It's tough to navigate the roadblocks
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When new head coach Danny Rocco set out to turn around the fortunes of the Liberty football program in 2006, he made winning games on the road a priority.
At that point of the decade, the Flames were a mere 4-30 in road games. And the numbers got worse when he looked back to the 1990s.
"That's staggering to sit there and look at those numbers," Rocco says.
During Rocco's five seasons, Liberty has navigated enough roadblocks to be 14-11 away from Lynchburg, Va. Coupled with their dominance at home, the Flames have a chance to win a fourth straight Big South Conference championship over the final two Saturdays of the regular season.
Liberty and Stony Brook are tied for the Big South lead at 4-0, one game ahead of Coastal Carolina. The Flames will leave the friendly home of Williams Stadium, to go two states away to Conway, S.C., to face Coastal on Saturday.
They hope to skip the perils of the road that trouble even the best of teams.
When the FCS' top three teams lost last Saturday - Appalachian State, Jacksonville State and defending FCS champion Villanova - each was playing a conference game on the road, which is an especially dangerous scenario in November.
Injuries are mounting, defenses are wearing out, the weather can turn for the worst, teams with losing records can make their seasons with an upset ... oh, there are so many factors ready to pounce on a road team.
Nine teams have lost this season when they were ranked No. 1, 2 or 3, and all but one of them was playing on the road (then-No. 3 James Madison fell at home to then-No. 5 Delaware, 13-10, on Oct. 2 - hardly an upset).
Appalachian State, Jacksonville State and Villanova - who all lost to teams with a .500 or below record last weekend - will be back at home Saturday for three of the biggest FCS games this week.
Now their opposition face the extra burden of being on the road.
No. 4 Wofford, the Southern Conference leader, visits No. 3 App State. No. 7 Southeast Missouri State, the Ohio Valley Conference front-runner, visits No. 6 Jacksonville State. No. 17 New Hampshire, facing a must-win regarding its FCS playoff hope, visits No. 9 Villanova.
For a road team, the usual formula for winning is to take the home crowd out of the game by playing with a lead, controlling game clock and avoiding turnovers.
That's easier said than done.
DE Ameet Pall and Wofford head to Appalachian State on Saturday.
Plus, so much more goes into playing on the road than just the 60 minutes of football. A team's focus is put to the test.
"I think the big thing is just the travel part of it in a bus," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "The Rhode Island trip for us was a six-hour bus ride in the rain. So you have to overcome that, somehow for sure. I don't know how you overcome that, but that's one of the things that you face.
"The other thing is we had to make an adjustment to grass. I think Rhode Island's the only grass team left (in CAA Football), so we play all our stuff on fast, hard, quick surfaces. So I think you need to adjust to your surface rather quickly. A lot of times your situation in terms of being able to address the team in terms of locker room situation isn't as comfortable as it is at home. So you have the offense maybe in one area, the defense in the other, you're trying to rally everybody up and get your timing from walking to the field and back.
"And then I think not having a big crowd that's rooting for your team. ... In this particular case, Rhode Island has done a good job of putting the travel team on the side where a lot of their fans are. They get after you pretty good, which is a really good thing for the home team. I think when you travel into New England, you better be ready for any kind of weather - snow, sleet, rain, what have you. So I think you need to adjust to the weather conditions.
"And then just not sleeping in your own bed. You're in a hotel and things are a little different. And the really great teams, the really good teams, make all those adjustments. And teams that struggle with that end up like Villanova did on Saturday, on the short end of the stick."
Said Rocco, whose Liberty team hopes to survive Coastal Carolina with Stony Brook paying a visit on Nov. 20, about the road: "First and foremost there's a physical element. You gotta understand that a nine-hour bus trip is a nine- hour bus trip.
"It starts with the physical. There's an element of physical preparation and readiness that has to be addressed. There's a mental element that has to be addressed in terms of being able to go into an environment. Every road game is in the hostile environment, and that's the tricky thing.
"There are so many different variables that go into it that it's uniquely different from week to week. We talk about momentum-changing types of situations that come up in a game, being able to seize those moments during the game. It's always been my experiences that that's more essential when you are on the road."
