TEAM OF THE WEEK | No. 1 Sam Houston State charging after an even higher one


Finally, Sam Houston State has bested North Dakota State.

Not head-to-head, at least not yet.

SATURDAY ON ASN: Sam Houston State at Nicholls, 3:30 p.m. (click logo for local listings)

But the Bearkats are No. 1 in FCS, supplanting the five-time defending national champion Bison. North Dakota State lost to South Dakota State 19-17 Saturday on a last-second touchdown, dropping to 5-2 and 19th in the STATS FCS Top 25.

The Bearkats, meanwhile, rolled to a 6-0 record with a 48-21 victory against Abilene Christian. They moved up from No. 2 to No. 1 in the STATS FCS Top 25.

“A great honor,” said third-year head coach K.C. Keeler. “But I think this team is mature enough to understand that No. 1 in October isn’t the final destination. It’s just part of the journey and the bull’s-eye on our back just got a little bit bigger.”

The Bearkats, who also reached No. 1 briefly last year, are 4-1 all-time as the top-ranked team.

But their No. 1 priority is not the No. 1 ranking. The Bearkats are aiming for their first NCAA national championship.

They have reached the FCS semifinals in four of the past five years and the national championship game twice. North Dakota State ended their season three times — 17-6 in the 2011 FCS championship, 39-13 in the 2012 FCS championship and 35-3 in the 2014 semifinals. Last year, they lost 62-10 to Jacksonville State in the semis.

“A national championship is the only thing missing from our resume,” Keeler said. “That’s the goal. We’ve come within a game of the championship finals each of the last two years. That’s the foundation our seniors have built. The disappointment of the loss at JSU will only motivate everyone connected with this program to work even harder next year.”

The Bearkats returned 16 starters and 33 lettermen from last year’s team, which finished 11-4 and led the nation with 531.7 total yards per game. They’ve left that mark in the dust this season, averaging 608.2 total yards and 54.8 points per game. They’ve also outscored opponents in the first half, 203-51.

Running backs Corey Avery and Remus Bulmer, who have combined for 178.5 rushing yards per game and 13 touchdown, are both on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. So is wide receiver Yedidiah Louis (515 yards, 4 TDs).

Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe leads the No. 2 passing offense in FCS (363 yards per game). He has thrown for 346.7 yards per game and 26 TDs this season with only four interceptions. But two came against Abilene Christian, which concerned Keeler.

“Sometimes you get a little greedy,” he said. “We scored 63 points two weeks in a row and we feel like each time we could have scored at least 70. I think sometimes when you are playing that well you sometimes jump ahead and tell yourself, ‘OK, we’re unstoppable.'”

So far they have been.

But their strength of schedule — or lack of strength — makes the Bearkats a projected No. 4 seed in the FCS playoffs. None of the six teams the Bearkats have beaten are above .500.

Nicholls, next in line to try and stop SHSU Saturday on ASN, is 3-3 (3-1 in the Southland Conference).

All they can do is keep winning.

“Every game is a dogfight,” said safety Alonzo McMillan, who had an interception against ACU. “Every game is a big game for us. So we are going to prepare for it like it’s anyone else. They are all big games in our world.”

Above: Sam Houston State is No. 1 in FCS for the second consecutive year, but the Bearkat’s No. 1 priority is winning their first NCAA national championship. (Courtesy SHSU Athletics)

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.