Long break no worries for South Dakota State football ahead of FCS playoff push

Nov. 18 – BROOKINGS – It was like clockwork.

Between September 3 and November 12, there were 11 Saturdays, and not a single one went by without the state of South Dakota playing a football game.

But now back-to-back college football weekends continue without the jackrabbits taking the field.

Due to being assigned a Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule that mandated a fallback date on November 19 — the final day of the Football Championship Subdivision’s regular season schedule — and earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs on November 26 as a suspension for SDSU is one of eight seeded players in the FCS postseason and is in the middle of a 20-day gap between games.

Idle dates are a given in college football, but rarely do situations like the current Jackrabbits circumstances arise where two dates are stacked back-to-back.

“I thought it would be the weirdest thing we would encounter if we ended up being a seed and having back-to-back [weeks without a game]now I’m happy about it based on the health of our team,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “Someone, maybe the (planning) computer, took care of us.”

As Stiegelmeier hinted, a longer break for his jackrabbits couldn’t have come at a better time. SDSU has struggled with injuries for most of the season, particularly on the defensive side of football, and none taller than All-American linebacker Adam Bock, who has been out since Oct. 22 but could return in the postseason.

Unlike a midseason idle week — or as they’re called “improvement weeks” in the SDSU program — an opponent on the other side of the layoff isn’t known. When the FCS playoff bracket is determined on Sunday, November 20, the Jacks will learn of two potential opponents. True to its moniker “Improvement Week,” however, the focus will likely be inward in practice, as SDSU chooses to hold off on preparations specific to their Dec. 3 playoff opponent until the two opportunities on Dec November 26 are narrowed down to one. As Stiegelmeier puts it, “That (preparing for two different teams at the same time) is a lot of work, unless someone’s really different.”

That likely means two very similar weeks that will likely look fairly similar for the program, with limited contact practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before some more time off over the weekends. This schedule also leaves time for other team activities, such as B. A home run derby between the soccer and softball programs.

“It’s going to be great for us overall just because we beat up a lot of guys,” said quarterback Mark Gronowski, echoing Stiegelmeier’s sentiment. “We’ve got guys with bumps and bruises who aren’t playing 100% right now and in the playoffs we’re going to have that full health and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Gronowski pointed out that when COVID-19 significantly impacted scheduling and game cancellations, the Jackrabbits, who were on the 2020 (Spring 2021) roster, are no strangers to going several weeks without a game.

During this spring campaign, SDSU played a game in Southern Illinois on March 20 before canceling the March 27 and April 10 games with an intervening idle date of April 3. This turmoil was immediately preceded by the April 17 regular-season finals in North Dakota State, a contest SDSU won after a 27-day break between games, followed by a run to the FCS national championship game.

“We did that in the spring, so it’s not like we’ve never done it before,” Gronowski said. “And Coach Stig has a great plan because we’ve done it before and we’ve had success with it. I’m not afraid of the two-week farewell. I am really looking forward to it and the benefits that will come from it.”