The 2013 FCS playoffs can't arrive soon enough for the Pioneer Football League, which will gain an automatic qualifying bid for its champion.
Other conferences should be equally excited by the three additional at-large bids that will make the field grow from 20 to 24 teams.
You may noticed fewer mid-major schools have been getting at-large bids to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. That scenario doesn't necessarily have to happen with the FCS.
The conferences outside the big four of the Big Sky, CAA Football, Missouri Valley and Southern Conference have a much better chance of securing multiple qualifiers. Conferences such as the MEAC, Ohio Valley and Southland already have benefited during the first two seasons of 20 playoff teams, and next year's 24-team field should cement it.
Two qualifiers have never been a certainty in those conferences, but it appears to be changing. Since the playoff field grew from 16 to 20 in 2010, the OVC has enjoyed two straight seasons of sending two teams - its champion and an at-large team. Previously, in 2008 and '09, the conference sent only the champion.
The MEAC sent two teams in 2010 after having had only one qualifier the previous six seasons. The Southland sent two teams last season after having only its champion advance to the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons.
It's a sign the NCAA selection committee is not looking to simply load up with the big four conferences. The committee gave five bids to the CAA last season - champion Towson and four at-large bids - but that didn't pan out well as only Maine reached the quarterfinals before it bowed out.
The Big Sky, now up to 13 teams, and the Missouri Valley are particularly strong this season - no Eastern bias there, eh? - but the OVC (perhaps Tennessee State and Eastern Kentucky) and the Southland (perhaps Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas or surprising Southeastern Louisiana) could be sending multiple representatives again to the playoffs.
With the Big South losing Stony Brook next year, the Patriot League should even rise its stature with the implementation of football scholarships. It's a league that had two qualifiers four times when the playoffs were only 16 teams deep, most recently in 2005.
Clearly, 24 teams will be the right number for the FCS.
BUSINESS IS BOOMING
Appalachian State leads FCS schools with an average attendance of 27,921 through four home games - an increase of 1,710 per game over one year ago.
In fact, 19 of the top 25 schools in attendance average are up from last season's final average.
Weather and playoff crowds (which tend to be lower than the regular season) could reduce the averages going forward, but it's a terrific start across the FCS.
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.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: Sacramento State has a 5-2 record for the first time since 1992 and its sights set on taking down new No. 1 Eastern Washington. The host Eagles (5-1) have won three straight in the series, but Sac State won in Cheney in 2006 and '08 ... Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh was inducted into the Portland State Hall of Fame earlier this month as the Vikings' all-time winningest coach (90-68 record in 14 seasons). On Saturday, his unbeaten Cal Poly squad hosts Portland State ... Montana (3-4) will try to avoid falling dangerously close to having a losing season when it visits North Dakota ... Road teams are 15-9 in Big Sky games.
Big South: Liberty (2-4) has come on strong behind freshman quarterback Josh Woodrum, who is 2-2 as a starter. In those games, he has completed 94-of-123 pass attempts (76.4 percent) for 1,163 yards and seven touchdowns ... It's hard to get noticed playing behind Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet, but Iowa transfer Marcus Coker is trying hard. He's third in the conference with 480 rushing yards and a 68.6-yard average. He's even tied for second in the conference with six rushing touchdowns.
CAA Football: Interesting note in the New York Times that Hofstra has spent about $4.5 million on each of the presidential debates it hosted in 2008 and Tuesday night, and that's roughly the amount the CAA program was spending on football before eliminating the sport in 2009. The university calculated the exposure from the 2008 debate was worth $30 million in advertising, according to the Times story ... New Hampshire takes a 48-43-8 series lead into its 100th meeting with Maine ... Fifth-year senior quarterback John Laub's career appears over at Richmond after he suffered a broken left ankle against New Hampshire. Sophomore Michael Strauss, a Virginia transfer, is expected to start Saturday's home game against No. 2 James Madison.
