A quartet expecting be stronger in 2018
Eastern Washington has made “Leave No Doubt” its team motto. It’s appropriate after the Eagles didn’t qualify for the FCS playoffs last season.
It was a snub, if you ask the Eagles, who finished among the top four ranked teams in the nation in four of the prior five seasons. They believed they had done enough in their 7-4 regular season to warrant an at-large bid.
To head coach Aaron Best, the Eagles were a “little salty” to be left outside the 24-team field.
“That’s a taste we don’t want in our mouth and aren’t used to,” Best said as he enters his second season, “so we are out to earn the eighth win and beyond.”
In a season in which the playoff bubble was quite big, Eastern Washington wasn’t alone feeling left on following the FCS' version of Selection Sunday. Including the Eagles, here are four teams that felt snubbed yet expect to be better in 2018 to knock down the playoff door:
Austin Peay Governors
(8-4, 7-1 Ohio Valley)
The Governors had an amazing turnaround in 2017, overcoming a 29-game losing streak and losses in 46 of 47 games, but they were one of the last two teams to fall shy of an at-large playoff bid. The selection committee frowned on three FBS losses instead of the OVC runner-up having another FCS win. This year, head coach Will Healy’s team faces only one FBS opponent (Georgia) and has the bulk of their team returning, including an excellent rushing attack as well as two-time leading tackler Gunnar Scholato and pass rusher Jaison Williams.
Delaware Blue Hens
(7-4, 5-3 CAA)
The Blue Hens were the other team that fell just shy of an at-large bid (late-season upset losses to Towson and Villanova damaged their resume). Still, they improved by three wins in head coach Danny Rocco’s first season, and this year anything less than their first playoff bid since 2010 would be disappointing. They’re led by their defense, with linebackers Troy Reeder and Charles Bell and safety Nasir Adderly their top returnees. Ironically, the 2017 FCS finalist on their schedule is national champ North Dakota State and not James Madison, the three-time reigning CAA champ.
Eastern Washington Eagles
(7-4, 6-2 Big Sky)
There may be as many as 28 seniors on the roster as the Eagles seek to make amends for last year’s playoff miss. While they could be the best team in the Big Sky, this year’s race is particularly deep. Senior quarterback Gage Gubrud will again lead one of the nation’s top offenses, which is much improved in the run game. However, the Eagles must tighten up on both sides of the ball to reverse last year’s minus-10 turnover ratio.
(9-2, 7-2 Southland)
McNeese was the first nine-win team from one of the top six FCS conferences to not make the playoffs since they were expanded to 24 teams in 2013. The Cowboys should challenge for the Southland title in head coach Lance Guidry’s third season, which would guarantee a 17th all-time playoff appearance. They feature a versatile offense led by third-year quarterback James Tabary and a defense that ranked first in the FCS against the run last season.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy Eastern Washington Athletics)