Indiana State began Saturday's action in sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and ended it in jeopardy of missing the FCS playoffs.
In the unforgiving playoff picture, there's little margin for error.
Indiana State had been the Missouri Valley's hottest team before falling to Illinois State, 17-10. The loss left the Sycamores with a 7-3 record heading into their difficult season-ending game at Youngstown State on Nov. 17.
Seven wins often gets a power conference team in the playoffs, but if Indiana State doesn't beat Youngstown State, only six of its seven wins would be against Division I opponents, and no team has earned an at-large bid with fewer than seven D-I wins.
This year, even eight D-I wins might not be enough to keep the bubble from bursting underneath a team.
It's a good thing the Pioneer and Ivy leagues and the SWAC won't have any qualifiers. From the other 10 conferences, there are about 30 legitimate teams in contention for 20 spots.
The schedules in the final two weeks shape up well for the Big Sky to likely have four qualifiers: Northern Arizona (8-1), Montana State (8-1), Eastern Washington (7-2) and Cal Poly (7-2), which has lost two straight games but hosts an awful Idaho State team next Saturday. Sacramento State (6-4), which owns a win over Colorado, will probably be left out of the mix even with a season-ending victory over UC Davis.
CAA Football had five playoff teams last season, but it will be hard to get that number this season despite having six serious challengers. New Hampshire (8-2) and Old Dominion (8-1) appear in the field, with James Madison (7-2) needing a win at Villanova or against Old Dominion. Surging Towson (5-4) surely can't be denied if it wins out against Rhode Island (definitely) and at New Hampshire (maybe). Neither Villanova (6-3), which hosts JMU and visits Delaware in a difficult ending to its regular season, nor Richmond (6-3), which hosts Delaware and goes to William & Mary, would be happy if it's left out of the field with seven or eight wins.
The Missouri Valley Conference has four possibilities, and only defending FCS champion North Dakota State (8-1) and Illinois State (8-2), which was unhappy about being left out of last year's field, appear secure for bids. South Dakota State (7-2) and Indiana State (7-3) both need one more win.
The Southern Conference boasts Georgia Southern (7-2) and Appalachian State (7-3) as likely qualifiers, with next Saturday's winner of Chattanooga (5-4) at Wofford (7-2) likely still alive and the loser basically finished. Wofford, which has six D-I wins, still has to play South Carolina.
The upstart conference of the year is the Ohio Valley, but it's become dicey there with UT Martin (7-2) and Eastern Illinois (6-3) both hoping to lock up the automatic bid. A Nov. 17 win over UT Martin would be enough to get Tennessee State (8-2) into the field, but Eastern Kentucky (7-3) might be an eight-win team left on the sideline.
In the Southland, Central Arkansas (8-2) has clinched the automatic bid, although Sam Houston State (7-2) can still share the title. But the Bearkats, who reached the national title game last season, can't afford to slip up next Saturday at Northwestern State because they only have six D-I wins and end their season at Texas A&M, which likely will be a loss.
Bubble teams everywhere are rooting for Stony Brook to win the Big South's automatic bid and Lehigh to reel in the Patriot bid. Stony Brook (9-1) seems powerful enough to go to Liberty and accomplish that next Saturday, but what does the playoff committee do if Liberty somehow wrestles away the bid? Would the committee leave Stony Brook out of the mix? It's quite possible.
Could the committee sack Lehigh (9-0) if it doesn't win the Patriot title and, say, finishes with 10 wins? It's debatable because of a lower power rating. Standing in front of a Lehigh three-peat is Colgate's unreal offense, which rolls into Bethlehem, Pa., next Saturday.
Count on one automatic bid each from the Northeast Conference - likely Wagner (6-3) - and the MEAC - likely Bethune-Cookman (7-2).
A handful of these teams will have their hopes end in the final two weeks of the regular season, but there will be some playoff-worthy teams on the sidelines when the postseason kicks off with 20 qualifiers - four less than the size of next year's much-anticipated field.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/c4b6r89.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: New Hampshire and Appalachian State will continue the longest active streaks of playoff appearances, moving to nine and eight, respectively. UNH (8-2) has probably been a bit overlooked nationally even as it leads the CAA Football race (the Wildcats posted a 28-25 win over William & Mary on Saturday). ASU (7-3) went to rival Georgia Southern and won, 31-28, to become playoff-eligible.
Falling: With Austin Peay and Valparaiso earning their first wins, Rhode Island is the only winless team in the FCS. And what a way for the Rams to keep the goose egg, losing to Richmond, 39-0. Coach Joe Trainer's long- struggling CAA squad is averaging an FCS-worst 9.9 points per game. Dropping to the NEC may have been the better way to go next year.
