Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There is a stark difference this season between the FCS program that is seeking its third straight national championship and the only one to have achieved the feat before.
North Dakota State, the two-time defending champion, steps onto the field as if earning the three-peat is its birthright.
The Appalachian State program that won three straight national titles under then-coach Jerry Moore from 2005-07 has lost the confidence in which teams feed off and carry them at all times. The Mountaineers are a stunning 1-4 - their worst record after five games since 1993.
This was going to be a "lost" season to begin with because App State isn't eligible for the Southern Conference title or an FCS playoff berth as it transitions out of the FCS toward the FBS. But under first-year coach Scott Satterfield, an assistant on the three national championship teams, it's a season full of too many unexpected losses. Satterfield has been swallowed up by criticism amid all the rattled nerves.
North Dakota State, on the other hand, is exactly where it expected to be at this point - focused and unbeaten, fending off all challengers, which now includes an FBS opponent (Kansas State) and a pair of Top 10 Missouri Valley Conference rivals (South Dakota State and Northern Iowa).
Against UNI on Saturday, the top-ranked Bison never led or were tied in the game after the No. 4 Panthers jumped ahead with an early field goal until Sam Ojuri powered his way into the end zone on a 19-yard run and Adam Keller kicked the extra point with 2:52 to play, making it 24-23 NDSU.
The best defense in the land then took over and wiped out two final UNI drives to finish off the win, which makes the Bison 33-2 since the start of the 2011 season - although the final loss in 2010 was a true confidence-builder as they went to overtime in the FCS quarterfinals before falling to the eventual national champion, Eastern Washington.
"That's an X-factor (confidence) that's difficult to put your finger on," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said leading up to the victory over UNI. "But I think because we have so many seniors, we're playing with more maturity than we ever had, and that might lead to more confidence.
"If something doesn't go exactly right, these guys don't get too rattled and I think the Kansas State game was (an example). We gave up two touchdowns where we had lost receivers. But our guys kept battling in there and made some adjustments. Certainly our maturity level has helped and that's probably led to we're playing with a great deal of confidence."
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/nkvsy89.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: The Ivy League's later start to the season hasn't kept Princeton and Yale from showing they are ready to challenge perennial powers Harvard and Penn for the title. On Saturday, Princeton (2-1) scored at least 50 points for the second straight game, while Yale (3-0) stunned Cal Poly, 24-10, in the first- ever meeting of Ivy and Big Sky Conference members. Both teams are getting huge seasons out of unheralded quarterbacks, Princeton's Quinn Epperly and Yale's Henry Furman.
Falling: Central Arkansas is going to have to get on a serious roll in its Southland Conference schedule, having been flattened by McNeese State, 59-28. The Bears only have wins over Incarnate Word and Missouri State, with Nebraska- Kearney up next. That's not the way for them to build another playoff resume should they not secure their conference's automatic bid again.
New Hampshire fell to 1-3 with a 44-28 loss at No. 3 Towson on Saturday. That could be enough to push the Wildcats, who were ranked 19th this past week, out of The Sports Network FCS Top 25 on Monday for the first time since the 2003 preseason poll.
Coach Sean McDonnell's program has been ranked in 131 straight polls, which is 83 more than Montana State's second-longest active run at 48.
