In the FCS Huddle: Onward to conference play

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – It started on the red turf at Eastern
Washington in August, and it’s gotten hotter ever since.

Upsets, last-second wins, dominating performances, great cross-sectional
matchups.

Yet the action will only get better as FCS teams jump into their conference
schedule.

That portion of the season has arrived for most teams. The majority of the
remaining games are within conference play.

Most of the preseason favorites are still in position to win conference titles,
but most of the others have different beliefs.

As we move into conference play, there has been plenty of foreshadowing for
what to expect over the next two months.

Big Sky – As expected, two-time defending champion Eastern Washington has set
itself apart from the rest of the conference, playing well against the usual
difficult non-conference schedule. Montana needs a big start to the schedule
because it will face a difficult season-ending stretch in November. Montana
State, with quarterback Dakota Prukop off to a flying start, has answered a lot
about itself after key graduation losses, but it will have to avoid a stumble
at Sacramento State on Oct. 4. Sac State, behind senior quarterback Garrett
Safron, has proven it is the wild card in the race.

Big South – The first Big South game isn’t until Oct. 11, so the six-team
conference hopes to keep building on an impressive 17-6 non-conference record.
All of the teams are at least .500. Coastal Carolina has risen to the No. 3
national ranking and has a favorable conference schedule, including at home
against Liberty in the season finale Nov. 22. Liberty is so tired of falling
short of the FCS playoffs, but it might have to win the automatic bid
considering its non-conference schedule is difficult in the next few weeks.
Charleston Southern, last year’s upstart title contender, is 4-0 against a weak
schedule, so it will have to raise its play to win at both Coastal and Liberty.
Garder-Webb could be the spoiler, if not more.

CAA Football – Preseason favorite New Hampshire got a big jump on the title
race by winning on the road at Richmond and has a manageable schedule ahead.
This despite Villanova playing like the team to beat behind incomparable
quarterback John Robertson. The CAA will get three or four playoff teams, but
they all will start beating up on each other’s record. Defending champ Maine
lost too much talent from last year to stay in the race, but there are plenty
of teams in the mix – unbeaten Albany (whose schedule hasn’t been difficult),
William & Mary, Richmond, Delaware, James Madison, Towson …

Ivy – This is just the second week of action for the late-starting Ivy teams.
Already, Harvard has jumped to the forefront over slight preseason favorite
Princeton. The Crimson’s ability to drop in different quarterbacks is amazing,
and they posted a big win over Holy Cross while Princeton went across the
country and lost to San Diego. They will meet Oct. 25 in Princeton. But it’s
probably a deeper race than usual. Who will join the race could be sorted out
early with Dartmouth hosting Penn on Oct. 4 and then traveling to Yale the next
week. The season opened poorly for the league last week, but there’s terrific
talent which will provide plenty of high-scoring games ahead.

MEAC – It appears to be a three-team title race between defending co-champs
Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T, which almost
beat Coastal Carolina. Unfortunately, Bethune and A&T aren’t scheduled to face
each other, so it’s not a level playing field for up-and-down South Carolina
State. The early conference leader is Morgan State, and the Bears have been
quite impressive under first-year coach Lee Hull. The other seven teams are a
combined 3-23 to date.

Missouri Valley – Any thought that this isn’t the best FCS conference seemed to
end in non-conference play. The depth is incredible behind North Dakota State,
which is not only the three-time defending national champion but again the
favorite. The big date is Nov. 8 in Cedar Falls when Northern Iowa hosts
NDSU, although there are plenty of road blocks along the way for any of the
powers. Emphasis on “road” as Valley teams are a combined 18-0 at home this
season. South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner is usually unstoppable and
Southern Illinois and Youngstown State have their expected 3-1 starts. And then
there are the upstarts who seek the limelight as Illinois State, Missouri State
and Indiana State have been better than advertised.

