blow to the team’s biggest strength.

As long as NDSU has won titles, they’ve had a dominate defense. The best part of their defense has been the ability to stop the run and at the forefront of that has been some of the best interior lineman in the nation. Names like Leevon Perry and Ryan Drevlow dominated the interior on the best of NDSU’s defensive teams. Tanguay’s should already be mentioned with those names and could be one of NDSU’s best by the end of the season.

The Bison have the Valley’s best pass rusher and best defensive player overall but Tanguay is the key. How he plays will determine how far NDSU will go this year.