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The CSN Way: Mid-Season Awards
By Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist
It’s hard to believe, but we’re just about ready to pass the mid-point of the college football season. While this season (so far, anyway) hasn’t treated us to an Appalachian State-over-Michigan-esque upset, there have been plenty of interesting players to emerge, many exciting teams, and countless surprising games.
Now, as we are here, it’s worth taking a look at just what exactly we’ve gotten this year in the FCS.
The Story of the (Mid) Year: The hegemony of Montana has been near-complete in the Big Sky for quite some time: since 1993, there have been only two years - two! - that Montana has won the Big Sky conference outright or shared the title. But with a 45-28 loss to Weber State last week, the end of Montana’s domination of the Big Sky looms as a potential seismic event in FCS.
The Non-Story of the (Mid) Year: This just in: the CAA, Missouri Valley Football Conference, and SoCon dominate the Top 25… again.
The Best FBS Upset this year: Last year, we had at least half a dozen to choose from; so far, we have exactly two: New Hampshire’s humiliation of Army or Cal Poly’s last-second win over San Diego State. Call it a tie: both FBS clubs are 1-4, and struggling.
The Worst sub-D-I upset(s) this year: There have been a few to choose from, but there are two that really stands out. Losing one close game to a Division II school might be acceptable. But losing two weeks in a row? Scoring one touchdown against both teams? And getting shut out in one of them? Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s losses to the Boll Weevils of Arkansas-Monticello (21-7) and a shutout loss to the Reddies of Henderson State (31-0) have got to win the award.
Game of the (Mid) Year: Easily, James Madison’s 35-32 victory over Appalachian State had everything, including a second-half kickoff return for a touchdown, the Dukes defense holding the fear-inducing spread offense of Armanti Edwards to one touchdown, and the avenging of last year’s first-round playoff loss by James Madison. You get the feeling that this may not be the last time these two teams play this year.
The Best Comeback: Even on the road, you would think down 20-0 to mighty Southern Illinois few teams would have a chance. But the North Dakota State Bison were more than up to the challenge: after some great special teams plays, some forced fumbles and the steady leadership of quarterback Nick Merkens on offense led the Bison to 35 unanswered points - and an amazing 35-27 comeback victory.
The Best Almost-Comeback: Down 48-7 to Bucknell, some teams might fold up their tents - but not Duquesne. With quarterback Connor Dixon leading the Dukes to 35 unaswered second-half points, Duquesne closed the gap to 48-42 - and came within a recovered onsides kick and a touchdown from coming all the way back.
The Craziest Game: Why did Chris Hatcher go for two? All Georgia Southern had to do was kick an extra point and go for a third overtime against Wofford - but instead, Hatcher went for the jugular in a back-and-forth affair versus Wofford. When quarterback Ben Shappie’s pass fell incomplete, the Eagles fell 38-37 to the Terriers - and most likely fell out of the SoCon title race, too.
The Best Game You Never Saw: If you weren’t a follower of the Patriot League or the Pioneer League, you probably didn’t watch Fordham’s trip to Dayton in mid-September. Up 14-7, Flyer defensive end Scott Vossler would be responible for the rest of the Flyers’ points on the afternoon: he blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, and for good measure blocked an extra point attempt on Fordham’s next drive which was turned around for a 2-point conversion for the defense. That three point swing was the difference in a thrilling 23-20 game.
Don’t Believe The Hype: Billed as a potential early-season matchup between nationally-ranked MVFC opponents, the game between Youngstown State and South Dakota State was a laugher: Jackrabbit quarterback Ryan Berry threw for 319 yards and 1 touchdown versus the Penguin defense as South Dakota State cruised to a 40-7 rout.
Most surprising team in the Top 25: Did you have Liberty in your preseason Top 25? Suuuuuure you did. This stacked team from the Big South Conference, starting runningback Rashad Jennings, is poised to put the Flames into the FCS playoffs for the first time in their history - and - dare we say it - a home playoff possibility, too?
Least surprising team in the Top 25: It seems like one of the few things folks can count on in these uncertain economic times are death and taxes. Oh yeah, and McNeese State being in the Top 10 once again. The pre-Matt Viator days on ‘04 and ‘05 where (gasp) the Cowboys didn’t win the Southland Conference feel long gone: with quarterback Derrick Fourroux at the controls, McNeese looks like a good bet for their third-straight Southland title in the early going.
