By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Bethlehem, PA (Sports Network) - To remember the last time Indiana State football won six football games, you have to start with the 2004 season, then work your way through 2009.
The turnaround at Indiana State this season is nothing short of amazing. The Sycamores won four of their first five games in 2004, didn't win again that season and fell into an abyssal 2-60 stretch heading into this season.
The surprising Sycamores will take a 5-3 record into their biggest game in many years Saturday against visiting Northern Iowa in Terre Haute.
A victory would clinch Indiana State's first winning season since 1996, and, more importantly, move the Sycamores into first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. UNI (5-3) sits atop the parity-filled conference standings at 4-1, just ahead of Western Illinois (6-3, 4-2), which has a bye this weekend, the Sycamores (5-3, 3-2) and Missouri State (4-4, 3-2).
It's not what they are accustomed to seeing at Memorial Stadium.
Most people think of the Larry Bird-led, national runner-up basketball team of 1978-79 when they think of Indiana State athletics. And come November, Terre Haute has been known more in recent years for hosting the NCAA Division I cross country championships than having a relevant football team.
It's all changed over two glorious months for third-year head coach Trent Miles and his program.
"After you're 1-and-50-something, and you've lost 30-something straight games (33), getting kids to make sure they believe they can win was very difficult for everybody," Miles said Wednesday. "Not just them, but getting their families and the students and everybody to believe that it could happen. Everybody was ready to give up. These kids never gave up, these kids kept fighting."
The Sycamores have won all five home games and scored at least 38 points in each one, going over 55 points three times. Fouch, a redshirt junior, has thrown for 15 touchdowns against only three interceptions this season, while senior running back Darrius Gates has scored a school-record 15 touchdowns, including five last Saturday against South Dakota State.
The defense has stopped being punching bags for opponents. Sophomore middle linebacker Ben Archie leads the way in tackles for a second straight season and defensive end Ben Obaseki has totaled 14.5 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks.
The change in culture, Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley points out, has a lot to do with the Indiana State coaches putting players in position to be productive: "I see a team that believes it their staff and believes in their system," he said.
Miles knows what Indiana State can be as a program. A Sycamores' wide receiver from 1982-86, the '83 and '84 squads both won nine games and advanced to the FCS playoffs, and the '84 squad was ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision for most of the season.
Such lofty status is a long way off for the program, but the Sycamores can take a big step this week. That's all Miles is asking of them.
"We're just trying to be 1-0 this week," he said.
"We've got a long way to go, off the field as far as things that we're doing with the program and on the field before we can sit back and say, 'Well, we've made it.'"
MONTANA NEEDS BIG FINISH
The FCS playoffs without Montana?
You might have an easier time getting people to believe the sky, or at least the Big Sky Conference, is falling, than the Grizzlies sitting on the sidelines at the start of the postseason.
Montana has appeared in a record 17 straight playoffs, winning the national title in 1995 and finishing as the runner-up five times. But the injury- riddled team's 6-3 record includes a win over Division II Western State, so following this weekend's bye the Grizzlies believe it's imperative to defeat North Dakota on Nov. 13 and Big Sky rival Montana State on Nov. 20 to get to seven wins against Division I competition.
"No doubt, that's how we're approaching it," first-year head coach Robin Pflugrad said. "Obviously, take one of those at a time, of course. First and foremost, we do need some downtime, our practices are going to be short and simple this week because we do need some rest. We've lost, I believe, 15 players to season-ending (injuries), and that's the most I've ever been around. We're very thin. Our guys need a break, there's no question about that."
FIRST AUTOMATIC BID THIS WEEKEND?
The first ticket to the FCS playoffs could be punched on Saturday in the Northeast Conference.
At high noon in suburban Pittsburgh, Robert Morris (7-1, 6-0) will host Central Connecticut State (6-2, 5-0) in what's being billed as the most meaningful game in NEC history.
Robert Morris will clinch the title and the playoff bid with a victory, as it would have only one remaining conference game and couldn't be surpassed by Central Connecticut State.
The Blue Devils, who won last year's title, would move into first place with the win, but would have to win at least one of their final two conference games - at Monmouth or against St. Francis (Pa.) - or have Robert Morris lose its finale at Bryant to finish as champions.
The Big South, like the NEC, also has an automatic bid for the first time. Its championship could be determined on Nov. 20, the final day of the regular season, when Liberty hosts Stony Brook. Coastal Carolina is still in the picture, however.
NATIONAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL DAY
Saturday marks the 141st anniversary of the first intercollegiate football game, when Rutgers defeated visiting Princeton, 6-4, before nearly 100 spectators in Piscataway, N.J.
Once again, on this first Saturday in November, the V Foundation for Cancer Research will benefit from a National College Football Day drive led by the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic.
