Welcome to the HERO Sports FCS Mailbag, week 9 edition. FCS writers Brian McLaughlin and Sam Herder will take questions each week on Twitter and give in-depth answers. Tweet them both at @BrianMacWriter and @TheHerd215 to get your questions answered!
Sam: Winning out and going 7-4 gets the Panthers in. That would mean a win this week against South Dakota, giving them that ranked win along with wins against South Dakota State and Youngstown State. I don’t think they get in at 6-5, although there’s a chance. It depends on how other teams do. There’s just too many zero to two loss teams right now in the Valley for UNI to sneak in ahead of others at 6-5. [divider]
Who do you think is the 3rd best team right now between UCA and JSU?
Brian: Neither. As of today I think South Dakota is the No. 3 seed. But of course that will get challenged in the coming weeks. I have Jacksonville State and Central Arkansas No. 4 and No. 5 because they don't face the gauntlet in conference that Missouri Valley teams face. I will say this, if JSU and UCA both finish 10-1, I'd give the slight nod to Jacksonville State, but UCA is going to get a first-round bye and host at least the first round based on what we're seeing today.
Sam: It’s tough to compare the two right now, but we will have a common opponent after this weekend when JSU plays Murray State, who the Bears beat 41-13. While I think there are a few teams out of the CAA and MVFC that are better than these two, between the two of them I’d say JSU has the edge.
JSU’s defense is legit with Darius Jackson leading the way. Hayden Hildebrand is terrific at quarterback for an explosive UCA offense. But if these two were to meet on the football field, I say the better defense comes out on top. [divider]
Brian: I'm in Florida, it's never cold. Well, I take that back … it got into the 60s once.
Sam: I do have a lot of experience eating in the middle of a cold parking lot before a football game in North Dakota. My favorite is probably some type of homemade chip dip out of a crock pot. Nice and warm and easy to eat with gloves on. Throw in some Fireball and it’s almost like ND winters are tolerable. [divider]
.@BrianMacWriter In a rematch, whose offense should be more concerned JMU or NDSU?
Brian: At this point, I'd say James Madison's but this is really, really splitting hairs here — I think both teams are extremely balanced. In fact, they're mirror images of each other, and if the season ended today, neither team would have homefield advantage because they'd meet in Frisco after being placed on opposite ends of the playoff bracket. The reason I say JMU is because of what a very good defense (Villanova's) did to the run game (only 45 yards rushing on 30 carries).
The JMU run game has produced 4 rushing TDs in 5 CAA games, and 3 of those rush TDs came against William & Mary. On flip side Bryan Schor has picked up the slack through the air. My guess is North Dakota State would force Schor to beat them. But again, this is splitting hairs because JMU will likely force Easton Stick to beat them too. My eyes are crossed now, by the way. Thanks.
Sam: Both offenses should be concerned honestly, but in the spirit of answering the question, JMU’s offense should be more worried. While the Dukes have played some great defenses, there’s still worry from some JMU fans about the lack of a run game. And that’s concerning for a team that wants to be physical. The Bison are No. 3 in the country in rushing defense, allowing 2.23 yards per carry and only 69.1 yards per game. It’s tough to see JMU defeating the Bison because of its running attack. (Keep reading for my take on Bryan Schor making up for that). The secondary is solid as well with three all-conference type players back there. NDSU is No. 1 in the country with 119.1 passing yards allowed per game.
With that said, JMU’s defense is dang good as well. I say the Dukes’ offense should be more concerned just because the Bison haven’t had much struggles offensively this season. Quarterback Easton Stick wasn’t very good against a very solid UNI defense, but NDSU’s offense still scored 30 points, 23 in the second half. [divider]
Thoughts on this: if NDSU & JMU each finish regular season undefeated, who will have better resume & stronger claim to No. 1 playoff seed?
Brian: As of today, I'll say James Madison because neither of these teams have had even a blip on their schedules and lets face it, JMU beat NDSU last time they met and these teams are still like 80 to 90 percent intact from last year. But we still have three weeks to go, so who knows? I think JMU has the easier 3 weeks ahead, so I think it's looking pretty good that they'll get No. 1. But really? It doesn't matter a whole lot — both would have homefield advantage throughout until Frisco.
Sam: Here’s how the resumes look right now: JMU has an FBS win and two ranked FCS wins (No. 11 Nova, No. 17 UNH). NDSU has four ranked wins (No. 6 EWU, No. 8 YSU, No. 10 WIU, No. 25 UNI). The Dukes have one more opponent who is currently ranked and the Bison have three.
If you put those two 11-0 resumes side by side without a name by them, I think NDSU has a stronger case to get the No. 1 seed. But as the defending champs who haven’t lost an FCS game in two seasons, I don’t think you pull the Dukes from No. 1 unless they lose.
Here’s another thought I’ll thrown out there. Everyone, including me, says the No. 1 and 2 seeds don’t matter. But maybe that’s something we shouldn’t say so lightly. Let’s say South Dakota continues to look really good and its only loss from here on out is a close one to NDSU. The Coyotes get the No. 3 seed and look much better than the 4-8 seeds. Then I think it’s a huge deal who gets the No. 1 or 2 seed and has to face USD in the semifinals. Yes, the top two seeds get homefield advantage if they keep on winning. But in the playoffs, it can be all about who has a favorable side of the bracket. [divider]
@PeterMooney09: JMU fans are freaking out about our lack of offense (I know, you can tell us to shush). As neutral observers, what do you think about the O?
Brian: Honestly? I think Cardon Johnson's injury is maybe hurting a bit more than I expected when it happened. Seeing the run game struggle in person like that with Villanova was interesting. I came away feeling that an elite defense could shut down the run game, and if you remember last year, the run game was the bread and butter in the playoffs. When Cardon went down, he was averaging 116 yards per game. Trai Sharp is averaging 68 a game and Marcus Marshall 52. However … freaking out? I don't think that's necessary.
Sam: It’s hard for me to give an in-depth answer on this because the only game I’ve been able to watch of JMU’s was against East Carolina. (Please, CAA, get a deal with ESPN3. It seems like a simple deal for the MVFC, it’s great for recruiting and the replay option is clutch.) (Also, if any JMU fans know where I can watch replays of JMU games, please let me know.)
But yeah, so it sounds like JMU’s running attack is struggling. The loss of Cardon Johnson appears to be more severe than it first appeared. And the offensive line is starting to take a hit with injuries. While I think JMU will still outmuscle teams from the Big Sky, Southland and Ohio Valley conferences in the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to beat MVFC teams if the run game can’t get going. And with five Valley teams likely to get in, the Dukes may see more than one again this season.
As a neutral observer, I’ll offer you this. Bryan Schor was the most impressive quarterback I’ve seen in person come to the Fargodome, and I’ve been fortunate to be at every home NDSU playoff game since 2010 and probably 80 percent of the home games. Schor’s poise, leadership and experience I think can make up for, say, if JMU can’t rush for more than 100 yards at some point in the playoffs. So don’t hit the panic button yet. [divider]
Brian: How do you know they haven't already? Did you follow last year's election cycle?
Sam: I think they already are. I’ve now come to the conclusion that Carson Wentz is a robot. There’s no way a person can be that good of a human being and that good of a football player. He was made in a lab built by the NFL Public Relations offices. They say he’s from Bismarck, N.D., because it’s so far off the grid. Stay woke, folks.
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