Ivy: The game of the week matches two of the three 2-0 teams in conference play. Harvard, which ranks third in the FCS in scoring offense (41 ppg), goes to surprising Princeton, which ranks second nationally in scoring defense (11.6 ppg). The Tigers have allowed only two touchdowns in their last three games ... Having been knocked around by Harvard's defense two weeks ago, Cornell record-setting quarterback Jeff Mathews (neck) is still considered day-to-day by Big Red coaches. The winner of Saturday's Cornell-Dartmouth game will stay in the title race, but the loser will fall two games back of first place. In the first 57 seasons of Ivy football, there's been only one season in which the league champion had more than one loss (1982).
MEAC: There's an important Thursday night game as conference co-leader North Carolina Central (4-2, 3-0) hosts a Hampton squad coming off its first win ... The other co-leader, Bethune-Cookman (4-2, 3-0), is back in action after a bye week, hoping to build on an FCS-best plus-15 turnover margin against struggling defending champion Norfolk State. Thirteen Wildcats players have collected a takeaway, led by cornerback Dion Hanks' three interceptions ... Savannah State will try to end an FCS-worst 13-game losing streak against NAIA Edward Waters.
Missouri Valley: The defending national champion North Dakota State Bison will look to get back on track after falling to Indiana State when it travels to South Dakota in a Coyotes' home game being played in Sioux Falls. The two are former North Central Conference rivals ... Southern Illinois (4-3, 3-1) has done a terrific job to get into the title race, but coach Dale Lennon's squad will have to really earn it the rest of the way as the Salukis play at Youngstown State and North Dakota State over the next two weeks ... Missouri State has plenty of youth on the defensive side. In last Saturday's first win of the season - 27-24 over South Dakota - nearly half of the team's tackles came from sophomores Andrew Beisel (12), Caleb Schaffitzel (11), Mike Crutcher (10) and Sybhrian Berry (nine).
Northeast: Monmouth quarterback Kyle Frazier has been named the NEC's offensive player of the week three times. He's No. 1 in the conference in passing yards per game (265.2), total offense (296.3 ypg), passing efficiency (139.6) and touchdown passes (14) ... Huge game for Wagner (3-3, 3-1) as it seeks a fourth straight win Saturday at St. Francis (Pa.). First-place Albany (6-1, 4-0) is idle, so a Wagner win would pull the Seahawks within a half-game of the Great Danes.
Ohio Valley: Conference-leading Tennessee State has been a prime-time player all season, but the Tigers (7-0, 3-0) will hear the bell early with an 11 a.m. kickoff locally at Jacksonville State. TSU is off to its best start since the 1999 team which was ranked No. 1 went 11-0 in the regular season ... With 83 receptions in seven games, Eastern Illinois wide receiver Erik Lora only needs nine to tie Efrem Hill's conference-record 92 set for Samford in 2003.
Patriot: No. 8 Lehigh and Bucknell, who meet Saturday in Bethlehem, are ranked 1-2 in the Patriot League in scoring defense, total defense and sacks ... Fordham senior Patrick Murray leads the FCS in field goals (15) and attempts (18) ... Georgetown linebacker Robert McCabe's first tackle at Colgate will make him the first FCS player to reach 100 for the season.
Pioneer: Jacksonville (6-1, 4-0) will put its 16-game home winning streak on the line against dangerous San Diego (3-3, 2-1), the most traveled-tested team in the FCS. The frequent cross-country travelers are 0-3 on the road ... It's been a season of haves - Butler, Drake and Jacksonville are a combined 16-5 overall and 12-0 in league play - and have-nots - Campbell, Davidson, Morehead State and Valparaiso are 2-22 and 0-12.
SoCon: Lurking in the shadows of the title race is Chattanooga (3-3, 2-1), which has won two straight conference road games and is tied in the loss column with the big trio of Georgia Southern, Wofford and Appalachian State. The Mocs can make more people notice over the next two weeks by winning home games against Samford and GSU ... The week's biggest game is Wofford at Appalachian State - two teams that have won or shared seven of the last nine conference titles. Wofford is hoping All-America fullback Eric Breitenstein won't be slowed by a high ankle injury. "I think he'll be fine," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said on the weekly SoCon teleconference call.
