In the FCS Huddle: What to do with the Bison?

Philadelphia, PA ( – If North Dakota State had lost its first
game against Iowa State but none since then, then the three-time reigning FCS
champion might be top-ranked in tomorrow’s new Top 25 poll.

The Bison could have worked their way back there throughout a tough FCS

But when a team loses in the regular season usually matters so much when it
pertains to polls. Week 11 in a 13-game season is not the time to lose.

The fact NDSU lost its 10th game – and decisively, too, 23-3 at Northern Iowa
on Saturday to end an FCS-record 33-game winning streak – gives voters in The
Sports Network FCS Top 25 an interesting dilemma: where to rank the Bison?

Oh, they wouldn’t tumble far. No. 2? No. 3? No. 4?

The question is, should they even tumble from No. 1?

New Hampshire (8-1) was No. 2, Coastal Carolina (10-0) No. 3 and Jacksonville
State (8-1) No. 4 last week. UNH and Jacksonville State both lost decisively to
FBS opponents to open their seasons and haven’t lost since, while Coastal
hasn’t lost, but against a schedule that hasn’t been as tough as NDSU’s. Oh,
it’s close among the top teams.

NDSU slammed both Coastal and UNH in the FCS playoffs last season. Sure,
different season, different teams. But it’s a factor worth considering because
NDSU’s veteran team isn’t too far removed from a level that UNH, Coastal and
Jacksonville State have never even been on.

Sure, the playoffs are going to sort it all out. Maybe the NDSU mystique is
gone after Saturday’s loss and the Bison will be bumped off the Road to Frisco.

But how much will the NCAA playoff selection committee ask, “What have you done
for me lately?” If all the top teams win out to close the regular season, would
the committee give NDSU the No. 1 overall seed if the Bison aren’t top-ranked?
That’s a huge question, of course, because the Fargodome is such a home-field
advantage for the Bison. And the criticism the NCAA could face in making NDSU
the top seed is that it would be looking to position the Bison for the FCS
title game because they are the only team among the top ones whose fan base
would sell out the Jan. 10 game.

All things equal, NDSU is still in first place in the toughest FCS conference
(Missouri Valley) with a tougher schedule than UNH, Coastal and Jacksonville
State. The Bison have beaten four Top 25 teams (tied for the most in the FCS
with fellow MVFC co-leader Illinois State) as well as Iowa State from the Big

Any of the top teams in the FCS can beat each other this season, and what it
took on Saturday was Northern Iowa beating the Bison at their own game (running
the ball and dominating with defense).

But that was one day, one game. In considering the entire body of work this
season, NDSU still gets my vote for No. 1 in this week’s poll. That also goes
for the No. 1 playoff seeding should they win their remaining two games against
Missouri State and nationally ranked Youngstown State.


While North Dakota State is a huge part of the FCS conversation, there were
many other observations from Week 11. Here are 10 more:

*Austin Peay made a sacrifice for those who sacrifice for our country. The Ohio
Valley Conference team wore camouflage jerseys Saturday on Homecoming Day and
Military Appreciation Day to honor the Ft. Campbell military community in
Clarksville, Tennessee. The camouflage jerseys carried the respective Ft.
Campbell unit nicknames across the upper back. During the week, the Governors
learned that would be in violation of an NCAA rule regarding proper numerals
and lettering. They still decided to wear the jerseys even though for every
quarter they did, the Govs were assessed a timeout. “Our feeling is the respect
we have for the military and the desire of our kids to wear these jerseys
outweighs four timeouts we may or may not have used anyway,” said coach Kirby
Cannon, whose team lost to Tennessee State, 31-27. Assistant offensive line
coach Bobby Brockley recently retired from the Army after earning five Bronze
Stars while doing five tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as a member
of the Special Forces.

*Wow, Vernon Adams Jr., wow. He just may win the Walter Payton Award after all.
After missing four games with a broken right foot, he was superb in his return
against Montana, throwing for 399 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-26 Eagles’
triumph. But he has only one more game to build on his seven-game totals
of 2,567 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns with four interceptions (in
six wins and a 59-52 loss to Washington). Of course, there’s also a certain
quarterback on the East Coast named John Robertson who moved into the
favorite’s role in Adams’ absence.

*What a job by Eastern Illinois for going about its business and staying in the
Ohio Valley Conference title race despite an 0-4 non-conference record. The
Panthers got to .500 (5-5) for the first time this season after running off 104
plays in a 48-26 win over Murray State. They next take dead aim at OVC leader
Jacksonville State. If first-year coach Kim Dameron’s squad beats the Gamecocks
and then UT Martin, they will secure the conference’s automatic playoff bid for
a third straight year.