The schedule-maker didn't do Wofford any favors this month. Coach Mike Ayers' squad played at Samford in Birmingham, Ala., last Saturday, then made the trip back to campus in Spartanburg, S.C., and now has the difficult assignment of playing App State in Boone, N.C., on Saturday.
"Anytime that you play at home, the crowd knows when to cheer," Ayers said. "It's a lot easier to hear and to operate and to play the game. When you go into a hostile environment, the crowd's against you. So there's always that issue of communicating, if you're checking plays, making sure that everybody's on the same page. There's always the factor of momentum when you're in a tough environment, like at Boone. They're going to do everything they can do from those stands to give as much energy to their football team as possible and they're going to do everything they can do to make it as tough on you as possible for you to get anything going."
After finishing 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference last season,
Southeast Missouri State has started this season with 9-1 overall and 7-0
conference records. The Redhawks' 7.5-game improvement currently ranks tied
for seventh-best in FCS history (since 1978):
9.5 - Montana State (1984)
8 - Boston University (1993),
Boise State (1993),
McNeese State (1997),
Sacred Heart (2000)
7.5 - Southeast Missouri State (2010),
Nicholls State (1996),
Sam Houston State (2004)
Source: Ohio Valley Conference
A different coach will point to a different factor about the difficulty of winning on the road, especially in conference play.
Rocco, for one, is pleased he has gotten Liberty to become a winner on the road - 14-11. But when you consider the Flames are 25-4 at home during his tenure, it underscores how much tougher it is to win on the road.
NOT THE OVC TITLE, BUT ...
The Sgt. York Trophy will be decided in the Ohio Valley Conference on Saturday. The challenge trophy, in its fourth season and named for World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York, goes to the winner of the quadrangular season series between the four OVC institutions in Tennessee (Austin Peay, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT Martin).
If UT Martin beats Tennessee State, it will go to 3-0 in Sgt. York games and win the title outright. If the Skyhawks lose, they will share the title with Tennessee Tech (2-1), although TTU will retain the trophy because it was last year's winner.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...
The NCAA will announce its FCS playoff pairings on a 30-minute selection show on ESPNU on Sunday, Nov. 21, beginning at 10 a.m.
It's likely the final at-large bids for the FCS playoffs will come down to a handful of 7-4 and 8-3 teams of similar resumes, perhaps a 9-2 South Carolina State as well.
NCAA director Damani Leech told The Sports Network this week there is not a hard-line rule that FCS teams have to beat seven Division I opponents to be eligible for the playoffs. However, Leech added, NCAA policy "stipulates that less than seven Division I wins may place a team in jeopardy of not being selected."
In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential playoff field since the preseason. The projections are a long-range look at the regular season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at here.
Great stat about the Southland Conference: 12 of the top 14 rushing leaders, and 25 of the top 30, are freshmen and sophomores. Sam Houston State freshman Tim Flanders appears headed to the rushing title ... Great fact about Montana State, which has a bye this weekend before closing the regular season at arch- rival Montana on Nov. 20. The Bobcats (8-2) have won nine regular-season games three times, in 1956, 1976 and 1984. In '56, they won the NAIA national championship. In '76, they won the NCAA Division II title. In '84, the won the FCS title (then Division I-AA) ... If Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins is sidelined by a knee sprain Saturday at Northern