Many national FBS writers can put out their Top 25 of 2014, but there’s plenty of unknowns in the FCS and while I could guess at one and have you all laugh at me in November; I’m going to keep it to six for 2014; so here we go!
- 1. NDSU – The three-time defending champs will be my preseason number one for 2014 and take a 24 game winning streak into next season. With Kevin Vaadeland returning, the Bison have 14 starters back; with 7 of those being on defense, add on three more from that side of the ball that have extensive playing experience; and that’s the biggest reason why I see NDSU contending next season; because of its defense, something many FCS schools don’t play. The Bison face an Iowa State that won just two games to open the year and have a Montana team coming to Fargo in mid-September; and a November schedule that is stacked. Obviously the biggest question mark that will surround Chris Klieman’s team is quarterback, is Carson Wentz ready to ascend to the top spot?
- 2. Eastern Washington – The Eagles are still loaded and will be the Big Sky Preseason favorites in 2014. Vernon Adams is just a junior and will be in his third year as a starting quarterback, the Walter Payton finalist already is a frontrunner for the award for 2014. Adams has two of his biggest weapons back; including freshman phenom Cooper Kupp, who won the Jerry Rice Award this year(thanks to his 38,000 TDs) ; and running back Quincy Forte. The Eagles have a daunting non-conference schedule again next season; at Washington, home with Sam Houston State and a non-conference trip to Bozeman to play Montana State.
- 3. Northern Iowa – The Panthers are loaded for bear in 2014 and I believe will be the biggest challengers to the Bison for the Valley title next season. Sawyer Kollmorgen enters his 3rd season as a starting quarterback and got better as the season went along; David Johnson is also back to torture defenses; Bison fans will remember his 85 yard touchdown burst against NDSU this season. Jake Farley returns as well to anchor a defense; that also has Xavier Williams up front, who is a giant. Here’s the catch with UNI, much like 2012, the Panthers are playing 2 FBS games in 2014, opening the year at Iowa, then two weeks later they go to Hawaii. It’s not like Wisconsin, but it is 2 FBS games. November 8th, 2014 may be the game of the year in FCS; NDSU at UNI.
- 4. Southeastern Louisiana – The Lions were a breath away from coming to Fargo for the FCS semis this year until New Hampshire put together a game winning drive. Bryan Bennett, the transfer from Oregon is back and they have replaced Sam Houston as the favorites now in the Southland. They have a dynamic offense and unlike most teams in FCS, they do play some defense, which makes them dangerous. They play Tulane for their FBS game next season, which is a winnable matchup, SELA could be a final four contender in 2014.
- 5. Montana – The Grizzlies can’t avoid Craig Bohl after all; as they open next season in Laramie against Wyoming. They also have a trip to Fargo on September 20th, with a game against Joe Glenn’s improving South Dakota team the week before. Jordan Johnson returns at quarterback for his senior season and the Griz offense runs thru him. They have plenty of talent all over the field, including at running back with Jordan Canada, they’ll battle with Eastern Washington for the Big Sky crown.
- 6. SDSU – The Jacks have the two things that you need for a long playoff run, talent and experience. Austin Sumner and Zach Zenner are back AGAIN and will be formidable for defenses to stop. SDSU did lose plenty of both sides of the line, but they have had some nice recruiting classes over the past couple of seasons, so we’ll see how that bears out. The non-conference schedule is tough, opening up at Missouri, along with games at Southern Utah and a home game with Cal Poly, they also come to Fargo in 2014.
- BONUS TEAMS – Jacksonville State and New Hampshire – Let’s start with JSU; they will become the team to beat in the Ohio Valley with Jimmy Garoppolo gone from Eastern Illinois; the Gamecocks made a nice playoff run to the quarters before losing to EWU this season, they have a talented QB and RB and will be the team in OVC that scores points in bunches. New Hampshire brings nearly everyone back in 2014, including QB Sean Goldrich, Nico Steriti at RB and a couple of solid wide receivers. With Terrance West gone to the NFL, UNH becomes the favorite in the CAA for next season.
There you have it folks, my six to watch in 2014, bookmark this post and we can all laugh at it come Selection Sunday next season!