South Dakota State is 3-0 after season opening victories over Butler (55-14), North Dakota (35-28), and Southeastern Louisiana (34-26). This will be the Jackrabbits only game against a division 1-A team this season, so it's tough to compare the teams relatively. The Sagarin computer rankings rank South Dakota State 92nd in the country, just ahead of #93 Purdue and #88 Colorado.
The Jackrabbits are led by running back Zach Zenner, who's rushed for 540 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Against North Dakota, he rushed for 295 yards, earning him national player of the week awards. Quarterback Austin Sumner has completed 59% of his passes for 670 yards and five touchdowns this season. Junior Jason Schneider is Sumner's favorite target this season, catching 18 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Gretna's Brandon Hubert is second with just eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown this season.
Sophomore linebacker T.J. Lally leads South Dakota State with 19 tackles on the season. Senior defensive end Marshall Peugh has 3.5 tackles for loss this season and four quarterback hurries. On the season, South Dakota State has intercepted nine passes and recovered three fumbles with just one offensive turnover. +11 is a gaudy number in turnover ratio, especially after just three games.
South Dakota State has been ranked sixth all season in division 1-AA. While they'll undoubtedly be trying to get the school's first victory over a 1-A opponent, the Jackrabbits could be excused for looking ahead to next week's game against #1 North Dakota State.
South Dakota State isn't one of those division 1-AA football team that's known for knocking off 1-A teams, like North Dakota State or Appalachian State. But the Jackrabbits are nowhere near as awful as Idaho State, the 1-AA team that the Huskers bludgeoned 73-7 last September, either. In fact, the Jackrabbits played Craig Bohl's North Dakota State team twice last season, losing 20-17 in November then again 28-3 in second round of the NCAA playoffs.
South Dakota State finished the 2012 season at 9-4; the other losses were to Northern Iowa and Kansas, which was the only 1-A opponent for the Jackrabbits last season. Against Kansas, four interceptions doomed South Dakota State's chances, though the Jackrabbits did pull to within a touchdown of KU midway through the fourth quarter. In last season's Sagarin rankings, South Dakota State ranked 79th. The Jayhawks' victory over South Dakota State was Kansas' only victory in Charlie Weis' first season in Lawrence.
South Dakota State's offense is led by junior running back Zach Zenner, a unanimous 1-AA all-American honoree in 2012. Last year, Zenner rushed for 2,044 yards to lead all 1-AA rushers, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and scoring 13 touchdowns. Listed at 6'0" and 215 pounds, Zenner started the season with a 99 yard touchdown run in the first quarter against Kansas, and never let off the gas all season long. Zenner rushed for more than 100 yards in nine games, and topped the 200 yard mark in three of them.
Junior quarterback Austin Sumner completed 56% of his passes in 2012 for 2,443 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's not a running threat, as he lost 63 yards last season on 83 carries. South Dakota State's top two receivers won't be back, so 5'11" 185 pound senior Brandon Hubert will have to step up. A graduate of Gretna High School, Hubert caught 34 passes for 483 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. In the 2010 game in Lincoln, he caught two passes for 15 yards.
The South Dakota State defense is led by senior defensive end Doug Peete, who earned second-team all-Missouri Valley honors in 2012. The 6'3" 255 pound Peete led the Jackrabbits with 13.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries. He'll be joined on the veteran defensive line by fellow seniors David Hettinger (6'3", 265 pounds, 56 tackles, 8.5 for loss), Marshall Peugh (6'3", 240 pounds, 55 tackles, 6.5 for loss), and Chase Douglas (6'3", 265 pounds, 35 tackles, 6 for loss).
Linebacker T.J. Lally, a 6'0" 225 pound sophomore, recorded an impressive 107 tackles in his freshman season. He was a second-team all-conference selection and also was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award for the top freshman in division 1-AA last season. Senior safety Winston Wright is second amongst returning Jackrabbits with 59 tackles last season.
It's difficult to compare statistics for games against 1-AA opponents, so let's keep in mind how South Dakota State competed against Kansas. In that game, the Jackrabbits rushed for 204 yards and passed for 207, while Kansas rushed for 263 and passed for 169. Frankly, South Dakota State's five turnovers that day had to be the difference that allowed Kansas to obtain their only victory of the season. Since moving up from Division 2 ten years ago, South Dakota State hasn't defeated a division 1-A football team, though they came close to upsetting Minnesota in 2009. More than likely, unless Nebraska falls apart in Lincoln, the Jackrabbits' will have to await another year to defeat a 1-A foe.