Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag. In partnership with FCS Football Fans Nation, we will ask for questions with a post on their Facebook page every Sunday and our FCS crew of Brian McLaughlin, Chase Kiddy and Sam Herder will give in-depth answers with these Thursday articles. They will also choose the best question and discuss it on the FCS Podcast that comes out Wednesday mornings.
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Lawrence Smith – If JMU & Elon each finish with 1 conference loss, who would you give the higher seed to? Does Elon’s canceled game with William and Mary hurt them in this regard?
Chase: Obviously it matters who the loss comes to, but I would lean toward Elon. Having the head-to-head is a pretty strong resume booster when it comes to comparing teams. Elon's lack of a game with William & Mary hurts more in the context of Elon's bid to win the CAA.
Sam: I think you have to give the higher seed to Elon. If both had one CAA loss, they probably have close to the same amount of quality wins in the CAA. And Elon probably gets the nonconference resume nod with two tougher FCS opponents in Furman, who was No. 21 at the time, and Charleston Southern. Both FBS losses are thrown out the window, even though the Dukes competed better in theirs. So yeah, with the head-to-head win, Elon has to be seeded higher.
Matthew Fraase – How impressed are you with McNeese this year? Do you see them going further than Sam Houston come playoff time?
Brian: I'm very impressed with McNeese, particularly the defense — led by a solid Buck Buchanan Award candidate in B.J. Blunt (11.5 TFL, 7 sacks halfway through the season). Against FCS competition this year — and tossing the final score with Houston Baptist because McNeese called off the dogs up 44-14 halfway through the 3rd quarter and then gave up some garbage points — the Cowboys have pinned opponents back defensively. Keep in mind, this is a team that went 10-0 and won the Southland in 2015, won 9 games last year and it seems possible the team could finish 10-1 this regular season if it avoids pitfalls. This is a solid program, and could easily end up seeded with a first-round bye.
Chase: I was impressed with McNeese early, but I really feel like the Cowboys have powered the thrusters down since their pair of big games with Nicholls and BYU at the end of September. After playing a game with massive SLC title implications and then following it up with a national FBS brand like BYU, it would be hard to get up for a game with Abilene Christian. I get it. But that doesn't exactly fill me with confidence that this is a serious contender to make the semifinals. I do, however, see them going farther than Sam Houston State, because I don't think Sam Houston will make the playoffs.
Sam: We've seen McNeese have tremendous regular seasons only to exit the playoffs way too early. And say whatever you want about them FCS fans, but the Bearkats of SHSU have carried the load for the Southland in recent years. If it wasn't for them, the Southland may be only a 1-2 bid league. However, McNeese does look strong this season, especially defensively. SHSU has taken its lumps this season, but a new QB is making things head in the right direction. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Bearkats make a deeper run this year. It's happened before, like in that 2015 season Brian just mentioned.
Drew Kamrath – There’s been a lot of upsets all over in the CAA and MVFC in just a few weeks of conference play. Who do you have coming out on top and in the playoffs?
Chase: I believed North Dakota State would win the Valley and the National Championship in the preseason, and I've seen zero reason not to think that so far this season. I do think JMU will figure out a way to get back in the mix in the CAA.
Sam: I have NDSU winning the Valley. And this is a lazy answer, but I don't know how the tie-breaker method works, so I have JMU/Elon winning the CAA. I do think Elon suffers one loss sometime in the schedule. As far as who I think will make the playoffs, I'll say four teams from each conference I'm confident in, even though there's a possibility one or both conferences gets five teams in. MVFC – NDSU, SDSU, Illinois State and South Dakota. CAA – JMU, Elon, Towson and Rhode Island.
Scott Monson – How good is Idaho St?
Chase: I do think Idaho State is top-25 good, but probably not top-10 good. The offense can come from a lot of different places, but the defense looks like a typical Big Sky defense when I've seen them. The Bengals haven't had much of a challenge just yet — UND is probably their best win, and I'm still not sure how good of a win that is at this point in the season — but I do think they could be the second best team in the Big Sky when it's all said and done. UC Davis, Weber, and Idaho State are all in my Big Sky second tier, below EWU. A healthy Northern Arizona team would make the cut there as well.
Sam: I have Idaho State No. 15 in my Top 25 poll and also in my playoff field. That passing attack is lethal. I knew the offense had a chance to be special during the preseason. I wasn't sure about the defense. And with so many teams looking like they'd improve in the Big Sky, I admit I had ISU toward the bottom of my preseason standings. The schedule does strengthen from here on out, though. We'll have a better answer of this question in a few weeks.
Peter Mooney – Is the world ending now that Elon beat JMU? Some online would think it is.
Brian: Nope, the sun will still come up Saturday morning and all will be well.
Chase: Yes. The world is ending. Obviously, Jeff Bourne needs to fire all the coaches right away.
Sam: NDSU has suffered much, much, much worse regular season losses than to a team ranked No. 10 at the time and still won a national title. All the goals are still in reach for JMU.
Preston Adams – With the way Dartmouth handled Yale on Friday, should they be the odds on favorite to win the Ivy League, or do you see Princeton still having something to say about it?
Brian: Whew, that Dartmouth-Princeton game is going to be a monster eh? Look, if you can knock around this Yale team? You're legit. That's a good team.
Chase: Great question. I think you still have to give Princeton a slight edge just because the offense is so dynamic and the game with Dartmouth is in Jersey. With that being said, Dartmouth's offensive line has looked really impressive, so I wouldn't be surprised if they end up taking home the hardware at season's end. First and foremost, you win the Ivy League with a strong offensive line.
Brandon Owens – What does all of these surprise wins and teams mean for the FCS? Does it make the FCS look more competitive?
Brian: It's a matter of perspective I guess. Frankly? Yes, I think it makes the FCS look like it has more parity. Here we've spent the past 2.5 seasons saying this is a NDSU-JMU show, and then Elon comes along and NDSU gets pushed to the brink for three quarters this past week at UNI and had to come back to beat SDSU the week before. Some may call this weakness, I just call it parity because NSDU and JMU are still very strong.
Chase: You could make the case that it makes the FCS look more competitive, but you could make the case that the FCS actually looks less competitive, too. With a game like JMU-Elon, that's legitimate evidence that there could be another team cracking the elite upper echelon of teams that could genuinely compete for a nattie. On the other hand, an upset like Portland State beating Montana could suggest that the second tier of teams is closer to the bottom of the barrel than it is the top. So it could really go whatever direction you want it to go.
Sam: These surprises and upsets and close games is great for the FCS, in my opinion. It does make it look more competitive. And in the preseason, we said so many times that it's going to be NDSU-JMU in Frisco again. I still believe that's going to happen. But now we got some drama and excitement to get us there instead of these teams just cruising to the national championship like what happened for the most part last season. SDSU, EWU, KSU and now Elon all have entered as legitimate national title threats. And the more of these threats, the better for the FCS.
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