Philadelphia, PA – There is an indelible image for the Sunday morning the NCAA announces the field for the FCS playoffs in late November.
It's not coaches and players celebrating wildly like it's Christmas morning - although that happens.
It's more from the members of the final few teams that were denied an at-large bid. They are the ones with stunned looks of disbelief after their magic carpet was pulled out from underneath their season.
While the expansion of the FCS playoffs by four teams this season has been met with open arms nationally, the less-publicized addition of a ratings system for the NCAA selection committee to use in picking its field has been embraced with a sense of enthusiasm, if not relief, across the FCS.
The Simple Rating System, or SRS, is similar to the RPI system used in college basketball and will quantify the strength of a team's schedule. Its use will help lead to a more concrete selection of at-large qualifiers, which will rise by three to 13 in the new 24-team field. The additional bid for the Pioneer Football League champion brings the number of conference champions to 11.
"It's been long overdue in my opinion. I think you'd find that is the consensus with our coaches," said coach Clint Conque of eighth-ranked Central Arkansas
One of the main reasons, according to coach Mark Farley of seventh-ranked Northern Iowa, is "probably the biggest deficiency right now in FCS is the difference in schedules. There's a lot of (teams) that are getting automatic bids that maybe don't play as strong of leagues or strong of schedules" as a conference like Farley's, the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is home to North Dakota State, the reigning two-time FCS national champion.
The SRS will factor in all of a team's games against FCS, FBS and Division II competition. In past years, a game against a Division II opponent did not count toward a team's resume.
But the new system will incorporate them into the equation and rightfully differentiate the levels of wins, including both home and away, which will provide a true strength of schedule tool. It will be recalculated on a weekly basis through the final regular-season games on Nov. 23 and the announcement of the playoff field the next morning.
The selection committee also will consider potential at-large teams with six wins against Division I competition, when in the past it basically considered seven to be the benchmark.
Conque says the new factors will help teams in conferences like his Southland and the Big Sky, where there are many fewer FCS schools geographically than the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast, and almost forces their members to play both a Division II school and an FBS opponent in a season. In the past, that could have hamstrung the chance to get to seven Division I wins.
"To be able to get credit for difficult scheduling, having to play a quality Division II school and the FBS, that balances out a little bit the fact we can't get a game with Valparaiso, Butler or Saint Francis or Drake or people like this," Conque said.
"And I think also, too, because they have this rating system in place, it creates a more objective opinion instead of backroom lawyering that potentially could go on with at-large selection opportunities. I'm not suggesting that that goes on. What I am saying, though, is that it does create a more objective, black and white tool for the committee to use versus more subjective material."
Last year, Lehigh, which had a 10-1 record, and fast-finishing Towson were among the more vocal teams after both were denied at-large bids. Richmond, Eastern Kentucky and Northern Arizona had their gripes as well.
The expansion of the field will open the door to many more claiming candidacy, but the new ratings will solve a lot of the discussion.
"I think," Farley said, "an RPI will help at least balance some scales of ... the schedule that you're playing, the ranked teams that you're playing."
Coach Dino Babers of ninth-ranked Eastern Illinois may have said it best that the most compelling argument for a team will still be made on the field.
Subjective, objective, computers, the eye test, it still comes down to winning games.
"I know about tough opponents and non-tough opponents, I don't know how those committees rank those things," Babers said.
"I know that you play tough opponents and you get rewarded if you win the game. If you lose the game, they say it helps you, but I'm not sure. We try to win every game they put in front of us."
GRAMBLING MOVES ON
After Grambling State fired head coach Doug Williams on Wednesday - http://tinyurl.com/nkraomq - the Southwestern Athletic Conference university named running back coach George Ragsdale as its interim head coach.
Ragsdale is a long-time friend and former teammate of Williams'. He has coached in the SWAC at Arkansas-Pine Bluff as well as at North Carolina A&T (his alma mater), Norfolk State and Morris Brown.
Ragsdale's first game is Saturday when Grambling (0-2) faces Division II Lincoln (Mo.) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
With Appalachian State's run of 108 straight weeks being ranked in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 ending Monday, Montana State sits second with 45 consecutive appearances.
