Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Is this finally the year? That's what teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Ohio Valley Conference have been asking themselves for too long.
They're hoping the first half of the season suggests the FCS playoffs will be different - for whomever comes out of their respective conference.
But they might have an idea already the way OVC front-runners Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State and MEAC leaders Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State are playing this season. All four could be postseason-bound.
Both conferences are steeped in tradition, but, incredibly, a MEAC team has not won an FCS playoff game since 1999 and the OVC has been shut out since 2000.
UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said at OVC media day that the lack of playoff success is the "thorn in our (the conference's) side right now." South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough says success in the playoffs "is at a real, real high level. Until as a (MEAC) league we all get there, I don't know if any individual can rise above it enough to hang in the league with the CAA and with the Southern Conference and those kinds of leagues."
Coaches in both conferences point to difficult first-round matchups as the main reason for the playoff failure. When the playoffs were 16 teams deep, the MEAC sometimes ran into a regional road block against the CAA or SoCon, and the OVC champ sometimes ran into a Missouri Valley Football Conference team, and, in three different years from 2001-10, the eventual national champion, in an early round game.
This year's results can't be denied, however. The playoffs will expand from 20 to 24 teams, and both conferences could have two playoff qualifiers each.
In the OVC, No. 5-ranked Eastern Illinois (5-1) has basically had the best results of any team in the FCS, starting with a three-touchdown win at San Diego State and victories over Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Eastern Kentucky, losing only to Northern Illinois. The Jimmy Garoppolo express is on another level this season and the Panthers could be headed toward being a seeded team.
Tennessee State (6-1) might have the type of stingy defense to stop EIU, and the road-tested the Tigers hope to win the OVC's automatic bid. The Tigers have only lost by a field goal to Bethune-Cookman
Speaking of whom, Bethune-Cookman (5-1) could enter the picture as the MEAC's best hope to the playoff drought. Like Eastern Illinois, the Wildcats have a win over an FBS team (FIU) and their only loss was to another FBS opponent (Florida State).
They hosted playoff games in 2010 and last year, and have no intention of coughing up another home game if they have one this season.
But Bethune-Cookman may not even be the MEAC's top club. South Carolina State (5-2) has reeled off five straight wins, including a sweep of North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central in a five-day span, to make a statement after having a rare subpar season under coach Buddy Pough. Their losses are only to Clemson and unbeaten Coastal Carolina.
South Carolina State will visit Bethune-Cookman on Oct. 26, which is also the date of the Eastern Illinois at Tennessee State showdown.
Veterans at quarterback and playmakers on defenses link the four teams. Victories in the playoffs may link them by season's end.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/p7jfszk.
Western Carolina's 62-3 loss at Auburn lowered FCS teams to 14-81 against the FBS. The 14 wins are a single-season record.
The disclaimer, of course, is three of the wins are against Georgia State.
GOING FOR IT
Southern Illinois started the season 2-3, with the losses by a combined 12 points to the University of Illinois from the Big Ten and Eastern Illinois and Youngstown State, a pair of one-loss FCS teams.
The Salukis didn't dwell on what could have been. They have gone out and defeated South Dakota State and Northern Iowa, the teams picked second and third, respectively, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll, in back-to-back road games.
Now coach Dale Lennon's squad (4-3) goes for the big dog, the Missouri Valley preseason favorite and the two-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State Bison next Saturday in Carbondale, Ill.
Senior quarterback Kory Faulkner has thrown for 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season. What a job being done by the Salukis.
"We figured to take that next step up in credibility, you have to beat a team like Northern Iowa, so that was a big motivation for us," Lennon said. "We're there, it's just we hadn't shown it in the end, so I think teams now are going to realize that we're probably better than what our record shows."
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: There's good reason the teams in the Top 25 are ranked - they deserve to be there. Top 25 teams went a gaudy 19-3 in Week 7, a record that was guaranteed a loss by the No. 15 Villanova-No. 3 Towson matchup in CAA Football. 'Nova was as impressive as any ranked team in building a 38-14 halftime lead in a 45-35 win, which gave the Wildcats sole possession of first place in the conference.
Falling: Well, it can't be Appalachian State every week. How about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks stunned then-No. 2 Montana State, 52-38, back on Sept. 21. But that's the fewest points they have given up to a Division I team, having since gone out and fallen to Prairie View A&M, 56-48, and then Southeastern Louisiana, 56-14, in Saturday's Southland Conference matchup.
