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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Adam Willey – Biggest game this season based off of preseason rankings is?
Brian: Based on preseason rankings (ours), I'd have to say North Dakota State vs. UC Davis since JMU and Maine won't face off in the regular season. I think we're going to get a ton of answers out of this one. NDSU was No. 2 in our preseason poll and UC Davis was No. 3. Can't get much better than that.
Sam: Since NDSU and UC Davis were ranked so high in our poll, that'd be the easiest answer. But I'll go with EWU visiting JSU. The reason for that is I think the EWU-JSU game is more important for those two teams than UC Davis-NDSU. The Aggies or the Bison can still earn a high playoff seed if they lose this game because there are future opponents on the schedule to get the playoff resume back on track. It's key for JSU to win this game if it wants a higher seed because they might only see one more playoff team on their schedule. The same can be said for EWU, who may not see any more playoff teams on its schedule. If the Eagles finish 10-2 with losses to FBS Washington and JSU along with a non-counter win, is that a good-enough resume for a Top 4 seed? That, of course, depends on what other teams do nationally that want a high seed. But the point is EWU needs this quality win.
Ben Schleiger – Which top ten team is going to disappoint early on?
Brian: Towson is No. 10 in our preseason poll, and the Tigers play a brutal schedule to open things up early — and it may not give us a true picture of how good this team is. First of all, The Citadel is going to be a great matchup and it's in Charleston. Then after a winnable game with N.C. Central, Towson travels to Maine for what looks like (in the preseason) the best matchup in the league this regular season. Then Towson has to deal with a hungry and dangerous Villanova team and then plays at the Florida Gators. The truth is, Towson could come into the bulk of league play at 3-2 or maybe even 2-3 and still end up being a top 10 team come season's end.
Sam: Using the STATS poll, I'll go with No. 8 Weber State. The Wildcats lose a ton of stars on its standout defense and return a lot of starters on an OK offense. I'm not sure this team has the firepower it did these last two seasons. And Weber faces two FBS opponents in the nonconference (San Diego State and Nevada) along with Northern Iowa.
Brandon Owens – What does the OVC have to do to get more than two teams in the playoffs and who are those teams?
Brian: This is easy: They need to take care of business in the nonconference matchups and then not all cut each other up. I think there's a chance you may see this happen this year with Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky and SEMO, and keep an eye on Murray State. And don't forget that highly accomplished college coach Mark Hudspeth is now at Austin Peay. Honestly, the league looks much better collectively than it has in years.
Sam: The OVC would have to play very well in nonconference and hope some of their top teams get FBS wins. And then those top teams avoid upsets in league play. In my opinion, JSU, SEMO and EKU all look good enough to make the playoffs. The OVC will need to improve its national reputation, though, to have three teams in the bracket.
Jamie Williams – Which non ranked team(s) in the initial STATS top 25 has a shot to surprise and grab a seed ala Maine last year?
Brian: A seed? Ugggh, not sure on that one. ETSU might be that team if the QB situation ends up being as good as it looks. The Bucs should be interesting this year, they just need a hint of that leadership they had last year, and new players must step up.
Sam: I'll go with Duquesne because I think Colgate opened doors for the third-tier conferences to get a seed if the team truly deserves it. We dive deeper into Duquesne's schedule below, but it is possible the Dukes go undefeated.
Jacob Martinez – On paper where would y’all rank this year’s FCS as a whole? Seems like just about every conference improved last year and that looks to be continuing through this season
Brian: If you mean ranking versus previous years, tough to say. I think when you look back to those 1990s years with Marshall, Youngstown, Ga. Southern, App State, etc., those were some good times at this level at the top. What I think we have now is better parity, for sure. More programs are in the FCS/I-AA ranks today, and many are competitive. I'd say we're in the best stage of parity, for sure.
Sam: It is really difficult to gauge where the level of football is at in the FCS compared to 5, 10 and 15 years ago. But with more and more recruits picking FCS schools over FBS offers, I do think it's getting stronger. And this year, the level of competitiveness is going to be at its best in a long time. Not only nationally with a number of teams looking like legit national title threats. But also in conferences. The SoCon, Southland and OVC look to be stronger. The CAA is competitive as hell. The MVFC has a number of playoff-potential teams and the Big Sky is getting back to being more prominent nationally. And even conferences like the Pioneer, Patriot and NEC have a number of teams vying for that auto-bid. This season is going to be fantastic.
Preston Adams – If NCA&T and BCU both have 9 or 10 win seasons, will the MEAC get an at large bid?
Brian: That's a toughie with this being a 12-game year, because there may be a lot of FCS teams out there with 8 or 9 win seasons, and 8 or 9 wins in most of the non-HBCU conferences probably would be viewed as stronger, unless of course NC A&T or FAMU or BCU or whoever knocks off an FBS team or beats another strong FCS program like A&T did last year.
Sam: I'd love for that to happen — and I think it could in this scenario — because it'd make the playoffs much more interesting. It all comes down to how the bubble looks, though, along with how these two teams did in the nonconference.
Paul Parr – What is the possibility of Duquesne football going through the regular season undefeated?
Brian: I don't see that happening with Youngstown State and New Hampshire on the schedule. I do think Duquesne is an FCS playoff team, though, and I wouldn't want to be the CAA team facing them, as Towson learned last year.
Sam: It's certainly possible, but I'm not overly confident in that happening. Duquesne will be favored to win every NEC game, but the Dukes didn't exactly dominate league play last year. And it's not like this team has loads of starters coming back, especially with some holes to fill on offense. Going to YSU and UNH will be no easy task as those teams look strong and have the potential to make the playoffs. Neither of those you can pencil in as losses, though, and Duquesne could certainly win those road games. But there are going to be a lot of battles on this schedule, both in and out of conference.
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