Our top four takeaways from the college football weekend look ahead to a big Saturday on ASN with games involving No. 20 Western Michigan, FCS No. 1 Sam Houston State and surging Old Dominion:
ROWING AND ROLLING
P.J. Fleck made “Row The Boat” Western Michigan’s football mantra when he took over as head coach in 2013.
And now, in Fleck’s fourth season, the Broncos are rowing quite merrily. Their journey continues Saturday on ASN against Eastern Michigan (5-2, 2-1 MAC). A win will match the best start in school history.
The best team you aren’t hearing much about is 7-0 for the first time since 1941 and ranked for the first time in school history — No. 20 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Amway Coaches Poll.
They are averaging 493.7 yards and 44.3 points per game, led by running backs Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan, quarterback Zach Terrell and MAC career receiving leader Corey Davis. Franklin, an ASN FBS #GameChanger nominee, set a school single-game record with 281 yards rushing in a 41-0 victory against Akron.
The defense is allowing only 337.6 yards and 17.6 points per game. Both units are No. 2 in MAC.
They also have beaten two Power 5 opponents for the first time in one season, the Big Ten’s Illinois and Northwestern.
At this rate, Western Michigan might be headed into unchartered territory — the Group of 5’s spot in a New Year’s 6 bowl game. But there’s a long way to go.
After Eastern Michigan, the Broncos have a bye week. They finish the season against Ball State, Kent State, Buffalo, Toledo and possibly the MAC Championship.
It’s all part of “Row The Boat,” which Fleck explained in 2013.
“There are three parts to rowing the boat,” he said. “There is the oar, which is the energy behind rowing the boat. There is the boat, which is the actual sacrifice, either our team or the administration or the boosters or the audience or whoever is willing to sacrifice for this program. There is also the compass. Every single person that comes in contact with our football program, fans or not, they are all going for one common goal and that is success.”
Fleck’s success has made the 35-year-old one of the hottest coaching prospects in college football outside of Houston’s Tom Herman. The Broncos have won 14 of their past 16 games and are 23-10 since a 1-11 record in Fleck’s first season.
He played receiver at Northern Illinois and for two seasons with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers before coaching receivers for Dave Doeren at NIU, and Greg Schiano at Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He wore cleats during Bucs practices, often running routes and simulating defenses with the receivers.
At 32, Fleck became the youngest head coach in FBS when WMU hired him on Dec. 17, 2012. He’s also the first FBS head coach born in the 1980s and clearly can speak to the hashtag generation.
Row The Boat — or RTB — resonates with players. Two weeks ago at his weekly news conference, Fleck coined a new acronym for WMU’s season.
“I’ll start by saying ADS,” he said. “Ain’t Done Squat. We really haven’t. That’s the message we’ve given our players. That’s how we feel. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Merrily down the stream.
NEW NO. 1 IN FCS
Sam Houston State is the new No. 1 in the STATS FCS Top 25 after top-ranked North Dakota State’s 19-17 loss in the final seconds to South Dakota State. Fifth-ranked Chattanooga also lost for the first time.
The Bearkats, meanwhile, rolled to a 6-0 record with a 48-21 victory against Abilene Christian. They scored touchdowns on seven of eight drives and are one of two undefeated teams remaining in FCS.
Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe was 31-of-39 passing for 404 yards and 6 touchdowns. The junior is No. 2 in FCS with 2,080 yards. He also has thrown for 26 TDs with only 4 interceptions. Two came against ACU, which concerned head coach K.C. Keeler.
“Sometimes you get a little greedy,” Keeler 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. They lead FCS with 608.2 total yards and 54.8 points per game. They’ve outscored opponents in the first half 203-51.
Nicholls (3-3, 3-1 SLC) is next in line to try and stop the Bearkats Saturday on ASN.
“Every game is a dogfight,” said safety Alonzo McMillan, who 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.”
Halfway through the season, Old Dominion is in a good place.
The Monarchs are 4-2, two games from bowl eligibility in their third FBS season. They’re 2-0 in Conference USA, just behind 3-0 FIU in the East Division. They’ve also won three in a row.
Now comes the hard part.
Starting Saturday on ASN against Western Kentucky (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) the Monarchs face a tough finishing stretch of six games. That includes Marshall Nov. 5 on ASN, Southern Miss Nov. 12 on ASN and FIU on Nov. 26.
They need two wins to qualify for their first bowl game and UTEP on Oct. 29 and Florida Atlantic on Nov. 19 appear to be winnable contests. But that appeared to be the case last year, when ODU only needed to beat 2-9 FAU to reach the postseason. The Monarchs lost 33-31, turning the ball over on downs in the final minute.
“It is important to remember that the teams we have beaten so far were the ones who were picked near the bottom, just like us,” said head coach Billy Wilder. “Starting with WKU, we will be playing the teams that we weren’t picked to beat.
“All we can do is focus on the process and practice situational football. … I do feel like we are in a much better place than we were in the beginning of the season.
And Wilder knows it’s not how you start that counts, but how you finish.
Led by No. 6 Richmond and No. 8 James Madison, CAA Football had five teams in the STATS FCS Top 25 — most of any conference.
The Dukes (6-1 overall) lead the league at 4-0 record after a 42-39 victory against New Hampshire Saturday on ASN.
The Spiders (6-1, 3-1) remained No. 6 in the Top 25 after beating Villanova, 23-0. The No. 16 Wildcats (5-2), No. 23 Albany (4-2) and No. 24 Stony Brook (4-2) also made the Top 25.
Ohio Valley Conference leader Jacksonville State moved up to No. 2 and The Citadel (6-0), the other unbeaten FCS team, rose to No. 5. The Bulldogs beat Chattanooga 22-14 to take over first in the Southern Conference. They reached their highest ranking since 1992.
Big South leader Charleston Southern (3-2) also cracked the Top 10 at No. 9. Chattanooga (6-1) dropped six spots to No. 11 and North Dakota State (5-2), the five-time defending national champions, tumbled to No. 19.