FCS Week 1: Top 10 Preview
For some, it's a chance to test against FBS opponents
No. 1 North Dakota State opens its 117th season of college football at defending Big 12 champion Kansas State at 8:30 p.m. ET Friday. The Bison return 18 starters after posting back-to-back 14-1 seasons with two Missouri Valley Football Conference championships and the school’s ninth and 10th national titles.
This is the second meeting between North Dakota State and Kansas State and first since 1931, when the Bison lost 19-6. NDSU is 1-1 against Big 12 competition since 2004. The Bison lost 34-17 at Iowa State in the 2009 opener and won 6-3 at Kansas in the 2010 opener.
North Dakota State is 12-0 on the road during the past two seasons, including two victories in Frisco, Texas, in the FCS national championship. The Bison have won 17 of their past 21 road games and are 37-20 on the road since head coach Craig Bohl took over in 2003. NDSU is opening on the road for only the third time under Bohl.
The Bison have a 79-30-7 record all time in season openers, including an 18-13-3 road mark.
Bohl enters his 11th season with an 89-32 record (.736), just two wins shy of NDSU all-time coaching wins leader Rocky Hager, who went 91-25-1 (.782) in 10 seasons from 1987-96.
North Dakota State has been picked to win the MVFC, earning all 39 first-place votes in a poll conducted by league coaches, media and sports information directors.
North Dakota State returns All-American selections Billy Turner at offensive tackle and Marcus Williams at cornerback. The Bison also have their starting quarterback, Brock Jensen, back, as well as Sam Ojuri and John Crockett, both of whom accumulated 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2012, and their top five receivers. The defensive side of the ball is just as stacked with six of the top seven tacklers from last year back in addition to the top-three players in sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions.
Kansas State returns 11 starters from last year's 11-2 team, including Rimington, Lombardi and Outland awards candidate B.J. Finney at center and Outland Trophy candidate Cornelius Lucas at left tackle. Preseason All-Big 12 pick John Hubert, a two-year starter, returns at running back.
One position that must be replaced is quarterback as the Wildcats lost the services of Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein. Sophomore Daniel Sams and community college transfer Jake Waters are battling for the starting spot,
and both could see playing time against the Bison.
Defensively, preseason awards candidate Ty Zimmerman is back at safety, while cornerback Randall Evans and linebacker Tre Walker also return, but those three make up the entirety of the returning starters on that side of the ball.
Kansas State, which boasts one of the nation’s best specialty units, has back Tyler Lockett (kick returner) and Tramaine Thompson (punt returner), each of whom ranked in the top 10 nationally in 2012. However, a new punter and kicker must emerge from a group of players with limited experience for head coach Bill Snyder, entering his 22nd season.
Houston Baptist at No. 3 Sam Houston State, 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Sam Houston State faces an opponent this weekend the Bearkats know almost nothing about.
That’s because Houston Baptist University is playing its inaugural game as an NCAA football program. The 2013 season will be a developmental year for HBU, with the Huskies playing an abbreviated, seven-game schedule with no conference affiliation before joining the Southland Conference next season.
Players to watch include sophomore quarterback Jonathan Fleming, freshman quarterback Ka'Darius Baker, wide receiver Darian Lazard, a junior transfer from Houston, freshman running back Craig Bell II and freshman wide receiver Terrance Hawkins on offense. On defense, HBU will be led by freshman linebacker Garrett Dolan, freshman safety Cody Moncure and freshman defensive back Ja'Halen Norris.
Sam Houston State has 11 starters back from last year's 11-4 team. Heading the list of six returning starters on offense are running back Timothy Flanders, quarterback Brian Bell and wide receiver/wildkat back Richard Sincere.
Flanders is Sam Houston’s all-time rushing and scoring leader. Bell is the Bearkats’ all-time winningest quarterback (30 victories in 38 starts) and ranks No. 1 in SHSU career passing (6,165 yards), touchdown passes (52) and total offense yards (7,080).
Sincere has rushed for 1,835 career yards and caught 57 passes for 907 yards. He has rushed for 19 scores and caught five TD passes. The senior stands No. 10 in Sam Houston career all-purpose yards with a three-year total of 2,791.
The trio have combined for 23 plays of more than 50 yards as Sam Houston has gone 31-10 during their three seasons as Bearkats.
The Bearkat defense that has been so dominate the past two years, allowing just 12.0 points and 262.0 yards per game in Southland Conference action, must replace six players who earned All-Southland honors a total of 15 times in the past three seasons.
SHSU has won 12 of its last 15 season openers and owns an 18-9 record in opening games since moving up to the NCAA FCS level in 1986.
No. 4 Eastern Washington at Oregon State, 6 p.m. ET Saturday
Like it did against Washington and Washington State, the Eagles are trying to make believers out of Oregon State, which is ranked 25th in the FBS.
This is the third consecutive year the Eagles have played teams from the Pac-12 Conference, and the previous two years Eastern had last-possession chances to take the lead and possibly pull off the upset. Eastern fell 24-20 at Washington State last season, and 30-27 to Washington in 2011.
This is the 10th time Eastern has played a current member of the Pac-12 Conference, and Eastern came away winless in the first nine. Included was a 56-17 loss at Oregon State in 2006 when the Eagles fell behind 35-0, as well as a narrow 21-19 loss in 2000 in the first meeting between the schools.
Since the early 1980s when it began the move to become a member of FCS (in 1984), Eastern is now 8-20 all time against FBS teams.
