Five takeaways from FCS Week 2
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - There's plenty of weirdness to having FCS college football games in February - the start of a season that was mostly delayed to the spring semester.
At the same time, seeing FCS powers North Dakota State and James Madison notch victories and having a Top 5 matchup like South Dakota State's thrilling win over Northern Iowa felt just right this weekend.
There were eight postponements for weather and COVID-19 reasons, but with the "spring" action growing across the FCS, here are five takeaways from Week 2:
- Deion Sanders getting a win in his Jackson State coaching debut was a formality due to the level of opponent in the Tigers' 53-0 victory over NAIA program Edward Waters. Still, Troy Aikman surprised his former Super Bowl-winning teammate with a pre-game visit, a crowd of about 12,000 was enthusiastic, the all-red uniforms delivered on Coach Prime's promise to look good while winning and the water bucket treatment capped off the shutout. Sanders was livid when he announced at the postgame news conference some personal belongings were stolen out of the locker room during the game, but he later wrote about their recovery in a tweet.
- Tarleton has made quite the splash two games into its inaugural FCS season. The independent Texans, who will be a part of the Western Athletic Conference's upcoming return to football, took long-time power McNeese to two overtimes before falling 40-37 in the lone Week 1 game on Feb. 13. They didn't let a win slip away in their second game, pounding FBS independent New Mexico State 43-17. Senior quarterback Cameron Burston scored on a 70-yard run less than 30 seconds into the game and accounted for four touchdowns as well as 327 yards of total offense.
- The two preeminent programs in the FCS turned to new starting quarterbacks - both fifth-year seniors. James Madison, the 2016 national champ and the runner-up in 2018 and '19, mostly needs Cole Johnson to manage games, which he did (10 of 14, 147 yards, touchdown) while the Dukes' deep running backs unit dissected Morehead State 52-0. The 6-foot-5 Johnson will eventually be faced with delivering in championship-winning moments. At three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, Zeb Noland doesn't have the running ability of Bison signal callers during the 2010s dynasty seasons, so he will have to win games with his arm. That ability wasn't featured in a 25-7 victory over Youngstown State as the 2019 Iowa State transfer was 9 of 18 for 74 yards.
- Let's get … conservative? None of the 21 FCS teams in action reached 300 passing yards and only seven surpassed 200 as offenses ran the ball 59 percent of the time. It's not as though the "spring" season beginning in the winter was the reason to run, run, run because three games were played in domes and the nine held outdoors had mostly fine weather.
- South Dakota State's 24-20 win at Northern Iowa underscores the premium being placed on wins, especially in a power conference such as the Missouri Valley. UNI is immediately playing uphill in the conference race, knowing there only six at-large bids in the FCS playoffs, which were dropped from 24 to 16 teams for the spring. A 7-1 or 6-2 MVFC team would surely make the field due to strength of schedule, but there's also no guarantee of a full regular season for any team, so the losses hurt even more than in a normal season. The Big Sky, which like the MVFC is playing conference-only, and the CAA, which had a record six playoff bids in 2018, are the other top conferences that face fewer bids than usual. Any other conference will be thrilled with receiving multiple bids in a 16-team field.
Updated February 23, 2021