By Craig Haley, FCS Exec. Director - Archive - Email
Spring into the FCS madness

Quarterback Kurt Hess will continue to lead Youngstown State's surgence.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Spring practices are popping up across the FCS just as all the college hoops and spring training take center stage.

Let's mix in the theme in looking ahead to a FCS season that's only 175 days away (are the bands training, too?).

Final Four (the top national title contenders in 2012?)

North Dakota State - All hail the reigning national champs. Coach Craig Bohl lost a lot from his 14-1 squad, but junior cornerback Marcus Williams leads last year's stingiest FCS defense and third-year quarterback Brock Jensen can keep giving the ball to Sam Ojuri and a strong stable of running backs.

Sam Houston State - Most will say this is the team to beat because coach Willie Fritz will have 18 returning starters from his 14-1 national runner-up squad, led by the dynamic offensive duo of Timothy Flanders and Richard Sincere.

Georgia Southern - After reaching each of the last two national semifinals, the Eagles hope to soar to the next step. The loss of quarterback Jaybo Shaw is the biggest concern for a team that features future pro Brent Russell at nose tackle, and Robert Brown and Dominique Swope at the back of the triple option.

Montana State - The Bobcats will have one of the FCS' top defenses with the return of tackle Zach Minter, ends Brad Daly and Caleb Schreibeis, and linebacker Jody Owens. Oh, yes, quarterback DeNarius McGhee isn't too shabby, either.

Three up (non-2011 playoff teams)

Youngstown State - A three-game improvement to 6-5 included the only win over North Dakota State last season. Quarterback Kurt Hess and running back Jamaine Cook were first-team All-Missouri Valley selections.

The Citadel - How's this for unusual, the Bulldogs ranked third in the Southern Conference in rushing offense (286.6 ypg), but that also was good for third in the FCS. Coach Kevin Higgins' disciplined squad seems to have the triple option down behind quarterback Ben Dupree.

Stephen F. Austin - Quarterback Brady Attaway came on strong as the Lumberjacks won their final five games. Wide receivers Gralyn Crawford and Cordell Roberson will keep driving defenses crazy.

Three down (2011 playoff teams)

Wofford - The Terriers should have a strong September, but then the road gets much tougher - literally with games at Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and South Carolina. They'll again rely on fullback Eric Breitenstein, the FCS' active career rushing leader with 3,695 yards.

Northern Iowa - Unlike Wofford, UNI simply needs to survive its September schedule, which includes games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Youngstown State and a home matchup against North Dakota State. And sure-win-opponent Savannah State backed out of a Sept. 8 matchup.

Tennessee Tech - The Golden Eagles enjoyed a breakout season in earning the Ohio Valley Conference's automatic playoff bid last year. But they have lost four-year standout receiver Tim Benford and the depth of the conference race (Jacksonville State, Murray State, Eastern Kentucky ...) will be troubling for them.

Fall Madness (OK, we didn't have a better name)

Run, Run the Ball - There won't be enough All-America spots to go around for the running backs. Among the returnees are Flanders, Breitenstein, Towson's Terrance West, James Madison's Dae'Quan Scott, Delaware's Andrew Pierce, Indiana State's Shakir Bell, Bryant's Jordan Brown, Northern Arizona's Zach Bauman, Montana State's Cody Kirk, Eastern Kentucky's Matt Denham, Jacksonville State's Washaun Ealey and Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet. The latter will share carries with Iowa transfer Marcus Coker.

Run? Who Said Run the Ball? - Eight of the 10 FCS quarterbacks who averaged 25 or more completions a game are returning, led by Davidson's Jonathan Carkhuff and Morehead State's Zach Lewis out of the Pioneer Football League

Hoops First, Then Football - FCS schools whose men's basketball teams are going dancing this month: Murray State, Davidson, South Dakota State, Montana and Lehigh. More will join the list this weekend.

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