By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Hopefully, the eye-catching score within the Football Championship Subdivision on Saturday also wasn't its most alarming:
Jacksonville 86, Valparaiso 7.
The Dolphins improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Pioneer Football League as they trek toward the Top 25. They might even arrive there on Monday as they had the fourth-most votes among teams outside The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 last week, so you can say they were ranked No. 29.
Hopefully, the Dolphins' eagerness to get into the Top 25 isn't clouding better judgment.
Considering the non-scholarship PFL doesn't have an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs and has never gained an automatic bid, Jacksonville wants voters, as well as members of the playoff selection committee, to take more notice of its strong team.
What we haven't seen in the FCS this season is the kind of pile-on scores that we often see in the Football Bowl Subdivision, where there isn't a playoff system and teams go for style points to capture attention and move up in the polls.
Having a playoff system in the FCS helps to protect against that scenario, but the PFL not having an automatic playoff bid is a loophole for such a scenario.
But the potential also was there Saturday for brutally lopsided scores within the Top 25, and it didn't happen. Only three games were decided by at least 30 points, and the biggest was by 34, with No. 19 Liberty beating VMI, 41-7.
The direction to not run up big scores seems to come from the three unbeaten teams at the top of the poll, as No. 1 Appalachian State, No. 2 Delaware and No. 3 Jacksonville State have yet to win any game by more than 31 points. Ironically, one of the two results by that margin occurred in App State's 45-14 win over Jacksonville. That was a 17-14 game during the third quarter before the Mountaineers pulled away.
Jacksonville's demolition of Valpo - on the road, no less - was aided by two interception returns for touchdowns and Jamal Coleman's recovery of a blocked punt in the Crusaders' end zone for another score, which helped create a 66-7 halftime lead.
It's hard to tell players to let up or not to score points for an entire second half, but head coach Kerwin Bell didn't need members of his first unit to return to the field for another scoring drive in the third quarter. They were pulled after J.J. Laster's 8-yard touchdown run made it 73-7 with 5:50 remaining in the quarter.
The Dolphins went on to record the most points in PFL history as well as a school record for offensive yards (658).
JU should win its final four games to reach 10-1, but that would not guarantee the Dolphins will earn a playoff bid. Let's hope they don't feel pressured to win by scores like Saturday's.
MISSOURI VALLEY WACKINESS
If in the preseason you predicted Western Illinois and Indiana State would be sitting atop the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings in mid-October, then you must own a winning Lotto ticket, too.
The only conference win between these two programs last year occurred in Indiana State's triumph over Western Illinois.
This season, Western Illinois is first in the nine-team race with a 3-1 mark and Indiana State and Northern Iowa are right behind at 2-1.
Historically, two losses have eliminated teams from the title chase, but it's not the case this season for Illinois State, suddenly resurgent South Dakota State and Southern Illinois.
Slumping Missouri State, though 1-2, doesn't have as strong a chance as these other three teams. North Dakota State and Youngstown State, which are both 1-3, would need a lot of help.
The way MVFC teams are knocking off each other might come back to haunt the power conference come the playoffs. There are two more at-large bids to go around this year, but no MVFC team has had four losses overall and earned a bid in the past.
JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN THE BIG SKY
The Big Sky Conference is not short on parity.
Quarterback Denarius McGhee's left foot sprain was the big concern all week for No. 9 Montana State. Obviously, Northern Arizona's defense posed an even bigger problem.
The Lumberjacks crushed Montana State, 34-7, by limiting a Bobcats offense that entered the game ranked second nationally in scoring and total yards to only 123 yards. They sacked McGhee four times, and outside linebacker Cody Dowd had a team-high seven tackles and returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown.
Quarterback Michael Herrick led the NAU offense. He completed 32-of-43 passes for 281 yards and fired three first-half touchdowns.
