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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BennettRank: Where is JMU Ranked?
#AskHeroFCS Is NC A&T a Top 5 team? If not, assuming NDSU & JMU are locks, what three teams are hotter than the Aggies?
— Amos Faucette (@amosfaucette2) September 3, 2018
Brian: I don't know that N.C. A&T is a Top 5 team but I'd have them in my Top 10 in a heartbeat. The reason I say this is basically a comparison with Jacksonville State. I think ultimately JSU will pan out to be about a No. 5 to No. 10 type team when its offense finds itself. JSU and N.C. A&T were obviously comparable (3 points separated). I still think the FCS Top 2 is clearly above the rest of the country, and teams like Eastern Washington, Kennesaw State, South Dakota State, and maybe a couple of others look stronger to me than N.C. A&T.
Chase: I don't believe A&T is, no. All the credit in the world to the Aggies for posting two really great wins to start the 2018 season, but I think there are probably 10 other FCS teams that could string together wins against Jacksonville State and East Carolina, even in back-to-back weeks. That's not to say A&T isn't really good, because I think that's a well-coached team with a lot of great players. But if you're asking me who's better, I'll take Nicholls, Eastern Washington, and Villanova, just to name three teams off the top of my head. A&T is obviously in the midst of another great season, but we don't have to label them as the best team in the subdivision for their wins to resonate.
Sam: I have NC A&T as my No. 5 team in my Top 25. There's a good chance that can change, though, as other FCS teams earn more quality wins and NC A&T's strength of schedule weakens. There probably isn’t a hotter team in the FCS right now than the Aggies, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best team. I think NDSU, JMU, Kennesaw and South Dakota State would beat NC A&T and win by a few scores.
Who would win on a neutral field: NDSU or Michigan State?
— The Hot Route Podcast (@HotRoutePodcast) September 3, 2018
Brian: When it comes to the Big Ten, there are teams I think NDSU can beat on any given day, and others I'd say it'd have to be something really special. Normally I'd have Michigan State in the "tough to beat" category, but last week's Utah State game sort of makes me wonder. I still think I'd go with Michigan State here though, but I'd say it's a battle.
Chase: Michigan State. Next question.
Sam: Michigan State would win by a couple possessions. If the two teams played again the next week, Michigan State would win by five possessions.
Real question: I couldn’t figure it out last year. They were undefeated, so how come they didn’t play in the FCS playoffs?
— Toxic Pirate Fan (@ECUSkipBayless) September 3, 2018
Brian: The MEAC and SWAC champions are contractually obligated to go to the Celebration Bowl, which is played midway through December and is considered the HBCU National Title game. The only way N.C. A&T (or any MEAC team, for that matter) could make the FCS Playoffs is if it DIDN'T win the MEAC title … then the FCS Playoff committee will consider its resume. But it would take an impressive one to be a 9-2 or even 10-1 MEAC runner up. Lots of factors would come in to play.
Chase: I ask myself the same question every year about my undefeated Shenandoah Valley Ultimate Frisbee team. We want Bama! Or, at the very least, whoever the Bama of semi-pro Ultimate Frisbee is.
How big of an impact will Trevor Knights injury have on New Hampshire’s season?
— The4FCSFanatics (@FCSThe4) September 3, 2018
Brian: I really think this injury hurts a ton, as we saw on the field with Maine. Trevor is a special QB and one of UNH's cornerstones. As brutal as the CAA looks this year, coupled with UNH's non-conf sked in September when Trevor is likely out, it's going to be a tough road. And this year, we're not so sure 7-4 locks a team in with all the parity we're already seeing in the FCS.
Chase: Right now, Knight has a sprained AC joint. As of Monday, when I was on the conference call with Coach McDonnell, Knight's throwing arm was in a sling, and he was unlikely to play against Colgate this weekend. The magnitude of this injury obviously depends on if/when Knight comes back. If he finds his way back onto the field before the end of September and rights the ship, maybe UNH can still rally around a late playoff push. But as I mentioned earlier this week, Trevor Knight might not be New Hampshire's biggest problem.
Sam: Having Knight out an extended period of time could derail UNH’s season. But even when he’s back, the Wildcats still have major issues. Their offensive line was one of the worst in the FCS last year when it came to sacks allowed per game. Maine had six sacks in Week 1. The defense was also vulnerable last year and didn’t show much improvement in the first week. Maine isn't exactly an offensive powerhouse either.
