By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We know many teams are playing for their playoff lives at this point in the season.
How about an entire conference?
An automatic bid for the 2011 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs could be at stake.
For this year's expanded, 20-team playoffs, the NCAA issued automatic bids to the champions of 10 of the 11 conferences that applied for one. The 10-school, non-scholarship Pioneer Football League was the one left on the outside looking in.
The PFL still stands a chance of either Jacksonville or Dayton - probably not both - earning one of the 10 at-large bids, but the widespread league covets an automatic bid. It has reapplied for one in 2011, so the NCAA playoff committee may again have to decide which conference won't receive one.
Basically, auditions are taking place this season, with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Patriot League each seemingly the most at risk of losing its spot to the PFL.
Although there are 14 FCS conferences, only 11 are in the mix for playoff bids. The other three that don't try to participate in the playoffs are:
* The Ivy League, which plays only a 10-game regular season;
* The soon-to-dismantle Great West Conference, which doesn't have the required six members;
* The Southwestern Athletic Conference, which plays a championship game that usually is more lucrative for its membership than sending a team to the playoffs;
If the MEAC decides to stay in the playoff picture, then one conference will not have an automatic bid again next year.
It's cold, but also a reality.
The PFL would probably be the choice again, with most of its programs far off the national spotlight. Campbell, Morehead State, Davidson, Marist and a Valparaiso program which is on an FCS-leading 17-game losing streak usually struggle to be among the top 100 teams in the 124-school FCS.
But there's another factor to consider with the PFL. Jacksonville and Dayton are both 7-1 and appear headed to 10-1 regular seasons. If both do that, it would boost the league's resume this offseason.
Still, it's a down season for the rest of the PFL, so it's possible both co- leaders could be shut out of this year's playoffs even if they finish 10-1.
The MEAC and the Patriot League have to be on guard, though.
The nine-team MEAC has three of the worst teams in the FCS this season - Delaware State, North Carolina A&T and Howard, which are a combined 2-17 - and will be bringing in a Savannah State program which has struggled for a long time, as well as a North Carolina Central program that is still getting its feet wet on the FCS level.
To its credit, the MEAC has a strong program in South Carolina State and a revived one in Bethune-Cookman that is ranked 12th nationally.
The seven-team Patriot League (Fordham isn't eligible for the league title this season) might have something to worry about considering it isn't as strong a league as it once was. Bucknell and Georgetown have struggled for some time now, and Fordham is up and down.
The mix of Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette and Holy Cross is much stronger, however. Plus the Patriot League had a national runner-up as recently as 2003 with Colgate.
The MEAC and the Patriot League probably have enough strength to hold off the PFL for an automatic qualifying bid next year. But it's an intriguing issue should the MEAC decide it wants to remain in the playoff mix.
FCS CHAMPIONS SQUARE OFF
For the second straight season on Saturday, Richmond will be involved in a meeting of the last two FCS champions.
In the FCS quarterfinals last December, Richmond, the 2008 national champion, fell at home to Appalachian State, which won three straight titles from 2005 to '07.
Unfortunately for the 14th-ranked Spiders (4-3, 2-2), injuries have hit them hard at quarterback. Fourth-stringer Montel White has done well to help keep the team afloat with wins over Massachusetts and Towson in the last two weeks.
"I don't think this team has thought very much about our physical state," Richmond coach Latrell Scott said. "We told these guys, there's no waiver wire in college football and we're going to go out and play with the guys that we have."
"We've recruited very well here in past years. And I think some of that has shown up in some of these guys that are able to step up and play. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be in a situation where we're still in the race to have a chance to compete for the conference championship and one of the playoff bids this league will get. And right now we're still on track, and these kids are focused on just trying to play one game at a time."
It appears unlikely Villanova All-America wide receiver/kickoff returner Matt Szczur, who has missed nearly four full games because of a high ankle sprain, will play before November.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the CAA.
