For the last three weeks, since Winona State traveled to South Dakota and defeated Sioux Falls 31-13, fans of Minnesota State football have looked forward to a game between the Mavericks and Winona State at Blakeslee Stadium.
If only both teams were still undefeated when they got here, they thought.
And local college football fans are the lucky ones that get to witness Saturday’s game.
Winona State is the team to beat right now in Super Region 4, drawing the No. 1 position in the first rankings this week. The Warriors have the most balanced offense in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, and the defense is pretty stingy with points.
Winona State has had some good fortune, as well. Sioux Falls’ All-American running back Max Mickey was injured in practice leading up to the game against Winona State, and Wayne State’s do-it-all quarterback Zach Osborn was injured on the first possession of last week’s game against Winona State.
And it looks as though Minnesota State might be without Nate Gunn, the Northern Sun’s leading rusher, this weekend.
But nobody cares about that. You win or lose; there is no other measurement in college football.
Winona State has the opportunity to become the top program in the Northern Sun, having defeated Minnesota State the last two seasons. The Warriors are one of the few Northern Sun teams to win at Blakeslee Stadium in the last five seasons, and the 2015 victory here was not a fluke.
Even after eight weeks, there are still some unknowns about the Mavericks. The defense has been stifling, though the competition hasn’t been great. Nobody’s been able to run on the Minnesota State front seven, but few teams have tried, mainly because they’ve been behind early. Minnesota State has given up some plays in the passing game, but when teams throw more than they run, they’re bound to hit a couple.
The Mavericks’ passing game has been spotty, but they haven’t had to pass. When in doubt, just throw it high to Shane Zylstra or Ty Dennis, their 6-foot-5 receivers. It’s been a pretty good plan so far.
There have been too many penalties, but that’s something the Mavericks control.
It’s hard to tell if we’ve already seen the best that Minnesota State has to offer, or is there something better, more dominant, more balanced that we’ll see Saturday?
With a victory on Saturday, Minnesota State will be back on top of the league, almost a lock to return to the NCAA playoffs. But this is Winona State’s opportunity to make a statement about the present and future of that program.
There are so few weekends in the Northern Sun when fans can get excited about their team’s matchup. This is one of those games, with conference championships and NCAA playoffs berths at stake, perhaps a nice crowd at Blakeslee Stadium.
It’s OK to get excited.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.