Big South makes big move
Big South standouts, from left, Liberty QB Josh Woodrum, Coastal Carolina RB De'Angelo Henderson, Gardner-Webb NG O.J. Mau and Charleston Southern RB Christian Reyes.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
It appears as though some teams have been left off the bottom of the Big South Conference football standings.
Entering Week 9 of the FCS season, there's no team listed with a losing record.
It's not a misprint, however.
The Big South has had only two conference games heading into the first full weekend of the conference schedule. The conference has enjoyed its best season ever out-of-conference, leading to all six teams incredibly being above .500 so deep into the season.
Coastal Carolina is 7-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big South. Presbyterian is 4-3 and 1-1. Charleston Southern is 5-2 and 0-1. Monmouth (5-1), Liberty (4-3) and Gardner-Webb (4-3) will play their first conference games this weekend.
Big South teams have a 21-5 record against non-conference FCS opponents, which has surpassed the conference's regular-season record of 16 wins, set last year before it grew to 18 following Coastal Carolina's two wins in the national playoffs. Liberty owns the Big South's lone win against an FBS opponent, beating Appalachian State two weeks ago.
The success of Big South teams, Liberty coach Turner Gill says, speaks of the quality of coaches across the conference. It's a crop that arguably is the best in the conference's history.
"I think the numbers kind of simply speak for themself," added Coastal coach Joe Moglia. "If you look at any team, literally look at any team in terms of our schedules that are within conference, everyone of those is gonna be a real game, any one of those is going to wind up going either way.
"That was certainly true of ours in the Presbyterian game for a good portion of the game," he added, speaking of a 40-28 win in which his team, the preseason Big South favorite, was matched against the team picked last in the poll. "A break here or there, it could have been a different result. We understand that that's probably the way it's going to be the rest of the season."
The Big South originated with football in 2002 as a mere four-school conference. Its membership later increased to seven and the conference was awarded an automatic bid to the playoffs for its champion in 2010.
The conference fell to six schools last year after Stony Brook departed for the Colonial Athletic Association. This year, VMI left to return to the Southern Conference, but Monmouth joined after departing the Northeast Conference. Kennesaw State will come aboard next year for its first season of football, which will bring the conference back to seven schools.
Since the addition of the automatic qualifier was announced in 2008, the Big South has continued to raise its national stature, putting emphasis on such elements as recruiting, facilities and the level of non-conference scheduling.
Big South teams have defeated four FBS opponents since 2010 and they have five wins in the playoffs over the last three seasons, including both Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook in 2012 when two Big South teams advanced to the playoffs for the first time. Five Big South players have been selected over the last three NFL drafts. Previously, only four had been selected.
"I think there's been a commitment made by all the schools that are in the Big South to improve their programs, their facilities to try to get to a point where you can compete on a national level. We've got some great administrators in this league," said Presbyterian sixth-year coach Harold Nichols, the dean of Big South coaches.
"Every week is such a grind to prepare when you get in here. And I think what we've been able to do outside the conference against outside FCS competition, that's been something that's been an emphasis placed on us by the conference. If we're gonna be able to be relevant on a national stage, strength of schedule is important, and you've got to be successful on the field and perform on Saturday afternoons."
The Big South is hoping to have multiple playoff bids for the second time. Only one is guaranteed, of course, so a lot will depend on where teams stand record- wise after beating up on each other during the conference schedule.
Coastal Carolina, which has made playoff appearances in four different seasons, has separated itself as the Big South's top program, reaching the national quarterfinals a year ago and rising as high as No. 3 in the national polls this season. Liberty and Charleston Southern also have been nationally ranked this season.
And all six teams enter the weekend with a winning record.
ONE FOR THE ROAD?
Many people have viewed Idaho State's game at Northern Colorado on Saturday as its best opportunity to end a road losing streak that is eight years and 48 games long.
That was even before people realized Idaho State (4-3, 2-1 Big Sky) is much-improved this season. Now there's expectation to the streak ending.
The Bengals haven't won on the road since they were victorious at Northern Colorado, 41-13, on Oct. 7, 2006.