Southland: Southeastern Louisiana (3-4, 3-0), which sits atop the conference standings, has a bye on Saturday while the three one-loss teams in the race - Central Arkansas, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin - host games. First- year SE Louisiana coach Ron Roberts has embraced the bye week to rest some tired bodies on the roster ... Lamar coach Ray Woodard, who has a 12-17 record since the program was reinstated in 2010, agreed to a two-year contract extension which will run through the 2014 season.
SWAC: Control of the West Division race is at stake Saturday when Arkansas- Pine Bluff (4-2, 3-1) goes to Southern (3-3, 2-2) ... Alabama A&M and Alabama State have byes before their anticipated meeting in Birmingham on Oct. 27. With those teams off this week, only one of the seven SWAC teams in action has a winning record (UAPB) ... Without wide receiver Mario Louis (18 touchdowns last season), Grambling State quarterback D.J. Williams has struggled as a passer. The sophomore, the son of Tigers coach Doug Williams, has completed 58-of-125 attempts (46.4 percent) for 720 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions. The defending conference champions are 0-6.
Extra Point: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) reported that about one-third of the tickets the NCAA is making available to the general public for the FCS championship game on Jan. 5 have been purchased from North Dakota addresses, presumably North Dakota State fans hoping the defending champion Bison return to Frisco, Texas. The 6,818 tickets made available to the public represent about one-third of the FCS Dallas Stadium's capacity for football. The rest of the tickets are held back for the schools and other people.
Last Week's Record: 34-23 (.596)
Season Record: 354-105 (.771)
All Times ET
Thursday, Oct. 18
Hampton (1-4, 1-2 MEAC) at X-North Carolina Central (4-2, 3-0), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 20
No. 17 Tennessee State (7-0, 3-0 OVC) at X-Jacksonville State (3-3, 2-2), noon
Sacred Heart (2-4, 1-2 NEC) at X-Duquesne (4-2, 2-1), noon
X-Penn (2-3, 2-0 Ivy) at Yale (1-4, 0-2), noon
No. 12 New Hampshire (5-2, 3-1 CAA) at X-Maine (2-4, 1-2), noon
Central Connecticut State (1-5, 1-2 NEC) at X-Robert Morris (1-5, 0-3), noon
X-Wagner (3-3, 3-1 NEC) at St. Francis, Pa. (3-4, 2-2), noon
Bucknell (1-5, 0-2 Patriot) at X-No. 9 Lehigh (7-0, 1-0), 12:30 p.m.
X-Cornell (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) at Brown (3-2, 0-2), 12:30 p.m.
Georgetown (3-4, 0-1 Patriot) at X-Colgate (3-3, 1-0), 1 p.m.
Holy Cross (1-5, 1-1 Patriot) at X-Lafayette (4-2, 1-0), 1 p.m.
San Diego (3-3, 2-1 Pioneer) at X-Jacksonville (6-1, 4-0), 1 p.m.
Bryant (1-6, 1-4 NEC) at X-Monmouth (3-3, 2-1), 1 p.m.
X-Morgan State (3-3, 2-1 MEAC) at Howard (4-2, 3-1), 1 p.m.
X-No. 22 Harvard (5-0, 2-0) at Princeton (3-2, 2-0), 1 p.m.
Valparaiso (0-6, 0-3 Pioneer) at X-Dayton (3-4, 2-2), 1 p.m.
X-Dartmouth (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) at Columbia (1-4, 0-2), 1:30 p.m.
X-Coastal Carolina (2-4, 0-1 Big South) at VMI (2-4, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-No. 3 Georgia Southern (5-1, 4-1 SoCon) at Furman (2-5, 1-3), 1:30 p.m.
