Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Consider that at the start of last season
Sam Houston State was coming off a six-win campaign, and a 15-17 three-year
The Bearkats then proceeded to win their first 14 games and advance to the FCS
It was the same title game Eastern Washington planned to return to last
season as the defending champion, only to go winless through September and
then fail to make the playoffs.
The first month of the season often sets a tone, and always has its share of
surprises, both good and bad.
Eleven teams finished the month unbeaten, but a whopping 16 teams remain
without a win.
Among the more surprising teams are Cal Poly (4-0) and Northern Arizona (4-1)
in the Big Sky. Both teams own wins over FBS opponents and are off to 2-0
starts in their conference schedules. Neither team plays a game against
preseason favorites Montana State and Eastern Washington that counts toward
the conference standings (Cal Poly plays a non-conference game at EWU Nov. 3).
Villanova coach Andy Talley said in the preseason that he thought his defense
could hold opponents under 20 points consistently. It's happened in the
Wildcats' last four games, and, as a result, the CAA Football squad is 4-1
after winning just twice a year ago.
Illinois State (5-0) is off to its best start since the 1967 team began the
season with six straight wins. Fellow Missouri Valley team South Dakota
State (4-1) also is surprising in a conference with two of the three top-
ranked teams in the FCS, No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 3 Youngstown State.
Quarterback Michael German and running back Trabis Ward have fueled Tennessee
State to a 5-0 start. The Tigers need one more win to clinch their first
winning record since 2008.
In the SWAC, Alabama A&M has sprinted out to a 5-0 mark, including four
conference victories. Quarterback Deaunte Mason has been exceptional for the
Aggies. It's their best start to a season since 1966.
Howard (3-1, 2-0) has overcome some player suspensions to roar out of the
gate in the other HBCU conference - the MEAC.
Of course, there are negatives among the surprises.
Still seeking their first wins are Bryant (0-5), Hampton (0-4), defending SWAC
champion Grambling State (0-4), Hampton (0-4) and Liberty (0-4), which had 41
wins from 2007-11.
Also struggling are William & Mary and Portland State, both 1-4.
And FCS power Montana faces problems with a 2-3 record - not to mention
possible NCAA sanctions down the line. The Grizzlies, who melted down at
Eastern Washington on Saturday for a second straight Big Sky loss, risk
falling out of The Sports Network FCS Top 25 on Monday after being ranked for
197 consecutive weeks.
Individually, the surprising Jimmy Garoppolo-to-Erik Lora connection has
been unstoppable at Eastern Illinois. The Panthers (3-2, 2-0 Ohio Valley
Conference) have surpassed their two wins in each of the last two seasons,
with Garoppolo throwing for 1,827 yards and 18 touchdowns and Lora catching 55
passes and eight touchdowns for 786 yards.
Evan more surprising, though, is South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner.
He leads the FCS with 1,077 rushing yards through five games.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: It's hard to believe Harvard's offense could be better after last
season's 9-1 run as Ivy League champion, but the Crimson (3-0) are averaging
over four more points per game at a 41.7-point clip. In Friday night's 52-3
dismantling of Holy Cross, the Crimson eased up after they built a 49-3
halftime cushion on Colton Chapple's four touchdown passes.
Falling: Although Northern Iowa rallied to finish 7-4 the last time (2004) it
opened a season with a 1-4 record, that might not be enough to get the
perennial Missouri Valley Conference power into this year's FCS playoffs. The
Panthers have played the toughest early season schedule in the nation
(Wisconsin and Iowa from the Big Ten, No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 3
Youngstown State), but, with a win against Division II Central State, they
won't be able to reach seven wins over Division I teams, which is considered
the benchmark for an at-large bid to the playoffs.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: Ezekiel Graham totaled 228 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns
in Sacramento State's 54-31 win over Idaho State. Edgar Castaneda is living up
to the scholarship he earned in Week 2. He kicked four more field goals on
Saturday, including a 50-yarder ... Quarterback Kevin Yost was 44-for-73 for
534 yards in Idaho State's loss ... Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin made
a gutsy move a week ago when he inserted redshirt freshman Vernon Adams as his
starting quarterback over SMU transfer Kyle Padron. It's worked quite well.
Big South: With 3,561 yards in 2 1/2 seasons, Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet
needs 73 yards against Charleston Southern next Saturday to surpass former
Liberty standout Rashad Jennings as the Big South's all-time leading rusher
... In Presbyterian's 28-13 win at Davidson, Mark Williams had a 76-yard
interception return and L.J. Perry a 66-yarder for a touchdown. Bryson Brindle
had three sacks ... Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Liberty and VMI were
idle this weekend.
CAA Football: Is it odd to be disappointed when Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke
throws for "only" 360 yards in a game? ... Seven different William & Mary
players had a fumble recovery or interception as the Tribe earned their first
win, 35-3 over FBS-bound (yeah, really) Georgia State ... That it won't play a
CAA game against Georgia State really hurts Towson as it moves into a tough
stretch of conference games.
Ivy: After missing three field-goal attempts in last weekend's loss to
Georgetown, Princeton kicker Nolan Bieck came back to kick four in a 33-6 rout
of Columbia ... Penn's rushing options are ridiculously deep and quarterback
Billy Ragone appears to be back on track. The Quakers (1-2) should get hot in
MEAC: In a must-win game for both teams, South Carolina State had the
defensive answers to beat defending champ Norfolk State, 14-0. Kimari McFadded
intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and had two tackles for
loss ... Aquaniu Freeman's 212 yards and two touchdowns on the ground fueled
Howard past Savannah State, 56-9. The Bison, who scored all of their points in
the first three quarters, rushed for 466 yards and seven touchdowns ...