The upset - not huge considering the Big Sky's competitiveness - has four teams in the running for playoff bids: Eastern Washington (5-2, 4-1), Montana (5-2, 4-1), Montana State (5-2, 3-1) and Northern Arizona (4-2, 2-1).
Montana escaped an upset against Portland State, 23-21, on Brody McKnight's 25- yard field goal as the clock expired. Eastern Washington slipped past Northern Colorado, 35-28, as a healthier Taiwan Jones got right back into the race for the Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) by rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. His 24-yard TD run with 41 seconds left was the game-winner
OH, YES, HAMPTON
So much attention was put on the Top 25 battle between No. 23 Bethune-Cookman and No. 10 South Carolina State on Saturday that it was easy to forget Hampton is a co-leader in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race.
Yes, heap on the credit for rookie coach Brian Jenkins and his Bethune-Cookman squad going to Orangeburg and ending the two-time defending MEAC champion's 21- game conference winning streak. The Wildcats' often overlooked defense forced four turnovers in the upset, while the South Carolina State crowd rather coldly booed quarterback Malcolm Long, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
But Hampton (5-1) won a defensive battle of its own - 7-6 over Norfolk State - to join Bethune-Cookman at 4-0 in the conference race. Freshman Antwon Chisholm rushed for the Pirates' only touchdown and they were helped by Norfolk State missing the PAT following its touchdown.
Three of Hampton's final four conference games are on the road, including next weekend's trip to South Carolina State. Coach Don Rose and his Pirates get Bethune-Cookman at home in Virginia on Nov. 6.
It still feels like Bethune-Cookman's title to lose, but Hampton has the rest of the conference's attention.
EASY AS 1, 2, 3 ... UH, 4
Richmond posted one of the surprising results of the weekend, an 11-10 triumph at previously surging Massachusetts. What made the score especially surprising is that the Spiders didn't have any of their top three quarterbacks because of injury.
True freshman Montel White was pressed into action and threw a game-winning, 15-yard touchdown pass to Tre Gray with nine seconds left.
Richmond ran the ball on 44 of its 50 plays. Amazingly, all four of White's completions came on the Spiders' final, 60-yard drive.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS? NOT COMPLETELY
Where would Charleston Southern have been Saturday if Gerald Stevenson hadn't played against Gardner-Webb? The senior set school and Big South Conference all-purpose yardage records with 389, which included kickoff returns for 92- and 81-yard touchdowns.
The problem was Charleston Southern lost, 35-25.
Stevenson also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown last Saturday, but the Bucs fell to Liberty, 44-20.
HARDLY SEEMS POSSIBLE
Wofford had three players go over 100 rushing yards and gained 501 yards on the ground in a 45-14 dismantling of Western Carolina. The Terriers (5-1, 3-0 Southern Conference) averaged 9.4 yards per play in the victory.
Runners reaching the century mark were Mitch Allen (178), Eric Breitenstein (149) and Donovan Johnson (123).
HEAD COACH-IN WAITING
As expected, Prairie View A&M rolled past Division II Lincoln (Mo.), 45-12, on Saturday to improve to 4-3. The more interesting development with the SWAC program came earlier in the week when defensive coordinator Heishma Northern was named head coach-in-waiting. He will get the top job should Henry Frazier III leave the program within the next three years.
That type of announcement is rarely seen on the FBS level, let alone on the FCS level.
Northern, a 14-year collegiate assistant, was a finalist for the head coaching position at his alma mater, Southern University, last offseason - a job that went to Stump Mitchell.
Frazier, who was the 2009 Eddie Robinson Award winner as FCS coach of the year, supports PVAM's announcement, stating Northern is "ready to be a head coach on the collegiate level and the Prairie View A&M program would be in capable hands under his watch."
