In the FCS Huddle: It’s changed quickly

Philadelphia, PA ( – The witching hour has come early for too
many of the teams in last year’s FCS playoff field.

And Halloween is still two and a half weeks away.

At the midway point of the season for many teams, one-third of last year’s
first-ever 24-team playoff field already lacks strong-enough resumes for at-
large bids, and the early conference results suggest a lot must change – too
much probably – for the teams to secure an automatic bid.

In mid-October, the chances of last year’s teams returning to the 2014 field
appear to be:

Likely qualifiers: Bethune-Cookman, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Washington,
Fordham, Jacksonville State, McNeese State, Montana, New Hampshire, North
Dakota State and Southeastern Louisiana

Maybe: Sacred Heart, Samford, Sam Houston State, South Carolina State, South
Dakota State and Tennessee State

Unlikely qualifiers: Butler, Eastern Illinois, Furman, Lafayette, Maine,
Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Towson

Towson’s 62-7 loss at James Madison on Saturday was particularly eye-opening.
The Tigers were last year’s national runner-up, but they fell to 2-5 overall
and 0-3 in CAA Football.

The early exit from playoff talk for some of the teams reflects the parity and
competitiveness across the FCS.

Sure, North Dakota State is the three-time defending national champion, and
programs like Eastern Washington and New Hampshire are consistent playoff
teams, but not far behind is a large pool of teams that change a lot, where the
No. 10 team in the nation may not be any different from the No. 20 team, or the
No. 25 team looks a lot like the No. 40 team.


While parity stands out, there are many other observations from Week 7. Here
are 10 more:

*If the season ended today – even better, last weekend – Eastern Washington
quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. surely would win the Walter Payton Award. But it’s
unlikely he will hold on while he sits out with a broken right foot. Villanova
quarterback John Robertson merits the favorite’s role right now (in a five-game
winning streak, he’s thrown for 19 touchdowns against one interception). At
midseason, the Buck Buchanan Award may be tight between Coastal Carolina
linebacker Quinn Backus, Montana defensive end Zach Wagenmann and Norfolk State
linebacker Lynden Trail, Fordham 1,000-yard rusher Chase Edmonds is running
away with the Jerry Rice Award. The Eddie Robinson Award is wide open, with
Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia perhaps the frontrunner.

*Most teams would be thrilled to have the No. 6 national ranking, but it has
felt too low for Villanova (5-1), which took Syracuse to double overtime,
routed Fordham and has won its first three games in CAA Football, including
against James Madison and defending champion Maine. With No. 5 McNeese State
losing on Saturday, ‘Nova will move up at least one spot in Monday’s new Top
25. That might not be enough.

*A model of consistency, unbeaten Harvard is threatening to join the Top 25
after sitting two spots outside it a week ago. The Ivy League power has been
known for outstanding offenses, but the defense has taken its play to a higher
level. Defensive end Zach Hodges is patrolling the field, of course, and the
Crimson have allowed only one touchdown in their last nine quarters. Coach Tim
Murphy’s squad has tied the league record by scoring in 162 straight games and
it appears on its way to a 14th straight season of at least seven wins (Ivy
teams only play 10 per year). The Crimson have the highest winning percentage
in the FCS over the past 13-plus seasons at 108-25 (.812).

*Three tight games had huge impact in the Ohio Valley Conference, where four
teams were ranked last week. Preseason favorite Jacksonville State (5-1, 3-0
made it quite difficult for Tennessee State (4-3, 1-2) to win the title by
holding on for a 27-20 triumph, while co-leader Eastern Kentucky (6-0, 3-0)
kept pace with a rally past two-time defending champion Eastern Illinois (1-5,
1-1), which suffered its toughest loss of a difficult season. And Murray
State’s double-overtime win over surging Southeast Missouri State (4-3, 2-1)
was particularly troubling for a Redhawks team that had just moved into the Top
25 for the first time since the end of the 2010 season.

*Ten second-half points. That’s all No. 1 North Dakota State’s amazing defense
has allowed in its 6-0 start. A week after needing to rally past Western
Illinois, the Bison throttled high-scoring Southern Illinois, 38-10, for their
FCS-record 30th straight win – surrendering just a field goal in the second
half Nobody can solve the Bison defense. The Bison have the best program in
the FCS hands down.

