Week 12: Colonial Championship Game! UMass’ last stand.

I am going to take this opportunity to apologize because I was unaware that Central Arkansas was still in transition from Division II and is still not eligible for the playoffs.  That means that my potential brackets for the playoffs have been messed up from the beginning.

So to make this easier on me and you since I have been quite busy lately, I direct you to the ever cognizant Bruce Dowd from College Sporting News and his playoff explanations and predicitions.  It’s a very well written in depth article and should answer any questions people have.  Another plug I’ll put in is for the new FCS Bracketology site.  A simple yet fantastic site that is update weekly based on all the goings on in FCS.

Now, on to the game of the week!  JMU (8-1, 6-0) is poised to make history this weekend in many forms.  They are trying to win seven conference games for the first time ever, win the automatic bid for the first time ever, and take down a top 15 team for the fifth time in a season which would also be a first.

Of course they have a formidable foe to get through in order to accomplish these feats.  The Tribe of William & Mary (7-2, 5-1) have shot up the ranks by winning five straight conference games and can swipe the automatic bid from the Dukes if they can win this one.  They have been averaging 34 points a game and have relied mostly on the pass, something that has hurt the Dukes’ defense this year.  Luckily for JMU, they are playing at home where the defense has been stout, allowing only 15 points a game.  The Tribe have never faced a defense like that and there’s something else they’ve never faced:

SCOTTY MCGEE!  YOU. ARE. RIDICULOUS!!!

SCOTTY MCGEE! YOU. ARE. RIDICULOUS!!!

Yes sir.  The Devin Hester of DI-AA.  McGee has four return touchdowns this season which is a school record.  Something tells me the Tribe will get cocky at some point and send the ball his way but as NC Central, App State, Richmond and Delaware will all tell you: DON’T KICK TO HIM!

In other CAA news, UMass is pretty much gone after its shocking 21-20 defeat at home to Maine.

Liam Coen sits dejected as he watches the game and most likely the season end for his Minutemen.

Liam Coen sits dejected as he watches the game and most likely the season end for his Minutemen.

The Minutemen have one last shot to impress the committee by upsetting New Hampshire in Durham this weekend but they will still be a longshot.  This is shocking considering UMass has one of the most lethal passing offenses in the country.  In the end it seems that their defense did them in and they will miss the playoffs.  It’s too bad that one of the best aerial displays won’t be around in the postseason but I’d be lying if I said I was not relieved to know this.

All photos courtesy of College Sporting News.

FCS Round 2 – Showdowns Galore!

Before I get to the preview, I came across this video that App State put together for the playoffs. Very well done using Jeremy Piven from his NBA Playoffs bits. If anything, it’s good for getting the FCS exposure on the internet and to show the world how you’re supposed to decide a national champion.  Thanks to ASU Video for this.

I’m getting over JMU’s heartbreaking loss in Boone last weekend and I’ve decided I’m good enough to write this preview so here it goes.

VS.     

It’s a battle tested #1 against a team that was dozing off by the fourth quarter of its game as Northern Iowa hosts Delaware. The Hens are coming off a 44-7 shellacking of in-state rival(can we call them that now?) Delaware State. UD looked superior in all facets of the game and had the game won by the half. The same cannot be said for the Panthers. Facing elimination with 1:10 left, their superstar QB Eric Sanders led them down the field 71 yards and threw a 15 yard strike to knock off the upstart New Hampshire Wildcats.  The question now becomes what team benefitted more? The one that got a challenge or the one that looked like it was playing a Pee Wee team? Knowing the Hens, they’re coming into this game believing they’ll win it and why doubt them? They have the best RB in the nation in Omar Cuff and I swear Joe Flacco looked like Brett Favre out there the way he was zinging passes to his receivers.  But the Panthers are once again at home and Sanders is no slouch. They too are a high powered offense and can score points with the best of them.  These two teams are so similar that its hard to find an X factor. I think however this is the upset special of the week. UNH almost beat N. Iowa and they relied on Ricky Santos. Delaware has a terrific QB but they have an even better RB and that multi-dimensional offense is what puts the Hens over the top.  You heard it here first (I think).  2 pm on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com Delaware 42, Northern Iowa 39

VS.    

