FCS Playoff Preview 2014

It's that time of year. We're talking playoffs.

It’s that time of year. We’re talking playoffs.

Most of you will be watching your favorite rivalry game in FBS ball this weekend, but Saturday is also a big day for the FCS level. It’s the first round of the FCS Playoffs. Sixteen of the 24 teams will be in action and it’s time to break the field down.

1. Is New Hampshire really the best team?

The Wildcats went undefeated against FCS foes this year, only losing to FBS Toledo 54-20. While the CAA has three other teams in field, UNH did not play two of them. Villanova, the six seed, and James Madison were not on the schedule. Therefore, it’s hard to justify a CAA crown with that conference slate.

Its toughest opponent, Richmond, was a close three-point win. Last week, New Hampshire survived a 5-5 Maine team 20-12. Doesn’t really sound like the best team in the FCS. The Wildcats are good, you have to be to go 10-1, but the top seed seems generous.

2. What Top 8 Seeds are on Upset Alert?

There is always a team or two who go down in the second round as a top eight seed. The four/five seeds need to look out as Illinois State and Eastern Washington may have tough match-ups. Illinois State shared the Missouri Valley Football Conference (FCS best five teams in the field) with North Dakota State but may have to deal with a dangerous Northern Iowa club. UNI lost to Illinois State by 14 on Nov. 1 but the Panthers did beat North Dakota State and almost shocked Iowa.

Montana should cruise through San Diego and meet conference rival Eastern Washington in the second round. Again, EWU won the first meeting but it was close. Beating a team like Northern Iowa and Montana twice in the same year is not easy. Montana is number one in FCS in turnover margin at plus 16. Eastern Washington better protect the ball in that game.

Chattanooga, the eight seed, would be favored against the Eastern Kentucky/Indiana State winner but it will not be a cake walk. And if you think Villanova is looking forward to the winner of James Madison/Liberty you’re crazy.

3. Will North Dakota State make it four straight championships?

The Bison have the best defense in the field giving up just 255 yards per game. The question for them will be on offense. North Dakota State averaged 429 yards per game so it’s hard to see them struggling, especially at home. Their first two games should be a breeze as the semifinals and championship will be the only places for the Bison to falter. But there is one team I think can beat them.

4. The Dark Horse: Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks are number four in offense and number 14 in defense. That’s a juggernaut folks. Jacksonville State won at Chattanooga in week 2 and should be ready to challenge anyone, including North Dakota State. That’s why I’m picking Jacksonville State to win it all this year.

Now if it loses to Southeastern Louisiana in the second round then you never read this column. Here is my bracket.
FCS top
FCS Bottom

2014’s Most Depressing Team: SMU

Last year we had four winless FBS teams going into Thanksgiving. Now we have just one but there are teams who are winless in conference play too. Nothing though is more depressing than the burning hulk known as Southern Methodist University football.

SMU: 0-10 (0-6)

The good news for SMU is that they still have two games left. The bad news is the Mustangs have done little to prove they are capable of winning a game. SMU has scored less than 10 points in six games this year. In the first seven games SMU was outscored 336 – 49, those are video game scores.

SMU did not schedule a FCS school, or a cupcake Sun Belt team. With no failsafe game the Ponies were in danger from the get go but this type of collapse was unexpected. Coming off a 5-7 year and multiple winning seasons in years prior should be enough to avoid a winless year.

SMU is still fighting losing by one to South Florida at home 14-13. Still, it’s hard to stay positive for the program, even on Twitter.

What about the graphics department? I’m sure they can make a nice infographic to make SMU’s season seem cheerful.

SMU info

When you don’t have anything nice to say, just show the uniform combination.

I guess when there is nothing positive to report you spend an entire infographic on the uniforms. Not a good situation.

Will SMU win a game? Yes

SMU will play Houston at home Friday before traveling to 2-8 Connecticut to close out the season on Dec. 6. The Mustangs should have more motivation than both opponents and UConn is the best candidate. The two teams are dead even at passing yards per game and UConn is No. 119 in rushing with SMU at No. 121.

This means it will come down to turnovers. The Mustangs have turned the ball over 26 times this year, tied for the No. 118 in the nation. The Huskies have turned the ball over 21 times though so this is an even game. In that case I have to pick the team that wants it more and that should be SMU. It may be the pillow fight of the year but a win for SMU will salvage something for the 2014 season. That would be something to be thankful for.

