Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Sagarin College Football Ratings come out each week and Stetson and Mercer universities keep showing up as the bottom two teams among all 251 in Division I.
Little is going to deter the two start-ups as they write their program's game plan on the fly. The numbers aren't always going to add up nicely, but when schools are building programs from scratch, as Stetson and Mercer are doing on the FCS level, you learn to adapt.
"My director of football operations, Nolan Behrns, and I, we've been kind of through this for the whole two years. There's always little (unexpected) things," Stetson coach Roger Hughes said.
"For example, we forgot to order goal posts. And so in the first week of practice (last year), we didn't have goal posts. That would be one thing. There have been times when we didn't put the kicking nets up behind the goal posts and (on) our first field goal, the ball sailed through and actually hit a car on the road. We had a filmer yesterday at our JV game who is filming and gets a text message from his girlfriend that she's breaking up with him. Now all of a sudden the film's all screwed up."
And yet the Hatters, as well as their Pioneer Football League brethren at Mercer, are thrilled by the start to their season. Mercer, which hadn't played football since 1941, is 2-0 under coach Bobby Lamb, while Stetson has split two games - their first since discontinuing football in 1956 - also against lower-tier opposition.
"The last two weeks have gone by so fast after all that build-up. It's crazy," said Lamb, whose team next hosts Berry at their campus in Macon, Ga., on Saturday. Stetson, in DeLand, Fla., will play its final PFL tuneup at home against Birmingham Southern.
The two universities and their surrounding communities have come together behind their respective teams. Hughes, 53, and Lamb, 51, were both hired in 2011 and it's been a labor of love ever since as they have acted as architect, CEO, father figure, fundraiser, cheerleader, you name it, for their programs.
Located within states that are football hotbeds, Mercer and Stetson put together two recruiting classes before embarking on their first season three weeks ago, almost exclusively with freshmen and redshirt freshmen leading them into the great unknown.
But they may not have wanted it any other way.
"The nice thing is you get to do it from the start," Hughes said, "and you establish a culture from the start."
The buildup to Stetson's initial action on Aug. 31 was so long that needing an extra day to complete the first game hardly rattled the Hatters, who overcame a lightning storm's halt to opening night and then visiting Warner the following afternoon for a 31-3 win. Quarterback Ryan Tentler and defensive end Donald Payne have been the offensive and defensive catalysts for the Hatters, and the special teams have been, well, special behind place-kicker and punter James LaGamma.
Mercer also has its building blocks in place. It returned to the varsity level with a 40-37 win over Reinhardt on Aug. 31 and appears to have standout players with the likes of quarterback John Russ, wide receiver J.T. Palmer and linebackers Tosin Aguebor and Tyler Ward.
"I've seen a tremendous amount of confidence," said Lamb, whose program is the only one in the FCS to have eight home games this season. "There's a great unknown when you're starting up a program. You have no idea how good your players are when you get them here. We recruited under the non-scholarship model. You have no idea how much confidence they have. The biggest thing is, we just took it day by day and week by week."
The winning results surely will change when Mercer and Stetson start to play seasoned PFL teams, starting Sept. 28. Mercer even had a change of direction before it played its first game, as the university was accepted into the scholarship-level Southern Conference for next year. The Bears, non- scholarship this year in the PFL, will offer 30 scholarships next year, then 17 more in 2015 and, finally, 16 more in 2016, getting to the FCS limit of 63.
Even when Mercer leaves the PFL, it will share a connection with Stetson because of this once-in-a-lifetime season.
Fittingly, they will end the season against each other at Stetson on Nov. 23.
Fortunately, the goal posts are up now.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: Although Northern Colorado quarterback Tim Tancik did well in relief of an injured Seth Lobato last weekend, the Bears (1-2) need Lobato back Saturday if they are going to take down No. 7 Northern Iowa - their first FCS opponent this season - in a matchup in Greeley. What a difference in game planning for their top two quarterbacks: Lobato is 6-foot-6, 223 pounds; Tancik is 5-10, 183.
Big South: In trying to beat a nationally ranked opponent for the second straight Saturday, Gardner-Webb (2-1) will go from facing Richmond's passing offense to No. 10 Wofford's triple option. It's a big change, but the Runnin' Bulldogs have the type of defensive front seven to get it done. They have allowed only 100 rushing yards combined against two FCS opponents.
CAA Football: Stony Brook took the wraps off quarterback Lyle Negron after halftime of its five-overtime loss to Buffalo, and he responded with 300 passing yards in the game, making Villanova's job even tougher for Saturday's important matchup. The Seawolves (1-1, 1-0) pounded 'Nova with the run (58 carries for 263 yards) in last year's playoff meeting and the Wildcats (0-2, 0-0) are vulnerable as they try to solidify their injury-riddled defense.
Ivy: As the Ivy League kicks off its season Saturday, it will face Patriot League opposition in six of its eight matchups. Of the 15 meetings this season between the two sister leagues, Ivy teams will be the home team 11 times. Defending champion Penn was tabbed as the preseason Ivy favorite over Harvard.
