FCS finalists move on without suspended players

(STATS) - James Madison and Youngstown State had key players suspended the week of their FCS semifinal games, so the three-week layoff before the NCAA Division I FCS Championship Game has afforded them time to solidify their adjustments.

Neither school has given definitive reasons for the suspensions, but they occurred while the NCAA had administered random drug testing of players in the postseason. The suspensions have put a cloud over the championship game Jan. 7 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Youngstown State (12-3) will remain without five players, notably second-leading rusher Martin Ruiz, who was arrested on fourth-degree gun charges earlier this month; wide receiver Darien Townsend, who leads the team in receiving yards; and safeties Jameel Smith and LeRoy Alexander, their Nos. 2 and 3 tacklers, respectively.

James Madison (13-1), the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, had seven players suspended before the semifinals, including linebacker Brandon Hereford, who led the team in tackles during the regular season, and wide receiver Terrence Alls, the team's second-leading receiver.

"We do have seven players that are suspended indefinitely," JMU coach Mike Houston said during a championship game coaches conference call Thursday. "They have been suspended for about three weeks now. They will be suspended well beyond the championship game. Everyone who played versus North Dakota State is expected to play on January the 7th in Frisco.

"Those seven young men are good kids. They made a mistake. They are paying for that mistake. There have been a lot of rumors, there's been a lot of speculation. I will say that none of them were arrested. There was no performance-enhancing drugs or anything like that. They made a mistake and they are paying the consequences.

"So as has been my policy, anywhere I've been, I really don't get real deep into personnel issues and so that's going to be the only statement that I will make on that issue from now until after the championship game."

Said Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini: "I don't worry about things that I can't control. I mean, that's kind of been our nature as a team. It's just is what it is. Things happen, for whatever reason. You have to be prepared to move on and it's been next-guy up because we've been in that situation a few times in a number of different areas for different reasons obviously, and so it's not like we haven't been there before. It's just time for guys ... different guys had to step up."

Without their suspended players, James Madison beat five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State 27-17 in a semifinal on Dec. 16, one day before Youngstown State defeated Eastern Washington 40-38.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.