Similar matchup to the one above in that one team (S. Illinois) walked all over its last opponent and the other (UMass) had a tougher game than they thought. I like this matchup a lot because it pits two of the best QBs in the nation against each other in the Salukis’ Nick Hill and the Minutemen’s Liam Coen. Coen had his best statistical day of the year with 419 yards passing and 4 TDs in UMass’ closer than it looks victory over Fordham 49-35. Hill wasn’t bad either: 234 yards and 2 TDs in the win over E. Illinois.  The key to the game is Coen beating that tough Saluki defense.  If he can manage it, I think the Minutemen have a chance. But to me, Hill and Co. are playing too well to be beaten at home and their stifling defense is what will make the difference on this day.  3:15 pm on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com Southern Illinois 27, UMass 20

  VS.     

Yet another showdown that pits one team lucky to still be here (ASU) and one that looked like it should’ve been seeded (EWU). We’ll see two different offenses clash as the more traditional Eagles with their pocket passing go against the spread option of Appalachian.  The key here is the Mountaineers keeping the EWU offense grounded which will probably mean off the field. Matt Nicholls and Dale Morris absolutely carved up McNeese State’s defense (434 yards passing and 130 yards rushing respectively) as the Eagles had 600+ offensive yards were on the field on offense for almost 2/3 of the time. ASU’s defense looked porous last week against JMU giving up 436 yards. If that doesn’t change, it will be a long day for the Boone faithful. Armanti Edwards has to take charge by scoring early and often especially if Kevin Richardson isn’t healthy.  Though it will be close and App will be helped by the home crowd, I see Eastern Washington continuing their impressive run as they move on the semifinals.  Noon on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com  Eastern Washington 34, Appalachian State 25

 VS.      

I figured I owed it to the Terriers to give them a scarier looking photo especially after beating the Grizzlies in Montana. That’s one reward and the other is getting a much deserved home game against a very strong Richmond team that absolutely dismantled Eastern Kentucky last week. If it weren’t for Delaware’s Omar Cuff, Tim Hightower would be the best RB in the country and they’ll need him to shine once more if they’re going to beat this Wofford team. While this Richmond team is one of the best in the nation, I just can’t go against a team that has beaten both Appalachian State and Montana in the same season. Let’s give some respect to these Terriers. 7 pm on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com  Wofford 23, Richmond 21

FCS Playoffs – Intrigue and Solid Matchups

Well just when you think you have it all figured out, the FCS Selection Committee does something to shock the nation once again. This year I was actually pleased with the brackets for the most part but one game caught me off guard and I’ll talk about that later on.  But here it is, the 2007 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Postseason Bracket!

         AT        

The bracket show opened with the shocker of the day. The New Hampshire Wildcats, despite a 4-4 conference record, made it into the tourney and their prize is a date in Cedar Falls with the #1 overall seeded Panthers. While shocking, I can also see why the committee decided to use a CAA team since there were so many questionable teams this year in terms of postseason resumes. This also matches up two Payton Award Finalist QBs with UNI’s Eric Sanders and UNH’s Ricky Santos both trying to win their first championship rings. While this game could become a shootout, I think the difference will be Northern Iowa’s defense as they get the key stops and preserve victory for the home crowd.   Northern Iowa 38, New Hampshire 27

