There’s little clarity in wide-open FCS

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The best way to become top-ranked in the FCS might be to lose impressively to an FBS team.

Jacksonville State will put that concept to th test Monday after Sam Houston State moved up to the top spot last week in the wake of rolling up the offense but falling to Texas Tech.

It makes little sense, of course, but neither does what is transpiring in this young season.

Top 10 showdowns seem to bring out the best in Jacksonville State. A week after slipping past Chattanooga in an FCS Top 10 matchup, the defending Ohio Valley Conference champion nearly took down FBS national power Auburn, falling 27-20 in overtime after holding a last-minute lead.

But nothing with the FCS is a given. Starting with four-time defending national champion North Dakota State’s loss at Montana in the season’s first game, there’s been little clarity within the Top 25. An amazing 10 teams received No. 1 votes in the STATS FCS Top 25 last week.

While the second full weekend of action did little to clear up the national picture, it suggested once again that the FCS may have the best of both worlds this year – both a dynasty (NDSU) and a season with parity.

The Top 25 voting was so close near the top among No. 1 Sam Houston State, No. 2 NDSU and No. 3 Coastal Carolina that Sam Houston’s hold on to No. 1 appears precarious even though it was on a bye. Whether that is right is another story, but there’s no room for standing still in this jumbled picture, and Jacksonville State, NDSU and Coastal might have increased support this week.

The only Top 10 teams without a loss to date are Coastal, which to its credit has won two road games, and No. 9 South Dakota State, whose two wins include its first over an FBS school (Kansas). In fact, only seven teams in the Top 25 remain without a loss (Harvard has yet to play), so the rankings will keep twisting and turning until teams get into conference play and build more definitive resumes.

Wide open, indeed.


Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:

– There are plenty of impressive teams yet to appear in Top 25, namely Samford, which has begun the Chris Hatcher era by defeating Central Arkansas and then Florida A&M with a school-record 752 offensive yards. In addition, Northern Arizona is clicking at 2-0 and sitting as the first team outside the rankings.

– The FCS game of the week lived up to the billing as No. 14 Northern Iowa edged No. 7 Eastern Washington 38-35 in a back-and-forth thriller. The shame of it was one of these two national powers had to fall to 0-2 following an opening-week loss to an FBS opponent. But it’s the kind of power matchup needed between power conferences. At least EWU has come to realize its passing attack hasn’t taken a step backward without quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Jordan West and Reilly Hennessey have combined for 964 passing yards in two games.

– Following the four wins by FCS teams over FBS opponents last week, Jacksonville State’s near-miss at Auburn early Saturday afternoon overshadowed what followed the rest of the day. FCS teams lost all 25 matchups, and seven were shutouts decided by an average of 49.6 points. Ouch.

– Two years ago, Eastern Illinois led the FCS in scoring at 48.2 points per game. In two losses this season, the Ohio Valley Conference team has yet to score a touchdown. A 34-5 loss at Western Illinois was followed by a 41-0 blanking at Northwestern. There’s a big difference with Jimmy Garoppolo off to the NFL, but the Panthers are too talented to be a combined 5-9 under second-year coach Kim Dameron, who must be feeling some heat. It took a few games for quarterback Jalen Whitlow to get on a roll last season. The Panthers better hope the Kentucky transfer has a repeat.

– The two-year series between Bethune-Cookman and Grambling State, which Bethune swept following a 56-53 victory Saturday night, made a lot of sense when the two schools scheduled it. But the creation of the season-ending Celebration Bowl on top of the season-opening MEAC-SWAC Challenge probably means regular-season meetings between the two FCS conferences featuring historically black schools are unnecessary. Don’t tell that to Terry Sims, though. He earned his first win as the Wildcats’ coach.

– There must have been a few chuckles at Georgetown that it was the only Patriot League to win this weekend. Granted, the Hoyas played a non-scholarship program in Marist from the Pioneer Football League, but that seemed appropriate considering the Hoyas are the only Patriot program that doesn’t offer scholarships. Kyle Nolan and Justin Hill connected on two touchdown passes in the win.

– One of the Patriot losses was No. 16 Fordham’s 14-7 defeat to No. 6 Villanova. The game featured a matchup of the FCS’ two returning national award winners, and 2014 offensive player of the year John Robertson of ‘Nova had the upper hand on 2014 freshman of the year Chase Edmonds of Fordham. Robertson had 210 yards of total offense and two total touchdowns, while Edmonds was limited to 74 rushing yards and 10 receiving yards and was kept out of the end zone

– It was a reality check for some teams that had improved in such fast fashion. Idaho State fell to Portland State 34-14 In a surprising Top 25 matchup within the Big Sky, Western Carolina dropped its Southern Conference opener 28-10 to The Citadel and Bucknell, a Patriot League title contender, fell to Northeast Conference hopeful Duquesne 26-7.

