Top-ranked Eagles stay grounded
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
An aura surrounds a team when it's ranked No. 1 in the nation.
People everywhere tend to notice, from your cousin Vinny or Aunt Norma to the football fanatics of the world.
Which makes the work of Georgia Southern football coach Jeff Monken even more impressive this season. The Eagles remain grounded, and not just because they lead the FCS in rushing.
Whenever Monken and his assistant coaches even gain a hint of their players getting ahead of themselves, they just turn on the game film and point to the errors in their play.
Which really makes it scary to think how good Georgia Southern, which is 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the Southern Conference for the first time since 2004, will be when it plays its best game.
"If you shut the doors in this building and walk in this building," Monken said, "the expectations aren't any different this year than they were last year. Now there might be different expectations outside of this building, but we're not really concerned about anybody else's expectations, we're only concerned about our own. We try to get our guys to work and to improve and to strive to be as good as they can be each week and get prepared for each opponent individually and try to win the next game. This game we've got this Saturday is the most important game of the year."
This week's opponent is 24th-ranked Chattanooga (2-3), the FCS' only ranked team with a losing record. Of course, two of the losses were on the road against Nebraska and Appalachian State, so if the talented Mocs don't have Georgia Southern's attention, the fact the Eagles lost last year's game, 35-27, is being reminded to them this week.
This isn't the Georgia Southern team of old, as much as a No. 1 ranking suggests it. The Eagles can't just show up as the program that has won six FCS national championships - most recently in 2000 - and waltz through opponents.
Head coach Jeff Monken restored the triple option to Georgia Southern's offense last year.
The Eagles have the FCS' best record since last November - a winner in 10 of 11 games, plus a ride to last year's national semifinals - but, remember, it wasn't that long ago they were 4-4 in Monken's first season. In fact, that's the record they had at the end of October last year.
So their players are working hard to become better and the competition in practice is fierce. Backup quarterback Jerick McKinnon is as hungry as starter Jaybo Shaw. Ezayi Youyoute and Dominique Swope want touches in the triple option just like leading rushers Robert Brown and J.J. Wilcox.
The Eagles have so much depth that they arguably get better with fresh bodies in the second half while opponents tire. Free safety and defensive leader Derek Heyden was lost for the season with a neck injury, but replacements are rising up. Junior nose tackle Brent Russell and senior safety Laron Scott are the Eagles' best defensive players and the defense has done ridiculously well in defending the run (57 ypg).
But you can forget about the numbers - even the revered No. 1 - because Monken won't tally them up until the end of the season. He is no less fazed that his team ranks first in the FCS in scoring (46.5 ppg) and rushing yards (387 ypg) as he is by the Eagles' SoCon-worst passing defense (271.3 ypg), which is a by-product of trailing teams being forced to pass the ball.
"Stats are overrated. You see that plenty," Monken said. "We've been fortunate to win all the games we've played so far. That's the stat I'm most concerned about as a coach. And I'm sure every coach will tell you the same thing."
The upcoming home schedule shapes up well as Georgia Southern plays four of its next five games in Statesboro. But the remaining road games are against 2010 SoCon co-champions Appalachian State (Oct. 29) and Wofford (Nov. 12) as well as a season-ending dip into the FBS pool against Alabama (Nov. 19).
"They've got game experience," Monken said. "It's difficult to make up for game experience. A guy with game experience is going to feel more confident, he's going to be able to make adjustments better, I think. And I think our team's certainly kind of in that boat right now. They don't panic. They understand the game's 60 minutes long and if things don't go well in the first six minutes, there's no need to panic, just keep playing. I think our coaches do a good job of preparing our guys and giving 'em a good game plan. When you've been to the playoffs, you've experienced a little bit of success, I think with that comes some confidence and a realization that you're capable of winning games when it counts."
TOP 25 MATCH-UPS
You think of November rivalries offering the best weekends of football, but Saturday's action ranks pretty high in the FCS.
There are seven games pitting ranked teams against each other: No. 24 Chattanooga (2-3) at No. 1 Georgia Southern (4-0) in the Southern Conference; No. 4 North Dakota State (4-0) at No. 20 Southern Illinois (2-2) and No. 17 Indiana State (4-1) at No. 2 Northern Iowa (3-1) in the Missouri Valley Football Conference; No. 9 William & Mary (3-2) at No. 13 Delaware (3-2), No. 14 Richmond (3-2) at No. 20 Towson (3-1) and No. 19 Maine (3-1) at No. 7 James Madison (4-1) in CAA Football; and No. 22 Southern Utah (3-2) at No. 18 South Dakota (3-2) in the Great West Conference.
