(Stats Perform) – Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the deep end of the FCS spring season, along came, well, the weekly FCS craziness.
Two 5-0 teams – VMI and Murray State – were knocked off by unranked opponents on Saturday. Three other ranked teams – Furman, Idaho and Nicholls – fell to unranked opponents. San Diego surrendered the longest active league winning streak in the FCS.
Here are five takeaways from Week 8 of the spring season:
– Davidson more than inched its way toward a first-ever playoff bid, it leaped over the big hurdle in the Pioneer Football League, beating San Diego 31-25 to end the Toreros’ 39-game league winning streak, which wound up tying Duquesne’s 1999-2006 MAAC teams for the longest in FCS history. Senior quarterback Tyler Phelps passed for three touchdowns, which a Davidson player hadn’t done against a Division I opponent since 2015, and the Wildcats forced three turnovers. The Wildcats lead the PFL after their first win over USD since 2009 made them 18-10 in coach Scott Abell’s three campaigns. In the nine seasons prior to his arrival on campus, they had a combined 18 wins.
– FCS conference championship games – how cool does that sound? At least for this spring, the SWAC isn’t having all the fun. The SWAC, of course, has staged a championship game in every season since 1999, and will again on May 1. The Northeast Conference will determine its automatic qualifier to the FCS playoffs next Sunday with Duquesne hosting Sacred Heart in a rematch of the first conference game last month – a 30-27 DU win. Bucknell has earned a spot in the Patriot League championship game as the South Division representative, set to face a yet-to-be-determined North team (Holy Cross is in first place) on March 17. Bucknell, which won 6-0 at Lehigh on Saturday for its first shutout since 2017, has never appeared in the FCS playoffs.
– Two conferences will decide their automatic bid the old-fashioned way next Saturday: Kennesaw State visits Monmouth in the Big South (both are 2-0 in league) and Jacksonville State travels to Murray State in the OVC (both are 5-1 in league) with spring titles on the line. Kennesaw State and Monmouth posted dominating wins by a combined 64 points on Saturday to improve to a combined 33-3 in the Big South since the start of the 2017 season, with each of the losses against each other. Murray State boasts freshman running back Damonta Witherspoon and ranks No. 2 in the OVC in rushing, but since the fall, Jacksonville State has not allowed eight straight opponents to surpass either 80 rushing yards or three yards per carry, limiting Eastern Illinois to 76 yards on 40 carries in Saturday’s 44-23 victory. Overall, in those eight games: 230 opponent carries for 450 yards.
– With two weeks of action remaining before the release of the 16-team playoff pairings on April 18, seven out of 11 conferences remain in contention for multiple bids: Big Sky (Weber State and Eastern Washington); Big South (Kennesaw State and Monmouth); CAA (Delaware, James Madison, Richmond, Rhode Island and Villanova); Missouri Valley (Missouri State, North Dakota, North Dakota State and South Dakota State); Ohio Valley (Jacksonville State and Murray State); Southern (ETSU and VMI) and Southland (Sam Houston and UIW/Nicholls/Southeastern Louisiana logjam). The list will dwindle, though, with only five at-large bids to go around. The MEAC, NEC, Patriot and PFL are expected to be one-bid leagues, only qualifying their champions.
– It’s disappointing that schools such as Albany, Chattanooga, Cal Poly and Illinois State have opted out of the remainder of their schedules, but they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing – making health and safety the priority in a season played during a pandemic. Schools are faced with two seasons in the same calendar year (spring and fall) and have different circumstances, including teams in other sports ending their seasons early. School and conference officials expected starts and stops throughout the spring season, so what’s happening isn’t surprising.