Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Uh oh ...
For some ranked teams, getting to the FCS playoffs suddenly feels like navigating the federal healthcare website. Saturday's Week 12 results saw to that as we head toward the intrigue of the final full weekend of play.
The most surprising team to be sweating out an at-large bid is No. 8 Montana State. After Saturday's loss at home to Southern Utah, the Bobcats (7-4) surely must beat rival Montana next Saturday to get into the 24-team field. Otherwise, their regular season will end with three straight losses, and they already have an ugly loss at Stephen F. Austin on their ledger.
No. 15 Youngstown State also is facing a possible three-game losing streak following back-to-back losses to Northern Iowa and North Dakota State. The Penguins (8-3) will host Zach Zenner and South Dakota State (7-4) next Saturday in what could amount to be a play-in game for the postseason.
How about No. 5 Fordham? The Rams (10-1) were an unbeaten darling until Saturday, when they lost to Lafayette without injured quarterback Michael Nebrich. Now they have to go to Colgate probably needing a win to avoid possible ouster from the field. Remember, Lehigh went 10-1 in the Patriot League and didn't make the field a year ago.
Charleston Southern, whose No. 13 national ranking this past week was its highest ever, also is facing a season-ending collapse that could derail the Buccaneers a playoff bid. The Bucs (10-2) lost at Gardner-Webb on Saturday and have another tough Big South game at home against Liberty next Saturday. With a win, coach Jamey Chadwell's squad would earn the automatic bid out of the Big South. A loss and, well ....
Gulp, when Chattanooga falls to Alabama next Saturday, could the No. 17 Mocs (8-3) be in trouble? Incredibly, they could be if Furman wins the Southern Conference's automatic bid and there are wins by Samford (likely versus Elon) and UT Martin from the Ohio Valley Conference (unlikely versus Eastern Illinois). Both teams beat the Mocs this season and the SoCon might not field three qualifiers.
William & Mary has surrendered the fewest points in the FCS, but the No. 16 Tribe (7-4) are going to have to win at Richmond next Saturday to get into the playoffs. And Richmond, on a three-game CAA Football winning streak, features a quarterback (Michael Strauss) who just threw for a school-record 543 yards as well as five touchdowns against Delaware.
It wasn't just that No. 22 Jacksonville State lost to OVC champion Eastern Illinois on Saturday, the Gamecocks (8-3) fell behind 35-0 in the first quarter and got drilled, 52-14. They still have a winnable home game against Southeast Missouri State, but even that might not be enough if other results don't fall right for them.
Finally, Sam Houston State - yes, the same program that has played in the last two national championship games - doesn't want two season-ending losses on its resume. Having already lost to McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference this season, the No. 4 Bearkats (8-3) have to go to Central Arkansas next Saturday. They lost there a year ago.
A team never wants to back in toward the playoffs and leave the selection committee reason to leave it out of the field.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/madodrn.
IN THE FIELD
North Dakota State (Missouri Valley Football Conference), Eastern Washington (Big Sky Conference), Maine (CAA Football), Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley Conference), Southeastern Louisiana (Southland Conference) and Sacred Heart (Northeast Conference) can breathe a sigh of relief as the first six automatic qualifiers to the FCS playoffs.
The 24-team field will consist of 11 automatic qualifying bids for conference champions and 13 at-large selections. It will be announced next Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPNU.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: Furman didn't let a loss to Elon and a 1-2 start in the Southern Conference slow it down. The Paladins (6-5, 5-2) have won four straight conference games and can earn a share of the title with a win over Wofford and also earn the automatic playoff bid by adding a Samford triumph over Elon next Saturday. That would be an unlikely end to a weird season in the SoCon.
Falling: With only champion Maine and Towson assured of playoff bids, CAA Football had a rough day Saturday with Delaware and James Madison losing games to likely be knocked from contention because of their strength of schedule. William & Mary's loss means it has to win at Richmond to get an at-large bid. New Hampshire is still shaky for a 10th straight bid, although a season-ending win over Maine just might be enough because the Wildcats would improve to 6-2 in conference play.