Should any teams be worried after their performance this weekend? Delaware, Youngstown, SUU, Idaho, UNH?
— Tiny (@AMuehlberg) September 3, 2018
Brian: I think all five you listed have to be worried at least a bit. Delaware seems to be searching for its offensive identity, a problem it had last year. YSU lost to a non scholarship program, which makes you question the 'Guins heart. UNH is understandable because of a massive injury that changed the dynamic, but I'm sure the 'Cats are looking for answers. SUU and Idaho should be worried because of how brutal the Big Sky is, and they both were deprived of a victory on their schedules — and there's no guarantee 7 wins gets a Big Sky team in this fall. So yes, I think there are some concerns.
Chase: Youngstown is the one that jumps off the page at me. There are rumblings of some locker room issues over in Ohio; I don't know if that's true, but I know they lost to a non-scholarship team last Saturday. It's kind of hard to make your playoff case in November when you're 7-4, along with 20 other worthy playoff teams, and your resume has a loss to Butler on it.
Sam: I think Delaware will be alright, but the other teams should have major concerns. YSU’s loss was terrible and the Penguins will now likely go 1-2 heading into Valley play. SUU was motivated to prove the doubters wrong coming off a Big Sky title, but their loss to North Alabama was’t good. We touched on UNH above. And Idaho…man Idaho was an interesting team because on paper the Vandals should be able to come into the FCS and be a top team. However, I can’t see any of the Top 15 teams in the FCS losing 79-13 to Fresno State.
Seeing a team like A&T impressively go 2-0 vs a top 15 FCS power and an FBS opponent, will the subdivision miss out by the exclusion of HBCU schools from the postseason playoff?
— Matthew Krier (@matthewkrier) September 3, 2018
Brian: I don't know about "miss out", but how nice would it be if we could satisfy that curiosity and see what N.C. A&T would do? There's still a slight, slight chance it could happen if the Aggies slip up once in the MEAC and finish 10-1 and say … Howard is 8-0 in the MEAC and takes the title (N.C. A&T and Howard don't play each other). So it's not impossible, but it's unlikely we'll see the Aggies in the playoffs.
Chase: You'd have to talk to Greensboro about that, man. I'd love to see A&T in the playoffs, but when they obligated themselves to skip the playoffs and go to the Celebration Bowl, they pretty much absolved the FCS playoffs of any exclusionary culpability.
Sam: This is a tough situation because this kind of NC A&T team doesn’t come around too often. The HBCU conferences decided to create their bowl game because they routinely got whooped in the playoffs. Now, this year’s Aggies team would compete well in the playoffs. But you can’t say, “this year we want the MEAC champion to make the playoffs, but this year only.” While it would be fun to see them in this year’s bracket, I don’t think the MEAC and SWAC are all of a sudden going to want to partake in the FCS playoffs once again just because A&T defeated an often overrated JSU team and an awful FBS team. If a MEAC or SWAC team starts knocking off teams from the Big Sky, CAA or MVFC during the nonconference, then I think it's a much more fair question on if these teams should return to the playoffs. But that hasn't happened yet.
Do you think it will be easier to convince student athletes to redshirt their first year with the new 4 game rule and will this lead to less true freshman playing all season? Lots of true freshman played the first week it seems. Thx!
— Kyle Larson (@KyleLar18846137) September 3, 2018
Brian: Yes, I think you nailed it on the head. Hey, in your first four games in the FCS, you usually have at least 2 games that are blowouts — either in the good way or the bad way. You might play a P5 and lose by 40 or 50. Why would you want your starters in there in the second half? Play the youngsters. Same goes for the early blowout wins. Get the kids in there, let them get a taste of it all, learn the speed, feed the hunger to train hard over the next year until its their full-time turn. Hey, the FCS doesn't have an endless number of roster spots … so this method works great.
Chase: In my experience, there's not much "convincing" that goes into the redshirt decision. Coaches generally go to players and tell them, "Hey, guess what? You're redshirting this year." Different players handle that revelation in different ways, but often times, it's a bummer. I was just talking to JMU's Keshaun Moore a few days ago, who redshirted during his first year with the program last season, and we were talking a little bit about his wanting to come in and play right out of the gate. Disappointment is the natural reaction for a lot of guys, but to your point, I do think the idea that a player could still play while redshirting in his first season could be a light in a dark place, so to speak.