"Saturday's game at Northern Colorado is an opportunity for us just to continue and evolve, keep moving forward," coach Mike Kramer said. "The fact we've lost so many road games for so long is something we don't really talk about because it doesn't have anything to do with this team. So to us, we're literally on a three-game road losing streak and a one-game road losing streak in the conference. Everything is nonconsequential to us."
Kramer, in his fourth season at Idaho State, has been rewarded with a contract extension after fixing many of the program's problems off the field. But Big Sky passing yardage leader Justin Arias, rushing and touchdown leader Xavier Finney and the Bengals have made many on-the-field upgrades as well.
Northern Colorado has a 2-5 record, but is 2-1 at home this season.
LONGEST D-I WINNING STREAKS
The longest winning streaks in NCAA Division I history (how ended):
47 - Oklahoma, 1953-57 (Notre Dame, 7-0)
39 - Washington, 1908-14 (Oregon State, 0-0)
37 - Yale, 1890-93 (Princeton, 6-0)
37 - Yale, 1887-89 (Princeton, 10-0)
35 - Toledo, 1969-71 (Tampa, 21-0)
34 - Miami (Florida), 2000-03 (Ohio State, 31-24, in 2 OTs)
34 - Penn, 1894-96 (Lafayette, 6-4)
31 - North Dakota State, 2012-present
31 - Oklahoma, 1948-50 (Kentucky, 13-7)
31 - Pittsburgh, 1914-18 (Cleveland Naval, 10-9)
31 - Penn, 1896-98 (Harvard, 10-0)
Source: North Dakota State Athletic Communications
FCS TOP 25 AND AWARDS
The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found here.
The FCS Awards package can be found here.
WEEK 9 PREDICTIONS
Last Week's Record: 38-15 (.717)
This Season's Record: 414-106 (.796)
Saturday, Oct. 25
The Big Sky could see some Top 10 upsets when No. 2 Eastern Washington visits Northern Arizona and No. 7 Montana drops in on Cal Poly. The third unbeaten team in conference play, No. 10 Montana State, sits idle this weekend.
Mercer (5-3, 1-3 Southern) at X-No. 15 Chattanooga (4-3, 3-0), noon. These new conference opponents haven't met since 1941. While Mercer's team speed could trouble Chattanooga, the Mocs realize this is a game they can't afford to give away, considering their remaining SoCon schedule afterward. The dual-threat quarterback matchup is solid - Mercer's John Russ versus Chattanooga's Jacob Huesman.
Delaware (4-3, 2-1 CAA) at X-No. 18 William & Mary (4-3, 1-2), 12:30 p.m. An encouraging September has been followed by a disappointing October for both teams, but the winner will remain a legitimate FCS playoff contender. In odd twists, Delaware has struggled to stop the run but William & Mary has struggled to rush the ball consistently, while the visiting Blue Hens aren't passing the ball real well but the Tribe aren't stopping the pass, either.
X-No. 12 Fordham (6-1, 2-0 Patriot) at Lehigh (1-5, 0-1), 12:30 p.m. With so many passing options, Fordham quarterback Michael Nebrich (329 passing yards per game, 21 touchdown passes) figures to pick apart a struggling Lehigh defense. Lehigh, which owns a 23-3 series lead, will try to build on its first win of the season - 31-14 against Cornell - when running back Rich Sodeke and defensive end Tim Newton earned Patriot League offensive and defensive players of the week, respectively.
FCS Game of the Week: No. 21 Harvard (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) at X-Princeton (3-2, 2-0), 1 p.m. If a running back has a big day, he figures to be a difference maker because Princeton ranks No. 1 in rushing defense (61 ypg) in the FCS and Harvard (88.6 ypg) ranks fifth. Princeton QB Quinn Epperly (58.3 percent, three touchdowns) seeks a return to being the 2013 Ivy League offensive player of the year. Princeton has won the last two meetings, including 51-48 in triple overtime last season.
Saint Francis (2-5, 0-2 NEC) at X-No. 24 Sacred Heart (6-1, 2-0), 1 p.m. After reaching the national rankings for the first time in program history, Sacred Heart hopes to put up a roadblock for SFU running back Khairi Dickson, whose 175.4 rushing yards per game lead the FCS. The Pioneers surrender only 71.9 rushing yards per game and have allowed only two touchdowns on the ground. Sacred Heart quarterback RJ Noel should have a productive game considering SFU's five Division I opponents have averaged 46 points.
