Sam Houston State in limelight now
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The three unbeaten teams in the Football Championship Subdivision got a head start on this season's success a year ago.
Sam Houston State just did it differently from the other two teams.
Georgia Southern and North Dakota State both enjoyed impressive playoff runs. Georgia Southern won three times on the road in marching to the national semifinals, while North Dakota State won two games, including a surprising rout at Montana State, before it took eventual FCS champion Eastern Washington to overtime in the quarterfinals.
Sam Houston State's finish wasn't as noticeable. The Bearkats used close wins against Central Arkansas and Texas State to gain their first winning season - both overall (6-5) and in the Southland Conference (4-3) - since 2007.
Southland Conference rushing leader Tim Flanders has Sam Houston State off to a 6-0 start.
There's been no letup in head coach Willie Fritz's second season. Like top- ranked Georgia Southern and fourth-ranked North Dakota State, Sam Houston State is off to a 6-0 start, which has pushed the 10th-ranked squad's winning streak to an FCS-best eight.
Only two other teams in school history have opened a season with as many wins, the perfect team of 1956 (10-0) and the 1964 squad which won its first eight games.
"We felt like we had a lot of guys coming back," Fritz said last week. "They've done some very good things. I'm very excited about the progress of our offense, of our defense, even in our kicking game. Obviously, we're happy where we're at right now, but we've still got a ton of work to do and we're a long ways from accomplishing any goals that we've set this year."
Sam Houston State was picked fourth in the preseason poll in what was considered a wide-open Southland race, but the Bearkats are the only unbeaten left at 3-0. They have a chance to take full control of the race with a win at McNeese State next weekend.
The Bearkats own one of the six FCS wins over FBS schools this season - a 48-45 overtime triumph at New Mexico on Sept. 24 - and appear destined for their first playoff bid since the 2004 squad advanced to the national semifinals.
Running back Tim Flanders and wide receiver Richard Sincere, who often operates out of the "Wild Bearkat" formation, have been outstanding offensively.
But the defense fueled the win over Nicholls, forcing five turnovers while surrendering only six first downs and 181 yards. Defensive end Ed DeCambre had a sack, interception and fumble recovery, while cornerback Robert Shaw scored the game's first touchdown on a 61-yard interception return.
While the three teams remained unbeaten in the FCS, the list of winless teams fell to six. It had to go down because VMI (1-5) beat Charleston Southern (0-6), 21-17, in a meeting of winless Big South teams.
In addition to Charleston Southern, the teams still looking for their first wins are Northern Colorado (0-7) of the Big Sky Conference, Columbia (0-5) of the Ivy League, Missouri State (0-7) of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Valparaiso (0-6) of the Pioneer Football League and Mississippi Valley State (0-7) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
WILLIAM & MARY STATEMENT?
Injury-riddled William & Mary seemingly needs to end the regular season with a five-game winning streak to make the FCS playoffs. The Tribe (4-3) took the first step with an impressive 24-10 win over sixth-ranked New Hampshire (4-2) in CAA Football action Saturday.
Seniors Jonathan Grimes and Marcus Hyde put the team on their backs. Grimes, a running back, gained 169 yards on 28 carries, became the school's all-time leading rusher (3,768 yards) and caught three passes for 126 yards, including two touchdowns. Hyde, a defensive end, had a school-record five sacks of UNH quarterback Kevin Decker and forced him into a lost fumble.
One of William & Mary's wins is against Division II New Haven, so it can't lose again if it is going to reach seven wins against Division I competition - usually a standard for playoffs teams which don't win their conference's automatic bid. Of course, if the Tribe don't lose again, they will be in the mix for the auto bid anyway.
Meanwhile, Delaware's 21-10 loss at home to Massachusetts has left it in the same predicament as William & Mary (the two teams shared the CAA title last year). The Blue Hens are 4-3, but one of their wins was against Division II West Chester.
With top-ranked Georgia Southern, you think triple option first and the stout defense second. But not far behind is Adrian Mora.
The senior place-kicker is a staple week after week. In the Eagles' 50-20 win over Furman, he set the FCS consecutive extra point record with the 127th of his career in the third quarter.
"Special teams are vitality important to our success. I was so proud of Adrian," head coach Jeff Monken said. "To be able to say that you are the best at what you do, though he would never say that ... But we can recognize him for what he does. It is a team accomplishment not just for this team, but for the 2010, 2009 and 2008 teams."
The dreaded two byes might wind up being the unraveling of Tennessee Tech, which fell to Tennessee State on Saturday. Coming off a bye, the Golden Eagles (4-2, 3-1) had their four-game winning streak snapped.
Tennessee Tech and Alcorn State from the SWAC are the only two non-Ivy League teams to be playing only 10 teams. Now the Golden Eagles have to sit again next weekend and try to regroup for a road game against Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite Jacksonville State Oct. 29.
Coupled with Tennessee Tech's loss, Jacksonville State (5-1, 4-0) grabbed sole possession of first place by beating Austin Peay, 44-14. Georgia transfer Washaun Ealey rushed for 124 yards and one touchdown - his third straight game over 100 yards.
PLAYOFFS ... PLAYOFFS?
The grind of playing in the two best FCS conferences could affect the playoff bid for two of this year's upstart teams.
Nationally ranked Towson (5-1, 3-0), which was picked last in CAA Football, has a brutral stretch run of at William & Mary, against Delaware, at Maine, against New Hampshire and at Rhode Island.
