In the FCS Huddle: Handling the outside distractions

One of the gratifying aspects of an upstart team coming into its own is that it garners some much-deserved attention.

And that's where a problem can lie.

Suddenly, everybody wants a piece of the team and its coaches and players. Alumni, fans, fellow students, the media, those catching up to what people within the program could see happening all along, they can become distractions.

Sure, it's a great buzz. But it can sting, too.

Some teams from major FCS conferences are facing these distractions. Gladly, of course, but they have to guard against getting ahead of themselves and forgetting the steps that got them here in the first place.

Youngstown State from the Missouri Valley Conference and McNeese State from the Southland Conference own wins over FBS opponents. The Citadel might have done one better by beating Southern Conference powers Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in back-to-back weeks. All three teams 3-0 and nationally ranked.

Likewise Tennessee State, the early Ohio Valley Conference leader, is looking good with young talent and a winner of three straight games to open what it hopes will be its first winning season since 2008.

"I just think that's a part of college football," Tennessee State coach Rod Reed said. "If you're able to deal with the media and you're not able to deal with being successful, (and) unsuccessful, for that matter, I don't think you're tough enough to play college football. We have our kids, we talk to them about different things and just trying to be humble when you're winning because you're only 3-0. There's a lot of football left to be played this season and we play some fine football teams.

"We try to keep our kids as focused as possible. They've got a lot of things on their plate. They've got class, they've got study hall, they've got to watch film. There's not a lot of time to get distracted. And we try to keep them as busy as possible."

The Citadel eighth-year coach Kevin Higgins, who has guided only one winning season in a difficult place to win - a military school in among the rugged SoCon powers - believes veteran leadership is one of the key ingredients for how a team handle success, especially the kind that was unexpected by most people.

He considers this year's team to have the best group of leaders in his tenure.

"I think in any sport when you have some early success, and it is very, very early, as a coach you have to be concerned with where your team is at," said Higgins, who was a big winner at Lehigh before going on to four seasons as a Detroit Lions assistant coach, then The Citadel.

"And really you'd say the same thing if you are 0-3, you'd have a lot of concerns as well. And I shared that with the team. Regardless of whether you're winning or losing, there's always going to be challenges and concerns. It's identifying them and then trying to go about your business. So, yes, I think there's a lot more noise from the outside. We have worked real hard at not listening to the noise and making sure that we focus on the task at hand."

Youngstown State's 31-17 win over Big East member Pittsburgh drew national praise in the first week of the season. The Citadel has been the talk of the FCS in the last week.

But soaking in the accolodes coming from all directions could be a mistake. Every team has to keep its foot on the pedal.

On Saturday, third-ranked Youngstown State hosts eighth-ranked Northern Iowa, which has won the last 11 meetings. The Citadel goes to ACC member North Carolina State.

Tennessee State finds itself with a tough trip to MEAC power Bethune-Cookman. McNeese State is on the road for the third time in four games with its conference opener at Southeastern Louisana.

There's no time to be distracted.


The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at

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


The Sports Network will present the Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan, Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards on Dec. 17 in Philadelphia. For more information on the national awards banquet, go to


Big Sky: The Big Sky opens its 50th season of conference action on Saturday ... Only three Big Sky teams are ranked in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 - No. 2 Montana State, No. 9 Eastern Washington and No. 14 Montana - but four others are knocking on the door. Cal Poly is unofficially No. 26, Sacramento State No. 29, Northern Arizona No. 30 and North Dakota No. 35 ... Weber State has lost junior wide receiver Shaydon Kehano for the remainder of the season with a fractured fibula in his right leg ... Idaho State is expecting wide receiver Rodrick Rumble to make his season debut at Nebraska, which will make gunslinging quarterback Kevin Yost (401.5 passing yards per game) even more dangerous.