The “Theater of Pain” Tour: Albany what they call a “challenging” schedule, but really, isn’t this simple cruelty? Five road games to start the year - including three against nationally-ranked teams from the CAA - and this was by design? Something’s wrong when you start the season 2-3 and haven’t had your home opener yet.
The Worst Schedule in the World: It wasn’t their fault, but Nicholls State, due to stadium structural issues due to Hurricane damage, had to postpone their home opener and two other games of theirs: meaning that opening day for them was September 20th versus FBS Memphis - followed by a tough spot ten days later against nationally-ranked Northern Iowa. Past the halfway point of the season, they haven’t simply not played at home: they’ve only played two games, going on three.
Transfers? We don’t need no stinkin’ transfers: Some teams think the easy way to titles are transfers from junior colleges and FBS schools, but coach Pete Lembo from Elon has built the foundation of the Phoenix from some great talent from former head coach Paul Hamilton (junior wideout Terrell Hudgins) and from his own recruiting classes (sophomore quarterback Scott Riddle). Only one transfer is on the roster - a long-snapper that originally came from Presbyterian. In the powerful SoCon, the fact that Lembo has been able to not only compete, but be in the conversation for a SoCon title, is nothing short of astounding.
Make that TU, not HU: On the other side of transfers, with new head coach Jerry Holmes, Hampton has so many on their roster from here and everywhere (from FBS Oregon to Southwest Mississippi Community College) it’s hard to keep track of them all. You can’t argue with the results, however: coach Holmes has his team at 4-1 and poised for a return to MEAC dominance.
The best transfer: It’s not like his move to Jacksonville State from LSU was exactly a secret, but quarterback Ryan Perrilloux has done exactly what Gamecock fans wanted to do: led Jax State to a 4-1 record, helped beat Eastern Illinois 23-10, and generally electrified the Gamecock fans with his 923 yards passing and 12 touchdowns.
The Payton Award Candidate You May Not Know: The Citadel’s wideout Andre Roberts every week seems to get those steady receiving numbers (32 receptions, 492 yards, 6 touchdowns) that voters look back on and say, “Wow, how come I didn’t notice him more during the season?” It’s time to notice: Roberts is having a great year.
Least Surprising Payton Award Candidate: The 6′6 senior out of Cal Poly, wideout Ramses Barden, has pretty much done as expected: namely, made mincemeat of opposing defensive backs. At 28 receptions, 628 yards and 7 touchdowns, it’s exciting to see what may be to come.
The Buck Buchanan Award Candidate You May Not Know: Eastern Washington has played a daunting schedule by anyone’s reckoning, but it hasn’t affected defensive end Greg Peach’s numbers any. With an incredible 10 tackles for loss, including 7 sacks, it’s frightening to think what may be to come in the second half of the season for him.
Least Surprising Buck Buchanan Award Candidate: Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams seemed poised going into the year to have a monster season, and he hasn’t disappointed: with 32 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles, he’s continuing to impress.
Chuckles for Week #7 Ending 10/12
Since opening my big mouth a few weeks ago, I’ve been in a freefall with my picks. 13-12 - yes, Virginia, barely over .500 this week - putting me at 113-43 on the year, or 72% on the year. Ow.
I did have some bright spots: I seem to have UNI pegged pretty well (I had them beating Nicholls State 31-14; actual score, 34-14), I pretty much got Cal Poly spot-on (I picked a 49-12 win over South Dakota; actual score, 49-22) and I pretty much got the Richmond game right (I picked 49-12 - what is it with that score? - and the Spiders actually won 56-16).
Regrets of the Week
There are simply so many I can’t keep track of them all. Picking The Citadel to beat Appalachian State at home? Picking William and Mary to beat Villanova at home? Picking Furman to upset Elon on the road? It seemed like I was zigging when I should have been zagging all this week. Even my Game of the week - Coastal Carolina mustering a real home field advantage against Liberty - ended up in disappointment when the Flames scored an eye-popping 43 points on the Chanticleers’ defense.
