By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Imagine the Indianapolis Colts losing quarterback Peyton Manning and defensive end Dwight Freeney during training camp.
Championship dreams would remain just that - dreams.
Grambling State's storied program could have used a similar built-in excuse this season after losing its best offensive and defensive players, quarterback Greg Dillon and defensive end Christian Anthony, respectively, during the preseason.
Admirably, the Tigers refused to accept a negative fate and now are moving quickly toward making Southwestern Athletic Conference championship dreams a reality.
Grambling State (3-1, 3-0) is in first place in the SWAC's West Division, one game up on Texas Southern (2-3, 2-2) and two in the loss column on defending division and overall conference champion Prairie View A&M (2-3, 2-2), which the Tigers defeated two weeks ago, 34-17, to grab control of the race.
"It's tough when you lose two guys of that caliber. They are probably two of the better players in this conference and we definitely miss both of them," third-year Grambling State third-year coach Rod Broadway said.
"Christian was a big-play guy on defense that can make some plays for us. And the last couple games we could have used his presence out there, rushing the passer and making plays. If we had Christian in there with some of the defensive linemen we have now, like Jomarcus Savage, who I think has an opportunity of being a great player, then I think we can be a lot better defensively. But he isn't with us. And then on the other side of the ball, Greg Dillon I thought was special. He got hurt last year against Oklahoma State, his ankle was the size of a softball, but he showed he was a warrior by coming out and playing on one leg.
"We miss both of those guys. Again, both those two guys would have been two of the best players in this league at their positions. Both of them were impact players, so we had to change the way we play a little bit. But the thing that does is it gives someone else an opportunity to play. And, hopefully, that whoever is playing will rise up and play well."
Fortunately for the Tigers, they still had some returning leaders to help some of the newcomers. None has come up bigger than senior running back Frank Warren, an all-conference second-team back a year ago who is racing toward All-America honors.
Warren is second in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yards per game (156) and is averaging a whopping eight yards a carry. He has rushed for five touchdowns.
"He's a special running back," Broadway said. "We call him Sweet Feet Frank because he has such good feet and vision."
True freshman Anthony Carrothers won the starting quarterback job in the preseason. He hasn't been spectacular like Warren - completing 33 of 69 passes for 525 yards and two touchdowns against three interceptions - but he's mobile and gaining a better understanding of the offense.
Broadway thinks it's time to start throwing the ball more to stop opposing defenses from overplaying the run of Warren, Carrothers and another solid running back, Cornelius Walker.
The offensive line is basically rebuilt, but physical enough when combined with a group of blocking-strong wide receivers like Kiare Thompson who open running room.
Defensively, Antonio Leonard has had the difficult task of replacing Anthony at defensive end. Linebacker Cliff Exama could be headed toward leading the Tigers in tackles for a second straight season, while Derrick Johnson is another key linebacker. Desmond Lenard and Derrick Wilhite give the defense two excellent safeties.
Although the defense has good overall speed, Broadway would like to see it create more turnovers. The Tigers have forced only three this season after forcing 33 in 11 games last season, when they finished 7-4.
"We have to just continue to get better weekly, and that's the emphasis right now," Broadway said. "I don't think we played as hard Saturday (against Alabama A&M) as we did the week before (and) the week before.
"We've got to get much better if we're going to make some noise in this conference this year."
Grambling State is home the next two Saturdays against the top two teams in the East Division, Alabama State (3-2, 3-2) and Alcorn State (3-1, 2-0).
HURDLING NO. 1
Wait 'til next week.
Well, the Elon Phoenix can't say that about Saturday's visit to the new No. 1 team in the nation, Appalachian State. Having already lost to Georgia Southern, 19th-ranked Elon (2-3, 1-1) basically faces a must-win game as far as the Southern Conference race is concerned. And if they want to return to the FCS playoffs this season, they have to win out to get to 8-3 and have the required seven wins against Division I competition (the Phoenix beat Division II Shaw for their first win).
"(Appalachian State is) the gold standard for this conference every year, that's the team that you look to as the one that would be a special win in your career," Elon coach Pete Lembo said.
"I've been preaching the last several weeks to focus on each week. Don't worry about what may come or what may not come in November and let's just try to get better."
