Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag. In partnership with FCS Football Fans Nation, we'll ask for questions with a post on their Facebook page and our senior staff members Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder will provide answers.
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[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
Brandon Owens – Is the FCS absolute chaos after OOC play for most conferences?
Brian: I don't know that I'd say absolutely chaos, Brandon. I think we've had some surprises, both stunning in a good way and maybe somewhat disappointing for others. Such is life. The top of the order, to me, hasn't budged since the season began a month ago, and the teams that have lost at the top (UC Davis, Maine, Towson) have lost to very good teams and really shouldn't drop a whole lot. Honestly, I'd say things have been pretty static throughout out of conference play.
Sam: We've had more chaotic starts to FCS seasons, honestly. There have been surprises and head-scratchers so far. But nothing overly wild. Now, with conference play starting … I think we can see some fireworks. Nothing messes up the polls and playoff picture quite like a bottom conference team knocking off a top team in the standings. I feel like we're going to get some of that in several leagues.
Paul Alexander Dobson – Why are my UNI Panthers ranked so high? A close loss to Iowa State is really the only thing they've got going for them so far. With the offense I've seen so far I'm concerned. What's your take?
Brian: Paul, I do believe you're hoping to keep your beloved Panthers "on the D.L". Well, you should have told them not to go toe-to-toe with Iowa State like they did, because that sure as hell impressed me. I mean, think about it — Iowa State went toe-to-toe with nationally-ranked Iowa, falling by only one point after leading coming into the fourth quarter, and the Cyclones hung 72 points on an FBS team (Louisiana-Monroe). But Iowa State certainly didn't hang 72 on Northern Iowa — in fact, it couldn't even hang 14 in regulation before going three OTs. I think you have a team to be proud of, and the two Big Sky wins weren't exactly the mail-in homecoming blowout variety opponents. Offensively, I think the passing game has looked pretty good, but the run game could be a bit better.
Sam: I do think that near Iowa State win has carried a lot of weight for the Panthers. But I've always had the mindset that an FCS team nearly upsetting an FBS opponent doesn't always mean that FCS team is going to go on and have a great season. UNI looked good the next week in a big win against Southern Utah. But after a bye, the 13-6 home win against Idaho State makes you wonder how good this team really is. The good thing is Saturday will tell us where UNI belongs when it travels to Weber State, another highly-ranked team.
Pat Wulfekuhle – When Montana wins on Saturday, are they a Top 10 team?
Brian: Pat, I'd say that depending on the circumstances around the country, you may have to take a serious look at that. And the good thing for the Griz is they have several opportunities this year to improve their stock, and there's nothing better in football than being able to control your own destiny. Not every program can say that. But yes, I think there's a possibility of bumping them up into the Top 10 with a big win this weekend.
Sam: IF the Griz win (which I think they have a decent shot), they have a good chance to move into the Top 10. I've stayed patient with 3-1 Montana because its three FCS wins aren't against solid competition. Well, now here's the chance for the Grizzlies to show they truly are back.
Jacob Martinez – Are there enough teams stepping up to the power vacuum being created in the lower half of the top 10 to keep up parity at the top of the subdivision?
Brian: Yes. Honestly, Jacob, I don't think it could be put better than that, either. I do think there is this "gaggle" of capable teams in that No. 6 to No. 15 range that could make things interesting. And that's the glory of things this year. Yes, we have our typical monsters at the top, but there are capable teams behind them. This isn't like 2017 and 2018 where to me it seemed like a foregone conclusion what was going to happen. This year? I think it's going to be a roller coaster ride and a lot of teams will be involved in the scrum.
Sam: I think the national title race is more open than in previous years. But I don't think it's wide open. Right now, I think JMU, NDSU, SDSU and UC Davis are legit national contenders. Teams like Villanova, Towson and Weber State are close. And then there's teams like Illinois State, Furman, UNI, JSU, UCA, Maine, Nicholls, Kennesaw State, SE Louisiana and Montana State that are good but aren't quite there yet to realistically win a national title.
Scott Moody – With the completion of OOC games, which conferences helped themselves and hurt themselves based on FCS v FCS games?
Brian: I think we've seen a big divide in what I call the "Big Six" conferences (the conferences that horde the mega-majority of at-large berths). I think the usual top three (Big Sky, CAA, MVFC) have pulled away from the other three (OVC, SoCon, Southland) and as of now would gobble up probably 80 to 90 percent of the at-large berths. But as we all know … the top three eat their own and that number will come down to earth a bit because of parity within those leagues. But the "Big Three" have really done well outside of conference, FCS-wise.
Sam: I don't know if there is a conference that really helped themselves a ton. The CAA, MVFC and Big Sky all did pretty well in the nonconference outside of a couple of bad losses. The two conferences that I think hurt themselves is the OVC and the SoCon. The OVC had a good chance to make an argument that it's a two-big league, but Eastern Kentucky lost to Indiana State and SEMO got handled by Montana State. Those were huge games for the conference. And the SoCon, which I thought could be a three-bid league this year, really has only had two teams seem worthy of a playoff spot: The Citadel and Furman.
Danny Johnson – Are there any rumors of a FCS team wanting to move up to the FBS any thinking of dropping back down.
Brian: I honestly haven't heard much chatter in that regard, Danny. I think if the perfect conference came along, James Madison may consider it, but I think the Dukes can afford to be picky and are content right now being a dominant power in the FCS ranks. NDSU is really in a nice place, and where would the Bison go, ya know? I'm always curious about a quickly rising program like Kennesaw State, which has the recruiting base, the alumni base and the "umphh" it seems to take to ascend quickly, but I have heard nothing definitive about anything like that happening. I think we all knew Liberty and Coastal Carolina were eyeballing their moves, but I just don't see anything stirring at this point.
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