– Just as impressive as The Citadel’s triple option in victory was Cal Poly’s in defeat. The Mustangs followed up their win over Montana with a 35-21 loss at Arizona State – a game that was tied at 21 with eight minutes remaining. If coach Tim Walsh can get his defense to a high level, the unique offense won’t have any problems giving trouble to opposing teams.

– Illinois State players are wearing a patch on their uniforms with the initials of the seven people who died in a plane crash about five miles from campus as they flew back from the NCAA men’s basketball championship game in April. Associate men’s basketball coach Torrey Ward and deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch were among the victims from the Illinois State family. Before the Redbirds’ 67-14 victory over Morgan State, Illinois State held a private dedication for the families at a memorial set up outside Redbird Arena and then a pregame moment of silence.


No. 1 Sam Houston State (0-1), Idle

No. 2 North Dakota State (1-1), beat Weber State (0-2), 41-14

No. 3 Coastal Carolina (2-0), beat South Carolina State (1-1), 41-14

No. 4 Illinois State (1-1), beat Morgan State (0-2), 67-14

No. 5 Jacksonville State (1-1), lost to Auburn (1-1), 27-20 in OT

No. 6 Villanova (1-1), beat No. 16 Fordham (1-1), 14-7

No. 7 Eastern Washington (0-2), lost to No. 14 Northern Iowa (1-1), 38-35

No. 8 Montana (1-1), Idle

No. 9 South Dakota State (2-0), beat Southern Utah (0-2), 55-10

No. 10 Chattanooga (1-1), beat Mars Hill (0-2), 44-34

No. 11 Montana State (1-0), Idle

No. 12 New Hampshire (1-1), beat Colgate (0-2), 26-8

No. 13 James Madison (2-0), beat Lehigh (1-1), 55-17

No. 14 Northern Iowa (1-1), beat No. 7 Eastern Washington (0-2), 38-35

No. 15 Liberty (1-1), lost to West Virginia (2-0), 41-17

No. 16 Fordham (1-1), lost to No. 6 Villanova (1-1), 14-7

No. 17 Youngstown State (1-1), beat Robert Morris (0-2), 21-14, in OT

No. 18 Cal Poly (1-1), lost to Arizona State (1-1), 35-21

No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (1-1), lost to North Carolina State (2-0), 35-0

No. 20 Southeastern Louisiana (2-0), beat Florida Tech (0-2), 28-17

No. 21 Indiana State (1-1), lost to Purdue (1-1), 38-14

No. 22 Richmond (1-1), beat Hampton (1-1), 31-28

No. 23 Idaho State (1-1, 0-1 Big Sky), lost to No. 24 Portland State (2-0, 1-0), 34-14

No. 24 Portland State (2-0, 1-0 Big Sky), beat No. 23 Idaho State (1-1, 0-1), 34-14

No. 25 Harvard (0-0), Idle


As conference play begins to pick up in the third full week of FCS action, the highlight game will come from the Southern Conference as defending champion Chattanooga visits Samford on Saturday.

Also in conference showdowns: CAA Football, Delaware at Villanova and New Hampshire at Stony Brook; MEAC, Florida A&M at South Carolina State (Thursday) and Howard versus Hampton at RFK Stadium in Washington (Friday); Ohio Valley, Tennessee State at Jacksonville State; Southland, Lamar at Sam Houston State and McNeese State at Stephen F. Austin; and SWAC, Jackson State at Southern and Grambling State at Alabama State.

Some of the best matchups are out-of-conference: Montana State at Eastern Washington (this doesn’t count toward the Big Sky standings), Montana at Liberty, Northern Iowa at Cal Poly, Western Illinois at Coastal Carolina, Illinois State at Eastern Illinois, Southeast Missouri State at Indiana State and North Dakota at North Dakota State.

The Ivy League kicks off its 60th season of football with out-of-conference matchups Brown hosting Bryant, Yale at Colgate and Harvard at Rhode Island.

There are 17 FBS-FCS matchups, including Idaho State at Boise State Friday night and Saturday matchups with Southeastern Louisiana at Ohio, Northwestern State at Mississippi State, William & Mary at Virginia, Maine at Tulane, Wofford at Idaho and The Citadel at Georgia Southern.