Fifth-ranked South Dakota State and its home crowd were stunned by the third-ranked Bison's efficiency in every which way of a 28-7 romp that capped a memorable opening day across the top conference in the FCS.
The thought that NDSU (3-1) isn't the best team in the FCS has been dispelled since its 38-35, last-second defeat at Montana back on Aug. 29.
In a 34-9 dismantling of North Dakota, the Bison defense - you know, the supposedly vulnerable unit - didn't surrender a first down until late in the third quarter and allowed the fewest yards to an opponent (61) since 1974.
In the win at SDSU, the Bison built a 28-0 lead and looked bigger, stronger, faster ... and better.
Better than any other team in the FCS.
"I'll tell you what I think is the difference between our programs," SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said in a familiar statement. "When they walk onto the field, they believe they are going to win. When we walk onto the field, I don't know that all 77 players who put on a uniform believed that we were going to win."
So there are two teams ahead of the Bison in the Top 25 rankings? Top-ranked Jacksonville State is the team that lost in the playoff second round last season to a Sam Houston State squad that was pounded by NDSU in the semifinals. And No. 2 Coastal Carolina was eliminated by the Bison in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
Sure, different teams, different season.
But, oh, is NDSU starting to make it look the same.---=
SECOND AND 10=
Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:
- Joaquin was supposed to be the 12th man on defense, but as the former Category 4 hurricane stayed out in the Atlantic Ocean, games in the Carolinas and Virginia weren't affected the way it was feared earlier in the week. Offensive game plans ran fairly smoothly despite rain and wind in many spots. At No. 2 Coastal Carolina, which moved its Homecoming kickoff against Alabama A&M up by four hours, there wasn't a drop of rain.
- Illinois State quarterback Tre Roberson played wide receiver in the No. 4 Redbirds' 21-13 win over No. 7 Northern Iowa because of an injured thumb on his throwing hand. He said afterward the injury isn't major, but he's on a growing list of injured QBs from major teams, including Villanova's John Robertson (torn PCL), New Hampshire's Sean Goldrich (ankle) and Montana's Brady Gustafson (leg).
- There are twice as many unbeaten FCS teams from the two non-scholarship leagues as there are from the 11 scholarship conferences. Dartmouth, No. 24 Harvard, Princeton and Yale are 3-0 in the later-starting Ivy League and Pioneer Football League programs Dayton and Jacksonville are 4-0. The three unbeaten scholarship teams are No. 2 Coastal Carolina (5-0) from the Big South, No. 6 James Madison (5-0) from CAA Football and No. 23 McNeese State (4-0) from the Southland.
- Savannah State ended its share of Division I's longest losing streak at 24 with a 37-27 victory over Florida A&M in the MEAC. The Tigers had gone 32 straight conference games without a win, but third-year coach Earnest Wilson III got what he hopes will be a building block with a solid defensive effort and a balanced run game from Arshon Spaulding, Joshua Berry and Nicholas Bentley. Columbia stands alone with the longest losing streak at 24, but it has some encouraging performances this season, including a 10-5 loss in the rain at unbeaten Princeton on Friday night.
- It's as if the Northeast Conference is still trying to decide how good it can be this season, but the Pittsburgh programs - Duquesne and surprising Robert Morris - were happy to open the conference schedules with victories. Preseason favorite Bryant's 31-24 loss to former NEC member Monmouth meant conference teams are only 5-16 in FCS non-conference games. Each has a losing record on the road for a combined 5-14.
- Road teams aren't just struggling in CAA Football games, they haven't even won yet. Delaware's 24-23 victory at the buzzer over No. 25 William & Mary on Saturday night made home teams 11-0 in conference games. James Madison has the jump on the race at 2-0, but the Dukes play four of their next five games on the road and then wrap up the regular season at home against preseason favorite Villanova.
- Liberty beating Georgia State 41-33 was not surprising, but Eastern Kentucky's 34-27 loss at Kentucky was excruciating as the FCS went for a weekend sweep of the FBS. The Colonels, who had heavy hearts last week following the death of redshirt defensive lineman Joey Kraemer in an automobile accident, let a two-touchdown lead slip away in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter and then played worse in overtime. FCS teams are 7-90 against the FBS this year, one shy of last year's win total.