And that doesn’t even touch my “so-called” area of expertise: the Patriot and Ivy leagues. Holy Cross over Yale? Lafayette over Harvard? Brown over Rhode Island? Ugh!
#2 Appalachian State at Samford. Many folks thought that Samford was way, way overmatched when they decided to enter the SoCon this year, but quarterback Dustin Taliaferro so far has proven them wrong - the Bulldogs dominated Western Carolina 21-6 last week and are looking for more. However, they haven’t yet played a league game against quarterback Armanti Edwards at the Rock, either.
Armanti’s Rocky Top 49, “Yo, Adrian, where did you go?” 19
Texas State at #3 McNeese State. The Bobcats offense, led by wideout Cameron Luke (505 yards, 7 touchdowns) can certainly score on the Cowboys. The question is, can Texas State slow down McNeese State’s offense, led by quarterback Derrick Fourroux? I’d keep an eye on this one: the team with the ball last might win this game - and that will be McNeese.
The Most Popular Fourroux in Louisiana 52, The Most Popular Bush in Texas 48
William & Mary at #4 New Hampshire. The way for a deflated Tribe team to bounce back is not by facing one of the only undefeated FCS teams on the road. Look for quarterback R.J. Toman to roll in this one.
Musty Musket-Bearers 41, “The South Ain’t Rising Today” 20
#5 Elon at #21 The Citadel. In this battle of former Lehigh head coaches (Pete Lembo vs. Kevin Higgins), this game has a lot of other intrigue: the battle of Payton Award wideouts (Elon’s Terrell Hudgins and The Citadel’s Andre Roberts), the do-or-die nature of the game for The Citadel, who would fall to two SoCon losses should they lose; and the additional wrinkle that Lembo, who was an assistant coach at Lehigh when Higgins was head coach there, has never beaten Higgins as head coach of the Citadel - with the smallest margin of defeat in three games being 11 points. In this game, though, the Padawan - finally - beats the Jedi.
Riddlers 42, “Please Don’t Strike, I mean Boo, Elon’s Band” 31
Chattanooga at #8 Wofford. Quarterback Ben Widmeyer probably didn’t need the extra week of rest to punish Chattanooga this week, but the Terriers got it, and they will.
Goldwire’s Goldiggers 40, Choc-A-Mocs 20
Illinois State at #10 Northern Iowa. Oddly enough, in a bizarre quirk runningback Geno Blow and Illinois State sit atop the Missouri Valley Football Conference stadings at 1-0 with a 57-6 victory over hapless Indiana State last week. Unfortunately for them, they play quarterback Pat Grace and the Panthers on the road this week.
Purple Redbird Eaters 30, ‘Perfect Conference Record - Gone Like Your 401k!’ 10
#17 Western Illinois at #11 North Dakota State. If you read the previous game prediction, you learned that Illinois State is atop the MVFC - meaning, everyone else in the MVFC already has one conference loss, and it’s not even halfway through the season. (Is it too late to just call in the “Black and Blue” conference instead?) This week’s black-and-blue game may just be this one, featuring Western Illinois runningback Herb Donaldson and North Dakota State runningback Tyler Roehl. It will be another sellout (probably) in the DakotaDome, it will be another physical, punishing battle: and once again, Western Illinois will struggle on the road, while NDSU thrives at home.
Steam-Roehlers 37, Leather Pants 20
#12 Montana at #23 Eastern Washington. A week ago, this looked like a potential Big Sky conference championship matchup, and a revenge game for Eastern Washington, who lost 23-21 last year on a last-second field goal. Now, after the Griz lost to Weber State and the Eagles lost to Portland State? It’s a steel cage death match - the loser will almost certainly be gone from the Big Sky title chase, and the winner will merely survive. The problem for the Griz, though, isn’t simply the fact that EWU wants revenge: it just doesn’t seem like they can take full advantage of the Eastern Washington pass defense that was torched last week for 623 yards passing. Montana wideout Mike Ferriter will have a big day; but ultimately, they won’t stop EWU quarterback Matt Nichols - and that will be the difference.