Independents: Albeit a product of the schedules, it's ironic that the three transitioning FCS independent programs - Abilene Christian, Charlotte and Incarnate Word - have winning records and the two existing FCS programs forced into independent status - Monmouth and Old Dominion - have losing records through three weeks of action.
MEAC: It's the toughest weekend for any FCS conference this season. At least Florida A&M will bring home a $900,000 payday as the sacrificial lamb at Ohio State. There's three other FBS trips for MEAC teams: Bethune-Cookman at Florida State, Savannah State at Miami (Fla.) and Morgan State at Western Kentucky. Within the FCS ranks, Delaware State goes to top-ranked North Dakota State, North Carolina Central hosts No. 4 Towson and Hampton visits No. 15 Coastal Carolina, Even South Carolina State (Benedict) and Norfolk State (Charleston Southern) face unbeaten opponents. Mercy.
Missouri Valley: One of the better opportunities for an FCS-FBS upset this week is Western Illinois (2-1) at UNLV (1-2), which lost at home to Southern Utah two years ago. The Leathernecks, who have a redshirt freshman starting at quarterback - Trenton Norvell - already have one more touchdown than all of last season (12 to 11). Their turnover margin is 11-0.
Northeast: Central Connecticut State features the NEC rushing leader in Rob Hollomon (123.7 ypg), but the Blue Devils must improve their run defense before conference play. It was a point of emphasis going into the season, and James Madison and Holy Cross runners had their way with the Blue Devils in the team's 0-3 start.
Ohio Valley: Southeast Missouri State (0-2) hopes a bye week will help get it on track Saturday against Southern Illinois of the Missouri Valley Conference as the rivals meet for the first football game at the new Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. It's a showcase for SEMO and its fan base, and the team has 26 St. Louis-area players. The Redhawks are about to embark on a tough first half of their OVC schedule, so it's now or never to get the offense figured out. Scott Lathrop is being listed as the starting quarterback this week.
Patriot: "Curse" of the Patriot preseason awards? The league points out that its last four preseason offensive players of the year have missed at least one game after receiving the honor. Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney missing last Saturday's game at New Hampshire because of shoulder and knee injuries follows Colgate quarterback Greg Sullivan (2010), Colgate running back Nate Eachus (2011) and Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola (last year). McCarney's playing status for Saturday's game against Yale has yet to be determined. For good measure - or bad measure - Georgetown linebacker Dustin Wharton, the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was sidelined by injury last weekend.
Pioneer: With some series between Ivy League (non-scholarship) and Patriot League (now scholarship) teams in jeopardy, it makes sense for non-scholarship PFL schools to seek out more matchups with Ivy opposition. It makes matchups like Harvard-San Diego and Dartmouth-Butler on Saturday all the more noticeable. The two Ivy schools won last year's meetings, but in the return games, San Diego brings in a 13-game home winning streak and Butler a seven- game home winning streak.
Southern: Unranked Appalachian State (which sounds weird) opens its final SoCon season at Elon, which the Mountaineers (0-2) haven't lost to since 1964 - 17 straight meetings. Coach Scott Satterfield has yet to commit publicly to starting senior Jamal Londry-Jackson or sophomore Kameron Bryant at quarterback. "We'll see which one takes charge this week and we'll see which one is making plays," Satterfield said, admitting Bryant has been off to a better start.
Southland: Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders, with 4,563 career rushing yards, stands 132 shy of becoming the conference's all-time leader. He already owns 31 school and five conference records. The No. 5 Bearkats host future Southland member Incarnate Word on Saturday.
SWAC: The Thursday night meeting of Texas Southern at Jackson State gives the SWAC an ESPNU spotlight. Teams haven't been passing the way of Jackson State cornerback Qua Cox, the Buck Buchanan Award nominee, although he has been dinged up and didn't start, along with linebacker John McNabb, against Tennessee State last weekend.
Extra Point: Indiana State star running back Shakir Bell (separated shoulder) said he has been cleared to play again and will return to action on Sept. 28 against Tennessee Tech. He is due to become a father of a daughter that day.
WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW
The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.
Also, once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections, updated most Sundays, are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf.
WEEK 4 PICKS
Week 3 Record: 53-17 (.757)
Season Record: 179-53 (.749)
Thursday, Sept. 19
Texas Southern (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at X-Jackson State (1-2, 1-0), 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 21
Florida A&M (1-2) at X-Ohio State (3-0), noon
Georgetown (1-2) at X-Brown (0-0), 12:30 p.m.
Yale (0-0) at X-Colgate (0-3), 1 p.m.
Chowan (1-1) at X-Sacred Heart (3-0), 1 p.m.
Warner (0-3) at X-Jacksonville (1-2), 1 p.m.
Columbia (0-0) at X-No. 21 Fordham (3-0), 1 p.m.
Lincoln (Pa.) (1-1) at X-Saint Francis (Pa.) (0-2), 2 p.m.
Jacksonville State (3-0) at X-Georgia State (0-3), 2 p.m.
Austin Peay (0-3) at X-Ohio (2-1), 2 p.m.
Indianapolis (2-0) at X-Drake (0-2), 2 p.m.
