It's August 1. There are now three weeks until the first actual competitive college football games which count.
Man, first there was Dan Mullen with his cockamamie eligibility ideas, and how we've got Mike Leach trying to put half of FBS into the playoffs.
The largest problem with Leach's proposal is, of course, the extent to which it waters down the field. Even I, in fairness, have argued that as a philosophical point I don't care if the FBS playoff is 128 teams. But that's just as a philosophical point, not as a basis for reality. There is a point at which one has to say, "Okay, this is ridiculous." For some, that point is even having the top two teams play for the championship; they'd be perfectly happy to go back to letting the media declare a champion. For others, 128 is just dandy.
It's worth looking at the other divisions. In Division III, which has just about twice as many teams as FBS, the playoff field is only 32 teams -- 26 of which now have automatic bids. There are 246 teams, 13% make the field. It might not be a ridiculous idea for Division III to expand their tournament to 48 or 64 teams, but as it stands already there are very few complaints regarding who gets left out of the field.
Division II has 171 teams. Their playoff field is 24 (14%). Again, there are few complaints about being left out of the field. FCS has 125 teams, and also has a playoff field of 24 (19.2%, although it should be noted that 18 teams explicitly refuse post-season bids so it's really more like 22.4% of eligible teams).
It should be pretty apparent to you now exactly what the upper limit of an FCS playoff should be. Anyone who seriously suggests a number larger than 24 should be summarily disregarded; that's the upper limit of sanity. To fall in line with the percentages in most other levels, the sweet spot for FBS would be 16 teams: 12.5% of the eligible teams, which would still be the lowest percentage in college football but would at least bring it close to par with Division III.
16, 20, 24, fine. 64? Go sit in the corner and learn how to run the football, Pirate.
Frontier Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|5||Carroll College Fighting Saints||Helena MT||9-1||10-2|
|1||Southern Oregon University Raiders||Ashland OR||8-2||13-2|
|13||Eastern Oregon University Mountaineers||La Grande OR||7-3||8-3|
|rv||University of Montana Western Bulldogs||Dillon MT||6-5||6-4|
|Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears||Billings MT||4-6||5-6|
|College of Idaho Coyotes||Caldwell ID||3-7||4-7|
|Montana State University-Northern Lights||Havre MT||2-8||3-8|
|Montana Tech of the University of Montana Orediggers||Butte MT||1-9||1-9|
Usually, if a Frontier team runs wild over the NAIA playoff field, it's Carroll. And, indeed, the Fighting Saints were the top seed going into the 2014 playoffs. But the eighth-sseded Raiders from Southern Oregon upended their conference brethren 45-42 in the quarterfinals before marching all the way to a comprehensive victory in the NAIA Championship Game. With that as the background, 2015 will be a huge battle in the Frontier.
Of note, this is the first conference we've gotten to which has already held their Media Days, so we're able to be quite a bit more precise in our preview. Hurrah! In that light, the teams are presented in order of their placement in the Frontier Conference preseason coaches poll. Carroll received five first-place votes to Southern Oregon's three, so the coaches are also convinced it's a two-way battle which could go either direction.
Carroll (MT) had eleven first-team selections, and lost eight to graduation. Among those losses was the two-time Frontier Defensive Player of the Year and All-American, LB Sean Blomquist. This is not a problem. For 16 years, Mike Van Diest has just reloaded and moved on, winning 14 conference titles, six national championships, and a 186-30 record. Is it any surprise they're picked as the favorite, even over the defending national champs?
Southern Oregon had spent most of the 2000s as a doormat, but in 2011 they surged to a .500 finish and then planted themselves in the annual discussion. That's the work of Craig Howard, who took over in 2011 and now has a national championship to gloat about. Howard has to contend with a massive loss this year, as three-time Frontier Offensive Player of the Year and 2014 All-American QB Austin Dodge has graduated along with four other first-team selections. (Dodge earned a tryout with the Falcons this summer.) Unlike Carroll, the Raiders don't have a history of reloading, and the question in Ashland will be whether Southern Oregon's success the last three years was due to a supremely talented quarterback or because they've got a really good program now.
Eastern Oregon played under five different head coaches in eight years early this century. Tim Camp took over in 2008, and while the program has been a bit of a yo-yo, they've only suffered one non-winning season under his regime. Last year, the Mountaineers matched their best win total in history, and Camp is now five wins away from being EOU's all-time winningest coach. Spoiler: he's probably going to get there this season. Eastern was the clear #3 in the preseason poll, even stealing at least one second-place nod from Southern. This is despite losing two of their three first-team selections; kick returner Jace Billingsley returns as the Mountaineers' star.
Rocky Mountain, the oldest college in Montana, regressed after an 8-4 campaign in 2013 which marked the school's best season this century. The Bears squeaked by Montana-Western for fourth place in the preseason poll. All-American WR Andre McCullouch returns, the latest in a legacy of wideouts; Chiefs fans may remember Chris Horn, also a Rocky alum.
Montana Western has steadily improved this decade, their win totals reading 1-2-2-4-6. The last two of those years were under the leadership of B.J. Robertson, who came back home; as a running back, he led Western to the 1994 Frontier title. OL Will Thacker returns, one of three first-team honorees from last year. Three second-teamers also return, a large part of the reason for optimism in Dillon.
College of Idaho returned to the gridiron last year after an absence of nearly forty years. Their first season, then, was probably a success; four wins and a first-team nod for freshman TE Marcus Lenhardt. The Coyotes tied Montana Tech for sixth in the pre-season poll.
