The debate on all-conference performers and MVP’s is underway this week in anticipation of the opening of the FCS Playoffs beginning. I am proud to be a Valley voter for the sixth straight year and as many know, I am not allowed to vote for any North Dakota State players or coaches. But for the sake of this blog, I will place Bison players in the appropriate spot.
Offensive Player of the Year – Chris Streveler, South Dakota: There was no doubt about this vote. Streveler is a one-man team, the question asked when NDSU played the Coyotes was simple: How many wins would USD have without him? Probably 3? Streveler is simply the best player in the league this year, combining for 33 touchdowns and the most yards in the league.
Defensive Player of the Year – Brett Taylor, Western Illinois: Taylor had a amazing season, racking up 150 tackles, nearly 40 more than the next closest guy. He was all over the field, including 13 tackles for loss. The scary part is that he’s just a junior and will return to anchor a solid Leatherneck defense. I would also consider NDSU’s Robbie Grimlsey for this award, I thought Grimsely’s season was fantastic, he was a difference maker on the Bison defense this season.
Quarterback – See Offensive POY above.
Running Back – Tevin McCaster, Youngstown State and Lance Dunn, North Dakota State- If Dunn had not got hurt, he would have been the MVP of the league in my mind. McCaster lead the league in rushing and is a tough back to bring down, while Dunn racked up 12 touchdowns in just seven games. I know that Dunn’s production started to slow against tougher competition, but he still warrants selection here. James Robinson from Illinois State received my vote, his 12 touchdowns and impressive games against tough competition was eye-opening.
Wide Receiver – Jaelon Aclin, Western Illinois and Jake Wieneke, South Dakota State – Acklin was a godsend for Sean McGuire, he was the deep threat that torched many Valley defenses, racking up over 1200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Wieneke’s numbers weren’t close to what he’s done in the past, but his touchdowns were outrageous at 13 and defenses had to decide who to double team between him and Dallas Goedert.
Tight End – Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State – Next to Streveler, the other slam dunk vote in Valley voting this year. He was unstoppable again during the regular season against NDSU, while his touchdown numbers were down, he still is the toughest player to defend in the league. He finished second in the league in receptions and receiving yards. Will be fun to see what happens this postseason.
Offensive Line – Justin Spencer, Youngstown State, Austin Olsen, Southern Illinois, Jacob Ohnesorge, South Dakota State, Tanner Volson and Austin Kuhnert, North Dakota State – I can’t say that I studied each offensive line to a T, but I did see NDSU’s each week and Kuhnert is a beast up front. I thought Volson had a terrific year as his first full year as the starting center, he was named the Valley lineman of the week twice over. Spencer was sensational again this year for Youngstown.
Defensive Line – Dalton Keene, Illinois State, Rickey Neal, Northern Iowa, Darin Greenfield, South Dakota, Caleb Butler, North Dakota State – Keene put a wrap on a fabulous career with eight sacks, he was great in season finale against NDSU. Neal led the league in sacks and I thought Butler was a disruptor up front. None of NDSU’s D-line guys will have the numbers to warrant MVP levels, but Butler came up with big plays when things warranted.
Linebackers – Jared Farley, Northern Iowa, Brett Taylor, Western Illinois and Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State – Taylor’s reasons are listed above. Farley was second to Taylor in tackles and I thought he was a great player, always around the football to make a play for UNI. DeLuca bounced back from not only missing most of last season, but then missed two games this year with a meniscus injury and we saw against UNI what kind of player he is when healthy. Best core of linebackers in the Valley in a long time.
Defensive Backs – Elijah Campbell, Northern Iowa, Davontae Harris, Illinois State, Robbie Grimsley and Tre Dempsey, North Dakota State – Campbell had two interceptions alone against NDSU and could have had a third. He led the league in passes defended and was great in the secondary. Harris is a shutdown corner, he was second in passes defended and could be playing next year in the NFL. Dempsey and Grimsley are the best safeties in the league, Dempsey led the league in interceptions and continues to be a playmaker on defense. Grimsley, as listed above, was just a tremendous force all year long.
Kicker and Punter – Chase Vinateri, South Dakota State and Sam Kuhter, Northern Iowa – Vinateri struggled with extra points for some strange reason, but he only missed one field goal, including kicking the OT game winner against Illinois State. Cam Pedersen should be in the discussion with his two game winners for NDSU. Kuhter continues to be on the league’s best punters, he put 22 inside the 20 yard line.