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Changes won't collapse FCS

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Boone, NC (Sports Network) - The atmosphere, play and lively crowd of 31,531 at Appalachian State on Saturday made it easy to envision the Mountaineers' dominant Football Championship Subdivision program making the move up in classification to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

A similar scene played out at the University of Montana, where 25,568 were on hand for the Grizzlies' win over Idaho State.

A summer of expansion and realignment among college football conferences - additions and subtractions, if you will - have been somewhat on the backburner since games got underway early last month. But the issue remains an overwhelming part of the sport - intriguing, but exasperating and intimidating as well for the schools.

The Big Ten, Pac-10 and Mountain West have enjoyed the spotlight with their changes. Now a lot of the focus has shifted down to the FCS with a handful of the premier programs still deciding if they want to move up to the FBS.

Being a big fish in the smaller FCS pond has been terrific for App State and Montana as well as schools like Villanova (which has a standing offer to join the Big East), Delaware, Georgia Southern, James Madison and North Dakota State. The question is, is it possible for them, and perhaps others, to get beyond the initial stage of a being the small fish in the bigger FBS pond?

The jackpot of television dollars could make it all pay off, but it seems unlikely any school would replicate what Boise State has done to become a national power since it left the Big Sky Conference in 1996 for the Big West Conference, then the Western Athletic Conference and, by next season, the Mountain West Conference.

It's a strange, nerve-wracking period for university decision makers. Those schools considering such a move don't want to miss out on a good situation and be left holding the bag while others in the mix find a good situation.

Even stranger is that start-up programs like South Alabama and Texas-San Antonio (which won't play until next year) have announced plans to move into the FBS ahead of the more successful programs across the FCS.

"I've got mixed feelings about it," said Appalachian State veteran coach Jerry Moore, whose program won three straight FCS titles from 2005-07 and owns the No. 1 national ranking. His university is undergoing a feasibility study regarding a move up the FCS, which it decided against doing in 1998. The Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA could be suitors this time.

"Right now, I'm very, very satisfied with what we're doing. That doesn't mean that we don't want to, but I think it's also are you ready to do that?

"We've had a lot of nice things happen here in the last few years. That's part of it, that's just part of the deal that goes with it. Now whether it becomes a reality or not, who knows? That's just part of the thing about being where we are right now."

All the pieces have to be in place for a school to rise in division. Most would have to spend at least several million dollars to increase their number of scholarships (from 63 to 85) and coaches, upgrade facilities, add women's scholarships or even a sport because of Title IX obligations, achieve academic compliance and meet other minimum standards for joining the FBS.

Each decision could follow others quickly, as they have done in the FBS.

Some school, if not multiple schools, from the list of potential candidates will make this move. But others will decide against it, too.

And, you know what, the FCS will go on.

Talk nationally about the FCS playoff system collapsing because it is not a big money-maker and that too many top programs will be moving up to the FBS is absurd. The NCAA would not let this happen, plain and simple. Few sports are revenue producers, and other programs would seize opportunities to replace those moving on in the FCS pecking order.

Check out some of the struggling programs in the FBS - record-wide, attendance-wise and the like. It's not always greener for some of the FCS programs to make the big leap. Few would pull this off with great success.

The dominoes will fall. The FCS won't.

TOP 10 VICTORIES

For one weekend at least, there was some form within the Top 10 of The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25. That hasn't been the case all season.

All eight teams in the Top 10 that played won their game. No. 6 Villanova and No. 8 Massachusetts had byes in their schedules.

The key game occurred in Lake Charles, La., where No. 5 Stephen F. Austin was on the road for a 32-27 win over McNeese State in Southland Conference play. The two rivals had shared the conference title last year.

Jeremy Moses completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cordell Roberson with 55 seconds left to erase SFA's 27-26 deficit. Moses threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns as the Lumberjacks (4-1) won their Southland opener.

IT'S FOOTBALL, RIGHT? NOT BASKETBALL

Murray State is getting the hang of the Hatch Attack spread offense under first-year coach Chris Hatcher. The Racers followed up 52- and 34-point efforts against UT Martin and Jacksonville State, respectively, with a stunning, 72-59 victory over Missouri State on Saturday.