Northeast – This isn’t a conference that handpicks a ton of easy victories; it
goes out and plays tough non-conference teams. This year, the NEC has done
well, too, including three wins over the larger CAA. Bryant and Duquesne appear
the most ready to challenge preseason favorite Sacred Heart, which has yet to
leave campus for a game. It’s probably a tougher race for the Pioneers than a
lot of people realized in the preseason.

Ohio Valley – Speaking of deep races, longtime kingpin Eastern Kentucky is back
on track after a subpar season a year ago, so it’s wide open in the OVC. Two-
time defending champion Eastern Illinois still has plenty of offense, Tennessee
State has plenty of defense and preseason favorite Jacksonville State hopes it
has enough of both. If struggling Southeast Missouri State can beat the No. 3
team in the FCS (Southeastern Louisiana), then everybody better be on guard.
Unless they’re playing Austin Peay, that is.

Patriot – Fordham and quarterback Michael Nebrich have gotten back on track
since a blowout loss to Villanova and the Rams appear to be the class of the
league. But the wild card might be the Bucknell defense, and coach Joe Susan’s
squad gets to host Fordham on Nov. 7. But that game’s a long way off, and
unless the Rams get tripped up along the way, everybody is chasing them.
Lafayette and Lehigh appear on a lower level, and those two rivals are pointing
toward their 150th all-time meeting anyway.

Pioneer – Your guess is as good as anybody else’s after preseason favorite San
Diego lost its league opener at Jacksonville. Well, it just may be JU. The
Dolphins appear to be the team to beat now because if they can weather the next
two Saturdays at defending co-champion Butler and against Drake, the rest of
their league schedule is fairly easy. Drake has been a little shaky to open the
season, while Dayton appears much improved but faces a tough road schedule
within the league. Winless Marist, the other co-champion last year, won’t be in
the race.

Southern – After inconsistent play out of conference, the SoCon hopes to get on
track in conference play. They can’t beat each other up too much or the once-
great conference will be at risk of sending only its automatic qualifier to the
playoffs. Chattanooga has the most talent, but it’s never gotten over the hump
under coach Russ Huesman. This year is the Mocs’ best chance, but they have to
get off to a good start by beating fellow defending champion Samford on
Saturday. The third team that shared the conference title last year, Furman, is
1-0 in the conference, like Samford, but has been shaky this season. The non-
conference scheduling hurt Wofford and The Citadel, so they both surely need to
win the conference to make the postseason.

Southland – Defending champion Southeastern Louisiana remains the team to beat
despite losing to Southeast Missouri. Only McNeese State figures to be on the
Lions’ level, and their matchup will be played at Southeastern on Nov. 15.
McNeese just needs to build some momentum, having played only two games to
date. Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas are a notch below the top two,
though capable of beating both. Former UCA coach Clint Conque is doing a
terrific job at Stephen F. Austin, but the Lumberjacks aren’t back to being a
title contender yet. Northwestern State, after its FBS win at Louisiana Tech,
will take its shot at changing the complexion of the race on Oct. 4 at
Southeastern Louisiana.

SWAC – With too many teams under NCAA sanctions, the conference has kept all
teams eligible for the SWAC Championship Game. Alabama State and Alcorn State
are clearly the best teams in the East Division, while defending conference
champion Southern has the most talent in the West Division yet trails Texas
Southern in the standings, and really needs the Tigers to lose at Alabama State
on Saturday. The SWAC tends to change a lot from year to year, and all teams
play a nine-game conference schedule.

SUNDAY FCS

After no FCS running backs were selected by NFL teams in the 2012 and ’13
drafts, this year’s class is making up for it while gaining from some
unforeseen opportunities.

The biggest splash has been with the Cleveland Browns, where an early season
injury to Ben Tate opened the door to FCS products.

Former Towson All-American Terrance West, taken in the third round, had 100
rushing yards in the season opener against Pittsburgh, and he’s up to 204 yards
on 47 carries, scoring a touchdown in each of the Browns’ last two games.

Undrafted Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State outrushed West this past Sunday and
has 141 yards and three touchdowns on the ground through three games.

