’13 vs. ’14 teams: Is there really much difference?

It’s been talked about a lot of this season and even head coach Chris Klieman on more than one occasion said this year’s team is not as good overall as the 2013 national title team that went 15-0 and was rarely challenged during the season. It’s generally a safe assumption that team was deeper, especially on defense, than this year’s crew and the backfield and receivers were perhaps a half step above this year’s team in overall talent. But on the whole, is last year’s team that much better?

I’ve referenced this before but statistically, they’re about the same and in several areas, and there are some spots where this year’s team that plays Sam Houston Friday night for the right to go back to Frisco is better. Let’s evaluate the 15-game and 14-game seasons of ’13 and ’14.

  • The 2014 team is better in fewer turnovers (14 to 18), punting average (44.6 to 43.7), passing defense (149 to 165), sacks given up (14 to 18) and turnover margin (plus 9 to plus 5).
  • They are virtually even in passing yards (195 to 200), time of possession (33.58 this year to 33.40 last year), opponents scoring average (13.9 this year to 11.3) and average total yards given up (266 to 256).
  • The 2013 team had a better scoring average at 38.7 points a game to the 33.1 this year, although you could argue last year’s team had a Division II team on the schedule and this year’s team had a tougher non-conference schedule and the Missouri Valley on the whole had a higher GPI than last year. This year’s team is averaging 12 more penalty yards a game (53 to 41).

The 2013 team bombed its way through the playoffs with beatdowns on Furman, Coastal Carolina and New Hampshire. On the flipside, those three were new to the Fargodome, which has not been the case so far this year. South Dakota State has been here a lot lately and Coastal was making its second appearance in a row. Experience makes a difference. Also, quarterback Carson Wentz has been very good since the loss at Northern Iowa completing 52 of 83 passes for 63 percent with 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, no turnovers in the playoffs. He also had 120 yards rushing against Youngstown. It’s an offense that is playing well heading into Friday.

 

Sam Houston: breaking down the stats

By this time of the year, statistical analysis provides a rather comprehensive look at each team throughout the season. Normally, anyway. In the case of Sam Houston State, you can probably throw away the first seven games when Sam started the season 3-4 and take a look at the current eight-game win streak, the surge that got them to Friday night’s FCS semifinal game at the dome.

Overall, the Bearkats have a couple of deficiencies in a couple of departments: points allowed at 27.7 per game and total yards given up at 421 a game. Those are the 15-game totals but perhaps a more accurate reflection is to look at the last eight (and in reality I’m throwing out the 76-0 Houston Baptist game because, well, it’s Houston Baptist). In those seven wins, the Bearkats gave up an average of 24.7 points and 430.6 yards per game. The point total is slightly less than the season average but the Kats have given up more yards per game in the victory streak.

What’s that tell us? The offense has gotten better over time, at least ball control in critical times of games, and the team is finding ways to win. Much like the Coastal Carolina game, if the Bison want to get back to Frisco, they’ll have to continue their turnover-free offensive performances and find a few stops somewhere in the second half.

The reason for Bison fan paranoia: UND vs. NDSU

Dr. J resurfaced three weeks ago when NDSU played at Missouri State, a week after the Bison were flattened by Northern Iowa. The doctor, in his analysis, determined there was nothing wrong with the patient and the loss to the Panthers was merely a correction in the market. It was bound to happen.

Today, the doctor returns for a print edition analysis to address a prevalent problem — not with the team — but with its ardent followers. They’re nervous and on edge because of the probability of sports: at some point, SDSU is going to break through against NDSU.The following email came from a friend of mine: “As if there wasn’t enough incentive, can you imagine how much it would mean to seniors Zach Zenner & Austin Sumner to finally beat ‘SU and knock us out of the playoffs???  I think this may be the toughest game we’ll have between us & Frisco ’15 & I’ll admit…I’m nervous already!”