Montana Tech has the most cumbersome official name in college sports, although "Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" and "Virginia Polytechnic and State University" give it a run for its money. In 2012, Tech went 8-3 and reached the NAIA playoffs; they've faceplanted since then, going 4-16. Chuck Morrell is going to have to turn things around soon; the shine from that playoff appearance will wear off pretty quick. Junior LB David Meis returns from the all-conference first team, as does second-team KR Alec Bray. Those were the Orediggers' only honorees, so at least they don't have to deal with the loss of any exceptionally talented players.
Montana State-Northern returns RB Zach McKinley, but part of the reason they're picked to finish last is that they lost all three of their second-teamers to graduation. The Lights haven't had a winning season since 2008, and they'll try to right the ship under new head coach Aaron Christensen, the former offensive coordinator at three-time defending HAAC champion Missouri Valley. The program was run on an interim basis last year by defensive coordinator Jake Eldridge, who took over in August after the abrupt resignation of Mark Samson during training camp. Samson had been embroiled in a financial controversy prior to resigning.
Game of the year: It happens twice, because some Frontier teams play twice due to their remote footprint. On September 5, Southern Oregon travels to Helena to take on the Fighting Saints; Carroll returns the favor with a trip to Ashland on October 17.
Central States Football League Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|19||Langston University Lions||Langston OK||5-0||7-4|
|Southwestern Assemblies of God University Lions||Waxahachie TX||4-1||4-6|
|Oklahoma Baptist University Bison||Shawnee OK||3-2||8-3|
|Wayland Baptist University Pioneers||Plainview TX||2-3||3-8|
|Bacone College Warriors||Muskogee OK||1-4||3-8|
|Texas College Steers||Tyler TX||0-5||0-11|
The CSFL, as is pretty much the norm, suffered turnover during the off-season. Oklahoma Baptist ended their two-year affiliation with the league, moving on to NCAA Division II and the Great American Conference. Meanwhile, two schools who just started their programs last year join the league: The Arizona Christian University Firestorm from Phoenix, and the Lyon College Scots from Batesville, Arkansas.
The league struggles to land a team in the post-season, but Langston did make the playoffs last year, bowing out in the first round to Grand View. The league has a scheduling alliance with NCAA D-II independent Oklahoma Panhandle State, who used to play every conference team but will skip Arizona Christian and Wayland Baptist this season.
Langston placed eight players on the conference first team, and five of them return including junior QB Mark Wright, the CSFL Offensive Player of the Year. Given the chaos surrounding the league's other usual contenders, Langston has to be considered the prohibitive favorite to repeat. One of two HBCUs in the conference, Langston is probably best known as the alma mater of Hollywood Henderson and former Harlem Globetrotter Marques Haynes, as well as the current employer of UCLA great Cheryl Miller, who now heads Langston's women's basketball program in addition to her television duties on TNT.
SAGU has flailed away for years. In their third stint as a member of the league, they finally finished over .500 and shared the league title in 2013 before regressing last year. James Godding, who had been both head coach and athletic director, resigned the former position in January, turning the reins over to offensive coordinator Frank Tristan. Juniors LB Ethan Eastwood and punter Chadd Dearen -- the league's Special Teams Player of the Year -- return from the CSFL first-team, while OL Peter Akorikin has graduated. The situation below Langston is fluid and chaotic, but SAGU probably has the best chance to finish second.
Wayland Baptist returns three first-team selections, all of whom have been with the program since its revival in 2013. They won one game that year, and three last season; they should make a run at a winning record this year. Thing you don't know about Wayland Baptist: their women's basketball team actually won the first nine National Women's Invitation Tournaments (which is now the WNIT). Included in that was a first-round win over K-State in 1970, and three consecutive championship game wins over UCLA to close the run.
Bacone, the only remaining Native American four-year school with a football team, has generally been the primary challenger to Langston, and shared the 2013 CSFL title with SAGU. But last season was an epic disaster, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Trevor Rubly just one year after bringing home hardware. Offensive line coach Lawrence Livingston replaces Rubly. Of interest to Wildcat fans who like to hate on things, Livingston was the running backs coach at Texas A&M from 1998-2000, which means Sirr Parker was all his fault. To make matters worse, Bacone loses five first-teamers, with only OL Josh Tausega returning, and their non-conference schedule is brutal: trips to FCS Lamar and Texas Southern lead into a game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington against D-II Angelo State as part of the annual Lone Star Football Festival and then the annual tilt with D-II independent Oklahoma Panhandle State. They could be 0-4 heading into conference play, and even after that there's another D-II game against Eastern New Mexico. Ugh.
Texas College shared the CSFL title in their first two eligible seasons in the league, 2005 and 2006. Since then, they've gone 6-68 with three 0-11 seasons. But, hey, junior DB D'Marcus Limbrick was a first-team selection, so that's something.
Arizona Christian won two games in their inaugural season and head coach Donnie Yantis was named NAIA Independent Coach of the Year. The Firestorm were competitive early in the season before tailing off late. They're probably going to finish ahead of both Texas College and Lyon, and further goals aren't out of the question.
Lyon starts their program in earnest this year, taking the field for real for the first time since 1951 after playing only intrasquad scrimmages in 2014. Kirk Kelley, who played quarterback at the now-defunct Saint Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City, was once Lyon's baseball coach. He led the team to the NAIA regionals three times, winning 595 games. This is his first football coaching job. Obviously, there's no guessing how Lyon will do this year, but a finish ahead of Texas College wouldn't surprise anyone.
Game of the year: uh... I suppose, by default, it's SAGU's trip to Langston on October 17. I'd be tempted to point to the September 19 Bacone-Angelo State game simply because of where it's being played, but by the time Bacone gets to Jerryworld they may all be dead.
Our other NAIA previews:
We're still looking for more mailbag questions. Tomorrow, we start in on NCAA Division III, still in reverse alphabetical order. That means the Independents and the USA South Conference... oh, and in between them, there's the small matter of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. You know, where some team from Whitewater plays...