In Case You Missed It: Week 12
By the time this column is published, the 2015 FCS Playoff field will be set. We’ll know which teams made the cut and which teams were left off the exclusive list as the single-elimination fight for the national championship gets underway.
What a wild regular season it was. Wild and unpredictable. And, unlike in past seasons where North Dakota State was the clear favorite heading into postseason play, this season seemed a bit more congested at the top.
Sure, ever since Jacksonville State nearly took down then-No. 6 Auburn in overtime, the Gamecocks have been the perceived “favorite” in the nation. A couple of close calls, though, makes the seemingly immortal all of a sudden human – having the capacity to make mistakes.
But the congestion wasn’t limited to just the teams vying for the top spot in the national polls. It was a season filled with parity nearly everywhere we looked. Only one unbeaten team remained at season’s end: the McNeese State Cowboys. But the perfect record wasn’t enough to get those Cowboys up over the Gamecocks. McNeese State earned the fourth seed in the playoff field, and has a challenging road through which it must navigate to reach the championship.
There were records shattered and new ones set, upsets that swept the nation, and teams that had never tasted the playoff air before now getting set to suit up for a postseason clash.
Every year at Thanksgiving I think, “I can’t believe how fast the season flew by.” And every year I think the end comes sooner and sooner. They say time flies when you’re having fun (or in some cases are very busy), but as an FCS fan, time seems to slow down when the playoffs start. Enjoy it, everyone.
Who’s ready for some football?
In case you missed the action from the final weekend of the regular season, here are some facts and stats you should know from around the FCS:
Let’s start where I typically leave you each week – your Cooper Kupp update.
The junior pass catcher finished up the regular season with an eight-catch, 136-yard performance which included a 78-yard touchdown reception against Portland State. His eight catches put him at 114 for the season, which set a Big Sky Conference single-season record previously held by Idaho State’s Rodrick Rumble (112 catches in 2011). Yet another record that now belongs to one of the most storied receivers in FCS history. But there’s more.
Kupp remains in second in FCS history with 56 touchdown receptions – two behind former New Hampshire great David Ball. He also moved past Jerry Rice and into second place all-time with 4,764 career receiving yards, sitting only behind Elon’s Terrell Hudgins, who amassed 5,250 yards in his playing days.
The crazy part is, Kupp has another season of eligibility. If he desired, he could torch the record books and make those marks darn near impossible for any player to ever replicate. The sad part is, Kupp is NFL bound (OK not sad, but a FCS fans I’m sure we’d all like to see him back), and his Eastern Washington Eagles missed out on the playoffs. The FCS counts postseason stats, so Kupp at least had a shot to become the league’s all-time leader in touchdown grabs. EWU was downed by Portland State, 34-31, casting the likely end of Kupp’s career in the college ranks.
It wasn’t Portland State that won the Big Sky, however. Southern Utah clinched that distinction with a 49-41 victory over Northern Arizona Saturday behind a career day from quarterback Ammon Olsen. The signal caller set a career mark with five touchdown tosses – three to receiver Mike Sharp – guaranteeing his Thunderbirds their spot in the postseason.
McNeese State held on down the stretch to defeat Lamar, 20-14, to stay unbeaten. The Cowboys were able to limit the FCS’ rushing leader Kade Harrington to just 70 yards while a host of McNeese players set the turf ablaze. The Cowboys racked up 406 rushing yards thanks to Derrick Milton, Ryan Ross and Daniel Sams all eclipsing the 100-yard mark in the contest.
North Dakota State did nothing but absolutely dominate Missouri State Saturday, leaving the Bears with a sour 55-0 loss that capped their winless season in Missouri Valley play. The Bison held their opponents to just 13 first downs and 171 total yards of offense. Meanwhile, NDSU rattled off 601 yards with 412 coming from the ground game. The funny thing is, no Bison back carried the ball more than nine times.
Marshaun Coprich came on exceptionally strong toward the end of the regular season, and is hot heading into the playoffs. He stated his case for some more FCS Offensive Player of the Year votes by galloping for 251 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries in his Redbirds’ 46-0 trouncing of South Dakota on a snowy day in Normal.
Eastern Illinois earned a spot in the playoff field after a very selfish performance against Eastern Kentucky Saturday. The Panthers wanted to have the ball so bad, they forced seven Colonels turnovers (five interceptions, two fumbles) in their 21-7 victory.
Neither team was especially good on third-down conversions, however, totaling 4-of-35 on their combined attempts.
Liberty and Coastal Carolina provided a thrilling season finale on Thursday night. The Flames took down the Chanicleers, 24-21, thanks to a game-winning touchdown drive with 1:27 left on the clock. Liberty dominated the battle for control of the ball in the contest, owning a 40:52 to 19:08 edge in time of possession.
One of the best games of the weekend saw The Citadel overtake the SEC’s South Carolina by once again using a dominant ground attack to control the contest. The Bulldogs rushed for 350 yards and three touchdowns against the SEC defense as The Citadel picked up a 23-22 win that propelled the team into the playoffs.
Duquesne clinched its first-ever trip to the FCS postseason with a 30-20 victory over St. Francis (Pa.) Saturday. The Northeast Conference program won the league for the third time in history thanks to Rafiq Douglas matching a career high with three touchdown runs, adding 165 yards to his resume.
Finally (because it’s appropriate after the season we just witnessed to finish up by discussing parity), the Ivy League crown was split three ways Saturday between Harvard, Dartmouth and Penn (yes, you read that correctly) after all three teams picked up season-ending victories. During the regular season, Harvard beat Dartmouth 14-13, Dartmouth beat Penn 41-20, and Penn beat Harvard 35-25.