Indeed, the Homecoming crowd got its money's worth as Murray State (2-4) totaled a school-record 816 yards of offense. Sophomore quarterback Casey Brockman completed 32-of-41 passes and set school marks by passing for 570 yards and seven touchdowns.

Marcus Harris was on the receiving end of five touchdowns. Overall, he caught nine passes for 213 yards.

Somehow the Racers found time to churn out 246 rushing yards. Mike Harris, who's not related to Marcus, had 212 of them as well as two touchdowns.

WELCOME BACK

To Albany, which played at home for the first time on Saturday, and beat St. Francis (Pa.), 48-0, in the Northeast Conference. The Great Danes (3-2, 1-1) now go back to the road to face first-place Robert Morris. In fact, they play three of their next four on the road.

To Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin, who returned from a controversial concussion against James Madison to throw for 283 yards and a touchdown in a 26-7 win over Maine - the Blue Hens' sixth straight to open the season.

To Eastern Washington tailback/returner Taiwan Jones, who played again, though not effectively, in a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona. The All-America had missed a game and a half with a pelvic contusion.

To Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein, to the end zone. His rushed for a pair of touchdowns in a 33-31 win at Georgia Southern to raise his FCS-leading total to 11.

To Indiana State, to some respectability, with a 3-2 start that is its best since 2004. The Sycamores' first two wins this season were against Division II competition, but on Saturday they rolled past Illinois State, 59-24, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Coach Trent Miles' program had lost 60 of 62 games heading into the season.

To Southern Illinois, whose much-discussed demise has been turned around in two weeks with wins over Illinois State and Northern Iowa. The Salukis are tied for first place in the tightly bunched MVFC with Western Illinois and Northern Iowa.

THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER

Al Bagnoli became Penn's winningest coach as the Quakers stopped Bucknell, 31-10, for his 125th victory on Saturday. Bagnoli, who also led Union's program, is 211-76 overall...Chase Reynolds took sole possession of Montana's all-time touchdown record with his 54th in a 47-28 win over Idaho State. He had been tied with Lex Hilliard...It was a rough day for Richmond quarterbacks against New Hampshire. Starter Aaron Corp (knee) joined backup John Laub (wrist) on the injured list and Nick Hicks came in and threw five of the Spiders' six interceptions in New Hampshire's first shutout since 2005, a 17-0 blanking in CAA Football. John Greer returned one of his two interceptions for a 40-yard touchdown...All-America wide receiver Tysson Poots broke out with 13 receptions, 210 yards and a touchdown in Southern Utah's 31-21 win at North Dakota in the Great West. With Fesi Sitake adding 12 receptions, 107 yards and a touchdown, BYU transfer Brad Sorensen finished 35 of 46 for a career-high 413 yards and two touchdowns...Junior linebacker Will Henry had four of Sam Houston State's school-record 12 sacks in a 26-7 victory over Nicholls. The Bearkats defense surrendered only 97 yards while collecting three turnovers. Also in the Southland Conference, Northwestern State picked up its first conference victory in two seasons under coach Bradley Dale Peveto by winning at Central Arkansas, 24-19.

SNEAK PEEK

Next Saturday's action represents why games aren't played on paper. Perhaps the biggest one did not appear to be special before the season.

Bethune-Cookman (5-0, 3-0) will visit South Carolina State (4-1, 2-0) with MEAC title implications on the line. The visiting Wildcats are off to their best start since 2002 with the highest-scoring offense in the FCS (49.5 ppg). All South Carolina State has done is win 21 straight conference games, including their last 13 by double digits.

Other key matchups include Dayton (5-1, 3-0) at Butler (3-3, 1-2) in the Pioneer Football League, New Hampshire (3-3, 1-2) at James Madison (4-1, 1-1) in CAA Football, Central Arkansas (3-2, 0-1) at Stephen F. Austin (4-1, 1-0) in the Southland Conference, Cal Poly (4-2, 0-0) at Southern Utah (2-4, 1-0) in the Great West Conference and Montana State (5-1, 3-0) at Northern Arizona (3-2, 1-1) in the Big Sky Conference.

South Alabama's first-year program, which is 5-0, will visit Lamar, which is 3-3 as it plays for the first time since 1989. Also, McNeese State (2-3), one of Lamar's future opponents in the Southland Conference, will step up in class to take on LSU in Baton Rouge.

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


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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