By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Cal Poly football coach Tim Walsh said it best this week, that everybody wants to depart the Great West Conference with a championship season.
At least that school will always have a lasting image of the Great West.
Many people down the line will be wishing there was more to look back upon from a conference that you can say departs as the Almost Great West.
Since forming in 2004, the Great West has been an excellent conference - with an even better name - that served as a landing spot for programs moving up from NCAA Division II to FCS. The conference just didn't have enough schools - six at its height, five now - to become a major player nationally in the FCS. The small number of schools hasn't been enough to earn an automatic bid to the national playoffs.
Almost (Great West), but not quite.
The conference expanded to other sports in 2008, but the football will cease after this eighth season. Next year, Cal Poly, North Dakota, Southern Utah and UC Davis will head off to the Big Sky Conference and South Dakota will move on to the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
"I've always felt that the Great West was very, very competitive," UC Davis coach Bob Biggs said, "underrated just because there was only five us, and really there were only four games against one another, so it's been hard to be able to promote that."
The Great West has been so competitive that three teams - South Dakota and UC Davis last year and Southern Utah this year - have notched wins over FBS schools in the last 13 months. Only the Missouri Valley Conference has matched that number of upsets.
As the clock ticks, the conference is hoping for a fantastic finish this season. Surprising North Dakota (4-2) and South Dakota (4-2) are well on their way to overcoming last season's losing records by moving into the national rankings and atop the conference standings with 1-0 records, each beating defending champion Southern Utah.
All Southern Utah (3-3, 0-2) can hope for is an improbable five-way tie for the conference title at 2-2 each. That crazy, but seemingly appropriate, finish would have to start on Saturday with a Thunderbirds victory at Cal Poly (2-3), the winningest school in conference history.
Of course, the late start is because there are only five Great West teams, and that's been the problem through the years.
"It certainly magnifies the importance of every conference game," North Dakota coach Chris Mussman said. "You lose two and you're probably out of it. It's just the way it goes."
"In our conference, you've got four opportunities," Walsh said. "All (five) teams have the ability to beat each other. So I think you've got to play each week, and there's no margin for error in the Great West."
Walsh's predecessor at Cal Poly, Rich Ellerson, guided the only two Great West teams to secure at-large selections to the FCS playoffs (2005 and '08). Non- conference scheduling problems have always made it difficult for the teams to become playoff contenders.
This season, North Dakota and South Dakota are ineligible because they are in year four of their five-year transition period from Division II. To get six home games, they both stacked their schedules with three sub-Division I opponents.
Cal Poly and UC Davis both have two FBS opponents and a sub-Division I opponent on their schedules, making it nearly impossible to get seven D-I wins on their playoff resumes. While Southern Utah beat an FBS opponent (UNLV) last month, it is playing seven road games and only four at home, which drains on the Thunderbirds' chance for the postseason.
"I think I speak for probably every coach in the conference," Southern Utah's Ed Lamb said, "when I say it's just a matter of choosing which challenge you want to have."
The Great West is full of standout players, including pro prospects like South Dakota left tackle Tom Compton, Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson and Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen. It's a good season for Great West quarterbacks, conference-leading rusher Jake Miller of North Dakota has as many rushing touchdowns (12) as any FCS running back and South Dakota's Tyler Starr has more solo sacks (10) than any other player in the nation.
The Big Sky also extended an invitation to South Dakota to try to bring its conference to 14 teams (and create two seven-school divisions), but, as bad luck would have it for the Great West, South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort said the Missouri Valley was where the Coyotes needed to go.
"The Great Sky, I thought, would have been a really cool fit, too," he said, "but logistically, financially, all the little intangibles, pointed right to Missouri Valley. And when they asked us, it was a no-brainer."
Only eight Great West conference games remain. The final one will be held Nov. 19 in Grank Forks when South Dakota visits North Dakota.
It's been too short of a run for the conference. It coulda, shoulda, woulda been the Great West.
It's Almost (Great West) that.
"I think everybody wants to go out with a championship," Walsh said. "And I think a couple schools have done a good job at getting off to a good start. I think that's kind of the way we feel, too. The Great West has been good to all five of the schools that are left in the conference. Who knows where we would have been without the Great West, so we have a lot to thank for doing it.