PAYTON, BUCHANAN NOMINEES
The best way to get the phone ringing and the inbox filling up is to leave excellent players off the watch lists for the Walter Payton and Buck Buchanan awards.
And The Sports Network has.
Unfortunately, there's no way around it. There are 20 players on each updated watch list for the FCS' top individual awards, which are sponsored by Fathead.com. The schools of many other players have excellent gripes about why their leading players aren't on each list.
Since the season began, quarterbacks Mike Brown of Liberty, DeAndre Presley of Appalachian State and Casey Therriault of Jackson State, and running backs Nate Eachus of Colgate and Frank Warren of Grambling State, have earned their way onto the Payton Watch List. Linebackers Tyler Holmes of UMass and Antoine Wilkinson of Missouri State, safety Eugene Clifford of Tennessee State, and nose tackle Brent Russell of Georgia Southern have been added to the Buchanan Watch List.
There are plenty of other players who aren't on the lists, but it doesn't diminish their seasons.
The arguments are especially strong offensively, To name a small handful of players, there's Southeast Missouri State running back Henry Harris (No. 4 in the FCS in rushing yards per game, No. 1 in all-purpose yards per game), Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein (No. 5 in rushing, No. 1 in scoring), Jacksonville quarterback Josh McGregor (No. 5 in passing yards per game, No. 3 in passing efficiency), Montana State quarterback Denarius McGhee (possibly the national freshman of the year), Bethune-Cookman quarterback Matthew Johnson and Western Illinois quarterback Matt Barr (two of the more improved players of the year), Arkansas-Pine Bluff wide receiver Raymond Webber (No. 1 in receptions per game, No. 3 in receiving yards per game), and Liberty wide receiver Chris Summers (No. 5 in receptions per game, No. 4 in receiving yards per game).
To name a few defensively, there's Western Illinois linebacker Kyle Glazier (No. 1 in the FCS in tackles per game), Wofford linebacker Ameet Pall (No. 1 in sacks per game, No. 2 in tackles for loss per game), New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans and Northern Colorado linebacker John Eddy (all-around seasons), Prairie View A&M cornerback Moses Ellis (No. 1 in passes defended per game) and The Citadel cornerback Torez Jones (No. 3 in interceptions per game, No. 9 in passes defended).
And then there are the players not even listed above.
Indeed, the talent runs deep in the FCS.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...
In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential FCS playoff field since the preseason. The projections are a long-range look at the regular season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found here.
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER
Southern Utah (4-4, 3-0) hopes to become the first team to wrap up a conference title when it visits UC Davis (3-4, 1-0) in its final Great West game on Saturday. Coach Ed Lamb's Thunderbirds ended a four-game losing streak to the Aggies by winning last year's meeting, 56-35. UC Davis will move into first place with a win, but its final two conference games are on the road - Nov. 6 at South Dakota and Nov. 13 at Cal Poly ... The Big Sky Conference suspended Eastern Washington sophomore defensive back Artise Gauldin for Saturday's game at Portland State because of an illegal hit this past Saturday ... Coastal Carolina three-year starting quarterback Zach McDowall practiced in full gear on Tuesday after leaving last Saturday's game against Stony Brook because