TAKEAWAYS | Hats off to the FCS for living up to its title and more
Four observations from the college football weekend:
HATS OFF TO JAMES MADISON
The Dukes won 20-7 at No. 9 Villanova on Saturday to clinch their second consecutive CAA Football championship. It's just the second outright title in program history.
"I’m lucky to have the best group of young men in college football," said JMU first-year head coach Mike Houston. "I’m very proud to be their coach."
The Dukes (9-1), who remained No. 6 in this week's STATS FCS Poll, are determined to finish what they started last year. They rolled to a 7-0 record last season before losing quarterback Vad Lee to injury.
Led by senior running back Khalid Abdullah, JMU leads CAA Football in offense. The Dukes are second in FCS scoring offense (46.2 points per game) and fifth in FCS rushing (290.6 yards per game). Abdullah is sixth in the nation with 1,175 rushing yards.
Against Villanova, Abdullah rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It was his seventh 100-yard game this season. Freshman Cole Johnson stepped in at quarterback when Bryan Schor left early in the second quarter.
"It was really fast in the beginning," said Cole, who finished 5-of-12 passing for 43 yards. "Everything was moving very fast – first college experience – but I think I kind of settled in and went out there and played ball like I usually do."
Houston said the victory was JMU's best team performance of the year.
"To win a ball game against the team a caliber of Villanova. I told my wife, I told everyone close to me, that I thought that this was our toughest test of the year. ... This will be one that I’ll never forget in my career."
The Dukes might be headed for an unforgettable finish to their season.
HATS OFF TO THE FCS
FCS stands for Football Championship Series — and delivers.
And this weekend FCS means Football Championship Showdown.
Half of the 10 automatic qualifiers for the 24-team FCS playoff field are set, including James Madison, Lehigh (Patriot League) and The Citadel (Southern Conference).
That leaves five conference championships to be decided, including winner-take-all games Saturday in the Ohio Valley and Southland. (The Ivy League champion does not compete in the FCS playoffs.)
Sam Houston State, the No. 1-ranked team in the STATS FCS Top 25, takes on Central Arkansas for the Southland championship. The Bearkats are 10-0 and both team are undefeated in league play at 8-0.
"It feels great to be 10-0, have a conference championship game coming up this weekend," SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler said after a 48-16 victory against Northwestern State on Saturday. "As a player, as a coach, you dream about playing in a conference championship game. We get the chance to play in one."
The Bearkats, who have won 10 games in five of the past six years, lead FCS in total offense (592.4 yards per game) and scoring offense (53.7 points per game).
Central Arkansas, meanwhile, leads the Southland in total defense (285.1 ypg) and and scoring defense (13.8 ppg).
"We're excited about playing a really, really good football team at our place this weekend," Keeler said.
Meanwhile, No. 2-ranked Jacksonville State (9-1) claimed a share of its third consecutive OVC championship on Saturday with a 33-15 victory against Murray State.
"Overall, just proud of the road win," said Gamecocks head coach John Grass. "Hopefully it will be the last road game for awhile."
Grass is not just thinking about Saturday's game against second-place UT Martin, which will determine the OVC's automatic playoff qualifier. The Gamecocks, who lost to North Dakota State in the FCS championship game last season, likely will have home-field advantage through the semifinals — if they win Saturday.
UT Martin, which beat Southeast Missouri 24-10 on Saturday for its fifth consecutive victory, has something to prove after missing the STATS FCS Top 25 rankings all season.
“We’re a good football team,” said Skyhawks head coach Jason Simpson. “There is nothing flashy about us, but we can force you to commit turnovers. We have six wins in the conference and we are playing for a conference championship. I certainly believe that we are one of the Top 24 teams in the nation."
HATS OFF TO THE BIG SOUTH
The last week of the regular season features some fantastic finales.
Saturday's Kennesaw State-Charleston Southern winner will earn a share of the title with Liberty. Then it gets complicated, as STATS FCS Senior Editor Craig Haley explained:
"But then it gets really intriguing. Charleston Southern (6-3, 3-1) can't qualify for the playoffs unless it wins the game and claims the automatic bid, which would come from owning the tiebreaker over Liberty (6-4, 4-1). The Bucs don't have the necessary six Division I wins for an at-large bid. Kennesaw State (8-2, 3-1) may not make the field even with a win over CSU because Liberty owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over KSU. The Owls have the best overall record among the three, but their resume includes three wins below the D-I level and a loss to East Tennessee State. If Charleston Southern earns the auto bid, then Liberty likely needs to win at old rival Coastal Carolina Thursday night to be an at-large factor."
After the dust settles on Saturday, the FCS playoff bracket with 10 conference champions and six at-large teams will be announced on Sunday.
The playoffs kick off Nov. 26 with eight first-round games.
HATS OFF TO THE CITADEL
Of the 253 schools that play NCAA Division I football, the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs are one of four remaining undefeated teams. Alabama, Western Michigan and Sam Houston State are the others.
On Saturday, The Citadel (10-0) beat VMI 30-20 to become the seventh team in Southern Conference history to win eight games. They completed a perfect run in conference play for the first time in program history and the SoCon's first since Appalachian State in 2009.
The Bulldogs can complete an undefeated regular season with a victory Saturday at North Carolina. And before you laugh off an FCS team beating an FBS team, especially one from a Power Five conference, remember that North Dakota State beat Iowa, which beat undefeated Michigan on Saturday.
And don't forget this:
Photo courtesy JMU Athletics