Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - You can remain in awe of Eastern Washington beating Oregon State, Eastern Illinois topping San Diego State, even Bethune-Cookman handling FIU. And rightfully so.
But while those FCS-vs.-FBS upsets gained national attention, they were just the appetizers during the FCS season.
We'll take Eastern Washington at Montana, Eastern Illinois at Tennessee State and Bethune-Cookman hosting South Carolina State as the type of games we most want to see this season.
There is nothing better than a big day of conference games, and Saturday's lineup across the FCS is among the best this season, with five matchups within the Top 25 as well as other games impacting the top spot in conference races.
The direct path to the FCS playoffs is not through the FBS competition, it's through the conference opponents who know a team best and force it to find ways to raise its play during competition.
"From our end of the world, we know and respect our opponents in this league top to bottom. We've learned that trait," said head coach Jack Cosgrove of 11th-ranked Maine, which puts its first-place status in CAA Football on the line Saturday at No. 18 Villanova.
"Over our history, we have never been the team that you see at the top end of the preseason listings, so I think we really have a tremendous level of respect for the schools in our league. And I think our preparation for each and every one of our opponents is really the key to our success. It goes without saying, I think, all of us know in our league that each and every opportunity to play on Saturday has to bring the best out of you."
Including Maine (6-1, 3-0) at Villanova (4-3, 3-1), seven FCS conferences feature at least one game on Saturday in which a first-place team with two or more conference wins is playing another first-place team or an opponent just one game behind in the standings.
The Super Saturday schedule includes:
Big Sky Conference
No. 3 Eastern Washington (5-2, 3-0) at No. 10 Montana (6-1, 3-1) - The visiting Eagles have four wins at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, more than any other team. "You have to be able to handle certain things on the road in terms of your snap count and the emotion of what the place feels like," Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said. "We've had some tough losses in Missoula, but we love going in there and competing."
UC Davis (3-5, 3-1) at No. 5 Montana State (5-2, 3-0) - Bobcats defensive end Brad Daly leads the FCS in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (10).
No. 22 Samford (5-2, 3-0) at No. 12 Wofford (5-2, 4-0) - The Bulldogs can complete what some consider impossible, a sweep of Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford in the same season.
Princeton (4-1, 2-0) at Harvard (5-0, 2-0) - Princeton ranks No. 1 in the league in scoring as well as No. 3 nationally at 42.4 points per game. The last time the Tigers finished as the Ivy scoring leader was 1988, when Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was the league's most valuable player at quarterback.
Yale (3-2, 1-1) at Penn (3-2, 2-0) - The Quakers won an outright Ivy championship last year despite losing to a last-place Yale squad.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
South Carolina State (5-2, 3-0) at No. 14 Bethune-Cookman (6-1, 3-0) - Wildcats coach Brian Jenkins has a 24-3 record in MEAC games since arriving at B-CU.
Ohio Valley Conference
No. 2 Eastern Illinois (6-1, 3-0) at No. 21 Tennessee State (7-1, 4-0) - EIU's FCS-leading unit in scoring offense (48 points per game) and total offense (595.6 yards per game) knocks heads with TSU's No. 2-ranked unit in scoring defense (13.5) and total defense (264.0).
Pioneer Football League
Butler (6-2, 4-0) at San Diego (4-3, 3-1) - Butler's 23 takeaways are the second-most in the FCS. The Bulldogs would just as soon take away a road win as they continue to chase the first automatic FCS playoff bid out of the PFL.
Samford coach Pat Sullivan summed up the feeling of competing for a conference title. It's why teams lace 'em up.
"Every kid, every coach, they want to play for a conference championship whether we want to talk about it or not at the start of the season," Sullivan said. "Every team wants to put that ring on their finger saying that they're the conference champion. So when you're in the hunt to be able to do that and you haven't done it, it gives you a little excitement, it gives you a little energy. The thing that you've got to be careful of as a coach is to not let your players get caught up in that."
GRAMBLING TRYING TO SALVAGE SEASON
The focus on the Southwestern Athletic Conference should be on its terrific matchups on Saturday.
The largest crowd of the FCS season will be at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., for the Magic City Classic between Alabama A&M and Alabama State. Plus the Prairie View A&M-Jackson State matchup in Shreveport, La., and Alcorn State at Southern have significant implications on the division races.
But the game that will draw the most national interest is a matchup of struggling teams. Winless Grambling State, coming off a player boycott and then a forfeit at Jackson State last week, will try to get back to action without a hitch when it hosts Texas Southern. It will be new interim head coach Dennis "Dirt" Winston's first game as he tries to salvage a season gone awry. His Tigers' next three games are against opponents (Texas Southern, Mississippi Valley State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff) that are a combined 2-19.
Still, Grambling State officials have plenty more worries. With GSU already facing a $20,000 fine from the SWAC for the forfeiture, Jackson State leaders are expected to take legal action against Grambling State and "others" to recoup the losses from their homecoming game, which they say are in the millions.
