Next week, our country will go to the polling booths to either retain a president or elect a new one. In the Football Championship Subdivision of NCAA Division I this year, especially in the FCS West, there are plenty of incumbents and newcomers at the top of the standings of their respective conferences.
By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
Two of the most surprising playoff contenders have to be GPI#8 Northern Arizona and GPI#5 Indiana State. Four years ago when we last held the presidential election, these two teams were in the lower half of their respective conference’s standings but now are poised to make the postseason for the first time in quite some time.
How has Northern Arizona turned things around?
The Lumberjacks have the longest tenured coach in the Big Sky Conference in Jerome Souers. NAU has not ever really hit rock bottom as they seemed to always finish at or just above the .500 mark in the past eight years and Souers was the coach when this team last made the postseason, in 2003. This year of 2012 looks like one where NAU will rebound to make the postseason again.
What NAU has used in 2012 has been a strong defense and a strong running game. This is much different than the 2003 Lumberjack team that was using the passing game and basically just outscoring their opposition.
Northern Arizona currently is the only undefeated team in the Big Sky at 5-0 within the league and sits at 7-1 overall, with their only loss being to FBS Arizona State to start the season. NAU has rolled off seven straight wins since.
The NAU offense is averaging 391 total yards a game with 174.5 coming on the ground. The team is scoring 29.4 points per contest and the defense allows only 193.6 passing and 333.9 total yards a game. Zach Bauman is averaging 122 yards rushing a game and Anders Battle is the top tackler with 53.
The Lumberjacks face current last place Idaho State this week and will get to the eight win total for the first time since that 2003 season should they win in Pocatello. That would almost assure them a playoff spot.
How has Indiana State turned things around?
Indiana State (INSU) is the one of the top turnaround stories at any level of football. Four years ago, the Sycamores finished with a 0-12 mark after being winless also in 2007.
Trent Miles started in 2008 and it took until last year for INSU to really turn things around. Since that winless season, Miles has won more games each year than the prior one and has his team poised to make their first postseason appearance since he was a player in the early 1980s.
Indiana State is on a five-game winning streak for first time since 1996 including a win at defending national champion GPI#1 North Dakota State. The Sycamores have also won each of their last five Missouri Valley Football Conference games and are 5-1 in league play for the first time ever.
Defense has been the key for Indiana State this year as the Sycamores boast one of the best in the country. Indiana State is ranked fifth in the country in total defense, allowing 283 yards per game to opponents. The Sycamores are also allowing just over 12.5 points per game, which ranks them second in the country.
INSU has the other ISU (Illinois State, conveniently nicknamed ILSU) within MVFC play at ILSU this week in Terra Haute. A win for the Sycamores and they will get to the seven DI win total and would also be almost assured of a playoff spot.
Whatever the results of the presidential election on Tuesday, one big thing with the FCS is that we don’t settle things with a vote. We settle things on the field and what we have seen so far with these things prove that they will be around post-Thanksgiving.
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CSN WEST GAMES OF THE WEEK
Two games involving top 25 GPI ranked teams within the West happen this weekend. These two games will go a long way in determining the conferences races and playoff spots.
GPI#13 Illinois State (7-2, 4-2 MVFC) @ GPI#5 Indiana State (7-2, 5-1 MVFC), 2:05pm EDT
The Redbirds are coming off a tough road victory over Northern Iowa last week and again take to the road this week against the Sycamores. As mentioned above, Indiana State has won five straight games.
A year ago, the Redbirds defeated the Sycamores at home 17-14. I expect a similar type of score this year but feel the home field will propel the Sycamores in this one.
I will take the Sycamores by a field goal in a low scoring game.
Indiana State 20 Illinois State 17.
GPI#7 Cal Poly (7-1, 5-1 BSC) @ GPI#6 Eastern Washington (6-2, 5-1 BSC), 4:35pm EDT
This game is actually an out-of-conference game but will still have Big Sky conference title as well as playoff implications.
The Mustangs are coming off a loss to Sacramento State and Eastern Washington is also coming off a loss, to Southern Utah.
With Montana State in the mix yet, it appears to be a three team race. But at this point this game should tell us which of these two will still be in the race, despite this not counting in the standings.
I like the home turf of the Inferno in Cheney to help out the Eagles. I will take EWU by a touchdown.
Eastern Washington 45 Cal Poly 38.