FORD MOTORS TOWARD MILESTONE
Albany coach Bob Ford, the winningest active FCS coach, will go for his 250th career win Saturday at home against Northeast Conference leader Duquesne. The 74-year-old is 249-176-1 all-time, including 2-2 this season and 240-155 overall at Albany (he had nine wins in four seasons at St. Lawrence).
Since arriving at Albany in 1970, Ford has taken the Great Danes from the club level to Division III, Division II and now Division I FCS.
Albany head coach Bob Ford has a 249-176-1 all-time record.
More than 100 of his assistant coaches are working in the professional, college and high school ranks. They include Dave Campo, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive backs coach, and seven Division I head coaches: Dave Clawson (Bowling Green); Pete Lembo (Ball State); Kevin Morris (Massachusetts); Al Bagnoli (Penn); Kevin Callahan (Monmouth); Walt Hameline (Wagner); and Chuck Priore (Stony Brook).
This past offseason, Ford explained his passion for coaching to The Sports Network.
"I think if you're not enthusiastic, get out of this business," he said. "I think people rub off on each other. If you're pessimistic, all you can project is gloom and defeat. That's what you're going to get. I've always felt we're going to win, not that that's the important thing in the world because it isn't. But we're going to strive hard to do a great a job with each of the kids."
BYE WEEK FALLS RIGHT
If a 28-14 loss to Wofford last Saturday wasn't enough for Appalachian State coaches and players to embrace a bye this week, getting extra rest for quarterback DeAndre Presley's injured throwing shoulder made the break fall right.
Presley hasn't had the big season that he did a year ago in finishing third in the Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) voting. As he rests the shoulder - head coach Jerry Moore calls it either a sprain or a bruise - backup Jamal Jackson is leading the first-team offense this week.
Moore said Presley's status will be reassessed on Sunday.
The eighth-ranked Mountaineers (3-2, 1-1 Southern Conference) next play Oct. 8 at The Citadel.
WELCOME TO THE PARTY
The last conference to kick off conference action is the Big South, which has three games Saturday. The conference needs to see some friendly faces, if that's what you can call conference brethren. The seven teams have gone a combined 8-22 in non-conference action.
The three defending champions miss each other this weekend with Coastal Carolina (3-1 for its best start since 2005) hosting VMI (0-4), preseason favorite Liberty (2-3) visiting Gardner-Webb (1-3) and Stony Brook (1-3) hosting Presbyterian (1-3). Charleston Southern (0-5) gets a much-needed weekend off.
Tenth-ranked Lehigh has won 13 straight meetings with Bucknell, but will face a revived Bison squad on the road Saturday in the Patriot League.
Bucknell (4-1, 1-0) might have the defense to match quarterback Chris Lum and the Mountain Hawks' high-flying offense. The Bison, behind a stout defensive front that features seniors Robert De La Rosa and Josh Eden, are second in the FCS in turnover margin (plus-12), third against the rush (66.2 ypg) and eighth in total defense (284 ypg).
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Sam Houston State's FCS-best rushing defense - 51.8 yards per game on 2.1 yards per carry - seemingly won't be tested by Stephen F. Austin when the two Southland Conference rivals meet for the 86th time in the Battle of the Piney Woods at Reliant Stadium in Houston. But it sure would be ironic if the pass- happy Lumberjacks try to establish a run game with Jeremy Barnes to compliment the short passing game of quarterback Brady Attaway.
The way to go might be behind junior right tackle Corey Dickerson, one of the biggest players in the nation at 6-foot-9, 340 pounds. The 2010 All-Southland second-team selection makes his All-America linemate George Bias (6-3, 305) look small.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...
Once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at here.
