Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag. FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder will take questions each week on Twitter and give in-depth answers. Tweet them both at @BrianMacWriter and @TheHerd215 to get your questions answered!
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COMPARE: CFP Players | CFB Teams
Why do I feel like the playoffs are gonna be a blender this year
— Average Dukes Fan (@FranticDCsports) October 1, 2017
Brian: Why? Because you have the perfect ingredients in front of you: Perfectly cubed ice, slices of lime, a little Kosher salt ready to apply, lime juice, some simple syrup and some adult … oh wait a minute, you’re not talking about that. My bad.
Why will the playoffs be a blender? (That’s actually a good analogy.) Because that’s what playoffs do! Thus far, it sure seems like it’ll be a blender. Heck, the Missouri Valley conference play the next few weeks is like a pre-blender for the FCS Playoffs.
Sam: As Jim Mora said: playoffs!? I’m still waiting for some great sound bite from a coach when a reporter mentions the playoffs this early in the year. But this is why I love the FCS – with such a great postseason setup, us fans and reporters always ask the big question of “What does this mean for the playoffs?” whenever a big win or loss happens.
Is the FCS top heavy this season? It looks that way a bit with JMU and NDSU and then YSU showing they haven’t taken a step back. But I don’t think we’ll see a lot of blowouts in this year’s bracket. There are so many teams who aren’t traditional-powerhouse names (Central Arkansas, Weber State, Elon, South Dakota, Western Illinois) who have gotten so much better and can make a deep run. It’ll be interesting to see who nabs those eight seeds. But we could be in for some early “upsets.”
Does USD have a top tier quarterback to make it into the playoffs?
— Jack Dura (@JackFromNoDak) October 1, 2017
Brian: Minnesota sure thought so when the Golden Gophers recruited Chris Streveler into the Big Ten. The answer is, yes, Chris is very, very good and a big part of USD’s resurgence. He also is trending upwards quickly as an NFL prospect, so keep an eye on that too.
The truth is, USD is playing like at least an FCS semifinalist type team right now. It still has to weather several brutal Valley matchups, but so good so far.
Sam: Big time. Chris Streveler, so far this season, is the best quarterback in the state of South Dakota. USD needs to just go 3-4 to make the playoffs. The way the Coyotes have been playing, that shouldn’t be a problem at all.
There’s three things that still concern me about them, though, before I call them a top five team in the FCS. No. 1 is keeping Streveler healthy so his play won’t fizzle out. He’s a strong dude who’s tougher than most linebackers. But there’s only so many hits a quarterback can take. No. 2 is the defense. While much improved, winning 38-33 at ranked Western Illinois last week while up 38-6 in the third quarter shows the defense still needs improving.
And finally, how much depth does this team have? When it’s battered and bruised, like every MVFC team is come November, are USD’s backups good enough to push them further into the playoffs.
Can we finally stop the SHSU love festjQuery172045848160853556497_1506982713962? They play one game a year , lost it. Just assume first round home game and be done with them https://t.co/iwTjESEiX9
— AJC4JSUjQuery17205182010997321036_1506983180108jQuery17206552337551207816_1506983520908 (@ajc4jsu) October 1, 2017
Brian: Central Arkansas’ win was a big blow to the Sam Houston State side. Of course the Bears have been pretty darned good recently too, winning 10 last year and effectively knocking the Bearkats out of the Southland Conference title (barring a UCA collapse during conference play … which didn’t happen last year, aside from SHSU).
To me, it looks like we have a very strong favorite for Southland champ, and maybe even a top eight seed. UCA doesn’t play Nicholls this year, which is key, and they host McNeese on Oct. 28. Might be a 10-1 team, with its only loss being to Kansas State.
Sam: I’ll tell it like it is. SHSU is a good football team and K.C. Keeler is a good football coach. But the Bearkats are not a great football team, no matter what their offensive statistics say. What I don’t get is for how much individual talent they have, how do they struggle so much on defense? If they want to become a great team, it’s time to start putting some of their best athletes on defense. Or heck, I don’t know, maybe there’s some linemen in Minnesota or Wisconsin that wouldn’t mind playing college football in Texas. The team needs to toughen up somehow.
I guarantee some of James Madison’s and NDSU’s standouts on defense could have been pretty good offensive players. But defense wins championships. As tiresome as that football saying is, JMU’s and NDSU’s success proves it. Beating Prairie View A&M 44-31 isn’t going to win you national championships.
Have last two SDSU losses – to NDSU in playoffs in '16 & Youngstown yesterday – provided a blueprint of sorts to bottling up Jacks offense?
— Joshua A. Swanson (@Swany8) October 1, 2017
Brian: NDSU and Youngstown both do something very key and very well – they do the black and blue thing. I’m not saying SDSU doesn’t have their version of it too, most of the Valley does. But the Bison and ‘Guins will hurt you on defense. They’ll line up and shut down your run game and punch your receivers in the mouth, and that’s why they’ve been able to go toe to toe with the Iowas and the Pitts and the Kansas States in the past.
So yes, you’re on to something here. But my guess? South Dakota State will scalp a few Valley teams this year too. If anybody finishes better than 6-2? They’ll have earned it in this group.
Sam: It sounds pretty obvious, but it’s as simple as keeping their offense off the field and pushing their defense around. If YSU can hold onto the ball for 45 minutes of the game and run the ball 63 (!) times for 310 yards, it doesn’t matter what kind of weapons SDSU has on offense.
NDSU’s time of possession in the playoff win was 40:55. SDSU’s defense couldn’t get off the field. And against the Penguins, YSU’s starting quarterback Hunter Wells went down early. So they basically ran the ball play after play. No gimmicks were needed with their backup quarterback in. If the Jacks can’t stop that, their national title aspirations will slip away.
On that note – thoughts on defending JMUs offense after 2 lackluster performances vs. MAINE and DEL? Do opponents have a blueprint?
— Michael Evangelista (@Michael_2Clutch) October 1, 2017
Brian: I don’t know that 400 ypg in those two games is necessarily “lackluster.” I do think Maine and Delaware are certainly viable opponents who both might find themselves in the FCS Playoffs. They both played the Dukes very, very tough.
I think when you’re No. 1, people aim at you first and foremost … as the old coach cliché goes. That’s what JMU is getting, and they’ll have to be ready for that every week. But these were clearly two of the toughest games on JMU’s slate.
Sam: To be honest, the Dukes are such a well-balanced team that there might not be a specific or out-of-the-ordinary blueprint to beat them. To beat JMU, the goal on the defense is like any other game: force turnovers, get them into third-and-long, be physical up front, typical things like that. You just have to do it on an all-new level to beat the defending champs.
There’s also this and something NDSU has noticed since 2012. You are going to get everyone’s best shot. When JMU comes to town, the stands are going to be full. The team is going to play that much harder. The game prep and film study is going to be that much more intense for the opponents. And if JMU does go down, it’s going to be like a Super Bowl win for its opponent.
I wouldn’t be too concerned about the Dukes not pulling away from inferior teams. The 2012 Bison struggled down the stretch with Brock Jensen not playing that well and the 2015 Bison had some close calls with a young Easton Stick. JMU’s offense is getting tested early. But championship teams find a way to win.