10 takeaways from FCS Week 6
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - Nothing comes easily in the FCS, but selecting the national rankings of North Dakota State, James Madison and South Dakota State have been as easy as 1, 2, 3 this season.
Yes, the three powers have held the same top spots in the STATS FCS Top 25 since the preseason. After that, it's been a big ball of chaos.
Still on Saturday, while a NDSU rout remained "Normal," JMU had to escape New York with an overtime win and SDSU overcame a halftime deficit, although without the aid of pulling a Jackrabbit out of the hat.
It's conference play, so just survive and advance.
Here are 10 takeaways from Week 6 of the FCS season:
- It's never fun when the STATS FCS Game of the Week doesn't live up to the expectation, but that's the danger when top-ranked North Dakota State is involved. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lance threw three touchdowns as the Bison (5-0) throttled No. 10 Illinois State 37-3 in Normal for their most impressive win of the season. Having now tied the second-longest FCS winning streak at 26 games, they would match their 33 in a row by winning out in the regular season.
- South Dakota State (4-1) hasn't been as dominating as North Dakota State and No. 2 James Madison (5-1 after a 45-38 overtime win at No. 24 Stony Brook), but the Jackrabbits clearly are a different team (read: better) with J'Bore Gibbs under center. He was sidelined for two games last month, but has returned to throw five touchdowns over the last two weeks. It helps to have Pierre Strong Jr. with him in the offensive backfield. Strong rushed for 229 yards, including a 64-yard TD, in a conference-opening, 28-10 win over Southern Illinois.
- The Southland Conference, of course, is the wild, wild west of the FCS because of the back-and-forth results from week to week. No. 11 Central Arkansas had been the conference's best team through September and benefitted from a bye heading into a key matchup with No. 16 Nicholls yet it was drilled 34-14 in a game that basically wasn't even that close. McNeese seemingly took itself out of the title race early with two conference losses last month, but then it came back to knock off No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana 38-34 on Cody Orgeron's late touchdown pass. As far who's sitting on top of the standings, look no further than coach K.C. Keeler and Sam Houston State (4-2, 3-0) after the Bearkats' 31-20 rally past rival Stephen F. Austin in the "Battle of the Piney Woods."
- All right, all right, the Big Sky Conference is just as much the wild, wild west of the FCS. Imagine if two of the three 2018 tri-champs, national runner-up Eastern Washington and quarterfinalist UC Davis, both fail to make the playoffs. Just two weeks after UC Davis was fourth-ranked and stood up gamely to North Dakota State in the Fargodome, it's riding a three-game winning streak and is 2-4 following a last-minute loss to North Dakota. Eastern Washington also is 2-4 after a 48-27 loss at Sacramento State, and the Eagles are in worse shape because one of the wins is against Division II Lindenwood and considered a non-qualifier for its resume. The struggles of the two powers may lead to the Big Sky getting just three playoff bids.
- If you're thinking No. 14 Furman has been underrated this season, you're not alone. The Paladins (4-2) are off to a 3-0 start in the Southern Conference after routing Samford 58-14 for their fourth game over 40 points. This time, running back Devin Wynn scored on 75- and 89-yard runs and a 61-yard reception while totaling 278 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches. Coach Clay Hendrix's squad has only two FBS losses by a combined 13 points to Virginia Tech and Georgia State.
- The Patriot League schedule got underway not a week too soon considering the collective 8-25 non-league record. Defending champ Colgate got back quarterback Grant Breneman, the league's preseason offensive player of the year, but still fell 21-14 to Lehigh to become 0-6 for the first time since an 0-11 season in 1995. Lehigh defensive back Divine Buckrham tackled Colgate wide receiver Garrett Oakey at the Mountain Hawks' 1-yard line as time expired to preserve the upset, which opened up the league title race considerably. Lehigh and Holy Cross have the early jump and Georgetown (4-1 in non-league games) believes it can become a first-time champion.
- Central Connecticut State's defense was smothering with four takeaways as the Blue Devils captured one of the pivotal games of the Northeast Conference season, 28-3 at defending co-champ Sacred Heart. Cornerback Kendall Coles had an interception and fumble recovery. Duquesne, the other 2018 co-champ and this year's NEC favorite, won its conference opener against Long Island 21-14. The Dukes welcomed back All-American A.J. Hines after a two-game absence and he carried the ball 32 times for 140 yards a touchdown. But the Dukes also found a way to keep his replacement, Mark Allen, in the mix as he totaled 137 all-purpose yards on carries, receptions and returns.
- Two of the tradition-rich HBCUs posted victories amid some oddities. Grambling State (1-4) finally got into the win column by rolling past Jackson State 44-21, but it was the first of two straight weeks facing SWAC brethren in "nonconference" games. Yeah, two in a row because coach Broderick Fobbs' Tigers are playing nine SWAC teams in an unpopular seven-game conference schedule. Also, South Carolina State beat Delaware State 38-24 in the MEAC in its first game since - drum roll, please - Sept. 14. Back-to-back byes - it's not what coach Buddy Pough's team wanted - meant the Bulldogs (3-1) went 21 days in between games.
- Early season upstarts Houston Baptist and Tennessee Tech took tumbles, both dropping to 4-2, but in their usual entertaining way. In the Ohio Valley Conference, TTU fell at No. 23 Southeast Missouri 43-37 in two overtimes after Haidar Zaidan's 51-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in regulation forced the extra time. HBU fell 38-36 to UIW in the Southland, although Bailey Zappe had a school-record 49 completions for 390 yards and three touchdowns. HBU and TTU entered the season off back-to-back 1-10 records.
- The biggest winner of the week was the FCS level. The nation-wide social media campaign to promote the hashtag #FCSonGameDay as a way to request a weekly FCS presence on ESPN's iconic "College GameDay" pregame show brought together a passionate fan base and made its mark whether or not the desired result follows. Considering ESPN networks broadcast the entire FCS playoffs, the GameDay request is valid.
Updated October 6, 2019