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In the FCS Huddle: Struggling teams understand it's a process

Let the season begin ...

That may seem to be what the Savannah State Tigers are saying following their season-opening losses to Oklahoma State and Florida State by a combined 139-0.

The truth is, the Tigers have been echoing those words at almost any point of their recent seasons. A program with 15 straight losing seasons (13 with two or less wins), they are among the worst in all of Division I.

While they were hopelessly overmatched in their two losses - as a 66 1/2-point underdog to Oklahoma State and a 70 1/2-point underdog to Florida State - the MEAC university deemed the games valuable because they totaled $860,000 in guarantees, which reportedly represents about 17 percent of Savannah State's athletic budget.

The Tigers are in a bye week. Then they hope to get on track with more- manageable opponents such as North Carolina Central (whom they beat last season to go 1-10), Howard, Morgan State and their one remaining non- conference game against Edward Waters.

So, yes, let the season begin now.

"The key is we as a staff can't overlook the process," second-year coach Steve Davenport said as he tries to rebuild the program. "And I think that's where you get in trouble, if we try to jump from step one to step five."

Davenport has done the odd thing in giving Savannah State a first-place vote in each of the last two MEAC preseason polls. The upbeat coach reasons that his players would not be able to believe in themselves if he didn't do the same.

But there's no quick fix for Savannah State, or any team on their level. The chance for eventual success often centers around playing young players and having them battle-tested as upperclassmen.

Many of this year's key Savannah State players are juniors, including third- year starting quarterback Antonio Bostick, running back Sheldon Barnes, wide receiver Dylan Cook and defensive back John Wilson, but Davenport also is building with the youngsters, such as sophomores Bryan Lackey (wide receiver) Leroy Cummings (defensive lineman) and Edward Baety (defensive back), and freshman Terrance Slaughter (safety).

"What we did my first year here and the first recruiting class, we didn't want to try to approach it in terms of going and signing a bunch of JUCOs and transfers," Davenport said. "So we signed 28 freshmen and those guys are what we consider our building block. We were ranked No. 8 in black college football in that class, so obviously there were some talented kids in it. But as you well know, those kids are still just kids at this point, they're sophomores and redshirt freshmen. We feel like when they become juniors and seniors, this program is going to be fine.

"Last year's recruiting class, we kind of filled some holes that we could see. And we just continued to build. I think the building block of any college program is through recruiting. So we're doing that. Obviously, there's a level of patience that has to be shown, not only from the community but from me and my coaching staff and the players. It's a process. Those kids have to get bigger, stronger and faster - no different than the other competitors in the MEAC."

Savannah State isn't the only struggling FCS program that is working to get on track. Others include:

Valparaiso - Arguably Division I's worst program, the Crusaders from the non- scholarship Pioneer Football League have lost 32 of their last 33 games. But third-year coach Dale Carlson has solved some of the program's funding and recruiting problems and thrown young players like quarterback Eric Hoffman and running back Gabe Ali-El, who started as freshman a year ago, into the mix. That's a good start for him.

Mississippi Valley State - Like Carlson, Delta Devils coach Karl Morgan only has one win in his three seasons (a 1-22 mark). The athletic department needs to put more money into his program. But last year's team played close games with some of the better SWAC teams, and this year's squad seems to have more talent, although much of it is in the senior class. Sophomore wide receiver Julian Stafford is a building block.

North Carolina Central - Along with Savannah State, the Eagles are the new kids on the block (second year) in the MEAC. Second-year coach Henry Frazier III turned around the once-awful Prairie View A&M program and won the 2009 Eddie Robinson Award as FCS coach of the year. A rousing win at Fayetteville State and a credible defensive effort at Elon were a good way to start the season. Frazier has some keepers in running back Andre Clarke, defensive back C.J. Moore and linebacker Demontray Ryland, who are sophomores.

