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My Vote for the FCS Top 25, 9/16/2013

My vote for the FCS Top 25 for the week ending 9/16/2013 follows below the flip.

But first, by all means, enjoy this awesome shot of Fordham WR Sam Ajala winning the Rams' game against a BCS school in Temple.

Want to know the margin between winning and losing?  This picture proves it.  It's officially four and a half inches, give or take an inch.

1: North Dakota State Bison
2: Eastern Washington Eagles
3: Montana State Bobcats
4: Sam Houston State Bearkats
5: Towson Tigers
6: Northern Iowa Panthers
7: Eastern Illinois Panthers
8: Fordham Rams
9: McNeese State Cowboys
10: Cal Poly Mustangs
11: South Dakota State Jackrabbits
12: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
13: Villanova Wildcats
14: New Hampshire Wildcats
15: Wofford Terriers
16: Liberty Flames
17: Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
18: Montana Grizzlies
19: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
20: Southern Utah Thunderbirds
21: Maine Black Bears
22: Samford Bulldogs
23: William & Mary Tribe
24: North Carolina A&T Aggies
25: Princeton Tigers
  • Most significant win: In back to back weeks Fordham has continued to stun with their second consecutive gigantic win.   Maybe Temple was taking the Rams lightly; maybe the Owls wanted to use the game to give some playing time to the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks.  But what was certain was that the final score, after a superb play by QB Michael Nebrich and WR Sam Ajala with a couple seconds left on the clock, the time read Fordham 30, Temple 29. And that, Virginia, is all that mattered.
  • The play really needs to be seen in it's full glory.
  • The game-winning play, though a highlight you'll want to watch again and again, unfortunately kind of obscures the beauty of Fordham's game-winning drive, where Nebrich orchestrated not one, but two, fourth-down conversions by the combined length of one football.  Nebrich's showed nothing of the leg injury that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season, basically - he had a quick first step on those rushing attempts that almost certainly will make Patriot League defensive coordinators pause.
  • In their zeal to call the upset, many of the media have tried to describe the play as a "Hail Mary" pass.  It was nothing of the sort.  It was actually a methodical, 4 minute, 25 second Fordham drive - 13 plays, and 71 yards.  The pass was hardly Hail Mary, chuck-it-up-there-and-pray: it was actually a 32 yard laser, where Nebrich planted both feet like they had roots, and then put in a place where only Ajala could get it.  (Another little detail people missed: WR Brian Wetzel, right behind Ajala, ready to catch any potential deflection.)
  • How big was this win for the Patriot League?  It's hard to put how huge it is in words.  In a world where "schedule strength" rules and teams need to play other teams with "schedule strength" to make the playoffs, Fordham singlehandedly provided "schedule strength" in spades to the whole league.  Put it this way: every Big Sky team benefits when Eastern Washington knocks off Oregon State, because if you beat Eastern Washington, you were the team that beat the team that beat Oregon State.  The Patriot League was poised to be one of the few leagues left out from this benefit.  It's no longer the case.
  • If there was going to be a doubt that the October 5th game vs. Fordham wouldn't be a huge game in a few weeks for both the Rams and Mountain Hawks, those doubts are erased now.  And there have got to be a lot of fans that are hoping, somehow, for a couple of undefeated teams, or perhaps a couple of one-loss team, to be suiting up in the Bronx that weekend.  With CBS Sports Network broadcasting the game nationally, it could quite possibly be a matchup of Top 25 teams and a great showcase for the entire Patriot League.
  • In any case, there was no question the Rams were my "Most Significant Win" this week.  And objectively, how do you keep them outside the Top 10 of your poll?  No other team in the Top 25 have 1) a win over a BCS school, 2) two wins over CAA schools, not to mention 3) a win over a Top 25 CAA team in Villanova.   In other national polls, many people ranked Villanova, the team Fordham beat at home, ahead of the Rams.  To me, that's just crazy.
  • The other league that did itself the most favors this past weekend was the MEAC, who found Bethune-Cookman "upsetting" Florida International 34-13 -  if you can call it an upset since the Wildcats were actually 3 point favorites.  
  • Like the McNeese State walloping of South Florida that I loved, what really stood out in this game was the utter dominance of Bethune-Cookman, despite head coach Brian Jenkins' postgame comments to the contrary.  After FIU tied the game at 7 in the second quarter, BCU the next 24 points, the final ones scored on a 92 yard interception return by CB Tim Burke.  Like Fordham's win, Florida International, by virtue of their membership in Conference USA, is considered, for this season, as a BCS-level win.
  • People focus on the thrillers, the wins against the BCS-level schools like Oregon State and Kansas State.  But to me what's more impressive when teams outside that Top 10 elite level not only beat FBS teams but beat the living tar out of them.  The BCU/FIU may not have been highlight-friendly (partially because the game wasn't televised), but that doesn't make the feat any less impressive.
  • Most Significant Loss: I was sorely tempted to put Illinois State here, who dropped out of my Top 25 after a 57-24 loss to Eastern Illinois, but that, upon further review, was more due to how strong Eastern Illinois is, who is 3-0 with a win over San Diego State.  More devastating was Central Arkansas' 24-23 loss to UT Martin, where the hard luck 1-2 Bears were defeated on a last-second field goal block. 
  • It's a particularly tough pill for the Bears to swallow, considering their schedule.  Their one win came over Incarnate Word, currently a D-II team transitioning to Division I, and they have a second sub-D-I on their schedule as well.  They might need to sweep the Southland, or at least go 1-1 against McNeese State and Sam Houston State, to get in the conversation for the playoffs.
  • Forgotten Team: North Carolina A&T.  It's pretty amazing that the Aggies, who knocked off Appalachian State and Elon in consecutive weeks, haven't gotten more play for their achievements.  To some, beating Appalachian State anywhere is a challenge, given their overall success and the fact that they're competing with more than the FCS-mandated limit of 63 scholarships.  But beating them on the road at Kidd Brewer Stadium?  The last time a non-conference foe did that during the regular season was 2009, when McNeese State beat the Mountaineers 40-35.  How are they not in the Top 25 over any SoCon Team except Wofford or perhaps Samford?
  • Here's something else to think about, if you're a Patriot League fan.  If Lehigh doesn't win the Patriot League autobid, they could be going up against an 8-2 North Carolina A&T or a 9-2 Bethune-Cookman that have wins against schools competing with more than 63 scholarships.  No awards as to who wins that battle in the selection committee.


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