Schedule wise the spring FCS football season is supposed to be half over. There have been some cancellations and more games delayed to the open slot the week before the playoffs begin. In the MVFC four teams have only played three games, so now is as good of time to look at what has happened so far in this odd duck season, both in the Valley and the FCS at large.
I pegged the Herd, UNI and the Jacks for playoff positions going into the spring. At 2-2, the Panthers find themselves on the outside looking in. I said they needed to increase the run game to 150+ YPG and YPC to 4 or more. At midpoint they are averaging 115.2 YPG and 3.41 YPC. This places them 56th out of 89 teams competing this spring. They have to win out now and those run totals don’t bode well with accomplishing that.
The Jacks went with a true frosh at QB and it shows. On the road versus UND the Hawks stacked the box and held Strong to 95 yards and the QB had a minus 5. For the last five playoff runs the Jack’s have kept defenses loose and honest by QB rushing. That isn’t here this spring.
It took SDSU a last second FG to beat winless, but improving Youngstown State. They still have the Herd and the Red Birds on the road. A good chance they lose one or both. One more loss keeps them on the playoff bubble, but two sends them home.
I picked SIU just behind the Jacks and Panthers. They are good at defense, but not great. They still have to face the Jacks and Illinois State. I am not betting that they win both of these games. One more loss coupled with their beating SEMO in the fall, should assure them of a playoff spot.
Now to the surprise team in the MVFC and the nation, I felt with the loss of talent and their new redshirt frosh QB, the Hawks would struggle to be a .500 club this spring. The stars have aligned with some huge better performances by untested players and superb coaching by the UND staff. The weather left SIU with two outdoor practices before playing the Hawks. It showed. Five TO’s and sloppy blocking/tackling turned a close first half game into a rout. I will leave the rest of the analysis on UND to this week’s preview with the Bison. It’s been a long time since there has been a meaningful game between these two rivals.
Now onto the national landscape, let’s start with so called #1 JMU. I don’t mean this as a slam to the Duke’s on field accomplishments in the last half decade, but to the greasing of the skids to make it as easy as possible for this playoff run. This week’s game versus Richmond has been cancelled because of Covid protocols. That’s two in a row for the Dukes. With only a single week slot at the end of the season for makeup games, this means the Dukes will be down to seven games for sure. Here’s betting the CAA powers to be reschedule the William & Mary game and bypass Richmond.
I think JMU’s roster is weaker than the 2018 team that went 9-4 and lost to Colgate. They took care of business against a greatly inferior Moorhead squad, 52-0 (they are currently ranked 254th out of 257 Div I teams). Next they sputtered versus Robert Morris (241st in Sagarin). They were tied at 16 until midway thru the 4th quarter. Think if the Herd was in a hard fought game against Butler or Prairie View. Now that would be a BIG CONCERN.
Next they opened CAA conference play versus Elon. Elon barely beat Davidson (239th in Sagarin), needing a TD with 32 seconds left in the game. Then they took on Gardner-Webb (Sagarin rating of 214). GW, I think they have branch campuses at Home Depot or something. I do know they aren’t an FCS football power. Elon get’s run off the field 42-20 and out rushed 202-71.
Elon was a team the Dukes should have pounded. Did they? No! They needed to score 17 second half points (14 in 4th quarter) to overcome a 17-3 half time deficit. They are lucky they got a Covid break the next two weeks against middling opponents William & Mary and Richmond. If JMU was playing in MVFC they would have two losses already.
Weber seems to be most people’s favorite FCS number one since the Herd’s hiccup versus SIU. I am not sold yet. They rank 54th in total defense (out of 89 teams playing this spring). An 18-13 win over Cal-Davis isn’t showing number one dominance yet.
I pegged as my two sleepers, Sam Houston and Eastern Washington because of their possibility of playing good defense, and they have really been a mixed bag. The Bearcats got in a slug fest with SE LA 43-38 and the Eagles gave up 28 in a loss to Idaho and had a defensive laugher vs Idaho State 46-42. Sam Houston’s blow out of Nicholls should cement their hold on the Southland). Yes, they did run up the score to get brownie points (71-17).
Jacksonville State is in the driver’s seat in the OVC. They got to play 4 fall games (3-1 with only loss an FBS ding, plus an FBS win). They have won 3 this spring, so are 6-1. If they beat SEMO this Sat. the OVC crown is theirs to lose.
Let me give you two summations. First, the FCS is in a total flux this spring. If UNI didn’t give up a last minute TD to SDSU and kicked a late FG versus SIU, they would be 4-0 and you can bet they would be getting first place votes in the polls. Nobody is dominating out there, including the Herd.
With six at large playoff spots, picking is going to be crazy. A 4-2 Big Sky record shouldn’t compare to a 6-2 MVFC team. I don’t think a 5-1 Big Sky team with no ranked wins and an unranked loss should go in before a 6-2 MVFC team with those losses being to ranked teams and two wins against ranked teams. Same could be said of JMU. If they get another postponement and end 5-1 and don’t make the Auto Qualifier, it should be no dance at the playoffs.
Where does the Herd stand at half way? I like our chances because of the foundations of football. You win in the trenches. Let’s start on defense. We are performing well there and improving. We are every bit as good and physical as IL State or UNI, plus we have more depth. All defensive stats are in the championship range (under 325 yards total defense, 125 yards rushing and 20 PPG). We have given up 283 YPG, 88.8 rushing yards per game and 18.2 PPG. In our 2011 Championship Run we didn’t blow people away on offense.
We have light at the end of the tunnel on offense. Cam Miller is the real deal. Remember in Trey’s freshman year where he fumbled the ball, calmly picked it up and ran it in for a TD. I called my brother in Fargo and said, “He has that intangible it factor”. I am going on record, so does Cam. He just came in with the game on the line and calmly marched us down the field 84 yards.
The Rams are the best OL in the MVFC. Volson and Jensen are NFL prospects. So are Gindorff, Babicz and Watson. We were decimated at RB thru transfer, injury and graduation, but we’re still 12th in the nation in rushing at 225 YPG. I feel in the last four games the offense is going to go on an uptick, especially if we get Luepke and Sproles back. What’s going to be fun is that it is going to take great coaching, hard work, focus and humility by the team to get there. Go Bison in this crazy season. Its half over, put the pedal to the metal.