No. 14 Bethune-Cookman (6-1, 3-0 MEAC) at X-South Carolina State (4-3, 2-1), 1:30 p.m. Since 2008, the MEAC title has been won by either Bethune or SCSU with one exception (2011, Norfolk State). The host Bulldogs, one of six one- loss teams in the MEAC standings behind Bethune, had a bye last weekend in leading up to this pivotal matchup, and some might say the Wildcats did as well in playing winless Savannah State. Quarterback Quentin Williams sat out the game, with backup Larry Brihm running an efficient offense. With a subpar passing attack, the Bulldogs need running back Jalel Simmons and his offensive linemen to solve Bethune's stout run defense.
X-No. 23 Northern Iowa (3-4, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at Western Illinois (3-5, 1-3), 2 p.m. With four losses by a combined 15 points, UNI may have to sweep its final five conference games to qualify for the FCS playoffs (a 7-5 finish may still be worthy). The Panthers' pass rush will try to force WIU QB Trenton Norvell into mistakes. The Panthers would make a mistake if they don't put the ball in the hands of senior running back David Johnson.
Southeast Missouri State (4-4, 2-2 OVC) at X-No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (6-1, 3-1), 3 p.m. The Colonels have owned their series with SEMO, winning three straight meetings and nine of the last 10 to push their lead to 21-3. But they also must still be reeling from allowing 29 fourth-quarter points to Tennessee Tech in their first loss of the season last Saturday. They hope two quarterbacks (Jared McClain and Bennie Coley) will be better than one (SEMO's Kyle Snyder, who is coming off his worst game).
X-No. 1 North Dakota State (7-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at South Dakota (2-5, 0-3), 3 p.m. It's first place versus last place in the Missouri Valley, so NDSU's FCS-record 31-game winning streak will increase again in its first trip to the DakotaDome in 12 years. The Bison should dominant in the trenches as USD has only collected one sack and allowed 23 in seven games. Having a healthy wide receiver Zach Vraa spreads the field for the Bison running game.
No. 17 Youngstown State (5-2, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 13 South Dakota State (5-2, 2-1), 3 p.m. Having only seven turnovers is impressive enough, but even bigger is the fact the Penguins have yet to surrender a point off a turnover. The 'Guins offense is in the hands of a freshman quarterback, Hunter Wells, who was solid in a win over Southern Illinois last week. Interceptions (10) have been a problem for SDSU quarterback Zach Lujan, but his 1-2 passing options of Jason Schneider and Jake Wieneke are terrific. Saturday's Homecoming is coach John Stiegelmeier's 200th game as SDSU's coach (116-83).
Stony Brook (4-4, 3-1 CAA) at X-No. 3 New Hampshire (5-1, 3-0), 3 p.m. This is a dangerous game for UNH even after having a bye. The visiting Seawolves have been incredibly good on defense, ranking first in the FCS in total defense (220.5 ypg), second in scoring defense (11 ppg), second in third-down conversion percentage defense (.235), second in red zone defense (.500), third in rushing defense (74 ypg) and fifth in passing defense (146.5 ypg). That's North Dakota State-esque. A potential great one-on-one matchup: UNH All-America wide receiver R.J. Harris shadowed by Stony Brook senior cornerback Davonte Anderson.
X-No. 16 Richmond (5-2, 2-1 CAA) at Elon (1-6, 0-3), 3 p.m. Richmond is riding a three-game winning streak and who the starting quarterback is might not matter. The Spiders have four players who have caught between 33 and 38 passes, and Preseason All-American Stephen Barnette is only fourth in that group. Plus, the team's 325.3 passing yards per game rank first in the CAA and fifth nationally.
Colgate (4-3) at X-No. 25 Albany (5-2), 3:30 p.m. The Raiders couldn't stop the Ivy League rushing leader (Yale's Tyler Varga) as their four-game winning streak ended, and now they have the task of stopping CAA rushing leader Omar Osbourne (115.7 ypg). The Great Danes have yet to lose a fumble while posting an absurd plus-17 turnover ratio.