History isn't on the Phoenix's side as they head to Boone, N.C. They have lost 14 straight games against App State, dating to a win in 1964 when both programs were members of the NAIA Carolinas Conference.
Since Elon joined the conference in 2003, App State has won all seven meetings by an average score of 40-16. The Mountaineers (4-0, 2-0) have won the last five SoCon titles and their last 22 conference games.
This also is All-America senior quarterback Scott Riddle's last shot at App State. He's been better than ever considering Elon lost Walter Payton Award runner-up Terrell Hudgins after last season and then Lance Camp to a high ankle sprain in the third game. Aaron Mellette (44 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns) and Sean Jeffcoat (28-385-1) have become Riddle's go-to receivers.
In addition to leading the national poll, App State is first in the FCS in on- campus attendance average at 28,963 through two home games.
"I think a lot of our kids have been up there before, so they know the atmosphere and know how impressive the facility is and how many people they pack in there," Lembo said. "And, of course, this year's team's had an opportunity already to play at Duke and Georgia Southern in front of similar crowds, so I think that's good preparation as well.
UC DAVIS' NEXT STEP
An FCS team beating an FBS team is big for all members of a program, both past and present. This past Saturday, UC Davis coach Bob Biggs was delighted specifically for this year's players after the Aggies went on the road and defeated Western Athletic Conference member San Jose State, 14-13.
UC Davis came into the game 1-3 and was playing its fourth road game. The Aggies had already faced an FBS opponent in Cal, two Big Sky Conference teams (Portland State and Weber State) and a road game at San Diego, which was the Aggies' first win, 38-24.
"They showed a lot of character, a lot of resilience," said Biggs, whose team overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit against San Jose State. Redshirt freshman Randy Wright was 20 of 34 and threw for 223 yards and a touchdown, and the defense made some halftime adjustments to slow San Jose State's run game.
"I've said this many a time, it's a great group, they work extremely hard, they play hard. Every time one of the opposing coaches greets me before the game, they say, 'Boy, your team plays hard.' I'm proud of the fact they've done that. I'm just happy they got rewarded."
This week, UC Davis jumps into its Great West Conference schedule as the defending champion. The Aggies host South Dakota (3-2) on Saturday.
The Aggies' win at San Jose State was the seventh for an FCS team against an FBS opponent this year. South Dakota has one of the other six, a win at Minnesota. . Others winners were Jacksonville State of the Ohio Valley Conference (over Mississippi), North Dakota State of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (Kansas), James Madison of CAA Football (Virginia Tech), and Gardner-Webb (Akron) and Liberty (Ball State) of the Big South.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...
There has been reader feedback about James Madison hosting an FCS playoff game. The Dukes' home stadium, Bridgeforth Stadium, will not be available because an expansion project will resume right after the regular season.
JMU, though, has been exploring options to host games elsewhere. The Dukes (3-1), who just lost to Delaware, have to keep winning to be in such a position.
In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential FCS playoff field since the preseason. The projections are a long-range look at the season and can be found here.
