Will these six FCS teams overcome poor starts?
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - A struggling FCS team can't press the rewind button on September, but a good finishing touch on Saturday will give it the chance to move forward into a stronger October.
That sounds better than reaching for the panic button.
With conference play mainly taking over in the FCS, titles and postseason bids will be in the offing.
Here are six FCS teams that hope to overcome poor starts to the season:
No. 21 Eastern Washington (1-3)
Big Sky Preseason Ranking: No. 1
Worst Loss: 35-27 at Idaho
Who's Up Next: North Dakota
Big Picture: The 2018 FCS national runner-up is fortunate its loss to Idaho (the Eagles trailed 28-0 at halftime) did not count in the Big Sky standings. The conference schedule appeared favorable heading into the season, but now there's a number of scary matchups ahead, and the Eagles have to go at least 7-1 to claim a playoff bid. Their win over Division II Lindenwood doesn't count on the playoff resume. The defense is never top notch, but there's been more, take your pick, mistakes/turnovers/penalties/sacks than expected. Coach Aaron Best's squad appears in trouble.
Patriot League Preseason Ranking: No. 1
Worst Loss: 38-10 at William & Mary
Who's Up Next: at Dartmouth
Big Picture: The non-league schedule has been much too tough and that includes another likely loss at Dartmouth. Come Oct. 5, the Raiders can reclaim the favorite's role in the Patriot League, although in a shaky way. The defense isn't nearly as smothering as last season, especially in stopping the run. With that said, the offense deserves a ton of blame, too, and No. 1 quarterback Grant Breneman isn't fully healthy (he should be back for league play). The Raiders have to play on the road against the second (Holy Cross) and third (Georgetown) choices in the league's preseason poll.
Pioneer Football League Preseason Ranking: No. 3
Worst Loss: 10-7 to Truman State
Who's Up Next: at Marist
Big Picture: Division II Truman State has beaten two Pioneer League teams, so maybe Drake's loss isn't so … no, no, no, we're not going there. That's a surprising loss for a Bulldogs program that was 7-4 in four of the last five seasons and now seeks to avoid its first 0-4 start since 1991. First-year coach Todd Stepsis needs the offense to pick up and that means maturation from true freshman quarterback Ian Corwin and a better run game. The defense should still be one of the better ones in the PFL.
SWAC Preseason Ranking: No. 1 West Division
Worst Loss: 27-21 at Florida A&M
Who's Up Next: at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Big Picture: There's no exceptionally bad loss on the Jaguars' resume, but they're too talented to get swept by both McNeese and FAMU. It will get easier back in the SWAC, but the margin for error is small given only one West Division team advances to the conference championship game, where Southern lost to Alcorn State last season. Quarterback Ladarius Skelton hasn't picked up where he left off last season.
Tennessee State (1-3)
Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Ranking: No. 5 tie
Worst Loss: 37-31 to Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Who's Up Next: at Eastern Kentucky
Big Picture: Every TSU game has been close, including Middle Tennessee State, but the Tigers seem to find a way to lose. Coach Rod Reed has been on the hot seat for some underachieving seasons and the recent ineligibility of well-traveled transfer Emmanuel Olenga doesn't help the cause. The bright spot has been wide receiver/return specialist Chris Rowland, one of the best players in the FCS. Starting the OVC schedule with Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State on the road may knock out the Tigers before the race basically starts.
Southern Conference Preseason Ranking: No. 1
Worst Loss: 28-13 at South Carolina State
Who's Up Next: at VMI
Big Picture: The season-opening loss to South Carolina State was more surprising, but the SoCon defeat against Samford was most harmful. Ranked No. 9 nationally in the preseason, the Terriers can likely still get on a roll, but they may have to win out in conference play to claim the automatic bid. They are strong against the run in a run-heavy conference, but coach Josh Conklin implementing more run-pass option with quarterback Joe Newman hasn't been ideal for an offense that was recruited for the flexbone option.
Updated September 26, 2019