AROUND THE NATION
Colgate visits Georgetown on Saturday, seeking its ninth straight Patriot League victory. Raiders senior Gavin McCarney needs five passing yards to become the third player in FCS history with 5,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards. The others are Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards (2006-09) and Morehead State's David Dinkins (1997-2000). ... The quarterback McCarney just squared off against, Holy Cross freshman Peter Pujals, has won five straight Patriot League rookie of the week awards. ... A strange season in the Southern Conference could still have a stranger ending. At least that's what Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken is reminding his players going into his team's rivalry game at Appalachian State on Saturday. "I know nobody else recognizes that we can be the conference champion. That's still something that we still have a goal of." ... In the Big South, the Liberty/Gardner-Webb matchup is a survival game with both teams coming off losses to unbeaten Coastal Carolina. ... Presbyterian (2-4) has scored 22 touchdowns and averaged 25.5 points per game, but has yet to kick a field goal. ... Eastern Kentucky hopes to throw a block party at Southeast Missouri State. The Colonels lead the FCS with six blocked kicks. ... Much of the attention in the Pioneer Football League is on Butler at San Diego, but the Dayton-Morehead State game features two 3-1 league teams whose winner would move into a tie for first place if San Diego beats Butler. Dayton and Morehead State are on three-game winning streaks, scoring at least 40 points each time. ... Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders became the Southland Conference record holder for career rushing attempts (891) in the Bearkats' loss to McNeese State last Saturday. Flanders also holds Southland career marks for touchdowns scored (65), rushing touchdowns (61) and rushing yards (5,105), and season records for rushing yards (1,644), rushing touchdowns (22) and total touchdowns (24), all in 2011. ... After flip-flopping wins over the same two MEAC opponents, Delaware State (3-4, 3-1) at Hampton (2-5, 2-1) is a game that has taken on added meaning Saturday. ... Top-ranked North Dakota State (7-0) visits reeling Indiana State in Missouri Valley Football Conference action Saturday. The Bison's 16-game winning streak started after they lost to the Sycamores, 17-14, last year. Of course, the Sycamores no longer have star tailback Shakir Bell, whose career is over. ... The surprise team of the Missouri Valley is South Dakota (4-3, 3-1), whose three-game winning streak is its first since 2008 and coincides with sophomore quarterback Kevin Earl becoming the starter. In keeping opposing QBs below a 50 percent completion percentage, the Coyotes have surrendered an FCS- low 117.1 passing yards per game. ... New Jerry Rice Award nominee RJ Noel of Sacred Heart ranks fourth in the FCS in points responsible for (138) as a redshirt freshman. But the Northeast Conference offensive player of the week for two weeks running is Sacred Heart junior running back Keshaudas Spence, who has a combined 391 rushing yards in that time. ... Off a bye week, first-year program Charlotte (4-3) heads to Charleston Southern, seeking to become the first FCS team to defeat the Buccaneers. ... Two teams playing FBS opponents on Saturday are Furman at LSU (yikes) and Abilene Christian at New Mexico State (the host Aggies are glad it's not Sam Houston State).
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 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 9 PICKS
Week 8 Record: 38-18 (.679)
Season Record: 402-131 (.754)
Saturday, Oct. 26
X-Delaware (5-2, 2-1 CAA) at Rhode Island (3-5, 2-3), noon
X-Sacred Heart (7-1, 2-1 NEC) at Saint Francis (Pa.) (2-4, 0-1), noon
Robert Morris (2-4, 0-1 NEC) at X-Wagner (2-5, 1-2), noon
X-No. 8 Towson (7-1, 3-1 CAA) at Richmond (2-5, 0-3), noon
X-Brown (3-2, 0-2 Ivy) at Cornell (1-4, 0-2), 12:30 p.m.
Yale (3-2, 1-1 Ivy) at X-Penn (3-2, 2-0), 1 p.m.
X-Princeton (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) at Harvard (5-0, 2-0), 1 p.m.
Delaware State (3-4, 3-1 MEAC) at X-Hampton (2-5, 2-1), 1 p.m.
X-Colgate (2-5, 1-0 Patriot) at Georgetown (1-6, 0-1), 1 p.m.
Duquesne (4-2, 2-0 NEC) at X-Bryant (3-4, 1-1), 1 p.m.
Salve Regina (5-1) at X-Central Connecticut State (2-5), 1 p.m.
Charlotte (4-3) at X-Charleston Southern (7-1), 1 p.m.
X-No. 15 Lehigh (6-1, 1-0 Patriot) at Bucknell (2-4, 0-2), 1 p.m.
X-Lafayette (1-5, 1-0 Patriot) at Holy Cross (3-5, 1-1), 1 p.m.
X-Old Dominion (4-3) at Norfolk State (2-5), 1 p.m.
Davidson (0-7, 0-4 Pioneer) at X-Jacksonville (3-4, 2-2), 1 p.m.
Stetson (1-5, 0-3 Pioneer) at X-Marist (4-3, 3-1), 1 p.m.
X-Dayton (5-2, 3-1 Pioneer) at Morehead State (3-4, 3-1), 1 p.m.
