Oh. My. Goodness.
I’m not even sure there are words to describe what we saw this past weekend in the land of FCS Spring football.
In a word? Chaos. Two words? Total mayhem.
And had JMU not woken up from their first half sleep walk against Robert Morris, we could have had outright anarchy. Here are some of the quick hitting macro stats from the weekend just in terms of the top 25 results according to the STATS poll.
- 11 of the top 25 lost.
- 5 of the top 25 were idle this week, which means over half of the active STATS top 25 lost.
- 9 of those 11 losses were to unranked opponents.
- 5 top 15 teams lost to unranked opponents.
- 6 of the losses to unranked opponents were by two scores or more.
Those numbers are shocking in it of themselves, but barely scratch the surface of what was one of the weirdest and most shocking football weekends in recent history. Before we go too deep into the quantum realm of reality that we found ourselves in for most of last Saturday, let’s ground ourselves with some stuff we did expect to see.
(Links to recap packs below, many of which contain video highlights of the games this week.)
For those of us who follow the SWAC closely, we expected to see Southern and Alabama State put on a show having the only Friday night game. After a sputtering first quarter and a slightly disjointed first half, both teams rounded into form and put on a classic second half performance. I expected Southern would not cover the spread and they didn’t, albeit on a questionable review in the endzone (lots of those this weekend). But the game eventually came down to the wire with Alabama State barely missing a 44 yard field goal as time expired that would have sent it into overtime. This game could very well end up being the SWAC Championship game, and I’d love to watch a rematch where both teams have more reps under their belts.
The nightcap of ranked opponents did not disappoint as the first play from scrimmage saw Sam Houston’s quarterback bolt 50 yards down the field in a cloud of dust only to be caught, fumble, and turn the ball over. That was only the first play of a game that looked like both teams poured lighter fluid over an open flame. Seeing as each were ranked right next to one another in the top 25 we expected a highly competitive contest. Southeastern Louisiana had a chance to win at the end, but Sam Houston’s defense made a valiant stand in the red zone. With precious few at large bids in the Spring for the playoffs, Southeastern Louisiana is on the back foot in an extraordinarily strong Southland this year.
Weber State found a quarterback and behold, the offense commeth. While the score does look like the Wildcats bossed this game, it was closer than anticipated until Weber put together a breakout 3rd quarter. Idaho State is a young team that could move the ball in droves on the Wildcat defense but just lacked the finishing touch. This is something Weber State will look to sure up in games to come, but it’s not like the Wildcats were without flaw in this one. But they took care of business as expected and with little to no drama when it’s all said and done.
This game was incredibly entertaining with big plays, special teams game changers, and timely turnovers. While the score might not indicate it, this was a very evenly matched affair until UND blocked a punt that led to them taking the lead at 21-17. While their stadium was not at full capacity, the crowd and band absolutely helped. North Dakota made a splash coming into the MVFC catching then ranked Southern Illinois off guard (more on them later), and now follow that up with an equally impressive performance. North Dakota has yet to play away from home, so we will see what they have ahead of them, but they are off to a good start to say the least.
Most polls and voters had Idaho on the fringes of their top 25 as previously ranked teams began to opt of the spring season, so it was expected that this game would be a highly contested affair. Eastern looked to be in control with a pick six to open scoring and the high flying offense seemingly not missing a beat. But Idaho was undeterred. The game would not be decided until the final minute with Idaho throwing a baby Mary (not quite hail) into the endzone with under a minute to go. But the major talking point in the Big Sky and nationally was the assist the Idaho scoreboard gave the Vandals as it bounced an Eastern Washington field goal that was good in a way that made it seem like it was not. The referees did not see this, one fixing his mask as the play was going on. The Big Sky even admitted as such. Would this have made a huge difference as this happened in the 4th quarter? Hard to say, but it is something to be considered again with only so many at large bids available. Not to mention, throwing more sauce on a budding rivalry.
In the end Kennesaw State won this game “big” but was far from convincing. The owls are ranked in the top 10 for most if not all FCS polls, yet they failed to really put down a Shorter team that is said to be the worst in all of Division 2. In fact, Shorter was winning after 1 quarter, and the Owls were only up 14-3 at the half. With a rushing attack that can kill a game I don’t think anyone REALLY expected the Owls to lose, but if they’re going to play games that sleepily in a much improved Big South, they are in for a rude awakening.
Are you kidding me?!?!?!
Speaking of sleepy top 10 teams and the Big South, Harrisonburg (mostly JMU social media) almost lost its collective mind as the Dukes played around a bit too much with an admittedly improved Robert Morris side. But JMU was tied at 16 going into half time and trailed after the first quarter, which had not happened since 2018. Two interceptions gifted RMU 9 points that could have been more if not for JMU still having an elite defense. The Dukes were in danger of going into halftime down 7 until Cole Johnson played for his playing time in the second half and willed the Dukes down the field with the 2 minute drill. The second half was more to script. JMU’s defense gave up only 42 yards and the game at that point was never in doubt. The Dukes went back to running like mad men and never looked back. But in state rivals Richmond and William & Mary look at that game and are probably thinking, this team can get got in our pod.