Big South: VMI will play fellow military academy Navy for the first time since 2003 Saturday in Annapolis, Md. (CBS Sports Network) ... With three touchdown catches of at least 63 yards, Stony Brook senior Kevin Norrell is averaging 41.4 yards per reception

CAA Football: The Foreman Field scoreboard will light up Saturday when No. 5 Old Dominion hosts No. 18 New Hampshire in a first-ever meeting. ODU leads the FCS in scoring offense (57.3 ppg) and UNH never shies away from video-game- like action ... Richmond has done well with mixing the rushing and passing the last two games and now has an excellent chance to get to 3-1 on Saturday when it visits winless Georgia State ... Georgia State hopes to build with youth as it heads to the FBS next year. Sophomore punter Matt Hubbard is averaging 50.9 yards on 15 punts and linebacker Joseph Peterson is one of the FCS' top tacklers among freshmen.

Ivy: The big game this week is Harvard at Brown. The defending champion Crimson, whose 10-game winning streak is the longest active run in the FCS, have lost in their last two visits to Brown Stadium ... Brown already had a terrific running back in Mark Kachmer and now senior Spiro Theodhosi is back as well after missing two seasons because of reconstructive surgeries on both knees. He rushed for 120 yards in the Bears' season opener against Holy Cross last Saturday .... The Penn-Villanova game will be just the 16th in FCS history matching coaches with at least 200 career wins. Penn's Al Bagnoli has 222 and Andy Talley 220.

MEAC: Norfolk State has had six kicks blocked this season, none costlier than the blocked extra point in overtime of a 37-36 loss to Howard last Saturday ... No rest for the weary: South Carolina State (1-2) heads to Texas A&M one week after falling at Arizona, 56-0. The Bulldogs then face a must-win against defending MEAC champ Norfolk State on Sept. 29 ... With Oklahoma State and Florida State out of the way, expect Savannah State to get on the scoreboard against North Carolina Central. The Tigers, whose lone win a year ago was at NCCU, was outscored 139-0 in their first two games.

Missouri Valley: The FCS' leading rushers will square off Saturday when South Dakota State and Zach Zenner (219.3 ypg) face Indiana State and Shakir Bell (203.3 yprg) in Terre Haute, Ind. ... Illinois State has six interceptions this season, already three more than all of last season. Ben Ericksen has a pair of picks ... Top-ranked North Dakota State (2-0), off a bye, should have no problem in beating Prairie View A&M on Saturday.

Northeast: One week after going to nationally ranked Youngstown State, Albany heads to No. 23 Maine. The biggest concern for the Great Danes in the preseason was replacing all-conference quarterback Dan Di Lella. Sophomore Will Fiacchi has done that to the tune of a conference-best 579 passing yards and 69.1 completion percentage ... Wagner named its stadium in honor of Seahawks 32-year coach Walt Hameline this past weekend. "It's a great honor. It's humbling. Wagner has been my life, my second family," he said ... Credit the St. Francis (Pa.) starting offensive line of Thurston Kino, William Houston, Jacob Smith, Lloyd Hill and Colin Gdula for keeping the running attack at a high level after all-conference back Kyle Harbridge's season- ending knee injury. The Red Flash (2-1) rank sixth nationally in rushing offense (302 ypg).

Ohio Valley: He's not Robert Griffin III, but Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is sure acting like it for first-year coach Dino Babers, the former Baylor assistant. Garoppolo ranks second nationally in total passing yards (981), fourth in passing yards per game (327), fifth in total offense per game (314.7), sixth in completions per game (28) and ninth in points responsible for (16 per game) ... No. 24 Jacksonville State's visit to No. 21 Eastern Kentucky matches the teams picked highest in the OVC preseason poll. JSU running back Washaun Ealey, recently suspended after his arrest on misdemeanor drug possession charges, is expected to be back in action as the Gamecocks try to match EKU running back Matt Denham ... A knee injury ended the career of Austin Peay senior safety Antwaun Majors, the Governors' leading tackler the past two seasons.

Patriot: Senior Jack Maliska is starting on both of Holy Cross' offensive and defensive lines. An all-league second-team defensive tackle last season, he's taken over at guard because of injuries to other offensive linemen. He lined up for 36 plays on offense, 30 on defense and six on special teams against Brown last Saturday ... No. 16 Lehigh has the FCS' longest regular-season winning streak at 12, but that will receive a stern test at winless Liberty, the perennial Big South power that has played a tough schedule under first- year coach Turner Gill. The Mountain Hawks have won the two prior meetings.