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER
Jacksonville State's No. 3 ranking in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 is the highest for an OVC team since Tennessee State was No. 1 in the final regular season poll of the 1999 season. The Gamecocks, who visit UT Martin on Saturday, have a nine-game winning streak which is the longest in the FCS. "What I expect when we go play UT Martin is that running the ball and stopping the run will be the utmost importance. We have got to take care of the ball and try to get the ball away from them. The last two times we have been up there, they have run the ball against us better than anyone else in the league," Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said ... Defending Northeast Conference champion Central Connecticut State has done well to replace last year's conference offensive player of the year, running back James Mallory. Hofstra transfer Everette Benjamin, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound former fullback, has stepped into the lineup and rushed for 548 yards and five touchdowns on 98 carries. The Blue Devils are 3-2 ... The Ivy and Patriot leagues have an excellent relationship with inter-conference games. Last year, Patriot teams went 10-8 against Ivy foes. This season, Ivy teams have won seven of the first nine games. There are four more games on Saturday ... As Princeton rookie head coach Bob Surace reshapes the offense, senior wide receiver Trey Peacock has taken the lead in the FCS with 139.67 receiving yards per game ... Montana needed a Brody McKnight field goal as time expired to beat Idaho State, 12-10, last year. Don't expect another Big Sky thriller on Saturday in Missoula. Montana has won 18 straight conference home games and Idaho State has lost 17 straight conference road games ... The top 15 FCS players in tackles per game are linebackers, led by Southeastern Louisiana's Mark Newbill at 13.3 per game. The top non-linebacker in the rankings is Stony Brook senior strong safety Arin West at 10.8 tackles per game ... One week after senior wide receiver James LaMacchia became Marist's all-time receptions leader (165), he needs 81 receiving yards against Valparaiso on Saturday to become the Red Foxes' all-time reception yardage leader ... In a pivotal game in the Pioneer Football League on Saturday, Jacksonville hosts Drake, two teams that are 2-0 in league play and tied for first with Dayton. Jacksonville has gained over 500 yards of offense in each of its last three games - all wins. Quarterback Josh McGregor leads the FCS with 17 touchdown passes ... Behind the running of running back Nate Eachus and quarterback Greg Sullivan, Colgate is leading the FCS in time of possession for a second straight season. The Raiders are holding the ball on average for 38 minutes, 41 seconds, through their first four games. A year ago, they averaged 35:45. The Raiders' defensive players give their thanks ... The battle of the kickers? On Saturday, the top two active kickers in career field goals square off between Northern Iowa's Billy Hallgren (53 field goals) and Southern Illinois' Kyle Dougherty (51) in Carbondale, Ill. The list then drops to Gardner-Webb's Ryan Gates with 41 field goals ... South Dakota State (0-4), which hosts Western Illinois on Saturday, has yet to score in the first half this season ... As a result of falling behind too many times, recent Rhode Island have had to pass the ball a lot. This season, coach Joe Trainer has made a commitment to achieving offensive balance. So far, so good for the Rams (2-2), who have surpassed last year's one win by rushing for 153.3 yards and passing for 161 yards per game. They have scored eight offensive touchdowns, four on the ground and four in the air. Running back Ayo Isijola and mobile quarterback Steve Probst have combined for 119 rushing yards per game. On Saturday, the Rams are at CAA Football power William & Mary.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 38-18 (.679)
Season Record: 270-79 (.774)
Thursday, Oct. 7
X-Prairie View A&M (2-3, 2-2 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-2, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9
X-No. 11 Richmond (2-2, 0-1 CAA) at No. 22 New Hampshire (2-3, 0-2), noon
Duquesne (3-2, 1-1 NEC) at X-Central Connecticut State (3-2, 2-0), noon
X-Butler (2-3, 0-2 PFL) at Davidson (1-3, 1-1), noon
Monmouth (1-3, 1-0 NEC) at X-Robert Morris (4-1, 3-0), noon
Drake (3-2, 2-0 PFL) at X-Jacksonville (4-1, 2-0), noon
Cornell (1-2, 0-1 Ivy) at X-Harvard (2-1, 0-1 Ivy), noon
Howard (1-3, 0-2) at X-Furman (2-2, 1-1), noon
Lafayette (0-4) at X-Columbia (2-1), 12:30 p.m.
Fordham (2-3) at X-Lehigh (2-2), 12:37 p.m.
X-Colgate (2-2) at Princeton (1-2), 1 p.m.
Savannah State (0-5) at X-Georgia State (3-2), 1 p.m.
Maine (2-3, 1-1 CAA) at X-No. 2 Delaware (5-0, 2-0), 1 p.m.
X-Penn (2-1) at Bucknell (0-4), 1 p.m.
St. Francis, Pa. (1-3, 1-1 NEC) at X-Albany (2-2, 0-1), 1 p.m. Sacred Heart (1-4, 0-3 NEC) at X-Bryant (3-2, 0-2), 1 p.m.
Wagner (2-2) at X-Georgetown (3-2), 1 p.m.
X-Brown (2-1) at Holy Cross (2-3), 1 p.m.
Yale (2-1, 1-0 Ivy) at X-Dartmouth (2-1, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.
Morgan State (1-3, 0-1 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (0-5, 0-2), 1:30 p.m.
Norfolk State (2-2, 1-1 MEAC) at X-No. 9 South Carolina State (3-1, 1-0), 2 p.m.
