Welcome to Point/Counterpoint! Our FCS Debate Club publishes every Friday throughout the summer. Two of our three lead writers will take opposing viewpoints and argue about an issue of national significance in the realm of FCS Football. When it’s all said and done, you can vote on who you think is right.
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FCS PRESEASON TOP 25: The poll
FCS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA: The teams
Question Two: Which conference is in a better position headed into the 2018 season — SoCon or Big Sky?
Chase Kiddy: It’s the Big Sky
So in order to answer this question, I first have to define what “better position” means. That’s pretty subjective, but for me, “better” is some magically perfect mix of 1) having at least 1-2 legitimate national title contenders, and 2) a respectable amount of depth that prevents the conference from being too top-heavy. (For this bit, let’s set aside the NDSU/JMU nihilism and assume that any top-10 team could hypothetically compete for a championship.)
For further context, let’s look at the two conferences generally considered to be the best — the CAA and the Missouri Valley. The CAA has James Madison, plus 4-5 other clear playoff-caliber teams, and the Missouri Valley has a similar makeup with North Dakota State et al. This is how I, along with many others, define a good conference. Thus, the question is re-written: between the Big Sky and the SoCon, which of the two most closely resembles the model established by the Valley and the Colonial?
When reframed in those terms, I think the answer is probably the Big Sky. Both conferences have teams — Eastern Washington and Samford — that I feel could be worthy of a seed in November. However, only the Big Sky has true upper-quality depth after that. To my eye, Montana State, Idaho and Southern Utah all look like formidable teams; UC Davis, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State have potential; Weber and Montana are huge X-factors. Yes, we need to factor in the reality that the Big Sky is the largest FCS conference, but that’s a lot of depth to contend with when the playoff bracket rolls around. Even grading the SoCon as a pound-for-pound competitor, I’m not sure it offers the same depth through the middle of the conference. I do think Furman will be a top-20 team, but after that? Meh. Wofford could take a step back. East Tennessee State and the Citadel could be good enough to pull upsets, but they’re not likely to be genuine playoff contenders.
If you’re asking me to bet on any one team, I’m backing Samford and the SoCon. But if you’re asking me which conference is better positioned for the upcoming season, I think the Big Sky is the clear answer.
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DEBATE REWIND: Revisit our first Point/Counterpoint Article[divider]
Brian McLaughlin: It’s the Southern Conference
While the Big Sky is definitely going to chop itself up this year, I doubt any conference will have more depth than the Southern Conference in 2018.
In the Big Sky, I think about two thirds of the teams will be able to beat any other on any given day. We don’t have a North Dakota State type of program that you’d think on paper will be the favorite in every game. It’s not that clear with many of the other conferences. It’ll depend on where the game is played, or the weather’s effect on a pass-heavy offense – you name it.
While two thirds of the teams in the Big Sky have the potential to hit the 7-win threshold, I’m going to make the argument that, down in the Southern Conference, eight of the nine could conceivably hit the 7-win threshold.
Yep, eight of the nine. So who are we talking about? Let’s start with last year’s playoff teams – Wofford, Furman and Samford. They’ll all be in the mix. Chattanooga looks primed to rebound from a rare off-year, and The Citadel would only need to flip one or two more wins to be in the discussion, as would Mercer. As for East Tennessee State, the Bucs are in the top five in the entire FCS in terms of returning starters, and they’ll feature their first senior class since returning to football in 2015. Don’t forget about Western Carolina, which was also in the playoff discussion all last season and could be again.
That’s enough to make you dizzy if you’re a SoCon fan. While Samford is ranked the highest in HERO Sports’ preseason poll and features our first-team All-American QB – Devlin Hodges – the Bulldogs still need to go out and prove they’re a 9 or 10-win type program. We think they have that potential, but you see the list of landmines listed above. Where’s the easy road trip?
For an outsider, parity is a blast, but if you’re a SoCon diehard, you have to wonder if parity is that great a thing. What if the SoCon finishes with six teams with 7 or 8 wins, but none with 9 or 10?
It’ll be one thing to keep an eye on this fall, and we will. Either way, the SoCon will have the best parity of any conference in the FCS.
What do you think?
Which conference is in a better position headed into the 2018 season: SoCon or Big Sky?
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