Arizona, sophomore Mike Hoke will get his first career start ... MEAC leader Bethune-Cookman (9-0, 6-0) will try to complete an unbeaten regular season under rookie coach Brian Jenkins by winning two final home games, Saturday versus last-place Howard and then Nov. 20 against Florida A&M, which is tied for second place with South Carolina State ... With two remaining games, it appears Stony Brook will have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Hofstra transfers Miguel Maysonet (1,007) and Brock Jackolski (872) ... No. 22 Jacksonville (9-1), the FCS' highest-scoring team, will try to leave a lasting impression with the NCAA playoff selection committee on Saturday against visiting Campbell. No Pioneer Football League team has appeared in the FCS playoffs ... How's this for a possible scenario: 2008 FCS champion Richmond (5-4) beats Rhode Island at home on Saturday and then heads to No. 1 William & Mary on Nov. 20 needing a win to play its way into the playoffs ... Heartbreak city: Youngstown State has led in all 10 games, as well as in the second half in eight games, but is only 3-7. Standout sophomore running back Jamaine Cook is coming off a career-best 213 yards on 43 carries against Illinois State ... Princeton senior tailback Jordan Culbreath, who has aplastic anemia and surprised most people by returning to action this season, needs to rush for 65 yards in the season's final two games to reach 2,000 in his career ... The key game in the Ivy League, as usual, is Harvard versus Penn. On Saturday, the host Quakers can clinch at least a share of an eighth title under coach Al Bagnoli with a victory. The defending league champs last won back-to-back titles in 2002 and '03 ... Samford's Chris Evans is 42 rushing yards shy of four straight 1,000-yard seasons. The Bulldogs are at Chattanooga on Saturday ... In the Northeast Conference, all-time tackle leader Scott Lewis of St. Francis (Pa.) needs one tackle against Duquesne on Saturday for 500 in his career. Also, Sacred Heart senior quarterback Dale Fink is 137 passing yards shy of passing Anthony Doria (Sacred Heart, 2003-06) for the conference's all-time record. Fink, whose team is off this weekend and wraps up the season against Wagner on Nov. 20, has passed for 8,408 yards in his career.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 54-10 (.844)
Season Record: 490-154 (.761)
Thursday, Nov. 11
X-No. 15 South Carolina State (7-2, 5-1 MEAC) at Morgan State (4-5, 3-3), 7:30 p.m.
No. 20 Grambling State (8-1, 7-0 SWAC) at X-Texas Southern (6-3, 6-1), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 13
X-No. 25 Robert Morris (8-1, 7-0 NEC) at Bryant (6-3, 3-3), noon
Campbell (3-6, 2-4 PFL) at X-No. 22 Jacksonville (9-1, 7-0), noon
X-Dayton (9-1, 7-0 PFL) at Marist (3-6, 2-5), noon
No. 17 New Hampshire (5-4, 3-3 CAA) at X-No. 9 Villanova (6-3, 4-2), noon
Princeton (1-7, 0-5 Ivy) at X-Yale (6-2, 4-1), noon
Brown (4-4, 3-2 Ivy) at X-Dartmouth (5-3, 2-3), noon
X-Central Connecticut State (6-3, 5-1 NEC) at Monmouth (3-6, 3-3), noon
X-Holy Cross (4-5, 1-2 Patriot) at Lafayette (2-7, 1-2), noon
Cornell (2-6, 1-4 Ivy) at X-Columbia (3-5, 1-4), 12:30 p.m.
X-San Diego (4-6, 4-3 PFL) at Davidson (3-6, 3-4), 1 p.m.
X-Colgate (5-4, 2-2 Patriot) at Bucknell (1-8, 1-2), 1 p.m.
Howard (1-8, 0-6 MEAC) at X-No. 10 Bethune-Cookman (9-0, 6-0), 1 p.m.
X-Indiana State (5-4, 3-3 MVFC) at Youngstown State (3-7, 1-6), 1 p.m.
X-Lehigh (7-2, 3-0 Patriot) at Georgetown (3-6, 2-2), 1 p.m.
St. Francis, Pa. (1-8, 1-5 NEC) at X-Duquesne (5-4, 3-3), 1 p.m.
Wagner (5-4, 3-3 NEC) at X-Albany (4-5, 2-4), 1 p.m.
X-No. 2 Delaware (8-1, 5-1 CAA) at No. 14 Massachusetts (6-3, 4-2), 1 p.m.
Valparaiso (0-10, 0-7 PFL) at X-Morehead State (3-6, 2-4), 1 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (3-6, 1-3 Big South) at X-Stony Brook (5-4, 4-0), 1 p.m.
No. 12 Liberty (7-2, 4-0 Big South) at X-Coastal Carolina (4-5, 3-1), 1 p.m.
Delaware State (2-7, 1-5 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (4-5, 3-4), 1 p.m.