Presbyterian (2-5, 0-2 Big South) at X-Charleston Southern (2-4, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
North Carolina A&T (3-3, 1-2 MEAC) at X-Delaware State (3-3, 2-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-UT Martin (5-2, 3-1 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (2-4, 1-2), 2 p.m.
Marist (2-4, 1-2 Pioneer) at X-Drake (5-2, 4-0), 2 p.m.
Missouri State (1-6, 1-3 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 11 Illinois State (6-1, 3-1), 2 p.m.
X-Edward Waters (3-4) at Savannah State (0-6), 2 p.m.
Virginia-Lynchburg (1-5) at X-Grambling State (0-6), 3 p.m.
Weber State (0-7, 0-4 Big Sky) at X-Southern Utah (3-4, 2-2), 3 p.m.
Alcorn State (3-4, 3-2 SWAC) at X-Prairie View A&M (4-2, 3-1), 3 p.m.
Western Carolina (1-6, 0-5 SoCon) at X-Elon (2-4, 0-3), 3 p.m.
X-Montana (3-4, 1-3 Big Sky) at North Dakota (3-4, 1-3), 3:30 p.m.
No. 8 Wofford (5-1, 3-1 SoCon) at X-No. 13 Appalachian State (5-2, 3-1), 3:30 p.m.
Rhode Island (0-6, 0-3 CAA) at X-No. 25 Delaware (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 2 James Madison (5-1, 3-0 CAA) at Richmond (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m.
Concord (4-3) at X-Liberty (2-4), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 24 Villanova (5-2, 3-1 CAA) at Georgia State (1-6), 3:30 p.m.
Idaho State (1-5, 0-3 Big Sky) at X-Northern Colorado (1-5, 0-3), 3:35 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (2-4, 2-2 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (3-4, 3-2), 4 p.m.
Nicholls (1-4, 0-2 Southland) at X-Stephen F. Austin (2-4, 1-1), 4 p.m.
Southern Illinois (4-3, 3-1 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 15 Youngstown State (4-2, 1-2), 4 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (1-5, 0-1 Big South) at X-No. 10 Stony Brook (6-1, 2-0), 4 p.m.
Norfolk State (2-5, 0-4 MEAC) at X-Bethune-Cookman (4-2, 3-0), 4 p.m.
No. 20 South Dakota State (5-1, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at X-Northern Iowa (1-5, 0-3), 5 p.m.
Morehead State (1-5, 0-3 Pioneer) at X-Butler (5-2, 4-0), 6 p.m.
South Carolina State (2-5, 1-3 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (3-4, 3-1), 6 p.m.
Samford (5-2, 3-2 SoCon) at X-Chattanooga (3-3, 2-1), 6 p.m.
Davidson (0-6, 0-3 Pioneer) at X-Campbell (1-5, 0-3), 6 p.m.
Lamar (3-4, 0-2 Southland) at X-No. 19 Central Arkansas (5-2, 3-1), 7 p.m.
X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-2, 3-1 SWAC) at Southern (3-3, 2-2), 7 p.m.
X-No. 7 Old Dominion (5-1, 2-1 CAA) at No. 18 Towson (3-3, 2-1), 7 p.m.
No. 21 Indiana State (5-2, 3-1 Missouri Valley) at X-Western Illinois (3-3, 1-2), 7 p.m.
X-No. 4 North Dakota State (5-1, 2-1 Missouri Valley) at South Dakota (1-5, 0-3) in Sioux Falls, S.D., 7 p.m.
UC Davis (3-4, 2-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 16 Northern Arizona (5-1, 3-0), 7:05 p.m.
Sacramento State (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 1 Eastern Washington (5-1, 4-0), 7:05 p.m.
McNeese State (4-2, 1-2 Southland) at X-No. 6 Sam Houston State (4-2, 2-1), 8 p.m.
X-No. 23 Eastern Kentucky (5-2, 3-1 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (2-4, 0-3), 8 p.m.
Portland State (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 14 Cal Poly (6-0, 4-0), 9:05 p.m.