It’s been mostly tough times for Missouri State football in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears have only made the postseason twice in more than three decades in the league, and they haven’t won more than six games in a season in more than 20 years.
Missouri State went 4-7 during Dave Steckel’s second season on the job in Springfield, but the team showed considerable improvement from 2015. The school rewarded him with a two-year contract extension a month ago, and it is hopeful he can continue to improve the on-field product.
However, winning in the toughest FCS conference in the country is easier said than done.
2016 Missouri State Football Season In Review
After going winless in conference play in 2015, it was important that Missouri State grab a couple of victories against MVC foes last season. The Bears ended up beating Indiana State on the road and Southern Illinois at home to go 2-6 in conference.
Missouri State also saw how far it still needed to go when it played the best teams in the league. Five conference opponents beat the Bears by 24 or more points.
The Bears struggled to find consistency through the air, with three different players throwing at least 10 passes. The quarterbacks combined to toss 17 interceptions and weren’t completing a high percentage of their passes either.
Any hope that the ground game could carry the load quickly fizzled out as well. Missouri State finished the season averaging just 3.6 yards per run and averaged 55 yards less per game on the ground than its opponents.
The defense was consistently gashed in conference play. The Bears gave up 42 points per game against MVC opponents and couldn’t even limit opponents in their wins. That was despite having one of the best linebackers in the country in Dylan Cole, who led the country in tackles per game and was named an FCS All-American.
2017 Missouri State Football Season Preview
Steckel announced that JUCO transfer Peyton Huslig will head into fall practice as the starter at quarterback. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the country last season at that level, leading Garden City Community College to the JUCO title. He will be given plenty of leeway even if he struggles early on. There is no one else on the roster who has even taken a snap at the quarterback position, so Huslig is the best option by a mile.
The new signal caller will look to find rapport with Malik Earl, the Bears’ leading returning receiver. He played a big role in the team’s win over Indiana State last year, hauling in 11 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. But he was relatively quiet the rest of the season. His production has gone up every year he has been on campus, though, and he should have his best season yet as a senior.
If the Bears are going to finish with a better record than they did in 2016, they have to be much better on defense. That’s going to be very difficult with the loss of Cole, who was their undisputed leader. Colby Isbell is probably the best player on this year’s unit after leading the Bears with 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season. The team will look to him for leadership without Cole.
2017 Missouri State Football Schedule
September 2: Missouri State at Missouri
September 9: Missouri State at North Dakota
September 16: Missouri State vs. Murray State
September 23: Missouri State vs. Illinois State
September 30: Missouri State at North Dakota State
October 14: Missouri State at Western Illinois
October 21: Missouri State vs. South Dakota State
October 28: Missouri State vs. Indiana State
November 4: Missouri State at Southern Illinois
November 11: Missouri State vs. Northern Iowa
November 18: Missouri State at Youngstown State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
If Missouri State was in another conference, this team could very easily finish over .500. But the Bears are more likely to regress than take a step forward in 2017. A brand-new quarterback and the loss of its best player from 2016 means that this team is still a year or two away from being a legitimate threat in the conference.
That doesn’t mean the Bears can’t ruin another team’s season, though. Missouri State nearly knocked off Western Illinois last season and gets two weeks to prepare for the Leathernecks this year. Although it’s a road game, this is a good spot to back the Bears in FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.