So FCS fans, today proved something we've been saying for weeks now … if not years: There is a vast chasm between the top three conferences in the FCS and the next group. Today went a long way towards trimming potential at-large playoff berths away from the Southern, Southland and OVC. In all three conferences, we saw clear front-runners (Nicholls, Furman, Austin Peay, etc) fall in league play to teams they should have handled based on previous results.
Parity is an awesome thing for fans (and for those of us in the media), but it's not a good thing when your conference is hoping for multiple at-large playoff berths beyond the automatic bid. What the SoCon, Southland and OVC need are two or three teams with nine wins or more, and after what we saw today, it seems like this is becoming less and less likely.
This is just coming from a neutral and tuned-in observer, folks, not somebody who has an ax to grind.
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Between now and Nov. 24 (FCS Selection Sunday) what all conferences would like to see is things to tighten and clear up — for the cream to rise and make itself known to the FCS Nation. It seems more and more likely with this 12-game season that the top three conferences need to see their teams win eight games to be "locks" and anybody else needs to win at least nine. Otherwise? You're on your hands and knees on Nov. 24.
If you look at the first few weekends of league play as a trend? The cream isn't rising to the top yet, making it extremely difficult to differentiate the teams. The good news is, there are still five games to play and a team can finish hot and hit that sweet spot on the resume, but man oh man the precedent has been set so far that the playoff committee is going to be dealing with a collective migraine with this group. More and more I sympathize with them because hey … I vote, and it gives me a headache. It takes an hour or two each week to sift through this spaghetti. I get it.
The first tier teams (NDSU, JMU, SDSU & Sac. State/Weber St.) have been consistent. Beyond those four/five? Really nobody has been. It's almost like we have a first tier of teams that loves the top five, another tier that probably deserves to hover from the No. 6 to No. 12 range, and then we have like a tight, above-average gaggle of about 20-25 FCS teams that all have some sort of argument to be roughly in that No. 13 to No. 35ish range. You know what I mean? It's like they all have an "A+" for at least one subject of their "report card" resume, but all of them have an ugly "D" mark too.
For the record, I know exactly how that feels, and so do many of you. Not trying to be judgemental, just realistic. Trust me, never perfect here. #BeenThere
WEEK EIGHT PICKS: See which ones B-Mac messed up
The Big Sky is certainly the most interesting right now of the "Big Three" conferences. The CAA may have crazier parity the past few weeks (and again, CAA, you might not want to play with fire too much with "parity", it may bite you in the Arse — that's Scottish for your "derriere", which is French for your "rear end"). The Big Sky has a tough batch of front-runners, based on what we've seen the first eight weeks. Think of this picture: Sacramento State and Weber State have only lost to FBS teams, Montana and Montana State both look playoff-bound, regardless of their recent losses to good teams, and UC Davis and Eastern Washington have experienced winning programs and damned good quarterbacks and could play spoiler in the next few weeks. That's six teams right there who could hit the eight, maybe seven-win mark … and we're not even talking about a Portland State program that is 5-3 with only one FCS loss. Keep an eye on this group too. Dizzying, eh?[divider]
No. 1) Sacramento State – Why would I put any other school at the top of this? How could I? The Hornets have a first-year coach (Troy Taylor) and you'd think they'd be rebuilding, but instead, they just disposed of the national runners up at Eastern Washington, a tough Montana State team that will likely make the playoffs, and a Montana team that had mowed down opponents all year. And the Hornets didn't just out-score the Griz, they shut them down. Folks, there's a new power in town in an already crowded talent space in the Big Sky, and it is Troy Taylor's Sacramento State team.
No. 2) The Citadel – Hello El Cid, good to see you again. We were braggin' on you in September because the first two weeks looked solid in close losses to good CAA teams, then you knocked off an ACC team (Ga. Tech in OT, who BTW just beat Miami, Fla. in OT this week). Then you disappeared on us again and then reappeared by taking out a very strong Furman team. There are four games left on your schedule, and your resume may even be strong enough to get a bid with seven wins if only one of the next four is dropped and you don't get the SoCon auto-bid. This should get interesting.
No. 3) UT Martin – Head coach Jason Simpson is … once again (said this before) … the master of squeezing orange juice out of orange seeds (sorry for the Floridian reference, probably not too much citrus being grown in Tennessee, but I'm guessing people get what I'm saying here). Look at how the Skyhawks continue to roll. Now, it's not going to be easy to continue it the next few weeks, as SEMO, Jacksonville State and Austin Peay — clearly the top teams of the past two seasons — are on the schedule. But this UT Martin program is doing some wonderful things and is on a four-game win streak with only one FCS loss. Hey, nobody else in the OVC can claim that, yet. UTM controls its destiny, the others really don't.
UT MARTIN SEASON PREVIEW: The Story
No. 4) Bethune-Cookman – The Wildcats are rocking right now at 6-1, and anybody who thinks Sunday's rescheduled NC A&T at FAMU matchup is the only game that matters this year in the MEAC is sadly mistaken. BCU has one loss, to Miami, Fla. This program is a big factor in the MEAC and there are some big games ahead. Could the 'Cats train wreck this Aggies-Rattlers public perception love affair? Yep.
No. 5) Dartmouth – This program is mauling people, and Harvard and Princeton might want to take note, and Yale already found out what is going on with the Big Green. Last year, we saw Princeton go 10-0, now I get the feeling Dartmouth would like to ascend to that throne. It will be an interesting few weeks … and as always?: I'm wondering how Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale etc would fit into this potential playoff picture, considering we (really) need solid teams. Hint hint (again).
SWING AND A B-MAC WHIFF
WEEK 8 PICKS: See which ones B-Mac messed up
Man, I butchered this week. I have been solid with Furman all year, and honestly? I still am. I think this is a blip on the Paladins' radar and I'll couple that with saying (it's been a few weeks) that The Citadel is better than people think, and El Cid has proven that a few times this year, but also slipped up a few times.
Also, hey Delaware? Can you figure out if you're rebuilding or stacked please? I still can't figure it out. Big win over UNH. Didn't see that coming. Same with Sam (not Herder) … but Sam Houston State. That shutout win over Nicholls this weekend was impressive, but the Bearkats have some things to sort out over the next several weeks also.
And I don't understand Jacksonville State anymore. I just never know what to expect. This weekend proved I have no clue what to expect. And lastly? The shootout I was expecting with Montana-Sac State (clearly the biggest game of the weekend) … it didn't materialize thanks to Sac State's defense.
So I screwed up a bunch of picks, I admit it. But there's always next week.
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