Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After Charleston Southern's loss to FBS
Colorado Saturday, there are just four unbeaten teams left in the FCS this
Maintaining an undefeated record all the way through to the end of a season
is extremely difficult, but with the right pieces, that challenging puzzle can
The nation's top-ranked team in North Dakota State trailed early to Southern
Illinois - a team that had taken down two teams previously ranked in the Top
10 in consecutive weeks - but rebounded for a convincing 31-10 win. The Bison
are 7-0 with four games remaining on their schedule against Missouri Valley
Conference opponents. They have a bye week in two weeks.
The pieces of the puzzle for North Dakota State seem to fit together
effotlessly. The Bison are a senior-laden team with players from back-to-back
national championships. They know what it takes to reach the top.
Senior quarterback Brock Jensen hasn't blown anyone out of the water with his
2013 stats, but he doesn't have to on this team. Jensen leads his Bison by
example, and has orchestrated multiple come-from-behind victories this season
alone. Because if that's what his team needs, that's what he'll provide.
The other unbeaten teams are Fordham (8-0), Coastal Carolina (7-0) and Harvard
Let's take a look at these four unbeaten teams through the first eight weeks
of the regular season. Through spectacular individual efforts or team efforts,
whether on offense or defense, these teams have unblemished records for a
reason. The numbers in an unbeaten season never lie.
NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON
It's not shocking in the least bit that two-time defending national champion
North Dakota State is unbeaten to this point in the season, especially when
you consider all the playmakers the team brought back from last year's run.
One of the key ingredients to a successful season is having a good, sturdy
quarterback, and Jensen provides the Bison with that much.
But the real selling point for North Dakota State is its defense. After this
weekend's slate of games, the Bison are ranked first in the country in total
defense, allowing opponents just 257.9 yards per game. They're also first in
the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 12.9 points per game. All
the offense has to do is manage a few scores per game, because it's clear the
defense will do the rest.
Against Southern Illinois Saturday, the Bison kept quarterback Kory Faulkner,
who had been on fire offensively the past few weeks against fellow Missouri
Valley Conference teams such as South Dakota State and Northern Iowa,
completely at bay. Faulkner had 139 passing yards and one touchdown before he
got injured and gave way to Ryan West.
North Dakota State's forte has been rendering its opponents' best player
useless. Take South Dakota State's Zach Zenner for example. Zenner was among
the top running backs in the nation in terms of yards per game and points
accounted for prior to North Dakota State's visit to Brookings. In the 20-0
Bison blanking of the Jackrabbits, Zenner ran the ball eight times for four
Northern Iowa's David Johnson had 142 rushing yards and a touchdown, which
primarily came on one play. His 85-yard rushing score in the second quarter
was the most damage he would do all day.
It's nothing fancy the Bison do to limit teams. They just pride themselves on
a stout defense and limiting other teams offensively. North Dakota State ranks
32nd in the nation in total offense with 434 yards per game, which is enough
to maintain its perfect record.
The Rams began this season like any other in recent years, knowing they were
ineligible for the Patriot League championship and automatic bid into the FCS
playoffs. So an at-large bid would be the only way this team could make it
into the postseason, and the chances of that happening seemed, in retrospect,
But Fordham has captured the nation's attention with a perfect 8-0 record with
wins over powerful teams like Villanova, FBS Temple and fellow Patriot League
squad Lehigh. The Rams downed Yale, 52-31, on Saturday.
Fordham prides itself on offense. The team has only scored fewer that 30
points in a game once this season (a 27-24 victory over Villanova), and has
amassed 50 points four times. The offensive outburst can, in large part, be
attributed to junior Walter Payton Award candidate Michael Nebrich at
Nebrich is a statistical machine, ranking second in the nation with 2,587
passing yards (behind only Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo),
third in the country in touchdown passes (21), sixth in passing yards per game
(323.4), fourth in points responsible for per game (20.5) and tied for second
with Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams in total points responsible for (164).
Nebrich also leads the nation in completion percentage, coming in at 74.1
The Rams as an offensive unit are fifth in the nation in total offense,
averaging 512.6 yards per game, having scored 43 touchdowns this season.
