Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag. Every week our crew will take Twitter questions and give in-depth answers on Thursday afternoons. They will also choose the best question and discuss it on the FCS Podcast.
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Can JSU still be a legitimate FCS title contender in 2018 after their week zero performance?
Brian: I think this boils down to how much the offense can "come around". Clemson transfer Zerrick Cooper is a talent, and he warmed up as the game went along. Shaq Davidson is a former South Carolina WR with a ton of talent, and he made some plays. RB Tramel Terry is a former UGeorgia talent, but he was injured.
My question for JSU is this: Can this group of offensive players get it together and find its chemistry. It is clear there is talent here, and it was clear on Saturday that the defense is legit. If the Cooper-Shaw-Tramel etc train gets out of the station? This could be interesting. With a transfer army? Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn't … but if they catch fire? Yes, they can be around in December for sure.
Chase: Honestly, I wasn't all that convinced they were a legitimate title contender before the Week 0 performance. So I'd have to say no here. However, there's a reason teams set multiple goals for a season instead of just aiming at a natty from the start of preseason camp.
The Gamecocks can still grow as a team and get better throughout the season. They can still win another OVC title. They can still extend their conference win streak. They can still make the playoffs. There are plenty of worthwhile goals for JSU, so it's a little unfair to the team to just throw them in the waste basket and move on.
Sam: I haven't had JSU as a legit national title threat since the 2016 season. This is still a solid team with talent that needs to put it all together as a group and not have so many individuals running around out there.
I don't take a program that has lost right away in the playoffs as the No. 3 seed two years in a row and are also breaking in several new starters as a national championship contender. Not until they prove it in the playoffs.
What are the top three conferences in FCS? My opinion MVFC, Big Sky, CAA. In that order
— Andy Rieckhoff (@AndyOnTheAM) August 27, 2018
Brian: I think you have the correct three, with the SoCon nipping at No. 3 based on what I'm seeing. I'm not sure exactly what order I'd put those first three in at this point. Some days I think the Valley is on top (talking about 2018, not any other year) and sometimes I think CAA.
I think the Big Sky is going to be better this year so that may solidify No. 3, but if the Big Sky doesn't measure up? I think SoCon could slip in there. And while we're at it, who is No. 5 and No. 6? I'd go OVC then Southland as a collective.
Chase: 2. CAA, MVFC, Big Sky, in that order. This is something that I've talked about a lot over the years, and I've always been pretty consistent on it. When I'm ranking conferences at any sport in any level, I'm looking at the amount of depth you have, and I'm looking at the quality of that depth. For me, a balance between those two criteria is critical. When you look at the Big Sky, they have a lot of depth, but I'm not sure how much of it is, say, Top-15 quality.
When you look at the Valley, we know how good the team at the top of that conference is, but the supreme greatness of one individual team doesn't buoy an entire 10-team conference. I think the CAA has the right balance of 2-3 really strong teams at the top and 4-5 more playoff-quality teams behind them. The CAA was probably overrated in 2017, but I like them an awful lot in 2018. Depending on what happens with some of the Valley's second-tier teams, I'm prepared to rank them behind the Colonial.
Sam: It all depends which way you want to answer it. Bison fans seems to be infuriated when people say the CAA is the best conference in 2018. "Look at what the MVFC has done in the playoffs in recent years!" Well the past has nothing to do with 2018. So I'll answer it like this.
Which conference has been the best since 2014: The MVFC.
Which conference looks like it'll be the best in 2018: The CAA. Then the MVFC. Then the Big Sky. If you just look at the amount of teams and what they have returning in the CAA versus the question marks surrounding several teams in the Valley, I don't think it's ridiculous to say the CAA looks like it'll be better. Now, those question marks in the MVFC are going to be answered come Week 5, then we'll know for sure how strong the Valley is and my answer may change.
#AskHeroFCS After JSU's loss last night, how many teams have a legitimate chance to win the championship? Or was JSU just overrated like usual?