TAYLOR ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
Legendary black college football coach Joe Taylor has announced his retirement from Florida A&M at the end of the season. The Rattlers (3-6) have two more games.
Taylor has been a coach for 41 seasons, amassing a 233-96-4 record as a head coach, including 35-19 at Florida A&M. He is tied for third all-time among black college coaches.
Taylor has been a head coach at Howard (1983), Virginia Union (1984-91), Hampton (1992-2007) and Florida A&M (2008-present), leading 11 squads to NCAA playoff or bowl appearances.
His greatest success was at Hampton, where he compiled a 136-49-1 record (.734) and won four black college football national championships (1995, 2004, 2005 and 2006) and eight conference titles.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: Montana evened its record at 5-5 with a 24-21 win at Weber State. The Grizzlies can avoid their first losing season in 26 years by beating rival Montana State on Nov. 17 ... Weber State linebacker Anthony Morales had 23 tackles in the loss to Montana ... Northern Arizona (8-1, 6-0) will try to complete a perfect conference season at home, where they host Southern Utah next Saturday and Cal Poly Nov. 17 ... Montana State quarterback DeNarius McGhee's streak of 33 straight games with a touchdown pass ended in the Bobcats' 20-17 win at Sacramento State.
Big South: He doesn't play in a power conference, but Stony Brook senior running back Miguel Maysonet may be the favorite for the Walter Payton Award. He's averaging 165.1 rushing yards and 194.1 all-purpose yards per game, and leads the nation with 19 total touchdowns. Amazingly, Stony Brook (9-1) has outscored opponents 128-17 in the first quarter ... With star quarterback Aramis Hillary sidelined by injury, Coastal Carolina redshirt freshman Alex Ross threw for 342 yards and had 404 yards of total offense in a 55-33 win over Gardner-Webb.
CAA Football: Matt Evans registered a game-high 10 tackles in New Hampshire's 28-25 win over William & Mary to become the Wildcats' all-time tackle leader with 437 in his career. It was coach Sean McDonnell's first win over the Tribe in 10 attempts ... By posting 219 all-purpose yards and accounting for three touchdowns in James Madison's 31-7 win at Maine, recently benched quarterback Justin Thorpe seems to have entrenched himself at No. 1 again.
Ivy: The title race has come back to perennial powers Harvard and Penn, who both trailed Princeton two weekends ago. Harvard (7-1, 4-1) whipped Columbia, 69-0, for its largest margin of victory since 1946. Quarterback Colton Chapple continued his run to the league's offensive player of the year award with four first-half touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). Penn (4-4, 4-1) beat Princeton, 28-21, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, on a C.J. Mooney 15-yard interception return (one of four Princeton turnovers) and quarterback Billy Ragone's 3-yard run with 2:59 left. Penn hosts Harvard next Saturday ... Dartmouth (5-3) clinched at least a .500 season for the third straight year under Buddy Teevens, rolling past Cornell, 44-28, on the road.
MEAC: Conference-leading Bethune-Cookman (7-2, 6-0) survived a dangerous game by winning 24-13 at Morgan State. Isidore Jackson clinched the win with a late touchdown run, capping a 111-yard effort ... The Wildcats moved a step closer to the conference's automatic playoff bid because of North Carolina Central's 23-20 double-overtime win over Delaware State. Redshirt senior Malik Cromartie blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt in the second overtime to preserve NCCU's Homecoming win. Cromartie also had a team-high 12 tackles and four pass break- ups.
Missouri Valley: Defense took over in the conference Saturday as four of the five winners scored between 13 and 21 points ... No. 1 North Dakota State (8-1) beat Missouri State, 21-17, with smothering defense, of course, to improve to 10-0 on the road the last two seasons. The Bison allowed 149 yards to MSU to drop their season average to 180.7 yards per game ... Speaking of road success, Illinois State (8-2) has won seven straight outings since last season, having won at Indiana State, 17-10, to basically clinch a playoff bid ... Jamaine Cook stopped Youngstown State's four-game losing streak with 203 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 13-10 win over South Dakota.
Northeast: Wagner ended a difficult week on a high note, a 30-0 drubbing of Albany to grab first place. Coming off a week of no power on campus following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in their Staten Island, N.Y., community, the Seahawks rolled to their first six-game winning streak since 1988. Incredibly, they haven't lost a turnover in the win streak. They can clinch their first FCS playoff bid with a Nov. 17 win over Duquesne.
