Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The countdown has been enthusiastically ramped up toward the start of the college football season.
Everybody seems to be counting down to next Thursday night, especially the FBS level that has just discovered a national playoff.
Well, the beginning of the 2014 season will be staring at everybody in bold red color on Saturday courtesy of the "FCS Kickoff" at Eastern Washington University, where the top-ranked squad heading into the FCS season will host new rival Sam Houston State on the red turf at Roos Field.
The host Eagles hope to show off their elite program in the first game of the FCS season, and then again in the campaign's final game.
As we embark on a season that will culminate with the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas, here are 10 predictions for all the fun ahead:
- Eastern Washington's long-term goal may not happen without some earlier steps, and there's no diminishing the importance of winning a conference championship. The 13 conference winners will be: Big Sky, Eastern Washington; Big South, Coastal Carolina; CAA Football, New Hampshire; Ivy League, Princeton; Mid-Eastern Athletic, South Carolina State; Missouri Valley, North Dakota State; Northeast, Sacred Heart; Ohio Valley, Jacksonville State; Patriot League, Fordham; Pioneer, San Diego; Southern, Chattanooga; Southland, Southeastern Louisiana; and Southwestern Athletic, Alcorn State.
- The best FCS matchups will be won by: non-conference, North Dakota State over Montana (Sept. 20); conference, North Dakota State at Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley, Nov. 8); and rivalry, Lafayette over Lehigh (Patriot League, Nov. 22) at Yankee Stadium in the 150th renewal of college football's most-played game.
- The FCS upsets of FBS teams will be fewer than the record 16 of a year ago, but keep a close eye on these games involving ranked FCS teams: Chattanooga at Central Michigan (Aug. 28), North Dakota State at Iowa State (Aug. 30), Eastern Washington at Washington (Sept. 6), Southeastern Louisiana at Tulane (Sept. 13), Northern Iowa at Hawaii (Sept. 13) and Fordham at Army (Nov. 22). At least four of the six potential upsets will happen.
- There are always surprise teams, like Maine winning the CAA after being picked eighth in the preseason poll last season, or Sacred Heart going from worst to first in the Northeast Conference. Five unranked teams that were picked fourth or lower in their conference's preseason poll who have to be respected: Delaware (CAA), Stony Brook (CAA), Central Arkansas (Southland), Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley) and Gardner-Webb (Big South).
- Delaware and Stony Brook are members of the deepest conference in the FCS - the CAA. Whether that conference can surpass the Missouri Valley's dominance is a big question, but the two are real close. The FCS conference rankings: 1. Missouri Valley (North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State are all preseason Top 10); 2. CAA (six teams in Top 25, three others receiving votes); 3. Big Sky; 4. Ohio Valley; 5. Southland, 6. Southern, 7. Big South, 8. Patriot; 9. Ivy; 10. MEAC; 11. Northeast; 12. SWAC; and 13. Pioneer.
- The FCS had a banner run in the 2014 NFL Draft as Jimmy Garoppolo led 19 selections from the division. The seniors whom NFL teams should be keeping the closest eyes on are Harvard defensive end Zach Hodges, Norfolk State defensive end/outside linebacker Lynden Trail, South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner, Northern Iowa running back David Johnson, Southern Illinois tight end MyCole Pruitt, Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt and Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett.
- Speaking of Zenner, didn't the 2,000-yard mark for a running back used to be a sign of immortality? Well, Zenner will laugh at the barrier during the playoffs when he becomes the first FCS player to surpass it a third time in his career.
- An unsettling 28 of the 125 FCS programs have new head coaches this season. While it's easy to say the next offseason will be less active, here are coaches who are candidates for bigger jobs after the season: Beau Baldwin (Eastern Washington), Ron Gould (UC Davis), Jay Hopson (Alcorn State), Rob Ambrose (Towson), Brian Jenkins (Bethune-Cookman), Jamey Chadwell (Charleston Southern), Joe Moorhead (Fordham) and Bob Surace (Princeton). And then there are coaches whose seats will warm if their teams don't perform well this season: Ray Woodard (Lamar), Mick Delaney (Montana), Russ Huesman (Chattanooga), Sparky Woods (VMI), Harold Nicholls (Presbyterian), Dale Lennon (Southern Illinois), Eric Wolford (Youngstown State) and Tom Gilmore (Holy Cross).
- During awards season, the Walter Payton Award (outstanding FCS player) will go to Adams as the Eastern Washington quarterback betters last year's runner-up finish. The 20th annual Buck Buchanan Award (outstanding FCS defensive player) will go to Norfolk State defensive end/outside linebacker Lynden Trail and Southeastern Louisiana's Ron Roberts will win the Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year).
- Eastern Washington has traveled the Road to Frisco before, winning the 2010 FCS title when the growing city north of Dallas hosted the championship game for the first time. The Eagles will knock out North Dakota State in the playoff semifinals and then go on to beat Southeastern Louisiana for another national title.