*No. 2 New Hampshire (Sean Goldrich) and No. 5 Eastern Washington (Adams) did
so well in getting starting quarterbacks back from injury on Saturday, could
Michael Strauss be close behind at Richmond? The standout passer is recovering
from an ankle injury and the Spiders (7-3) need to at least split their final
two games (home to James Madison and at William & Mary) to make the playoffs.
Richmond may have defeated Villanova, but its offense isn’t nearly as
proficient with Michael Rocco under center as it was with Strauss. And as for
other prominent quarterbacks, Fordham’s Mike Nebrich has missed two games
following an appendectomy two weeks ago, and Southeastern Louisiana’s Bryan
Bennett left Saturday’s rout of Houston Baptist with an apparent foot injury.

*The first two automatic bids to the FCS playoffs have gone to Fordham (Patriot
League) and Chattanooga (Southern Conference). In addition, Alcorn State
handled Alabama A&M, 41-14, to clinch its first appearance in the SWAC
Championship Game on Dec. 6.

*The MEAC race could have a weird ending. Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina
A&T are both 8-2 and could have 10-win regular seasons without winning the
conference’s automatic bid. That’s because South Carolina State (7-3, 5-1) is
tied with Bethune and A&T atop the standings and has beaten both of them. But
coach Buddy Pough’s squad will have to earn its way even more because the
Bulldogs face stern tests from Morgan State (away) and Norfolk State (home) the
final two weeks.

*At 6-4, Montana has lost to quality opposition – Wyoming, North Dakota State,
Cal Poly and now Eastern Washington. But you have to figure the Grizzlies need
to beat both Southern Utah on the road and Montana State at home to qualify for
the playoffs. On a one-year contract, 71-year-old coach Mick Delaney’s future
as head coach is an issue again. He’s 23-12 in three seasons, losing his only
playoff game.

*Guess what? McNeese State really isn’t a playoff-worthy team. Oh, they can
still get to 8-3 and make the 24-team field, but the Cowboys’ ranking – which
was up to No. 6 last week – has lived off a close loss to Nebraska to open
their season. None of the Cowboys’ six wins is against a team with a winning

*Samford coach Pat Sullivan’s health has been a major issue the last two years,
but he became the program’s all-time winningest coach with a 34-20 victory over
Western Carolina. In the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner’s 46th career win,
Denzel Williams rushed 27 times for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Michael
Eubank completed 15-of-24 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, and Karel
Hamilton caught seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

*For those scoring at home – the Big Ten, perhaps? – FCS teams fell to 8-94
against the FBS this season with UT Martin (against top-ranked Mississippi
State) and Presbyterian (Ole Miss) both losing to SEC competition.


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 – As if Northern Iowa ending North Dakota State’s record winning
streak wasn’t enough to underscore the strength of the Missouri Valley, an
incredible seven teams from the conference are at least 6-4 and in contention
for FCS playoff bids.

Stock Falling – Chattanooga beating Wofford basically solidified what was
already expected – that the once-great Southern Conference will have only one
playoff team this season. Well, Samford (6-3) could still make the field. If,
that is, it beats both The Citadel and … wait for it … Auburn.


Receiving can be better than giving. Sacramento State wide receiver DeAndre
Carter set or tied school records for receptions (16), yards (273) and
touchdowns (four) in a 42-21 victory over Southern Utah. He has caught 82
passes for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.


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 winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State

Jacksonville/Richmond winner at No. 8 seed Chattanooga

Cal Poly/Southeastern Louisiana winner at No. 5 seed Eastern Washington

Sam Houston State/Northern Iowa winner at No. 4 seed Illinois State

Bethune-Cookman/Liberty winner at No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina

Fordham/South Carolina State winner at No. 6 seed Jacksonville State

Northern Arizona/South Dakota State winner at No. 7 seed Villanova

Bryant/Youngstown State winner at No. 2 seed New Hampshire

On the at-large bubble: Idaho State, Indiana State, James Madison, Montana
State, North Carolina A&T, Stephen F. Austin


The Week 12 schedule will sort out the FCS conference races even more, with the
biggest games including Bryant at Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference,
Eastern Illinois at Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference and
McNeese State at Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference.

Other important games include Big Sky, Montana at Southern Utah and Idaho State
at Montana State; Big South, Monmouth at Coastal Carolina and Charleston
Southern at Liberty; CAA, James Madison at Richmond, Delaware at New Hampshire,
William & Mary at Towson and Albany at Villanova; Ivy, Princeton at Yale and
Harvard at Penn; MEAC, Bethune-Cookman at Hampton (Thursday night) and South
Carolina State at Morgan State.

Also, Missouri Valley, Indiana State at Youngstown State, North Dakota State at
Missouri State and Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois; Northeast, Duquesne at
Wagner; OVC, Murray State at Eastern Kentucky; Pioneer, Campbell at
Jacksonville; and SWAC, Alabama State at Grambling State and Mississippi Valley
State at Southern.