Harvard (6-2, 3-1) at X-No. 18 Penn (7-0, 4-0), 1:30 p.m.
Presbyterian (1-8, 1-4 Big South) at X-Charleston Southern (2-7, 0-4), 1:30 p.m.
X-Furman (5-4, 3-3 SoCon) at Elon (4-5, 3-3), 1:30 p.m.
X-No. 1 William & Mary (7-2, 5-1 CAA) at James Madison (4-5, 1-4), 1:30 p.m.
Samford (4-5, 2-4 SoCon) at X-Chattanooga (5-4, 4-2), 2 p.m.
Eastern Illinois (2-8) at X-Illinois State (5-5), 2 p.m.
X-North Carolina Central (2-6) at Savannah State (0-9), 2 p.m.
X-Murray State (4-5, 3-3 OVC) at Austin Peay (2-7, 1-5), 2 p.m.
Butler (4-6, 2-5 PFL) at X-Drake (6-4, 5-2), 2 p.m.
X-Maine (3-6, 2-4 CAA) at Towson (1-8, 0-6), 2 p.m.
Rhode Island (4-5, 3-3 CAA) at X-No. 21 Richmond (5-4, 3-3), 2 p.m.
X-No. 23 Western Illinois (6-3, 4-2 MVFC) at Southern Illinois (3-6, 2-4), 2 p.m.
X-Alabama A&M (2-7, 1-6 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-9, 0-8), 2 p.m.
North Dakota (3-6) at X-No. 13 Montana (6-3), 2:05 p.m.
X-Eastern Kentucky (4-5, 3-2 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (4-5, 3-3), 2:30 p.m.
SE Louisiana (2-7, 1-4 Southland) at X-No. 8 Stephen F. Austin (7-2, 4-1), 3 p.m.
X-Georgia Southern (5-4, 3-3 SoCon) at Western Carolina (2-7, 1-5), 3 p.m.
No. 4 Wofford (8-1, 6-0 SoCon) at X-No. 3 Appalachian State (8-1, 6-1), 3 p.m.
Alcorn State (5-4, 4-3 SWAC) at X-Prairie View A&M (5-4, 4-3), 3 p.m.
Nicholls State (2-7, 1-4 Southland) at X-Northwestern State (5-4, 4-1), 3 p.m.
Hampton (5-4, 4-2 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (6-3, 5-1), 3 p.m.
X-Jackson State (6-3, 4-3 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (5-4, 4-3), 3:30 p.m.
VMI (3-6) at X-Old Dominion (6-3), 3:30 p.m.
Sam Houston State (4-5, 2-3 Southland) at X-Central Arkansas (6-3, 3-2), 4 p.m.
X-South Dakota State (4-5, 4-3 MVFC) at No. 24 North Dakota State (6-3, 3-3), 4 p.m.
X-No. 7 SE Missouri State (9-1, 7-0 OVC) at No. 6 Jacksonville State (8-1, 5-1), 4 p.m.
Southern Utah (6-4) at X-No. 5 Eastern Washington (7-2), 4:05 p.m.
Northern Colorado (2-8, 1-6 Big Sky) at X-Portland State (2-7, 1-5), 4:05 p.m.
Weber State (5-4, 4-3 Big Sky) at X-Northern Arizona (5-4, 3-3), 5:05 p.m.
X-Sacramento State (5-4, 4-3) at Idaho State (1-8, 0-6), 5:35 p.m.
X-Alabama State (6-3, 5-3 SWAC) at Southern (2-7, 1-6), 6:30 p.m.
South Dakota (4-6) at X-Lamar (3-6), 7 p.m.
Missouri State (4-5, 3-3 MVFC) at X-No. 16 Northern Iowa (6-3, 5-1), 7 p.m.
Tennessee State (3-6, 0-5) at X-UT Martin (5-5, 4-3), 7 p.m.
Texas State (4-5, 1-4 Southland) at X-McNeese State (5-4, 4-1), 8 p.m.
UC Davis (4-5, 2-1 Great West) at X-No. 19 Cal Poly (7-3, 2-1), 9:05 p.m.