It's a long way to the active leader, New Hampshire, whose run of 128 straight weeks extends to the first week of the 2004 season. It helps explain how the Wildcats have made nine straight appearances in the FCS playoffs - also the active high.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: The wild card among Big Sky teams this year has long appeared to be Portland State, which finished 7-4 in coach Nigel Burton's first season in 2011 but only 3-8 last season. After dismantling Eastern Oregon to open their season, the Vikings got people's attention with a hard-fought, 37-30 loss at Cal. Their offense, fueled by quarterback Kieran McDonagh and running back D.J. Adams, leads the FCS with 612.5 yards per game. It doesn't hurt the conference that Eastern Washington (611) and Idaho State (580) rank second and third, respectively. ... The Montana-North Dakota and Northern Arizona-UC Davis matchups on Saturday do not count toward the Big Sky standings.
Big South: Presbyterian will try to keep Southern Conference member Furman in last place in the Big South. Furman has opened its season with losses to Gardner-Webb and Coastal Carolina, although Saturday's home date with Presbyterian is the easiest of the three games. ... Big South teams are 5-1 against non-conference FCS competition.
CAA Football: In a conference of terrific running backs, it's newcomer Omar Osbourne of Albany who leads the way with 331 rushing yards through two weeks of action. The Great Danes play their first CAA game by hosting Rhode Island on Saturday. ... Winnable but tricky games: New Hampshire hosting Colgate and quarterback Gavin McCarney, and Richmond, looking strong, at Gardner-Webb. And this for a Richmond program that has not suffered a non-conference FCS loss in the regular season since 2005 (17-0 since).
Ivy: The season is inching closer for Ivy teams, who will kick off on Sept. 21 and play the final 10 weekends of the season.
Independents: Old Dominion has gotten a taste of its FBS future with season- opening losses to East Carolina and Maryland - the Monarches' first-ever FBS opponents, but also the first two of five this season. Still, the Monarchs' schedule lessens in the coming weeks, beginning Saturday against Howard, and 2012 Walter Payton Award winner Taylor Heinicke figures to put up big numbers.
MEAC: Six MEAC teams are still seeking their first win. Perhaps the one that's most likely to gain it Saturday is South Carolina State, which hosts Alabama A&M in a strong matchup of historically black schools. Quarterback Richard Cue has held his own in season-opening losses to Coastal Carolina and Clemson.
Missouri Valley: With running backs Zach Zenner of South Dakota State, David Johnson of Northern Iowa and Adaris Bellamy (ankle injury) of Youngstown State, the Missouri Valley could produce the FCS rushing champion for a fifth time in six seasons. Zenner led the nation last season. ... Missouri State heads to Murray State. The last time that happened in 2011, the Bears came out on the wrong end of a 72-59 score.
Northeast: With road wins over Marist and Lafayette, Sacred Heart has been the surprise of the conference, starting 2-0 for the first time since 2008. Redshirt freshman quarterback R.J. Noel has two NEC Rookie of the Week honors to start his playing career. Up next are games against Division II Lincoln (Pa.) and Chowan, so the winning should continue for second-year coach Mark Nofri, whose team finished just 2-9 last season. ... Wagner will play in the NEC's only FCS-FBS matchup when it visits Syracuse on Saturday.
Ohio Valley: The OVC is home to some of the best non-conference matchups of the week. Eastern Kentucky will go for its second win against No. 21 Coastal Carolina. No. 9 Eastern Illinois will seek some in-state bragging rights when it hosts No. 18 Illinois State in the 102nd playing of the Mid-American Classic. UT Martin, which owns a big win over Chattanooga, will try to take down another nationally ranked team when it hosts No. 8 Central Arkansas.
Patriot: Fordham has not started a season with three straight wins since its final year in Division III in 1989, and to do so on Saturday the Rams will have to beat FBS member Temple. ... Since falling in overtime to New Hampshire early in the 2011 season, Lehigh has won nine straight games by seven points or less, including last Saturday's 51-44 overtime win over Central Connecticut State.
