Different perspectives as September wraps up
(STATS) - Six FCS Top 25 teams remain without a loss, led by Coastal Carolina, South Dakota State and James Madison, but they aren't the only ones having a memorable September.
It's been quite the ride for a number of teams in the opening month of the season.
For others, though, it's getting late rather early. October can't arrive soon enough, with the hope that it will bring the reversal of a regrettable month.
Nonconference schedules are over for the most part, so the action will get even more intense in conference play.
Jacksonville State (3-1) - The Gamecocks gained from their only loss - 27-20 in overtime at Auburn - to become No. 1 for the first time in program history. They also own a top 10 victory over Chattanooga and two wins in the Ohio Valley Conference behind a team boasting playmakers on both sides of the ball. Last year's disappointing postseason - a second-round loss as the No. 3 seed - has been pushing the Gamecocks for a long time.
"It motivates us," coach John Grass said. "It was a deal where we come back in January and I've seen this bunch be terrific each and every day. I've seen the progress they've made as a football team and men. They've done an excellent job."
James Madison (4-0) - Quarterback Vad Lee has put himself near the top of player of the year consideration. He single-handedly led the Dukes past SMU on Saturday night and fronts an offense that has gone over 600 yards in all four games.
Portland State (3-0) - Under interim coach Bruce Barnum - that tag may not last much longer, huh? - the Vikings have matched last year's win total already. Included were road victories against Washington State and Idaho State. They were minus-12 in turnovers a year, but the Vikings are plus-7 this season, which is second-best in the FCS. The Vikings are 3-0 for the first time since 2000.
Kennesaw State (3-1) - The startup program in the Big South Conference almost went undefeated in its first month of action, letting a second-half lead slip away at Dayton on Saturday. But coach Brian Bohannon's Owls have a lot to hoot about, including a 40-point win at East Tennessee State in their first-ever game. They've been moving the ball with their triple option.
Missouri Valley Football Conference - The best conference in the FCS has four of the top seven teams for the first time and that might even improve in Monday's new poll. The Valley ended nonconference play with a 16-3 record against FCS opponents, including 14-0 at home, and Southern Illinois' win over No. 10 Liberty on Saturday night was the conference's fourth over a Top 25 opponent. Plus, the conference that's home to four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State has had six ranked teams in every poll this season.
Ivy League Favorites - Defending champion Harvard being 2-0 is no surprise as the Crimson's 16-game winning streak is second-longest in Division I to Ohio State. But the entire top half of the Ivy League's preseason poll - the Crimson followed by Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton - have won their two opening games. Harvard (94 points) and Princeton (92) are rolling offensively.
Stephen F. Austin (0-4) - The Lumberjacks entered the season with the No. 24 ranking, but they've stumbled out of the blocks against a decent schedule. Even worse, they're 0-2 in the Southland Conference, meaning quarterback Zach Conque and Co. need to run the table to have any shot at a return to the playoffs.
Eastern Illinois (0-3) or Southeast Missouri State (1-3) - Take your pick from the OVC. EIU is exactly where they stood through three games last year, when they finished 5-7 following the Jimmy Garoppolo-led 12-win campaign of 2013. SEMO, expected to be a breakout candidate, holds a win over Southern Illinois from the Missouri Valley, but it just came up short against Division II Shorter and has lost standout DeMichael Jackson to a torn ACL in his right knee.
Idaho State (1-3) - Giving up 80 points to UNLV? That was supposed to be the old Bengals squad. Last year's breakout team has reverted to some bad habits during a three-game losing streak.
East Tennessee State (0-4) - Two losses to Division III teams (Maryville and Emory & Henry) is two too many, even for a program returning to football for the first time since 2003. Coach Carl Torbush will keep the faith - that is, keep the College of Faith on the Buccaneers' schedule.
SECOND AND 10
Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:
- While the Southland Conference boasts teams which are stronger than their losing records indicate, McNeese State has earned its 3-0 mark since having its season opener at LSU canceled by inclement weather. After a 37-0 win over Mississippi College which was their first shutout since 2012, the Cowboys have surrendered only 20 points for an FCS-low 6.7 per game. Their balanced unit also ranks second nationally in total defense (249 yards per game). Tied atop the Southland race at 2-0, the Cowboys will play both defending co-champs, Southeastern Louisiana (Oct. 10) and Sam Houston State (Nov. 7), at home.
- William & Mary figures to break into the Top 25 following a 21-0 win over high-powered Stony Brook. In a matchup of the first two teams outside the rankings, the Tribe allowed only 167 yards, which was less than the 191 rushing yards (and two touchdowns) that No. 2 running back Kendall Anderson had to fuel the offense. But coach Jimmye Laycock's squad's next four CAA Football games are a doozy - at Delaware and Villanova and then home against New Hampshire and James Madison.
- Although Coastal Carolina doesn't have an FBS opponent on its schedule, the nation's No. 2 squad has faced a solid nonconference schedule to date. Coach Joe Moglia's Chanticleers know how to get it done, with Saturday night's 31-17 win over Northeast Conference favorite Bryant its 17th straight against a nonconference opponent in the regular season (it also made them 30-2 in their last 32 regular-season games against FCS competition). The energy level is growing at Brooks Stadium with the addition of the teal turf and the anticipation of the FBS move in two years.
- Another team that just knows how to win is No. 16 Fordham. The Patriot League favorite might have returned only four starters, but it's 3-1 following quarterback Kevin Anderson's second straight five-touchdown game in a 54-31 win over Monmouth. The Rams haven't lost back-to-back game in coach Joe Moorhead's first three seasons. With the Stars and Stripes atop their jerseys, they are one of the coolest-looking teams in the nation.