Pioneer: Morehead State's quick-strike approach on offense isn't helping to keep its defense fresh. Through three games, the average time of possession for MSU opponents is 41 minutes, 21 seconds ... Davidson may not solve its rushing woes at stingy Marist. The Wildcats have 17 rushing yards on 40 carries this season.

SoCon: One game that probably neither team can afford to lose is No. 17 Appalachian State (1-2, 0-1) at Chattanooga (1-2, 0-0). But the sky isn't falling, according to ASU coach Jerry Moore, who says his players have responded well to last Saturday's 52-28 loss to The Citadel ... Wofford has a bye this week and presumably is letting their running backs catch their breath. SoCon rushing leader Eric Breitenstein is averaging 9.2 yards per carry and Donovan Johnson 10.6 yards per carry ... Georgia Southern running back Robert Brown needs one more yard for 2,000 in his career. The No. 11 Eagles host Elon on Saturday.

Southland: Central Arkansas' 31-10 defeat was the closest score that Sam Houston State faced in conference play last season. The No. 25 Bears hope a home game against No. 3 Sam Houston could be a difference-maker on Saturday in one of the more anticipated games of the week nationally ... Former Southland rivals get together when Stephen F. Austin goes to Texas State. With no Division I wins this season, the Lumberjacks (1-2) surely can't afford to lose this difficult game and still make the FCS playoffs. They remain without wide receiver/return specialist Gralyn Crawford, who is suspended for a second straight game for a violation of team rules.

SWAC: Teams in the Eastern Division have won six of the seven meetings with teams from the Western Division. Overall, East teams are 8-7 to the West's 3-11 ... Texas Southern sacked defensive coordinator Kevin Ramsey this week, replacing him with assistant head coach/defensive backs coach Greg Johnson. The Tigers (1-2) are 10th and last in the conference in total defense (513 ypg) and ninth in scoring defense (40 ppg) ... New Southern interim head coach Dawson Odums will make his debut at Jackson State.


Last Week's Record: 58-14 (.806)

Season Record: 191-38 (.834)

All Times ET

Thursday, Sept. 20

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-1, 1-1 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (2-1, 2-0), 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 21

X-Georgetown (2-1) at Princeton (0-1), 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 22

Lafayette (2-0, 0-0 Patriot) at X-Bucknell (1-1, 0-0), noon

Davidson (0-2, 0-0 PFL) at X-Marist (1-2, 0-0), noon

Campbell (1-2, 0-0 PFL) at X-Butler (1-2, 0-0), noon

X-Furman (0-3) at Presbyterian (1-2), noon

No. 18 New Hampshire (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at X-No. 5 Old Dominion (3-0, 0-0), noon

X-Alabama A&M (3-0, 2-0 SWAC) at Texas Southern (1-2, 1-1), noon

X-Fordham (2-1) at Columbia (1-0), 12:30 p.m.

Dartmouth (1-1) at X-Holy Cross (0-2), 1 p.m.

X-No. 6 James Madison (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Rhode Island (0-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.

X-Duquesne (2-1, 0-0 NEC) at Bryant (0-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.

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

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

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

Charleston Southern (0-3) at X-Shorter (2-1), 1:30 p.m.

Morehead State (1-2, 0-0 PFL) at X-Drake (1-2, 0-0), 2 p.m.

X-Southern Illinois (1-2, 0-0 MVFC) at Missouri State (0-3, 0-0), 2 p.m.

Norfolk State (2-1) at X-Ohio University (3-0), 2 p.m.

X-South Dakota State (2-1, 0-0 MVFC) at No. 22 Indiana State (2-1, 0-0), 2:05 p.m.

Idaho State (1-1) at X-Nebraska (2-1), 3:30 p.m.

VMI (1-2) at X-Navy (0-2), 3:30 p.m.

South Dakota (1-1) at X-Northwestern (3-0), 3:30 p.m.

X-Villanova (2-1) at Penn (0-1), 3:30 p.m.