North Dakota State redshirt senior Brock Jensen, who tied former Appalachian State signal caller Armanti Edwards with his FCS-record 43rd career win on Saturday, may be a future coach. He has all the cliches down.
"It's taking it week by week and not putting all of your eggs in one basket with one week (and) not looking forward way down the road," he told In the FCS Huddle. "It's just focusing on that next game and, shoot, even that next practice, taking it day by day, then week by week. You can't overlook any opponent from the Missouri Valley. That's how we stay on course."
Top-ranked North Dakota State (10-0) will try to complete an unbeaten regular season when it hosts South Dakota next Saturday.
Idaho State's 59-13 loss at BYU dropped FCS teams to 15-87 against FBS opponents this season.
There are four more games next Saturday.
AROUND THE NATION
The Citadel topped VMI, 31-10, in the "Military Classic of the South" on Saturday. The Bulldogs scored 24 unanswered points in the second half, including two of quarterback Ben Dupree's three touchdown runs. ... South Dakota State has never led in its series with South Dakota, but the series became tied 50-50-6 after the Jackrabbits' 27-12 win. ... Northern Iowa junior David Johnson didn't just return from an ankle injury, he was a workhorse in the Panthers' 17-10 win over Missouri State, gaining 167 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. ... Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron passed for 554 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another 42 yards and two touchdowns in a 43-42 win over Portland State. His 4-yard scoring pass to Cole Hikutini with 30 seconds left erased a 42-37 Hornets' deficit. Sac State overcame D.J. Adams' 249 rushing yards and five touchdowns for Portland State. ... After the University of San Diego forfeited the chance to win the first playoff bid in Pioneer Football League history because of improper financial aid to players, the Toreros (8-3, 7-1) went out and beat Drake, 23-13, behind Mason Mills' three touchdown passes. The auto bid still must be decided on by the league for either Butler (9-3, 7-1) or Marist (8-3, 7-1), the two co- champions. ... UT Martin pulled off a 16-7 victory at Eastern Kentucky after being winless in its first 11 trips there. ... Saint Francis' Kyle Harbridge broke his school single-season records for rushing yards (1,509) and rushing touchdowns (15) while becoming the first Red Flash player to eclipse the 4,000- yard mark for a career. ... After defeating Campbell, 42-14, Old Dominion improved to 14-0 all-time in November. The Monarchs will put that to the test in next Saturday's season finale when they travel to North Carolina. ... Lamar's Reggie Begelton set the FCS season high with 18 receptions against Stephen F. Austin. He had 167 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions in Lamar's 46-45 win. ... After Bob Ford coached in his final home game at Albany on Saturday, he will wrap up his 45th season, and career, next Saturday at Stony Brook. ... The SWAC team with the most wins? Alcorn State at 9-3 after handing East Division champion Jackson State its first conference loss, 48-33. ... Alabama State defensive tackle Derrick Billups posted 6.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) for negative-28 yards in the Hornets' 19-7 win over Mississippi Valley State. ... Adrian Kollock maximized his 12 touches Thursday night as he rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in South Carolina State's 38-3 win over Morgan State. The Bulldogs (8-3) hope another win will be worth an at-large playoff bid.
A LOOK AHEAD
Next weekend's final Saturday of the regular season is littered with important games, some deciding conference championships, others playoff bids, others just plain old rivalries.
The biggest game in each conference:
Big Sky: Montana-Montana State with a nod to Northern Arizona-Southern Utah; Big South: Liberty-Charleston Southern; CAA, Maine-New Hampshire; Ivy, Harvard- Yale; MEAC, Florida A&M/Bethune-Cookman; Missouri Valley, South Dakota State- Youngstown State; Northeast, Robert Morris-Saint Francis (final game for RMU coach Joe Walton); OVC, Eastern Illinois/UT Martin; Patriot, Lafayette-Lehigh; Pioneer, Stetson-Mercer; Southern, Wofford-Furman; Southland, Sam Houston State-Central Arkansas; and SWAC, OK, bring on the conference championship game on Dec. 7.