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.
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The Best of College Volleyball on Social Media and the Worst

Who knew "kill" would be so peaceful and elegant in cursive?

Who knew “kill” would be so peaceful and elegant in cursive?

While college football and college basketball are the main sports I follow, I try to give some love to the Olympics sports when I can here at the nc2anerd. Volleyball is a particular favorite as its games are right there in the basketball arena.

If a school knows how to promote itself, volleyball can be a revenue producing sport. With the women’s volleyball season starting the same weekend as football, let’s take a look at where volleyball programs are breaking through the football blanket to make a name for themselves in social media and where they’re failing to do so.

McNeese State

The most hilarious volleyball promotion on social media was this You Tube clip of the McNeese State players putting on knee pads and walking down a hallway. Are these Cowgirls going to play a volleyball game because we never see a ball, net, or court for that matter? It’s as if they were denied access to arena the day of shooting. I thought the music change in the middle was a mistake the first time I watched it too.

At lease McNeese State made a promotional video unlike these two schools.

Penn State and Wisconsin

The fact I lumped these two together is a bad sign. Penn State defeated Wisconsin in last year’s title game to win its fifth championship in seven years. Yet both schools have been lackluster in their social media promotions. Wisconsin has had more swagger on Twitter showing off their “finalist rings.”

Besides that and a few “Throwback Thursday” photos, both schools have been quiet and unimpressive on the promotion front. Football as is a big reason why as both schools are football powers in the Big 10.

Texas

The No. 1 seed in last year’s volleyball tournament was Texas and the Longhorns are pretty blunt about how they feel about volleyball compared with their heroes on the gridiron.

Wow, a 3.4 GPA is all it took? That’s what I had in college with only moderate effort. Sorry Mom.

Texas is complimenting their women’s volleyball team here but it also comes across as reinforcing the stereotype that women’s sports are only there to balance out the bad academics of the men. Texas missed a golden opportunity to promote its four players on the preseason All Big 12 team last week. Contrast this with Kansas State (only one player on the list) who quickly jumped to promote their star setter.

Now that is how you showcase your best players Texas. To find a school placing stock in its volleyball program you need to to select one that either doesn’t have a football team or just has a bad one. This brings us to…

Purdue

The Boilermakers went all out to promote their volleyball photo day. Even set up a site for behind the scenes access. Slow motion videos capture the work that went into their team poster.

Sam Diving from Purdue Athletics on Vimeo.

The school is also using social media to sell tickets. Purdue created the BumpTo1000 hashtag as an effort to double the number of season tickets from a year ago. Purdue went to the elite eight last year before falling to Wisconsin in four sets. With their top two leaders in attack percentage returning in Kiki Jones and Faye Adelaja, this could be Purdue’s chance to knock Penn State off the Big 10 Throne.

Minnesota

Purdue isn’t the only Big 10 school trying win over publicity for volleyball. The Golden Gophers have a three-game ticket plan where fans choose from a hierarchy of opponents.

Group one consists of the three schools in the conference with the most volleyball tradition and it moves on down from there. It’s a very interesting ticket plan for an obsessed volleyball fan.

Minnesota reached the Sweet 16 in 2013 but lost their two kill leaders from last season.

Washington

Out in PAC-12 country the Washington Huskies are predicted to not win the conference, just like last season. That’s fine for the Huskies as they won the PAC-12 in 2013 and made it to the Final Four in the tournament. Washington’s volleyball program is nestled in a nice situation as the school’s football team is not overpowering. Check out its short promotional video. Something Penn State and Texas don’t have.

Washington has expanded into sand volleyball in 2014, a very promising sign that the school is committed to being a power in the indoor sport as well. Senior outside hitters Kaleigh Nelson and Krista Vansant return as the two leaders in kills and were named to the All PAC-12 preseason team.

Marquette

Marquette does not have a football team meaning volleyball is large and in charge in autumn. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these ticket prices.

Dang, $70 for courtside seats is almost as expensive as the Milwaukee Bucks. The Golden Eagles lost in the second round last year to Illinois. Unfortunately, Marquette has just one senior on the roster so it will be a challenge for it to improve on that finish.

Morehead State

Smaller schools, such as Morehead, are also promoting volleyball stronger than the finalists from last season. Take a look at Morehead boasting about its Ohio Valley Conference titles.

With #EagleEmpire you know you’re a volleyball school.

New Hampshire

The Wildcats won the American East last season and are the favorites to do so again. The conference let New Hampshire Outside Hitter Abby Brinkman take over the league’s Twitter account in July and there were plenty of highlights.

Abby made this picture the banner photo for the conference for a weekend to put some muscle into the American East.

Buffalo

Things got silly for the Bulls at their media day. It’s an early candidate for selfie of the year.

Southern Mississippi

Want to know what a coach thinks of a player? Well Southern Miss just comes out and says it in its tweets.

The WINNER: Hawaii

The best volleyball program on social media leading up to the season has been the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine. First, the school is making a strong effort to honor its coach, Dave Shoji, who is celebrating 40 years at the program. Picture after picture has been used to show Coach Shoji at the time of each significant achievement in his tenure. To national championships to reaching 500 wins.

The woman on the right must be really glad the school brought back that picture.

Most of all though is the passion of the Hawaii fans. Look at how many were at last year’s first round win against Idaho State.

Over 8,000 fans were on hand for that first round game. That’s more than three times the attendance at Penn State’s second round game against Utah and more than twice of the second round game at Texas. Did I mention Texas was playing arch rival Texas A&M in that game? Whoops.

For volleyball to grow it needs to have schools see it as a companion to football and not as a side item. Hawaii and the Big West Conference have been the leaders on that process so far.

That’s why I’m picking Hawaii to beat Washington in the championship at Oklahoma City this December. Not because of talent but because of fan support and passion.

Will it happen though with eight newcomers? The Rainbow Wahine should be hungry after being caught off guard against BYU in the second round in 2013. They were the No. 11 overall seed last year and return some key players from their team that beat Texas in the regular season. Hawaii is deep in outside hitters with Nikki Taylor, Tai Manu-Olevao and senior leader Kalei Adopho.

Either way, Hawaii will be the most interesting team to follow in women’s volleyball this season. With its fan support you can count on that.