AROUND THE NATION
CAA Football's eight teams in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 this week are the most in the poll's history ... The biggest CAA game of the week is William & Mary at Delaware, with the loser left to worry about its FCS playoff bid ... Butler (3-2, 1-1) is trying to keep the basketball talk on hold on campus, having ended Dayton's 11-game Pioneer Football League winning streak last Saturday. The 2009 league co-champions, who fell off to 4-7 last season, have a favorable upcoming schedule to try to get into the title race behind coach Jeff Voris. In addition to having third-year quarterback Andrew Huck, the Bulldogs feature the league's rushing and all-purpose yardage leader, sophomore Trae Heeter, receptions leader, senior Zach Watkins, and tackles leader, junior linebacker Jordan Ridley ... Picked last in the Ohio Valley Conference's preseason poll, Austin Peay (2-2) is off to a 2-0 conference start for the first time since 1977. The Governors visit UT Martin on Saturday. "We talk about this all the time, unless we're consistent, we're not going to get any respect," head coach Rick Christophel said. "And that's bottom line. Two-and-oh is really nice, but we've got to go out and play the next one. This is a business where (it's) what have you done for me lately." In the two OVC wins, Governors quarterback Jake Ryan has thrown for five touchdowns, including four to emerging junior wide receiver Devin Stark ... Quarterback Nate Montana, the son of Joe Montana, threw his first TD pass for the Montana Grizzlies in a 55-28 ease past Northern Colorado last Saturday. He's not the new starter, though. Jordan Johnson was slowed by injury. The Grizzlies also have Gerald Kemp in a deep position ... Saturday's big game in the Big Sky features fourth-ranked Montana State at Portland State. Both sit atop the standings with 2-0 conference marks ... Northern Iowa struggled in the red zone last season, converting only 38 percent of its trips into touchdowns and 67 percent into points. This season, the second-ranked Panthers are the only perfect team in the FCS, going 15-for-15 with 12 touchdowns and three field goals ... It's almost too hard to believe, but Missouri State's defense has yet to commit a penalty despite the Bears being 0-5 ... Three of the FCS' top four rushing teams are Southern Conference members Georgia Southern, Wofford and The Citadel, but Furman junior Jerodis Williams leads the conference in rushing yards per game (133.5). He ranks fifth in the nation ... Four of the top five defensive backs in the FCS in passes defended are from HBCUs. Howard's Lanny Kelly leads the way with 2.2 per game, or 11 overall in five games. Tied for second at 2.0 per game are Alabama State's Saeed Lee, Jackson State's Qua Cox and Southern's Virgil Williams. Also at 2.0 is Holy Cross' Chandler Fenner ... In the first three weeks of Ivy League action, Brown quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero and Yale's Patrick Witt have each won the offensive player of the week award once and shared it once with the other senior ... Dartmouth senior Nick Schwieger needs 13 yards against Yale to become the Big Green's all-time leading rusher. Al Rosier holds the record with 2,252 yards ... In the soon-to-be-disbanded Great West Conference, it's odd to see North Dakota, South Dakota and Southern Utah at 3-2 each and traditional powers Cal Poly and UC Davis at 1-3 each ... After suffering its first two losses as a program against FBS competition, South Alabama's third-year program jumps back into FCS action at first-year program UTSA. South Alabama is 4-0 all-time against FCS competition ...Having not added an 11th game this season, Alcorn State is on a two-week bye. The Braves (1-4) suffered their fourth close SWAC loss last Saturday to Alabama State and don't play again until hosting an Oct. 22 Homecoming Game against U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association member Concordia College (Ala.).
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 37-21 (.638)
Season Record: 276-80 (.775)
All Times EST
Saturday, Oct. 8
Dartmouth (1-2, 0-1 Ivy) at X-Yale (2-1, 1-0), noon
Villanova (1-4, 0-2 CAA) at X-No. 6 New Hampshire (3-1, 1-0), noon
X-Murray State (2-3) at Georgia State (1-3), noon
X-Butler (3-2, 1-1 PFL) at Campbell (1-3, 0-2), noon
X-Harvard (2-1, 1-0 Ivy) at Cornell (2-1, 0-1), 12:30 p.m.
Holy Cross (2-2) at X-Brown (2-1), 12:30 p.m.
Sacred Heart (2-2) at X-Columbia (0-3), 12:30 p.m.
X-No. 10 Lehigh (4-1, 0-0 Patriot) at Bucknell (4-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
X-No. 5 Wofford (3-1, 2-0 SoCon) at The Citadel (2-2, 1-2), 1 p.m.
Dayton (3-2, 1-1 PFL) at X-Jacksonville (3-2, 2-0), 1 p.m.
X-Duquesne (4-1, 2-0 NEC) at Albany (2-2, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Stonehill (1-4) at X-Bryant (3-2), 1 p.m.
Savannah State (1-4, 1-1 MEAC) at X-Morgan State (2-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.
X-No. 21 Old Dominion (4-1, 1-1 CAA) at Rhode Island (1-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.
X-Drake (4-1, 2-0 PFL) at Morehead State (2-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.
X-Georgetown (3-2) at Wagner (1-4), 1 p.m.
X-Colgate (2-3) at Monmouth (2-2), 1 p.m.
Princeton (1-2) at X-Hampton (2-2), 1 p.m.