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER
Three of the nine winless teams in the FCS got on track Saturday after opening the season with five losses. In the Patriot League, Bucknell gave first-year head coach Joe Susan his initial win, 24-21 at Georgetown, while Lafayette had a nice 28-21 win over Stony Brook. Meanwhile, Delaware State won a battle of winless MEAC teams, 31-26 over North Carolina A&T ... Villanova didn't need All-America Matt Szczur (ankle) to roll past Maine, 48-18. Senior quarterback Chris Whitney picked up the slack by throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for two more. The defending FCS champion improved to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in CAA Football ... Speaking of Villanova, JBS Scouting reports Wildcats senior offensive tackle Ben Ijalana has moved into the top 50 for the 2011 NFL Draft, which makes him a second-rounder at worst. The All-America is projected to play guard on the next level ... It's Summers in the fall. Liberty junior Chris Summers caught three more touchdowns Saturday against VMI to give him 12 for the season, which is a single-season record for the Flames. He has caught 54 passes for 753 yards in seven games ... Bend, but don't break. Southern Utah allowed only one touchdown despite Cal Poly accumulating 376 yards and getting within the Thunderbirds' 30-yard line on six possessions in a 20-7 SU triumph in the Great West Football Conference ... Ian Vance likes the game-ending field-goal attempts. The Georgia State kicker hit his second game-winner of the season as the Panthers stopped North Carolina Central, 20-17, in overtime. Coach Bill Curry has his first-year program at 5-2 ... Colgate became the 15th FCS program to join the 600-win club by blowing past Cornell, 44-3. In the process, Walter Payton Award candidate Nate Eachus set Colgate and Patriot League single-game records by rushing for 291 yards on only 25 carries. The junior scored three touchdowns as the Raiders improved to 4-2 ... Frank Warren rushed for 202 yards and scored five touchdowns to fuel Grambling State's 38-28 win over Alcorn State. Warren (155.5) is No. 2 to Eachus (169.3) in the FCS in rushing yards per game ... Eastern Illinois had no answer for Tennesse Tech's Marcus Edwards. The sophomore outside linebacker tied a school record with five sacks in the Golden Eagles' 34-20 victory. The winners forced six turnovers ... DeAndre Presley's march through an incredible junior season continued with five touchdown passes in No. 1 Appalachian State's 39-10 win over The Citadel. Ranked No. 1 in the FCS in passing efficiency, he has thrown 14 touchdowns without an interception ... Stephen F. Austin senior quarterback Jeremy Moses set a Southland Conference record with his 101st career touchdown pass and left himself nine yards shy of the conference's all-time record for total offense in a 30-7 win over Central Arkansas ... The top eight teams in the FCS in turnover margin are a combined 44-8. Bethune-Cookman leads the way with a plus-15 margin and has a 6-0 record.
One already can feel the conference races tightening much more next weekend. There's a full slate of big games.
The biggest is No. 2 Delaware (7-0, 4-0) traveling to No. 4 William & Mary (5-1, 3-1) in a battle of the top two teams in CAA Football.
Not to say Villanova (4-2, 2-1) is far behind. The sixth-ranked Wildcats will host James Madison (4-2, 1-2) in a particularly important game for the visiting Dukes after they lost to New Hampshire on Saturday.
UNH (4-3, 2-2) will host Massachusetts (4-2, 2-1) in a key CAA game as far as playoff implications are concerned.
The Big Sky also has the spotlight with Northern Arizona (4-2, 2-1) visiting Montana (5-2, 4-1), which has won four straight games. The Southern Conference features another team on a four-game roll, Chattanooga (4-2, 3-1), which visits Furman (4-2, 2-1).
Other key games include Penn (4-1, 2-0) at Yale (4-1, 2-0) in the Ivy League, Illinois State (4-3, 3-2) at Northern Iowa (3-3, 2-1) in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wofford (5-1, 3-0) at still-dangerous Elon (2-4, 1-2) in the SoCon, and Hampton (5-1, 4-0) at South Carolina State (4-2, 2-1) in the MEAC.
Also, there's the battle of the teams set to join CAA Football. Old Dominion (3-3), which goes into the FCS' premier conference next season, will host Georgia State (5-2), which joins the conference in 2012.