While Americans collectively woke from a tryptophan-induced lull, the FCS Playoffs began this past Saturday. Year after year, the subdivision puts on one of the NCAA’s premier title chases, and once again the action on the gridiron didn’t disappoint.
Embarrassment for the CAA
The Colonial Athletic Association was guaranteed at least one victory Saturday, when perennial power James Madison squared off with playoff-returnees Delaware. It was the only win for the CAA. The Dukes rode a thumping defensive showing to a 20-6 victory.
Infighting aside, it was a gruesome showing for the conference. With six teams in the field, the CAA was granted an enormous vote of confidence from the FCS Playoff Committee. Elon, Stony Brook and Towson — all five-loss teams — presented the committee with a quandary because each had a key win over a conference foe and playoff team. On the flip side, each had valid question marks. The solution: place all three in the bracket.
That trio called into question the committee’s assessment, as they all lost by multiple scores to Wofford, Southeast Missouri State and Duquesne, respectively.
Now, JMU joins Maine — who earned the conference title and the No. 7 seed as a result — are the final two CAA teams standing.
The committee should be equally embarrassed
The committee took a massive swing and a miss betting on the Colonial and now has to face the music. Given how much stock the committee put into the CAA, the conference badly underperformed. This fault could be forgiven were it not for the quality of the teams immediately on the outside looking in.
Indiana State, who finished the season third in the Missouri Valley and on a five-game winning streak, passed the eye test for a playoff berth. The Sycamores were ultimately the first team left out of the field, a decision made all the more questionable by the Colonial’s four losses.
ISU’s absence becomes even more perplexing given that “geographic proximity” is a consideration in the pairings. New York-based Stony Brook traveled over 900 miles to Camp Girardeau, Missouri to face the Redhawks. Rather than sending the Seawolves to take on SEMO, Indiana State could have slotted in and Stony Brook could have bumped either Elon or Towson out of the picture.
Geographic considerations become even more quizzical when considering Monmouth, a college on the Jersey Shore, could have easily met these guidelines as well. The Hawks finished the season 8-3 in the Big South and were the second team out. Monmouth could have taken one of the CAA’s six spots and accommodated travel either to Pittsburgh to play Duquesne or South Carolina to meet Wofford.
Of course, the Colonial’s poor showing only fans the flames of speculation. Regardless, whether or not the CAA deserved the respect the committee bestowed upon it invites skepticism.
UNI escapes with tight win
While North Dakota State and South Dakota State enjoyed bye weeks, Northern Iowa was the only team representing the Valley. The Panthers needed all the help they could get while eking out a win over Lamar 16-13. The Cardinals scored all of their points in the first quarter, but the highly touted UNI defense responded to shut out the visitors the rest of the way.
Lamar kicker Elvin Martinez missed two second-half field goal attempts, including one from 36 yards with less than three minutes to play that would have tied the score at 16.
The Panthers survived in spite of an uncharacteristic performance from quarterback Eli Dunne. The senior completed merely 8 of his 22 attempts and tossed an interception. Marcus Weymiller and Trevor Allen bailed Dunne out with 244 rushing yards as the defense stood tall.
While UNI lived to see another day, they have a tall order this Saturday as they square off with high-flying UC Davis.
Colgate, Nicholls State eyeing upsets
Despite playing in the Patriot League, Colgate garnered the respect of the committee and earned the No. 8 seed. Now the Raiders will host James Madison, giving them an opportunity to prove their merit. Still, even as a seeded team playing at home, Colgate is an underdog.
The Raiders completed a 9-1 season undefeated against FCS opposition with their lone loss coming to the Army Black Knights of the FBS. Linebacker T.J. Holl, Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, leads the nation’s top defense. The unit topped the country in both scoring defense and total defense. Colgate has surrendered a meager 5.7 points per game thanks to five shutouts.
Of course, statistics go out the window against a seasoned Dukes squad. Regardless, Colgate can give JMU fits and has a fighting shot to knock off the behemoths.
Nicholls State picked up perhaps the weekend’s most impressive victory, downing San Diego 49-30. As Bison fans know, the Toreros have been around the block in the playoffs and are a tricky matchup, even on the road. Still, the Colonels outlasted Anthony Lawrence and company and were sensational in the process.
Nicholls State posted a whopping 606 total yards of offense against USD, a figure which bodes well heading into their second round tilt with Eastern Washington. Even without star quarterback Gage Gubrud, the Eagles have been dynamic offensively. Anticipate a defense-optional shootout at Roos Field this Saturday, with the Colonels giving EWU a scare.