In the Southern Conference, Samford (4-2, 2-2) was picked seventh, and its only two losses are to Top 5 Georgia Southern and Wofford. Its remaining games include at Appalachian State, The Citadel and 2010 FBS champion Auburn as well as a home game against Chattanooga.
AROUND THE NATION
Jacksonville senior quarterback Josh McGregor surpassed 10,000 career passing yards while throwing for five touchdowns in the Dolphins' 50-14 win over Morehead State. He passed for 346 yards to give him 10,050 in his career. "I have been surrounded by very good receivers and a very good offensive line since I've been here," McGregor said ... Jacksonville (5-2, 4-0) is tied for the Pioneer Football League lead with San Diego (6-1, 4-0), which beat Drake, 31-24 ... Got defense? Dayton does. In a 28-0 shutout of Davidson, the Flyers held the Wildcats to minus-17 rushing yards, had nine sacks, seven quarterback hurries, recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass ... Junior linebacker Jordan Ridley totaled 20 tackles in Butler's 42-14 win over Valparaiso, whose losing streak hit an FCS-high 26 games ... Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jamal Jackson celebrated his first career start at Appalachian State by completing his first 15 passes in the Mountaineers' 49-42 win over The Citadel. He finished 21 of 27 for 234 yards and three touchdowns while regular starter DeAndre Presley (bruised right throwing shoulder) was rested ... North Dakota State's Brock Jensen completed his first 15 passes to set a Bison single-game consecutive completions record as they beat Missouri State, 51-21 ... Albany (4-2, 3-0) gained sole possession of first place in the Northeast Conference by defeating Robert Morris, 28-17. Quarterback Dan DiLella threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns ... Sacred Heart set a program record with 588 yards in winning a 60-45 shootout over St. Francis (Pa.). Keshaudas Spence (four touchdowns) and Greg Moore became the first Pioneers running back tandem to both exceed 100 rushing yards in a game ... After impressing as a freshman last season, quarterback Kurt Hess has taken the next step for Youngstown State this season. He's thrown 13 interceptions with only four interceptions for a 3-3 team which has tied last year's win total ... Defensive end Ben Obasecki was in on 22 tackles, with three sacks and five tackles for loss, in Indiana State's 46-24 win over Western Illinois ... With a 33-30 win over UT Martin, third-year program South Alabama improved to 7-0 all-time against FCS competition. In fact, coach Joey Jones' Jaguars are 21-2 all-time, with only losses to FBS opponents ... Towson wide receiver Tom Ryan's game-winning touchdown that beat Old Dominion, 39-35, was right out of a movie. On 4th- and-29 from the Towson 37, Ryan caught a Grant Enders pass in traffic at the ODU 30, broke a tackle, followed two blocks and carried two defensive players into the end zone for the winning touchdown with 1:07 left. Towson remained tied for the CAA lead with Maine, both 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference ... Penn (3-2, 2-0) survived a scare at Columbia, 27-20, for its 17th straight Ivy League win ... Brown's 34-0 roll past Princeton was its first shutout since 1990 ... Five of Colton Copple's 13 completions went for touchdowns in Harvard's 42-3 win over Bucknell ... Dartmouth had no answer for Holy Cross quarterback Ryan Taggart, who rushed for 176 yards and threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, in the Crusaders' 25-17 win ... Liberty scored on its first seven possessions in ripping Coastal Carolina, 63-27, to take sole possession of first place in the Big South ... Shaydon Kehano caught 56- and 83-yard touchdown passes to fuel Weber State's 39-12 rout of Idaho State ... Redshirt freshman running back Jordan Canada (159 yards, one touchdown) had the breakout second half that Montana coach Robin Pflugrad was looking for in a 30-24 win over Portland State. "At halftime (when Canada had minus-one yard), I mentioned, and I don't think he heard me, but I whispered, 'I told the press you were going to have a breakout game. I'm not looking very good right now.'" Good thing Canada wasn't listening ... In Portland State's loss, standout running back Cory McCaffrey suffered a left leg injury in the fourth quarter ... Junior running back Al-Terek McBurse broke loose for 218 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in Florida A&M's 47-7 win over Savannah State ... Cal Poly kept defending champion Southern Utah winless in the Great West, 31-27. Junior quarterback Andre Broadous scored on a four-yard run with 45 seconds to play and senior fullback Jake Romanelli went over 100 rushing yards (101) for the fourth straight game with two touchdowns.
A LOOK AHEAD
The MEAC will have another Thursday night spotlight when Bethune-Cookman goes to conference-leading Norfolk State.
Saturday's top conference games include: Big Sky - Montana at Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington at Sacramento State; CAA Football - Maine at Richmond, Towson at William & Mary and New Hampshire at Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.; Great West Conference - Cal Poly at North Dakota; Ivy League - Yale at Penn; Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference - Florida A&M at South Carolina State; Missouri Valley Conference - Southern Illinois at Northern Iowa, North Dakota State at South Dakota State and Indiana State at Illinois State; Northeast Conference - Albany at Central Connecticut State; Pioneer Football League - San Diego at Campbell; Southern Conference - Wofford at Furman and Samford at Appalachian State; and Southland Conference - Sam Houston State at McNeese State.
Southern Utah will visit Weber State in non-conference action.
Also, Jacksonville State will try to make its two straight wins over the Southeastern Conference. The Gamecocks visit Kentucky over a year after beating Ole Miss.