AROUND THE NATION
Like Appalachian State, FBS-bound Georgia Southern (3-2) may not quite ride off high into the FBS sunset, having now lost two Southern Conference games. The Eagles have allowed 95 points to three conference opponents after opening the season with two easy non-conference home games. The two Sun Belt-bound programs will meet as FCS opponents for the last time on Oct. 26 at Appalachian State. ... Tennessee State (5-1) has flown under the radar this season, but might be ready to join the Top 25 after its fifth straight win, 40-16 over Southeast Missouri State. Telvin Hooks' 159 rushing yards and a touchdown helped control the game clock. But SEMO wasn't going to keep the ball for long when Lewis Washington can score on a 99-yard run, as he did. ... With Wynrick Smothers collecting a Central Arkansas-record 524 total yards in a loss to McNeese State, four of the five 500-yard games of total offense this season are in defeats. ... You almost think it's a misprint: Montana's Anthony Goodwin had nine passes defended (seven breakups and two interceptions) in a 55-27 win over Portland State. ... Cornell senior quarterback Jeff Mathews became the Ivy League's all-time passing yardage leader, increasing to 9,303 yards in a 41-20 loss to Colgate. In that game, Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney reinjured his knee and freshman Jake Melville came off the bench to lead four second-half scoring drives. ... South Carolina State senior quarterback Richard Cue has been terrific this season, guiding the Bulldogs to four straight wins, including 29-24 over previously unbeaten North Carolina A&T. ... Marist senior quarterback Chuckie Looney set the school's career record for passing yards - moving to 4,874 - and the Red Foxes recorded their first shutout in four years, 37-0 over Valparaiso in the Pioneer Football League. ... In Saint Francis' 38-29 loss to Central Connecticut State, Red Flash running back Kyle Harbridge finished with 179 yards on 29 carries, giving him the new school record for career rushing yards (3,439). ... Duquesne's first three touchdowns were scored by the defense - two interceptions and a fumble return - in a 27-14 win over Division II West Liberty. ... Speaking of defense, Mississippi Valley State earned its first win by grabbing five interceptions and limiting Alabama A&M's two quarterbacks to 3-of-21 passing in a 28-9 win. Avery Boykin had a 52-yard interception return for a TD. ... Alabama State racked up eight sacks and forced three turnovers in a 34-2 smothering of Texas Southern. ... Monmouth's running duo of Julian Hayes and Kwabena Asante have gone over 100 rushing yards in four straight games, including a 35-9 win over Robert Morris which was the Hawks' third straight in improving to 3-3. ... NFL prospect Walter Powell continues to play at a high level. The Murray State wide receiver/punt returner had 310 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns, including on an 88-yard punt return, in the Racers' 35-24 win over Tennessee Tech. Murray State is a surprising 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. ... South Dakota gained its first-ever Missouri Valley win after freshman Miles Bergner kicked a 41-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining for a 17-14 victory over Missouri State. ... Illinois State (2-3) turned the game over to sophomore Marshaun Coprich, who rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns - both career highs - in a much- needed, 35-21 victory over Western Illinois. ... Ross Scheuerman's 78-yard touchdown run helped him to 280 all-purpose yards in Lafayette's first win, 31-7 over Bucknell. In the loss, Bucknell's Kyle Sullivan was forced into 13 punts. ... Tommy Gooden rushed for 214 yards and four touchdowns as Jackson State kept defending SWAC champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff winless, 42-33. ... Running back Ezekiel Graham sat out with an injury as Sacramento State (3-3) beat Northern Colorado, 37-21, and improved to 2-0 in Big Sky games for the first time in its 18 years in the conference. ... The Week 6 rushing leader was Dayton's Connor Kacsor, who churned out 244 yards and two touchdowns as the Flyers ran, didn't fly, past Davidson, 40-8. ... Cal Poly's Bobby Zalud kicked an FCS-season high 53-yard field goal against Yale and Liberty's John Lunsford connected on a 52-yarder against Old Dominion.
A LOOK AHEAD
The Week 7 action isn't full of marquee games, although Villanova at Towson is an important matchup of the two teams picked highest in the CAA Football preseason poll.
On Thursday, there's a key game in the MEAC: South Carolina State at North Carolina Central.
Saturday's games include: Big Sky, Eastern Washington-North Dakota, Portland State-Southern Utah and Northern Arizona-Sacramento State; Big South, Gardner- Webb-Costal Carolina; CAA, Richmond-James Madison; Missouri Valley, Southern Illinois-Northern Iowa and Illinois State-Youngstown State; OVC, Tennessee State-Jacksonville State; Southern, Samford-Appalachian State; Southland, Stephen F. Austin-Southeastern Louisiana; and SWAC, Prairie View A&M-Alabama State and Alabama A&M-Southern.