We're not supposed to say it this early, are we? We'll jinx it, right?
The 2017 FCS season is finally coming into focus and defending national champion James Madison and the five-time champs who preceded it, North Dakota State, have risen to the top like most of us expected. As of today, they are the only two teams left that could enter the FCS Playoffs undefeated. Both had loaded lineups returning this year, and even with early injury issues they both have remained strong.
[divider]MORE: Compare Any Two FCS Players or Any Two FCS Teams[divider]
Both the Dukes and the Bison are 7-0. JMU has a clearer path to 11-0 and one of the top two seed spots (and the accompanying homefield advantage). NDSU's Missouri Valley Conference schedule still has landmines, but games against South Dakota State and South Dakota look more manageable than maybe they did earlier in the year, as both programs have looked human at times this year.
If JMU and NDSU both go 11-0, they'll obviously be 1 and 2 and it won't matter who is what — they'll both be at home three straight weeks in the postseason. That will make them favorites to meet in Frisco (Texas) in January for the national title game — and I'll go ahead and say it: That stadium isn't big enough for these two programs. It'll be the toughest ticket in FCS title game history. Cotton Bowl? Jerry World? Nah. The FCS belongs in Frisco.
But it's too early to talk about all of that, right? Wink, wink.[divider]
COLUMBIA IS ATOP IVY LEAGUE
The Ivy League seems a bit upside down right now, as opposed to normal.
Columbia disposed of a previously undefeated Dartmouth team, Harvard got clobbered late Friday by Princeton. And the Crimson are now 3-3 while Columbia is 6-0 for the first time in 21 years and Princeton and Yale are both 5-1 overall.
For the Lions, this truly has been a special start to the season. The program has endured long recent losing streaks and issues with the culture of the program as recently as just three years ago. All of that has changed and now they're the frontrunners for their first Ivy League championship since they shared it with Harvard when John F. Kennedy was President (1961).
RELATED: Columbia off to its best start in 21 years, aiming for first Ivy League title in 56 years[divider]
CELEBRATION BOWL OUTLOOK
North Carolina A&T is the first FCS team to be 8-0, and for now is the frontrunner in the MEAC — but if you ask Hampton and Howard, they'd say we're wrong and they'd have a point. You can throw North Carolina Central and Norfolk State into the discussion too — but the Aggies are at the top of the group right now.
But the final weeks, of course, will be critical. The Aggies didn't exactly run away with the game today.
A nod of the cap to Delaware State, who ended the FCS nation's longest losing streak at 17 games, beating South Carolina State.
In a pivotal SWAC game pitting division frontrunners Grambling State and Alcorn, it was all Tigers as they are already looking like the clear favorites to once again win the SWAC West and move into the SWAC title game — which will be played for the final time this year after having been held since 1999. East leader Alcorn could end up in a rematch with Grambling.[divider]
MVFC IS A QUESTION MARK, WRAPPED IN AN ENIGMA
Thank you Winston Churchill, for describing this conference — even though that wasn't the idea. And yes, we paraphrased.
This week, Youngstown State and South Dakota, please take a seat — grab some water. Take a break for a second. It's Western Illinois, Illinois State and Northern Iowa's time for the spotlight. Everybody in the MVFC knows how this works. It's musical chairs on caffeine.
We don't care that Western Illinois ended up falling at Fargo, the showing was impressive. Northern Iowa's been warming up the past few weeks, and Illinois State became the first team in the country to hold South Dakota under 31 points.
True to form though, as we've learned in the MVFC, somebody else will inevitably step up and be the talk of next week. And the week after. You know the routine.
There are no days off here. Attrition is the key word.
RELATED: Western Illinois is redhot, and WR Jaelon Acklin is one key reason for it.[divider]
CAA CONTINUES TO BE A GAUNTLET
With all due respect to James Madison, Delaware is the team of the weekend in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Danny Rocco, the uber successful coach from his days at Liberty and Richmond, beat the team he coached last year. It took two overtimes at home, but he and his staff have gotten the Blue Hens back into the FCS Playoff discussion where this top-flight program should be. They're 5-2 overall and withstood one of the top passing attacks in the entire FCS … guys he recruited to Richmond.
Elon survived a road trip to Rhode Island to continue to be in the FCS Playoff discussion, winning by one point in a game it had to rally to win in the fourth quarter. New Hampshire continues to look like a playoff contender after its head-scratching loss to Holy Cross several weeks back. Maine remains in the discussion at 3-3 after a nice road win vs. Albany. Villanova and Stony Brook should also be considered part of the playoff discussion with four weeks left, but they were off.
RELATED: JMU puts on impressive show.[divider]
SOCON HAS CLEAR FRONTRUNNER NOW
Samford disposed of previously undefeated Wofford, who has already beaten Western Carolina, who has already beaten Samford — and I'm sorry, I need to take a break here. Dizzy. Furman has now won five games in a row, but still has road trips to Western Carolina and Samford, but only lost by one to Wofford. Clear as mud yet?
The biggest takeway this weekend is that Samford, Wofford and Western Carolina are in contention for two, if not three FCS Playoff berths. And Furman is knocking on the door and ready to break the lock. The Paladins have control of their destiny, and right now Samford, Wofford and Western Carolina look like playoff teams. But are any of them looking like Top 8 seeds with a first-round bye? Not just yet.[divider]
NEC, PATRIOT AND PIONEER BIDS
Now that we are at week eight, its worth looking at the automatic bids we'll see out of the Northeast Conference, Patriot League and Pioneer League. Those three conferences have zero chance of a second playoff bid at this point, so if you want to get in? You'd better win (your conference).
Mathematically Duquesne didn't clinch anything on Saturday, but the Dukes are brutally tough on defense against NEC competition and they're 3-0 now. With a 6-1 record overall, things are looking good. You can go ahead and pencil them in for a playoff spot in my book, but again … use pencil. Obviously you never know, and Central Connecticut is 3-0 and wants to prove the prognosticators wrong. Still … Duquesne disposed of a strong St. Francis team 24-7, and I think St. Francis is stronger than Central Connecticut. So there's one spot.
The Patriot League? Take out a quarter, turn off all the lights, spin 27 times in the dark and flip the coin. That's right … you're not going to find any answers right now. Colgate had a nice win and seems to be hanging in there by a fingernail. The Raiders pummeled a team (Holy Cross) that pummeled what looks like a playoff team out of the CAA (New Hampshire). Make sense, right? Sheesh.
And the Pioneer League? Once again it just seems like San Diego's to lose. The Toreros cruised on Saturday while the rest of the league played pretty even games.
For now, I'd pencil in Duquesne and San Diego into the playoffs, and you can do the blindfolded coinflip in the dark thing with the Patriot League. SMH.[divider]
BIG SKY STILL FINDING ITSELF
After wins over Weber State and typical national power Eastern Washington today? We might want to start paying some serious attention to Southern Utah as a playoff contender out of the Big Sky Conference. It's a topsy turvy conference for sure, but today's 46-28 win was a testament to SUU's penchant for defense. That doesn't happen often in the Big Sky.
Northern Arizona is the other entity to consider, as the Lumberjacks are 4-0 in the league now. The thing is, there are still so many questions in the Big Sky — like will Montana storm back in the next four weeks and become the power they usually have been, and will EWU bounce back, be 8-3 and be a dangerous playoff team. It could happen.[divider]