In the FCS Huddle: Title races completely change

Philadelphia, PA ( – The race for FCS conference titles
apparently was replaced on Saturday by the one seeking the deepest race.

There are plenty of candidates after a handful of last year’s automatic playoff
qualifiers turned their noses on having the inside track toward their
conference title.

On a day of upsets in which seven Top 25 teams lost, including three of the top
eight, the Big Sky, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Southland and Northeast conferences
all had their nationally ranked first-place squad go down.

Bethune-Cookman’s road loss to South Carolina State was the least surprising,
but it left the MEAC in a scramble with six of its 11 teams having one loss
each. Having played an extra conference game already, North Carolina A&T is 4-1
and holding a slight edge on Bethune, South Carolina State, Morgan State, North
Carolina Central and Norfolk State, which are 3-1 each. But South Carolina
State has pivotal wins over Bethune and North Carolina A&T, and that could
lead to the Bulldogs earning the automatic playoff bid at the finish line.

Stephen F. Austin pulled one of the surprising upsets of the day when it ended
Southeastern Louisiana’s 14-game Southland Conference winning streak. New coach
Clint Conque has done a masterful job in turning around SFA this season, but,
ironically, his squad is looking up in the standings at his old school, Central
Arkansas, which is 4-1 and in first place alongside Southeastern. But SFA,
McNeese State and Sam Houston State are right there at 3-1 each. What a deep
race of excellent teams.

Second-ranked Eastern Washington hasn’t been the same explosive team without
injured quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., and its 14-game Big Sky Conference
winning streak ended against Northern Arizona. So the Eagles are now looking up
to Montana State, which they beat last month in a non-conference matchup which
didn’t count toward the conference standings.

Montana State sat idle on Saturday and was left in first place by the end of
the day at 4-0 after Eastern Washington fell to 4-1 and rival Montana lost at
Cal Poly for its first conference defeat. Cal Poly, like EWU, is 4-1, and
Montana, Northern Arizona and upstart Idaho State are 3-1 each.

The Northeast Conference had the best title race in the FCS last year and it
might be heading down that road again after front-running Sacred Heart was
stunned at home by Saint Francis, which hadn’t beaten a Division I opponent
this season before this matchup.

Bryant, which appears primed to replace Sacred Heart in the national rankings,
shares first place with Wagner at 2-0, but the Bulldogs still have road dates
at Sacred Heart and Duquesne, last year’s co-champs, and a home date against
Wagner, which has to host Sacred Heart and Duquesne before the game with
Bryant. At 2-1, Sacred Heart sits third in the race, just ahead of Duquesne,
which has split its first two conference games.

With the preseason favorites in those four conferences losing on Saturday, the
pool of at-large playoff candidates completely opened up as we enter November.


While the competitive conference title races stand out, there were many other
thoughts and observations from Week 9. Here are 10 more:

*It wasn’t the typical Saturday of quarterbacks gone wild. Of the 59 games
involving FCS teams, 46 had a 100-yard rusher and 39 of the winners had at
least one 100-yard rusher. Leading the ground assault were Idaho State’s Xavier
Finney with 236 yards and Cal Poly with 421 yards in Big Sky victories.

*Idaho State emphatically ended its 48-game road losing streak and became a
contender for an FCS playoff berth by thumping Northern Colorado, 46-12. The
Bengals hadn’t won on the road since they were victorious by a similar score at
Northern Colorado (41-13) on Oct. 7, 2006. Next up, a visit to Portland State.
Perhaps a road winning streak?

*UT Martin opened the season by losing five of its first six games, but
consecutive wins over Tennessee Tech (17-10), Tennessee State (21-16) and
Austin Peay (37-7) have given the Skyhawks their third Sgt. York Trophy, which
rewards the best record between the four Ohio Valley Conference football-
playing schools located in Tennessee. In Saturday’s rout of Austin Peay, Abou
Toure rushed for two touchdowns and Dylan Favre threw for a pair, while
linebacker Tony Bell collected a game-high 11 tackles with two sacks.

*A team that utilizes two quarterbacks supposedly doesn’t have one. Maybe that
means those which have three signal callers are on to something good. At
Jacksonville State, sophomore Eli Jenkins is the talented starter (especially
as a rusher) and senior backup Max Shortell was the second-team All-Ohio Valley
Conference selection a year ago. The sixth-ranked Gamecocks (6-1) have
effectively added Georgia transfer Christian LeMay to the mix, and the junior
had a touchdown pass in each half and 150 total yards in a 49-3 wipeout of
Tennessee Tech on Saturday.

*Teams which were ranked this season but have had their campaigns come undone
after the promising starts: Charleston Southern (5-3 to 5-0), Delaware (3-1 to
4-4), Furman (2-0 to 2-6), Southern Illinois (5-1 to 5-4), Southeast Missouri
State (4-2 to 4-5) and Tennessee State (4-1 to 4-5). Teams that have overcome
difficult non-conference schedules to stay in their conference title races: Cal
Poly (5-3 overall, but 4-1 in the Big Sky), Central Arkansas (5-4 overall, but
4-1 in the Southland), Norfolk State (3-5 overall, but 3-1 in the MEAC) and
Eastern Illinois (3-5 overall, but 3-1 in the OVC).

