In the FCS Huddle: Perhaps more than an early surprise
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - They have been saying for several years they are playing for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, but you have to wonder if the Fordham Rams actually believed it even three weeks ago.
Fordham basically has had no business thinking it could make the playoffs since it went to football scholarships in 2010 and the Patriot League made the Rams ineligible for its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
To have to string together an at-large resume is usually a bit much for Patriot programs, although it's happened before.
The other PL schools have since caught up to Fordham's forward thinking and begun to allow scholarship players, but the Rams are still ineligible for the automatic bid until next year - which doesn't help them out as they begin to realize that, yes, they can make the playoffs this year.
After beating CAA Football teams (Rhode Island and Villanova) in their first two games, Fordham stunned Temple, 30-29, on a touchdown in the closing seconds Saturday to move to 3-0 for the first time since 1998.
Quarterback Michael Nebrich has been nothing short of sensational as a first- year starter and Carlton Koonce is a Walter Payton Award nominee.
Seeing is believing for some of the unranked 3-0 squads on the cusp of the Top 25. No longer just an early season surprise, teams such as Fordham, Maine and Jacksonville State have to be reckoned with as dangerous teams. Maine is 3-0 for first time since 2002, while Jacksonville State has made it to the same mark under new coach Bill Clark while a lot of the focus rests elsewhere in the Ohio Valley Conference.
And add North Carolina A&T, which is 2-0 with wins over both Appalachian State and Elon of the Southern Conference, to the list of teams itching to emerge from the shadows in their conference.
The unpredictability of FCS football is half the fun.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/qhb7rfh.
With Fordham beating Temple and Bethune-Cookman handling FIU, FCS teams have a 13-68 record against FBS opponents. That's three more wins than last season.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: Wofford has rebounded from a disastrous Week 1 loss at Baylor to take control of the Southern Conference race with back-to-back wins over The Citadel and Georgia Southern. The Terriers, who somehow were picked fifth in the SoCon reseason coaches poll, have a particularly favorable schedule leading up to November.
Falling: Arkansas-Pine Bluff is off to an 0-3 start, which is one more loss than it had all of last season in winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference title and a school-record 10 games. The Golden Lions weren't so golden on special teams while they let a nine-point fourth-quarter lead slip away in a home loss to Alabama State on Saturday.
AROUND THE FCS
Big Sky: The headliner in the Big Sky Conference Saturday night was Montana junior Jordan Johnson being more efficient than any quarterback in conference history with a passing efficiency of 322.3 in a 55-17 win over North Dakota (15-for-19 for 354 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Grizzlies to touchdowns on their first eight drives). But really it was just another Saturday in the Big Sky, where offensive records seem to fall every week. Portland State, Montana, Idaho State and Eastern Washington rank 2-5, respectively, in total offense in the FCS.
Big South: OK, not so fast on the thought that the Big South is down following Stony Brook's departure. Gardner-Webb owns wins over Furman and Richmond and it's not even among the conference's two unbeaten teams: Coastal Carolina and Charleston Southern under new coach Jamey Caldwell. Throw in Liberty - maybe the best team in the conference? - and the four teams with first- and second- year head coaches are a combined 10-2.
CAA: Rhode Island ended the longest losing streak in the FCS at 15 (dating to 2011) with a 19-13 overtime win at CAA newcomer Albany. A softer portion of the schedule should give coach Joe Trainer a chance to get the Rams' program going again. They surprised with a 4-4 conference record in 2010.
Independents: Abilene Christian's transition from Division II to the FCS has been rather smooth, albeit against a creampuff schedule. But a 3-0 Wildcats team that is averaging 65.3 points per game will hit the road for all but one of its final eight games, a daunting task that includes next Saturday at a cranky Illinois State team. QB John David Baker is up to 14 touchdown passes without an interception.
MEAC: As impressive as Bethune-Cookman's first-ever win over an FBS opponent may be - 34-13 at FIU - South Carolina State's 32-0 shutout of Alabama A&M was what the conference needed most on Saturday. It bodes well for the conference nationally when the Bulldogs are strong under coach Buddy Pough. A tough early season schedule will make a difference after last season's rare losing record.
Missouri Valley: Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in a 31-10 loss to Charleston (W.V.) and could spend some more time on the sideline. Redshirt freshman Ryan West came on and threw a touchdown on his second pass attempt before later adding a second TD pass.
Northeast: Saint Francis put a 24-20 scare into James Madison and running back Kyle Harbridge continued his impressive return from an ACL tear. He had his second straight 100-yard game to start the season, setting the Red Flash's new career mark with his 21st touchdown run.
Ohio Valley: You can make the case that no FCS team has posted a more impressive start to the season than Eastern Illinois, which has defeated San Diego State and Southern Illinois on the road and manhandled Illinois State, 57-24, on Saturday. Jimmy Garoppolo's seven touchdown passes against ISU gave him 14 through the first three games.
Patriot: Look no further than an inability to stop the run as the reason defending league champion Colgate and Lafayette are a combined 0-5. Both teams are surrendering a ghastly 6.8 yards per carry, with Lafayette ranking 104th nationally and Colgate 109th in rushing defense.
Pioneer: Eric Hoffman's 495 yards and four touchdowns through the air weren't enough to keep Valparaiso from dropping a 36-34 shootout to William Jewell. Struggling Valpo's last three wins since 2008 are against Campbell, the Crusaders' next opponent on Sept. 28.
Southern: Furman avoided a third season-opening loss to a Big South squad when Jairus Hollman blocked a potential game-winning 23-yard field goal attempt with 18 seconds remaining, preserving a 21-20 victory over Presbyterian. Hank McCloud rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
Southland: The closest loss among the Southland's three games against FBS competition was by 56 points - Oklahoma State over Lamar, 59-3 - in a rough weekend for a conference that had been off to a great start. Central Arkansas fell at UT Martin and McNeese State snuck past West Alabama in the final minute. Thank goodness for ol' reliable Timothy Flanders and his Sam Houston State squad in a win over Texas Southern.
SWAC: It must be tough to rack up 772 yards of offense ... and lose. That's what happened to Prairie View A&M in a 62-59 double-overtime defeat to Southern. Dray Joseph's 480 yards and six touchdowns through the air for Southern offset Courtney Brown and Johnta Hebert rushing for 224 and 153 yards, respectively, as well as three touchdowns each for Prairie View. The teams combined for 1,397 yards of total offense.
Extra Point: There will be bigger Missouri Valley games ahead, but ESPN's "College Gameday" is scheduled to broadcast from North Dakota State's Fargodome prior to the Bison's matchup with Delaware State next Saturday. Gameday's other previous visits to non-FBS campuses in the past were at Penn in 2002, Division III Williams in 2007 and Florida A&M in 2008.
A LOOK AHEAD
The Week 4 schedule includes some big FBS opponents: Florida A&M at Ohio State, South Dakota State at Nebraska, Maine at Northwestern, Bethune-Cookman at Florida State and Eastern Illinois at Northern Illinois.
Within FCS circles, Stony Brook at Villanova is the big matchup in CAA Football, while Tennessee State visits Tennessee Tech in the Ohio Valley Conference opener.
The non-conference highlights include Liberty at Richmond, Southeastern Louisiana at Samford, Harvard at San Diego, Wagner at Delaware, Montana State at Stephen F. Austin, Weber State at McNeese State and Columbia at Fordham in the annual Liberty Cup, which honors those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on 9-11.
In addition, Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State will play in the first football game at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
09/15 13:04:11 ET