FCS programs trying to get back on their feet
Times can be a changin’ when the pieces come together.
There’s bound to be more surprise teams in 2018. Whether they can come from the following programs is uncertain, but all aspire to make noticeable strides in their rebuilding:
The woes: Former Davidson quarterback Paul Nichols, who helped guide the Wildcats to their only undefeated season in 2000, didn’t get the job done in five seasons as their head coach. The ‘Cats went 7-49, and only one of the wins was against a Division I team. The Pioneer Football League program’s last winning season was in 2007.
2018 outlook: Former Washington & Lee coach Scott Abell hopes to begin the turnaround this season. All three of Davidson’s non-league games are at home against sub-FCS programs. Abell’s teams prefer to run the ball, and 1,000-yard rusher Wesley Dugger is among 11 offensive starters returning.
The woes: The last four seasons have been inexplicable because the MEAC program has gone a combined 5-40, losing all 13 of its games out of conference. It’s been quite the fall after the Hornets finished 5-3 in conference games in both 2012 and ’13.
2018 outlook: New coach Rod Milstead played on the offensive line for three MEAC champions at Delaware State before graduating in 1992, and went on to play in the NFL. He inherits a team that could return nine starters on each side of the ball. But the Hornets won’t play a home game until Oct. 6, and the best chances for wins aren’t until November.
The woes: The Hoyas tied for second place in 2012 under former coach Kevin Kelly, but his former assistant Rob Sgarlata hasn’t gotten it going in his four seasons, posting an 11-33 record and entering the 2018 season on a 15-game Patriot League losing streak.
2018 outlook: The problem for Georgetown is the school doesn’t offer football scholarships like the rest of the league. The Hoyas’ non-league schedule is manageable, and there’s good returning talent with wide receivers Michael Dereus and Brandon Williams plus Kristian Tate and Wesley Bowers on defense.
The woes: A start-up program that played its first FCS season in 2014, Houston Baptist was a credible 3-5 in Southland Conference games in 2016, but it’s a combined 1-24 in its other three seasons. Overall, the Huskies are 9-35. Sadly, the star of their program, All-America linebacker Garrett Dolan, died in an accident about a week before he would have graduated in May.
2018 outlook: In returning only eight starters, Houston Baptist figures to struggle more this season. Under the Southland’s unbalanced schedule, they’re still playing the five programs that had winning conference records last season. They can grow with quarterback Bailey Zappe, who became the starter as a true freshman.
The woes: The last eight Idaho State coaches have losing records, although Rob Phenicie enjoyed a credible debut last season, going 4-7 with a stunning win over FBS program Nevada. Previously, Mike Kramer was 18-50 from 2011-16 and John Zamberlin 6-39 from 2007-10.
2018 outlook: The stakes are higher in the Gem State because Big Sky founding member Idaho is returning to the conference this season. Phenicie wasn’t hired last year until late March, so his preparations were behind schedule. The Bengals are loaded in the offensive skills positions with quarterback Tanner Gueller, wide receivers Mitch Gueller and Michael Dean, and running backs James Madison and Ty Flanagan.
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE=
The woes: Jerry Rice’s alma mater is a mere 8-47 over the last five seasons. Coach Rick Comegy, who reached the SWAC title game with Jackson State in 2012 and ’13, was fired after a four-season run, going 6-38.
2018 outlook: Vincent Dancy has been elevated from defensive coordinator to try to improve the Delta Devils in all facets. The run game is a focal point, though, after they netted a negative-103 yards on the ground last season. The first four games of the Dancy era (at North Dakota, at Jacksonville State, Alcorn State and at Bethune-Cookman) comprise a brutal stretch.
The woes: In 2010, URI accepted associate membership into Northeast Conference football for the 2013 season, but the school decided to remain in the CAA before making the move. It hasn’t had a winning season since 2001, going a combined 13-66 (9-47 CAA) in the last seven seasons.
2018 outlook: The Rams were 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the conference in coach Jim Fleming’s fourth and best season to date last year. With the return of nine starters on offense and seven on defense, there is reason for optimism. The road portion of the schedule is insanely tough – UConn and Harvard plus CAA members Delaware, Stony Brook, Elon and James Madison.
The woes: The Citadel has proven a military school can do well in the Southern Conference, but VMI last had a .500 season in 2003 and hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. Last year, the Keydets were 0-11.
2018 outlook: For his fourth season, coach Scott Wachenheim has brought in five new assistants. Offensive improvement is imperative after the Keydets ranked last in the FCS in both points (8.0) and offensive yards (218.5) per game a year ago. There has been a number of key defections in the offseason, including quarterback Duncan Hodges in a transfer to North Alabama.