- As James Madison gave the FCS its sixth win over an FBS school this season - 48-45 over SMU - Lee set school single-game records for total yards (565) and rushing yards (275). But there are no Ohio States or Michigan States in the FBS scalps. The six FBS teams that have lost to FCS opponents are a combined 4-18.
- As electric as Lee has been in leading James Madison (he's the FCS leader in total offense) and Jordan West has been at Eastern Washington (he's the FCS leader in passing yards per game), the quarterback who is setting the pace in points responsible for is Grambling State's Jonathan Williams. He's accounted for 16 touchdowns (14 passing, two rushing) and 96 points in the Tigers' 2-2 start, and they've all come in the last three games. He passed for six TDs and rushed for one Saturday night in a 70-54 win against Prairie View A&M. In that same State Fair Classic, his teammate, Martez Carter, had a monster game with four touchdowns, including two on kickoff returns.
- What about the defense? Montana's Tyrone Holmes and James Madison's Andrew Ankrah were in on four sacks in their teams' wins, and both were topped by Elijad Daniel's six tackles for loss for Murray State against Tennessee Tech.
- Speaking of defense, it might be the difference maker in a Big Sky race often short on it. There are seven teams off to 1-0 conference starts and the average points allowed in those wins are 15 points, with 28 being the high. Even Eastern Washington posted a shutout against Sacramento State - hah, in the second half. At least that's progress for the Eagles.
- Winless Northwestern State has spent the season trying to find a regular starter among four quarterbacks, but Portland State showed it can work for four signal-callers simultaneously. Alex Kuresa is No. 1, but the Big Sky squad had all four quarterbacks on the field for several plays during a 31-0 shutout of Western Oregon. Kuresa spent the majority of the time behind center, while Josh Kraght, the converted wide receiver, Paris Penn and Kieran McDonagh were frequently split wide.
- The team of the week has to be Penn, which showed no brother lovely in stunning Philadelphia rival Villanova, 24-13. The Ivy League squad, coming off a two-win season, held the ball nearly twice as long as the No. 5 Wildcats, who were playing for the first time since star quarterback John Robertson was sidelined by a knee injury. The win was the first for new Penn coach Ray Priore.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
No. 1 Jacksonville State (3-1, 2-0 OVC), beat UT Martin (1-2, 0-1), 48-41
No. 2 Coastal Carolina (4-0), beat Bryant (2-1), 31-17
No. 3 North Dakota State (2-1), Idle
No. 4 Illinois State (2-1), Idle
No. 5 Villanova (2-2), lost to Penn (1-1), 24-13
No. 6 South Dakota State (3-0), beat Robert Morris (1-3), 34-10
No. 7 Northern Iowa (2-1), Idle
No. 8 Chattanooga (3-1), beat Presbyterian (1-3), 21-0
No. 9 James Madison (4-0), beat SMU (1-3), 48-45
No. 10 Liberty (2-2), lost to Southern Illinois (1-2), 34-13
No. 11 Eastern Washington (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky), beat Sacramento State (1-3, 0-1), 28-20
No. 12 Sam Houston State (1-2, 1-1 Southland), beat Houston Baptist (1-3, 0-2), 63-14
No. 13 Youngstown State (2-1), Idle
No. 14 Montana (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky), beat Northern Arizona (2-2, 0-1), 23-14
No. 15 Montana State (2-1, 1-0 Big Sky), beat No. 20 Cal Poly (1-3, 0-1), 45-28
No. 16 Fordham (3-1), beat Monmouth (1-3), 54-31
No. 17 Portland State (3-0), beat Western Oregon (1-3), 31-0
No. 18 Eastern Kentucky (2-1, 1-0 OVC), beat Austin Peay (0-4, 0-1), 57-13
No. 19 Richmond (2-1), Idle
No. 20 Cal Poly (1-3, 0-1 Big Sky), lost to No. 15 Montana State (2-1, 1-0), 45-28
No. 21 New Hampshire (2-2), beat Central Connecticut State (1-3), 57-14
No. 22 Indiana State (2-1), Idle
No. 23 Southeastern Louisiana (2-1), Idle
No. 24 Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy), beat Brown (0-2, 0-1), 53-27
No. 25 McNeese State (3-0), beat Mississippi College (2-2), 37-0
A LOOK AHEAD
Villanova's loss will mean the two marquee matchups in the Missouri Valley Football Conference next Saturday will involve four of the six or seven top-ranked teams in the STATS FCS Top 25. Northern Iowa heads to Illinois State and North Dakota State visits South Dakota State.
With conference play fully underway, some of the other key games: Big Sky, Montana State at Northern Arizona, North Dakota at Portland State and Idaho State at Cal Poly; CAA, Maine at Richmond, Stony Brook at James Madison and William & Mary at Delaware; Ivy, Dartmouth at Penn; MEAC, North Carolina A&T at Hampton, and Bethune-Cookman at North Carolina Central; Patriot, Fordham at Lafayette; Pioneer, Drake at Campbell; Southern, Wofford at Mercer; Southland, Lamar at Southeastern Louisiana (Thursday) and Stephen F. Austin vs. Sam Houston State at NRG Stadium in Houston; and SWAC, Grambling State at Jackson State.
Yale at Lehigh and South Carolina State at Furman headline nonconference matchups, while the two FCS-FBS matchups are Liberty at Georgia State and Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky. The latter game is of note following a couple offseason altercations between members of the two programs.