In the FCS Huddle: September surprises

Consider that at the start of last season Sam Houston State was coming off a six-win campaign, and a 15-17 three-year run.

The Bearkats then proceeded to win their first 14 games and advance to the FCS championship game.

It was the same title game Eastern Washington planned to return to last season as the defending champion, only to go winless through September and then fail to make the playoffs.

The first month of the season often sets a tone, and always has its share of surprises, both good and bad.

Eleven teams finished the month unbeaten, but a whopping 16 teams remain without a win.

Among the more surprising teams are Cal Poly (4-0) and Northern Arizona (4-1) in the Big Sky. Both teams own wins over FBS opponents and are off to 2-0 starts in their conference schedules. Neither team plays a game against preseason favorites Montana State and Eastern Washington that counts toward the conference standings (Cal Poly plays a non-conference game at EWU Nov. 3).

Villanova coach Andy Talley said in the preseason that he thought his defense could hold opponents under 20 points consistently, giving his team a chance to win games. It's happened in the Wildcats' last four games, and, as a result, the CAA Football squad is 4-1 after winning just twice a year ago.

Illinois State (5-0) is off to its best start since the 1967 team began the season with six straight wins. Fellow Missouri Valley team South Dakota State (4-1) also is surprising in a conference with two of the three top- ranked teams in the FCS, No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 3 Youngstown State.

Quarterback Michael German and running back Trabis Ward have fueled Tennessee State to a 5-0 start. The Tigers need one more win to clinch their first winning record since 2008.

In the SWAC, Alabama A&M has sprinted out to a 5-0 mark, including four conference victories. Quarterback Deaunte Mason has been exceptional for the Aggies. It's their best start to a season since 1966.

Howard (3-1, 2-0) has overcome some player suspensions to roar out of the gate in the other HBCU conference - the MEAC.

Of course, there are negatives among the surprises.

Still seeking their first wins are Bryant (0-5), Hampton (0-4), defending SWAC champion Grambling State (0-4), Hampton (0-4) and Liberty (0-4), which had 41 wins from 2007-11, Also struggling are William & Mary and Portland State, both 1-4.

And FCS power Montana faces problems with a 2-3 record - not to mention possible NCAA sanctions down the line. The Grizzlies, who melted down at Eastern Washington on Saturday for a second straight Big Sky loss, risk falling out of The Sports Network FCS Top 25 on Monday after being ranked for 197 consecutive weeks.

Individually, the surprising Jimmy Garoppolo-to-Erik Lora connection has been unstoppable at Eastern Illinois. The Panthers (3-2, 2-0 Ohio Valley Conference) have surpassed their two wins in each of the last two seasons, with Garoppolo throwing for 1,827 yards and 18 touchdowns and Lora catching 55 passes and eight touchdowns for 786 yards.

Evan more surprising, though, is South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner. He leads the FCS with 1,077 rushing yards through five games.


A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at


Rising: It's hard to believe Harvard's offense could be better after last season's 9-1 run as Ivy League champion, but the Crimson (3-0) are averaging over four more points per game at a 41.7-point clip. In Friday night's 52-3 dismantling of Holy Cross, the Crimson eased up after they built a 49-3 halftime cushion on Colton Chapple's four touchdown passes.

Falling: Although Northern Iowa rallied to finish 7-4 the last time (2004) it opened a season with a 1-4 record, that might not be enough to get the perennial Missouri Valley Conference power into this year's FCS playoffs. The Panthers have played the toughest early season schedule in the nation (Wisconsin and Iowa from the Big Ten, No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 3 Youngstown State), but, with a win against Division II Central State, they won't be able to reach seven wins over Division I teams, which is considered the benchmark for an at-large bid to the playoffs.


Big Sky: Ezekiel Graham totaled 228 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns in Sacramento State's 54-31 win over Idaho State. Edgar Castaneda is living up to the scholarship he earned in Week 2. He kicked four more field goals on Saturday, including a 50-yarder ... Quarterback Kevin Yost was 44-for-73 for 534 yards in Idaho State's loss ... Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin made a gutsy move a week ago when he inserted redshirt freshman Vernon Adams as his starting quarterback over SMU transfer Kyle Padron. It's worked quite well.

Big South: With 3,561 yards in 2 1/2 seasons, Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet needs 73 yards against Charleston Southern next Saturday to surpass former Liberty standout Rashad Jennings as the Big South's all-time leading rusher ... In Presbyterian's 28-13 win at Davidson, Mark Williams had a 76-yard interception return and L.J. Perry a 66-yarder for a touchdown. Bryson Brindle had three sacks ... Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Liberty and VMI were idle this weekend.

CAA Football: Is it odd to be disappointed when Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke throws for "only" 360 yards in a game? ... Seven different William & Mary players had a fumble recovery or interception as the Tribe earned their first win, 35-3 over FBS-bound (yeah, really) Georgia State ... That it won't play a CAA game against Georgia State really hurts defending champ Towson as it moves into a tough stretch of conference games.

Ivy: After missing three field-goal attempts in last weekend's loss to Georgetown, Princeton kicker Nolan Bieck came back to kick four in a 33-6 rout of Columbia ... Penn's rushing options are ridiculously deep and quarterback Billy Ragone appears to be back on track. The Quakers (1-2) should get hot in league play.

