5 takeaways from FCS opening night
(STATS) - With all due respect to the four games involving FCS teams last weekend - hey, didn't you used to be the FCS Kickoff that commanded the spotlight? - the new season really got rolling Thursday night.
Opening night had its share of memorable matchups, from conference games right out of the gate to risky non-conference meetings to FCS teams looking to upset FBS programs.
The big winners included Tennessee State topping FBS Georgia State, New Hampshire holding on to the Bryce-Cowell Musket against archrival Maine and Nicholls ending an eight-game losing streak against McNeese.
Here are five takeaways from all the action:
- Now before everybody jumps right to a rematch between 2016 FCS champion James Madison and 2011-15 kingpin North Dakota State in the playoffs (in Frisco, Texas?), don't forget the Bison will face a hard time just winning the Missouri Valley Football Conference for a seventh consecutive season. Fourth-ranked South Dakota State, the 2016 MVFC co-champ with the Bison, looked every bit a national title contender, scoring the first 34 points in a 51-13 rout of two-time defending Northeast Conference champ Duquesne. Taryn Christion threw four of his five touchdown passes to new Jackrabbits all-time reception leader Jake Wieneke and had a 90-yard carry among his 350 total yards.
- Opening the season like NASCAR, where Daytona 500 kicks it off, was a good fit in CAA Football and the Southland Conference. A missed extra point in the fourth quarter allowed New Hampshire to escape Maine 24-23 for its eighth straight win in the 106th meeting of CAA rivals. Nicholls won at the buzzer as Lorren Fonseca's game-ending 32-yard field goal edged McNeese 37-35 in the Southland, where much of the focus this week has been on Hurricane Harvey.
- Only Tennessee State beat an FBS opponent as FCS teams went 1-8 - a typical showing overall despite how pulsating an upset can be. The last two times new TSU quarterback Treon Harris, the Florida transfer, had started games was in the 2015 SEC Championship Game and the Citrus Bowl, so beating Georgia State (FBS, right?) was not a daunting task. The Ohio Valley Conference squad forced four turnovers and didn't commit any to hold nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
- Clearly, the FBS needs to take FCS teams more seriously. Portland State, coming off a 3-8 season, was a handful for BYU last Saturday. Thursday night, Austin Peay, entering with a 27-game losing streak, was within six points of Cincinnati in the fourth quarter before falling 26-14. Rhode Island, the CAA Football doormat, went three overtimes in losing a 30-27 heartbreaker to Central Michigan. Holy Cross, coming off a 4-7 season, built a 13-point halftime lead before falling to UConn 27-20.
- The verb in the Associated Press lead of North Dakota's 37-16 loss at Utah was "overwhelmed." For the Fighting Hawks to get to the level they crave, they're going to have to rise to the moment in the big games. When last seen, this year's Big Sky preseason favorite was having a fourth-quarter meltdown against Richmond in the playoffs. With Eastern Washington and Montana back on the schedule and about half the 13-team conference having realistic playoff aspirations, there's no margin for error.
- Let's throw in a bonus takeaway that didn't involve any game played Thursday night. Stetson has been as much the FCS story as any major power this week while the Pioneer Football League program has dealt with the death of redshirt freshman Nick Blakely after he collapsed at practice Monday evening. When the Hatters play at Sacred Heart on Saturday, the players will wear stickers with Blakely's initials on their helmets and his No. 37 jersey will be on the team's sideline.
"The initial thought after Nick's passing, other than talking to his parents and telling the team, was do we play this game or do we not," coach Roger Hughes said. "Literally, that thought passed within five minutes. We came to the realization that we have to play this game. We know Nick would want us to play this game and, after talking with his mother (Michelle Wilson), she told me that we have to play this game. She said that Nick would want us to carry on. Then she asked if it would be OK if they bury Nick in his uniform. That was a no-brainer."