Bethune-Cookman (3-2, 2-0) forced seven turnovers in its 38-26 win over
Hampton. Nick Allison led the defense with 11 tackles, two interceptions (one
for a 90-yard touchdown return) and a forced fumble ... Robert Council
threw a bullet of a 32-yard touchdown pass to Andrew King with 10 seconds left
to give Morgan State a 21-18 victory over North Carolina A&T. In the loss,
Mike Mayhew became A&T's all-time rushing leader with 2,891 yards.
Missouri Valley: Junior running back Shakir Bell got back on track in Indiana
State's 24-3 triumph at Southern Illinois, rushing for 160 yards and two
touchdowns on 33 carries ... North Dakota State (4-0) continues to roll along
at an unrivaled level. The defense has been great the last two seasons, but
quarterback Brock Jensen's continued development can't be understated.
Northeast: Monmouth's rush defense that was ranked fourth in the FCS was no
match for Albany, which totaled 263 yards on the ground and 511 yards overall
to win going away, 55-24. Drew Smith rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns
for the impressive Great Danes, who gained their 250th varsity win. "I think
we played, at times, absolutely lights out. As good as we could play, UA coach
Bob Ford said ... The Duquesne Dukes are pleased they will have home games
against Monmouth and Albany. The Dukes (4-1, 2-0) have won nine straight
games at Rooney Field after escaping St. Francis (Pa.), 24-21, on Charlie
Leventry's 20-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining ... Sacred Heart
stopped Central Connecticut State, 34-21, to give interim head coach Mark
Nofri his first win.
Ohio Valley: A Tennessee State record crowd of 31,765 at LP Field watched the
Tigers overcome a 10-0 deficit after the first quarter to beat Arkansas-Pine
Bluff, 40-13 ... Eastern Illinois drilled Austin Peay, 65-15, for its third
straight game of at least 50 points. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for a career-high
453 yards and five touchdowns (all at least 50 yards), while rushing for
another TD ... Eastern Kentucky quarterback T.J. Pryor has thrown nine
touchdown passes and no interceptions ... Casey Brockman was 32-for-38 for 381
yards and a pair of touchdowns in Murray State's 70-35 pounding of Tennessee
Patriot: Colgate coach Dick Biddle called quarterback Gavin McCarney the most
underrated player in the league after the junior accounted for six of the
Raiders' seven touchdowns in a 47-24 win over Yale. Running back Jordan McCord
isn't too shabby, either, having rushed for over 100 yards in each of the
Raiders' five games ... Horrible loss for Lafayette as its unbeaten season
ended at winless Robert Morris, 31-28. The Leopards turned the ball over three
Pioneer: Colby Walden's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 26-14 over
Marist gave Jacksonville (4-1) its sixth touchdown of the season on a
defensive or special teams return. The Dolphins' 16-game home winning streak
is the longest in the FCS ... Jacksonville (4-1) shares the PFL lead at 2-0
with Butler (3-2) and Drake (2-0). San Diego (2-2) is 1-0 in league play.
Southern: Obviously, senior fullback Eric Breitenstein, who rushed for a
SoCon-record 321 yards in Saturday's win at Elon, deserves massive credit for
Wofford's first 4-0 start since 2001, but the Terriers defense has held each
opponent under 100 rushing yards ... Furman's Jerodis Williams was dialing
long distance in a 45-24 win over Western Carolina. White, who totaled 370
all-purpose yards, rushed for an 89-yard touchdown and scored on a 100-yard
kickoff return ... The air appears to be coming out of The Citadel's tires.
The Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1) fell out of first place with a 28-10 loss at home to
Southland: Southeastern Louisiana (2-3, 2-0) came into its game at Lamar with
only 132 rushing yards and proceeded to surpass it with 165 yards in a 31-21
victory. Freshman Xavier Roberson rushed for 75 yards and senior Michael
Chaney 48 yards and two touchdowns as the Lions ended a 14-game losing streak
and, yes, took sole possession of first place ... Crazy game at Stephen F.
Austin, where a downpour in the Lumberjacks' 42-37 win over Central Arkansas
caused 13 fumbles, including eight that were lost, three interceptions and
three missed extra points.
SWAC: With a 21-14 win over Florida A&M, Southern interim coach Dawson Odums
is 2-0 ... Alabama State scored touchdowns off a blocked punt, a fumble
recovery and an interception return while routing Alcorn State, 54-14. Georgia
transfer Isaiah Crowell got rolling with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Extra Point: Twenty of the 25 teams in The Sports Network Preseason FCS Top 25
were still ranked heading into Week 5. Harvard, Tennessee State and Albany are
the most likely to move into the rankings this week, but the only team to lose
below No. 16 Central Arkansas was No. 21 Montana.
A LOOK AHEAD
Third-ranked Youngstown State (4-0) used a bye this weekend to continue
preparations for next Saturday's Missouri Valley showdown at top-ranked North
Dakota State (5-0). The Penguins were the only team to beat NDSU last
season when the latter won the FCS national championship.
Important conference games abound across the FCS. Included: Big Sky, North
Dakota at Eastern Washington; CAA, Towson at James Madison and Richmond at
Villanova; Ivy League, Cornell at Harvard; MEAC, Florida A&M at Howard;
Missouri Valley, Southern Illinois at Illinois State; OVC, Eastern Kentucky at
Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois at UT Martin; Pioneer League, San Diego
at Drake in a meeting of last year's co-champs; SoCon, The Citadel at Samford
and Elon at Appalachian State; and Southland, Stephen F. Austin versus Sam
Houston in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Brown will visit Rhode Island for the 97th annual Governors' Cup game and
Southeastern Louisiana will play at FBS UAB.
The Sports Network