Charleston Southern - The Buccaneers have the FCS' longest active losing streak at 14, but they play in a tough conference - the Big South. They posted .500-or-better records in five of the six seasons from 2004-09, but haven't been the same in this decade, dropping to 3-8 in 2010, 0-11 last season and 0-2 to start this season. Their defense is particularly young, with redshirt freshman linebacker Zack Johnson starting the season as their leading tackler.

Any struggling FCS program can take a cue from St. Francis (Pa.), which hasn't posted a winning season since 1992 and is trying to put the pieces together under third-year coach Chris Villarrial.

Last week, just days after the Red Flash announced their star player, running back Kyle Harbridge, had been lost to a season-ending injury, they went out and beat a favored Bryant squad, 39-28, in their Northeast Conference opener.

WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW

The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.

Also, once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf.

KEEPING IT IN PERSPECTIVE

A No. 16 seed has yet to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and an upset of that magnitude has yet to happen during this college football season, despite the eight FCS upsets of FBS teams.

The Eastern Washington-Idaho game would have been an 8-9 matchup in March Madness. Throw in some 5-12s, 6-11s, well, it's impressive, but not over the top, either.

The longest shot was probably Sacramento State-Colorado, possibly a 3-14. And those numbers would be closer if the games had been played at a neutral site, ala the hoops.

A 1-16 matchup is more like Tennessee Tech-Oregon this week.

Cinderella, calling Cinderella ...

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

The first three teams outside The Sports Network FCS Top 25 have made a strong case to be included in the rankings.

All Central Arkansas did last Saturday was go to Murray State and post an impressive 42-20 victory ... only to fall one spot from No. 25. Blame The Citadel for that oddity as the Bulldogs moved into the rankings with a win at then-No. 3 Georgia Southern. But UCA deserves plenty of attention with quarterback Wynrick Smothers playing at such a high level.

Next up is the MEAC, with defending champion Norfolk State looking strong again in coming off a win at Liberty and Bethune-Cookman impressing even more with double-digit wins over Alabama State in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge and at South Carolina State.

AROUND THE NATION

Big Sky: Idaho State senior Derek Graves has caught on like some other Big Sky receivers. Graves is the first Big Sky player to have 15 receptions in back-to-back games, and his 30 overall lead the FCS. Four of the top five players nationally in receiving yards per game are from the Big Sky: No. 1, North Dakota's Greg Hardin (146.5); No. 2, Eastern Washington's Brandon Kaufman (145); No. 4, Graves (129); and No. 5, Idaho State's Cameron Richmond (111.5) ... After earning his first win at Northern Colorado following 12 straight losses, second-year Earnest Collins tries for his first conference win Saturday at Sacramento State ... Montana will induct its 2001 national championship team into the Grizzly Hall of Fame Saturday, when Liberty pays a visit.

Big South: In Stony Brook's first two games, quarterback Kyle Essington and wide receiver Kevin Norrell connected on the second and fourth longest touchdown passes (89 and 86 yards) in league history ... In a sign that the Big South has grown as a conference, its teams will host opponents this week from CAA Football (Richmond at VMI), the Southern Conference (Samford at Gardner-Webb) and the Ohio Valley Conference (Eastern Kentucky at Coastal Carolina) on Saturday. The road opponents are even more impressive with Liberty at Montana, Stony Brook at Syracuse, Presbyterian at Vanderbilt and Charleston Southern at Illinois ... Liberty first-year coach Turner Gill on Wednesday promoted Aaron Stamn from co-offensive coordinator to offensive coordinator, replacing Dennis Wagner, and gave him the play calling duties that were previously filled by Gill. Wagner is now the co-offensive coordinator.

CAA Football: No. 4 James Madison has played on a high level through two games, but the Dukes will need to take it up another notch when they face West Virginia on Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. WVU won the only prior meeting ... CAA kickers are a nifty 20-for-25 on field-goal attempts ... Is Las Vegas taking odds on a William & Mary player running the wrong way with the ball for 58 yards against Towson?

