(STATS) - With the end of the FCS regular season appearing on the horizon, the prospects of a losing record, not having a realistic shot of winning a conference title and watching the postseason from the limited comforts of a dorm room are not what any team signed up for two months ago.
Well, a team coming from a winless season can still see progress in that.
Regardless, the final four weeks offer teams a moniker that actually sounds pretty good and provides a sense of purpose in their conference race:
Every FCS conference has a dangerous team lurking in the weeds of the synthetic turf (go with us on that one) who can still pack a punch. Some were pegged for better seasons, some weren't but are gaining momentum. But they can all embrace the spoiler's role.
Big Sky - It's been a miserable season at Idaho State, but the Bengals (2-6, 1-4) get Montana (Nov. 7) and Montana State (Nov. 14) in back-to-back weeks at Holt Arena, where they play better.
Big South - Surprising conference losses to Gardner-Webb and Monmouth may keep Liberty (4-4, 1-2) from returning to the playoffs. But in closing the season at Charleston Southern (Nov. 14) and against Coastal Carolina (Nov. 19), they can have a big say on who goes this season.
CAA - Delaware (3-4, 2-2) is one of the stranger teams around, losing to Jacksonville and Rhode Island but beating William & Mary and New Hampshire. The Blue Hens must have James Madison's visit on Nov. 14 circled on their schedule.
Ivy - No matter who wins Friday night's battle of the Ivy unbeatens, there is a spoiler for Harvard in Penn (3-3, 2-1) on Nov. 14 and for Dartmouth in Princeton (4-2, 1-2) on Nov. 21.
MEAC - What ever happened to Florida A&M anyway? The Rattlers (1-6, 1-3), the first FCS playoff champ in 1978 and an 11-time black college champion, are saddled with their fourth straight losing season. Behind their improving quarterback, junior Carson Royal, they can halt some of their slide with home dates against front-running North Carolina A&T (Oct. 31) and Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 21).
Missouri Valley - Southern Illinois (3-4, 2-2) probably won't win out to get an FCS playoff bid, but perhaps the Salukis need to save Dale Lennon's job. They can inflict damage against North Dakota State (Oct. 31), front-running Illinois State (Nov. 14) and Northern Iowa (Nov. 21) should the Panthers still be in the running for an at-large bid.
Northeast - There's little reason to pay attention to winless Wagner (BYU must have stopped by halftime on Saturday). But the Seahawks (0-7, 0-2) want to end coach Jason Houghtaling's first season with momentum and, lest we forget, they won a share of last year's conference title. Their remaining schedule has matchups with co-leaders Duquesne (Oct. 31), Bryant (Nov. 7) and Central Connecticut (Nov. 14), and with two-time defending champion Sacred Heart (Nov. 21).
Ohio Valley - Murray State (2-5, 1-3) has this certain quarterback named KD Humphries, who ranks second in the FCS in passing yards, to gives fits to Eastern Illinois (Oct. 31), Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 14) and top-ranked Jacksonville State (Nov. 21).
Patriot - To have a chance for a fourth winning season in five years, Bucknell (3-4, 0-2) is going to have to triumph at one of the teams that is unbeaten in league play, Fordham (Nov. 7) or Colgate (Nov. 21).
Pioneer - Campbell (4-4, 2-3) needed a better start to the league season considering it still has to play at San Diego (Nov. 7) and home versus Jacksonville (Nov. 14). The Camels are dangerous, having lost three PFL games by a combined eight points.
Southern - Mercer (3-4, 0-3) has had a tough go in its first two seasons in the conference, but Bobby Lamb knows the program could take big steps against first-place squads The Citadel (Oct. 31) and Chattanooga (Nov. 7).
Southland - Abilene Christian (2-4, 2-3), which had to make up a game at Incarnate Word on Sunday, did better in its Southland debut a year ago than this season. But it has the offensive talent to bother conference-leading McNeese State (Oct. 31) and Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 14) when they come to town.
SWAC - Texas Southern (3-4, 2-4) still has to play the two divisions leaders, Grambling State (Nov. 7) and Alcorn State (Nov. 14). Quarterback Averion Hurts has thrown for 13 touchdowns against only one interception.---=
SECOND AND 10=
Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:
- The team of the week has to be Richmond for putting a damper on James Madison's Homecoming and a visit by ESPN's "College GameDay." The Spiders' offense was otherworldly in gaining a school-record 720 yards in their 59-49 victory. Coach Danny Rocco's first-place squad in CAA Football had the fewest returning starters in the conference (nine) entering the season.