*Mercer freshman Chandler Curtis has become the ultimate big-play weapon. He
has four return touchdowns in seven games, including his third on a punt return
(61 yards) in the Bears’ 49-21 win over Austin Peay. He also has three
touchdown receptions and one TD carry, giving him eight scores on only 31

*The big game in CAA Football fizzled. Better yet, New Hampshire made it fizzle
by dominating William & Mary, 32-3, The UNH defense that can be an Achilles
heel limited the Tribe offense to 217 yards and played at a level to match the
Wildcats offense. The D-line got after Tribe quarterback Steve Cluley and
sophomore linebacker DeVaughn Chollette stepped up with a team-high seven

*Eastern Washington quarterback Jordan West did what the second-ranked Eagles
needed him to do against Southern Utah – avoid too many mistakes while making
plays in his first start since replacing the injured Adams. West, a redshirt
sophomore, threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns and moved the Eagles up and
down the field to the tune of 568 yards and 42 points. That’s going to win most
Big Sky games.

*The all-brother quarterback matchup in the SWAC went to big brother Patrick
Ivy and his Mississippi Valley State squad. But Quantavius Peterson entered the
game in relief of Ivy and threw the game-winning pass in the final two minutes
of the Delta Devils’ 27-23 road win over Jackson State and LaMontiez Ivy. The
win was particularly satisfying for MVSU coach Rick Comegy, who was fired by
Jackson State last year after eight seasons.

*It’s up to eight, but is it enough? Josh Woodrum’s 9-yard touchdown pass to
Darrin Peterson in overtime lifted Liberty past Appalachian State, 55-48 – the
eighth win by an FCS school over an FBS program this year. Liberty safety Jacob
Hagen then intercepted Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb in the end
zone to stop the Mountaineers’ OT possession and end the game. Woodrum was 24-
for-37 for 356 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, and rushed for
a 13-yard touchdown with 6:19 to play in the fourth quarter, tying the game at


A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at

The full FCS scoreboard can be found at


Stock Rising – Grambling State finally played its first home game under first-
year coach Broderick Hobbs, and, oh, was it worth the wait – a 28-21 victory
over an Alcorn State squad team that had been considered the class of the SWAC.
But it’s West Division-leading Grambling (4-3, 4-0) that is the only unbeaten
team in conference play as it continue to put a miserable 2013 campaign behind
it with a remarkable turnaround. The Tigers, behind QB Johnathan Williams, are
on a four-game winning streak.

Stock Falling – Oops. One week after a huge win over North Carolina A&T and on
the verge of playing fellow defending MEAC champion Bethune-Cookman after a bye
next weekend, South Carolina State forgot to take care of business against
North Carolina Central at home, losing, 48-35. Coach Buddy Pough’s squad
allowed 517 yards as well as a stretch of 31 unanswered points. The upset has
opened up a great race as N.C. Central and Bethune are both 2-0 in MEAC games,
and five teams are right behind at 2-1.


Fordham quarterback Michael Nebrich was unstoppable in a 60-22 rout of Penn,
completing 36-of-47 pass attempts for a school-record 566 yards and six
touchdowns, which tied a school mark. He’s thrown for 18 touchdowns during the
Rams’ five-game winning streak.


Looking at where teams may stand in a projected playoff bracket on Nov. 23, and
not based on current records or conference standings:

Southern Illinois/Montana State winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State

Richmond/McNeese State winner at No. 8 seed Illinois State

Sam Houston State/Northern Iowa winner at No. 5 seed Jacksonville State

Fordham-Chattanooga winner at No. 4 seed New Hampshire

Jacksonville/Liberty winner at No. 6 seed Coastal Carolina

Bethune-Cookman/William & Mary winner at No. 3 seed Villanova

Sacred Heart/Montana winner at No. 7 seed Southeastern Louisiana

Eastern Kentucky/South Dakota State winner at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington

On the at-large bubble: Central Arkansas, Delaware, Tennessee State, Youngstown


Week 8 features some key conference matchups next Saturday, including Sacred
Heart at Duquesne in the Northeast Conference, Villanova at William & Mary in
CAA Football and Central Arkansas at Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland.

Other key games: Big South, Presbyterian at Charleston Southern; CAA, Albany at
Maine and Towson at Delaware; MEAC, Norfolk State at Hampton; Missouri Valley,
Indiana State at North Dakota State, Southern Illinois at Youngstown State and
South Dakota State at Northern Iowa; Ohio Valley, Eastern Illinois at Southeast
Missouri State; Pioneer, San Diego at Butler; Southern, Chattanooga at The
Citadel, Wofford at Samford and Western Carolina at Mercer; Southland, Sam
Houston State at Northwestern State; and SWAC, Texas Southern at Alcorn State

Colgate at Yale and Lafayette at Harvard match the Patriot League against the
Ivy League. Furman at South Carolina is the lone FCS-FBS game.