We’re neck deep in the college football season and the FCS Selection Sunday is less than two weeks away, so let’s take a quick look at some need-to-know storylines from the FCS to this point in the year.
The king is still the king. As dominant as Alabama has been at the FBS level, North Dakota State is every bit their equal. The Bison, 97-8 with six national championships in their last seven seasons entering this year, began 2018 at No. 1 and remain there today after a 9-0 start with only one win by single digits, a 21-17 defeat of No. 3 South Dakota State on Sept. 29. Chris Klieman’s team wrapped up a 74th straight (all numbers approximate) straight Missouri Valley championship with a 17-7 win over Youngstown State on Saturday and is cruising toward yet another No. 1 seed come Nov. 18.
UAB’s Bill Clark is the clear Coach of the Year at the FBS level. Is there an FCS equivalent? There sure is! Brian Bohannon launched the Kennesaw State football program in 2015, and now the Owls are among North Dakota State’s chief competitors just three years later. After reaching the FCS Quarterfinals a year ago, Kennesaw State is 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in the country after a 49-0 blanking of Campbell on Saturday.
🚨 CRAZY STAT UPDATE 🚨
✅ Chandler Burks has more rushing TD's than 212 of the 253 FCS and FBS football teams. 😳
✅ He leads all FBS and FCS players with 23 rushing TD's this year.
— Kennesaw State FB (@kennesawstfb) November 4, 2018
How’s James Madison doing? The only program besides North Dakota State to win an FCS national championship since 2011, James Madison entered the year at No. 2 and is now tied for fourth… in the CAA. The Dukes, 6-3 overall and 4-2 in conference play, have dropped two of their last four games and won another by three points. The CAA is the SEC of the FCS so Mike Houston’s club should be fine, but they’d better beat Rhode Island and Towson just in case.
Will Healy and Austin Peay were the Cinderella story of FCS in 2017. How are they doing this year? The Governors entered the year ranked at No. 22 but sit at just 4-5 on the year and 2-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference after a 17-13 loss to Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
Which first-year coach is looking like the best hire? That honor goes to East Tennessee State’s Randy Sanders. A career assistant coach in the SEC and ACC, Sanders took his first head coaching job in his native Tennessee and has had an immediate impact, turning the 4-7 Buccaneers into the co-champions of the SoCon at worst. ETSU is 8-2 heading into its bye week and can clinch the outright conference title with a home win over Samford on Nov. 17.
Is there another longtime FBS coach having a great season in FCS? Have I reminded you that FCS football, much like the Big 12, is not intramurals, brother? After going 5-6 in Dan Hawkins’s first season, UC Davis is 8-1, ranked No. 4 in the country and leading the Big Sky Conference. The Aggies began the year with a win over San Jose State and have lost only to Stanford, which happens to be the only time UC Davis has been held under 42 points this season. UC Davis’s steamroller of an offense will play for at least a share of the Big Sky title Saturday against an Eastern Washington defense that is among the best in the country. (Weber State, 7-2 and a 14-6 winner over EWU, also merits mention here.) The 7-2 Eagles (5-1 Big Sky) have held all but one FCS foe to 17 points or fewer.
Princeton won’t play the Playoffs, and that’s a shame. Bob Surace’s Tigers are 8-0 and on their way to the Ivy League title after a 14-9 win over previously unbeaten Dartmouth. Princeton has allowed one team to top the 10 point mark and held five opponents to single digits while scoring 45 points or more six times.
But Princeton doesn’t even have the best defense in the FCS. Put Colgate defensive coordinator Paul Shaffner on your various Coach of the Year watch lists — the ‘gate defense has allowed 23 points all season. Colgate, 8-0 and champions of the Patriot League, hasn’t been scored upon since a 27-3 win over Bucknell on Oct. 6 and hasn’t surrendered a touchdown the 6:59 mark of the fourth quarter in a 24-17 win over Holy Cross on Sept. 1. SEPTEMBER 1!!!! The Raiders’ defense has pitched five shoutouts in eight games and scored more touchdowns (three) than it’s allowed (two).
Wait, how many teams make the playoffs again? 24.
And who gets those bids? Ten conference champions receive automatic bids — every league but the SWAC, the MEAC and the Ivy League — plus 14 at-large bids.
How many bids have been clinched so far? Two: North Dakota State and Colgate.
When is the bracket announced again? Nov. 18.
When and where is the championship game? The FCS National Championship returns to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, for the ninth consecutive season. It will be played Saturday, Jan. 5.