Morgan State (4-3) at X-No. 5 Villanova (6-1), 3:30 p.m. This first-ever matchup appeared much easier for 'Nova when it was scheduled in the spring. The Bears' three losses are by a combined seven points. Still, the Wildcats are heavily favored, looking to run the ball with backs Kevin Monangai and Gary Underwood and quarterback John Robertson, who already is a five-time CAA offensive player of the week.
Charleston Southern (5-2, 0-1 Big South) at X-No. 4 Coastal Carolina (7-0, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. A loss by CSU at home to Presbyterian last Saturday took steam out of this matchup, but the visiting Buccaneers beat Coastal last season to hand the Chanticleers their only loss in their last 24 regular-season games against FCS opponents. But this one is at Coastal, the new house of horrors in the FCS. The Chants have won 11 straight home games, and only one of those games has been closer than 21 points. This matchup is a contrast of the Bucs' ball control style and the Chants' quick-strike ability.
X-No. 2 Eastern Washington (7-1, 4-0 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (4-3, 2-1), 3:35 p.m. EWU's conference win streak is at 14 straight (the Eagles also beat two other Big Sky schools in what were non-conference games). Quarterback Jordan West faces a stern test against the NAU passing defense, so the Eagles need to keep converting third downs to silence the home dome crowd. An NAU upset makes the Lumberjacks' season. It's quite possible.
Tennessee Tech (3-4, 2-2 OVC) at X-No. 6 Jacksonville State (5-1, 3-0), 4 p.m. Tech has the speed (quarterback Darian Stone and running back/return man Ladarius Vanlier) to trouble Jacksonville State, but the preseason Ohio Valley favorite Gamecocks have turned up their play within the conference schedule. In OVC games, they rank second in both scoring defense and total defense. Not surprisingly, junior cornerback Jermaine Hough has been playing at a high level, while senior linebacker Ben Endress has stepped up to lead the team in tackles.
X-No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana (6-2, 4-0 Southland) at Stephen F. Austin (5-2, 2-1), 4 p.m. SFA running back Gus Johnson (986 yards, 8.5 yards per carry and an FCS-high 16 TDs on the ground) appears to be stealing top Southland honors away from Southeastern quarterback Bryan Bennett. Coach Clint Conque has done a terrific job in his first season with the Lumberjacks, but they still need a signature win. Place-kicker Ryan Adams is 13-for-14 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 55 yards, for the defending champion Lions, who have won 14 straight Southland games
Missouri State (4-3, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 9 Illinois State (6-0, 3-0), 7 p.m. Quarterback Kierra Harris and the visiting Bears have played well on the road, but Illinois State has won nine straight home games. Having won their last two games on Nick Aussieker's late field goals, the Redbirds are seeking their first 7-0 start since 1932.
X-No. 11 McNeese State (4-2, 2-1 Southland) at Incarnate Word (1-6, 1-3), 7 p.m. McNeese quarterback Daniel Sams has been red-hot, which has overshadowed the fact true freshman Ryan Ross has joined a terrific rushing attack (270.5 ypg). The Cowboys have the top-ranked defense in the Southland, while new member Incarnate Word is last offensively.
No. 22 Indiana State (4-3, 1-2 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 20 Southern Illinois (5-3, 2-2), 7 p.m. With both teams on two-game losing streaks, this is basically (not mathematically) an elimination game for a Missouri Valley playoff spot. SIU figures to mount a running game and Indiana State doesn't, so the Salukis' pass rushers will get after Sycamores QB Mike Perish.
No. 7 Montana (5-2, 3-0 Big Sky) at X-Cal Poly (4-3, 3-1), 9:05 p.m. The last time Montana visited San Luis Obispo in 2010, it was upset as the top-ranked team in the nation. Cal Poly's triple option has raised its production during a three-game winning streak and leads the FCS in rushing offense (337.1 ypg). While the Mustangs have rushed for 25 touchdowns, the Zack Wagenmann-led Grizzlies defense has surrendered only six on the ground.
