The one-and-only FCS spring season is in its penultimate week and there’s much to play for, for everyone still playing.
Conference titles on the line
Northeast: No. 25 Duquesne will host Sacred Heart for the NEC crown. A conference title is always a big deal, but winning would be especially big for either program, who have all of one FCS playoff victory between them. Duquesne holds that honor, taking down Towson in its most recent appearance (2018), while Sacred Heart has reached the field twice, losing to Fordham in both 2013 and ’14.
Ohio Valley: No. 10 Jacksonville State at No. 17 Murray State. J-State plays to keep a marathon season chugging a long a little while longer; the Gamecocks have played 10 games already, dating back to their Oct. 3 date with Florida State. John Grass’s team reached the playoffs each year from 2013-18, while Murray State hasn’t been since 2002. Dean Hood’s team was undefeated until last week, when a late field goal doomed them to a 34-31 loss to Austin Peay.
Big South: No. 7 Kennesaw State and No. 20 Monmouth will play for the Big South crown Saturday afternoon in… West Long Branch, New Jersey. Monmouth, in the figurative shadow of Atlantic City and the Statue of Liberty, is the reigning Big South champion and won its first playoff game ever in 2019. Kennesaw State has dropped one Big South game since the beginning of the 2017 season — a 45-21 drubbing at Monmouth’s hand in ’19.
At-large bid changes
The MEAC informed the NCAA this week it would not fill its automatic qualifier spot for the playoffs, which is bad news for that conference and good news for everyone else. The available number of at-large bids grew by 20 percent — from five to six.
So sacred are these spots that even North Dakota State, with their eight national titles since 2011 and their No. 2 ranking, will need to win their way in against No. 24 UNI and No. 4 South Dakota State.
San Diego, unbeaten and looking to break the FCS record for longest conference winning streak, is now on the outside looking in after losing to Davidson last weekend. Davidson can now win the Pioneer by beating either Presbyterian this Saturday or Stetson on the 17th. Lose your first conference game since 2015? Too bad, your season’s probably over.
The CAA has the potential to get truly nuts
The CAA split its 11-team roster into two divisions, where the 7-team North would play all six opponents once and the 4-team South would play its three opponents in a home-and-home format.
As it stands today, No. 8 Delaware is 3-0 in the North, No. 12 Richmond is 3-0 in the South and No. 1 James Madison is 2-0 in the South with no more games currently scheduled. The scenario for breaking the many possible ties is “simple and complicated at the same time,” CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio told me.
If every game had been played, the CAA’s AQ bid would go to the team with the conference winning percentage, and then the team that emerged from a series of tiebreakers. But since every game has not been played, the league’s champion will now be decided by a committee of CAA ADs, not including ADs from teams involved.
Richmond visits 1-2 William & Mary on Saturday and then their season is over, maybe (more on this in a minute.) Delaware plays a non-conference game with Delaware State this Saturday, but then visits 11th-ranked, 2-1 Villanova on the 17th. Even if Richmond beats William & Mary and Villanova beats Delaware next week, the Spiders wouldn’t necessarily be home free. In that scenario, the AD committee would then choose among among 3-0 Richmond, 3-1 Delaware and 3-1 Villanova.
But wait, it gets more complicated: As it stands today, No. 1 James Madison would not be eligible for the CAA title, since the 2-0 Dukes are one game short of the 3-game minimum. This weekend’s home game with Elon is off, and for now there’s nothing on the schedule beyond that.
Richmond is also off on the 17th, and both of the scheduled Richmond-JMU games were postponed/canceled. D’Antonio told me it’s possible a Richmond-James Madison game is played next weekend, but it would be up to the schools to make it happen.
And if you’re Richmond, what incentive would you have to schedule that game, particularly if you beat William & Mary this weekend? If that game doesn’t happen, the number of at-large slots essentially shrinks back to five, since there’s no way No. 1 James Madison isn’t gobbling up one of them.
Here’s who stands to win each conference heading into this weekend
Big Sky: No. 3 Weber State
Big South: No. 7 Kennesaw State/No. 20 Monmouth winner
Missouri Valley: Likely the NDSU/SDSU winner, but four teams are presently tied at 4-1
NEC: No. 25 Duquesne/Sacred Heart winner
Ohio Valley: No. 10 Jacksonville State/No. 17 Murray State winner
Patriot League: Bucknell/Holy Cross winner (April 17)
SoCon: No. 14 VMI
Southland: No. 5 Sam Houston State
The Rivalry lives
The pandemic cannot kill college football’s longest-running rivalry, only just delay it a little bit. Lehigh and Lafayette did not play in calendar year 2020, the first such time since 1896. But the game is going down this Saturday at Lafayette’s Fisher Field this Saturday — the 156th edition of The Rivalry.
Lafayette enters the game at 1-1, Lehigh at 0-2. Both have been eliminated from Patriot League contention, and so their entire spring seasons come down to this game. The winning team will say it was all worth it and then some.
HBCUs on TV
Delaware State hosts Delaware in the Route 1 Rivalry, aired 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. The teams have met just nine times previously, and Delaware State has never won. Heck, Delaware State gained its first lead in the series in the second quarter of the 2019 game — a 6-3 Hornets edge that later turned into a 31-13 Blue Hens win. But this will be the first game at DSU’s Alumni Stadium in Dover.
Elsewhere, Deion Sanders and Jackson State host Alabama A&M at 3 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN. This will be Alabama A&M’s SWAC debut this season, while Coach Prime’s bunch has seen its SWAC East lead disappear alongside a 2-game losing streak.
Finally, here’s a look at the top 25 schedule for this week:
1. James Madison (4-0) — Off
2. North Dakota State (5-1) — at No. 24 Northern Iowa (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
3. Weber State (4-0) — vs. Idaho State
4. South Dakota State (4-0) — Off
5. Sam Houston State (4-1) — vs. McNeese (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
6. North Dakota (4-0) — Off
7. Kennesaw State (4-0) — at No. 20 Monmouth (1 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
8. Delaware (3-0) — at Delaware State (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
9. Eastern Washington (4-1) — vs. Idaho
10. Jacksonville State (8-2) — at No. 17 Murray State (3 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN+)
11. Villanova (2-1) — Off
12. Richmond (3-0) — vs. William & Mary (1 p.m. ET, FloSports)
13. UC Davis (3-2) — Regular season complete
14. VMI (5-1) — Off
15. Missouri State (4-4) — vs. Youngstown State (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
16. Southern Illinois (4-3) — Off
17. Murray State (5-1) — vs. No. 10 Jacksonville State (3 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN+)
18. Nicholls (4-2) — vs. No. 23 Southeastern Louisiana (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
19. Incarnate Word (3-1) — vs. Northwestern State (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
20. Monmouth (2-0) — vs. No. 7 Kennesaw State (1 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
21. East Tennessee State (4-1) — at Mercer (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
22. Rhode Island (2-1) — Season over
23. Southeastern Louisiana (3-2) — at No. 18 Nicholls (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
24. Northern Iowa (3-3) — vs. No. 2 North Dakota State (5 p.m. ET, ESPN+_
25. Austin Peay (4-5) — at Eastern Illinois (2 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN+)
25. Duquesne (4-0) — vs. Sacred Heart (2 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN3)