- Most of the 18 first-place votes that were going to James Madison in the STATS FCS Top 25 last week probably should go to No. 3 Illinois State on Monday. The Redbirds (6-1), who grabbed sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference by beating Western Illinois 48-28, have only lost to unbeaten Iowa from the Big Ten and have played a tougher schedule than No. 1 Jacksonville State and No. 2 Coastal Carolina.
- New Hampshire's streak of 162 straight appearances in the Top 25 ended last week. Following Saturday's 31-14 loss at Delaware, the Wildcats are 3-4, meaning they have to sweep their last four games to have a shot at the FCS playoffs for the 12th straight season. Each of the losses was by at least 16 points, and coach Sean McDonnell's team may not have the strength of schedule to get into the postseason even if it gets to 7-4. A four-game run would include a win over CAA leader Richmond, but the rest of the schedule doesn't offer big resume-builders - Rhode Island, Albany and Maine.
- The parity-filled Northeast Conference may have the best title race in the FCS yet again this season. All seven teams have at least one loss through two or three conference games. In fact, Sacred Heart and Saint Francis were atop the standings entering Saturday's action but sat in a tie for fourth place afterward. The surprise of the conference is one of the 2-1 leaders, Central Connecticut State, which won only once in NEC play last season but already has beaten preseason favorite Bryant and two-time defending champion Sacred Heart. A super job is going on with coach Pete Rossomando and Co.
- Georgetown is another down-on-its-luck team that already has surpassed last year's win total, including a 2-1 mark in the Patriot League after a 17-9 road win over Bucknell. The Hoyas don't offer football scholarships like the rest of the league, but that hasn't deterred coach Rob Sgarlata's team. Senior linebacker Matt Satchell (career-high 18 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss) and freshman safety Jethro Francois (15 tackles) were all over the field against Bucknell.
- Speaking of upstarts, The Citadel is looking more like a team capable of winning the Southern Conference title. The Bulldogs (5-2, 4-0) are off to their best start in the conference since 1979 after whipping Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford and Furman - all teams picked ahead of them in the preseason poll. Second-year coach Mike Houston's triple-option offense is averaging over 350 rushing yards per game, ranking second in the FCS.
- If North Carolina A&T and Bethune-Cookman both get to nine wins in the regular season, which is quite possible, it will be interesting to see if the FCS playoff selection committee takes either of the MEAC teams with an at-large bid. The prize in the MEAC is a spot in the inaugural Celebration Bowl, but the one that doesn't get it from these two teams would have a playoff-worthy resume at nine wins.
- In a weekend with huge offensive performances - led by running backs Chase Edmonds of Fordham, Jacobi Green of Richmond and Blake Veasley of Central Arkansas with three of the six 200-yard performances, Harvard quarterback Scott Hosch and Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp - the best defensive performance wasn't individual. Big Sky co-leader Southern Utah beat UC Davis 34-6 to keep a conference opponent without a touchdown for the fourth straight game. Amazingly, the surprising Thunderbirds have allowed only three field goals in conference play. Their NFL prospects are impressive: defensive end James Cowser (two sacks against UC Davis), safety Miles Killebrew (15 tackles) and cornerback LeShaun Sims.
- Have to hand it to two of the better foots in the FCS. Liberty senior place-kicker John Lunsford's 57-yard field goal against Kennesaw State gave him 12 from beyond 50 yards in his career, which set the FCS record (six of the field goals have been between 56-60 yards over the last two seasons). Also, Texas Southern punter Cory Carter bailed out his team against Southern by sending a punt 86 yards (it benefited from a great bounce, but that's beside the point).
