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Sharks are in the water

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Maybe you saw the shark in the pool on "CSI:" the other night.

Nothing a couple extra pounds of chlorine might solve.

Or a 3-3-5 defense.

If a team is still sitting outside The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, it probably will not be making a deep run into the playoffs later this fall. In fact, it would struggle just to make the 20-team field, which consists of 10 automatic bids to conference champions and 10 at-large bids.

But that doesn't mean some teams outside the rankings won't make an impact on the playoffs. Whether they get in or not.

In the major FCS conferences, there are some sharks lurking in the water - teams that just might upset a top team or two before the regular wraps up on Nov. 20. Some appear ready to leap into the Top 25 this week and eventually could make the playoffs.

There were some prime examples on display Saturday. In the Big Sky, the mini-Jaws we're talking about is Northern Arizona. In CAA Football, watch out for Maine. In the Missouri Valley Football Conference, take your pick between Western Illinois and Missouri State. Over in the Southern Conference, there's Wofford and Chattanooga, the latter of whom had a bye this weekend.

The Big Sky has been quite crazy this season, so Northern Arizona (3-1, 1-0) is lucky to have a rock at quarterback in fifth-year senior Michael Herrick as well as a gem in freshman running back Zach Bauman, who has rushed for over 100 yards three times. What can't be overlooked, however, is the Lumberjacks' defense, led by safety Matt Estrada, which held off Southern Utah, 26-23 on Saturday.

And here come the big boys. Northern Arizona's next three games are at Eastern Washington, versus Montana State in Flagstaff and at Montana. All three of those teams are nationally ranked.

Northern Arizona has a rock at quarterback in fifth-year senior Michael Herrick. .
If Maine (2-3, 1-1) hadn't blown a fourth-quarter lead against William & Mary last weekend, it would be tied for first place in CAA Football. Still, coach Jack Cosgrove has a team that is particularly tough at home in Oreno. New Hampshire found out the hard way on Saturday in a 16-13 overtime upset.

Western Illinois (4-1, 2-0) has had one of the magical seasons in all of the FCS considering the MVFC club finished 1-10 last season and is led by Mark Hendrickson, who went from acting head coach at times the last two seasons to the first-time job this season.

The Fighting Leathernecks have been an offensive juggernaut against FCS competition, and their lone loss was only by 10 points at Purdue. They beat No. 13 North Dakota State, 28-16, on Saturday.

As terrific as WIU has been this season, Missouri State (2-2, 1-1) might turn out to be the better team in the MVFC. The Bears have impressive wins over Eastern Kentucky and Youngstown State, which started out with them trailing 17-0 and ended as a 35-25 triumph on Saturday. Quarterback Cody Kirby has rushed or thrown for a combined 11 touchdowns in four games.

Wofford (3-1, 1-0) ran all over Southern Conference rival Furman on Saturday, going for 400 yards. Eric Breitenstein rushed for 230 of them as well as four touchdowns in a 38-17 win. It raised the Terriers' season average to 322.2 rushing yards per game.

If you ask national power Appalachian State about its toughest opponent this season, the answer is Chattanooga (2-2, 1-1). Led by junior quarterback B.J. Coleman, the Mocs came up just short of App State, 42-41, on opening weekend. They then fell just short of Jacksonville State, 21-17, which gives them two losses by a combined five points to two Top 5 teams.

They have since rebounded for two wins, with a trip to The Citadel set for next weekend.

Hey, don't get too close to the water. Beware the sharks.

FOUR UNBEATENS REMAIN

Without playing on Saturday, Appalachian State (4-0) figures to move from No. 2 to No. 1 as the result of top-ranked Villanova's 31-24 loss at William & Mary on Saturday.

Delaware (5-0) might make a run at the top spot considering it has beaten Richmond and James Madison to open its CAA Football season. No. 3 Jacksonville State is 5-0 and incredibly the Ohio Valley Conference squad hasn't won by more than seven points. The Gamecocks' five wins are by a combined 23, with one game going to double overtime and another to overtime

The fourth and final remaining unbeaten team in the FCS is Bethune-Cookman, which is 4-0 for the first time since 2003 and 2-0 in the MEAC for the first time since 2006. The Wildcats have rung up 70 and 69 points in separate games, giving them a 50.5-point average under first-year coach Brian Jenkins.

"We're not into stats or records," Jenkins said. "We're just focused on running our offense and playing Wildcat football."

Quarterback Matt Johnson has been one of the most improved players in the FCS. He has rushed for 352 yards and four touchdowns on only 48 carries, while completing 53 of 77 passes for 812 yards and eight touchdowns and only one interception.

If Bethune-Cookman can get past Delaware State at its homecoming next Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla., the Wildcats will get a shot at MEAC kingpin South Carolina State on Oct. 16 in Orangeburg. South Carolina State has won its last 20 conference games, including 12 straight by double digits.

