By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The expansion of the FCS playoffs from 16 to 20 teams only increases potential storylines for the upcoming 2010 season. Consider these possibilities, for starters:
- As the Big South and Northeast Conference gain automatic bids for the first time, the two champions become matched in the first round, with the Big South champ (Liberty's strong squad?) hosting the meeting.
- In the second round - now the Round of 16 - conference rivals square off, with, say, defending FCS champion Villanova or 2008 kingpin Richmond hosting fellow CAA Football members New Hampshire or James Madison, respectively.
- The final at-large bid is determined not in November but in September, with the winner of the Big Sky matchup of Eastern Washington at Montana State being the difference.
No matter how you slice it, more playoffs teams means more intrigue. The possibilities are endless.
The growth of the FCS has triggered playoff expansion for the first time since the field grew from 12 to 16 teams in 1987. The action, as usual, kicks off Thanksgiving weekend, but with only eight of the 20 qualifiers. Twelve teams will gain byes into the second round, to be played the weekend of Dec. 3. The quarterfinals follow the weekend of Dec. 10 and the semifinals are set for the weekend of Dec. 17. The finalists will then have a three-week break before meeting in Frisco, Texas, in the national title game Friday, Jan. 7. It's the first of a three-year commitment to Pizza Hut Park, home of the MLS franchise FC Dallas, and the first time there is such a layoff between the semifinals and national championship game.
"It depends on your point of view," John McCutcheon, who chaired the committee that brought expansion, said of the post-holiday title date. "I think there are some that will embrace that and that it gives the student-athletes a while to recover, take care of finals that take place during that time period, and for coaches to organize and prepare for the tournament and that kind of thing. It will create some additional expenses for some teams if they're keeping their teams on campus during a non-session time period. There will be some differences, and with anything there are some positives to that and there are probably some new challenges or issues to deal with."
The Big South and NEC champs bring the number of automatic qualifiers to 10, and the number of at-large qualifiers also has increased by two to 10. The NCAA allows for one-quarter of the field to be seeded, so there will be five seeds (up one from previous years), although behind the scenes the field basically will be ordered 1-20 to determine which teams will play in the first round and which will have byes.
Although the first round won't have meetings between conference rivals, it can happen beginning in the Round of 16. Southern Illinois-South Dakota State, anyone?
"I think any time you have a situation where you can give additional teams and additional student-athletes the opportunity to play in an NCAA tournament and championship, it's a great thing," said McCutcheon, the director of athletics at the University of Massachusetts. "It's a great thing for them and their fans to follow them. I think we're all pretty excited about that. The expanded field does create some new challenges to the tournament in terms of bracketing and that kind of thing. At any time that you have (something) a little bit new, it causes a little angst with some folks. But, all in all, I think it's a great thing. We'll see in the coming seasons; it will be a very competitive situation."
The Southland Conference, based in Frisco, will serve as the host conference.
All four of The Sports Network's 2009 All-American quarterbacks have to be replaced after they moved onto NFL teams. Here's a rundown on the spring competition at their schools:
Appalachian State (replacing first-team All-American Armanti Edwards) - DeAndre Presley, who will be a junior this fall, and Jamal Jackson, who will be a redshirt freshman, will take their neck-and-neck battle into fall camp. There were enough encouraging signs during the spring, amid an injury-plagued offense, that veteran coach Jerry Moore should have both a solid starter and backup.
Eastern Washington (replacing second-team All-American Matt Nichols) - SMU transfer Bo Levi Mitchell earned the No. 1 job heading into fall camp. He was 24-of-36 for 352 yards and three touchdowns (all to wide receiver Nicholas Edwards) during spring scrimmages. He always wears a glove on his throwing hand after enjoying success with it as an SMU freshman during a cold, wet game at Navy.
Jacksonville State (replacing co-third-team All-American Ryan Perrilloux) - The job belongs to Marques Ivory, who has flashed excellent skills behind Perrilloux and performed well in last season's season opener at Georgia Tech, when Perrilloux served a school suspension. In his first two seasons, the junior-to-be is a combined 46-of-72 for 442 yards and six touchdowns against one interception. Ivory, 48-0 as a starter in high school, is a cousin to former Pro Bowl running back Priest Holmes.
Holy Cross (replacing co-third-team All-American Dominic Randolph) - Season- ending injuries stunted the maturation of Ryan Taggart and Kevin Watson last season, and Crusaders head coach Tom Gilmore didn't name a starter after spring practices. The junior-to-be Watson had been No. 2 to Randolph at the start of last season, and possesses a stronger arm. The senior-to-be Taggart runs the ball better and completes short passes well. In the spring game, Taggart was an efficient 11-of-13 for 102 yards, while the 6-foot-4 Watson was 3-of-8 for 25 yards and a touchdown.
NEWS AND NOTESL
-This year's MEAC/SWAC Challenge is a matchup of Delaware State of the MEAC and Southern of the SWAC and will take place Sunday, Sept. 5 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Kickoff is noon for the sixth game in the series that matches teams from the two conferences of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Southern, now coached by former NFL player Stump Mitchell, owns the only series win (33-27 over Florida A&M) for the SWAC, which trails 4-1.
-Fresh off being the highest NFL draft choice of any FCS player, Massachusetts offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse was named the UMass Senior Male Athlete of the Year while also sharing the Inspirational Athlete of the Year award. The New York Jets second-round selection, and a 2009 first-team All-American by The Sports Network, made a remarkable rise after arriving in the United States in 2002 at the age of 15, having never seen a football game and not speaking English. He has been involved in helping to raise relief funds and awareness for efforts in Haiti following the earthquakes in January
-If you didn't follow the saga of New Hampshire All-American tight end Scott Sicko turning down post-draft free-agent contract offers from six NFL teams, a lot preceded his impressing the Dallas Cowboys during a five-practice rookie camp this past weekend. Disappointed about going undrafted, Sicko told teams that he had decided instead to pursue a masters degree in history. The overtures of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his older brother John, the tight ends coach, then convinced the 6-4, 251-pound Sicko to sign with the team. He impressed with his sure hands and route running, as well as an ability to be a long snapper. Now Sicko probably has latched on to this concept: it's worked out pretty well with the Cowboys for quarterback Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) and wide receiver Miles Austin (Monmouth), who entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.