      AT        

Yes folks its actually going to happen. For the first time ever, Delaware and Delaware State will meet in what is being dubbed “The First Battle of the First State.” This game is long overdue and what better way than to have the first meeting come in a do or die situation. Expect Delaware Stadium to be rocking as it already is one of the louder stadiums in the country but add Delaware State’s fan base, people who have longed to get a shot at the Hens for decades, to the mix and you get a recipe for one of the best matchups of the playoffs. The best part is that its televised this Friday at 1:30 pm on ESPN. Both offenses rely on their passing game as Delaware’s Joe Flacco and DSU’s Vashon Winston both have the ability to beat you with their arms. That may mean the deciding factor in this is Delaware’s Payton Award finalist RB Omar Cuff. Cuff has had an incredible year with 29 rushing TD’s. If the Hornets can’t stop him, expect the Hens to take this one in Newark.  This is shaping up to be a dandy.  Delaware 34, Delaware State 31

     AT     

The Panthers are making the three hour trip from Charleston to Carbondale for this intra-state rivalry that sees the 2nd place finishers in the OVC and the Gateway conferences clash. For Eastern Illinois, senior RB Ademola Adeniji finished the regular season with just under 1200 rushing yards and 15 TD’s and is the key to their offense. He needs to have a big game against SIU to give his Panthers a chance and not put all the pressure on young QB Bodie Reeder.  For the Salukis, two words: Nick Hill. The Senior Payton Award finalist had an incredible year passing with 2619 yards and 23 TDs for a passer rating of 175.5. Aside from Northern Iowa, this will be his toughest test of the year to date as he has to contend with a Panther defense that is led by Buchanan finalist Donald Thomas but he has the experience and receiving corps to put up the points that are needed. The home crowd will be the difference as Southern Illinois wins a close one.  Southern Illinois 24, Eastern Illinois 16

    AT        

It’s a battle in the Northeast as Fordham makes a return to the FCS Postseason and UMass returns to try and build on its runner up campaign last year. For the Rams to have any chance in this game, they need QB John Skelton to get going early and often. UMass has seemed to struggle if it gets down in games and Fordham has to get out of the gates early. But that will be a problem against a Minutemen defense that is led by Buchanan finalist LB Jason Hatchell. Over the last three regular season games, UMass gave up just 18 points while putting up big numbers through the air thanks to Payton finalist QB Liam Coen.  Coen has had an outstanding year with over 2200 passing yards and 23 TDs. Put all that together with the fact that the game is in Amherst and that tells me UMass will get it done in a very business like manner. You can catch the game on ESPNU this Saturday at Noon.  Massachusetts 41, Fordham 24

      AT       

You can impress a lot of people by saying you’re going to the Eagles/Cowboys game in Lake Charles, LA this weekend. Or you might just get weird looks but McNeese State and Eastern Washington fans know that this is the REAL matchup. It’s a high powered Eastern Washington offense vs. a shutdown McNeese State defense. The Cowboys are looking to put the clamps on QB Matt Nichols who passed for over 3000 yards and had 30 TDs while they will try to use their balanced attack to exploit the Eagles’ defense. Expect a mix of QB Derrick Fourroux passing and throwing in the option offense while also seeing a lot of RB Kris Bush. Fourroux’s favorite target is WR Carlese Franklin who caught almost 50 percent of Fourroux’s passes.  Meanwhile, Nichols and his big target WR Aaron Boyce are looking to continue their success through the air while RB Dale Morris will also look to get the ground game going against a stingy Cowboy defense led by their Buchanan finalist in DE Bryan Smith. It will be very close but I’m going to call the upset right now. I think Nichols has a career day and the Eagles escape the Bayou with a win.  Eastern Washington, 20  McNeese State 17