Other depressing teams:
2. Georgia State: 1-10 (0-7) Only win came against FCS Abilene Christian.
3. Kent State: 1-9 (0-6) Winless in MAC play.
4. Vanderbilt: 3-8 (0-7) Winless in SEC action and nearly lost to FCS Charleston Southern.
5. Colorado: 2-9 (0-8) Winless in PAC-12 play but did force two overtime games.

SEC Takes the Week Off

SEC football teams are loading up on FCS cupcakes this week as the big rivalries occur Thanksgiving weekend. The result is a light weekend that is rescued by a few key games in the Big Ten West and the PAC-12 South.

On the other hand some preseason tournaments are underway in college basketball. Conference tournaments are in action for mid-major volleyball, and both men’s and women’s soccer have their postseason this weekend too. Here is the viewer’s guide. Navi Sol. 11-21

Down to the Wire Conference Crowns

Or three co-champions.

Or three co-champions.

With just two weeks to go in the regular season, some conferences and division titles are still up in the air. Here are the ones yet to be decided.

ACC Coastal

Georgia Tech is through ACC play with an impressive 6-2 record. Only Duke can catch Tech in the Coastal division at 4-2. Duke must win out against rival North Carolina (won’t be easy) and Wake Forest (a lock) all at home. The Blue Devils have the tie-breaker for the Yellow Jackets with a 31-25 win in Atlanta back on October 11. I think Duke will pull this one out and win back-to-back Coastal Division titles.

American Athletic Conference

East Carolina’s days as a top 25 team are long over after three losses in AAC play. Heck, no one in the conference is even receiving votes in the AP poll anymore. Memphis (5-1), Cincinnati (4-1), and Central Florida (4-1) are the top dogs now. Of those teams Memphis has the easiest schedule and with two home games against South Florida and UConn. Both have losing records.

Big 12

The Big 12 is down to Kansas State, Baylor and TCU. All have one loss in conference action but TCU has two games left while the others have three. Baylor and Kansas State still have to play each other in Manhattan. A K-State victory there will help but TCU has the tie-breaker against them. As long as TCU can get past Texas on Thanksgiving night it should be enough to win the conference and get a playoff spot.

Big Ten West

Four teams are alive in the West with Wisconsin (5-1) leading the way. Minnesota (4-2), Nebraska (4-2) and Iowa (4-2) have good odds too. Wisconsin still has to play at Iowa and host Minnesota. I think the Badgers will win out but a loss will cause plenty of chaos in this division.

MAC West

Northern Illinois (5-1), Toledo (5-1), Western Michigan (5-1) and Central Michigan (4-2) are slugging it out the final weeks in the MAC West. NIU is the typical favorite but has to go on the road to Western Michigan to close the season. Then again, Western still has to play at Central. Toledo hosts rival and MAC East champ Bowling Green Wednesday. I have to pick NIU, the defending MAC West champ, until the other schools prove themselves.

The Mountain West

This conference is wide-open with four teams in the Mountain division in Colorado State, Air Force, Boise State, and Utah State still going for the crown. The Rams are the only other ranked group of five team besides Marshall. The West is a three-way between 3-3 teams in Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada. Boise State has the easiest schedule remaining in the Mountain and that’s where the conference champion will come from. If Colorado State wins at Air Force though, it should come out of the division. For now I have to go with Boise as Air Force is a tough out.

PAC-12 South

Arizona State’s upset loss at Oregon State has thrown this division into a flux. Arizona, USC, and UCLA (who I left for dead earlier) are also in the mix. I like UCLA as it hosts USC and Stanford. The Arizona’s still have to play each other and Arizona itself will have tough match at Utah.

SEC West

Alabama is back in the driver seat of the division after beating No. 1 Mississippi State Saturday. If Bama beats Auburn at home it will go to the SEC championship game. If Auburn pulls the upset that’s when it gets interesting. Mississippi State and Ole Miss still have to play each other too and the winner of that game would then become the division champion. That is of course if Ole Miss takes care of Arkansas and Mississippi State takes care of Vanderbilt this week.

SEC East

The SEC East is simple, if Missouri wins out the Tigers take the division. A loss to either at Tennessee or home to Arkansas and Georgia will win the division. The Bulldogs are through SEC play at 6-2 and but have the tie-breaker as they gave the Tigers their only SEC loss. Look for Missouri to drop a game giving Georgia the division.