Bloodied Eagles 34, Griz-kill 20
#13 UMass at Northeastern. Northeastern is an extremely dangerous team for quarterback Liam Coen and UMass to be facing right now, having righted their ship after a brutal 0-3 stretch (including two losses against FBS schools). Linebacker Phil Higgins has solidified this Husky defense and the visiting Minutemen will have a hard, physical battle ahead. Coming off the emotional, physical win over Delaware, the Huskies pull off the upset.
Double Stuff 24, Minute Stuff 17
Sam Houston State at #14 Central Arkansas. A lot of folks have been talking about Bear quarterback Nathan Brown (1,458 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, no INTs) and Central Arkansas’ 4-1 start. What those same folks aren’t telling you is that two of those wins came against sub-D-I competition and 0-5 Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Facing a genuinely tough team - led by quarterback Rhett Bomar, no less - it will be more of a struggle. In this battle of quarterbacks, Bomar wins.
Bearkat: Man-Eating Killing Machine 34, Purple Bear-kill 27
Stony Brook at #15 Liberty. This just in: runningback Rashad Jennings and Liberty are for real. I’m even going to ignore the obvious “letdown theory” here: they’re going to roll over the Seawolves.
Strypers 55, Sea Puppies 10
Indiana State at #16 Southern Illinois. Let’s just say - kindly - that linebacker James Cloud and the Salukis, er, win.
Sunny Salukis 63, Firewood 13
Portland State at #18 Northern Arizona. Has Jerry Glanville finally turned the corner with his Portland State Vikings? Quarterback Drew Hubel passed for an amazing 623 yards in a 48-37 upset over Eastern Washington last week - however, they’ll find Northern Arizona, 2-0 in the Big Sky and looking for blood, a very, very tough out at home in the Walkup Skydome. Lumberjack quarterback Lance Kreisen - who finally had a breakout day last week in a 42-10 thrashing of Sacramento State - must be licking his chops after seeing a Viking defense that has been giving up an average of 40 points in 4 division I football games.
Walkup Wizards 52, The House Of Pain… For Viking Fans of Defense 48
#19 Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels need to win here to stay relevant in the OVC title race - but they’ll need more that Taylor Long field goals to stop quarterback Ryan Perriloux and the Gamecocks, who seem to simply be getting better week after week. It’s a huge game for both teams, and the Gamecocks will be tested defensively. If EKU holds Jax State under 21 points, they have a chance; they’ll come up just short.
Ryan’s (OVC Title) Hope 28, Colonels Have One Life To Live 18
Western Carolina at #20 Furman. Western Carolina at some point will be competitive in these games, but they’re not going to start this week against quarterback Jordan Sorrells and the Paladins.
Furple 40, The Cats Didn’t Come Back 13
#22 Weber State at Montana State. Two questions dominate this matchup. One: are quarterback Cameron Higgins and the Weber State Wildcats for real? Two: is Montana State ready to make a mad dash for the Big Sky title? Both questions will be answered in Bozeman this weekend, with both teams probably looking towards Cheney, Washington as well for some scoreboard updates, too. Although - once again - this is a textbook “letdown game” for the Wildcats, I think Higgins and Weber State have simply learned how to win. They won’t forget how to win this week either as they get a huge road victory.
“First Treasure State Sweep Since 1992″ 35, I’m getting… Verkempt 17
Maine at #24 Delaware. Delaware hasn’t lost to the Bears at home since 1998, and linebacker Erik Johnson and his Blue Hens aren’t about to stop now.
Battle for the … Biscuits? 20, Baked Lobster 3
Five Outside the Top 25
Norfolk State at South Carolina State. Runningback Wil Ford and the Bulldogs are in danger of a letdown on homecoming, with a battle against Hampton looming the following week - but at home, they manage to set up next week’s showdown in Orangeburg.
Ford Tough 27, “Hard To Win With a 40% Completion Percentage” 10
Cornell at Harvard. Hard to beleive, but true: if undefeated Cornell beats Harvard this weekend, they’ll be 2-0 in the Ivy League after beating both the Ivy League co-favorites. But beating Yale at home isn’t the same as beating the Crimson, and quarterback Chris Pizzotti, on the road.
Deeper Red 35, Lighter Red 15
Morehead State at San Diego. On paper, it’s one of the Torero’s few shots at a loss this year. In practice, it’s another resounding win - and quarterback Sebastian Trujilo’s team gets another win on their quest to be undefeated.