    AT     

What a matchup! The two teams who’ve combined to win the last three national championships are paired up in a contest in the North Carolina mountains. Both teams are familiar with each other as they played just 14 months earlier in Boone with the Mountaineers coming out on top 21-10. As much as I’d like to think my alma mater will pull this one off, the problem for me is that JMU has so many new faces and this is basically the same App State team from 2006 that won it all. Oh yeah and they also have that whole beating Michigan thing too. The BIG question mark for JMU will be Rodney Landers. He has looked very suspect passing the ball in recent weeks and if he can’t get that part of his game going, it will be a long afternoon for the Dukes. They need to establish the run early and mix in some throws to keep the Mountaineer defense off balance. For App State, they too have the spread option offense but Armanti Edwards and Kevin Richardson have demonstrated that they are the best at running it. Those are the two guys JMU needs to focus on if they want to have any chance in this game.  In the end, I see a close battle that may come down to the 4th quarter but in the end, experience wins out and the Mountaineers get the win and stay in Boone for another round.  Appalachian State 34, James Madison 21

    AT      

Well someone was going to have to make the trip to Missoula and unfortunately for the Terriers, they were picked. It’s a tough break for Wofford being that they were co-champs of the Southern conference and having beaten Appalachian State should’ve had priority but that’s how the ball bounces sometime. I personally thought JMU would end up here but those are the breaks. Wofford is not going to be a pushover for Montana at all and I’m sure Grizz fans are a little surprised to see such a strong opponent in the opening round. Once again, Montana went undefeated and grabbed a seed and they did with another balanced offensive attack. QB Cole Bergquist had over 2700 total yards while RB Lex Hilliard rushed for over 1000 yards to lead the Grizz.  To go with that, they have two very capable receivers in Ryan Bagley and Mike Ferriter who had almost identical stats. Then there is the outstanding defense led by Buchanan finalist Kroy Biermann who has an eye popping 15 sacks this season. Put that together and you might have the most complete team in the field.  Wofford however won’t come in intimidated. They know that they can exploit anyone on the ground with the powerful attack of RB Kevious Johnson along with their QB Josh Collier who had pretty equal stats rushing and passing this year.  Anyone that can beat Appalachian State should also be recognized as a force in the country. In the end though, I think Montana is too complete of a team and that’s a hell of a trek up to Montana for Wofford which could affect them. I think its close in the beginning but the Grizzlies pull away in the second half. Montana 35, Wofford 17

      AT       

A record five CAA teams made it in this year and Richmond was certainly deserving as they won the CAA South and narrowly missed the autobid thanks to losing on a coin flip to UMass in a very odd way of determining a conference champion. I saw this Spider team firsthand and they are very impressive both running the ball and on defense.  RB Tim Hightower once again had an impressive campaign finishing with 1500+ yards on the ground and 17 TDs. QB Eric Ward also was efficient with 1800 yards of passing and 12 TDs of his own. The Spiders will see a mirror image of themselves in the Ohio Valley champion Colonels.  They too are led by a senior RB in Bobby Washington who eclipsed the 1000 yard mark this year as well as QB Allan Holland who finished with just under 2000 passing yards and 14 TDs. This one I think will be one of those games that goes under the radar but will be a very closely contested battle as these teams look pretty evenly matched. It will most likely come down to who can make key defensive stops in the 4th quarter. I believe that will be the Spiders who will just be too good down the stretch and will pull this one out late in the game, possibly overtime.   Richmond 23, Eastern Kentucky 20

What is the Playoff Situation in the FCS?

Many people are wondering what the playoff situation looks like in the FCS following the craziness this past weekend. I will try to discern it as much as I can based on the auto bids that were won and all the at large teams jockeying for position.

 AUTOMATIC BIDS WON SO FAR:

Montana Grizzlies (Big Sky) – The Griz are 10-0 again and have already locked up the Big Sky Conference for what seems like the 63rd consecutive time. Thanks to their victory over Idaho State and Northern Arizona losing to Eastern Washington, the Griz have guaranteed a spot in the postseason once again.

