As is the case in the FBS, the top two teams in the FCS have been set since the start of the season. North Dakota State and James Madison have both looked fantastic, and both teams look set to run the table. There is a clear gap between those two schools and every other squad in the country heading into October.
Biggest Win of Week 5 – Central Arkansas 41, Sam Houston State 30
Big plays in the passing game were the norm in this one. Reigning Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe completed 22 passes for 303 yards in this one, but the story was Hayden Hildebrand and the performance he had for Central Arkansas. He completed just 13 passes, but he ended up with 294 yards through the air and four touchdowns. Oddly, neither quarterback completed a high percentage of his passes with Briscoe completing 44 percent and Hildebrand sitting at 52 percent.
Both teams had eerily similar success on the ground. Sam Houston State ran the ball 37 times for 175 yards, while Central Arkansas had the same number of rushes for 177 yards. The big plays through the air as well as Briscoe’s two interceptions were the key for Central Arkansas, though, and put the Bears in the driver’s seat for a Southland Conference title.
Biggest Upset of Week 5 – Saint Francis 13, Liberty 7
Liberty is in its last season at the FCS level and will be playing FBS ball next year, so this was a bit of a shock. Losing to Jacksonville State last week was nothing to be embarrassed about, but falling at home to Saint Francis shows just how far this program still needs to go despite beating Baylor in its season opener.
Turnovers were the difference in this game. Liberty’s defense mostly held Saint Francis in check, but four turnovers were the deciding factor. The Flames are ineligible for the postseason or a conference title, but every game counts before they start taking on the big boys next year.
Closest Call of Week 5 – James Madison 20, Delaware 10
Delaware was never out of this game, which is impressive considering James Madison had won all of its games by at least 20 points prior to this one. The Blue Hens totally shut down quarterback Bryan Schor and made the Dukes one-dimensional for the first time all year. James Madison had to lean on Trai Sharp to get the victory, running him 36 times for 185 yards on the day. A controversial call was the big turning point in this one. Dukes defensive lineman Andrew Ankrah returned a questionable fumble for a touchdown when Delaware was ahead 10-7 to put James Madison up for good.
Biggest Comeback of Week 5 – South Dakota 38, Western Illinois 33
The Coyotes proved they were for real in this game. Clint Streveler continues to be the favorite for the Walter Payton Award, totaling 417 yards of offense and finding the end zone four times for South Dakota in the win. However, Western Illinois almost came back to win it. The Coyotes had a 38-6 lead with just 20 minutes to play, but the Leathernecks turned it on and made it a game. Jaelon Acklin ended up being the star of the show, hauling in an incredible 19 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns, but Sean McGuire was picked off late to end the comeback attempt.
Biggest Sigh of Relief of Week 5 – Northern Iowa 24, Southern Illinois 17
The Panthers really needed a win in this one if they wanted to return to the postseason in 2017. Northern Iowa has long been one of the best teams in the FCS, but a loss here would have sent the program to 1-3, and it would have been an uphill climb to make it back. The Panthers still have a lot to work on in spite of the win. They allowed Southern Illinois to rack up more than 400 total yards of offense, and the run defense was particularly worrisome.
For now, though, a crisis has been averted, but October is brutal for this team. The Panthers will play the five best teams in the Missouri Valley in five consecutive weeks, and they need to somehow find a way to win three of those games.