The largest crowd of the season will be at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, when Alabama A&M and Alabama State meet in the 73rd Magic City Classic. The rivalry game draws around 60,000 fans annually.
X-Campbell (4-3, 4-0 Pioneer) at Marist (1-6, 1-3), noon
X-Maine (2-5, 1-3 CAA) at Rhode Island (0-7, 0-3), noon
Cornell (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) at X-Brown (2-3, 0-2), 12:30 p.m.
Valparaiso (2-5, 0-3 Pioneer) at X-Morehead State (2-5, 1-3), 1 p.m.
X-Stetson (2-5, 0-3 Pioneer) at Davidson (1-7, 0-4), 1 p.m.
Robert Morris (1-6, 1-1 NEC) at X-Bryant (5-1, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Florida A&M (2-5, 2-1 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (6-2, 3-1), 1 p.m.
X-Wagner (3-3, 1-0 NEC) at Central Connecticut State (2-5, 0-2), 1 p.m.
X-Jacksonville (6-1) at Limestone (2-5), 1 p.m.
Penn (1-4, 1-1 Ivy) at X-Yale (4-1, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-Dartmouth (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) at Columbia (0-5, 0-2), 1:30 p.m.
X-Samford (3-3, 2-2 Southern) at Furman (2-5, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
VMI (1-7, 0-3 Southern) at X-Wofford (4-3, 2-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-Monmouth (5-1, 0-0 Big South) at Presbyterian (4-3, 1-1), 2 p.m.
Savannah State (0-7, 0-4 MEAC) at X-North Carolina Central (3-4, 2-1), 2 p.m.
The Citadel (2-5, 0-2 Southern) at X-Western Carolina (5-2, 3-0), 2 p.m.
X-Bucknell (5-1, 1-0 Patriot) at Georgetown (2-5, 0-2), 2 p.m.
Butler (3-4, 1-3 Pioneer) at X-Drake (4-3, 3-1), 2 p.m.
X-Alcorn State (6-2, 4-1 SWAC) at Prairie View A&M (3-4, 3-3), 2 p.m.
Hampton (1-6, 0-3 MEAC) at X-Delaware State (2-6, 2-2), 2 p.m.
Tennessee State (4-4, 1-3 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (2-5, 2-1), 2:30 p.m.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-5, 0-4 SWAC) at X-Texas Southern (5-2, 3-2), 3 p.m.
Austin Peay (1-6, 1-2 OVC) at X-UT Martin (3-5, 2-3), 3 p.m.
North Dakota (3-4, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-Southern Utah (1-7, 1-3), 3:05 p.m.
Portland State (2-5, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-Weber State (0-7, 0-3), 3:05 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (4-3, 0-0 Big South) at X-Liberty (4-3, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
Holy Cross (2-6, 0-2 Patriot) at X-Lafayette (3-4, 1-1), 3:30 p.m.
Alabama A&M (2-5, 1-3 SWAC) vs. X-Alabama State (4-3, 3-2) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, 3:30 p.m.
X-Idaho State (4-3, 2-1 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (2-5, 1-3), 3:35 p.m.
Abilene Christian (4-4, 2-2 Southland) at X-Sam Houston State (3-4, 2-1), 4 p.m.
X-Southern (4-3, 3-1 SWAC) at Jackson State (3-4, 1-3), 7 p.m.
Northwestern State (4-3, 2-1 Southland) at X-Central Arkansas (4-4, 3-1), 7 p.m.
X-Nicholls (0-8, 0-4 Southland) at Houston Baptist (1-6, 0-4), 8 p.m.
Dayton (5-1, 3-0 Pioneer) at X-San Diego (5-1, 3-1), 9 p.m.
After losing its first two CAA games, James Madison will be hard-pressed to gain the conference's automatic bid, but the Dukes have since handed Albany its only loss and beaten Towson by 55 points. With quarterback Vad Lee playing so well, the Dukes are hoping they are on a run to at least an at-large bid.
Alderson-Broaddus (5-2) at X-Duquesne (4-3), noon
X-James Madison (4-3) at Charlotte (3-4), noon
Kentucky Wesleyan (4-3) at X-Murray State (2-5), 4 p.m.