A number of teams will repeat, but others aren’t the favorites anymore
It may seem having four straight seasons without an Ohio Valley Conference loss would make Jacksonville State a sure-fire lock to win another title in 2018.
Not so fast, my friend, Lee Corso might be ready to put on the mascot head of another team.
The reigning champ tends to be the preseason pick in a typical FCS conference the following year, but there are always surprises. The OVC could be in store for one.
Here’s how the 2017 FCS conference champs stand heading into next season:
James Madison (CAA)
There’s a run of tough conferences games, but the 2016 national champ and '17 runner-up expects to handle it by replacing enough of its key senior losses. However, New Hampshire and Elon are top 10 candidates.
Kennesaw State (Big South)
Although the Owls have to go through Monmouth on the road, they return a ton of talent from a national quarterfinalist.
North Carolina A&T (MEAC)
The return of quarterback Lamar Raynard and running back Marquell Cartwright means everybody else is still chasing the Aggies for the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl bid.
North Dakota State (Missouri Valley)
Head coach Chris Klieman’s squad is a heavy favorite to win a seventh FCS title in eight years, so an eighth straight conference title doesn’t seem so daunting.
Central Connecticut State (Northeast)
A number of key players return, especially on offense, but Duquesne always seems to be the favorite in what looks to be a competitive race, including Saint Francis.
Grambling State (SWAC)
Head coach Broderick Fobbs rarely loses to SWAC competition, but with the smaller seven-game conference schedule and no conference championship game, there’s little margin for error.
Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley)
Division I’s longest active conference winning streak is up to 32. While the Gamecocks are so good on defense, they have to reload across their lineup to hold off the momentum building at Austin Peay.
San Diego (Pioneer)
Heavy senior losses suggest the Toreros are vulnerable, but head coach Dale Lindsey has found a way to go 37-3 against league opponents.
The Ivy League turned wacky in 2017 and it might stay that way this year with a number of legitimate title hopefuls. The Bulldogs will bring back a lot of their offensive weapons.
Change on the Way?
Central Arkansas (Southland)
The Southland race seems up for grabs with Sam Houston State, McNeese and Nicholls taking their shots at the Bears, whose many losses include the conference’s player of the year, quarterback Hayden Hildebrand.
While the Mountain Hawks won the league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, the other co-champ, Colgate, has better balance in its lineup.
Southern Utah (Big Sky)
It’s hard to find someone ready to pick the Thunderbirds to finish in the top three, let alone repeat as a conference champ. Weber State, which shared the title despite SUU winning the automatic playoff bid, has a better chance in the FCS’ largest conference.
Even with legendary head coach Mike Ayers retired, the triple option will be outstanding. But Samford has the conference’s best quarterback, Devlin Hodges, and could be the team to beat.
— 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 Central Arkansas Athletics)