In 2012, the Eagles finished 11-3 overall and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs. Oregon State was 9-4 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-12 Conference, and finished the year ranked 19th nationally. The Beavers return 15 starters and a combined 302 career starts. By contrast, EWU returns 12 starters and has 33 players returning with 301 career starts between them.
The Eagles have eight former players who previously spent time on rosters of Pac-12 teams. Included is UCLA transfer Tevin McDonald, who had 135 tackles in 27 career games (24 starts) the
past two seasons for the Bruins. Offensive tackle Jake Rodgers started all 12 games at Washington State last year. Running back Demitrius Bronson and defensive tackle Andru Pulu both saw action previously at Washington.
No. 5 Villanova at Boston College, noon ET Saturday
During the tenure of head coach Andy Talley, Villanova has registered a 14-14 mark in season openers. Of the 14 losses, 11 have come against FBS opponents.
The game against Boston College will mark the 18th time that Villanova has played an FBS opponent since the Wildcats restored football at the FCS level in 1985. In the previous 17 games, Villanova tallied a 3-14 record.
Villanova and Boston College will be playing each other for the first time in 33 years, after they met every year from 1955-80. The most recent game between the two schools in 1980 was won by Villanova, which was led on defense by Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long.
Talley is just two wins shy of 200 career Villanova victories. His 29-year Villanova record currently stands at 198-120-1 (.622), while his 34-year overall record is 226-138-2 (.620). Throughout his Villanova career, Talley has
led the Wildcats to 21 winning seasons, 10 NCAA playoff appearances, six conference championships, three national semifinals and the 2009 national championship.
Villanova returns 16 starters, including running back Kevin Monangai and quarterback Josh Robertson, who each rushed for more than 1,000 yards. It's the only time in school history Villanova has had two players rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Also returning are preseason First Team All-America selection Antoine Lewis and third-team honoree Dan Shirey.
Butler at No. 6 South Dakota State, 7 p.m. ET Saturday
During the John Stiegelemeier head coaching era, South Dakota State has compiled a 10-6 record in season openers. SDSU won its first seven season-opening games under Stiegelemeier when competing at the Division II level, but has gone 3-6 in openers since moving to the FCS in 2004.
The Jackrabbits most recently opened the season at home in 2011, holding on for a 29-28 victory against Southern Utah.
South Dakota State returns 15 starters to a squad that tied a school record for wins (nine) and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs last year. Among the returnees is Zach Zenner, who set a league single-season record for rushing yards during the 2012 season, totaling an FCS-best 2,044 yards in 13 games.
South Dakota State also retains the services of senior defensive ends Doug Peete and Marshall Peugh, who helped the Jackrabbits to a fifth-place ranking in scoring defense and eighth in total defense.
Butler returns 17 starters, including quarterback Matt Lancaster and running back Trae Heeter. The Bulldogs have to replace leading tackler Jordan Ridley, but eight of the team’s top 10 tacklers return, led by defensive backs
Sean Grady and Jayme Szafranski.
No. 8 Wofford at Baylor, 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Wofford is opening on the road for the fifth consecutive season and playing Baylor for the first time. Baylor is 16-3 at home during the past three seasons.
Wofford has finished among the top seven schools in the nation in rushing in each of the past 16 years. The Terriers’ wingbone offense puts a premium on ball control and keeping the opponent’s offense on the
boundary. Eight times the Terriers have been second in the nation in rushing yards per game, while in 2010 and '11 they finished first. The were second in 2012.
Wofford returns 10 starters from last year's team but must replace its all-time leading rusher, fullback Eric Breitenstein. Donovan Johnson is the top returning rusher at 473 yards. In contrast, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk is being mentioned by many as a Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 1,012 yards last season.
The defense returns Mike McCrimon, its top tackler, and Alvin Scioneaux, who led led the team in tackles for loss and sacks last season.
Wofford is currently the second-smallest school in the FCS with an enrollment of 1,600 students.
Savannah State at No. 9 Georgia Southern, 6 p.m. ET Saturday
Georgia Southern leads the all-time series 9-0, including 8-0 at Paulson Stadium. The opener will mark Georgia Southern's 400th game in the modern era.
Georgia Southern is 15-3 overall in home openers, winning 11 of the past 12 in Paulson Stadium. Overall, the Eagles are 21-10 in season-opening games. Saturday’s game will be the fourth meeting between Georgia Southern and Savannah State in a season-opening game for both teams.
Georgia Southern is led by senior quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who was selected to the 2013 Walter Payton Award watch list. He led the Eagles in rushing and scoring in 2012 and amassed 1,817 rushing yards, the
third-highest single-season total in Georgia Southern history. Other players receiving preseason recognition for the Eagles include running back Dominique Swope and offensive linemen Dorian Byrd and Garrett Frye.
Georgia Southern finished the 2012 campaign with a per-game rushing average of 399.4, which earned the Division I rushing crown ahead of FBS-best Army and its 369.83 average. Georgia Southern, the FCS’ winningest team with more than 50 games played, posting a .721 winning percentage and 287 all-time wins, begins its transition to the FBS in 2013.
Behind head coach Earnest Wilson, who will make his official collegiate head coaching debut, Savannah State will look to turn around a program that has finished with 1-10 records the past three seasons. The most recent time the Tigers won a season opener was in 2009.
Savannah State's offense will be led by senior wide receiver Simon Heyward. Wilson announced early this week that the starting quarterback will be redshirt freshman Leon Prunty. The defense is anchored by John Wilson, who led the Tigers with four interceptions and seven breakups last season.