Biggest and (maybe) best FCS conference races
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By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - The more, the merrier.
That's how the six-largest FCS conferences view their title races as they start to shape in mid-October. Each conference has at least 10 members and more than a few have designs on being the champion and automatic postseason qualifier.
Here's an early look at the six title races:
Big Sky: Oh, baby, the largest conference (13 teams) is wild as usual, so Montana and Montana State should feel fortunate to have the early lead at 2-0. Fourth-ranked Weber State is looking strong, but the other two of last year's three champs, UC Davis and Eastern Washington (if it doesn't improve quickly), are in trouble. Sacramento State has a well-rounded team and should be taken seriously despite having arguably the conference's toughest schedule.
CAA Football: There are many key matchups ahead, of course, but No. 5 Villanova at No. 2 James Madison on Saturday is one of the bigger games of the FCS regular season, and the winner will threaten to run away and hide because it's home for the majority of its more-dangerous games remaining. It will be up to the likes of New Hampshire, Delaware, Towson and Stony Brook to keep it a race.
Missouri Valley: Top-ranked North Dakota State has won eight straight MVFC titles, the second-longest streak in FCS history (Montana won 12 straight Big Sky crowns from 1998-09). Still, the Oct. 26 rivalry matchup at No. 3 South Dakota State looms, and - guess what - the Bison have been picked off by MVFC competition during their dynasty. Yeah, it's still a race for now.
Pioneer: San Diego, the five-time defending champion, isn't as strong as recent seasons - probably, maybe, rivals at least hope so. The Toreros opened league play with a coast past Marist, but the title will be decided in their midseason stretch, including Davidson on Saturday and eventually Dayton, Drake and Stetson in succession. Dayton posted an impressive season-opening win at Indiana State and Drake has assumed first place by putting its defense on display in two wins.
Southland: Last year's back-and-forth wildness has flowed into this season. Is there any team you truly believe in? Is there any team you don't believe in (at least to rock the title race)? Sam Houston State has the early jump (again, believe in or not believe in?) and Nicholls, the preseason favorite, is a week away from traveling to the Bearkats. Southeastern Louisiana, UIW, Houston Baptist and Central Arkansas have only one conference loss each, and a second won't be good considering this type of depth.
SWAC: At 3-0, defending conference champ Alcorn State is suggesting it will roll to a sixth consecutive East Division crown, but the Braves have a tough remaining schedule. The Prairie View A&M at Southern matchup on Saturday is huge because the winner will be in the driver's seat in the West Division. The eventual SWAC champion will advance to the Celebration Bowl.
Updated October 10, 2019