X-No. 4 Towson (3-0) at North Carolina Central (2-1), 2 p.m.
Davidson (0-2) at X-Johnson C. Smith (2-0), 2 p.m.
X-Southern Illinois (1-2) vs. Southeast Missouri State (0-2) at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, 2 p.m.
Northwestern State (2-1) at X-UAB (0-2), 3 p.m.
Oklahoma Panhandle State (1-2) at X-No. 9 Montana (2-0), 3 p.m.
X-Bucknell (1-0) at Cornell (0-0), 3 p.m.
X-Harvard (0-0) at San Diego (1-1), 3 p.m.
Game of the Week: No. 16 Stony Brook (1-1, 1-0 CAA) at X-No. 20 Villanova (0-2, 0-0), 3 p.m. It's a rematch of Stony Brook's 20-10 win over Villanova in the FCS playoff first round last season. The possibility of an 0-3 start looms over the host Wildcats.
Southeastern Louisiana (1-2) at X-Samford (2-1), 3 p.m.
Idaho State (2-0) at X-Washington (2-0), 3 p.m.
Murray State (2-1) at X-Bowling Green (2-1), 3:30 p.m.
No. 6 South Dakota State (3-0) at X-Nebraska (2-1), 3:30 p.m.
VMI (1-2) at X-Virginia (1-1), 3:30 p.m.
Delaware State (0-2) at X-No. 1 North Dakota State (2-0), 3:30 p.m.
Maine (3-0) at X-Northwestern (3-0), 3:30 p.m.
Mars Hill (1-1) at X-Western Carolina (0-3), 3:30 p.m.
X-No. 7 Northern Iowa (2-0) at Northern Colorado (1-2), 3:35 p.m.
Duquesne (1-1) at X-Youngstown State (2-1), 4 p.m.
Charleston Southern (3-0) at X-Norfolk State (0-2), 4 p.m.
X-South Carolina State (1-2) at Benedict (2-0) at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., 4 p.m.
X-Southern (1-2, 1-0 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-3, 0-1), 5 p.m.
The Citadel (1-2) at X-Old Dominion (1-2), 6 p.m.
X-No. 22 Lehigh (2-0) at Princeton (0-0), 6 p.m.
Wagner (1-2) at X-Delaware (2-1), 6 p.m.
Hampton (0-3) at X-No. 15 Coastal Carolina (3-0), 6 p.m.
Monmouth (0-3) at X-Holy Cross (1-2), 6 p.m.
No. 19 Bethune-Cookman (3-0) at X-Florida State (2-0), 6 p.m.
Lafayette (0-2) at X-Penn (0-0), 6 p.m.
Liberty (2-1) at X-No. 23 Richmond (1-2), 6 p.m.
X-Dartmouth (0-0) at Butler (2-1), 6 p.m.
X-Appalachian State (0-2, 0-0 SoCon) at Elon (1-2, 0-0), 6 p.m.
Berry (0-1) at X-Mercer (2-0), 6 p.m.
Grambling State (0-3, 0-1 SWAC) at X-Alabama State (1-2, 1-1), 6 p.m.
Charlotte (2-1) at X-No. 17 James Madison (2-1), 6 p.m.
X-Eastern Kentucky (1-2) at Morehead State (0-3), 7 p.m.
X-Birmingham Southern (2-0) at Stetson (1-1), 7 p.m.
Alabama A&M (1-2, 1-0 SWAC) at X-Prairie View A&M (1-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.
Central Connecticut State (0-3) at X-Albany (1-2), 7 p.m.
Savannah State (1-2) at X-Miami (Fla.) (2-0), 7 p.m.
Alcorn State (2-1, 1-0 SWAC) at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
Langston (0-2) at X-Nicholls (1-2), 7 p.m.
X-No. 3 Montana State (2-1) at Stephen F. Austin (1-2), 7 p.m.
Morgan State (0-3) at X-Western Kentucky (1-2), 7 p.m.
Incarnate Word (2-1) at X-No. 5 Sam Houston State (2-1), 7 p.m.
Abilene Christian (3-0) at X-Illinois State (0-2), 7 p.m.
X-No. 13 Central Arkansas (1-2) at Missouri State (0-3), 7 p.m.
Rhode Island (1-2, 1-1 CAA) at X-William & Mary (2-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.
No. 8 Eastern Illinois (3-0) at X-Northern Illinois (2-0), 7 p.m.
South Dakota (1-1) at X-No. 25 Northern Arizona (1-1), 7 p.m.
Gardner-Webb (2-1) at X-No. 10 Wofford (2-1), 7 p.m.
X-Tennessee State (2-1, 0-0 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (2-1, 0-0), 8 p.m.
Bacone College (2-1) at X-Lamar (1-2), 8 p.m.
Weber State (1-2) at X-No. 12 McNeese State (3-0), 8 p.m.
Western Illinois (2-1) at X-UNLV (1-2), 9 p.m.
X-Portland State (2-1) at UC Davis (0-3), 9 p.m.
X-Southern Utah (2-1) at Sacramento State (1-2), 9:05 p.m.