College football isn’t all about the BCS. There is plenty of great action to go around every weekend. Today RoadTripSports.com publisher Kendall Webb previews the final weekend of regular season play in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
By Kendall Webb
In what has been a repetitive story for weeks now, the No. 1 team in the FCS struggled again last Saturday. At least this time, they survived – albeit just barely.
This time it was defending national champion North Dakota State struggling in the top spot after returning to No. 1 following Georgia Southern’s loss to Appalachian State the week before. The Bison were taken to the limit at home by a determined South Dakota State squad, but in the end, the champions showed their resolve before a home crowd escaping with a 20-17 win. The bigger issue is they continue to look like a very vulnerable team just one week after beating a 3-7 Missouri State team by a similar count of 21-17. Their road trip this weekend in the regular season finale to face an 8-2 Illinois State squad tied for second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference has a lot of upset potential.
The No. 5 Lehigh Mountain Hawks rolled to an 8-0 start before barely beating Holy Cross 36-35 two weeks ago to get to 9-0 and entered last week as the nation’s only unbeaten team at the FCS level. Then just like that, it was all over. A showdown with Colgate last Saturday for the Patriot League championship ended with the 7-3 Raiders upsetting the Mountain Hawks on their own home field in a 35-24 stunner. Lehigh’s playoff hopes could go out the window entirely if they stumble at rival Lafayette this Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Eastern Washington took advantage of Lehigh’s loss to move up a spot despite getting a stiff challenge from UC Davis at home in a 31-28 squeaker. The No. 5 Eagles close out the regular season with a trip to Portland State which should put the wraps on a high playoff seed.
Down South, another group of Eagles from Georgia Southern University also eased up a notch this week to No. 6 after rolling over the Howard Bison 69-26. It’s likely to be a whole lot tougher this weekend, however, as the Eagles step up a level with a trip to Athens, Georgia to face the SEC East Division champion Georgia Bulldogs.
It was a tough week for FCS teams in the northeast as the region’s top two teams both took an unexpected spill. While Lehigh was slowly watching a Patriot league title slip away at home against Colgate, down south the Stony Brook Seawolves were getting schooled by the Liberty Flames in a 28-14 loss. The win allowed the Flames to get even at 5-5, but more importantly, at 4-1 in the Big South standings, it created a logjam at the top of the league standings with three teams entering the final week with one loss. Stony Brook has concluded the regular season at 9-2 and 5-1, and if Liberty and Coastal Carolina both win Saturday against VMI and Charleston Southern, respectively, the three-way tie at 5-1 would go to Coastal Carolina by virtue of the Chanticleers’ having the best road record in league play. A Coastal win and a Liberty loss would hand it back to Stony Brook in a two-way tie by virtue of the Seawolves head-to-head win over Coastal. If Coastal was to lose, however, and Liberty wins, then the Flames would go from being a 4-5 afterthought to a 6-5 conference champion with an automatic playoff bid by virtue of that upset over the Seawolves last week.
The losses by Stony Brook and Lehigh allowed New Hampshire to move from No. 10 to No. 7 and claim the mantle as the Northeast’s top team heading into the final week of the regular season even though the Wildcats were idle last week. They return to action this weekend hosting Towson in a game that will clinch a playoff bid with a win. A loss could leave things a little sketchy for the Wildcats so there’s a lot on the line.
Long-time FCS national power Appalachian State also continues to make a late push back into the title picture clawing its way back into the top ten following a 33-28 win over Furman one week after upsetting then No. 1 Georgia Southern. At 8-3, the win over the Paladins was the finishing touch on what will be a playoff appearance, although for now, the Mountaineers’ work is done as they are idle this weekend.
James Madison entered last weekend at No. 9, but saw their playoff hopes take a big blow with a 35-20 loss at Villanova. They would likely still get in if they can upset No. 4 Old Dominion at home this weekend, and we’re leaning toward that being the case. But a loss would drop the Dukes to 7-4 and likely find them out of the playoff mix in the top-heavy Colonial Athletic Association.
Replacing the Dukes at No. 9 after their loss are the Wofford Terriers after a 16-13 nailbiter win over the Chattanooga Mocs. Wofford has spent a lot of time in the top ten this season and was sitting on the fringe before last Saturday’s win, and at 8-2, their work in the FCS is done as well. Their game Saturday at FBS opponent South Carolina will result in their third loss of the season, but it will have little if any effect on their eventual seeding when the playoff pairings are announced.
Finally, rounding out the top ten heading into the final week of the season is the Southland Conference’s Central Arkansas. The 8-2 Bears were idle last weekend, but close out the regular season Saturday at home against non-conference opponent Eastern Illinois as they look to clinch a playoff spot.