Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ready for some NCAA hoops?
Not so fast.
For college football fans, National Letter of Intent Day is fast approaching
on Feb. 6. Spring practices are right around the corner. And before you know
it, we'll be zeroing in on the 2013 season.
OK, we're talking faster than the Stephen F. Austin offense.
But while North Dakota State just earned its second straight FCS national
championship, a lot of coaches and players across the nation have long been
back to work preparing for next season.
NDSU, of course, has all the pieces in place to make a run at becoming only
the second program to win three straight FCS titles, following Appalachian
State's run from 2005-07.
Coach Craig Bohl's loaded Bison team could have some familiar company as this
season's semifinalists return some of the pieces to get back to the "Final
Four," although national runner-up Sam Houston State loses a lot.
So all you hoops fans, here's an early FCS Sweet 16 for the 2013 season
(considering the many possible variables ahead, though, expect some changes):
16. Northern Arizona - Everybody knows about running back Zach Bauman, but the
defense could carry the Lumberjacks. The returnees include defensive tackle
Tim Wilkinson, cornerback Anders Battle and safety Lucky Dozier. Andy Wilder,
a first-team All-America punter as well as the team's place-kicker, also will
return as a senior. But the Lumberjacks have to replace quarterback Cary
15. Tennessee State - Ohio Valley Conference teams have not won a playoff game
since 2000, but Tennessee State or Eastern Illinois, maybe both, could both
end the drought in 2013. Tennessee State has the stout defense with cornerback
Robert Godbolt III, and the offense returns quarterback Michael German and
tight end A.C. Leonard. But the Tigers expect to lose standout running back
Trabis Ward to an early entry into the NFL Draft
14. James Madison - The Dukes came up short again in 2012, but coach Mickey
Matthews will return a veteran starting lineup. Nobody wants to mess with
speedy linebacker Stephon Robertson. Justin Thorpe is the veteran quarterback,
but young Michael Birdsong may be the one to team with running back Dae'Quan
Scott. The November portion of the schedule is brutal: Villanova and Stony
Brook at home and New Hampshire and Towson on the road.
13. Eastern Illinois - Who's going to stop the defending OVC champ's sizzling
offense? Well, they might want to get South Dakota State's blueprint. Walter
Payton Award finalists Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and Erik Lora at wide
receiver are both returning for Panthers coach Dino Babers, whose team went
from 2-9 in 2011 to the playoffs this season.
12. Northern Iowa - After overscheduling this past September, the Panthers
will have a more manageable 2013, with home dates against Drake and Northern
Colorado filling half of their non-conference games. Running back David
Johnson had a superb freshman season in 2011 and quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen
followed up with one this season. Tyler Sievertsen is 28-of-33 (85 percent) on
field- goal attempts the last two seasons.
11. New Hampshire - Despite the losses of linebacker Matt Evans and defensive
tackle Jared Smith, the Wildcats should be headed toward a 10th straight
playoff appearance. The safeties, featuring veterans Manny Asam and Chris
Beranger, are superb. The running game will be dominant for a couple more
seasons as all of the main quarterbacks, Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas, and
running backs, Nico Steriti, Chris Setian and Jimmy Owens, will be sophomores
10. Montana - Some of the close losses in this season's 5-6 disaster will be
reversed in 2013. Linebacker Jordan Tripp and defensive end Zach Wagenmann
form a game-changing 1-2 combo on a veteran defense. Tree-trunk offensive
tackle Danny Kistler (6-foot-8, 325 pounds) is a quarterback's best friend,
but the Grizzlies need some consistency at that spot. Potential NCAA sanctions
loom for a program that has missed the FCS playoffs in two of the last three
9. Sam Houston State - Running back Timothy Flanders will be back to wreck
more havoc and his sidekicks in the skills positions - quarterback Brian Bell
and all-purpose threat Richard Sincere - also return for their senior seasons.
Coach Willie Fritz's squad, the national runner-up each of the past two
seasons, loses a lot on the other side of the ball, including two-time
Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year Darnell Taylor, his twin
brother Darius and cornerback Dax Swanson.
8. South Dakota State - FCS rushing leader Zach Zenner (2,044 yards) returns
to follow All-America left tackle Bryan Witzmann, and the Jackrabbits hope
quarterback Austin Sumner will resemble his 2011 version instead of the 2012
version. The returnees also include linebacker T.J. Lally, the Missouri Valley
Conference freshman and newcomer of the year. The schedule is favorable as
7. Towson - Running back Terrance West is smiling over an offensive line that
could start five seniors, including All-CAA first-team tackles Eric Pike and
Randall Harris, while Wisconsin transfer Joe Brennan is expected to make a
smooth transition at quarterback. The defense will feature veteran linebackers
and defensive backs. The schedule has New Hampshire and Villanova at home.
6. Montana State - The offensive line that was a question mark before 2012
will be a strength in 2013 as quarterback DeNarius McGhee and running back
Cody Kirk go to work again. Despite the return of defensive end Brad Daly and
linebacker Na'a Moeakiola, the defense faces key losses. A trip to North
Dakota State is one of the highlights among FCS non-conference games.
5. Appalachian State - New coach Scott Satterfield isn't the only one stepping
into some big shoes. The Southern Conference power loses some key seniors off
the defense, and the Mountaineers bowed out of the playoffs at home for the
third straight season. Fortunately, the Jamal Jackson-to-Sean Price
combination is among the best in the FCS, highly touted running back Tysean
Holloway will have his redshirt lifted and cornerback Doug Middleton will
return from a season-ending ankle injury. The Mountaineers host Georgia
Southern and have road games at Montana and Georgia.
4. Villanova - The Wildcats arrived early this season and are ready for the
next step in 2013. Not only do they return 18 starters, including Jerry Rice
Award winner John Robertson at quarterback, 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Monangai
and defensive linemen Antoine Lewis and Rakim Cox, but center Dan Shirey and
all-purpose back Jamal Abdur Rahman will return after missing this season.
3. Georgia Southern - The Eagles are still trying to get over the hump, having
been stopped in the FCS national semifinals in each of coach Jeff Monken's
first three seasons at the helm. But few teams are going to slow the FCS' top-
ranked rushing offense, led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon and fullback
Dominique Swope. The defense loses a handful of its top players and there will
be road trips to Appalachian State, Wofford and Florida.
2. Eastern Washington - The returning talent is impressive - record-setting
wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Kyle Padron,
linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, cornerback T.J. Lee, a stable of running backs to
follow a veteran offensive line. But the Eagles (FCS champions in 2010 and
semifinalists this season) might have to play on the road in the postseason
because their regular-season schedule is a doozy, including road games at
Oregon State, Toledo, Sam Houston State, Montana and Cal Poly as well as a
home game with Montana State.
1. North Dakota State - Considering this season's team was powered by its
junior class, the 2013 squad will return a ridiculous amount of talent.
Seriously, it's three-peat of bust. First-team All-America selections Marcus
Williams (cornerback) and Billy Turner (left tackle) headline the experienced
group, but there's plenty more talent with the likes of quarterback Brock
Jensen, 1,000-yards backs Sam Ojuri and John Crockett, wide receiver Ryan
Smith, linebacker Grant Olson, even All-Missouri Valley place-kicker Adam
Keller. This remains the team to beat next season.
The Sports Network