In the FCS Huddle: More than paper champions
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The preseason polls that all the FCS conferences put out in July or August are particularly fun because they get people talking at a time when they are craving football season.
What's great is some teams don't listen to the poll results.
On second thought, they do listen, and take it personally.
The polls, of course, don't mean a thing - never have, never will. Sometimes a team predicted to win a championship does just that, other times the conference goes in a completely different direction.
On Saturday, Lafayette finished off a surprise in the Patriot League and the Southern Conference ended in a three-way tie for the championship, although upstart Princeton was left disappointed in having to share the Ivy League crown.
Still, they were among champions that not a lot of people saw coming.
Lafayette didn't just throttle Lehigh to win the Patriot title and automatic qualifier to the FCS playoffs, but the team picked fourth in the league's preseason poll became the first team to advance to the postseason with a losing record - 5-6 overall but 4-1 in the games that mattered most.
In the Southern Conference, Georgia Southern was the preseason pick by the coaches, but the title was shared by Chattanooga (third), Samford (fourth) and Furman (seventh). Furman earned the automatic playoff bid on a tiebreaker.
Princeton, picked fifth in the Ivy League, settled for a share of the title with Harvard after Saturday's loss to Dartmouth.
Those teams joined conference winners such as Maine in CAA Football (after being picked eighth); Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference (seventh and last); Marist in the Pioneer Football League (sixth), with a share of the title with playoff-bound Butler; and Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference (fifth in the head coaches' poll). In addition, Jackson State and Southern were picked second in their respective divisions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but they are bound for the championship game on Dec. 7.
In the 13-team Big Sky Conference, Eastern Washington being picked second wasn't far off base. And all hail preseason picks North Dakota State (Missouri Valley Football Conference), Eastern Illinois (Ohio Valley Conference), Coastal Carolina (Big South Conference) and Bethune-Cookman (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), which shared the title with South Carolina State, for living up to the preseason pressure.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/lmznw2e.
Georgia Southern's final game on the FCS level was its first-ever win against an FBS team, 26-20 over Florida in the Swamp. The Eagles nearly had three 100- yard rushers with Jerick McKinnon (125 yards, one touchdown), Kevin Ellison (118, two) and William Banks (94, one).
FCS teams finished 16-92 against FBS competition - a single-season record for victories.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: A 24-3 win over Maine on Saturday might be enough to allow New Hampshire to continue its run of nine straight playoff bids - the longest active streak in the FCS. A 17-0 loss to William & Mary, though, could be a problem on the Wildcats' 7-4 resume as they seek a third CAA Football bid behind Maine and Towson.
Falling: With a playoff bid a win away on Saturday, Lehigh (lost to Lafayette in the Patriot League), Charleston Southern (lost to Liberty in the Big South Conference) and Montana State (lost to Montana in the Big Sky Conference) each likely left itself short of the postseason. The playoff chances also dimmed for Chattanooga, Southern Utah, Youngstown State and William & Mary, who all fell on Saturday.
PLAYOFF FIELD PROJECTION
1. North Dakota State, 2. Eastern Illinois, 3. Eastern Washington, 4. Southeastern Louisiana, 5. Towson, 6. McNeese State, 7. Montana, 8. Maine.
Lafayette/New Hampshire winner at No. 1 North Dakota State
Sacred Heart/Fordham winner at No. 8 Maine
Furman/South Carolina State winner at No. 5 Towson
Samford/Jacksonville State winner at No. 4 Southeastern Louisiana
Bethune-Cookman/Coastal Carolina winner at No. 3 Eastern Washington
Sam Houston State/Northern Arizona winner at No. 6 McNeese State
Tennesse State/South Dakota State winner at No. 7 Montana
Butler/Northern Iowa winner at No. 2 Eastern Illinois
AROUND THE NATION
Two distinguished coaching careers came to a close Saturday by near identical scores. Albany's Bob Ford lost 24-3 to Stony Brook and Robert Morris' Joe Walton lost 23-3 to Saint Francis (Pa.). Each is the only head coach in their program's history. ... In winning a share of the Southern Conference title, Furman rallied from a 14-0 second-quarter deficit for a 27-14 victory over Wofford. Coach Bruce Fowler's Paladins (7-5, 6-2) won their final five conference games after a 1-2 start. ... Harvard beat Yale for the seventh straight year, and 12th time in the last 13 years, in "The Game," riding Paul Stanton's four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving). The rivalry matchup drew 50,934 to the Yale Bowl. ... Mercer (10-2) topped Stetson, 41-14, to set an NCAA standard for wins by a first-year program. The Pioneer Football League program will move to the Southern Conference next season. ... Eastern Illinois senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo finished the regular season with 4,489 yards and 48 touchdowns through the air. He threw only eight interceptions. ... Towson running back Terrance West raised his season totals to 1,875 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns in a 28-17 victory over James Madison. ... Johnta Hebert rushed for 250 yards on 35 carries as Prairie View A&M (6-6) beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 43-23, in the SWAC. ... Quarterback Jeff Mathews ended his great career at Cornell by passing for 467 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-41 win over Penn. ... Although it managed three wins this season, Idaho State's 32-7 loss at Weber State was its 45th straight on the road dating to 2006. ... Jacksonville State (9-3) has come knocking on the playoff door, hoping to give the Ohio Valley Conference a third team (after Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State) following a 42-34 win over Southeast Missouri State. DaMarcus James rushed for 206 yards with three touchdowns, which give him 23 this season. ... Like Georgia Southern, Appalachian State ended its final FCS season Saturday, posting a 48-27 victory over Western Carolina. ... Villanova used a 23-0 run in the final 8 minutes, 1 second to edge rival Delaware, 35-34. Quarterback John Robertson totaled 417 yards (165 rushing) and four touchdowns in the win. ... Austin Peay (0-12), Davidson (0-11) and Columbia (0-10) finished the season winless.
A LOOK AHEAD
The FCS playoff pairings will be announced on Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPNU). The 24-team playoffs will begin with eight first-round games next Saturday.
There are two final regular-season games in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Alabama State will host Division II Stillman in the Turkey Day Classic on Thursday, while Grambling State and Southern will meet in the Bayou Classic at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday.
11/23 21:53:09 ET