*Illinois State trailed in the fourth quarter for the third straight game, but
rallied behind quarterback Tre Roberson for a 21-7 victory over Missouri State.
That made it a perfect day for the last four unbeaten teams in the FCS:
Illinois State (7-0, 4-0 Missouri Valley), North Dakota State (8-0, 4-0
Missouri Valley), Coastal Carolina (8-0, 2-0 Big South) and Harvard (6-0, 3-0
Ivy). The common denominator is defense. NDSU, Harvard and Illinois State rank
1-2-3 in the FCS in scoring defense and Coastal Carolina is sixth.

*Sitting right behind North Dakota State and Illinois State in the Missouri
Valley is Youngstown State, which has prevented its season from unraveling with
a quarterback change to freshman Hunter Wells and back-to-back Top 25 wins over
Southern Illinois and South Dakota State. The Penguins (6-2, 3-1) have to
travel to Illinois State and NDSU, but if they at least secure home wins over
South Dakota and Indiana State, then coach Eric Wolford’s squad will have
earned their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

*An FCS season-high crowd of 67,710 watched at Legion Field as Alabama A&M
defeated Southwestern Athletic Conference rival Alabama State, 37-36, in the
73rd Magic City Classic. A&M (3-5, 2-3) didn’t lead until capping a 95-yard
drive on Jaymason Lee’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tevin McKenzie with 2:26
remaining in the game. Alabama State (4-4, 3-3) then drove within field goal
range, but Preston Clark missed a 30-yard attempt with 12 seconds remaining.

*Speaking of attendance, it pays to have a strong fan base. The top seven FCS
teams in attendance have winning records and 13 of the top 15 are .500 or

*Something to file away for next season: When a team from a smaller FCS
conference beats a leading program from a top FCS conference, it’s probably not
an isolated upset and the larger-conference team will be headed to a poor
season. Last year, it was results like North Carolina A&T over Appalachian
State and Gardner-Webb over Wofford. This season, it’s been results like
Central Connecticut State over Towson, Bryant over Maine and Presbyterian over


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 – Western Carolina earned its 100th all-time Southern Conference
win by stopping The Citadel, 29-15, behind 663 yards of offense and four
takeaways. The Catamounts are 4-0 in the conference for the first time since
1978 and now have the showdown they have craved all season. Chattanooga visits
Cullowhee, North Carolina, next Saturday in a matchup of first-place teams.

Stock Falling – Prairie View A&M didn’t give Blackshear Field a proper sendoff.
Playing at its 66-year-old field for the final time, the Panthers fell to
Alcorn State, 77-48, in the SWAC, allowing 699 yards and committing 15
penalties for 154 yards. The Panthers (3-5) have a mere 10-game schedule, so
they will play only two more games after a bye next weekend.


South Carolina State nose tackle Javon Hargrave is accustomed to facing double-
teams, but that wasn’t enough for Bethune-Cookman in a key MEAC game. The
athletic junior collected 11 tackles and six sacks and forced two fumbles as
the Bulldogs won, 20-14. He’s now first in the FCS with 14 sacks and second
with 19 tackles for loss.


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

Eastern Kentucky/Montana State winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State

South Dakota State/Southeastern Louisiana winner at No. 8 seed Chattanooga

Cal Poly/McNeese State winner at No. 5 seed Eastern Washington

Bethune-Cookman/Liberty winner at No. 4 seed Jacksonville State

Richmond/South Carolina State winner at No. 6 seed Coastal Carolina

Bryant/Fordham winner at No. 3 seed New Hampshire

Indiana State/Montana winner at No. 7 seed Illinois State

Jacksonville/Youngstown State winner at No. 2 seed Villanova

On the large (whew) at-large bubble: Albany, Central Arkansas, James Madison,
North Carolina A&T, Sacred Heart, Sam Houston State and William & Mary.


November arrives on Saturday, bringing plenty of key conference matchups.

South Dakota State travels to North Dakota State, trying to end the Bison’s
FCS-record 32-game winning streak, of which the Jackrabbits have contributed
three times.

First place is on the line when Chattanooga visits Western Carolina in the
Southern Conference, Harvard goes to Dartmouth in the Ivy League and Montana
State travels to Cal Poly in the Big Sky.

Other key matchups include: Big Sky, Sacramento State at Montana, Idaho State
at Portland State and North Dakota at Eastern Washington; Big South, Liberty at
Presbyterian and Coastal Carolina at Gardner-Webb; CAA, Villanova at Richmond,
William & Mary at James Madison and Albany at New Hampshire; MEAC, North
Carolina Central at Bethune-Cookman; Missouri Valley, Missouri State at Indiana
State and Illinois State at Northern Iowa; Northeast, Sacred Heart at Wagner
and Central Connecticut State at Bryant; Ohio Valley, Eastern Kentucky at
Tennessee State; Patriot, Colgate at Fordham and Lafayette at Bucknell;
Pioneer, San Diego at Drake; Southland, Sam Houston State vs. Stephen F. Austin
at Reliant Stadium in Houston and McNeese State at Northwestern State; and
SWAC, Grambling State at Texas Southern and Alabama State at Southern.