Pioneer: Jacksonville coach Kerwin Bell has done well to raise the Dolphins' non-conference schedule in recent years. His 0-2 team played at Delaware and Jacksonville State, which is a terrific lead-in to its league opener against Morehead State on Saturday. The Dolphins have matched up with the three FBS- bound programs - Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Old Dominion - since the 2010 season. ... Drake junior linebacker John Hugunin is tied for the FCS high with 30 tackles in two games, including 23 solos.
Southern: The week's biggest game is No. 10 Georgia Southern at No. 16 Wofford. With a win, the host Terriers, who have won six straight home games, would take control of the early conference race because their schedule is quite back-loaded. But GSU is 8-2 all-time in Spartanburg, S.C.
Southland: Nicholls is playing with house money as it takes on a third straight FBS team to open the season, Louisiana-Lafayette. The Colonels' win at Western Michigan last Saturday snapped three losing streaks: nine games overall, 12 games versus FBS teams and 21 games versus NCAA opponents.
SWAC: In the SWAC's preseason poll, Alabama State was favored in the East Division and defending conference champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the West Division, but the loser of their matchup Saturday will be 0-3. ... Expect offensive fireworks when Southern hosts Prairie View A&M in a key West Division game. Prairie View is getting strong play from its two-QB system of Jerry Lovelocke and De'Auntre Smiley and, more importantly, improved defensive play, while Southern quarterback Dray Joseph, who fired 25 touchdowns last season, figures to take off in conference games.
Extra Point: The FCS has an 11-55 record against FBS competition, with 15 games on the schedule Saturday.
Extra Extra Point: Courtesy of YouTube, here's a cool video of Navy SEALs parachuting into Washington-Grizzly Stadium before the Appalachian State- Montana game on Aug. 31: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCabo1XClzE.
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, updated on most Sundays, 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.
WEEK 3 PICKS
Week 2 Record: 72-15 (.828)
Season Record: 126-36 (.778)
Saturday, Sept. 14
Dayton (1-1) at X-Robert Morris (1-1), noon
Presbyterian (1-1) at X-Furman (0-2), noon
Western Illinois (2-0) at X-Minnesota (2-0), noon
Colgate (0-2) at X-No. 12 New Hampshire (0-1), noon
X-North Carolina Central (1-1) at Charlotte (2-0), noon
Morehead State (0-2, 0-0 PFL) at X-Jacksonville (0-2, 0-0), 1 p.m.
Fordham (2-0) at X-Temple (0-2), 1 p.m.
X-No. 22 Lehigh (1-0) at Monmouth (0-2), 1 p.m.
North Greenville (1-0) at X-VMI (1-1), 1:30 p.m.
William Jewell (0-1) at X-Valparaiso (0-2), 2 p.m.
X-Samford (1-1) at Florida A&M (1-1), 2 p.m.
No. 24 Youngstown State (2-0) at X-Michigan State (2-0), 2 p.m.
Texas Southern (0-1) at X-No. 5 Sam Houston State (1-1), 3 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (0-2, 0-0 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (1-1, 0-0), 3 p.m.
Charleston (W.V.) (0-1) at X-Southern Illinois (0-2), 3 p.m.
Quincy (0-1) at X-Indiana State (0-2), 3:05 p.m.
Colorado Mesa (1-0) at X-No. 3 Montana State (1-1), 3:05 p.m.
No. 17 Stony Brook (1-0) at X-Buffalo (0-2), 3:30 p.m.
Delaware (2-0) at X-Navy (1-0), 3:30 p.m.
Bryant (2-0) at X-Maine (2-0), 3:30 p.m.
No. 14 Cal Poly (1-1) at X-Colorado State (0-2), 3:30 p.m.
The Citadel (0-2, 0-1 SoCon) at X-Western Carolina (0-2, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
Wagner (1-1) at X-Syracuse (0-2), 4 p.m.
Northern Colorado (1-1) at X-Wyoming (1-1), 4 p.m.
Humboldt State (0-1) at X-Portland State (1-1), 4:05 p.m.
Western State (0-1) at X-Idaho State (1-1), 5 p.m.
Alabama State (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-2, 0-0 SWAC), 5 p.m.