Ivy: Six of the eight league members open their seasons Saturday against opponents that have played twice. The opponents of Brown (Holy Cross) and Penn (Lafayette) have played once. Despite the annual disadvantage because of their late start to the season, Ivy teams usually fair well in their first week, highlighted by a 22-10 mark from 2003-06 ... The Harvard Crimson student newspaper reported an unnamed key offensive football player is among the students involved in the cheating scandal that has rocked its Ivy League championship men's basketball program. The roughly 125 students involved are said to have worked together on a take-home final exam last spring ... New Ivy coaches set for their debuts - Columbia's Pete Mangurian versus Marist and Yale's Tony Reno at Georgetown.

MEAC: Hampton is playing only 10 games this season, but junior linebacker DeVante Hawkins is on his way to totaling more tackles than most players who will go deep into the playoffs. Hawkins has an FCS-high 35 tackles through two games ... Defending champion Norfolk State has been ultra-impressive to start the season. The Spartans are overcoming the loss of quarterback Chris Walley, last year's co-MEAC offensive player of the year, with a short passing game, the running of Brendon Riddick and an aggressive, balanced defense.

Missouri Valley: Dating to last season, defending FCS champion North Dakota State has allowed only two touchdowns and 20 points in its last five games. The secondary, though, is now hampered by injuries to safety Colten Heagle (torn ACL, lost for the remainder of the season) and All-America cornerback Marcus Williams (knee, out at least two weeks) ... With 92 more rushing yards, Youngstown State senior Jamaine Cook will hit the 3,000-yard milestone. The No. 5 Penguins holds Albany on Saturday.

Northeast: A game against Maine suggests more tough going for Bryant (0-2), but two key members of the Bulldogs' offense could reach milestones. Wide receiver Jordan Harris, who has 1,575 receiving yards in his career, needs 76 more to become the school's all-time leader. Running back Jordan Brown, who had 3,430 rushing yards, is just 92 yards away from the school's all-time record ... Monmouth will be happy about its non-conference schedule if it goes on to win the conference title. The Hawks played tough at nationally ranked Lehigh and then ripped Rhode Island from the CAA, with a visit to improved Cornell on the horizon. Coach Kevin Callahan's squad last won the NEC crown in 2006.

Ohio Valley: To celebrate the university's 100th-year anniversary Tennessee State will play the first of three games on campus at Hale Stadium Saturday against Austin Peay. The Tigers, off to a 2-0 start, have played at LP Field (home to the Tennessee Titans) since 1999. They also will play at McHale Stadium against Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 6) and Tennessee Tech (Oct. 27) ... One thing Eastern Kentucky hasn't done in coach Dean Hood's five seasons is play easy non-conference schedules. Hood is 23-8 with two championships in OVC play and 4-13 in non-conference games (two are playoff losses). On Saturday, the OVC favorite plays another risky game at Coastal Carolina ... Opportunity knocks: Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State have gained 10 and nine turnovers, respectively, to lead the FCS.

Patriot: All-league running back Tyler Smith is expected to miss Bucknell's game at Delaware because of the ankle injury he suffered at Marist. Bison coach Joe Susan is a Delaware graduate ... Georgetown will move to 3-0 for the first time since 1999 with a win over Yale.

Pioneer: There could be more PFL-Ivy matchups in the future with the Ivy's sister conference, the Patriot League, allowing scholarships next year. There are three matchups involving the two FCS non-scholarship leagues this week, and maybe it's fairer that the PFL team is on the road in all of them - Marist at Columbia, San Diego at Harvard and Butler at Dartmouth - considering Ivy teams are just beginning their seasons ... If Drake can hold running back Shakir Bell in check, it has a shot to beat the No. 22 Sycamores. The Bulldogs last beat a ranked team in 2007 - another Missouri Valley opponent in Illinois State ... Butler quarterback Matt Lancaster, the transfer from Illinois State, is playing at a high level, leading the PFL and ranking 10th in the FCS in total offense (304.5 ypg).