And, by the way, the Browns’ fullback is undrafted rookie Ray Agnew out of
Southern Illinois.

The FCS product who had the most rushing yards in Cleveland this past Sunday
was Lorenzo Taliaferro of the Baltimore Ravens, whose banishment of Ray Rice
has opened playing time in the backfield. The fourth-rounder out of Coastal
Carolina rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Browns, signaling
Bernard Pierce’s hold on the starting job may be slipping.

The Minnesota Vikings have their own banished running back in Adrian Peterson.
Former Georgia Southern stud Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick, is No. 2 on
the depth chart, gaining only seven yards on five carries to date, but his role
could grow because of his pass catching (four receptions) abilities.

AND THIS COMING YEAR …

All the draftable running back candidates in the 2015 class appear to be coming
from the Missouri Valley Conference, with Northern Iowa’s David Johnson and
South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner adding to banner careers and North Dakota
State’s John Crockett and Southern Illinois’ Malcolm Agnew watching their stock
rise.

But the top FCS candidate, according to leading small college draft analyst
Josh Buchanan, is Samford free safety Jaquiski Tartt. Buchanan projects the
Buck Buchanan Award candidate to go as high as the third round.

FCS TOP 25 AND AWARDS

The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.

The FCS Awards package can be found at http://tinyurl.com/n5ysh8x.

WEEK 5 PREDICTIONS

Last Week’s Record: 50-17 (.746)

This Season’s Record: 247-48 (.837)

X-Predicted Winner

Saturday, Sept. 27

Top 25

Nearly half of the Top 25 teams are from the Missouri Valley and CAA Football –
each conference has six in the rankings.

But it’s break time in the Missouri Valley as No. 1 North Dakota State (4-0),
No. 9 South Dakota State (3-1) and No. 18 Youngstown State (3-1) are idle on
Saturday. In addition, No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (4-0) from the Ohio Valley
Conference and No. 20 Richmond (2-2) from the CAA will sit it out.

X-No. 16 Fordham (3-1, 0-0 Patriot) at Holy Cross (2-2, 0-0), 1 p.m. The
visiting Rams are eligible for the Patriot League title for the first time
since 2009, so they seek a splashing return to a meaningful league schedule.
But Holy Cross has been tough in recent shootouts, losing 32-30 to Fordham last
year in New York and 36-32 in 2012 in Worcester, Massachusetts. One of the new
factors this year is the Rams will run out redshirt freshman Chase Edmonds,
whose 220 all-purpose yards per game are leading the FCS.

No. 22 Liberty (3-1) at X-Indiana State (2-1), 3 p.m. Liberty, which has won
eight of its last nine games, is happy to be in the Top 25, while Indiana State
wants into the club. It’s a great matchup of quarterbacks as Liberty’s Josh
Woodrum and Indiana State’s Mike Perish are leading their respective
conferences in passing yards per game. But to make the scenario even more
interesting, both teams have been tough against the pass.

X-No. 6 Villanova (2-1) at Penn (0-1), 3 p.m. The favorite cut-and-paste
statement among FCS writers just may be this: Another Saturday, another big day
for ‘Nova quarterback John Robertson. He’s the most efficient passer in the FCS
(185.3) and one of the more dynamic players. The Wildcats have won the last 12
meetings against neighboring Penn, which is mired in its first five-game losing
streak under retiring 23-year coach Al Bagnoli.

Northern Colorado (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 7 Montana (2-2, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
Despite all their talent at the skills positions, the Grizzlies have scored
under 100 points in four games. They’re a little banged up as a team but still
figure to get the motor going against Northern Colorado, which has lost 12
straight meetings since winning the series opener in 1979. Montana’s bend-but-
don’t-break defense will mount a serious pass rush on Bears quarterback Sean
Robalcaba. Defensive ends Zack Wagenmann and Tyrone Holmes have six and two-
and-a-half sacks, respectively.