DEFENDING CHAMPS STILL ALIVE
Defending FCS champion Eastern Washington has won two straight games, but it likely needs to win its final five games to overcome an 0-4 start and return to the playoffs. The surprising loss to South Dakota on Sept. 10 doesn't look as bad now that the Coyotes are ranked 15th.
That EWU can run the table still seems possible. The remaining schedule is manageable: Northern Colorado (0-6), at Sacramento State (3-3), Portland State (3-2), at Cal Poly (2-3) and at Idaho State (2-4).
"We keep fighting one week at a time," said EWU coach Beau Baldwin, whose team has lost six starters to season-ending injuries and another two who have missed starts because of injuries.
Even if the Eagles pull off the run, they won't look back kindly on the September schedule of Washington, South Dakota and Montana on the road and then Montana State.
Two other highly regarded teams in the preseason that seemingly have to run the table to get to seven D-I wins are William & Mary (3-3) and Chattanooga (2-4), which is still assessing when quarterback B.J. Coleman can return from a shoulder injury suffered at Georgia Southern last Saturday.
BIG SOUTH SHOWDOWN
This is the now-or-never year for Liberty's seniors, who have been falling short of making the FCS playoffs. The only Big South team to ever appear in the playoffs is Coastal Carolina and the Chanticleers want to keep it that way.
But it will probably take a win at Liberty on Saturday.
The big conference game will be at Liberty and each team is 3-1 at home in the deadlocked 4-4 series. In Coastal's two playoff seasons - 2006 and last year - it beat Liberty at home.
The Chanticleers (4-1, 1-0) are off to their best start since 2005. Liberty (3-3, 1-0) has been a hard-luck team, with three-point losses to James Madison and Lehigh.
It should be a great battle of dynamic quarterbacks, Coastal's Aramis Hillary and Liberty's Mike Brown, who returned from a hip injury with a great game last week against Gardner-Webb.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION...
Once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at FCS Bracket
AROUND THE NATION
Division leaders collide in the SWAC Saturday as 24th-ranked Alabama State (5-1, 5-0) from the East hosts Prairie View A&M (4-2, 4-1) from the West. Alabama State must find a way to stop Prairie View defensive end Adrian Hamilton, who has been in on 10 sacks (eight solos, four assists) and forced four fumbles in the Panthers' last four games ... Speaking of defensive ends, an exceptional pair, Drake junior Brandon Coleman and San Diego senior Mario Kurn, will be on display when their 5-1 Pioneer League teams collide in San Diego. Each is 3-0 in league play along with defending champion Jacksonville ... Statistical oddity of the first half of the season: UT Martin (3-2) has won three times by an average of 47.7 points, but has lost twice by a combined three points ... The future has arrived for Tennessee State. Redshirt freshman Michael German has started the last two games and competed 41-of-60 attempts for 568 yards and four touchdowns, earning Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks. He's yet to be intercepted in 102 attempts this season ... Georgetown's final game of a five-game road swing isn't so bad, just a few miles away at Howard. With five remaining games, the Hoyas (4-2) are within reach of their first winning season since going 9-2 in 1999. All-Patriot League defensive end Andrew Schaetzke is the top player for coach Kevin Kelly ... If it feels like second-ranked Northern Iowa and fourth- ranked North Dakota State are on a collision course in the Missouri Valley Conference, it reflects in the NCAA defensive statistics. They have a bunch of bruisers, ranking 1-2 in scoring defense (North Dakota State, 9.2 ppg; UNI, 13.8 ppg) ... Who foresaw in the preseason that Saturday's Towson at Old Dominion game would be a Top 25 battle? If you did, have you considered playing