October is also a great month for the FCS.
By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
Gone are most of the FBS opponents, also the out-of-conference play is for the most part over and we get into the meat of the conference play.
This week, I would will breakdown what we know so far and will go over what I expect to see the rest of the season in the FCS West.
What do the "CSN West" conference races look like so far?
To remind everyone, the "CSN West" includes the Big Sky Conference, the Great West Conference, the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Pioneer Football League, the Southland, and FCS Independents.
In the Big Sky Conference, Montana State is looking like the team running away with the league so far with a record of 4-1 overall and 2-0 in league play. Last year’s conference co-champion and the national champions of Eastern Washington sit at 1-4 overall and 1-2 in league play.
The surprising team thus far in the Big Sky is Portland State as the Vikings sit at 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the league.
Montana seems to be somewhat back to their winning ways after finishing a disappointing 7-4 last year. The Grizzlies sit at 3-2 overall and 2-1 in BSC action. Weber State is also 2-1 in league play but are 2-3 overall.
In the Great West, the standings are all muddled up so we really don't have a dominate team yet with just one league game played.
So far, North Dakota appears to be making a run after finishing winless in league play last year.
Southern Utah is the highest ranked team in the GWC but lost to the Fighting Sioux last week after its impressive win over FBS Nevada-Las Vegas the week before. South Dakota has an impressive win over last year’s national champions in Eastern Washington and has two losses to FBS foes, as does the two California GWC schools.
In the Missouri Valley Football Conference, three teams appeared to rise to the top thus far in Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, and Indiana State.
These three teams are undefeated in league play thus far. Southern Illinois appeared as if it was going to join that group but the Salukis lost to Western Illinois last week.
Youngstown State is another team that has rebounded as the Penguins won just one game in the conference last year.
South Dakota State and Missouri State appear to be headed to finish at the bottom of the standings.
In the Pioneer League, three teams have risen to the top thus far with two of them expected. Jacksonville and Drake were two teams that were selected to finish towards the top of the standings but are joined by San Diego, who has rebounded to top contention thus far.
Campbell, Marist, Davidson, and Valparaiso are winless in league play and those results are not too surprising as those three schools were slated to finish towards the bottom of the standings.
Dayton is 3-2 overall but lost last week to Butler, who is also 3-2 overall. Both schools are 1-1 now in league play.
In the Southland Conference, Sam Houston State and McNeese State have stood out thus far. SHSU is one of just three teams that are undefeated in the FCS ranks after five weeks of play — joining Georgia Southern and North Dakota State. McNeese State has lost just one game, to their FBS opponent Kansas.
The surprising team so far has been Lamar with its 3-1 overall mark.
Defending league champion Stephen F. Austin was a team that needed some retooling as the Lumberjacks lost a number of players from the past year.
For the four independents, all have played about to expectations. As mentioned in my preview, three of the four schools will be headed to the FBS ranks soon with Georgia State the exception. The Panthers will be going to the Colonial Athletic Conference next year.
Former Southland members Texas State and UTSA will be going to the Western Athletic Conference and South Alabama will be going to the Sun Belt Conference.
How do I think the ‘West’ races will finish?
In the Big Sky, I picked Montana State at the beginning of the season and I don't see any reason why the Bobcats will not win the league at this point. I think their rival of Montana will finish right behind them.
In the Great West, I believe North Dakota has shown they can play well against some good opponents on the road with a narrow loss to FBS Fresno State and last week’s win at Southern Utah. The Fighting Sioux will play some non-DI competition yet but the young team has shown promise and believe they will only get better as the season progresses.
In the Missouri Valley, I think the top three teams in the standings now will be the top three to end the season and they might just beat each other up. Games this week and throughout the month of October should be a good telling sign on who might be the best of the bunch between UNI, NDSU and Indiana State.
In the Pioneer League, I believe it will be Jacksonville that rises above the rest with both Drake and San Diego finishing closely behind.
In the Southland, I believe the race will continue with McNeese State and Sam Houston State.
For the independents, Texas State appears to be the top team now and believe they have competed well against most of their opponents. The Bobcats will likely win the mythical independent crown, which only sees a couple games against the four schools without any affiliation this year.
And I am sure there will be a few more surprises along the way as every year there seems to be a team that starts out poorly, yet finishes very good.
In any event, the month of October should spell out all of these races.
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CSN WEST GAMES OF THE WEEK
This week, there are a number of key contests so I will just list these with results that I believe will happen.
Dayton (3-2, 1-1) at Jacksonville(3-2, 2-0), 1:00 Eastern
These two teams have been the cream of the crop in the PFL the past few seasons. I like the home team to come away with this one.
Jacksonville 41 Dayton 34
Sam Houston State(4-0, 1-0) vs. Stephen F Austin (1-4, 0-2) at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, 3:00 Eastern
This is the Battle of the Piney Woods but I think the Bearkats will handle the Lumberjacks in this game.
SHSU 28 SFA 20
North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0) at Southern Illinois (2-2, 1-1), 3:00 Eastern
The home team in this series has never lost but I was unimpressed with the Salukis performance last week at Western Illinois. I will take the Bison by a touchdown.
NDSU 24 SIU 17
Montana State(4-1, 2-0) at Portland State (3-1, 2-0), 4:05 Eastern
The Vikings are my surprise team in the Big Sky so far and think they will be able to run the ball some on the Bobcats but I don't think it will be quite enough. I like Montana State to win by a field goal.
MSU 27 PSU 24
Southern Utah (3-2, 0-1) at South Dakota(3-2, 0-0), 5:00 Eastern
The Coyotes have shown they can win against top competition this year already with their win over Eastern Washington but I think the Thunderbirds will be ready for the Coyotes in this one. I will take them by a touchdown.
SUU 28 USD 21
Indiana State (4-1, 2-0 MVC) at Northern Iowa (3-1, 2-0), 5:00 Eastern
This game is normally been a blowout win for the Panthers but I don't believe the Sycamores will go down as easily this year as ISU has shown they are now one of the upper half teams. Whether they will be able to win this game in the UNI-Dome is the question. I like the Panthers in a close one.
UNI 31 ISU 28
Texas State (3-2) at McNeese State (3-1), 8:00 Eastern
These two former Southland rivals meet for the first time in an out-of-conference game. I believe the Cowboys will handle the future FBS team but it will be close. I will take MSU by four.
MSU 28 TSU 24