No. 11 Maine (6-1, 3-0 CAA) at X-No. 18 Villanova (4-3, 3-1), 1 p.m.
X-Morgan State (2-5, 2-1 MEAC) at Howard (2-5, 1-3), 1 p.m.
Columbia (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) at X-Dartmouth (2-3, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-No. 22 Samford (5-2, 3-0 Southern) at No. 12 Wofford (5-2, 4-0), 1:30 p.m.
Liberty (3-4, 0-1 Big South) at X-Gardner-Webb (4-3, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-7, 0-5 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (1-6, 1-4), 2 p.m.
The Citadel (2-5, 2-3 Southern) at X-Chattanooga (5-2, 3-1), 2 p.m.
X-North Carolina Central (3-4, 1-2 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-7, 0-4), 2 p.m.
Point (3-4) at X-Presbyterian (2-4), 2 p.m.
South Dakota (4-3, 3-1 Missouri Valley) at X-Illinois State (3-4, 2-2), 2 p.m.
X-Eastern Kentucky (4-3, 2-1 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (1-6, 1-3), 2 p.m.
Valparaiso (1-6, 1-3 Pioneer) at X-Drake (3-4, 2-2), 2 p.m.
X-North Carolina A&T (3-3, 1-3 MEAC) at Florida A&M (2-5, 1-2), 2 p.m.
X-Jacksonville State (5-2, 1-2 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (3-5, 0-4), 2:30 p.m.
Northwestern State (3-4, 0-2 Southland) at X-No. 7 Sam Houston State (5-2, 1-1), 3 p.m.
No. 17 Northern Iowa (4-3, 0-3 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 25 South Dakota State (4-4, 1-3), 3 p.m.
X-Texas Southern (1-6, 1-5 SWAC) at Grambling State (0-8. 0-5), 3 p.m.
X-No. 1 North Dakota State (7-0, 4-0 Missouri Valley) at Indiana State (1-6, 0-3), 3:05 p.m.
Idaho State (3-4, 1-3 Big Sky) at X-Southern Utah (5-3, 2-2), 3:05 p.m.
No. 19 James Madison (5-2, 2-1 CAA) at X-William & Mary (4-3, 1-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 24 Georgia Southern (4-2, 2-2 Southern) at Appalachian State (1-6, 1-3), 3:30 p.m.
Alabama A&M (2-5, 2-3 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (5-2, 5-1) at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., 3:30 p.m.
X-Elon (2-6, 1-3 Southern) at Western Carolina (1-7, 0-4), 3:30 p.m.
No. 3 Eastern Washington (5-2, 3-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 10 Montana (6-1, 3-1), 3:40 p.m.
X-No. 20 New Hampshire (3-3, 2-1 CAA) at Stony Brook (3-3, 1-2), 4 p.m.
X-No. 4 McNeese State (6-1, 2-0 Southland) at Nicholls (4-3, 1-1), 4 p.m.
X-South Carolina State (5-2, 3-0 MEAC) at No. 14 Bethune-Cookman (6-1, 3-0), 4 p.m.
Stephen F. Austin (3-4, 1-1 Southland) at X-No. 23 Central Arkansas (4-3, 1-1), 4 p.m.
X-Mercer (6-1, 2-1 Pioneer) at Campbell (1-6, 0-4), 4 p.m.
Butler (6-2, 4-0 Pioneer) at X-San Diego (4-3, 3-1), 4 p.m.
North Dakota (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky) at X-Portland State (3-4, 0-3), 4:05 p.m.
UC Davis (3-5, 3-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 5 Montana State (5-2, 3-0), 4:35 p.m.
X-UT Martin (4-3, 2-2 OVC) at Austin Peay (0-7, 0-3), 5 p.m.
Prairie View A&M (5-3, 4-2 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (6-2, 6-0) at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La., 5 p.m.
Game of the Week: X-No. 2 Eastern Illinois (6-1, 3-0 OVC) at No. 21 Tennessee State (7-1, 4-0), 5 p.m. In this story line of EIU offense-vs.-TSU defense, it can't be overlooked that TSU senior Tim Broughton has the most rushing yards (825) in the Ohio Valley Conference.
VMI (1-6, 0-2 Big South) at X-No. 6 Coastal Carolina (7-0, 2-0), 6 p.m.
Alcorn State (6-2, 4-1 SWAC) at X-Southern (4-3, 4-1), 6:30 p.m.
Missouri State (2-6, 2-2 Missouri Valley) at X-Western Illinois (3-5, 1-3), 7 p.m.
Houston Baptist (2-2) at X-Incarnate Word (3-4), 7 p.m.
Furman (3-4, 2-2 CAA) at X-LSU (6-2), 7 p.m.
Lamar (3-4, 0-2 Southland) at X-Southeastern Louisiana (5-2, 2-0), 8 p.m.
Abilene Christian (5-3) at X-New Mexico State (0-7), 8 p.m.
X-No. 16 Northern Arizona (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) at Cal Poly (3-4, 2-1), 9:05 p.m.