- Sam Houston State (2-2) clearly has a battle on its hands in the Southland Conference with McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana, the latter whom it shared the title with last season. The Bearkats needed their punt return team to spark the 34-28 triumph over winless Stephen F. Austin in the "Battle of the Piney Woods." In the Southland Conference's unbalanced scheduling, the Bearkats will miss playing Southeastern. That they went from 1-3 in September to the FCS playoff semifinals last season showed the Bearkats can get out of a hole, but they're playing a little too loosely again for such a veteran team.
- A deserving team of the week is Bethune-Cookman for its ability to win close games. It scored the final 21 points of a 28-26 win at North Carolina Central. In the final minute, an apparent NCC touchdown run was ruled short and Elliott Miller blocked an 18-yard field goal attempt to preserve the Wildcats' win. Under first-year coach Terry Sims, they are 4-1 with three wins by four or fewer points and, more importantly, tied for the conference lead at 2-0.
- The national concern for Southern's Devon Gales, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a loss at Georgia last Saturday, poured in over the week. Players at his high school alma mater, Central in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, began wearing blue and gold stickers in the shape of ribbons on the backs of their helmets Friday night. Southern, off this weekend, returns to the field Saturday night with a SWAC game at Alabama State.---=
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD=
No. 1 Jacksonville State (4-1), beat Mississippi Valley State (0-5), 49-7
No. 2 Coastal Carolina (5-0), beat Alabama A&M (1-3), 55-0
No. 3 North Dakota State (3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley), beat No. 5 South Dakota State (3-1, 0-1), 28-7
No. 4 Illinois State (3-1, 1-0 Missouri Valley), beat No. 7 Northern Iowa (2-2, 0-1), 21-13
No. 5 South Dakota State (3-1, 0-1 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 3 North Dakota State (3-1, 1-0), 28-7
No. 6 James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA), beat Stony Brook (2-2, 1-2), 38-20
No. 7 Northern Iowa (2-2, 0-1 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 4 Illinois State (2-2, 0-1), 21-13
No. 8 Chattanooga (3-1, 1-0 Southern), Idle
No. 9 Eastern Washington (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky), Idle
No. 12 Sam Houston State (2-2, 2-1 Southland), beat Stephen F. Austin (0-5, 0-3), 34-28
No. 13 Montana (3-2, 2-0 Big Sky), beat UC Davis (0-5, 0-2), 27-13
No. 14 Villanova (2-2, 1-0 CAA), Idle
No. 16 Portland State (3-1, 1-1 Big Sky), lost to North Dakota (4-1, 2-0), 19-17
No. 17 Eastern Kentucky (2-2), lost to Kentucky (3-1), 34-27, in OT
No. 18 Liberty (3-2), beat Georgia State (1-3), 41-33
No. 20 New Hampshire (3-2, 1-1 CAA), beat Elon (2-3, 1-1), 37-14
No. 22 Southeastern Louisiana (3-1, 2-0 Southland), beat Lamar (2-2, 1-1), 30-27
No. 23 McNeese State (4-0, 3-0 Southland), beat Nicholls (0-4, 0-2), 37-7
No. 24 Harvard (3-0), beat Georgetown (2-3), 45-0
No. 25 William & Mary (2-2, 1-1 CAA), lost to Delaware (2-3, 1-1), 24-23---=
A LOOK AHEAD=
The Missouri Valley will have the spotlight again next Saturday with its six ranked teams involved in three games - Northern Iowa at North Dakota State, Indiana State at South Dakota State and Illinois State at Youngstown State. Also, Southeastern Louisiana at McNeese State is a huge game in the Southland.
Other key conference matchups include: Big Sky, Idaho State at North Dakota and Cal Poly at Eastern Washington; Big South, Presbyterian at Coastal Carolina and Liberty at Gardner-Webb; CAA, James Madison at Towson, William & Mary at Villanova; Ivy League, Yale at Dartmouth; and MEAC, South Carolina State at Bethune-Cookman (Thursday night) and North Carolina A&T at Norfolk State.
Also: Ohio Valley, Southeast Missouri State at Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State at UT Martin; Patriot League, Lehigh at Bucknell; Pioneer, San Diego at Dayton; Southern, Furman at Chattanooga, Wofford at The Citadel and Mercer at Western Carolina; Southland, Incarnate Word at Sam Houston State and Abilene Christian at Lamar; and SWAC, Alabama A&M at Grambling State and Southern at Alabama State