- It was a struggle for the unbeatens. Not only did James Madison and Jacksonville fall from the list, but Dartmouth and Dayton won by only four points each and Coastal Carolina won on a game-ending field goal. McNeese State was tied with Northwestern State in the fourth quarter before pulling away. Only Harvard was an easy winner, topping Princeton 42-7 to stretch its FCS-high unbeaten streak to 20 games.---=
STATS FCS TOP 25 SCOREBOARD=
No. 1 Jacksonville State (6-1, 4-0 OVC), beat Austin Peay (0-8, 0-5), 27-7
No. 2 Coastal Carolina (7-0, 2-0 Big South), beat Monmouth (3-5, 1-2), 23-20
No. 3 Illinois State (6-1, 4-0 Missouri Valley), beat No. 20 Western Illinois (4-3, 3-1), 48-28
No. 4 James Madison (7-1, 4-1 CAA), lost to No. 11 Richmond (6-1, 4-0), 59-49
No. 5 Chattanooga (6-1, 4-0 Southern), beat Wofford (3-5, 1-3), 20-17
No. 6 South Dakota State (5-2, 2-2 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 22 Northern Iowa (3-4, 1-3), 10-7
No. 7 Eastern Washington (5-2, 4-0 Big Sky), beat Northern Colorado (4-3, 2-3), 43-41
No. 8 North Dakota State (5-2, 3-1 Missouri Valley), beat No. 18 Indiana State (4-3, 2-2), 28-14
No. 9 Sam Houston State (5-2, 5-1 Southland), beat Nicholls (1-6, 1-4), 37-7
No. 10 Fordham (7-1, 3-0 Patriot), beat Lehigh (3-4, 1-1), 59-42
No. 11 Richmond (6-1, 4-0 CAA), beat No. 4 James Madison (7-1, 4-1), 59-49
No. 12 McNeese State (7-0, 6-0 Southland), beat Northwestern State (1-6, 1-4), 47-27
No. 13 Eastern Kentucky (5-2, 4-0 OVC), beat Tennessee State (3-4, 0-4), 45-21
No. 14 Portland State (6-1, 3-1 Big Sky), beat Cal Poly (2-5, 1-3), 38-35
No. 15 Harvard (6-0, 3-0 Ivy), beat Princeton (4-2, 1-2), 42-7
No. 16 Youngstown State (3-4, 1-3 Missouri Valley), lost to Southern Illinois (3-4, 2-2), 38-31, in OT
No. 17 William & Mary (5-2), beat Hampton (4-4), 40-7
No. 18 Indiana State (4-3, 2-2 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 8 North Dakota State (4-3, 2-2), 28-14
No. 19 Montana (4-3, 3-1 Big Sky), beat North Dakota (4-4, 2-3), 42-16
No. 20 Western Illinois (4-3, 3-1 Missouri Valley), lost to No. 3 Illinois State (6-1, 4-0), 48-28
No. 21 Montana State (4-3), beat East Tennessee State (0-7), 63-7
No. 22 Northern Iowa (3-4, 1-3 Missouri Valley), beat No. 6 South Dakota State (5-2, 2-2), 10-7
No. 23 Villanova (3-4, 2-2 CAA), lost to Towson (4-3, 2-2), 28-21
No. 24 North Carolina A&T (6-1, 4-0 MEAC), beat Howard (0-7, 0-5), 65-14
No. 25 Dartmouth (6-0, 3-0 Ivy), beat Columbia (1-5, 0-3), 13-9---=
A LOOK AHEAD=
It's treat over trick on Halloween weekend as the FCS is full of pivotal conference matchups.
The action starts Friday night with a Top 25 battle of unbeatens in the Ivy League as Harvard hosts Dartmouth. On Saturday, first place will be at stake with Eastern Kentucky at Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Coastal Carolina at Charleston Southern (Big South) and Fordham at Colgate (Patriot).
The annual biggest crowd in the FCS will watch SWAC rivals Alabama State and Alabama A&M square off at Legion Field in Birmingham.
Plus, there are the following key matchups: Big Sky, Montana at Portland State, Montana State at North Dakota, Weber State at Eastern Washington and Cal Poly at Southern Utah; CAA, James Madison at William & Mary; MEAC, Hampton at South Carolina State; Missouri Valley, Indiana State at Illinois State, Youngstown State at Western Illinois and North Dakota State at Southern Illinois; Northeast, Sacred Heart at Saint Francis; Pioneer, Jacksonville at Dayton and Drake at Morehead State; Southern, Western Carolina at Chattanooga; Southland, McNeese State at Abilene Christian and Southeastern Louisiana at Central Arkansas; SWAC, Alcorn State at Southern; and FCS-FBS: UT Martin at Arkansas.