of a concussion. This week, the Chanticleers (2-5) visit Gardner-Webb in the Big South ... Robert Morris senior running back Myles Russ, with 3,714 rushing yards in his career, is 134 shy of surpassing Sam Dorsett's school record. Dorsett is Russ' running backs coach. The Northeast Conference-leading Colonials (6-1, 5-0) host Duquesne on Saturday ... Northern Iowa place-kicker Billy Hallgren's next point will break his tie with Brian Wingert as the Panthers' all-time leading scorers. They are at 331 points ... In two games since becoming the starting quarterback, Murray State sophomore Casey Brockman has completed 73-of-99 passes for 888 yards and nine touchdowns. The Racers (3-4, 2-2 Ohio Valley Conference) have won three of their last four games - averaging 49 points during the span - for first-year coach Chris Hatcher ... Northwestern State's Homecoming court ceremony at halftime against Sam Houston State on Saturday will be without its king. Junior linebacker Yaser Elqutub will be in the Demons' locker room ... No. 20 Penn's 11-game Ivy League winning streak will be on the line Saturday when it hosts Brown in a meeting of 3-0 league squads. Brown has played much of its season without 2009 All-Ivy League quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero. A senior now out with a broken wrist, he is expected to play again next year ... With both teams on two-game losing streaks, Saturday's CAA game of No. 18 Massachusetts (4-3, 2-2) at No. 15 James Madison (4-3, 2-2) can be considered a playoff elimination game ... The punter of struggling Valparaiso (0-8, 17 straight losses) gets a lot of action. Greg Wood is excelling in his role with a 42.9-yard average (on 47 punts), which is two yards better than any other Pioneer Football League counterpart ... Maybe I'm throwing darts, but I give Furman (4-3, 2-2) a legitimate shot of upsetting No. 1 Appalachian State (7-0, 5-0) on Saturday.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 40-19 (.678)
Season Record: 392-129 (.752)
Thursday, Oct. 28
North Carolina A&T (1-7, 1-4 MEAC) at X-No. 12 Bethune-Cookman (7-0, 4-0), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 30
Wagner (4-3, 2-2 NEC) at X-Central Connecticut State (5-2, 4-0), noon
Columbia (3-3, 1-2 Ivy) at X-Yale (4-2, 2-1), noon
VMI (3-4) at X-Army (4-3), noon
No. 14 Richmond (4-3, 2-2 CAA) at X-No. 5 Villanova (5-2, 3-1), noon
Duquesne (5-3, 3-2 NEC) at X-Robert Morris (6-1, 5-0), noon
Princeton (1-5, 0-3 Ivy) at X-Cornell (1-5, 0-3), 12:30 p.m.
X-Colgate (4-3, 1-1 Patriot) at Lehigh (5-2, 1-0), 12:37 p.m.
X-Old Dominion (4-3) at Hampton (5-2), 1 p.m.
Sacred Heart (2-6, 0-5 NEC) at X-Monmouth (3-4, 3-1), 1 p.m.
Lamar (3-4) at X-North Dakota (2-5), 1 p.m.
X-Dayton (7-1, 5-0 PFL) at Davidson (2-5, 2-3), 1 p.m.
X-Lafayette (1-6, 0-1 Patriot) at Bucknell (1-6, 1-1), 1 p.m.
X-No. 19 Northern Iowa (4-3, 3-1 MVFC) at Youngstown State (3-5, 1-4), 1 p.m.
Georgetown (3-5) at X-Fordham (3-5), 1 p.m.
X-Albany (3-4, 1-3 NEC) at Bryant (4-3, 1-3), 1 p.m.
Marist (2-5, 1-4 PFL) at X-Campbell (2-5, 1-3), 1 p.m.
X-No. 17 South Carolina State (5-2, 3-1 MEAC) at Delaware State (1-6, 1-4), 1 p.m.
X-Norfolk State (2-5, 1-4 MEAC) at Howard (1-6, 0-4), 1 p.m.
X-No. 16 Liberty (5-2, 2-0 Big South) at Presbyterian (1-6, 1-2), 1:30 p.m.
The Citadel (2-6, 0-5) at X-No. 9 Wofford (6-1, 4-0), 1:30 p.m.
Coastal Carolina (2-5, 1-1 Big South) at X-Gardner-Webb (3-4, 1-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-Harvard (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) at Dartmouth (4-2, 1-2), 1:30 p.m.
Brown (4-2, 3-0 Ivy) at X-No. 21 Penn (5-1, 3-0), 1:30 p.m.