Florida Tech (3-0) at X-No. 15 Bethune-Cookman (2-1), 4 p.m. Florida Tech is
coming off a win over Division II No. 12 Tarleton State in, of all places, AT&T
Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and has a strong schedule this season. The host
Wildcats hope to rebound from a loss to UCF. While senior defensive end Erik
Williams has seven tackles for loss and four sacks for the Wildcats defense,
quarterback Quentin Williams has been on the run too much as well, as his
offensive line has allowed 16 sacks.

No. 25 Delaware (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-James Madison (2-2, 0-1), 4 p.m. This is a
true test for coach Dave Brock’s Blue Hens, who may or may not be back to a
high level – the ranking says yes, but the early scores say no. JMU has played
the tougher schedule and transfer quarterback Vad Lee has matched, if not
exceeded, the lofty expectations surrounding him. The winning team may have a
legitimate shot at the FCS playoffs; the loser may not.

North Dakota (2-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 13 Montana State (2-2, 0-0), 4:05 p.m.
Montana State is set to celebrate its 1984 national championship and 1964 Big
Sky championship teams on Saturday, then likely a win. The Bobcats captured
last year’s matchup in Grand Forks, 63-20, and the early season signs suggest
they will control the ball effectively in this matchup. Their quarterback,
Dakota Prukop, has been terrific in averaging 304.8 total yards per game, with
seven touchdown passes and six scores on the ground. New UND coach Kyle “Bubba”
Schweigert is being welcomed to Big Sky play with back-to-back games against
Montana State and Montana.

Tennessee Tech (1-2) at X-No. 10 Northern Iowa (1-2), 5 p.m. It’s a first-ever
meeting between two teams coming off strong defensive efforts. Tech didn’t
allow an offensive touchdown in a loss to Tennessee State, while UNI only
surrendered a garbage-time touchdown to Northern Colorado. Behind the work of
Ronelle McNeil, Mac O’Brien and Xavier Williams on the defensive line, the
Panthers have averaged 10 tackles for loss this season, which ranks fourth in
the FCS.

Dartmouth (1-0) at X-No. 4 New Hampshire (2-1), 6 p.m. Oh, how this intrastate
rivalry has turned around. Dartmouth won the first 16 matchups, but UNH has
dominated since, gaining an 18-17-2 series lead with a win in their most recent
meeting in 2009. Veteran quarterback Andy Vailas, who led UNH’s game-winning
drive at Richmond last Saturday, will start in place of the injured Sean
Goldrich. The Wildcats will have a difference-making advantage in the trenches.

X-No. 12 William & Mary (3-1) at Stony Brook (1-3), 6 p.m. First one to 10
points wins – seriously. In the FCS, Stony Brook ranks first in total defense,
fourth in passing defense, sixth in scoring defense and 11th in rushing
defense, and yet the Seawolves are 1-3. For William & Mary, defensive end Mike
Reilly has been disruptive on the front end and cornerback DeAndre Houston-
Carson on the back end of a defense that is usually tough on FCS opponents.
This is a first-ever meeting of the two CAA Football programs.

Columbia (0-1) at X-No. 24 Albany (3-0), 6 p.m. The Great Danes, under first-
year coach Greg Gattuso, have two more wins than a year ago and won’t have any
problem making it three against a Columbia squad on a 12-game losing streak.
Running back Omar Osbourne will pound at Columbia’s defense and Albany will
take away the run. That’s not a good combination for the Lions.

X-No. 8 Jacksonville State (2-1, 0-0 OVC) at Murray State (1-2, 0-0), 7 p.m. It
appears there is good depth in the Ohio Valley Conference, so the preseason
favorite Gamecocks must avoid getting tripped up on the road in their opener.
Murray State won last year’s matchup, 35-34, in overtime by scoring on a two-
point conversion. The Racers will go after the Gamecocks with their fast-paced
passing attack. The Gamecocks will be wise to go with thunder (DaMarcus James)
and lightning (Troymaine Pope) on the ground.