Massachusetts Minutemen/Richmond Spiders (CAA) – UMass rebounded from a shocking loss at Rhode Island to thump fading New Hampshire and secure the CAA North. Meanwhile Richmond locked up the CAA South by winning perhaps the best game of the year over Delaware 62-56 in 5 overtimes. The Spiders essentially gain a playoff birth but neither they nor UMass have locked up the autobid yet. Due to the confusing way the CAA does things, a lot can happen this weekend. UMass/Richmond can win the bid if one wins and the other loses. If they both win or lose then the CAA has to step in and do a tiebreaker. There is also the possibility that Delaware wins and UMass and Richmond lose which would give the Hens the autobid or all three could lose and JMU could win and then the Dukes get the autobid. In short, its mindboggling and makes my head hurt so lets just see how it plays out on Saturday.

Northern Iowa Panthers (Gateway) – The nation’s latest #1 ranked team looked the part in a 68-14 destruction of Indiana State. The win means the Panthers (10-0, 9-0) clinch the Gateway’s autobid and will more than likely be the top seed in the tourney barring a setback next week.

Delaware State Hornets (MEAC) – It’s the Hornets (9-1, 8-0) and not the Blue Hens of Delaware that lockup the first playoff birth for the state this year. DSU knocked off Norfolk State in OT 28-21. The Hornets rallied from a 21-3 fourth quarter deficit to claim victory and also end the Spartans’ bid for a playoff birth.

Eastern Kentucky Colonels (OVC) – The Colonels (8-2, 7-0) clinched at least a share of the OVC crown and their first postseason birth in 10 years by beating Austin Peay 28-14.

Fordham Rams (Patriot) – The Rams (8-2, 5-0) can do no worse than tie for the league title and have already picked up the league’s autobid. They are just playing for positioning next week.

Wofford Terriers (Southern) – The Terriers (8-3, 7-2) clobbered Chattanooga 42-16 and won at least a share of the Southern conference and the autobid. Wofford wins its 2nd ever conference title and its season is highlighted by a home victory over then #1 ranked Appalachian State.

McNeese State Cowboys (Southland) – Their perfect run almost ended last week but a win over Northwestern State means that the Cowboys (9-0, 8-0) clinch at least a share of the Southland title. They already had the autobid due to their only competition being provisional Central Arkansas aren’t eligible to play in the postseason until next year.

To recap, here are the teams already in the 16 team playoff:

Montana, UMass, Richmond, Northern Iowa, Delaware State, Eastern Kentucky, Fordham, Wofford, McNeese State

That means that there are seven slots available. Here’s what I make of it:

The CAA should get dibs here due to how much stronger it is than every other conference. I liken it to the FBS’ SEC in that all the teams within the conference are at least good and beat each other up week in and week out. With the exception of the top 1 or 2 teams of the other conferences, I’d take any team from the CAA to win an out of conference game. With that in mind, the committee should note how hard it is to go through a CAA schedule and not lose at least twice. I think any team that goes 6-2 or better should get in and that means Delaware and James Madison should get two spots. Delaware had the heartbreaking loss to Richmond at home and has an FBS win over Navy. One of JMU’s losses is to FBS North Carolina and their others are to Delaware and Richmond by a total of four points plus they have wins over New Hampshire Northeastern and Rhode Island, the last two being on the road.  The other teams that will be looked at are New Hampshire and Hofstra but I think their dreams ended last week with bad losses, UNH to UMass giving them their fourth conference loss and Hofstra losing to Northeastern.

Using conventional wisdom, here’s the new list of teams that are in:

Montana, UMass, Richmond, Northern Iowa, Delaware State, Eastern Kentucky, Fordham, Wofford, McNeese State, Delaware, James Madison

Now lets look at teams who could vie for the last five spots:

Eastern Washington – A win next week means the Eagles will be 6-2 in the Big Sky. They have a bad loss to Portland State but they might be okay considering the other loss was to powerhouse Montana and that they blew away 2nd place Northern Arizona in Flagstaff last week. 

Liberty – The Flames are a perfect 3-0 this year in the Big South but to say their schedule was cupcake is a dramatic understatement. Probably their biggest win was Coastal Carolina who stunk it up this year and any game they played out of conference that was of any significance, they lost. I would be shocked if the committee let them in.

