The 2017 FCS undefeated ranks got a bit thinner in week six, as previously undefeated teams fell — and one theme became abundantly clear on Saturday, the current Missouri Valley Conference powers-that-be should definitely be considered equals in the FCS title talk along with defending national champion James Madison (the Dukes were off Saturday).
There are several MVFC programs that could seriously challenge the Dukes, and that always makes FCS talk more fun.
Several programs kept their records perfect. South Dakota, North Dakota State, North Carolina A&T and Wofford all entered the 6-0 or 5-0 zone, and Columbia and Dartmouth entered the 4-0 realm in the Ivy League. Defending FCS champ James Madison (5-0) was idle.
SOUTH DAKOTA WITH BIGGEST WIN OF THE DAY
South Dakota (5-0, 2-0) is really hitting its stride right now, and absolutely has entered the national championship discussion with its win over Youngstown State, 31-28. The Penguins made it interesting late, but the Coyotes held the FCS national runners up at bay at the right time.
It's no coincidence that USD has risen through the ranks and is doing what it has done this year. Anybody paying attention to the energy the program has put into recruiting nationwide would pick up on that vibe. One could tell things were brewing … but this push is on hyperdrive.
If we bring up the Coyotes and the national title discussion, we obviously have to bring up North Dakota State — the Bison look as strong as they ever have so far. They went on the road and pounded Indiana State 52-0 and continue to prove that neither offense nor defense have problems. The Bison are now 5-0 and 2-0 and have outscored opponents 258 to 31 in five games. Easton Stick was his usual deft self, throwing for 191 yards and 4 TDs and rushing for 53 yards — even sitting out the fourth quarter. Lance Dunn added 74 yards and 2 TDs on the ground.
And let's not forget a South Dakota State team that owned a Southern Illinois side that looked strong outside of conference. To the tune of 49-14. Anybody thinking the Jackrabbits are out of the discussion doesn't know what MVFC football is. Western Illinois' road win at Northern Iowa certainly keeps the Leathernecks in the national discussion, also.[divider]
CAA CONTINUES TO BE A GAUNTLET
Jaquan Amos returned a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown, and four Villanova defensive players picked off passes as the Wildcats won impressively 31-0 — setting up next week's big game at James Madison. That Oct. 14 game has reportedly been considered for ESPN College GameDay.
Elon (5-1, 3-1) was another Colonial Athletic Association team looking for more respect, and it continued to make its case with a win over William & Mary, as true freshman quarterback Davis Cheek (179 yards) and running back Malcolm Summers (81 yards rushing, 2 TDs) led the offense. Richmond pulled off what might be a tide-turning win in double overtime and stud kicker Griffin Trau's 34-yarder was the deciding factor at home. Kyle Lauletta threw for 353 yards and 3 TDs, while Albany's quest to reach the FCS Playoffs may have gotten a bit tougher over the past two weeks.
Elon wasn't the only surprise team to reach the midpoint of its season and be impressing. Delaware came back strong in the 2nd half with a 17-0 run and knocked off a very good Stony Brook team 24-20 on the road to prove that the Blue Hens are in the FCS Playoff discussion as of Oct. 7.[divider]
CELEBRATION BOWL OUTLOOK
North Carolina A&T became the only MEAC or SWAC team to hit the 6-0 mark,with quarterback Lamar Raynard (324 yards passing, 3 TD) helping guide the easy the win under center. They beat winless Delaware State 44-3.
North Carolina Central also did well this week, extending its win streak over FCS teams to 18 games, giving cause for concern with the Aggies above. Just like last year, that game should help decide the MEAC champion, knocking off freshman QB Caylin Newton and Howard 13-7 in a strong showing by the Bison to stay in it.
In a pivotal SWAC game pitting West frontrunners Grambling State and Prairie View A&M, it was all Tigers as they are already looking like the clear favorites to once again win the SWAC and move into the SWAC title game — which will be played for the final time this year after having been held since 1999. Alcorn appears to be the top team in the East, winning Thursday to up its SWAC record to 3-0.[divider]
SOCON HAS CLEAR FRONTRUNNER NOW
Wofford (5-0, 3-0) doesn't always win pretty, but this year … it just always wins. That's kind of how the Terriers tore through the playoffs last year, too.
They survived a very talented Western Carolina team (4-2, 2-1) in a game that may have featured the top two teams in the Southern Conference. It was George Gbesee's interception in overtime that clinched the win for 35-28 Wofford. With The Citadel dropping its last two games, and Western Carolina already beating Samford … Wofford is clearly the leader entering October.
Samford (4-2, 2-1) has also looked good since dropping the game on the goal line with WCU two weeks ago, and the Bulldogs look more and more like a playoff team. At this point, Wofford, Western Carolina and Samford appear to be the midpoint candidates for an FCS Playoff spot.[divider]
BIG SOUTH FRONTRUNNERS?
With Liberty not eligible for the playoffs because of its move up to FBS next year, the Big South seems pretty wide open. The Monmouth Hawks are now 5-1 overall heading into conference play, including today's win over a Holy Cross team that blasted perennial FCS playoff team New Hampshire a few weeks back. Holy Cross QB Peter Pujals had a halftime Hail Mary TD and finished with 509 yards passing with 4 TDs, but Monmouth put another win in the books and is the Big South frontrunner heading into league play.
Of course, don't rule out Presbyterian and what it is doing. This weekend the Blue Hose knocked off a defending conference champion in the NEC's St. Francis (PA), 26-14. Presbyterian is in its first season of coach Tommy Spangler's second stint, and he was the last coach to have success at the school. The program has had only one winning season in the past 10 years, but Spangler's 2005 team went 10-2 — the only 10-win season at the school since 1979. Keep an eye on the Blue Hose in the Big South.[divider]
BIG SKY PICTURE STILL UNCLEAR
Big Sky leader Weber State was idle this weekend, but several Big Sky Conference teams looked convincing in wins this weekend — and one still has to think the conference will get some at-large playoff berths in November. The question is, who will step up?
Will it be Eastern Washington? One would think so as the Eagles continue to warm up. Montana had a convincing road win against Idaho State — a team with an FBS win. And Northern Arizona had one of the biggest FCS wins of the weekend when it hammered previously undefeated MVFC Illinois State 37-16 in Flagstaff. Case Cookus looked like his 2015 self, throwing for 380 yards and 3 TDs.
The Big Sky is a bit cloudy behind Weber State, but this weekend may have been pivotal in helping us figure out who may emerge.[divider]
IVY LEAGUE LOOK, TWO UNDEFEATEDS REMAIN
The Ivy League may have a new face at the top of the standings, and it kind of looks Lion-ish.
If this nugget on the Ivy League seems like the Groundhog's Day version, well … you're right. We feel like we're saying the same thing every week. Columbia hasn't kicked off a season 4-0 since 1996, but the Lions did just that Saturday as head coach Al Bagnoli continues to make great strides with this program since coming over from non-conference opponent Marist, 41-17. Quarterback Anders Hill threw for 350 yards and 3 scores and Emerson Kabus caught 4 of those passes for 114 yards and 1 TD as the Lions ran away with it. Dartmouth also went to 4-0 with a win over previously undefeated Yale.