Jacksonville State drew national attention with a win at Florida State earlier this season, but it almost feels like the up-and-down Gamecocks have to upset defending FCS champ Sam Houston on Saturday to remain alive in the postseason picture.
Delaware, like Jacksonville State, was ranked in the preseason top 10 after having a banner spring season. The Blue Hens have the same 3-3 record, so their matchup against perennial national power James Madison feels like a must-win as well.
The two are not alone. A number of FCS teams that were expected to be conference, if not national contenders are already in playoff mode, sitting several games below .500 and basically faced with needing to win all of their remaining games to have the chance at the second season.
Following is a look at some of the most disappointing teams that need a late-season rally (with their schedule of strength out of 128 teams, according to Massey Ratings):
Austin Peay (2-4, 0-1 OVC)
Strength of Schedule: 52
Most Disappointing Loss: 24-22 to Tennessee State
What’s Gone Wrong: The preseason No. 20 squad’s 2-1 start, including a ranked win at Chattanooga and only an FBS loss, has unravelled behind offensive inefficiency. In a three-game losing streak, quarterback Draylen Ellis has six interceptions and a completion percentage below 50 percent, and the offense has dropped from six yards per play to 4.6.
Potential Reversal: The Governors can claim at least a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title by sweeping their final five games, but the next two are quite difficult – at preseason favorite Murray State and conference leader UT Martin.
Central Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 AQ7)
Strength of Schedule: 32
Most Disappointing Loss: 38-35 to Eastern Kentucky
What’s Gone Wrong: The Bears, who were ranked 14th in the preseason, have struggled to be clutch in the fourth quarter, twice letting leads slip away into losses and failing to close six-point deficits in the other two defeats.
Potential Reversal: A more manageable schedule of opponents is ahead, but a bid to the FCS playoffs appears unlikely. The Bears are down two losses in the AQ7 standings, and their final five games include a sub-Division I opponent (Texas Wesleyan), so they can’t reach the seven D-I wins that are preferred in the at-large selection criteria.
Central Connecticut State (1-5, 1-1 NEC)
Strength of Schedule: 93
Most Disappointing Loss: 28-21 loss to Southern Connecticut
What’s Gone Wrong: Starting with the loss to D-II Southern Connecticut, CCSU’s subpar season reflects that it did not play in the 2020-21 academic year due to the pandemic. The Blue Devils’ rushing yards per game (113.2) are down 100 from their Northeast Conference championship season in 2019.
Potential Reversal: Holding only a two-point win against a Wagner program that has the FCS’ longest current losing streak (15), little suggests CCSU will get on a roll. It surely has to win its final five games to claim the NEC title, but with that and another Sacred Heart loss, the Blue Devils could secure the NEC’s automatic playoff bid.
Nicholls (2-4, 1-2 Southland)
Strength of Schedule: 16
Most Disappointing Loss: 38-21 at UIW
What’s Gone Wrong: In their 50th season, the Colonels haven’t overcome the difficultly of their schedule, falling to two FBS opponents (Memphis and Louisiana) and two ranked Southland foes (Southeastern Louisiana and UIW). Given the level of opposing quarterbacks, it’s not surprising coach Tim Rebowe’s squad has allowed more than twice as many passing yards on average in losses (340.8) than wins (165.5).
Potential Reversal: Realistically out of the Southland title mix, Nicholls will need to win four of its final five games, including second meetings with SLU and UIW, to extend its program-record four consecutive winning seasons.
North Dakota (2-4, 0-3 MVFC)
Strength of Schedule: 11
Most Disappointing Loss: 20-13 to South Dakota
What’s Gone Wrong: The preseason No. 8 squad has had an agonizing start to the Missouri Valley schedule, suffering three losses by a combined 16 points. The Fighting Hawks have disappointed in the red zone this season, scoring a touchdown (14) or field goal (four) on 18 of 27 opportunities – a rate of 66.7% that is tied for 103rd among 128 FCS teams.
Potential Reversal: Even with five straight wins to end the regular season, UND would face a long climb up the MVFC standings. An at-large bid isn’t out of the question with such a winning streak because it would include Missouri State and South Dakota State, the two programs that shared the MVFC’s spring title with the Fighting Hawks.
Richmond (2-4, 0-3 CAA)
Strength of Schedule: 53
Most Disappointing Loss: 20-7 to Elon
What’s Gone Wrong: Picked fourth in the CAA preseason poll following an encouraging spring season, the Spiders let a 14-point lead slip away in the final 5:01 against Villanova on Sept. 18 and have gone on to their first four-game losing streak since 2013. They’ve played nearly three full games without No. 1 quarterback Joe Mancuso, who has a broken right index finger.
Potential Reversal: The Spiders have yet to appear in the postseason under fifth-year coach Russ Huesman, and they’re basically playing only for a winning record, which would require them to win four of their final five games. Their next two outings (Stony Brook and New Hampshire) are on the road.
Weber State (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky)
Strength of Schedule: 17
Most Disappointing Loss: 17-14 to UC Davis
What’s Gone Wrong: The highest-ranked team in the preseason (No. 6) to be sitting outside the Stats Perform Top 25 has played half its games without No. 1 QB Bronson Barron, who is back from injury. The Wildcats have committed at least two turnovers in all six games, and they have a combined minus-8 ratio in losses.
Potential Reversal: A trip to No. 2 Eastern Washington doesn’t sound like fun, but maybe it’s a good thing because the Wildcats have lost four straight home games (three this season) to ranked opponents following a program-record 11-game winning streak at Stewart Stadium. Coach Jay Hill’s squad will have to win its final five games to simply be in contention for a sixth straight playoff bid.