the lottery? ... CAA Football has a record eight teams in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 for a second straight week. Those teams are 20-3 at home ... Albany (3-2, 2-0) will host a second straight game against a Northeast Conference leader when defending champion Robert Morris (2-3, 2-0) visits on Saturday. The importance of Albany punter Paul Layton can't be overlooked. He is ranked No. 2 in the FCS with a 47.4-yard punting averaging, placing 11 of his 25 punts inside an opponent's 20-yard line ... Norfolk State senior kicker Ryan Estep remains perfect, 13-for-13 on field-goal attempts and 16-for-16 on extra points ... Appalachian State's big-footed kicker Sam Martin is 3-for-4 from 40 yards and out, but 0-for-3 inside the 40 ... You take the ball and run with it. No, you take the ball and run with it. Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein and quarterback Mitch Allen have each gone over 2,000 career rushing yards ... Elon is hoping to get All-America offensive lineman Rodney Austin (broken foot) back for its two final games ... The winning team in all five Southeastern Louisiana games has scored at least 47 points. The Lions (1-4) return to action Saturday at Southland Conference rival Northwestern State after a bye last weekend ... FBS-bound Texas State (4-2) is playing all eight teams from its former Southland Conference. Coach Dennis Franchione, whose squad is playing 12 games and can exceed 63 scholarships, is 3-0 against the Southland, with an improved Lamar squad up next ... Just because it's Princeton doesn't mean all the decision-making is wise. A week ago, the Tigers made the 325-mile trip to Hampton. This week, they have a 230-mile trip to Brown. Next week, they'll head back to New England for the 265-mile trip to Harvard ... Sacramento State has a bye this weekend, presumably not to rest quarterback Jeff Fleming's arm. With wind, rain, snow and cold weather playing havoc at Northern Colorado last Saturday, Sac State became the first team in FCS history to play a game without attempting a pass. Fleming's one attempt in the 14-0 win was called back on a pass interference. Northern Colorado's Seth Lobato and Dylan Orms combined for three completions in 13 attempts for 29 yards.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 45-15 (.750)
Season Record: 321-95 (.772)
All Times EST
Thursday, Oct. 13
Texas Southern (2-3, 1-3 SWAC) at X-Alabama A&M (4-2, 3-1), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15
Campbell (2-3, 1-2 PFL) at X-Marist (2-4, 1-2), noon
St Francis, Pa. (1-5, 0-4 NEC) at X-Sacred Heart (3-2, 1-1), noon
Central Connecticut State (2-4, 1-2 NEC) at X-Duquesne (4-2, 2-1), noon
No. 6 New Hampshire (4-1, 2-0 CAA) at X-No. 16 William & Mary (3-3, 1-2), noon
Princeton (1-3, 1-0 Ivy) at X-Brown (3-1, 0-1), 12:30 p.m.
Dartmouth (1-3) at X-Holy Cross (2-3), 1 p.m.
Howard (3-3) at X-Georgetown (4-2), 1 p.m.
Robert Morris (2-3, 2-0 NEC) at X-Albany (3-2, 2-0), 1 p.m.
X-No. 8 Lehigh (5-1) at Fordham (1-4), 1 p.m.
Davidson (2-3, 0-2 PFL) at X-Dayton (3-3, 1-2), 1 p.m.
Morehead State (2-4, 1-2 PFL) at X-Jacksonville (4-2, 3-0), 1 p.m.
Valparaiso (0-5, 0-2 PFL) at X-Butler (3-3, 1-2), 1 p.m.
Monmouth (2-3, 1-1 NEC) at X-Bryant (4-2, 2-1), 1 p.m.
Cornell (2-2) at X-Colgate (3-3), 1 p.m.
Bucknell (4-2) at X-Harvard (3-1), 1 p.m.
Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2 CAA) at X-No. 12 Maine (4-1, 2-0), 1 p.m.
Virginia-Wise (4-2) at X-No. 5 Wofford (4-1), 1:30 p.m.
Villanova (1-5, 0-3 CAA) at X-No. 13 James Madison (4-2, 2-1), 1:30 p.m.
Charleston Southern (0-5, 0-0 Big South) at X-VMI (0-5, 0-1), 1:30 p.m.
Georgia State (1-4) at X-South Carolina State (3-3), 1:30 p.m.
Delaware State (2-4, 0-3 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (3-2, 2-0), 1:30 p.m.
Prairie View A&M (4-2, 4-1 SWAC) at X-No. 24 Alabama State (5-1, 5-0), 2 p.m.
X-No. 7 Appalachian State (3-2, 1-1 SoCon) at The Citadel (2-3, 1-3), 2 p.m.