— Tiny (@AMuehlberg) August 27, 2018
Brian: Let's face it @AMuehlberg … this season is North Dakota State's to lose. Nobody questions it. I have a hard time saying any other program has a "legitimate" chance to win in 2018. I see NDSU going undefeated and winning the title. Do I see that in 2019? Absolutely not. Trust me, I'm not mesmerized and think NDSU will win the next 20 titles in a row, but what they do is special.
This year may be a bit boring for those hoping for something else to bubble up, but 2019? I already can't wait. That will be the year of FCS parity.
Chase: Two. One game hasn't done anything to change my mind. Until somebody convinces me otherwise, the only two teams I think have a shot in 2018 are the last two national champions.
Sam: My stance since Jan. 6, 2018, after the final whistle blew in Frisco hasn't changed. With what NDSU has coming back, the Bison are the clear-cut favorite. JMU, who looks like it's about to reload, is the clear No. 2. And from what we saw in the semifinals with the blowouts, no team really touched these two in 2017.
I don't care what happened in the regular season, the playoffs tell me more. I believe South Dakota State is going to take a small step back. And I don't see a team taking a huge step forward to challenge JMU or NDSU when it comes to the playoffs. So I still believe there are only two legitimate national title contenders.
Who is the worst team in all of the FCS? #AskHeroFCS
— Joshua Pfau (@silentp34) August 27, 2018
Sam: The 2018 preseason Sagarin Rankings has Davidson as the worst team in Division I. We will see how the season shakes out, though.
— Jack Dura (@JackFromNoDak) August 27, 2018
Brian: Well … let's go with just freshmen here. And since it doesnt appear any true freshmen will be massive contributors if you look at the depth chart, we'll go with Redshirt Freshmen. With Cal Poly and North Alabama the first two weeks, I think NDSU fans will get a chance to see some true young talent in the 2nd half.
Now, neither Cal Poly or UNA are complete patsies. Both are programs with pride, and they'll be around for a bit, but ultimately I think some young kids will play. I'm curious to see QB Holden Hotchkiss from my neck of the woods down here in Florida.
Look, Easton Stick isn't going to have 27 years of eligibility, even though it seems like it. Somebody is going to have to take snaps next year. Holden is your guy. He played for a legendary coach down here in Florida at Lakeland HS, Bill Castle. Coach and I have …. ahem …. talked over the years (no reason to elaborate, but I'll fill you in if you're bored).
Coach Castle produced talent. Ask several NFL teams. Holden comes from a big-time program and I think Fargo will know that by this time next year. CB Josh Hayes is another from Lakeland, Fla. who Bison fans know about already, but he's going to be a future monster. Lastly, I'd say O-linemen Nash Jensen and Zach Willis (who declared for NDSU with HERO Sports) are guys to keep an eye on.
Sam: To be honest, there aren't many shoes to fill this year. The Bison's two-deep is pretty loaded with returning talent and upperclassmen. A young name to keep an eye on is left tackle Dillon Radunz. He was set to be the starter last year as a redshirt freshman before tearing his ACL early in Game 1.
The Bison have slid last year's starting LT Colin Conner to guard and Radunz is back at tackle. He's only a sophomore, but he's already gotten huge praise and hype as being the next great Bison LT, which NDSU has had two NFL picks from that position since the 2014 draft.
Other underclassmen to watch for next year that are going to be big-time names: Fr. WR Phoenix Sproles (yes, Darren is his cousin), RFr. WR Christian Watson, RFr. SS Michael Tutsie and RFR. tight ends Noah Gindorff and Josh Babicz. These guys are all going to be stars.
Also, while Hotchkiss is talented like Brian mentioned, I'm a firm believer Trey Lance is going to take over as starting QB next year as a redshirt freshman and be a four-year starter. Lance told me the day before he signed with NDSU in December of 2017, Boise State called him and said: "If you don't sign with NDSU tomorrow, we'll have an offer waiting for you." Lance is the future for the Bison.