Northern Arizona (2-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 14 Montana (2-1, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.

X-Richmond (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Georgia State (0-3, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.

X-Samford (3-0, 1-0 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-2, 0-1), 3:30 p.m.

Gardner-Webb (0-3) at X-Pittsburgh (1-2), 3:30 p.m.

Valparaiso (0-3, 0-0 PFL) at X-San Diego (1-2, 0-0), 4 p.m.

Prairie View A&M (0-3) at X-No. 1 North Dakota State (2-0), 4 p.m.

X-No. 15 Illinois State (3-0, 0-0 MVFC) at Western Illinois (2-1, 0-0), 4 p.m.

Tennessee State (3-0) at X-Bethune-Cookman (2-1), 4 p.m.

CO-GAME OF THE WEEK: X-No. 3 Sam Houston State (1-1, 0-0 Southland) at No. 25 Central Arkansas (2-1, 0-0), 4 p.m. The pressure is on the visiting Bearkats, who would remain without a win over a Division I opponent if they don't take down UCA and fast-starting quarterback Wynrick Smothers.

Northern Colorado (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 2 Montana State (3-0, 0-0), 4:05 p.m.

X-Harvard (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) at Brown (1-0, 0-0 Ivy), 4:30 p.m.

Southern (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (1-2, 1-0), 5 p.m.

Colgate (1-2) at X-No. 20 Stony Brook (2-1), 6 p.m.

X-No. 17 Appalachian State (1-2, 0-1 SoCon) at Chattanooga (1-2, 0-1), 6 p.m.

No. 10 The Citadel (3-0) at X-North Carolina State (2-1), 6 p.m.

Elon (2-1, 0-0 SoCon) at X-No. 11 Georgia Southern (1-1, 0-1), 6 p.m.

Albany (2-1) at X-No. 23 Maine (1-1), 6 p.m.

X-Florida A&M (1-2, 1-0 MEAC) at Delaware State (1-2, 0-0), 6 p.m.

No. 24 Jacksonville State (1-1, 0-0 OVC) at X-No. 21 Eastern Kentucky (2-1, 0-0), 6 p.m.

X-North Carolina Central (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at Savannah State (0-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Stephen F. Austin (1-2) at X-Texas State (1-1), 7 p.m.

X-UT Martin (2-1, 0-0 OVC) at Austin Peay (0-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.

Alcorn State (1-2) at X-Arkansas State (1-2), 7 p.m.

South Carolina State (1-2) at X-Texas A&M (1-1), 7 p.m.

Coastal Carolina (2-1) at X-Toledo (2-1), 7 p.m.

No. 12 Delaware (3-0, 0-0 CAA) at X-William & Mary (0-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.

St. Francis, Pa. (2-1) at X-No. 13 Towson (1-1), 7 p.m.

Evangel (2-1) at X-Nicholls (0-2), 7 p.m.

No. 16 Lehigh (3-0) at X-Liberty (0-3), 7 p.m.

CO-GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 8 Northern Iowa (1-2, 0-0 MVFC) at X-No. 4 Youngstown State (3-0, 0-0), 7 p.m. UNI must use its running game to silence the Youngstown crowd. This is a time for Penguins QB Kurt Hess to be at his best.

Mississippi Valley State (1-2) at X-Northwestern State (1-2), 7 p.m.

X-Tennessee Tech (2-1, 0-0 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (1-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Wagner (0-3, 0-1 NEC) at X-Central Connecticut State (0-3, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Murray State (1-2, 0-0 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (1-2, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.

Langston (1-2) at X-Lamar (1-2), 8 p.m.

X-No. 19 McNeese State (3-0, 0-0 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (0-3, 0-0), 8 p.m.

X-No. 9 Eastern Washington (1-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at Weber State (0-3, 0-0), 8 p.m.

Southern Utah (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-Portland State (1-2, 0-0), 8:05 p.m.

UC Davis (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at X-Cal Poly (2-0, 0-0), 9:05 p.m.

X-North Dakota (2-1, 0-0 Big Sky) at Sacramento State (2-1, 0-0), 9:05 p.m.