Crazy enough, we are almost halfway through this FCS spring season. There are a lot of topics out there, so I asked for some mailbag questions on Twitter.
As always, the fans delivered.
Let’s dive in:
Out of the following four teams: Nicholls State, Sam Houston, Jacksonville State, and Kennesaw State. Which one is the most likely to make it to Frisco?
I’m 50/50 on Nicholls and SHSU for this question, but I’ll go with Nicholls for now. The two play each other this week, which should be a fantastic game.
I like the trajectory of the Nicholls program. The Colonels held up physically with NDSU in the 2019 playoffs, much better than Montana State did. The offensive line is experienced with bruising RB Julien Gums still there. I believe Dai’Jean Dixon has an argument as the top WR in the FCS, and new starting QB Lindsey Scott Jr. has been electric. I’m interested to see how the Nicholls defense does against SHSU this weekend.
SHSU looks great, too. The defense is experienced after a breakthrough 2019 season. The offense looks back to form with a healthy Eric Schmid at QB.
JSU has a great playoff resume already. It’s just hard to trust this Gamecocks program that has looked tremendous in past regular seasons only to lose early in the playoffs. And as far as Kennesaw State, the Owls proved they belong when they nearly knocked off Weber State in the 2019 bracket. The team remains mostly intact. I believe the Owls can do some damage in the playoffs, I’m just not a believer in a one-dimensional offense deep in the playoffs when it goes against an elite defense.
In your opinion, why is JMU struggling against inferior competition?
JMU lost eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters from the national championship game, a combination of graduation, transfers, and a season-ending injury to All-American OT Liam Fornadel. This is a bigger reloading/rebuilding project than the 2018 team, which lost early in the playoffs.
There’s just a ton of talent to replace, which is why I didn’t have the Dukes in my preseason top three. Now, did I expect JMU to have competitive games with Robert Morris and Elon? No. The Dukes have been underwhelming to start and do not look like the best team in the country, despite what the Stats Perform poll says. I think the defense is solid, and the group of RBs is the best in the FCS. But the offensive line lacks consistency. And the QB play has not been good. The struggling passing attack is reason No. 1 for the slow start.
We’ll see if new starter Gage Moloney is the answer. He did bring a boost to the offense against Elon.
The thing I want to emphasize is that while I’ve been “down” on JMU and NDSU (in terms of the normal praise they get on this website), I’m by no means counting them out in the national title hunt. When it comes to just pure talent on the rosters, these two are still FCS heavyweights. But both teams right now just are not clicking or playing at a high level. And this isn’t the type of season where it’s OK to have growing pains early and peak in the playoffs. The new starters and new QBs need to step up now because one loss for JMU and one more loss for NDSU puts them on the bubble of the 16-team/6 at-large bid playoff bracket.
I know you’re #ForTheDets but can you please tell some FCS Writers to Rank VMI????? Makes no sense how Furman is 15 when they lost to VMI.
Yeah, there’s some strange order of teams in the poll. I understand when it’s late in the season that you don’t always need to move Team A ahead of Team B because Team A beat Team B. For example, if a 2-4 VMI team beat a 5-1 Furman team, you wouldn’t necessarily slide VMI all the way past Furman.
However, when it’s one or two games into the season, I think a head-to-head win gives reason to have Team A ahead of Team B. I don’t understand the argument as to why Furman is considered a better team than VMI right now when VMI beat them and is now 2-0.
Why is UNI ahead of SDSU when the Jacks beat UNI a couple of weeks ago? SDSU became a worse team than UNI just because the Jacks lost to UND the week after beating UNI while the Panthers beat a struggling YSU team?
Why is NDSU ahead of SIU? The Bison haven’t indicated they are a better team than the Salukis. It was a butt-kicking. Why is EWU ahead of Idaho? Just because the Vandals lost the next week to UC Davis, that doesn’t magically make EWU a better team than Idaho.
It seems that when a team loses, voters slide them down and don’t pay close attention to the teams they are sliding them below.
Sam, do you think that we’ll see a negative or positive effect on the Montana school’s decision not to participate this spring?
I believe early on in the 2021 fall season, it’ll be a disadvantage for the Montana schools. The teams that played a full spring schedule will have the edge early because they’ve built more depth and will be crisper in their execution.
But I do believe playing one or two spring games is a great idea for the Montana schools compared to zero. Take Sac State, for example. The Hornets will go nearly two years without playing a game. How will they look in Week 1 and Week 2 this fall? There’s also been discussion of soft-tissue injuries for players who haven’t played in games for a long period of time. We’ve seen some of this in the spring season. Imagine what it’ll be like for teams that went 1.75 years without game action.
Now, not playing a full spring season could be an advantage late in the fall season for the Montana schools. A team like Weber State could be running on fumes come fall playoff time because they’ve played 20+ games in the calendar year. The Montana schools may be a bit fresher and won’t be a step slower due to the number of games played.
Also, teams need some luck this spring. If the injury bug hits and some serious injuries happen to starters, that impacts two seasons instead of just one. So there are pros and cons to playing/not playing this spring. Overall, I believe you’re better off playing games this spring compared to playing zero games from November or December of 2019 to September of 2021.
Out of 16 playoff teams…how many teams from the Missouri Valley Conference will make the playoffs (including automatic bid)?
I think three total. It depends on how much the conference beats itself up. If the top three teams all have a 6-2 or better record, the Valley would probably get two of the six at-large bids. A 7-1 UND team, 7-2 NDSU team, and 6-2 SDSU team would all make the bracket, for example.
When are you coming to Ogden to catch a game? Semifinals?
Probably not anytime soon if I’m being honest. It costs a decent chunk of change to travel to a game when flights and hotels are required. Getting 2-3 good articles out of a trip isn’t a great return on investment for the company. Plus, it’s hard to track everything that’s happening around the country when you’re sitting in a press box. Weber State is a stadium I’d like to see, so one day it’ll happen.
First game for Cal Poly this week. Unprecedented offseason length and with a new coach. What do you expect? I have no idea what to expect but I can’t wait for it.
I don’t have big expectations for Cal Poly this spring. Their “preseason camp” has been disrupted with COVID stuff and going from a triple-option offense to what Beau Baldwin wants to do is quite the transition. When all the pieces are in place, Cal Poly will be a factor in a couple of years. Baldwin knows how to win a lot of games in the Big Sky and I think he can win at Cal Poly.
What do you attribute UND’s successful start to the season to?
1. The offensive and defensive lines being much better than I anticipated. 2. The emergence of RB Otis Weah. 3. Tommy Schuster playing better than a typical redshirt freshman QB. 4. The defensive flying around. 5. Keeping the roster intact. 6. Playing all three games at home. I put this last because obviously having all three games at home is a factor for any team. But make no mistake, UND is legit and the first five reasons have played a bigger role in the great start than being at home.
Can Weber State or any team jump JMU without the Dukes losing?
It appears the answer is no because a lot of voters seem to have the mindset that JMU can’t drop in their rankings if they keep winning. I don’t buy that unwritten in poll voting that a team can’t drop if they win.
If you watch the games, yes while the Dukes won, it’s clear they aren’t the best team in the FCS right now. Just because they are 2-0 and No. 1 in someone’s poll doesn’t mean they can’t improve to 3-0 but drop to No. 5 in someone’s poll based on how the game played out.
I already have Weber ahead of JMU based on what I see with my amateur eye. But as far as the voting panel, I think JMU will keep getting most of the No. 1 votes if they keep winning, even if the wins are ugly and other teams are looking better to the eye. Gotta watch the games!