Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag. FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder will take questions each week on Twitter and give in-depth answers. Tweet them both at @BrianMacWriter and @TheHerd215 to get your questions answered!
@PeterMooney09: JMU likely lost Cardon Johnson to a season ending injury. How do you think this will affect the top-ranked Dukes as they enter CAA play?
Brian: If anybody in the FCS has running back depth, it’s the Dukes, but what happened Saturday sure doesn’t make things easier. Cardon Johnson being injured again is sad, and Trai Sharp losing his father on Saturday certainly was tough on the team. When JMU has had its time to process all that happened on Saturday, it will bounce back, and the backfield will still be a strength.
Sam: Johnson looked to be taking the reigns from Khalid Abdullah, especially after that 265-yard performance against ECU. But I don't think his injury will be the difference on if JMU wins a conference and national title. That's not a knock on Johnson, because he is a terrific running back, but it's praise on JMU's depth at that position. Trai Sharp and Marcus Marshall can get the job done. The only worry now is keeping those two healthy.
What do you think about Dan Hawkins at UCD? They look improved so far.
— Joshua Shaw (@ShawHusker) September 17, 2017
Brian: I loved what Hawkins did at Boise State and he certainly set the table for Chris Petersen and beyond on the blue turf. By all accounts he’s a unique and fun coach and it’s great to have him at the FCS level at his alma mater. Looking forward to interviewing coach Hawkins if he’ll let me, and those two FCS wins the past two weeks have been impressive.
Sam: The Aggies are already one win away from matching last season's total. That's a credit to Hawkins and getting his players to buy in right away. At 2-1 and the only loss to San Diego State, UC Davis has impressed with wins against playoff qualifier San Diego and Big Sky foe Portland State. We'll find out more about this team deeper into the conference season.
how many teams have a legit shot at winning the FCS title this year? no team names needed, just a number
— Jason Smith (@HumanPerson1) September 18, 2017
Brian: Honestly? I’m going to say three, maybe four. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have a Youngstown State team go on a tear in the playoffs like last year, but just three weeks in I’ll say maybe four. And I have no problem naming them at all – North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State and I’m going to throw my wildcard in as Wofford.
The Terriers have the kind of approach that could knock anybody around on any given day if it’s the right matchup, as Youngstown nearly found out last year. I think there are other teams that are good enough on one side of the ball to compete for a title, but are not balanced enough.
Sam: Three teams are legitimate contenders in my opinion. Then there's maybe two bubble teams. The rest have a ways to go.
Anybody noticing the UNC Bears and their QB? Scored 21 against an FBS that had given up 6. Looking good in the Big Sky.
— Aaron Rath jQuery17202485404254333019_1505778212719jQuery17209683392669199644_1505778260236jQuery17207726930266745233_1505778351881?????? (@otsportsaaron) September 17, 2017
Brian: We got to know Kyle Sloter a bit over the past year and he certainly was a big talking point when mentioning Northern Colorado, but yes it would appear that momentum hasn’t ended with Kyle’s departure to the NFL. The Bears had a winning record last year, don’t forget, and are laying the ground work to be competitive is an incredibly balanced Big Sky that could have a surprise champion this year.
Sam: The Big Sky is up for grabs this season after Eastern Washington and North Dakota have had underwhelming starts. Always a conference with surprises, why not Northern Colorado climbing the standings? Unfortunately for the Bears, their game against Florida was canceled and their lone win was against a non-Division 1 school.
So their resume needs building. But hey, Jacob Knipp is averaging 220 yards passing per game and will give Big Sky defenses problems if he can raise his completion percentage a little.
Do you think Elon will get any FCS Top 25 ranking votes since they defeated Charleston Southern yesterday?
— Stuart Steed (@StuartSteed) September 17, 2017
Brian: Well, the poll’s already out but I’m really curious to see what the Phoenix do the next two weeks against Richmond and Albany. They surely don’t have to beat Richmond to earn respect. If they hang in there and make that game a nailbiter one way or another, and then do something special against Albany too?
Sam: I don't have a vote in any Top 25 polls, but you would think Elon deserves to be in there, right? I'd give them a vote. Elon is 2-1, but 2-0 against FCS opponents. Its win against No. 16 Charleston Southern opened some eyes as other CAA teams had head-scratching losses. Now it's a matter of seeing how the Phoenix match up with the rest of the conference. But right now you can consider them a Top 25 team in the country.
Outside of JMU v NDSU what is your most anticipated matchup you want to see in the playoffs?
— Sebastian (@sea_bass2017) September 17, 2017
Brian: Honestly, I think the evitable rematch of North Dakota State and South Dakota State is going to be a monster game, and I’m not convinced I know what the bleep is going to happen in that one. At least not at this point. Let’s face it, if SDSU wins at home in November against NDSU, the Jackrabbits may host that playoff game. It’s going to be a fun year in the Valley.
Sam: I truly think the playoff committee is going to send North Dakota to North Dakota State. Whether that's in the second round or the quarterfinals, I think the two teams run into each other and that would be an epic week for the once fierce rivals. Second, no one in the Dakotas wants to see it because it's been done three times already since 2012, but SDSU vs. NDSU would be a classic. Third, I think Jacksonville State at James Madison would be a fun matchup.
Any paper tigers after 3 games? Teams that look stacked on paper but have been underwhelming? Ive got one in mind…
— Michael Evangelista (@Michael_2Clutch) September 17, 2017
Brian: I’m not big on calling anybody paper tigers. I’ve been a little surprised that Eastern Washington has struggled some early on, along with Northern Iowa, but I still think those are teams that many FCS programs wouldn’t want to face on an average day. I think they’re both just rebuilding a bit and will get back to normal soon enough.
Sam: It's early and these teams can certainly figure it out with great head coaches, but Wofford and North Dakota have had underwhelming starts. I was big on Wofford coming into the season, but one point wins against Furman and Mercer don't wow me. I was hesitant on UND coming in but knew they had the formula for success in the FCS. Its blowout loss at South Dakota makes you wonder where they stand nationally, though.
Sam Houston State's 44-31 win over Prairie View A&M on Sept. 7 shows its defense has to make big strides for the Bearkats to be contenders. I'm not sold on them yet.