X-Grambling State (0-2) vs. Lincoln (Mo.) (0-1) in Kansas City, Mo., 5:30 p.m.
X-Charleston Southern (2-0) at Campbell (1-1), 6 p.m.
X-No. 23 Bethune-Cookman (2-0) at FIU (0-2), 6 p.m.
Warner (0-2) at X-Mercer (1-0), 6 p.m.
X-No. 15 Richmond (1-1) at Gardner-Webb (1-1), 6 p.m.
X-William & Mary (1-1) at Lafayette (0-1), 6 p.m.
Elon (1-1) at X-North Carolina A&T (1-0), 6 p.m.
Austin Peay (0-2) at X-Chattanooga (1-1), 6 p.m.
Saint Francis (Pa.) (0-1) at X-No. 20 James Madison (1-1), 6 p.m.
No. 21 Coastal Carolina (2-0) at X-Eastern Kentucky (1-1), 6 p.m.
Alabama A&M (1-1) at X-South Carolina State (0-2), 6 p.m.
Howard (1-1) at X-Old Dominion (0-2), 6 p.m.
X-Tennessee Tech (1-1) at Hampton (0-2), 6 p.m.
X-Fort Valley State (0-1) at Savannah State (0-2), 6 p.m.
Holy Cross (0-2) at X-Central Connecticut State (0-2), 6 p.m.
Lincoln (Pa.) (1-0) at X-Sacred Heart (2-0), 6 p.m.
Marist (0-2) at X-Georgetown (1-1), 6 p.m.
X-Butler (1-1) at Franklin (0-1), 6 p.m.
Southern Utah (2-0) at X-Washington State (1-1), 6:30 p.m.
Lenoir-Rhyne (0-1) at X-Davidson (0-1), 7 p.m.
X-Tennessee State (1-1) at Jackson State (1-1) in Memphis, Tenn., 7 p.m.
Missouri State (0-2) at X-Murray State (1-1), 7 p.m.
X-No. 11 Montana (1-0) at North Dakota (1-1), 7 p.m.
Northwestern State (2-0) at X-Cincinnati (1-1), 7 p.m.
No. 2 Eastern Washington (2-0) at X-Toledo (0-2), 7 p.m.
New Mexico Highlands (1-0) at X-Abilene Christian (2-0), 7 p.m.
Nicholls (1-1) at X-Louisiana-Lafayette (0-2), 7 p.m.
Southeastern Louisiana (1-1) at X-No. 6 South Dakota State (2-0), 7 p.m.
McMurry (0-1) at X-Stephen F. Austin (0-2), 7 p.m.
Co-Game of the Week: X-No. 10 Georgia Southern (2-0, 0-0 SoCon) at Wofford (1-1, 1-0 SoCon), 7 p.m. Will Southern Conference officials dress in black and gold and stand on the Wofford sideline?
X-Prairie View A&M (1-1, 1-0 SWAC) at Southern (0-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.
Langston (0-1) at X-Incarnate Word (1-1), 7 p.m.
Morgan State (0-2) at X-Liberty (1-1), 7 p.m.
Co-Game of the Week: No. 8 Central Arkansas (1-1) at X-UT Martin (1-1), 7 p.m. The Southland and Ohio Valley conferences are hoping the expanded playoff field will come knocking on their doors.
Rhode Island (0-2, 0-1 CAA) at X-Albany (1-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
X-No. 18 Illinois State (0-1) at No. 9 Eastern Illinois (2-0), 7 p.m.
Lamar (1-1) at X-Oklahoma State (2-0), 7:30 p.m.
Delaware State (0-1) at X-No. 4 Towson (2-0), 7:30 p.m.
Weber State (1-1) at X-Utah State (1-1), 8 p.m.
North Alabama (1-0) at X-Jacksonville State (2-0), 8 p.m.
West Alabama (1-0) at X-No. 13 McNeese State (2-0), 8 p.m.
X-No. 25 Northern Arizona (0-1) at UC Davis (0-2), 9 p.m.
Southern Oregon (0-1) at X-Sacramento State (0-2), 9:05 p.m.