Sam: Ultimately it’s up to the coaches on who’s going to redshirt. If I’m recruiting a player and he straight up tells me he wants to play right away and there’s no convincing him otherwise, then I might look elsewhere because that’s an ego waiting to poison the locker room. But on another note, a positive about this redshirt rule is it keeps true freshmen on their toes at all times. In the past, come Week 3, these guys know they’re probably not going to play and are just on scout team the rest of the year. They can check out mentally. But now they can be thrown into action at any week if the coaches are impressed with them in practice, and that keeps them more involved and feel a part of the team in their first year on campus.
After seeing this weeks games, Is JMU @ Villanova on 10/13 going to end up being the biggest game in the CAA this season? Also can Maine make a splash? They avoid JMU UDel and SBU, and catch Villanova at home.
— Tyler Torborg (@TBorg33) September 3, 2018
Brian: I think JMU at Villanova looms large. I honestly thought it was a pretty decent game last year, even with 'Nova's starting QB out. Nova punches you in the mouth defensively, and that will make for a good matchup in any game. And yeah, Maine showed they're in the ballgame too. We totally screwed up in our assessment of the Black Bears, if Week 1 was any indication. They looked good.
Chase: I'm not ready to write off JMU at UNH after just one week — particularly when you consider that the Dukes don't go to Durham until November. That's a lot of time to get everything right up there. But yes, Villanova v. JMU is a big game, and probably one that should have been more prominently underscored by media in the preseason. Villanova's funky defense has a history of clogging up JMU's offense, from Mickey Matthews-era teams all the way up through last season's College GameDay contest. The fact that it's the final game before JMU's bye week makes things even spicier. As for Maine, I want to see a little more before I'm willing to anoint them as a real player. Their next four games are two FBS teams, a really good Yale squad, and the matchup with Villanova. There's a very real chance they're 1-4 this time next month. I need more data points, and I'm not going to get any good ones for another few weeks.
What do y'all think of North Alabamas win on the road at Southern Utah?
— Brandon Haddock (@haddock_brandon) September 3, 2018
Brian: I wrote North Alabama's preview this summer and said flat out — its only a matter of time before North Alabama is a factor in the FCS. I didn't think it'd be THIS quick, but I figured the traditional D-2 power would make a dent here. Beating the defending regular season Big Sky champions ain't too shabby.
Chase: Very intriguing. I'm been a standard-bearer for Southern Utah over the past couple years, because I think it's BS that they have the success that they do, only to have everyone forget about it the following year when it's time to vote on the preseason Big Sky Media Poll. It does look like 2018 actually could be a down year for them, though. Not much shame in that, when you consider how much the Thunderbirds turned over after last season.
Sam: I knew North Alabama would have great athletes at the skilled positions. This was a really good Division II program who's in a recruiting hotbed. I wasn’t so sure about the offensive and defensive lines at the D1 level. But those units battled SUU all game. And keep in mind, SUU has three preseason All-Conference Big Sky offensive linemen. This was a huge splash and shows North Alabama isn’t going to need a few years to compete at the FCS level. Now, there is a chance SUU takes a big step back this year after winning the Big Sky title. So a bigger test for the Lions is going to the Fargodome next weekend.
@BrianMacWriter NDSU question Brian..Cal Poly had a couple long completions against Bison Secondary. when they had time to throw, corners got burned pretty bad. A concern for Klieman's stout defense?
— Dan Lynum (@danlynum77) September 2, 2018
Brian: I think Cal Poly's whole offense — like many of the trickier option style 'Os" — is to run, run, run, run, run and then try to burn you deep via the pass a few times in the game. I think that's more what you're looking at than any kind of breakdown. If you ever look at say, what Georgia Tech does … the whole defense pulls in, and then big shock: A Calvin Johnson or a Demaryius Thomas burns you deep over the top. That's why Johnson and Thomas were there in the first place. Justin Sumpter at Kennesaw plays that role well too … he waits for his handful of shots a game, but when they come, they give him a chance to go deep and bust the defense. I think the real question you have to ask is this: What did a run-dominated offense from Cal Poly produce against NDSU: 82 rushing yards. That's probably about 250 to 300 fewer than it'll average this year. I don't see reason for concern here.
Sam: I’m not too worried honestly. This certainly is the most depth an NDSU secondary has had since this run of national titles began. It definitely has a chance to be the most talented too. NDSU is going to take its defensive scheme against Cal Poly and throw it in storage for the next time they face a triple option team, which isn’t going to happen for a while. Against a more conventional offense, the corners are going to be fine. Allison is one of the most underrated CBs in the FCS and Bridges is going to be a star.