National powers, surprises among the seven remaining
Few teams make it out of October unscathed, but there sure are plenty in the FCS dreaming of the possibility.
Heading toward the middle of the month, there are seven unbeaten teams representing five different conferences.
Who are they, and who could hand them this first defeat?
North Carolina A&T (6-0, 3-0 MEAC)
An FBS win over Charlotte has fueled the MEAC squad’s season. A veteran lineup, led by quarterback Lamar Raynard, has helped overcome the graduation of Tarik Cohen, the conference’s all-time leading rusher.
Possible First Defeat: North Carolina Central (Nov. 18)
James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
The defending FCS champions have gotten their stiffest tests to date in early conference games, but most of their top opponents have to come to Bridgeforth Stadium. The defense appears better than last season; the offense doesn’t.
Possible First Defeat: FCS Championship Game? (Jan. 6)
North Dakota State (5-0, 2-0 Missouri Valley)
The first half of the season has been easy compared to last year’s strongest schedule in the FCS. But the five-time FCS champ this decade has been razor sharp regardless. The schedule is about to change dramatically.
Possible First Defeat: at Youngstown State (Oct. 14)
South Dakota (5-0, 2-0 Missouri Valley)
The Coyotes – a mere 4-7 last season – have wins over an FBS program (Bowling Green) and three ranked opponents (North Dakota, Western Illinois and Youngstown State). Dual-threat quarterback Chris Streveler has toyed with the opposition.
Possible First Defeat: at Illinois State (Oct. 21)
Wofford (5-0, 3-0 Southern)
Head coach Mike Ayers has surpassed 200 career wins with the Terriers during their unbeaten start. They don’t tend to blow out opponents, but the Southern Conference leader simply answers in the clutch.
Possible First Defeat: Samford (Oct. 21)
Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Interestingly, the Lions’ next game is against third-year head coach Al Bagnoli’s former program, Penn, where he won nine Ivy League championships. He’s revived the Lions, who are off to their best start since 1996.
Possible First Defeat: Penn (Oct. 14)
Dartmouth (4-0, 2-0 Ivy)
The largest comeback win in the program’s 136-year history – from 21-0 down to 28-27 over previously unbeaten Yale – has the Big Green on top of the early Ivy League standings. They’ve won their last three games by a combined five points.
Possible First Defeat: at Harvard (Oct. 28)
— 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 North Dakota State University Athletics)