Trujilo’s Toreros 44, Bucketheads 20
Lafayette at Columbia. Leopard head coach Frank Tavani was one mad coach last week: of all the team goals he had set for Lafayette against Harvard, none of them were acheived in a resounding 27-13 defeat. Cowed, quarterback Rob Curley and Lafayette will respond this week against winless Columbia.
Lunchpail Leopards 19, Lunchless Lions 3
Central Connecticut State at Albany. This isn’t only a momentous game since it’s Albany’s first home game of the year: it also could very well determine the NEC champion this year. Will the Great Danes’ brutal road trip help them out? Or will CCSU’s momentum from two big wins against Wagner and Delaware State be the difference? It will be close; give the edge to runningback David McCarty and the home team.
Hans Christian Andersens 17, Hunter Wankets 13
Three More Games I’m Watching
Sacred Heart at St. Francis (PA). If you said that you expected Sacred Heart to be one of the undefeated teams at this point of the season this year, you were either lying or you’re a close personal friend of SHU head coach Paul Gorham. Can they go 6-0? Yes, they can: behind quarterback Dale Fink, they secure their first winning record since 2004.
Fink’s Pioneers 34, Flashers 20
Southern Utah at UC Davis. Are they Chunderbirds no more? One of the more surprising stories not talked about has been Southern Utah’s rise to 3-3 - including a big win at Texas State 34-20 and a big win at home against Youngstown State 14-7. Has Southern Utah finally learned how to win? If they beat quarterback Greg Denham at the Aggies, it will be their first win against a current member of the Great West Football Conference since 2000, and their first confernece victory since 2004. I think they do it here, with wideout Tysson Poots having a big day - and if they do, what might happen in this Great West Conference race?
Chunderbirds No More 17, Aggravated Aggies 10
Alabama State at Prairie View A&M. The Panthers, fresh off a humiliating 40-16 throttling for Grambling, try to bounce back on the road against Alabama State, who decimated Mississippi Valley State 47-7 last Thursday. I think linebacker Zach East and the Panthers rebound here - and keep an eye on Grambling to see if maybe, just maybe, they might falter in the coming weeks.
Proud Panthers 34, Humbled Hornets 14
Game of the Week
#1 James Madison at #5 Richmond
A lot is said about rivalries that grow due to recruiting battles, but in the case of Richmond and James Madison it really does apply. According to the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, star Richmond wideout Kevin Grayson nearly went to James Madison, while Dukes linebacker Griff Yancey very nearly was a Spider.
But this year, the game is a lot more than a turf war.
The Dukes have playing their best football of the year, feeding off their exciting 35-32 win over defending national champion Appalachian State to coast to wins over Maine and Hofstra. Quarterback Rodney Landers has broken out to show the national audience that he’s one of the biggest threats in the nation (596 yards passing, 735 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns).
James Madison combines this dynamic offensive player with a stifling defense that has given up only 10 points in thier last two games. Safety Marcus Haywood has benefitted from the massive James Madison front seven, grabbing 4 interceptions on the year and hoping for even more.
James Madison is currently the #1 team in the nation - and they’re playing the team that was #1 before their ascent to the top spot.
Richmond’s loss to Villanova 26-20 two weeks ago gave them a big conference defeat - making today a crucial game for them to stay in title and playoff contention. Not only that, a win could very well vault them back into the top spot.
Helping matters for the Spiders is they’re a different team at home than on the road. Quarterback Eric Ward decimated Maine - a very good team defensively - for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 44-17 rout. When they’re on, they’re awfully difficult to stop.
On defense and special teams, too, Richmond has a superstar - safety Justin Rogers (4 interceptions returned for 2 touchdowns, 384 return yards) that has held opponents to just under 13 points a game at home.
Has Richmond put the Villanova game completely behind them? And can James Madison ride this wave of emotion through this tough challenge on the road?
If Richmond can get the offense going, I think they will have the edge in this game. Landers will have another great day, but for the first time in several weeks the Dukes face a front seven that can contain him - and the Spider defense will do just enough to do that. Combine that with a “home” performance from Eric Ward, and you have a #1 seed falling: this time, it’s James Madison.
Richmond 31, James Madison 24