MEAC: In a must-win game for both teams, South Carolina State had the defensive answers to beat defending champ Norfolk State, 14-0. Kimari McFadded intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and had two tackles for loss ... Aquaniu Freeman's 212 yards and two touchdowns on the ground fueled Howard past Savannah State, 56-9. The Bison, who scored all of their points in the first three quarters, rushed for 466 yards and seven touchdowns ... Bethune-Cookman (3-2, 2-0) forced seven turnovers in its 38-26 win over Hampton. Nick Allison led the defense with 11 tackles, two interceptions (one for a 90-yard touchdown return) and a forced fumble ... Robert Council threw a bullet of a 32-yard touchdown pass to Andrew King with 10 seconds left to give Morgan State a 21-18 victory over North Carolina A&T. In the loss, Mike Mayhew became A&T's all-time rushing leader with 2,891 yards.

Missouri Valley: Junior running back Shakir Bell got back on track in Indiana State's 24-3 triumph at Southern Illinois, rushing for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries ... North Dakota State (4-0) continues to roll along at an unrivaled level. The defense has been great the last two seasons, but quarterback Brock Jensen's continued development can't be understated.

Northeast: Monmouth's rush defense that was ranked sixth in the FCS was no match for Albany, which totaled 263 yards on the ground and 511 yards overall to win going away, 55-24. Drew Smith rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns for the impressive Great Danes, who gained their 250th varsity win. "I think we played, at times, absolutely lights out. As good as we could play, UA coach Bob Ford said ... The Duquesne Dukes are pleased they will have home games against Monmouth and Albany. The Dukes (4-1, 2-0) have won nine straight games at Rooney Field after escaping St. Francis (Pa.), 24-21, on Charlie Leventry's 20-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining ... Sacred Heart stopped Central Connecticut State, 34-21, to give interim head coach Mark Nofri his first win.

Ohio Valley: A Tennessee State record crowd at LP Field (31,765) watched the Tigers overcome a 10-0 deficit after the first quarter to beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 40-13 ... Eastern Illinois drilled Austin Peay, 65-15, for its third straight game of at least 50 points. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for a career-high 453 yards and five touchdowns (all at least 50 yards), while rushing for another TD ... Eastern Kentucky quarterback T.J. Pryor has thrown nine touchdown passes and no interceptions ... Casey Brockman was 32-for-38 for 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Murray State's 70-35 pounding of Tennessee Tech.

Patriot: Colgate coach Dick Biddle called quarterback Gavin McCarney the most underrated player in the league after the junior accounted for six of the Raiders' seven touchdowns in a 47-24 win over Yale. Running back Jordan McCord isn't too shabby, either, having rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Raiders' five games ... Horrible loss for Lafayette as its unbeaten season ended at winless Robert Morris, 31-28. The Leopards turned the ball over three times.

Pioneer: Colby Walden's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 26-14 over Marist gave Jacksonville (4-1) its sixth touchdown of the season on a defensive or special teams return. The Dolphins' 16-game home winning streak is the longest in the FCS ... Jacksonville (4-1) shares the PFL lead at 2-0 with Butler (3-2) and Drake (2-0). San Diego (2-2) is 1-0 in league play.

Southern: Obviously, senior fullback Eric Breitenstein, who rushed for a SoCon-record 321 yards in Saturday's win at Elon, deserves massive credit for Wofford's first 4-0 start since 2001, but the Terriers defense has held each opponent under 100 rushing yards ... Furman's Jerodis Williams was dialing long distance in a 45-24 win over Western Carolina. White, who totaled 370 all-purpose yards, rushed for an 89-yard touchdown and scored on a 100-yard kickoff return ... The air appears to be coming out of The Citadel's tires. The Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1) fell out of first place with a 28-10 loss at home to Chattanooga.

Southland: Southeastern Louisiana (2-3, 2-0) came into its game at Lamar with only 132 rushing yards and proceeded to surpass it with 165 yards in a 31-21 victory. Freshman Xavier Roberson rushed for 75 yards and senior Michael Chaney 48 yards and two touchdowns as the Lions ended a 14-game losing streak and, yes, took sole possession of first place ... Crazy game at Stephen F. Austin, where a downpour in the Lumberjacks' 42-37 win over Central Arkansas caused 13 fumbles, including eight that were lost, three interceptions and three missed extra points.

SWAC: With a 21-14 win over Florida A&M, Southern interim coach Dawson Odums is 2-0 ... Alabama State scored touchdowns off a blocked punt, a fumble recovery and an interception return while routing Alcorn State, 54-14. Georgia transfer Isaiah Crowell got rolling with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Extra Point: Twenty of the 25 teams in The Sports Network Preseason FCS Top 25 were still ranked heading into Week 5. Harvard, Tennessee State and Albany are the most likely to move into the rankings this week, but the only team to lose below No. 16 Central Arkansas was No. 21 Montana. So two or three of them may be disappointed again.


Third-ranked Youngstown State (4-0) used a bye this weekend to continue preparations for next Saturday's Missouri Valley showdown at top-ranked North Dakota State (5-0). The Penguins were the only team to beat NDSU last season when the latter won the FCS national championship.

Important conference games abound across the FCS. Included: Big Sky, North Dakota at Eastern Washington; CAA, Towson at James Madison and Richmond at Villanova; Ivy League, Cornell at Harvard; MEAC, Florida A&M at Howard; Missouri Valley, Southern Illinois at Illinois State; OVC, Eastern Kentucky at Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois at UT Martin; Pioneer League, San Diego at Drake in a meeting of last year's co-champs; SoCon, The Citadel at Samford and Elon at Appalachian State; and Southland, Stephen F. Austin versus Sam Houston in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Brown will visit Rhode Island for the 97th annual Governors' Cup game and Southeastern Louisiana will play at FBS UAB.