In the FCS Huddle: Surpassing all the hype

Philadelphia, PA ( – Perhaps the beauty of Saturday’s three
FCS Top 25 matchups was that all three games were happening at the same time.

No matter where you turned, the furious action was surpassing all the
expectations and hype.

Saturday will go down as one of the better days of the season no matter how
good the conference races become in the next two months. No. 4 Montana at No. 1
North Dakota State, No. 2 Eastern Washington at No. 14 Montana State and No. 7
New Hampshire at No. 17 Richmond saw to it.

You can throw in No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana losing at Southeast Missouri
State to make the day even more intriguing. But the trio of Top 25 games were
enough to energize the FCS nation because highly anticipated matchups don’t
always satisfy, and these three were special.

North Dakota State’s 22-10 win over Montana was great from the start because
the two programs were on the field together for the first time since 2003.
Montana is the most storied off all current FCS programs and NDSU has surpassed
everyone in the division in the last four seasons.

Those who appreciate defensive wizardry in this day of offensive football
should have loved how the Bison methodically added to their historic run.
During the three-time defending national champion’s FCS-record 28-game winning
streak, 13 of the wins have come against ranked FCS teams. It’s the fifth-
longest winning streak in Division I in the past 50 years.

The most thrilling of the three games was Eastern Washington’s 52-51 win at
rival Montana State. After pulling within a point with 27 seconds remaining,
the visiting Eagles went for a two-point conversion and the win because their
place-kicker was injured. Show-stopping quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. scored the
two-pointer for a ridiculously good ending.

And just as important was the way Montana State answered questions about
itself. There was plenty to be unsure about with the Bobcats before the season,
but some veteran backups have emerged into the limelight and quarterback Dakota
Prukop could be even better than four-year starter DeNarius McGhee. The Bobcats
have plenty of winnable games ahead before their regular-season finale at
Montana, which should be another dandy.

Eastern Washington’s win almost made New Hampshire’s look pedestrian, but it
wasn’t. With starting quarterback Sean Goldrich on the bench because of an
injury suffered earlier in the fourth quarter, Andy Vailas took the Wildcats on
a 15-play, 75-yard game-winning driving at Richmond, converting a fourth-down
scramble on the play before Nico Steriti’s 2-yard TD run with 19.1 seconds left
delivered a 29-26 CAA Football win.

May all of conference play be so grand as these games.


While the Top 25 matchups stood out, there were many other observations from
Week 4. Here are 10 more:

– Southeastern Louisiana came into the season as a clear No. 3 behind Eastern
Washington and North Dakota State, but the Lions (2-2) have reminded that they
don’t have the consistency of those two national programs. It’s one thing to
not fire at FBS Tulane, but to do the same against Southeast Missouri State (a
three-win team in each of the past three seasons) should have coach Ron
Roberts’ squad’s attention. The transfer-filled team needs to regroup quickly
with its Southland Conference schedule beginning next weekend.

– The memo about FCS teams sneaking up on them was definitely delivered to the
FBS in the offseason. After posting a record 16 wins last year, FCS teams
aren’t getting it done this season as this weekend’s 1-10 record dropped them
to 6-87 overall (.065) against the FBS. The 10 losers lost by an average of
37.8 points. The winner came in a thriller, though, as Southland Conference
member Northwestern State slipped past Louisiana Tech, 30-27, on Chris Moore’s
47-yard field goal at the buzzer. The win was the Demons’ first over an FBS foe
since 2005, ending a 17-game losing streak in those matchups.

– Starting the season way after the rest of the FCS was evident with the play
of Ivy League teams, who struggled to a 3-5 record. The winners were Harvard
(against Holy Cross), Yale (Lehigh) and Dartmouth (Central Connecticut State),
and all three trailed in the second half of their games. Particularly
surprising was Princeton’s 39-29 loss at San Diego, after the Tigers set their
target on an unbeaten season, and an Al Bagnoli-coached Penn squad allowing 15
unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a 34-31 defeat at Jacksonville. All
four Ivy road teams lost.

– Take away the three 1-0 Ivy League teams and there are eight other unbeaten
teams remaining. The most under-the-radar are Bucknell (3-0) and Texas Southern
(4-0). Bucknell’s 36-20 win at Northeast Conference favorite Sacred Heart on
Saturday was eye-catching. The Bison – that’s the right nickname, if you ask
North Dakota State fans – kept Sacred Heart quarterback RJ Noel and running
back Keshaudas Spence relatively in check while improving to 3-0 for the first
time since 1997. Sophomore R.J. Nitti has been terrific in replacing a four-
year starting quarterback, Brandon Wesley. At Texas Southern, all the Tigers
have done is beat the teams in front of them – not a who’s who of teams, but
enough to give coach Darrell Asberry’s squad as many wins as it had in the 2012
and ’13 seasons combined. The Tigers are 2-0 in the Southwestern Athletic

– Speaking of the SWAC, the first full weekend of conference action produced a
surprising, if not ironic result. Grambling State went on the road and beat
Jackson State, 40-35 – a year after forfeiting the matchup because of its six-
day player boycott. Fast-improving Grambling, now under first-year coach
Broderick Fobbs, had not won on the road since its 2011 SWAC championship
season. Starting quarterback Stephen Johnson threw for three touchdowns but was
injured in the victory.