To make a $10 donation to the V Foundation in honor of the special day, text jimmyvfb to 85944. Or call 1-800-4JIMMYV or visit www.jimmyv.org for other donation sizes.
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
Great West football will end after the 2011 season. Cal Poly, UC Davis, North Dakota and Southern Utah have all accepted invitations to join the Big Sky Conference, with South Dakota still weighing an invite to join the Big Sky in all sports against joining the Summit League, which doesn't offer football. The Coyotes could play football in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, whose membership includes South Dakota State ... No. 8 New Hampshire is taking the difficult path to try to become eligible for the playoffs. With a win over Towson likely on Nov. 20, coach Sean McDonnell's red-hot Wildcats (5-3) must beat No. 4 William & Mary or No. 3 Villanova over the next two Saturdays. The Wildcats have beaten three straight CAA teams that were ranked in the Top 12 at the time of the games ... Elon senior quarterback Scott Riddle, 18 plays shy of 2,000 in his career, has never missed a start, but his run of 43 in a row is in jeopardy because of a injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder, suffered last Saturday against Chattanooga. Redshirt sophomore Thomas Wilson is being readied in case he has to start Saturday at The Citadel ... Denied last weekend by Central Connecticut State, Wagner coach Walt Hameline will go for his 200th career on Saturday against Monmouth. The visiting Hawks are coached by former Hameline protege Kevin Callahan ... Florida A&M (5-3, 4-1) can't be overlooked in the MEAC race. Bethune-Cookman (8-0, 5-0), South Carolina State (6-2, 4-1) and Hampton (5-3, 4-1) have garnered much of the spotlight this season, but coach Joe Taylor and his Rattlers hold the ultimate trump card in a Nov. 20 finale at home against Bethune-Cookman ... No. 23 Jacksonville (8-1, 6-0) will seek a program-record eighth straight win on Saturday when it visits Butler ... Wofford junior Eric Breitenstein is set to go over 1,000 yards rushing - an astounding total for a fullback. He has 962 yards and an FCS-high 17 touchdowns on 147 carries heading into Saturday's Southern Conference game at Samford ... Big East members voted to add two teams for football. Defending FCS champion Villanova is considering the move up to the FBS conference. TCU of the Mountain West Conference and Central Florida of Conference USA also are considered strong candidates for the Big East, which has eight football teams ... Yes, defense wins championships. Of the top 25 teams in the FCS in scoring defense, only one has a losing record (Butler, which is 4-5), and eight of the top 10 are at least four games over .500.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 44-15 (.746)
Season Record: 436-144 (.752)
Saturday, Nov. 6
Columbia (3-4, 1-3 Ivy) at X-Harvard (5-2, 3-1), noon
X-No. 23 Jacksonville (8-1, 6-0 PFL) at Butler (4-5, 2-4), noon
X-No. 4 William & Mary (6-2, 4-1 CAA) at No. 8 New Hampshire (5-3, 3-2), noon
Central Connecticut State (6-2, 5-0 NEC) at X-Robert Morris (7-1, 6-0), noon
Davidson (2-6, 2-4 PFL) at X-Marist (3-5, 2-4), noon
X-Dartmouth (4-3, 1-3 Ivy) at Cornell (2-5, 1-3), 12:30 p.m.
X-Yale (5-2, 3-1 Ivy) at Brown (4-3, 3-1), 12:30 p.m.
Western Carolina (2-6, 1-4 SoCon) at X-Furman (4-4, 2-3), 12:30 p.m.
Idaho State (1-7) at X-Georgia (4-5), 12:30 p.m.
Charleston Southern (2-6) at X-Kentucky (4-5), 12:30 p.m.
X-Lehigh (6-2, 2-0 Patriot) at Holy Cross (4-4, 1-1), 12:30 p.m.
Valparaiso (0-9, 0-6 PFL) at X-Campbell (2-6, 1-4), 1:00 p.m.
X-Fordham (4-5) at Bucknell (1-7), 1 p.m.
Lafayette (2-6, 1-1 Patriot) at X-Colgate (4-4, 1-2), 1 p.m.
North Carolina Central (3-5) at X-Delaware State (1-7), 1 p.m.
X-Bryant (5-3, 2-3 NEC) at St. Francis, Pa. (1-7, 1-4), 1 p.m.
Drake (6-3, 5-1 PFL) at X-Dayton (8-1, 6-0), 1 p.m.
X-Stony Brook (4-4, 3-0 Big South) at Presbyterian (1-7, 1-3), 1 p.m.
Chattanooga (5-3) at X-Auburn (9-0), 1 p.m.
Albany (3-5, 1-4 NEC) at X-Sacred Heart (3-6, 1-5), 1 p.m.
Monmouth (3-5, 3-2 NEC) at X-Wagner (4-4, 2-3), 1 p.m.