SoCon: In an incredible statistic, all nine SoCon teams have led the conference in total defense at least once since 2003. Wofford has used a soft early schedule to stuff the run and lead the conference overall at 207 yards per game. Georgia Southern joins Wofford in the top 10 nationally at 215.5 ypg ... University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Ross Huesman has yet to announce whether redshirt freshman Jacob Huesman, the coach's son, or Terrell Robinson, last year's conference rookie of the year who quit the team for two days last week, will start at quarterback against Glenville State Thursday night ... Samford coach Pat Sullivan continues to do more with the Bulldogs while he recovers from pneumonia. They won their first two games when he was up in the coaches box. Saturday, they visit Gardner-Webb.

Southland: Many happy returns: Through two weeks of the season, Southland teams have scored on two punt returns, four interception returns and a fumble return. McNeese State's Chris Raggett had a pair of interceptions returns for touchdowns in the win over Division II McMurry ... No. 2 Sam Houston State (1-0) heads to Baylor on Saturday. Coach Willie Fritz made his Bearkats debut against Baylor in 2010, falling 34-3. His FCS national runners-up will play on campus only two more times this season.

SWAC: All 10 SWAC teams are playing conference games this week ... Defending conference champion Grambling State will try to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2006 when it hosts Alabama State. Saddled with a loss to Alcorn State already, one might think the Tigers can't afford another one so early in the conference race. But they started conference play with a 1-3 mark before winning the West Division last season.

JUST THE PICKS

Last Week's Record: 61-15 (.803)

Season Record: 133-24 (.847)

X-Predicted Winner

All Times ET

Thursday, Sept. 13

Southeastern Louisiana (0-2) at X-UT Martin (1-1), 7 p.m.

Glenville State (1-1) at X-Chattanooga (0-2), 7 p.m.

Mississippi Valley State (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at X-Southern (0-1, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 15

William & Mary (0-2, 0-0 CAA) at X-No. 12 Towson (0-1, 0-0), noon

Charleston Southern (0-2) at X-Illinois (1-1), noon

Bethune-Cookman (2-0) at X-Miami-Florida (1-1), noon

Central Connecticut State (0-2) at X-No. 18 New Hampshire (1-1), noon

Presbyterian (1-1) at X-Vanderbilt (0-2), 12:30 p.m.

Princeton (0-0) at X-No. 16 Lehigh (2-0), 12:30 p.m.

San Diego (1-1) at X-Harvard (0-0), 12:30 p.m.

X-Marist (1-1) at Columbia (0-0), 12:30 p.m.

Sacred Heart (0-1) at X-Colgate (0-2), 1 p.m.

St. Francis-Pa. (1-1) at X-Morehead State (1-1), 1 p.m.

Webber (0-2) at X-Jacksonville (1-1), 1 p.m.

X-Monmouth (1-1, 0-0 NEC) at Wagner (0-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.

Brown (0-0) at X-Holy Cross (0-1), 1 p.m.

X-Cornell (0-0) at Fordham (1-1), 1 p.m.

Yale (0-0) at X-Georgetown (2-0), 1 p.m.

X-No. 25 Maine (0-1) at Bryant (0-2), 1 p.m.

Robert Morris (0-2) at X-Dayton (0-2), 1 p.m.

X-Richmond (1-1) at VMI (1-1), 1:30 p.m.

Austin Peay (0-2, 0-0 OVC) at X-Tennessee State (2-0, 0-0), 2 p.m.

X-Duquesne (1-1) at Valparaiso (0-2), 2 p.m.

Eastern Illinois (1-1) at X-No. 15 Illinois State (2-0), 2 p.m.

Drake (1-1) at X-No. 22 Indiana State (1-1), 2:05 p.m.

UC Davis (1-1) at X-South Dakota State (1-1), 3 p.m.

X-Samford (2-0) at Gardner-Webb (0-2), 3 p.m.

West Virginia State (1-1) at X-Elon (1-1), 3 p.m.

Tennessee Tech (2-0) at X-Oregon (2-0), 3 p.m.

Furman (0-2) at X-Clemson (2-0), 3 p.m.