X-Marist (1-3, 0-2 PFL) at Valparaiso (0-5, 0-2), 2 p.m.
X-Chattanooga (2-2, 1-1 SoCon) at The Citadel (2-3, 0-2), 2 p.m.
X-No. 3 Jacksonville State (5-0, 2-0 OVC) at UT Martin (2-3, 2-1), 2 p.m.
VMI (2-2, 1-0 Big South) at X-Stony Brook (1-3, 0-1), 3 p.m.
X-No. 17 Texas State (3-1, 0-0 Southland) at Southeast Louisiana (1-3, 0-0), 3 p.m.
X-No. 15 Northern Iowa (2-2, 2-0 MVFC) at No. 23 Southern Illinois (2-3, 1-1), 3 p.m.
Texas Southern (2-3, 2-1 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (3-1, 2-0), 3 p.m.
No. 19 Elon (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at X-No. 1 Appalachian State (4-0, 2-0), 3 p.m.
X-Samford (2-3, 0-2 SoCon) at Western Carolina (2-3, 1-1), 3 p.m.
X-Illinois State (3-2, 2-1 MVFC) at Indiana State (2-2, 0-1), 3:05 p.m.
Idaho State (1-4, 0-3 Big Sky) at X-No. 12 Montana (3-2, 2-1), 3:05 p.m.
Charleston Southern (2-2, 0-0 Big South) at X-No. 24 Liberty (3-2, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.
Portland State (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 10 Montana State (4-1, 2-0), 3:35 p.m.
X-Missouri State (2-2) at Murray State (1-4), 4 p.m.
X-Hampton (3-1) at North Carolina Central (2-2), 4 p.m.
Delaware State (0-4, 0-2 MEAC) at X-Bethune-Cookman (4-0, 2-0), 4 p.m.
No. 18 North Dakota State (3-2, 0-2 MVFC) at X-Youngstown State (3-2, 1-1), 4 p.m.
Northern Arizona (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky) at X-No. 13 Eastern Washington (3-2, 2-1), 4:05 p.m.
X-Dayton (4-1, 2-0) at San Diego (1-4, 1-1), 5 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (1-4, 0-2 OVC) at X-Austin Peay (2-2, 1-0), 5 p.m.
X-Southern Utah (1-4, 0-0 Great West) at North Dakota (2-3, 0-1), 5 p.m.
X-Sam Houston State (2-2, 0-0 Southland) at Nicholls State (1-3, 0-0), 5 p.m.
X-Alabama A&M (2-3, 1-2 SWAC) at Jackson State (3-1, 1-1), 5 p.m.
Alabama State (3-2, 3-2 SWAC) at X-Grambling State (3-1, 3-0), 5 p.m.
Northern Colorado (2-3, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-Sacramento State (2-3, 1-2), 5:05 p.m.
No. 14 Cal Poly (3-2) at X-Old Dominion (3-2), 6 p.m.
X-No. 21 Wofford (3-1, 1-0 SoCon) at No. 16 Georgia Southern (3-1, 1-0), 6 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (0-5, 0-4 SWAC) at X-Southern (1-3, 0-2), 6:30 p.m.
Langston (3-1) at X-Lamar (2-3), 7 p.m.
Northwestern State (1-4, 0-1 Southland) at X-Central Arkansas (3-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
No. 20 Western Illinois (4-1, 2-0 MVFC) at X-South Dakota State (0-4, 0-2), 7 p.m.
Tennessee State (3-2, 0-1 OVC) at X-No. 25 Southeast Missouri State (4-1, 3-0), 7 p.m.
X-No. 7 James Madison (3-1, 0-1) at Towson (1-4, 0-2), 7 p.m.
Rhode Island (2-2, 1-0 CAA) at X-No. 4 William & Mary (4-1, 2-1), 7 p.m.
Eastern Illinois (0-5, 0-3 OVC) at X-Eastern Kentucky (1-3, 0-0), 7 p.m.
X-No. 5 Stephen F. Austin (3-1, 0-0 Southland) at McNeese State (2-2, 1-0), 8 p.m.
X-South Dakota (3-2, 1-0 Great West) at UC Davis (2-3, 0-0), 9 p.m.