Morgan State (4-4, 3-2 MEAC) at X-Norfolk State (3-5, 2-4), 1 p.m.
X-No. 3 Villanova (6-2, 4-1 CAA) at Rhode Island (3-5, 2-3), 1 p.m.
UC Davis (3-5, 1-1 Great West) at X-North Dakota (3-5, 0-3), 1 p.m.
Lamar (3-5) at X-Georgia State (5-4), 1 p.m.
Howard (1-7, 0-5 MEAC) at X-No. 16 South Carolina State (6-2, 4-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-Florida A&M (5-3, 4-1 MEAC) at North Carolina A&T (1-8, 1-5), 1:30 p.m.
X-Coastal Carolina (3-5, 2-1 Big South) at VMI (3-5, 2-2), 1:30 p.m.
Youngstown State (3-6, 1-5 MVFC) at X-Illinois State (4-5, 3-4), 2:00 p.m.
X-No. 1 Appalachian State (8-0, 6-0 SoCon) at Georgia Southern (4-4, 2-3), 2 p.m.
Savannah State (0-8) at X-Old Dominion (5-3), 2 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (4-4, 3-2 OVC) at X-Murray State (3-5, 2-3), 2 p.m.
Missouri State (4-4, 3-2 MVFC) at X-South Dakota State (3-5, 3-3), 2 p.m.
X-Alcorn State (4-4, 3-3 SWAC) at Alabama A&M (2-6, 1-5), 2 p.m.
X-No. 11 Bethune-Cookman (8-0, 5-0 MEAC) at Hampton (5-3, 4-1), 2 p.m.
X-UT Martin (4-5, 3-3 OVC) at Austin Peay (2-6, 1-4), 2 p.m.
Southwest Baptist (7-2) at X-No. 9 Southeast Missouri State (8-1), 2 p.m.
X-Elon (3-5, 2-3 SoCon) at The Citadel (2-7, 0-6), 2 p.m.
Weber State (5-3, 4-2 Big Sky) at X-No. 12 Montana State (7-2, 5-1), 2:05 p.m.
Dixie State (2-7) at X-Southern Utah (5-4), 3:00 p.m.
McNeese State (4-4, 3-1 Southland) at X-Sam Houston State (4-4, 2-2), 3 p.m.
X-No. 18 Penn (6-1, 4-0 Ivy) at Princeton (1-6, 0-4), 3 p.m.
X-No. 7 Wofford (7-1, 5-0 SoCon) at Samford (4-4, 2-3), 3 p.m.
Concordia (4-5) at X-No. 21 Grambling State (7-1), 3 p.m.
X-Central Arkansas (5-3, 2-2 Southland) at Texas State (4-4, 1-3), 3 p.m.
X-No. 17 Northern Iowa (5-3, 4-1 MVFC) at Indiana State (5-3, 3-2), 3:05 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (3-5, 1-2 Big South) at X-No. 14 Liberty (6-2, 3-0), 3:30 p.m.
Towson (1-7, 0-5 CAA) at X-No. 5 Delaware (7-1, 4-1), 3:30 p.m.
No. 22 James Madison (4-4, 1-4 CAA) at X-No. 20 Richmond (4-4, 2-3), 3:30 p.m.
Mississippi Valley State (0-8, 0-7 SWAC) at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m.
Maine (3-5, 2-3 CAA) at X-No. 15 Massachusetts (5-3, 3-2), 3:30 p.m.
X-Northern Arizona (4-4, 2-3 Big Sky) at Northern Colorado (2-7, 1-5), 3:35 p.m.
Southern Illinois (3-5, 2-3 MVFC) at X-No. 25 North Dakota State (5-3, 2-3), 4 p.m.
Morehead State (3-5, 2-3 PFL) at X-San Diego (3-6, 3-3), 4 p.m.
X-No. 10 Stephen F. Austin (6-2, 3-1 Southland) at Nicholls State (2-6, 1-3), 5 p.m.
No. 19 Cal Poly (6-3, 1-1 Great West) at X-South Dakota (4-5, 1-2), 5:05 p.m.
Portland State (2-6, 1-4 Big Sky) at X-Sacramento State (4-4, 3-3), 5:05 p.m.
X-Eastern Illinois (1-8, 1-6 OVC) at Tennessee State (3-5, 0-4), 6 p.m.
X-Texas Southern (5-3, 5-1 SWAC) at Southern (2-6, 1-5), 7 p.m.
X-Northwestern State (4-4, 3-1 Southland) at Southeastern Louisiana (2-6, 1-3), 7 p.m.
X-No. 2 Jacksonville State (8-0, 5-0 OVC) at Eastern Kentucky (3-5, 2-2), 7:07 p.m.
Jackson State (6-2, 4-2 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (5-3, 4-3), 8 p.m.