Western Illinois (2-2, 0-0 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 17 Southern Illinois (3-1,
0-0), 7 p.m. With such depth in the Missouri Valley Conference, somebody has to
be overlooked, and it might be the visiting Leathernecks, whose two losses are
to Big Ten teams. Their quarterback, sophomore Trenton Norvell, is still
working to solve a problem with turnovers, so the Salukis (15 sacks) will look
to get to him with their pass rush. Think the NFL scouts have a close eye on
SIU senior tight end MyCole Pruitt, who has 26 receptions already?

Florida A&M (0-3) at X-No. 21 Tennessee State (3-1), 7 p.m. TSU has won the
last three meetings with its old rival to surge ahead in the series, 27-25-1.
The fact A&M is averaging only nine points per game should have defensive end
Anthony Bass and TSU’s superb defense salivating. Running back Telvin Hooks saw
his first action since suffering a torn ACL last November when he had five
carries in the Tgiers’ 10-7 win over Tennessee Tech last Saturday. His joining
a backfield of transfers Tom Smith and Stephen Hopkins should help stabilize an
up-and-down offense.

Samford (2-1, 1-0 Southern) at X-No. 14 Chattanooga (1-2, 0-0), 7 p.m. These
two teams were part of a three-way tie for the Southern Conference title last
season (with Furman). Samford running back Denzel Williams is coming off a
breakout game against VMI, but Chattanooga has a much more stout defensive
line. The Mocs have been awful on third down – converting just nine of 39
attempts (23.1 percent – but quarterback Jacob Huesman generally picks up his
play during the conference schedule). Last year’s game in Birmingham, Alabama,
went to overtime – a 17-14 Samford win.

X-No. 11 Southeastern Louisiana (2-2, 0-0 Southland) at Incarnate Word (0-4,
0-1), 7 p.m. The Lions are still shaking their heads over last Saturday’s
stunning one-point loss at Southeast Missouri State. Here’s a chance to build
an early lead and stop playing from behind as they have for much of the last
two losses. About the only thing going offensively for Incarnate Word is wide
receiver Casey Jennings, and he could be matched against Southeastern All-
American cornerback Harlan Miller.

Elon (1-2) at X-No. 3 Coastal Carolina (4-0), 7 p.m. Coastal senior linebacker
Quinn Backus is playing at an elite level, spearheading a defense that has
allowed only two field goals in their last two games. The Chanticleers have won
10 straight home games as well as 10 straight regular-season non-conference
games. Elon, one of 10 Coastal opponents from the Carolinas, does a good job of
spreading the ball around to different receivers, but the Chanticleers have yet
to surrender a touchdown through the air.

Arkansas Tech (2-1) at X-No. 5 McNeese State (1-1), 7 p.m. Quarterbacks Tyler
Bolfing (passer) and Daniel Sams (runner) appear as though they will complement
each other throughout McNeese State’s season. The Cowboys won the prior meeting
between the two programs, 55-7, in 1997. This result should be similar.

Austin Peay (0-3) at X-No. 23 Illinois State (2-0), 7:30 p.m. Coming off their
second bye, the Redbirds will play each of the final nine Saturdays in the
regular season. They have never lost a non-conference home game under sixth-
year coach Brock Spack (8-0), and Austin Peay surely won’t ruin that run,
having lost 15 straight games since the start of the 2013 season. Running back
Marshon Coprich has been electric for the Redbirds with over 100 rushing yards
and two touchdowns in each of their first two games.

X-No. 2 Eastern Washington (3-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at UC Davis (1-2, 0-0), 9 p.m.
Vernon Adams Jr. (93 career TD passes, five shy of the Big Sky record) and the
Eagles have to avoid an emotional letdown after winning a 52-51 thriller
against Montana State. That factor could play into the host Aggies’ hands as
they are coming off a bye. Amazingly, Eastern has won 14 games since 2010 when
trailing or tied in the fourth quarter.

Non-Ranked Conference

There could be a lot of road winners when conference play starts to heat up on
Saturday. Included is the first Ivy League game, where Harvard’s relentless
offense figures to roll over Brown.

