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FCS East Wrapup: The Best Undefeated Team You Never Heard Of

(Photo Credit: Bethune-Cookman Athletics)

If you look at the College Sporting News' Gridiron Power Index, this week, there are two undefeated teams that are not a total surprise in the list.

No. 1 on the list, 7-0 Appalachian State - you've probably heard of them, the poster kids for a "little" FCS team upsetting FBS teams, not to mention their perennial FCS playoff appearances and national championships.

Coming in at No. 4 is 8-0 Jacksonville State - another team that has become accustomed to splashy headlines as well, first by becoming the home of LSU QB Ryan Perrilloux and then by winning an epic game against an FBS team eariler this year in their 49-48 double-overtime win against the Rebels Rebel Black Bears. Ole Miss hasn't exactly been SEC royalty this year, coming in at a weak 3-4 so far, but the Gamecocks' win - and undefeated record, with their SEC victory - has given them the accolades. Point is: if you follow FCS, you know something about this team from Alabama.

But in Florida, there's a third undefeated team that hasn't gotten the same level of exposure nationally. (more)

To those following the MEAC, the Wildcats were best known for their flamboyant coach, Alvin B. Wyatt - former member of the Oakland Raiders and big believer in the "Wyattbone" offense that delivered a lot of wins in the early Noughties for Bethune-Cookman - and a MEAC championship, and a berth in the FCS playoffs, in 2002. (They also garnered an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs in 2003 as a 9-2 team - screwing 8-3 Lehigh out of a playoff bid that year, with losses to undefeated Colgate, Ivy League power Penn, and FBS UConn. And, yes, I have a long memory.)

But a 5-6 record in 2009 - and their fourth straight loss to Florida A&M in the "Florida Classic", by an embarassing 42-6 score - meant the Wyatt show would be run out of Daytona Beach for the first time in 13 years.

The Wildcats turned to a longtime assistant at Rutgers, Brian Jenkins, to turn things around. And boy, has he done so.

They had a great early-season record, going 5-0, but with four of those five games at home, and no opponent of theirs anywhere close to a winning record at that time, plenty of doubts persisted nationally as they travelled to Orangeburg to take on nationally ranked - and undefeated in FCS play - South Carolina State.

The classic showdown, highlighting a Wildcat defense led by LB Ryan Lewis' 2 interceptions, saw the Wildcats blank the Bulldogs 14-0.  LB Reggie Sandilands, who would lead the team in tackles, and DE Ryan Davis chasing Bulldog QB Malcolm Long all afternoon, would highlight an impressive effort in limiting South Carolina State to 264 yards of total offense.

At their place.

"I need to first take my hat off to Coach Jenkins and his crew. We were not effective enough on offense," Bulldog head coach Buddy Pough said after the game. "I thought they did a marvelous job against us and defenively, they really did a great job in putting some pressure and just generally just defending us in the best way that we've been defended in a very long time. And their offense was effective enough to continue to give them a chance to score enough points to beat us.

While last week's win over North Carolina Central - a "sloppy" 23-10 victory, in the words of coach Jenkins - Lewis' 67 yard pick six headlined an opportunistic defense that leads FCS in turnover margin. In seven games, they've forced an amazing 23 takeaways, while only coughing up the ball five times. That's a margin of 2.57 - almost a full turnover ahead of Jacksonville, who sits second in that category with 1.63.

Still, don't talk to stoic, no-nonsense coach Jenkins about statistics or polls. After the effort from his team, coach Jenkins was none too pleased. His "play in the moment" philosophy - after the South Carolina State victory - seemed to make this game more of a contest than coach Jenkins would have liked.

"We didn't play our best and North Carolina Central played better," he said. "They played harder and my hat goes off to them. We didn't play Wildcat football today. Thank God for our defense. My hat goes off to North Carolina Central. They played a tough physical football game, which I knew they would."

Next up for coach Jenkins and the Wildcats? A short week and a Thursday home date with 1-7 North Carolina A&T. Oh yeah, it's also going to be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.

Will the short week be a disruption to Bethune Cookman? Not if you listen to coach Jenkins, whose disciplined style is sounding more and more like a very strong potential Eddie Robinson award candidate.

"No disruption. Practice as always. Ready," Jenkins said Monday. "We're getting prepared for the game and will be ready to play. We'll go to class as always and do our regular routine. That's all. It's still football. You still have to play on a 100-yard field between the white lines."

"If people are still wondering how good we are now, that's somewhat a problem," OL Nathaniel Curry said a few weeks ago. "You shouldn't be wondering how good we are right now. You've seen what we've produced. You see what we do on Saturdays. And this is once again another Saturday to see what we can do."

Nobody's wondering anymore. And this Thursday, folks around the country will be able to see exactly how good this Wildcat team actually is.

And maybe, just maybe, the eventual Patriot League champion may be facing off against these Wildcats in the FCS playoffs.