– It was the weekend of … the place-kicker? Moore provided the heroics for
Northwestern State and North Dakota State’s Adam Keller was 5-for-5 on field
goals in outscoring Montana. Liberty’s John Lunsford kicked a 57-yard field
goal in Liberty’s win over Bryant (the FCS record is 63 yards), and three
others converted from beyond 50 yards: Southeast Missouri State’s Ryan McCrum
with a 54-yarder against Southeastern Louisiana; Missouri State’s Marcelo
Bonani with a game-winning 53-yarder against Central Arkansas; and Coastal
Carolina’s Ryan Granger with a 51-yarder against Florida A&M.

– After going 6-0 in Week 3 play for the first time in conference history, the
Big South was put to the test with a much tougher schedule this weekend, and
the smallest FCS conference responded well with Coastal Carolina slamming
Florida A&M, 48-3; Gardner-Webb upending Wofford for the second straight year,
43-36; unbeaten Charleston Southern beating yet another Southern Conference
team, crosstown rival The Citadel, 20-18, in a game that had all of Charleston
jumping; and Liberty topping previously unbeaten Bryant, 38-21. A 4-2 record
this weekend has the Big South at 17-6 overall.

– With the New Hampshire-Richmond game going down to the wire, the CAA race got
off to a terrific start. Villanova, which beat James Madison in another
entertaining game, has looked the best in perhaps the deepest conference in the
FCS. And the race has gotten even better with Albany, last year’s bottom
dweller, already ahead of that 1-11 overall and 0-8 CAA pace by starting 3-0
under first-year coach Greg Gattuso, who gained his 100th win as a college
coach in the Great Danes’ conference-opening win over Rhode Island.

– Is the best team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference not Bethune-Cookman
or South Carolina State, the defending co-champs? It’s possible this season as
North Carolina A&T (3-1) is only a one-point loss to Coastal Carolina away from
being unbeaten. Coach Rod Broadway’s squad has sacrificed a home game to play
South Carolina State in Atlanta in two weeks, but the Aggies don’t have
Bethune-Cookman on their schedule. If they can get through Howard and South
Carolina State to start MEAC play, the title race will take quite a turn.

– It’s time for the Stickum. The three worst turnover margins per game in the
FCS belong to Ohio Valley Conference teams UT Martin, Tennessee Tech and
Jacksonville State. Extend it farther among OVC teams and Eastern Illinois and
Southeast Missouri State are among the 11 worst averages in the FCS. OVC teams
are minus-32 in the turnover department.


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 – A Jerry Rice Award winner – any Jerry Rice Award winner. It’s
been a sign of greatness for sure. The inaugural recipient, Towson running back
Terrance West in 2011, is off starting as a rookie for the Cleveland Browns.
Villanova quarterback John Robertson, the 2012 winner, is the most feared
player in CAA Football. Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, coming
off a usual 152-yard, two-touchdown game, should be catching passes in the

Stock Falling – Furman shares the early lead in the Southern Conference, but
it’s tenuous considering the Paladins (2-2, 1-0) aren’t the same team without
starting quarterback Reese Hannon, who suffered a season-ending fractured ankle
in their season opener. The Paladins’ 15-game winning streak against
Presbyterian ended last weekend and then they fell on Saturday to a South
Carolina State team they beat in the FCS playoffs last November.


In an Eastern Washington-Montana State game with so many offensive standouts,
senior Shawn Johnson posted an absurd 374 all-purpose yards on 23 touches for
MSU, which lost the 52-51 heartbreaker. Johnson, who scored three touchdowns,
had 150 rushing yards, 62 receiving yards, 141 kickoff return yards and 21 punt
return yards.

All-Patriot League defensive end Alec May of Georgetown had four sacks among
his nine tackles in the Hoyas’ 17-3 win over Brown. It gives the senior 15.5
sacks in his last seven games dating to last season.


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

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

Southern Illinois/Eastern Kentucky winner at No. 8 seed McNeese State

Bethune-Cookman/Chattanooga winner at No. 5 seed Jacksonville State

Fordham/Liberty winner at No. 4 seed New Hampshire

Tennessee State/Montana winner at No. 6 seed Southeastern Louisiana

Sacred Heart/Northern Iowa winner at No. 3 seed Villanova

Richmond/North Carolina A&T winner at No. 7 seed Coastal Carolina

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

On the at-large bubble: Sacramento State, Delaware, William & Mary and
Youngstown State


After this weekend’s strong schedule of matchups, Week 5 isn’t nearly as good
next Saturday, even while conference play begins to heat up.

The notable conference matchups include: Big Sky, Cal Poly at Northern Arizona
and Eastern Washington at UC Davis; CAA, Delaware at James Madison, William &
Mary at Stony Brook and Maine at Towson; Ivy, Harvard at Brown; Missouri
Valley, Western Illinois at Southern Illinois; Patriot, Fordham at Holy Cross;
Pioneer, Jacksonville at Butler and San Diego at Marist; Southern, Samford at
Chattanooga; Southland, Sam Houston State at Lamar; and SWAC, Southern at
Alcorn State, Texas Southern at Alabama State and Prairie View A&M versus
Grambling State at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The non-conference schedule includes Charleston Southern at Charlotte, Liberty
at Indiana State, Villanova at Penn, Dartmouth at New Hampshire and Florida A&M
at Tennessee State.

As part of the Yale Bowl’s 100th anniversary season, Yale will host Army in the
Ivy League’s first matchup against an FBS team since those two programs met at
Army in 1996.

The only other FCS-FBS matchup is Eastern Illinois at Ohio.

Top-ranked North Dakota State will be on a bye.