Sun Belt

Georgia Southern and Louisiana are undefeated in Sun Belt action but don’t play each other. Georgia Southern has just one game remaining hosting 3-7 Louisiana-Monroe. The Ragin’ Cajuns have the tougher road hosting Appalachian State (5-5, 4-2) and at Troy (3-8, 3-4). I still think both teams will finish undefeated and we’ll have co-champions in the Sun Belt.

Bonus FCS Picks

Big Sky: Eastern Washington
Colonial: New Hampshire
Missouri Valley: Illinois State and North Dakota State
SWAC: Alcorn State

So Many Sports, So Little Time

With college basketball starting up we have four college sports in action this weekend. Welcome to November.

Soccer is having its first round of its big dance for the women and conference tournaments for the men this weekend. Volleyball is having regular season races nearing the finish line and we all know what’s at stake for college football teams this month. Saturday is huge for the SEC with Mississippi State and Alabama but the ACC and Big Ten have key games as well. Minnesota hosting Ohio State has upset alert written all over it and so does Florida State at Miami.

Here is my viewing guide as there is plenty to choose from over the next few days.
Solution 11-14-14

College Basketball Preview Via Twitter Promotions

College basketball has the unlucky time on the calendar of starting right when college football is king. The result is action on the court doesn’t really become relevant until January. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t promote your basketball team on social media in November. Although posing by golf cart may not be the best example.
Vandy golf cart
Vanderbilt women’s basketball may not have hit a home run with that picture but you have to give them credit for trying. Here is a better example using their star logo for a play on words.

Here are other methods of promoting basketball on Twitter and Facebook.

Counting Down

Basketball season creeps up at most schools and athletic departments try to sound the alarm with countdowns. Some are basic but effective, matching the number of days to the season with a players jersey number. Green Bay is a great example.

Creighton does the same with their countdowns but makes their royal shade of blue pop out with everything else in grayscale.

Long Beach State went artistic, utilizing just their black and gold colors. It looks cool as a possible poster as the Beach tries to promote ticket sales for its homecoming game.

While those three had carefully planned design elements my alma mater, Ball State, used a photo of a player in an awkward facial expression to convey their countdown. I’ll say this; it’s hard not to notice it.

Media Day

Another obvious way to showcase the basketball teams is to snap pics at media day. The Big South set the standard with a mascot photo. A dozen students in furry suits just screams college basketball, or something very, very weird.

Several schools always turn to the basic, “media day is here” strategy. Take a look at Siena and Oregon State. The Saints turned to a selfie with assistant coaches while Oregon State flaunted the height of one of its players compared with reporters.

Nevada took a fashion route as it modeled the team’s uniforms. Something the Wolfpack has plenty of.

The best came from Kansas State as the Wildcats took a candid approach to showing the height differences of the women’s and men’s teams.Having this interaction as an interview was a nice touch.

Meet the Team

Other schools took a personal approach as they tried to get their players interacting with the public. Tennessee Tech has an annual fan jam called “Purple Palooza” prior to Halloween. Guess what the school’s main color is?

Halloween with the team? Who says no to that in Cookeville, Tennessee?

Southern Mississippi took a more digital route as you could chat with Guard Brooke Rhodes. Rhodes transferred in from D-II Delta State and is a graduate student. Though she has not played a game yet for the Lady Eagles, Rhodes will see plenty of playing time this season making the Facebook chat a creative move to introduce her to fans.

Sitcom Approach

Western Kentucky always has talent in both women’s and men’s basketball and bringing attention to key players was the goal. This photo of all-conference players could be a poster to a sitcom on NBC. It would be a better show than “A to Z” and “Bad Judge.”

Conference Domination

Wichita State is the Alpha Dog of the Missouri Valley Conference. To illustrate the point, the Shockers knew how to tell the world how many players they have on the preseason MVC team. Three of the five is pretty telling.

Wildcat Selfie

But the real winner here is Kentucky’s mascot selfie during Big Blue Madness. Gotta admit it’s a good view high above Rupp Arena.

Early Title Games for the Big Ten and Big 12?

Navi Sol 11-8The Fall sports season is reaching its climax as conference races are easy to picture now. Ohio State at Michigan State is virtually the Big Ten title game. Kansas State at TCU could be the same with the Big 12. I like Michigan State and Kansas State for those two. Alabama at LSU is always a big game that could go either way. Arizona State has a chance to stop Notre Dame’s playoff hopes in the afternoon. I’m picking the Sun Devils.

If women’s soccer is your sport than this is your weekend with conference tournaments. The Big Ten, ACC and SEC will have their title matches Sunday afternoon but look for smaller conferences on ESPN3.