Ohio Valley: How's this for impressive: UT Martin held off Jacksonville State, 49-47, in a game with 1,126 yards of offense but no turnovers. Derek Carr threw for seven touchdowns in the win and Marques Ivory fired six in defeat (five to Alan Bonner). The first-place Skyhawks (7-2, 5-1) snuffed out a two- point conversion with 41 seconds left to preserve the win ... Eastern Illinois (7-3, 5-1) kept pace with UT Martin with a 31-24 escape at Tennessee Tech. Erik Lora caught seven passes to reach 100 for the season - the 17th player in FCS history to do so ... The NCAA has granted a sixth year of eligibility to Eastern Illinois defensive lineman Pat Wertz.
Patriot: Just give Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney the ball and get out of his way. He continued to leave jaws dropped with 512 total yards, rushing for 288 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 carries and throwing for 224 yards and two touchdowns in the first-place Raiders' 65-41 win over Lafayette. It was the first time Colgate had two 200-yard rushers in the same game as Jordan McCord "added" 203 yards ... Lehigh (9-0) is the only unbeaten team remaining in the FCS and five of its wins are by three points or less, including 36-35 at Holy Cross on Saturday.
Pioneer: Butler (8-2, 7-0) has first place all to itself after a 16-13 win over Jacksonville and Dayton's 28-13 surprise against rival Drake (6-3, 5-1). The difference in Butler's seventh straight win was quarterback Matt Lancaster's 1-yard touchdown with 2 seconds left, capping a 14-play, 95-yard drive ... Valparaiso won for the first time this season by whipping Campbell, 41-21, on the road. Redshirt freshman Jake Hutson was unstoppable with 248 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and 323 all-purpose yards.
SoCon: What a wild finish to the conference race, with Georgia Southern (7-2) having clinched a share of the title, but Wofford (7-2, 5-2), Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2) and Chattanooga (5-4, 4-2) still tied with the Eagles in the loss column ... Wofford senior fullback Eric Breitenstein, with 5,091 career rushing yards, needs 37 yards to tie Terriers all-time leader Shawn Graves (5,128) ... Darian Robinson rushed for a career-high 178 yards and one touchdown in The Citadel's 38-24 win over Elon. What an up-and-down season for The Citadel.
Southland: Central Arkansas (8-2) is in the FCS playoffs for a second straight season because of its superb passing game, but also the fact it has yet to lose on its 2-year-old purple-and-gray turf ... Sam Houston State's scary-good 70-0 win over Southeastern Louisiana represented its highest point total in a Southland game ... With wide receiver Cordell Roberson out of action, Stephen F. Austin's D.J. Ward (11 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown) stepped up his play in a 40-26 win over Lamar. Rain delayed the start of the game by nearly two-and-a-half hours.
SWAC: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7-2, 6-2) clinched the West Division title and a berth in the SWAC Championship Game with a 49-3 rout of Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M's 35-21 loss to Alabama A&M. Benjamin Anderson threw for four touchdowns and Bill Ross and Ryan Shaw returned interceptions for scores in UAPB's win ... The East Division is still a scramble between Alabama A&M (6-3, 6-2), Alabama A&M (7-2, 6-2) and Jackson State (5-4, 5-2), who all won on Saturday.
Extra Point: Fordham's Patrick Murray could be an All-America selection as a place-kicker or a punter. He leads the FCS with 21 field goals (on 24 attempts) and a 46-yard average on punts.
A LOOK AHEAD
Next Saturday's Week 11 action features key games in the smaller conferences.
The Colgate at Lehigh winner will earn the Patriot League's automatic playoff bid, while Stony Brook will try to secure a second straight playoff bid out of the Big South when it visits Liberty.
The two non-scholarship leagues have huge games as well. In the Pioneer Football League, which won't have an automatic playoff bid until next year, Butler can finish off a perfect league season at Drake. Also, Harvard travels to Penn for a meeting of the Ivy League leaders, with the winner grabbing sole possession of first place.
Other key games involving conference title races include: Big Sky, Portland State at Montana State, UC Davis at Eastern Washington and Southern Utah at Northern Arizona; CAA: James Madison at Villanova and Richmond at Delaware; Missouri Valley, South Dakota State at No. 1 North Dakota State in a first- place showdown; and NEC, Albany at Duquesne.
Also: OVC, Southeast Missouri State at Eastern Illinois, UT Martin at Tennessee Tech and Murray State at Eastern Kentucky; SoCon, Chattanooga at Wofford and Furman at Appalachian State; Southland, Sam Houston State at Northwestern State; and SWAC, Alabama A&M at Jackson State and Alabama State at Southern.