Marist (1-4, 0-2 PFL) at X-Davidson (2-2, 0-1), 1 p.m.
X-Norfolk State (4-1, 2-0 MEAC) at Delaware State (2-3, 0-2), 1 p.m.
Samford (2-2, 0-2 SoCon) at X-Furman (3-1, 2-0), 1:30 p.m.
X-Bethune-Cookman (2-2, 1-1 MEAC) at North Carolina A&T (2-2, 1-0), 1:30 p.m.
North Carolina Central (1-3, 0-1 MEAC) at X-South Carolina State (2-3, 2-1), 1:30 p.m.
Montana-Western (1-4) at X-North Dakota (3-2), 2 p.m.
X-San Diego (4-1, 2-0 PFL) at Valparaiso (0-4, 0-1), 2 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (0-5, 0-4 SWAC) at X-Alabama A&M (3-2, 2-1), 2 p.m.
X-Alabama State (4-1, 4-0 SWAC) at Texas Southern (2-2, 1-2), 2 p.m.
Eastern Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (1-4, 0-3), 2:30 p.m.
Austin Peay (2-2, 2-0 OVC) at X-UT Martin (2-2, 1-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 4 North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0 MVFC) at No. 22 Southern Illinois (2-2, 1-1), 3 p.m.
X-Central Arkansas (2-3, 1-1 Southland) at Nicholls State (1-4, 0-2), 3 p.m.
X-Elon (3-2, 1-1 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-3, 0-2), 3 p.m.
Illinois State (2-3, 1-2 MVFC) at X-Missouri State (0-5, 0-2), 3 p.m.
No. 24 Chattanooga (2-3, 0-2 SoCon) at X-No. 1 Georgia Southern (4-0, 3-0), 3 p.m.
X-No. 11 Sam Houston State (4-0, 1-0 Southland) at Stephen F. Austin (1-4, 0-2) at Reliant Staddium in Houston, 3:05 p.m.
X-No. 19 Maine (3-1, 1-0 CAA) at No. 7 James Madison (4-1, 2-0), 3:30 p.m.
X-Sacramento State (2-3, 1-2 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (0-5, 0-3), 3:35 p.m.
South Dakota State (1-4, 0-2 MVFC) at X-Youngstown State (2-2, 1-1), 4 p.m.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-2, 2-1 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (4-1, 2-1), 4 p.m.
X-No. 3 Montana State (4-1, 2-0 SWAC) at Portland State (3-1, 2-0), 4:05 p.m.
No. 17 Indiana State (4-1, 2-0 MVFC) at X-No. 2 Northern Iowa (3-1, 2-0), 5 p.m.
No. 22 Southern Utah (3-2, 0-1 Great West) at X-No. 18 South Dakota (3-2, 0-0), 5 p.m.
X-South Alabama (2-2) at UTSA (2-3), 5:30 p.m.
X-No. 16 Montana (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at Idaho State (2-3, 1-2), 6 p.m.
X-No. 9 William & Mary (3-2, 1-1 CAA) at No. 13 Delaware (3-2, 1-1), 6 p.m.
Howard (2-3, 1-2 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (3-2, 1-1), 3 p.m.
X-Liberty (2-3, 0-0 Big South) at Gardner-Webb (1-3, 0-0), 6 p.m.
Fordham (1-3) at X-Penn (1-2), 6 p.m.
Presbyterian (1-3, 0-0 Big South) at X-Stony Brook (1-3, 0-0), 6 p.m.
Central Connecticut State (2-3) at X-Massachusetts (2-2), 6 p.m.
X-Eastern Washington (1-4, 1-2 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (2-2, 1-1), 6:05 p.m.
VMI (0-4, 0-0 Big South) at X-Coastal Carolina (3-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
St. Francis, Pa. (1-4, 0-3 NEC) at X-Robert Morris (1-3, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Prairie View A&M (3-2, 3-1 SWAC) at X-Southern (2-3, 2-1), 7 p.m.
X-Southeast Missouri State (1-3, 1-1 OVC) at Tennessee State (1-4, 0-2), 7 p.m.
X-Northwestern State (2-3, 1-1 Southland) at Lamar (3-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Central Oklahoma (1-4) at X-Cal Poly (1-3), 7:05 p.m.
No. 14 Richmond (3-2, 0-2 CAA) at X-No. 25 Towson (3-1, 1-0), 7:30 p.m.
Texas State (3-2) at X-No. 15 McNeese State (3-1), 8 p.m.
Humboldt State (4-0) at X-UC Davis (1-3), 9 p.m.