Why does this nervousness. mostly with veteran Bison fans, exist? The doctor’s theory goes back to the mid-1990s, only with the shoe on the other foot, with NDSU and UND.

Starting in 1993, UND held a solid upper hand in the series starting with a 22-21 win in Grand Forks. That was followed with two victories in 1994 – a convincing 34-13 thrashing in the Fargodome and a 14-7 Division II playoff victory in Grand Forks. UND made it four straight in 1995 with a 21-7 win, again in Grand Forks. The BIson finished the regular season with a win against Morningside to qualify for the postseason, but it faced a first round game at, of course, UND.

On a cold November day, NDSU found a scheme with its veer option that UND had yet to see, I think it had something to do with an overoad. It worked. Kevin Feeney and Reggie Scott worked the option to perfection and the Bison left Grand Forks with a shocking 41-10 win. Adding to the amazing turnaround: UND jumped to a 10-0 lead. After four straight losses to UND, the Bison came up with a new plan that was astonishingly successful.

So there lies your paranoia with Bison fans this week: the thought of SDSU coming up with some new scheme after winning six straight in this series.

FCS bracketology — Friday edition

(Note: edited to reflect Sam Houston State can still win autobid). After poring over all of the possible scenarios (and there’s always one or two that blindside you on Selection Sunday), I may be more screwed up than ever with FCS playoff bracketology, but let’s go for it anyway the day before a huge day on Saturday.

The following have already secured automatic berths: Fordham (Patriot League), Chattanooga (Southern), Sacred Heart (Northeast), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley) and San Diego (Pioneer). That’s five of 24.

The following are in, whether be it automatic bid or at-large berth: NDSU (10-1), Eastern Washington (9-2), Illinois State (9-1), New Hampshire (9-1), Eastern Kentucky (9-2), Coastal Carolina (11-0), Villanova (9-2), Southeastern Louisiana (9-3) and James Madison (8-3). All of them could lose Saturday and still get in. That’s 14 of 24.

I believe North Carolina A&T will beat North Carolina Central and get the MEAC auto bid, NDSU will beat Youngstown for the Valley auto, Eastern will beat Portland State tonight for the Big Sky bid and Sam Houston will defeat Central Arkansas for the Southland ticket. That takes care of the 11 auto bids.

There are two games where the winner will get in as an at-large and the loser will go home: Montana State (8-3) at Montana and Richmond (7-4) at William & Mary (7-4). That’s 17 of 24. Northern Iowa easily beats Missouri State, 18 of 24.

Now it gets dicey. The following six teams will win Saturday and get in: Indiana State (7-4) over Western Illinois, Bryant (8-2) over Wagener, Bethune-Cookman (8-3) over Florida A&M, South Dakota State (7-4) over South Dakota, Sam Houston State (7-4) over Central Arkansas and Liberty (7-4) in the upset over Coastal Carolina. That’s 24 of 24.

I believe non-Division I counter victories for Idaho State (twice), Stephen F. Austin and Northern Arizona will cost those teams, although there are teams in the field that also have non-counters. With that, have to go with the better quality of wins I guess. If Youngstown beats NDSU, that puts the Penguins in the field and probably knocks out somebody like Bryant. Bucknell is interesting at 8-2 but I don’t think the Patriot will get two teams in.

So here is my field of 24 in no particular order as of early Friday afternoon:

Autobids

  • Fordham (Patriot)
  • North Dakota State (Missouri Valley)
  • Chattanooga (Southern)
  • Sacred Heart (Northeast)
  • Eastern Washington (Big Sky)
  • Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley)
  • San Diego (Pioneer)
  • New Hampshire (CAA)
  • Liberty (Big South)
  • North Carolina A&T (MEAC)
  • Sam Houston State (Southland)

At-large bids

  • Coastal Carolina
  • Illinois State
  • South Dakota State
  • Southeastern Louisiana
  • Indiana State
  • Northern Iowa
  • Bethune-Cookman
  • Bryant
  • Montana State
  • William & Mary
  • James Madison
  • Villanova
  • Eastern Kentucky

 

FCS Pick ‘Em – Week 12

Hard to believe but the Man from Oswego has tied the resident genius of FCS football. Not sure how this happened, but time for the stretch run. I had my toughest week of the season last week going 8-5, tried for the knockout punch and reached too far on too many games. Need to turn it around.

