FCS Top 25 preview: Bearkats prepare like No. 1
(STATS) – He's already coaching what he considers to be the best offense of his three-plus decades on the sideline.
What Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler especially likes about his newly minted No. 1 team in the FCS is that it practices better than any of his previous teams.
And the 57-year-old coached Delaware's 2003 FCS championship team and seven more national finalists between the Blue Hens and Rowan.
“When we run a practice, there's a standard that we continually try to set and that's being the best team in the country,” Keeler said. “And now that we're ranked there, it's just a nice reminder that we need to keep on pushing through and need to try to practice like the best team in the country every single week.”
Sam Houston (6-0) has risen to No. 1 behind the most prolific offense in the FCS. Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe has thrown an FCS-leading 26 touchdown passes and the Bearkats are averaging 54.8 points and 608.2 yards per game. Running backs Remus Bulmer and Corey Avery are both averaging over seven yards a carry and have combined for nearly 1,000 yards.
The Bearkats are putting opponents away early, outscoring them 112-24 in the first quarter and 203-51 in the first half.
But it's also a team which has beaten a 1-6 Division II opponent and five Southland Conference teams that are a combined 9-23, so the Bearkats know most of their toughest games are ahead, including a trip to Nicholls (3-3, 3-1 Southland) on Saturday.
“It's just really a testament to our leadership that we're halfway through the season and they just go and really get after it,” Keeler said. “Their belief is the best offense they'll see every week is going to be ours and the best defense they're going to see every week is ours.”
The Bearkats know the route to Frisco, Texas, site of the national championship game, as it's just 200 miles upstate from their Huntsville campus. They made it there in 2011 and '12 before losing to North Dakota State, and they also reached the national semifinals in 2014 and last year.
Keeler has been saying the Bearkats are just another 10 percent of effort and production away from winning the national title.
Achieving that goal begins in practice.
“I'm so proud of our work ethic and how we're doing things,” Keeler said. “It's really not been about the team right in front of us, it's more about us just getting better. I told them, the final destination wasn't being No. 1 in October. That's just part of the journey. We have a lot in front of us to still accomplish, a lot more because it's gonna get better. We are not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination.”
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
The Matchup: No. 13 Youngstown State (5-1, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at No. 7 South Dakota State (4-2, 3-0)
Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota
Series: South Dakota State leads 10-7 (most recent meeting: SDSU won 38-8 at Youngstown Oct. 17, 2015)
The Skinny: The road team has captured the last three meetings. Youngstown State won 30-27 in Brookings two years ago for the first time since 1974.YSU has 22 sacks in its four-game winning streak, with all-time program leader Derek Rivers and fellow defensive end Avery Moss collecting eight and six, respectively, this season. The Penguins are the only Division I team not to allow a rushing touchdown. They rank third in the FCS in average time of possession (34 minutes, 41 seconds) boosted by a running game that features tailbacks Martin Ruiz, Tevin McCaster and Jody Webb.The host Jackrabbits are coming off a win at then-No. 1 North Dakota State and are led by quarterback and STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Week Taryn Christion (351.5 total yards per game, 24 total touchdowns). Tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke have combined for 84 receptions, 1,414 receiving yards and 20 TD receptions. Freshman linebacker Christian Rozeboom leads the team with 66 tackles, winning two of the last three Missouri Valley Conference newcomer of the week awards.
Prediction: Cal Poly won at SDSU with its rushing attack, so Youngstown State must do the same to keep Christion off the field. South Dakota State, 24-20.
STATS FCS TOP 25 SCHEDULE=
Saturday, Oct. 22
All Times ETX-No. 24 Stony Brook (4-2, 3-0 CAA) at Delaware (2-4, 0-3), 1 p.m. – Tricky game for Stony Brook with the underachieving Blue Hens wanting to win for new interim coach Dennis Dottin-Carter.
X-No. 14 North Carolina A&T (5-1, 3-0 MEAC) at Howard (1-6, 1-3), 1 p.m. – A&T's all-time MEAC rushing leader Tarik Cohen has three straight games of at least 200 rushing yards.
No. 5 The Citadel (6-0, 4-0 Southern) at X-Wofford (4-2, 2-1), 1:30 p.m. – It's a difficult follow-up to The Citadel's win over former-No. 5 Chattanooga. The Bulldogs lead the FCS in rushing yards per game (381) and Wofford ranks fourth (312).