JUST YOUR AVERAGE 64-61 WIN

High-scoring games are the norm in the Big Sky. But No. 10 Montana State's 64-61 win at Sacramento State on Saturday ranked up there with the wacky (that's wacky, not WAC; as you probably know, the Western Athletic Conference just may raid the Big Sky of its top program, Montana).

Montana State scored 24 points in the second quarter and built a 37-10 halftime lead, only to have Sac State score a school-record 35 points in the third quarter to pull ahead 45-44. Quarterback Jeff Fleming threw for 207 yards and three touchdowns in the quarter.

The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, with the visiting Bobcats forcing overtime on Denarius McGhee's 8-yard touchdown pass to Julius Lloyd with 1:17 left.

Jason Cunningham gave Montana State a 64-61 lead with a 25-yard field goal in OT. Sac State's Chris Diniz had been 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts this season, but missed a 43-yard attempt which would have tied the game again.

Both teams combined for 1,270 total yards, with the Bobcats gaining 646 yards compared to Sac State's 624 yards.

Individually for Montana State, McGhee was 26 of 43 passing for 385 yards and four touchdowns, including 177 yards and three touchdowns on eight completions to Lloyd. C.J. Palmer rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 carries, while Orenzo Davis rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

Individually for Sac State, Fleming was 20 of 36 for 348 yards and five passing touchdowns, while also rushing for one touchdown. Bryan Hilliard rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Chase Deadder caught six passes for 145 yards and one touchdown, while freshman Morris Norrise turned all three of his catches into touchdowns, totaling 76 yards.

"That was an unbelievable game," Sacramento State head coach Marshall Sperbeck said. "It was just two teams punching it out until the end."

THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER

CAA Football teams are a gaudy 17-3 (.850) against non-conference FCS opponents this season - The biggest crowd at Rhode Island in 10 years - 7,622 - watched the host Rams slip past state rival Brown, 27-24, in overtime on Saturday in the 29th Governor's Bowl. Quarterback Steve Probst's third rushing touchdown of the game was the difference...Defending FCS champion Villanova is anticipating senior All-America Matt Szczur will return from a high left ankle sprain to face Maine on Oct. 16. The Wildcats have a bye next weekend...Talk about a great punting performance, Old Dominion All-America Jonathan Plisco kicked five of his eight punts inside the Gardner-Webb 20-yard line and averaged 47.2 yards in the Monarchs' 14-7 victory...Three running backs who have been soaring the FCS rushing charts recently: Grambling State junior Frank Warren, Colgate junior Nate Eachus and Tennessee State senior Preston Brown...A year after Columbia throttled Princeton, 38-0, Sean Brackett matched a school record with five touchdown passes in the Lions' 42-14 win over the Tigers. It was the most points the Lions have scored against their fellow Ivy League school...Baby steps: Indiana State's two wins this season are against Division II schools St. Joseph's (Ind.) and Quincy, but the 2-2 start has equaled the number of wins the Sycamores had in their previous 62 games heading into the season. Quarterback Ronnie Fouch (15 of 17 for 231 yards and four touchdowns) and running back Darrius Gates (17 carries for 139 and three touchdowns) fueled Saturday's 56-22 win over Quincy...Another struggling program, Valparaiso, will try to end an FCS-high 14-game losing streak on Saturday against Marist...The injury that kept All-America running back Taiwan Jones out of Saturday's win at Weber State has now been labeled as a pelvic contusion by the Big Sky school...Cal Poly (3-2) is 1-2 in its incredibly tough five-game road swing. On Saturday, it fell at FBS program Fresno State 38-17.

SNEAK PEEK

Conference play is well underway in most conferences. There are plenty of important conference games to highlight next Saturday's schedule, including Appalachian State (4-0, 2-0) trying to slow All-America quarterback Scott Riddle of Elon (2-3, 1-1) in the Southern Conference.

Riddle is coming off 416 passing yards against Samford, but Elon has struggled against App State and has to go to Boone, N.C., for this showdown.

Also, Stephen F. Austin (3-1, 0-0) will open Southland Conference at McNeese State (2-2, 1-0). Those two teams shared last year's title.

Other key games include Jacksonville State (5-0, 2-0) at UT Martin (2-3, 2-1) and Tennessee State (3-2, 0-1) at Southeast Missouri State (4-1, 3-0) in the Ohio Valley Conference, Northern Arizona (3-1, 1-0) at Eastern Washington (3-2, 2-1) in the Big Sky, Northern Iowa (2-2, 2-0) at Southern Illinois (2-3, 1-1) in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Wofford (3-1, 1-0) at Georgia Southern (3-1, 1-0) in the Southern Conference, and Drake (3-2, 2-0) at Jacksonville (4-1, 2-0) in the Pioneer Football League.

And welcome home, Albany. The Great Danes (2-2, 0-1) will play at University Field for the first time this season, hosting St. Francis, Pa. (1-3, 1-1) in the Northeast Conference.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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