(Stats Perform) – You want Cinderella stories, buzzer-beaters and overtime thrillers?
Rhode Island and VMI provide all of the above.
You want blue bloods?
North Dakota State and James Madison are among the best in the bracket.
Yes, March Madness also is occurring off the hardwoods and on FCS football fields.
Here are five takeaways from Week 6 of the spring season:
– Missouri State’s 13-6 upset win at No. 10 Northern Iowa and third straight road triumph in the Missouri Valley Football Conference may have sealed the notion that teams that played nonconference games in the fall have benefited this spring season – getting some kinks out of the way. There are 10 teams doing the double, with Jacksonville State 4-0 this spring and Chattanooga unbeaten through three outings. Southern Illinois has two Top-5 wins, and Austin Peay, Mercer and Missouri State are vastly improved since the fall. There’s also North Dakota State, Southeast Missouri, The Citadel and Western Carolina. Following an FBS-laden fall schedule, only three of the 10 teams brought a win into the spring, but they’ve combined to go 23-19 this spring, and a more-telling 15-11 (.577) when taking out eight head-to-head matchups across the group.
– Think dynasty in the FCS and it starts with North Dakota State, which has won eight of the last nine national titles, but not far behind is what San Diego has done in the Pioneer Football League. The Toreros’ 27-13 win over Butler was their second straight to open the spring season and 39th in a row against a PFL opponent, tying the 1999-2006 Duquesne teams in the MAAC for the longest league winning streak in FCS history. Quarterback Mason Randall (32 of 41, 302 yards, two touchdowns) fueled the milestone win victory, with the possible record-breaker at Presbyterian next Saturday. Coach Dale Lindsey’s program drew the respect of North Dakota State in 2016 and ’17 playoff matchups. To put the Toreros’ PFL win streak in relation to the Bison, it started on the same afternoon (Oct. 17, 2015) that Carson Wentz suffered his broken wrist as a senior and a week before Easton Stick stepped in for his first career start and the first of his FCS-record 49 quarterback wins. Yeah, it’s been a while. Should the Toreros defeat Presbyterian, their streak will surpass 2,000 days before the following game.
– UIW’s Cameron Ward set school records for touchdown passes (six) and total TDs (seven) in a game. Samford’s Liam Welch surpassed 2018 Walter Payton Award recipient Devlin Hodges for the most passing yards (570) by a Bulldogs QB in a game. VMI’s Reece Udinski completed an FCS season-high 40 passes while becoming the school’s all-time leader in passing yardage. Also part of the quarterback excellence was Maine sophomore Joe Fagnano, who too often is overlooked while being tucked away at the most-northeastern campus (or, brrrr, is it outpost?) in the FCS. He’s passed or rushed for all 10 Black Bears’ TDs in their 2-1 start, including five in Saturday’s 35-19 win at Stony Brook. He took over the position midway through the 2019 season when Chris Ferguson was injured against Richmond, and a week later passed for 445 yards and five TDs in his first start at Liberty, an FBS program. Since that game on Oct. 19, 2019, Fagnano has 24 TD passes and only two interceptions in nine starts, posting the best passer rating (169.5) among active FCS players with at least 75 attempts.
– While passing numbers impressed across the FCS, the MVFC provided a black-and-blue reminder just four weeks out from the announcement of the national playoff pairings. A strong run game and dominating defense aren’t just MVFC staples, they pay off in the postseason. Four of the top six teams in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 last Monday came from the FCS’ strongest conference, and this weekend’s five winning teams in the conference averaged 27 more carries and 192 more rushing yards than the losing teams, while surrendering only five touchdowns combined. Of particular note was No. 6 South Dakota State’s 44-3 romp at No. 5 Southern Illinois. The Jackrabbits (4-1) were without All-America running back Pierre Strong yet had three rushers with at least 85 yards – true freshman Isaiah Davis (150), quarterback Mark Gronowski (103) and Sacred Heart transfer Jordan Meachum (88) – and finished with 392 rushing yards, their best single-game performance since 2016.
– This past week showed how fragile the spring season is despite its exciting start. There were a season-high nine postponements due to COVID-19 issues, including top-ranked James Madison for a second straight week and with all Patriot League teams (Holy Cross and Lehigh announced a matchup on Thursday only to cancel four hours later due to a positive test at Lehigh). Health and safety are paramount, and patience is a necessity in season that was always going to have starts and stops. Three teams – defending Big South champ Monmouth and Bucknell and Fordham from the Patriot League – have yet to play a game.