Who would you vote FCS #1?
With all the talk about getting to a playoff system in the FBS, I thought a little turnabout would be fair play. What if the FCS where suddenly decided by a poll and the not the playoffs? I know, shudder to think, but with time to wait before the title is to be decided on the field, let’s give it a shot. Keeping it simple let’s look at just the two teams that made it this far. Just for giggles, say the NCAA has canceled the title game...who is the National Champion? I would assume that the title would not be jointly awarded or simply not handed out. SOMEONE has to win...right? So who deserves your vote?
Sam Houston State is 10-1 against the FCS, 0-2 vs. the FBS with another win against Incarnate Word. They lost by 25 at Baylor with QB Brian Bell throwing three picks and the team managing only 126 rushing yards. Against Texas A&M and Johnny “Heisman” Football the Bearkats lost by 19 but won the turnovers battle 4-2 and put up 382 total yards to 527 for the Aggies. Facing FCS competition, only an early season 24-20 loss at Central Arkansas marred their record. You could count “quality wins” over 7-4 McNeese State 45-10, a round one 18-16 victory over 9-3 Cal Poly in the playoffs, followed by an unexpected win at Montana State (11-2) 34-16 holding the Bobcats to 72 yards on the ground. The biggest win of the season was at Eastern Washington and winning on the red turf 45-42 where they forced three turnovers (+2) and pounded out a 418-42 rushing advantage. Between the aforementioned Bell and RB Tim Flanders, they have plenty of FCS “star” power. Punter Matt Foster, return man Trey Dillar, and place kicker Miquel Antonio all excel at their jobs and form a very deadly pecial teams unit.
Almost every stat in any facet of the game ranks in the top 25 for Sam Houston State with eight stats ranked in the top ten including total and scoring offense and turnover margin. Statistically, this is a complete team that doesn't have to win games one way. They can beat you with different styles of their game and do it well. This team definitely deserves to be where they are and there can't be much argument about placing them #1 in your final FCS poll.
North Dakota State won at FBS Colorado State 22-7 and flat out showed they were the better team. However, with the Rams going 4-8, how good of a team did they really beat? Against FCS competition a 17-14 loss to Indiana State with two of three picks going back for touchdowns stands as the single blot on their record. With QB Brock Jensen doing it both passing and running, along with RB's Sam Ojuri and John Crockett pounding away on the ground, the offense put up 32.57 point per game, good for #23. However, they've scored less than 24 per game over their last seven.
Everyone knows the North Dakota State defense has been very good, but seeing the numbers really drives the point home. They are sitting at #1 in pass defense, total defense, and scoring defense where they allow only 11.43 points per game. They are #3 against the run and #18 in passing efficiency defense...truly outstanding. Special teams also excel with punter Ben LeCompte ranking #10 with a 43.25 average, return men Ryan Smith and Marcus Williams sit in the top 15 in punt and kickoff returns respectively, and place kicker Adam Keller is top 25 with 1.21 field goals per game. North Dakota State is another complete team, but one that still needs their defense to lead the way.
While either team is richly deserving, who has an edge? Some may look at the strength of competition with the Missouri Valley Conference beating out the Southland Conference there. Others can say that when playing up against teams NDSU beats their FBS foes. One different point of view would be to look at the disparity of how the games each team won were accomplished. SHSU would get the nod there with the better offense as they can outscore opponents when their defense isn't quite up for the game. Another pundit may say that you can't remove the champ until they are defeated on the field which would automatically default to the Bison. Any way you look at it there will be arguments. That's the fun, and the frustration, of the polls. You can make a case either way. Regardless, you can't go wrong with these two teams. Am I glad that it will be decided on the field? Absolutely! But what if...
For my vote I would go with Sam Houston State. Why? They did lose them both, but they had to play an extra game against the higher subdivision and they had a harder road to get to this point in their long season. They have shown the resolve to win in different ways and, while not being one of the favorites this season, showed they are elite. North Dakota State has looked vulnerable down the stretch and very well may have lost either of their previous two games at home against Wofford (a 14-7 win) and Georgia Southern (a 23-20 victory) without a couple of late bounces going their way. While they obviously earned the victories, they were not as commanding of performances as you would expect from a defending FCS National Champion at home. So I vote Sam Houston State as the FCS National Champion in the 2012 poll. But who am I to judge? Good thing it's decided on the field.