New Hampshire Wildcats/Hofstra Pride/Villanova Wildcats- I’ve grouped these schools together because I don’t think they get in based on one reason: bad losses. Their reputation as CAA schools precedes them but UNH has four losses and Hofstra and Villanova each have three. Hofstra also has to contend with that ugly 40-3 pasting put on them by UNH in Long Island a few weeks ago. Villanova has respectable losses (JMU, UMass and Richmond) but I don’t see them beating Delaware next week which would give them four losses and a ticket home. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if any of these teams got in however as each has shown they can compete with anyone in the country.

Southern Illinois Salukis – They’re in. Plain and simple. They’re 9-1 and 5-1 in the Gateway with N. Iowa the only reason they didn’t finish first. No problems for the committee here.

Cal Poly Mustangs – The Mustangs’ hopes probably ended with a 31-28 loss at home to North Dakota State. They sit at 2-2 in the conference and the loss at South Dakota St. hurts. They’ll be hard pressed to get in though I’ve seen stranger things.

Iona Gaels/Duquesne Dukes – These guys’ problem is that they play in a crappy conference (the MAAC) with no strength of schedule. It’d be a joke for one of them to get in and not say Villanova or Hofstra.

Norfolk State Spartans – Their loss to Delaware State pretty much ended their season. The MEAC’s autobid is usually the only bid that the committee gives to this conference and for good reason.

Albany Terriers – They’re interesting because they beat Fordham and their losses have come against Montana and Hofstra. They’re undefeated in the NEC and I think the committee will definitely give them a look as long as they dont trip up next week against C. Connecticut.

Eastern Illinois Panthers – I think these guys get in. They’re second in the OVC and have close losses to E. Kentucky and Illinois State although that last one isn’t looking as good anymore.

Dayton Flyers/San Diego Toreros – The Pioneer League has the same issue as the MAAC does, a crappy schedule strength. Sure they’re both 6-1 in the conference but who have they played? Nobody. I wouldn’t give either of these teams a fighting chance against the worst CAA squad.

Appalachian State Mountaineers – They’re in. Plus if they have a convincing win this weekend, they could get a seed. Though they looked off against Wofford and GA Southern, the ‘Neers are starting to get hot at the right time and look ready to make a 3rd straight title defense.

Georgia Southern Eagles – The Eagles are difficult because although they did beat App State in Boone, they lost three conference games including maybe a back breaker to Furman at home last week. That might overshadow the win and keep GSU out.

Colgate Raiders – A lot of people have been telling me to put them on the radar and while they are a team to consider, I’m not sure the committee will put more than one Patriot league team in. Colgate (7-3, 4-1) will need a lot of help from the teams above it and it also has to beat a game Holy Cross squad this weekend in Worcester. Also that loss to mediocre Cornell doesn’t help either. Don’t see them getting in.

Here’s my prediction for the 16 team playoffs:

Montana, UMass, Richmond, Northern Iowa, Delaware State, Eastern Kentucky, Fordham, Wofford, McNeese State, Delaware, James Madison, Eastern Washington, Southern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern

I had a tough time picking the last spot but ended up with GA Southern based on their win over App State. If you can go on the road and beat the team that beat Michigan in the Big House, you have a good football team and I’d be willing to overlook an early loss to Chattanooga at home.

Now, I know that the committee uses absolutely no conventional wisdom when it comes to how they do their seedings and matchups so using my own wisdom, here’s my top four seeds along with what I think should be the first round matchups:

1 – Northern Iowa, 2 – Montana, 3 – McNeese State, 4 – Southern Illinois

NORTHERN IOWA v. Eastern Kentucky,  APPALACHIAN STATE v. James Madison, RICHMOND v. Wofford, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS v. Eastern Illinois, MCNEESE STATE v. Eastern Washington , MASSACHUSETTS v. Fordham, DELAWARE v. Delaware State, MONTANA v. Georgia Southern