Bucknell (1-0) at X-No. 13 Delaware (2-0), 3:30 p.m.

Liberty (0-2) at X-No. 14 Montana (1-1), 3:30 p.m.

Rhode Island (0-1) at X-Villanova (1-1), 3:30 p.m.

CO-GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 21 The Citadel (2-0, 1-0 SoCon) at X-No. 8 Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0), 3:30 p.m. The visiting Bulldogs have turned this game into a huge Southern Conference affair considering what the title race would become if they upset ASU the way they did Georgia Southern. Coach Kevin Higgins' program hasn't won in this series since 2003 and in Boone, N.C., since 1992.

No. 7 Northern Iowa (1-1) at X-Iowa (1-1), 3:30 p.m.

Morgan State (1-1) at X-Akron (0-2), 3:30 p.m.

CO-GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 23 Stephen F. Austin (1-1) at X-No. 3 Montana State (2-0), 3:35 p.m. - Southland-Big Sky matchups are a recent staple in the FCS playoffs. SFA wants to pass the ball and Montana State prefers to run it.

Portland State (1-1) at X-Washington (1-1) at Century Link Field in Seattle, 4 p.m.

Albany (2-0) at X-No. 5 Youngstown State (2-0), 4 p.m.

Howard (1-1, 0-0 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (2-0, 0-0), 4 p.m.

No. 17 Stony Brook (2-0) at X-Syracuse (0-2), 4 p.m.

No. 4 James Madison (2-0) at X-West Virginia (1-0) at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., 4:30 p.m.

X-Alabama State (1-1, 1-0 SWAC) at Grambling State (0-2, 0-1), 5 p.m.

X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-1, 0-1 SWAC) at Alcorn State (1-1, 1-0), 5 p.m.

Northern Colorado (1-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-Sacramento State (1-1, 0-0), 5:05 p.m.

Cal Poly (1-0) at X-Wyoming (0-2), 6 p.m.

Virginia-Lynchburg (0-1) at X-North Carolina A&T (1-1), 6 p.m.

No. 20 Eastern Kentucky (1-1) at X-Coastal Carolina (1-1), 6 p.m.

Campbell (1-1) at X-No. 6 Old Dominion (2-0), 6 p.m.

X-Penn (0-0) at Lafayette (1-0), 6 p.m.

X-UTSA (2-0) at Georgia State (0-2), 6 p.m.

Hampton (0-2, 0-0 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (0-2, 0-0), 6 p.m.

North Carolina Central (1-1) at X-Duke (1-1), 7 p.m.

No. 2 Sam Houston State (1-0) at X-Baylor (1-0), 7 p.m.

Southeast Missouri State (1-1) at X-Southern Illinois (0-2), 7 p.m.

Butler (1-1) at X-Dartmouth (0-0), 7 p.m.

Bacone College (1-1) at X-Central Arkansas (1-1), 7 p.m.

Nicholls (0-1) at X-Tulsa (1-1), 7 p.m.

Prairie View A&M (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at X-Alabama A&M (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.

Western Carolina (1-1, 0-0 SoCon) at X-No. 9 Wofford (2-0, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Delaware State (1-1) at X-Cincinnati (1-0), 7 p.m.

Fort Lewis (1-1) at X-Northern Arizona (1-1), 7:05 p.m.

Northwestern State (1-1) at X-Nevada (1-1), 7:05 p.m.

New Mexico Highlands (2-0) at X-Southern Utah (0-2), 8 p.m.

North Dakota (2-0) at X-San Diego State (1-1), 8 p.m.

Western Illinois (2-0) at X-Iowa State (2-0), 8 p.m.

No. 19 McNeese State (2-0) at X-Weber State (0-2), 8 p.m.

Murray State (0-2) at X-Missouri State (0-2), 8 p.m.

Jackson State (0-2) at X-Texas Southern (1-1), 8:30 p.m.

South Carolina State (1-1) at X-Arizona (2-0), 10:30 p.m.

Lamar (1-1) at X-Hawaii (0-1), midnight

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