X-Butler (3-5, 1-4 PFL) at Valparaiso (0-8, 0-5), 2 p.m.
X-No. 24 Jacksonville (7-1, 5-0 PFL) at Morehead State (3-4, 2-2), 2 p.m.
Edward Waters (1-7) at X-North Carolina Central (2-5), 2 p.m.
UT Martin (4-4, 3-2 OVC) at X-No. 11 Southeast Missouri State (7-1, 6-0), 2 p.m.
San Diego (3-5, 3-2 PFL) at X-Drake (5-3, 4-1), 2 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (0-7, 0-6 SWAC) at X-Texas Southern (4-3, 4-1), 2 p.m.
Elon (2-5, 1-3 SoCon) at X-No. 20 Chattanooga (5-2, 4-1), 2 p.m.
Samford (3-4, 1-3 SoCon) at X-Georgia Southern (4-3, 2-2), 2 p.m.
Austin Peay (2-5, 1-3 OVC) at X-Eastern Illinois (0-8, 0-6), 2:30 p.m.
X-No. 23 Grambling State (6-1, 6-0 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-3, 3-2), 2:30 p.m.
Southern (2-5, 1-4 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (3-4, 2-3), 3 p.m.
Charleston Southern (2-5, 0-3 Big South) at X-Stony Brook (3-4, 2-0), 3 p.m.
Southeastern Louisiana (2-5, 1-2 Southland) at X-Central Arkansas (4-3, 1-2), 3 p.m.
Morgan State (4-3, 3-1 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (4-3, 3-1), 3 p.m.
Texas State (3-4, 0-3 Southland) at X-No. 4 Stephen F. Austin (6-1, 3-0), 3 p.m.
X-Southern Illinois (3-4, 2-2 MVFC) at Missouri State (3-4, 2-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 7 Montana (6-2, 5-1 Big Sky) at Weber State (4-3, 3-2), 3 p.m.
Illinois State (4-4, 3-3 MVFC) at X-Western Illinois (5-3, 3-2), 3 p.m.
X-South Dakota State (3-4, 3-2 MVFC) at Indiana State (4-3, 2-2), 3:05 p.m.
Murray State (3-4, 2-2 OVC) at X-Eastern Kentucky (2-5, 1-2), 3:07 p.m.
X-Rhode Island (2-5, 1-3 CAA) at Towson (1-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m.
Alabama A&M (2-5, 1-4 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (4-3, 3-3), 3:30 p.m.
No. 3 William & Mary (6-1) at X-North Carolina (4-3), 3:30 p.m.
No. 18 Massachusetts (4-3, 2-2 CAA) at X-No. 15 James Madison (4-3, 1-3), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 13 Montana State (6-2, 4-1 Big Sky) at Idaho State (1-6, 0-5), 3:35 p.m.
Furman (4-3, 2-2 SoCon) at X-No. 1 Appalachian State (7-0, 5-0), 3:35 p.m.
X-Prairie View A&M (5-3, 4-2 SWAC) at Jackson State (5-2, 3-2), 5 p.m.
Georgia State (5-3) at X-South Alabama (7-0), 5 p.m.
X-Northern Colorado (2-6) at South Dakota (3-5), 5:05 p.m.
Sacramento State (3-4, 2-3 Big Sky) at X-No. 25 Northern Arizona (4-3, 2-2), 6:05 p.m.
X-Sam Houston State (4-3, 2-1 Southland) at Northwestern State (3-4, 2-1), 7 p.m.
X-Southern Utah (4-4, 3-0 Great West) at UC Davis (3-4, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Nicholls State (2-5, 1-2 Southland) at X-McNeese State (3-4, 2-1), 8 p.m.
X-No. 8 Eastern Washington (6-2, 5-1 Big Sky) at Portland State (2-5, 1-3), 8:05 p.m.
St. Francis, Pa. (1-6) at X-No. 22 Cal Poly (5-3), 9:05 p.m.