Other developments of interest out East:

  • This week's GPI release from the College Sporting News shows one encouraging sign for Patriot League fans: they leapfrogged the MEAC, Bethune Cookman's conference, in the conference rankings. I'm no mathematician, but as long as Brown, Harvard, and Stony Brook keep winning, the Patriot League's GPI will continue to climb, and (hopefully) pass the Independents, Big South, and SWAC soon.
  • The team on top of the GPI last weekend, Delaware, had "myriad missed opportunities" in their contest against William & Mary, but none bigger than the missed 42 yard FG with under a minute remaining to give the Tribe a 17-16 victory. That missed FG may have cost the Blue Hens their No. 1 spot: while the computer rankings didn't have Delaware lose much with a loss to the No. 4 team in the nation on the road, the human poll portion of the index all dropped Delaware to No. 6 - causing Appalachian State to barely squeak past Delaware for the No. 1 spot.
  • The loss by Delaware gives every CAA team one conference loss, and also probably caused any sportsbooks to stop taking wagers on who will win the CAA title. William & Mary is currently in the driver's seat, but face an FBS team and three nationally-ranked opponents to close out the year - good news for the Hens, Villanova (who outlasted James Madison 14-7) and New Hampshire (who demolished UMass in the first-ever "Colonial Clash" at Gillette Stadium, 39-13), who all harbor hopes of still winning the CAA title and winning the autobid to the playoffs. (Did I mention that two of those teams Lehigh has already played?)
  • Speaking of former Lehigh opponents, Harvard rights the ship behind a surprise player - QB Collier Winters, thought to be done for the season with a hip injury, leading the Crimson to a dominating 45-28 victory over another Lehigh opponent this year, Princeton. Penn keeps rolling this week, baffling Columbia 27-13 and facing off against Brown in another battle of Ivy League unbeatens this Saturday.
  • With Liberty in a bye week, Stony Brook went 2-0 in Big South Conference play with a 38-28 victory over Coastal Carolina. Aside from being a possible destination - or visitor - in the first round of the FCS playoffs for the Patriot League champion, every win by the Seawolves helps the Patriot League's GPI, thanks to Lafayette's win over them two weeks ago.
  • In the NEC - also featuring a possible destination, or visitor, in the FCS playoffs - it is shaping up to be a three team race: Robert Morris who was off last weekend, Central Connecticut State, who remained undefeated in NEC play with a thrilling 30-27 overtime victory against Albany, and Monmouth, who has already lost to Robert Morris, who stands to benefit should the Colonials fall in NEC play. Last week, the Hawks won ugly against St. Francis (PA), 19-7.
  • After jumping out to a 10 point lead in the first few minutes, Georgetown seemed to have righted the ship that caused them to lose three straight heartbreaking defeats. But Sacred Hart QB Dale Fink would then take over the game and guide the Hoyas to their fourth straight defeat, a 33-20 setback. "After controlling the ball for 6:49 in its first two possessions, the Georgetown offense began a run of quick, low-impact drives which swung momentum to the Pioneers and foretold a battle of attrition for the defense. Of the next ten drives of the game, only one lasted more than 2:07," DFW Hoya reported. The Hoyas take on Fordham this week as they try to right the ship one more time.
  • The Hoyas will be facing off against a Ram team that reversed a four-game slide of their own, beating Lafayette 14-10 on a last-minute drive that virtually guaranteed a non-winning record for the Leopards in 2010. The way Lafayette lost that game - coming out flat in the final series, and playing a dull, uninspiring game - lit a fire under head coach Frank Tavani and the rest of the Leopard coaching staff. "There are so many things that frustrate you," Tavani said after watching the game film, " … a ton of things, so the blame can be shared. It's never just one play, but many plays that could have made the difference. It's tough to get down to two minutes and they drive the field pretty much with ease; but in the end, we shouldn't have been in that position in the first place. Looking at the film, there are things that shouldn't be happening at this point of the season. And they are. That's what happens when you're going through a year like we are. They are cumulative. I've been there. Somehow you can't seem to get out from under it."

    In a effort to get his team fired up before Bucknell, Tavani reportedly started calling out players in practice this week. While a run for the Patriot League title is not out of the question still for Lafayette, this week's game vs. Bucknell will clearly be a measuring stick for the rest of the way - including "The Rivalry".
  • Finally - if you're looking for a better, non-Associated Press-recap of Holy Cross' 31-24 victory over Holy Cross, I can't do any better that to point you to my recap included in this weekend's "Sunday Word". The Utica Observer-Dispatch, the local upstate New York papers, the Worcester papers, even the student newspapers didn't cover the game. You don't need a writeup, however, to know that head coach Dick Biddle will be working his troops overtime to get a victory this weekend at Murray Goodman stadium - because Colgate's entire season now hinges on this game.


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