We never really know what to expect from South Dakota, but we expected Illinois State to still be a top 10 ish team even losing their star running back to the NFL. However, turnovers are unforgiving and the redbirds had 4 of them. Even if they don’t result in points, they are legitimate momentum shifters and demoralize both sides of the ball. South Dakota took advantage of the mistakes and the Redbirds just never recovered. Wins and losses are like precious gems in the MVFC this year, and with the way things are going, that autobid is the ultimate prize with second place bound to be a free for all of Super Smash Brothers Brawl proportions.
Following their lackluster performance against Davidson and gut wrenchingly losing quarterback Davis Cheek to what looks like another season ending injury, Elon needed a pick me up. Instead, they got whacked around their own field. While Gardner Webb seemingly spotted Elon 17 points in the first quarter, the game was a bloodbath afterwards with Gardner Webb outscoring the Phoenix 42-3. Like, the game was never in doubt somehow. I know the Phoenix is known to rise from the ashes, but with JMU coming to town pissed off next weekend and two other Virginia schools looking for blood, the Phoenix might just want to simmer until the fall.
Ok seriously…what planet am I on? What dimension is this?
Furman is a team that often leaves national FCS pundits befuddled, but SoCon lovers and fans seem to all get it. The Paladins recruit well, but there’s a missing link somewhere. VMI used to be the doormat of an always competitive SoCon, much like beloved Rhode Island in the CAA. They’ll give you a game, but in the end will always come up short. Well as of late the Keydets have not only exorcised those demons, they’ve starting to throw haymakers! Knocking off top 10 Furman is no small feat and might have been thought of as the second coming of Christ 5 years ago. VMI will sniff many top 25 rankings this week while Furman will leave pundits once again scratching their heads. Are VMI the best division 1 team in Virginia?!
The fact that McNeese was able to host a football game was nothing short of a miracle. The area has endured two direct hits from massive hurricanes and a winter storm the likes of which the deep south has never seen. The press box was so damaged the commentators did their work from the stands. The football team were riding high after their epic come from behind victory against mighty Tarleton State the week before. But Incarnate Word were undeterred. Mid way through the first half you saw proud dad Ed Orgeron scream from the stands “Geaux Cowboys, come on!”. But this game was absolutely in hand. Incarnate Word were up 31-3 at halftime, and never looked back again. The Southland was already looking to be a slugfest so why not enter the Cardinal into the mix. That’s a conference to watch going forward for sure.
If you feel a slight queasiness in your stomach don’t panic! It’s just your reality altering in real time. NDSU’s 39 game win streak comes to an end at the hands of a team that just got smacked around by UND the week before. And this wasn’t just a win this was a, to quote Bomani Jones, “beat em doooooooooown”. Now this isn’t me just trying to dunk on the Bison, this game was really that bad. In fact, I don’t believe the Bison crossed the 50 until their two minute drill which led to the hail Mary (a real one) touchdown that would send the game into the half SIU in from 17-7. The only other Bison score would come late in the game with SUI already up 38-7 and after a breakaway run in excess of 60 yards followed by a red zone score, it ended 38-14.
But that’s not the story here. The Saluki’s beat the Bison at their own game, handily. They held the ball, had suffocating defense and timely turnovers. I couldn’t believe what I was watching even if I had already known the outcome of the game (so many games, too few screens). The Bison have serious questions at quarterback and I’m not sure what to make of the defense since Youngstown State showed against UNI this weekend that they just don’t really want to score that much. I’m not stupid enough to say the Bison are done and that the dynasty is over. However, these are about as many questions one can ask of NDSU on the gridiron in recent memory. They play Missouri State next week and I expect them to respond in kind. But beyond that? The MVFC is going to be daunting and unforgiving.
Back to reality
Has your mind recovered from your trip into the quantum realm? Deep Space? Mine kind of has, and it was surprisingly not as difficult to put together a top 25 this week as I might have originally thought. FCS football in the spring was shaping up to be like nothing we had ever seen, and this past weekend proved that beyond the shadow of a doubt. No game is certain, and we have a wide open title race. Autobids with the 16 team format playoff are beyond valuable which is great for the regular season of the subdivision. Furthermore, the once thought invincible teams of the last few years are shown to be mortal after all! If we are going to get complete chaos and drama in a football season, the spring is it. Players are off their usual schedules and we still have COVID to deal with. Anything can happen. So, while I am not expecting the total upheaval that we saw this weekend when it comes to top 25 carnage, I think we’ll be seeing more seismic results in the near future.
P.S. Seriously ESPN…why didn’t you pick up this drama? It was all there for the taking.
Preston attended James Madison University where he majored in Vocal Performance. As a member of the Drumline and Marching Royal Dukes for 4 years, he’s seen a lot of JMU football up close and personal and having grown up attending HBCU games, he has extensive knowledge of the history and pageantry that comes with attending a game in the MEAC and SWAC. When not talking college football or being musical, Preston is a fan of the game the world calls football, golf, and curling. (Curling? Curling!)