Nebrich wasn't even the focal point of the offense entering the season. Senior
running back Carlton Koonce is a threat out of the backfield, ranking eighth
in the nation with 879 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Receiver Sam Ajala is
third in the country in receiving yards per game with 118.9.
Taking a look at Fordham's schedule for the remainder of the season, it
doesn't appear to be daunting. Holy Cross, Bucknell, Lafayette and Colgate
have a combined nine wins at this point in the season (compared to Fordham's
eight), and remain ahead for the Rams.
COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS
The Chanticleers won for just the second time in Lynchburg, Va., Saturday
against Big South rival Liberty in a double overtime matchup that saw a total
of 107 points scored.
The Chants now own a 6-5 series lead over Liberty, and appear to be on the
fast track to the Big South championship in 2013. Typically this regular-season
matchup between Liberty and Coastal Carolina is an indicator as to
which team gets the Big South's automatic bid. One of these two teams has won
at least a share of the conference championship in eight of the past nine
Coastal Carolina has relied heavily on its superior running game this season,
led by standout senior back Lorenzo Taliaferro. The Chants are undefeated and
have survived games with South Carolina State, Gardner-Webb and Liberty using
an explosive offensive attack.
The double-overtime game against Liberty was the first time since Week 2 of
this season the Chants didn't defeated their opponent by more than a touchdown.
For a team that has scored over 50 points in a game four times this year,
Saturday's 55-point showing was a season high.
Taliaferro rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns against the Flames,
including the game-tying score in the first overtime period.
Taliaferro is second in the nation behind only Towson's Terrance West with 17
rushing touchdowns this season. West has 19, playing one more game.
Taliaferro also ranks fifth in rushing yards (986), fourth in rushing yards
per game (140.9) and is first in the nation in scoring, accounting for 15.4
points per game for the Chanticleers. He's the leader of a team ranked seventh
in the country in rushing offense (267.1 yards per game), and eighth in total
offense (495.9 yards per game).
Though the Chanticleers defense allows 26.3 points per game to their opponents,
it's hard to outdo what Taliaferro, quarterback Alex Ross and the rest of the
Coastal Carolina offense provides week in and week out.
It hasn't mattered much which quarterback has been under center for the
Crimson this season, because the team still puts up a "W" week after week.
Conner Hempel and Michael Pruneau have both been successful for Harvard in the
five games the team has played, each recording at least two wins as the
starter. Pruneau got the start against Cornell a week ago and against
Lafayette Saturday, when he accounted for 263 passing yards and three
The Crimson were picked to finish second in the Ivy League preseason poll, but
have outperformed that expectation through the first five weeks of the
Ivy League schedule. With a 42-20 opening weekend win over San Diego, the
Crimson set the tone for the rest of the year. And the train has kept right on
Harvard's defense kept San Diego quarterback Mason Mills - last year's FCS
leader in completion percentage - quiet in the season-opening win. Mills
completed 27-of-46 pass attempts for 293 yards and one touchdown, also
throwing an interception. Hempel outdueled him with 345 passing yards and four
Harvard's offense, no matter which quarterback is playing, is ranked 13th in
the country in scoring, averaging 38.6 points per game. That mark is second in
the Ivy League to Princeton - the team Harvard will tangle with next weekend.
Defensive end Zach Hodges has been the Crimson player to watch. The junior
leads the nation with a 0.6 forced fumbles per game, notching three in the five
games he's played. He's also second in the nation with a 2.1-tackles-for-loss-
per-game average. In five contests, Hodges has 10.5 total tackles for
loss. The nation's leader - Montana State's Brad Daly - has 15 in seven games.
Hodges is fourth in the FCS in averaging 1.1 sacks per game.
The Crimson have only played one team this season that had more than one win
at the time of their meeting (Holy Cross had two wins when the teams met on
Oct. 5), and the bulk of the team's schedule is still ahead with matchups
against Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn and Yale.
So the road gets tougher for Harvard, but the Crimson have proved capable of
outscoring any opponent. The two highest-scoring Ivy League offenses will
square off on Saturday at Harvard Stadium, with Princeton trying to gain the
league's top spot and spoil the Crimson's perfect record.
The Sports Network