Momentum a friend to few in FCS
(STATS) – Moving Day is supposed to be a good occurrence on a Saturday.
But enough teams in the STATS FCS Top 25 lost this weekend – eight – that Monday’s new rankings will have the most negative movement of all.
Saturday’s up-and-down results mirrored what has been happening all season ever since four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State lost the opening game.
It’s been a wild ride with momentum a friend to only a small handful.
Montana and North Dakota could have woken up in a tie for first place in the Big Sky on Sunday, but both lost at home – the No. 12 Griz in overtime to Weber State and No. 23 UND to an Idaho State squad that had allowed 190 points in its prior three games.
Montana first-year coach Bob Stitt said afterward his team’s loss was "disappointing," overtime was "disappointing" and overall the result was "very disappointing." I feel horrible for our players," he added. "As a coach, you feel like a parent. You want to help ’em. And when it doesn’t go their way, it’s heart-wrenching that you can’t help them."
Liberty lost in an equally surprising Big South opener at Gardner-Webb. The No. 15 Flames (3-3) have followed each of their three wins with a loss. Yeah, buzzkill.
Villanova falling to William & Mary wasn’t so surprising considering the No. 14 Wildcats, the CAA Football preseason favorite, are minus 2014 FCS Offensive Player of the Year John Robertson.
Something also had to give with the trio of Missouri Valley Football Conference games involving Top 25 teams – No. 10 Northern Iowa falling to NDSU and No. 9 Youngstown State to Illinois State in a pair of thrillers and No. 19 Indiana State losing to South Dakota State. Also, in the Southland Conference, No. 20 Southeastern Louisiana couldn’t solve the defense of No. 22 McNeese State.
With Top 25 voters left to consult their Oujia board, top-ranked Jacksonville State might have had it right with a bye this weekend.
Being idle has become the safest place to be on an FCS Saturday.
SECOND AND 10
Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:
– The player who was closest yet didn’t receive an addition to the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List last week was Lamar running back Kade Harrington. The redshirt junior must have considered it a snub. He went out and rushed for a career-high 347 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries – an average of 12.4 yards per carry – in the Cardinals’ 44-27 Southland Conference win over Abilene Christian. Having come back strong from injuries last season, he has the two highest games for all-purpose yards this year (it was 365 on Saturday).
– Speaking of the FCS Offensive Player of the Year award, James Madison quarterback Vad Lee’s five touchdown passes against Towson seemed to solidify him as the front-runner. But Fordham running back Chase Edmonds isn’t going away anytime soon. He matched Lee with five touchdowns of his own and rushed for 230 yards (a week after a career-high 234 yards) in an entertaining, 48-45 win at Penn. In fact, it was a big weekend for many of the candidates on the watch list.
– North Dakota State’s 31-28 win over Northern Iowa was ridiculously good as the lead changed five times in the fourth quarter, the last on Carson Wentz’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Sheppard with 35 seconds left. The other down-to-the-wire game in the Missouri Valley ended with No. 4 Illinois State outlasting Youngstown State 31-29 on a failed two-point conversion. Redbirds quarterback Tre Roberson didn’t show many effects of last weekend’s thumb injury as his 220 total yards and two touchdowns helped fuel the win.
– No doubt the team of the week is Portland State. That the Vikings (4-1) have beaten two FBS teams this season – Washington State to open the year and then North Texas in a 66-7 stunner Saturday – says so much about how they are playing under interim coach Bruce Barnum. A team that had three wins last year, they have yet to surrender 20 points in a game. The win, the largest ever for an FCS team against an FBS opponent, was the eighth for the FCS this season, which matches last year’s total.
– In the Big Sky, Portland State is the only one that is more than a game over .500. The league should be hoping its legitimate playoff contenders don’t keep getting knocked off within the nation’s largest FCS conference, like Saturday. Just when Northern Arizona could have been returning to the Top 25, it joined Montana and North Dakota with a bad loss, 38-24 at previously winless UC Davis. Last November, six teams thought they had playoff resumes late in the regular season only to see that number chopped in half over the final two Saturdays.
– A big weekend of Southern Conference matchups fizzled a bit with three of the four games decided by at least 27 points. The Citadel is the surprising team of the conference with quality home wins over Western Carolina and Wofford. The road schedule (Samford, Furman and Chattanooga followed by South Carolina) appears too hard for coach Mike Houston’s Bulldogs to overcome, but having a triple option is always a wild card.
– Score one, actually three, for the downtrodden. Savannah State’s win a week ago – after 24 straight losses – must have inspired two other teams this weekend. Columbia had been getting closer to ending its FCS-high 24-game losing streak and finally did with a 26-3 victory under new coach Al Bagnoli over winless Wagner. Also, Davidson ended a 15-game losing streak – the third-longest in the FCS – although against Division II Kentucky Wesleyan, 14-7 in overtime (hey, coach Paul Nichols’ Wildcats will take it).
– The race to represent the MEAC in the inaugural Celebration Bowl is taking on a familiar look. Bethune-Cookman as well as Morgan State and North Carolina A&T are the last unbeaten teams in conference play and each was part of the unique five-way tie for the league championship a year ago. Bethune has won five straight while Morgan State and N.C. A&T are on three-game winning streaks. Despite having to replace nine starters on defense, front-running Bethune has allowed only 29 points and one offensive touchdown in three home games. Robert Way and Diquan Richardson are leading the Wildcats’ balanced defense.