VMI (3-3, 1-2 Southern) at X-No. 11 Chattanooga (6-1, 4-1), 2 p.m. – The Mocs' seniors are primed to become the winningest class in program history. Their 33 wins are tied with the 1980 and 2015 senior classes for the team standard.
Central Connecticut State (1-5) at X-No. 17 Coastal Carolina (4-2), 2 p.m. – Injuries at quarterbacks have set back Coastal wide receiver Bruce Mapp's production, but the senior has a touchdown catch in four of the last five games and could become the school's all-time leading receiver by season's end.
Murray State (1-5, 1-2 OVC) at X-No. 15 Eastern Illinois (5-2, 3-1), 2 p.m. – If the Panthers hold serve at home, they will get a chance to move into first place on Oct. 29 when they visit two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champ Jacksonville State.
X-No. 3 Eastern Washington (5-1, 3-0 Big Sky) at Montana State (2-5, 0-4), 2 p.m. – Although he missed 1½ games with a shoulder injury, EWU senior wide receiver Cooper Kupp still leads the pass-happy Big Sky in receptions (46) and receiving yards (712).
X-No. 2 Jacksonville State (5-1, 2-0 OVC) at Eastern Kentucky (2-4, 1-2), 3 p.m. – Gamecocks wide receiver Josh Barge has caught a pass in 44 straight games. With one against EKU, he will tie the FCS consecutive games record.
X-No. 22 Grambling State (4-1, 3-0 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-7, 0-5), 3 p.m. – The Tigers return from a three-week break in their schedule. They could probably return from a 30-week break and beat MVSU.
X-No. 6 Richmond (6-1, 3-1 CAA) at Elon (2-4, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. – Pressure from the edge? No, Richmond defensive tackle Winston Craig is leading CAA Football with 7½ sacks.
X-No. 1 Sam Houston State (6-0, 5-0 Southland) at Nicholls (3-3, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. – Getting back cornerback Darion Flowers was huge for Sam Houston last week as he had a team-high nine tackles, a sack and forced a fumble against Abilene Christian. Nicholls has won its last two games in two overtimes.
No. 23 Albany (4-2, 1-2 CAA) at X-No. 16 Villanova (5-2, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. – If 'Nova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk isn't cleared from a concussion, sophomore Adeyemi DaSilva will get the start. Albany is coming off two straight losses.
X-No. 19 North Dakota (5-2, 4-0 Big Sky) at Idaho State (2-4, 1-2), 4:35 p.m. – Idaho State's 37-31 upset at UND in a 2-9 season last year was one of the reasons the Fighting Hawks failed to earn an FCS playoff bid.
Presbyterian (2-4, 1-1 Big South) at X-No. 9 Charleston Southern (3-2, 1-0), 6 p.m. – With Hurricane Matthew canceling one of their games, the Buccaneers are playing for the first time since Oct. 1. Said coach Jamey Chadwell: “The challenge as a coach is you have some rhythm – that's what you try to develop throughout the season – and then it comes to an abrupt end.”
Lamar (3-3, 3-1 Southland) at X-No. 20 Central Arkansas (5-1, 4-0), 7 p.m. – UCA handed McNeese its first shutout at home since 1987 and doesn't have to face Lamar All-America running back Kade Harrington (broken foot).
X-No. 10 Montana (5-1, 2-1 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (3-4, 2-2), 7 p.m. – Sorry, coach: With 1,757 career rushing yards, UM senior John Nguyen needs just 28 more to pass his position coach, Justin Green, and take 10th place on the school's all-time chart.
Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4 Southern) at X-No. 21 Samford (5-1, 3-1), 7 p.m. – It's three straight Southern Conference offensive player of the week awards and counting for Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges.
X-No. 4 North Dakota State (5-1, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 12 Western Illinois (5-1, 2-1), 7 p.m. – NDSU, the five-time reigning FCS champion, has won its last 12 games when coming off a loss. With 242 career receptions, WIU senior Lance Lenoir is eight shy of the MVFC record.
No. 25 Tennessee State (5-1) at X-Vanderbilt (3-4), 7:30 p.m. – The Tigers simply go across town to face Vandy. They have lost their two previous games against FBS opponents – 38-9 to the Commodores in 2006 (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had an interception) and 63-24 to Air Force in 2011.
UC Davis (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky) at X-No. 17 Cal Poly (4-2, 2-1), 9:05 p.m. – The visiting team has won the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe in three straight years. Last week, Cal Poly racked up 658 yards and never punted in a 55-35 win at Portland State.