Georgetown (2-2, 0-0 Patriot) at X-Colgate (1-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.

X-San Diego (2-1, 0-1 Pioneer) at Marist (0-4, 0-1), 1 p.m.

X-North Carolina A&T (3-1, 0-0 MEAC) at Howard (1-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.

X-Jacksonville (2-1, 1-0 Pioneer) at Butler (2-1, 0-0), 1 p.m.

X-Mercer (3-1, 0-1 Southern) at VMI (1-3, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.

X-South Carolina State (2-2, 0-0 MEAC) at Hampton (1-3, 0-0), 2 p.m.

Western Carolina (2-1, 0-0 Southern) at X-Furman (2-2, 1-0), 3:30 p.m.

X-Morgan State (2-2, 1-0 MEAC) at Norfolk State (0-4, 0-0), 4 p.m.

Nicholls (0-4, 0-0 Southland) at X-Central Arkansas (1-3, 0-0), 4 p.m.

X-Sacramento State (3-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at Idaho State (1-2, 0-0), 4:05 p.m.

Southern (2-2, 1-0 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (3-1, 1-0), 5 p.m.

X-Alabama A&M (1-3, 0-1 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (1-3, 0-2), 5 p.m.

X-Prairie View A&M (0-3, 0-2 SWAC) vs. Grambling State (1-3, 1-0) in Dallas,
5:30 p.m.

X-Valparaiso (1-2, 0-0 Pioneer) at Campbell (0-3, 0-0), 6 p.m.

Game of the Week: Texas Southern (4-0, 2-0 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (3-1, 2-0),
6 p.m. Who would have thunk the importance of this game just a few weeks ago,
but it’s a battle of division leaders and the winner will go to 3-0 in the
SWAC.

X-Harvard (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) at Brown (0-1, 0-0), 6 p.m.

Savannah State (0-3, 0-0 MEAC) at X-Delaware State (0-4, 0-0), 6 p.m.

X-Cal Poly (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (2-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Southeast Missouri State (2-2, 0-0 OVC) at X-UT Martin (1-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.

X-Jackson State (2-2, 0-1 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.

Maine (1-2, 0-0 CAA) at X-Towson (2-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.

X-Abilene Christian (2-2, 1-0 Southland) at Houston Baptist (1-2, 0-0), 8 p.m.

X-Sam Houston State (1-3, 0-0 Southland) at Lamar (3-1, 0-0), 8 p.m.

Weber State (0-4, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-Southern Utah (0-4, 0-0), 8:05 p.m.

FCS-FBS

There are only two FCS versus FBS matchups, but there’s a double-rarity in New
Haven, Connecticut, where an FCS team (Yale) plays host to an FBS team (Army)
and an Ivy League team will play an FBS opponent for the first time since these
teams were matched in 1996 (Army won, 39-13). This special game is part of the
100th anniversary season at the Yale Bowl.

FCS teams are 6-87 against the FBS this season.

X-Army (1-2) at Yale (1-0), 1 p.m.

Eastern Illinois (1-3) at X-Ohio U. (2-2), 2 p.m.

Non-Ranked Non-Conference

Voters in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 have yet to be impressed by unbeaten
Charleston Southern’s schedule. The Buccaneers, at No. 35, face their first
road game on Saturday.

X-Charleston Southern (4-0) at Charlotte (3-1), noon

Monmouth (2-1) at X-Lehigh (0-3), 12:30 p.m.

Rhode Island (0-3) at X-Central Connecticut State (1-3), 4 p.m.

Virginia-Lynchburg (0-4) at X-Saint Francis (1-3), 4 p.m.

Gardner-Webb (2-2) at X-The Citadel (0-3), 6 p.m.

Cornell (0-1) at X-Bucknell (3-0), 6 p.m.

Wagner (1-2) at X-Lafayette (1-2), 6 p.m.

Davidson (1-3) at X-Princeton (0-1), 6 p.m.

Virginia-Wise (0-3) at X-Wofford (1-2), 7 p.m.