AROUND THE NATION
Charleston Southern survived a Big South game at VMI, 25-17, to improve to 7-0 under first-year coach Jamey Chadwell. Daniel Croghan III passed for 245 yards and three touchdowns for the Buccaneers, who next visit the University of Colorado. ... Samford (5-2) completed the always difficult sweep of departing Southern Conference members Georgia Southern and Appalachian State by dropping the floundering Mountaineers, 34-10, in Boone, N.C. The Bulldogs held ASU to 223 yards and allowed only one touchdown late in the game. ... Three teams earned their first wins of the season: Hampton (1-5) topped North Carolina A&T, 31-26, as freshman quarterback Bryan Bailey threw for three touchdowns in his first career start; Southeast Missouri State (1-5) slipped past Murray State, 37-34, on Alex Knight's 30-yard field goal in the third overtime; and Texas Southern (1-5) kept defending SWAC champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff winless, 41-28. ... Lehigh quarterback Brandon Bialkowski has thrown for at least 300 yards and wide receiver Lee Kurfis has at least 100 receiving yards in each of the Mountain Hawks' six games. They are 5-1. ... San Diego (4-2, 3-0) remained in first place in the Pioneer Football League, but it took two final attempts against Marist. With Marist leading 33-32, USD kicker David Last missed a 33- yard field goal that would have ended the game. However, the visiting Red Foxes (3-3, 2-1) were called for running into the kicker. With no time left, Last converted a 28-yard field goal attempt to lift the Toreros to a 35-33 triumph. They are tied for first place with Butler as they head toward an Oct. 26 matchup in San Diego. ... Quarterback John Russ had 478 yards of total offense and four total touchdowns as startup program Mercer beat Valparaiso, 35-21, and improved to 5-1. His 93-yard TD pass to Josh Jones was the longest completion of the FCS season. ... Chattanooga moved to 4-2 by holding Furman to 189 yards in a 31-9 victory. Defensive end Davis Tull racked up 3.5 sacks. ... Although Princeton (3-1) rotates quarterbacks, Quinn Epperly has been a part of 17 touchdowns rushing or passing, including five in a 42-26 win over Lafayette. ... Walter Payton Award candidate Jeff Mathews threw for 472 yards in Cornell's 34-24 loss to Harvard. ... Prairie View's Jerry Lovelocke topped Mathews with 533 passing yards in the Panthers's 48-42 overtime loss to Alabama State. That means this season's 500-yard passers are 0-4. For Alabama State, Malcolm Cyrus rushed for 241 yards and two touchdowns as starter Isaiah Crowell nursed an injury. ... In a first-ever meeting of the Rhode Island schools, Brown topped Bryant, 41-14, as senior quarterback Patrick Donnelly threw for a career-high 339 yards and four touchdowns. ... Duquesne clung to a 10-7 lead over Wagner entering the fourth quarter of their Northeast Conference matchup, but pulled away with 24 unanswered points for a 34-7 victory. ... In Northern Iowa's 24-17 loss to Southern Illinois, UNI place-kicker Tyler Sievertsen kicked two extra points to tie the school record with 101 straight in his career. He shares the mark with Brian Mitchell (1989-1991). ... Idaho State quarterback Jimmy Arias and wide receiver Luke Austin teamed for three touchdown connections as the Bengals improved to 3-3 with a 40-26 win over Northern Colorado. It was only their second win over an FCS team since the start of the 2010 season (50-20 over Northern Colorado on Sept. 17, 2011) and gave them their best six-game start since 2005 . ... As Southeastern Louisiana throttled Stephen F. Austin, 56-14, quarterback Bryan Bennett racked up 409 total yards and five total touchdowns. ... In his first career start, Cal Poly sophomore quarterback Dano Graves passed for three touchdowns and ran for 116 yards to help the Mustangs blank Weber State, 47-0.
A LOOK AHEAD
The marquee conference matchups of Week 8 next Saturday are Coastal Carolina at Liberty in the Big South, North Dakota State at Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference and Sam Houston State at McNeese State in the Southland Conference.
Other key matchups are: Big Sky, Cal Poly-Montana and Southern Utah-Eastern Washington; CAA, Villanova-New Hampshire and William & Mary-Maine; Ivy, Princeton-Brown; Missouri Valley, Western Illinois-Youngstown State; Northeast, Sacred Heart-Bryant and Duquesne-Robert Morris; Ohio Valley, Tennessee State-UT Martin; Pioneer, Drake-Butler and San Diego-Dayton; Southland, Central Arkansas-Lamar and Southeastern Louisiana-Northwestern State.
In addition: non-conference, Fordham-Yale; and FCS-FBS, Charleston Southern- Colorado and Old Dominion-Pittsburgh.