Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The FCS has come back to where the year
started back in January, with North Dakota State and Sam Houston State playing
in the national championship game.
While that may appear to make the 2012 season the same as 2011, there was much
more focus this year on what took place on the field. A year ago, the off-the-
field issues dominated while the conference merry-go-round spun out of
So as we head to NDSU-SHSU II, here are the Top 10 biggest stories of the 2012
10. Receiving records fall - Eastern Illinois' pass-happy offense set a tone
for the season when junior wide receiver Erik Lora caught 13 passes in an
opening-night win over Southern Illinois. He surpassed the FCS record for
receptions in a season on his final catch of the regular season, then added 12
more in a playoff game to give him 136 in 12 games. Lora's 1,664 receiving
yards were the fourth-highest total in FCS history, but Eastern Washington
junior Brandon Kaufman wasn't impressed enough. He got red hot in the playoffs
and finished his season with 1,850 yards for a new FCS record.
9. A rush to 2,000 - Just when you thought it was safe to chuck the ball like
Eastern Illinois and Eastern Washington, here came the 2,000-yard rushers.
South Dakota State sophomore Zach Zenner (2,044) and Wofford senior Eric
Breitenstein (2,035) became the second pair of 2,000-yard rushers in an FCS
season - Sacramento State's Charles Roberts and New Hampshire's Jerry Azumah
first did it in 1998. Walter Payton Award runner-up Miguel Maysonet was 36
yards shy of making it a trio of 2,000-yard backs this season.
8. CAA stumbles again - There has been divided opinions on CAA Football over
the past two seasons, either the conference formerly dubbed the "SEC of the
FCS" has been knocked from the top perch or its demise has been grossly
overstated. The former seemed more plausible after the CAA didn't have a team
reach No. 1 during the season and then had all of its playoff qualifiers - down
from five to three - out by the end of the quarterfinals.
7. Sam Houston State wins the 'Big Sky' title again - Five of the Bearkats'
six playoff wins the last two seasons have come over Big Sky Conference teams.
After taking down Big Sky co-champions, Montana State and Montana, in last
year's playoffs, coach Willie Fritz's squad pulled an even more impressive
sweep of the Big Sky tri-champions this year, edging Cal Poly at home in the
second round and then going on the road to beat Montana State in the
quarterfinals and Eastern Washington in the semifinals, earning a return trip
to Frisco, Texas, and another shot at the FCS national title.
6. Year of the tri-champions (and more) - "It's better to share" wasn't stated
for football, but FCS conference champions took to the concept. Four
conferences had three teams share their championship: Big Sky (Cal Poly,
Eastern Washington and Montana State); Big South (Coastal Carolina, Liberty
and Stony Brook); Pioneer (Butler, Drake and San Diego); and Southern
(Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford). The CAA went a step beyond
with four teams - New Hampshire, Richmond, Towson and Villanova - sharing the
title because Old Dominion was ineligible for it in its final season before
moving on to the FBS level.
5. Bursting bubble - The amount of teams with playoff-worthy resumes seemed to
be more unwieldy than ever in this final season of a 20-team playoff,
including 10 at-large bids. The teams with the biggest gripes after their
bubble burst were Lehigh (10-1) from the Patriot League, Richmond (8-3) and
Towson (7-4) for the CAA, Eastern Kentucky (8-3) and UT Martin (8-3) from the
Ohio Valley Conference and Northern Arizona (8-3) from the Big Sky. The
playoff field will be 24 teams, with 13 at-large teams, next year.
4. FBS who? - Or perhaps it's FC-yes! Four FCS teams defeated FBS opponents in
the season's first week, McNeese State over Middle Tennessee and Eastern
Washington over Idaho on opening night, and Youngstown State over Pittsburgh
and UT Martin over Memphis two days later. By the end of September, six more
FCS teams (North Dakota State, Illinois State, Sacramento State, Northern
Arizona, Cal Poly and Stony Brook) had victories over FBS opponents, taking
the total to 10, the most in a season since there were 10 in 2003. The last
time the number was higher was 11 in 2001.
3. Taylor Heinicke's record-setting season - No FCS quarterback had more fun
slinging the ball than Old Dominion sophomore Taylor Heinicke. The Monarchs'
64-61 win over New Hampshire on Sept. 22 was a career-defining game for
Heinicke as he passed for 730 yards and had 791 total yards - both single-game
records for Division I. The 2012 Walter Payton Award went on to complete 398
passes and throw for 5,076 yards - both FCS single-season records.
2. Jerry Moore out at Appalachian State - It wasn't surprising that legendary
coach Jerry Moore, at age 73, concluded his career at Appalachian State after
24 years and his three straight national titles from 2005-07. But the fact he
didn't depart on his own terms - he told athletic director Charlie Cobb that
he wanted to coach one more season - was the stunning aspect of the Dec. 2
announcement. Under the 2006 Eddie Robinson Award recipient, Appalachian State
won a Southern Conference-record 215 games and 10 conference championships,
and made 18 playoff appearances. It was an awkward end to a great career.
1. NDSU's continued dominance - Indeed, we're back to where we started because
North Dakota State didn't stop mugging opponents. The Bison whipped Sam
Houston State's high-powered offense for a 17-6 win in the 2011 FCS title game
last January. This season, coach Craig Bohl's squad (and coordinator Chris
Klieman's defense) has allowed a touchdown or less in seven wins and ranks No.
1 in the FCS scoring defense (11.4 ppg) and total defense (223.3 ypg). Led by
quarterback Brock Jensen and left tackle Billy Turner on offense and
linebacker Grant Olson and cornerback Marcus Williams on defense, the Bison
were ranked No. 1 in nine of the 12 regular season polls. They take a 13-1
record into the national final against Sam Houston State on Jan. 5.
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