                                                                     Dom (115-37)      Jeff (115-37)

  • Wofford at Furman                               Wofford                  Wofford
  • James Mad at Richmond                      JMU                       Richmond
  • Harvard at Penn                                    Harvard                 Harvard
  • Northern Arizona at UND                      NAU                       NAU
  • Delaware at New Hampshire                UNH                       UNH
  • Indiana State at Youngstown               YSU                       YSU
  • William & Mary at Towson                    W&M                       W&M
  • Western Illinois at SDSU                     SDSU                      SDSU
  • Idaho State at Montana State              MSU                        MSU
  • UC Davis at Cal Poly                              Poly                       Poly
  • Albany at Villanova                                 Nov                        Nova
  • Northern Iowa at SIU                              UNI                         SIU
  • Maine at Elon                                         Maine                     Maine

Jim Delaney Varsity Game of the Week

  • No. 1 Miss. St at No. 5 Alabama           Bama                         Bama

The Alma Mater Game of the Week

  • Men’s basketball
  • Hartwick College at
  • State University of New York at Oswego    Go Lakers      Hated Hawks of Hartwick

Saturday forecast: a chance to see what this NDSU team is made of

The email came in yesterday from a Bison fan with longtime knowledge who said he liked the way Chris Klieman was approaching practice this week. With the forecast Saturday at Missouri State looking more like winter all the time, he said the fact NDSU was practicing outside this week gave him a sense of comfort for a change. I took it as a reference to Craig Bohl not always doing it that way.

The Wednesday practice was a challenge. It was flat-out cold with the wind screaming across the Dacotah Field turf. Klieman said today he thought the conditions were something like 15 degrees and a 5 degree wind chill, at best. “The guys did great with it, a great practice,” he said.

Saturday is expected to be the first snow game since the Eastern Washington playoff game in 2010. The temps are cold all over the place. It’s expected to be in the low 20s in Brookings when South Dakota State hosts Western Illinois. It will be in the high 30s for Indiana State at Youngstown and 37 and possible snow in Carbondale for Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois. The high temp for the Bison-Missouri State game has been lowering all week, now in the low 30s with an 80 percent chance of snow showers.

We’ll see what this Bison team is made of. Not only are they coming off their first loss in 33 games, they’ll have to do it in bad weather conditions.

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Poll talk

My ballot for this week’s The Sports Network FCS top 25 media poll. I went with New Hampshire for the top spot based on eight straight wins, including 6-0 and first place standing in the CAA, after season-opening FBS loss. I just don’t think losing 23-3 to a 6-4 team and rushing for 43 yards is worthy of keeping a No. 1 standing this week.

  1. New Hampshire (8-1)
  2. North Dakota State (9-1)
  3. Coastal Carolina (10-0)
  4. Eastern Washington (9-2)
  5. Jacksonville State (8-1)
  6. Villanova (8-2)
  7. Illinois State (8-1)
  8. Fordham (9-1)
  9. James Madison (7-3)
  10. Northern Iowa (6-4)
  11. Youngstown State (7-3)
  12. Montana State (7-3)
  13. South Dakota State (6-4)
  14. Stephen F. Austin (7-3)
  15. William & Mary (6-4)
  16. Chattanooga (7-3)
  17. Richmond (7-3)
  18. Southeastern Louisiana (7-3)
  19. Eastern Kentucky (8-2)
  20. Liberty (7-3)
  21. McNeese State (6-3)
  22. Northern Arizona (7-3)
  23. Harvard (8-0)
  24. Bethune-Cookman (8-2)
  25. Indiana State (6-4)

 

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