– A Villanova team without Robertson is no longer one with national title aspirations. The Wildcats (2-3) have dropped back-to-back home games to Penn and William & Mary since redshirt freshman Zack Bednarczyk came off the bench to lead a fourth-quarter rally against Delaware following Robertson’s knee injury Sept. 19. As coach Andy Talley pointed out last week, Bednarczyk is gaining valuable experience and ‘Nova will return a veteran team next season. It’s just not what the Wildcats had in mind, and the nation’s No. 14 team may be fortunate to hang onto Top 25 status Monday.
– A knee injury sidelined Dayton’s Connor Kacsor, who had been the national leader in rushing yards per game, on Saturday, but it didn’t stop the Flyers from winning a pivotal matchup against defending Pioneer Football League champion San Diego 13-12. The Flyers, who have scored in an FCS-record 436 consecutive games, are the most successful program in league history, but they haven’t won the title since 2010. They are getting a huge season out of linebacker Christopher Beaschler and their season-opening wins over Northeast Conference scholarship programs Robert Morris and Duquesne bode well for their 5-0 record – one of eight unbeaten marks in the FCS. That list includes a Jacksonville team that Dayton hosts on Halloween.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
No. 1 Jacksonville State (4-1, 2-0 OVC), idle
No. 2 Coastal Carolina (6-0, 1-0 Big South), beat Presbyterian (1-5, 0-1), 24-17
No. 3 North Dakota State (4-1, 2-0 Missouri Valley), beat No. 10 Northern Iowa (2-3, 0-2), 31-28
No. 4 Illinois State (4-1, 2-0 Missouri Valley), beat No. 9 Youngstown State (3-2, 1-1), 31-29
No. 5 James Madison (6-0, 3-0 CAA), beat Towson (2-3, 0-2), 51-30
No. 6 Chattanooga (4-1, 2-0 Southern), beat Furman (3-3, 1-1), 31-3
No. 7 Eastern Washington (3-2, 2-0 Big Sky), beat Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2), 42-41 in OT
No. 8 South Dakota State (4-1, 1-1 Missouri Valley), beat No. 19 Indiana State (3-2, 1-1), 24-7
No. 9 Youngstown State (3-2, 1-1 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 4 Illinois State (3-2, 1-1), 31-29
No. 10 Northern Iowa (2-3, 0-2 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 3 North Dakota State (4-1, 2-0), 31-28
No. 11 Sam Houston State (3-2, 3-1 Southland), beat Incarnate Word (3-3, 2-2), 59-7
No. 12 Montana (3-3, 2-1 Big Sky), lost to Weber State (3-3, 2-1), 24-21 in OT
No. 13 Fordham (5-1), beat Penn (1-3), 48-45
No. 14 Villanova (2-3, 1-1 CAA), lost to William & Mary (3-2, 2-1), 38-16
No. 15 Liberty (3-3, 0-1 Big South) lost to Gardner-Webb (2-3, 1-0), 34-20
No. 16 Richmond (4-1, 2-0 CAA), beat Elon (2-4, 1-2), 27-14
No. 17 Eastern Kentucky (3-2, 2-0 OVC), beat Tennessee Tech (2-4, 1-2), 48-17
No. 18 Montana State (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky), beat Sacramento State (1-5, 0-3), 35-13
No. 19 Indiana State (3-2, 1-1 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 8 South Dakota State (4-1, 1-1), 24-7
No. 20 Southeastern Louisiana (3-2, 2-1 Southland), lost to No. 22 McNeese State (5-0, 4-0), 21-7
No. 21 New Hampshire (3-2, 2-1 CAA), Idle
No. 22 McNeese State (5-0, 4-0 Southland), beat No. 20 Southeastern Louisiana (3-2, 2-1), 21-7
No. 23 North Dakota (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky), lost to Idaho State (2-4, 1-2), 37-31
No. 24 Harvard (4-0, 2-0 Ivy), beat Cornell (0-4, 0-2), 40-3
No. 25 Portland State (4-1), beat North Texas (0-5), 66-7
A LOOK AHEAD
Next Saturday’s FCS schedule shines. It includes a meeting of the teams picked highest in the Northeast Conference (Duquesne at Bryant) and SWAC (Grambling State at Alcorn State) preseason polls, along with a matchup of Southland Conference leader McNeese State at second-place Central Arkansas, New Hampshire facing a key trip to William & Mary in CAA Football, MEAC leader Bethune-Cookman going to North Carolina A&T and Montana State visiting Portland State in the Big Sky.
Some other intriguing matchups: Big Sky – Eastern Washington at Idaho State; Ivy – Princeton at Brown and Penn at Columbia (Bagnoli faces his old team); Missouri Valley – South Dakota State at Youngstown State and Western Illinois at Northern Iowa; Ohio Valley – Eastern Kentucky at Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Illinois at Tennessee State; Patriot – Holy Cross at Fordham; Pioneer – Drake at San Diego; Southern – The Citadel at Samford; Southland – Sam Houston State at Abilene Christian; and SWAC – Prairie View A&M at Southern.
Bucknell goes to Army West Point for the lone FCS-FBS game.