Takeaways from FCS Week 4

CRAIG HALEY (STATS FCS Senior Editor=)
The Associated Press

(STATS) - FCS conference play is about to arrive in force, if it's not already underway in your favorite conference, and the twists and turns of the first month of the season have whet the appetite for something special.

Week 4 (five if you're like the rest of us who think Week Zero is still an odd name) had terrific matchups up and down the Top 25 and beyond.

Here are 10 takeaways from Week 4 of the FCS season:

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- We surely learned more about No. 4 UC Davis than No. 1 North Dakota State even though the Aggies fell 27-16 at the Fargodome in the STATS FCS Game of the Week. Coach Dan Hawkins' squad fared well against the Bison's physicality, played solid defense (a question mark indeed), ran more plays (80-67) and had more yards (422-354). Their upset bid fell short when NDSU's Michael Tutstie and Cole Karcz had interceptions of All-America quarterback Jake Maier in the final seven minutes, but the Aggies are ready for Big Sky competition.

- James Madison has enjoyed its time in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but the No. 2 Dukes (3-1) are determined to finish their season in Frisco, Texas - the host city of the FCS championship game Jan. 11. Quarterback Ben DiNucci had 313 yards of total offense and a touchdown pass in a 37-14 win at Chattanooga's Finley Stadium, where the Dukes won the 2004 FCS national title. The Dukes have plenty of options in the offensive skills position, but the key is the improved consistency of DiNucci. He has completed at least 65 percent of his passes in each game and thrown seven touchdowns against only one interception.

- Two million people were supposed to Storm Area 51, but only 150 showed up. It's basically what happened with No. 11 Eastern Washington as well, who fell at rival Idaho 35-27 and may next plummet out of the Top 25. The silver lining for the Eagles (1-3) is the game did not count in the Big Sky standings, but the 2018 FCS runner-up surely is the season's biggest disappointment, struggling defensively and lacking a Division I win in the nonconference portion of its schedule. The Eagles need to win another conference title or go at least 7-1 the rest of the way to gain a playoff bid.

- Central Arkansas was the envy of the Southland Conference, off trying to say "Aloha" to another FBS win at Hawaii. But the rest of the ultra-competitive conference began its conference schedule. Sam Houston State delivered the eye-opening score, 45-6 over defending co-champ UIW as Nathan Stewart caught three touchdowns and became the conference's all-time leading receiver (4,010). Nicholls, the other 2018 co-champ, Abilene Christian, Southeastern Louisiana and surprising Houston Baptist also posted wins.

- Seventh-ranked Kennesaw State was in the "Show Me State" and it did just that with their top-ranked rushing offense, beating Missouri State 35-24. The Owls rushed for 479 yards on 44 carries as Bronson Rechsteiner (10 carries, 221 yards, one touchdown) and Isaac Foster (8-183-2) both averaged over 22 yards per carry.

- HBCU Week wrapped up with three strong FCS interconference matchups. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC) pulled off a 37-31 surprise at Tennessee State (Ohio Valley) when Shannon Brown threw a 17-yard touchdown strike to Jeremy Brown on the game's final play. Ryan Stanley passed for a career-high 355 yards and his second touchdown pass in the final four minutes as Florida A&M (MEAC) slipped past Southern (SWAC) 27-21. Also, Bethune-Cookman (MEAC) won 22-6 at Mississippi Valley State (SWAC) to add to its MEAC-SWAC Challenge win over Jackson State.

- Everybody's head should be spinning from No. 18 Villanova's 52-45 overtime win at No. 5 Towson in CAA Football. The two unbeatens slugged back and forth with 'Nova quarterback Daniel Smith outdueling Towson stud Tom Flacco. Smith finished with 349 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, including a 2-yard run in the OT. The grad transfer from Campbell, who only is a junior athletically, has the most rushing yards (2,082) and rushing TDs (29) among active FCS signal callers the last three seasons.

- The Ivy League kicked off its season with a 6-2 start. Most impressive was defending champ Princeton scoring 42 first-half points en route to a 49-7 rout of Butler. Quarterback Kevin Davidson was 18 of 21 for 341 yards and three touchdowns, picking up where two-time Ivy offensive player of the year John Lovett left off last November. In contrast to the Tigers' offense, Ivy preseason favorite Yale and Dartmouth, whose only loss was to Princeton last season, impressed defensively in opening wins.

- One of the Ivy winners, Brown, followed quarterback E.J. Perry's lead to beat Bryant 35-30 in coach James Perry's debut against the program he guided the last two years. Other new coaches gaining their first wins were Howard's Ron Prince, New Hampshire's Ricky Santos (interim) and North Carolina Central's Trei Oliver. A surprising 10 of the 26 FCS programs that have first-year or interim head coaches are winless: Bryant (Chris Merritt), Bucknell (Dave Cecchini), Charleston Southern (Autry Denson), Drake (Todd Stepsis), Eastern Illinois (Adam Cushing), Lehigh (Tom Gilmore), Morgan State (Tyrone Wheatley Sr.), Stephen F. Austin (Colby Carthel), Texas Southern's Clarence McKinney and Valparaiso's Landon Fox.

- That down year you've been hearing about in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Um, no. The Valley swept all five games in the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge on Saturday and clinched the series for the third straight year. The MVFC is ahead 6-3 heading into next Saturday's final game, which is a Top 10 dandy: Northern Iowa at Weber State.

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