X-Gardner-Webb (1-4, 0-1 Big South) at Presbyterian (1-4, 0-1), 2 p.m.
Furman (3-2, 2-1 SoCon) at X-No. 1 Georgia Southern (5-0, 4-0), 3 p.m.
X-Elon (4-2, 2-1 SoCon) at Samford (3-2, 1-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 25 Jackson State (5-1, 3-1 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-6, 0-5), 3 p.m.
Nicholls State (1-5, 0-3 Southland) at X-No. 10 Sam Houston State (5-0, 2-0), 3 p.m.
Youngstown State (2-3, 1-2 MVFC) at X-Southern Illinois (2-3, 1-2), 3 p.m.
Southeast Missouri State (1-4, 1-2 OVC) at X-Eastern Kentucky (2-3, 1-1), 3 p.m.
Portland State (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 14 Montana (4-2, 3-1), 3:05 p.m.
Northern Arizona (2-3, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 3 Montana State (5-1, 3-0), 3:05 p.m.
Western Illinois (2-3, 1-1 MVFC) at X-No. 21 Indiana State (4-2, 2-1), 3:05 p.m.
X-UT Martin (3-2) at South Alabama (3-2), 3:30 p.m.
Coastal Carolina (4-1, 1-0 Big South) at X-Liberty (3-3, 1-0), 3:30 p.m.
Massachusetts (3-2, 1-1 CAA) at X-No. 9 Delaware (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m.
No. 17 Towson (4-1, 2-0 CAA) at X-No. 18 Old Dominion (5-1, 2-1), 3:30 p.m.
X-Penn (2-2, 1-0 Ivy) at Columbia (0-4, 0-1), 3:30 p.m.
Eastern Illinois (1-5, 0-4 OVC) at X-Murray State (3-3, 1-2), 4 p.m.
No. 15 South Dakota (4-2) at X-Illinois State (3-3), 4 p.m.
Hampton (3-2, 1-1 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (5-1, 3-0), 4 p.m.
X-No. 22 McNeese State (3-2, 2-1 Southland) at Central Arkansas (3-3, 2-1), 4 p.m.
Fort Valley State (1-5) at X-Bethune-Cookman (2-3), 4 p.m.
Drake (5-1, 3-0 PFL) at X-San Diego (5-1, 3-0), 4 p.m.
X-Morgan State (3-3, 2-1 MEAC) at North Carolina Central (1-4, 0-2), 4 p.m.
UTSA (2-4) at X-UC Davis (1-4), 5 p.m.
Concordia, Ala. (3-3) at X-Grambling State (1-4), 5 p.m.
Saint Anselm (0-5) at X-Stony Brook (2-3), 6 p.m.
Idaho State (2-4, 1-3 Big Sky) at X-Weber State (2-3, 2-1), 6 p.m.
Western Carolina (1-4, 0-3 SoCon) at X-Chattanooga (2-4, 0-3), 6 p.m.
X-Yale (3-1) at Lafayette (1-4), 6 p.m.
X-No. 11 Jacksonville State (4-1, 3-0 OVC) at Austin Peay (2-3, 2-1), 7 p.m.
Lamar (3-2) at X-Texas State (4-2), 7 p.m.
Southern (2-4, 2-2 SWAC) at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-3, 2-2), 7 p.m.
Southeastern Louisiana (1-4, 0-2 Southland) at X-Northwestern State (3-3, 2-1), 7 p.m.
X-Florida A&M (3-3, 1-2 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-5, 1-2), 7 p.m.
X-No. 2 Northern Iowa (4-1, 3-0 MVFC) at South Dakota State (2-4, 1-2), 7 p.m.
Missouri State (0-6, 0-3 MVFC) at X-No. 4 North Dakota State (5-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.
Northern Colorado (0-6, 0-4 Big Sky) at X-Eastern Washington (2-4, 2-2), 7:05 p.m.
Tennessee State (2-4, 1-2 OVC) at X-No. 19 Tennessee Tech (4-1, 3-0), 8 p.m.
Southern Utah (3-3, 0-2 Big West) at X-Cal Poly (2-3, 0-0), 9:05 p.m.