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25 story lines that have shaped FCS 2018

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - It feels like North Carolina A&T was just kicking off to Jacksonville State.

Well, you know what they say when you're having fun in the FCS.

At least the 2018 season in college football's Division I subdivision isn't a blur because there have been so many ever-lasting memories.

The story lines are countless, but here are 25 of the most noteworthy that have shaped the season.

Happy holidays.

1. It's a Bison nation: There's the need (maybe a formality?) to beat Eastern Washington in the FCS championship game, but Missouri Valley Football Conference power North Dakota State has still been the national standard, going 14-0 with all but one win by double figures. The Bison dynasty is seeking a second straight and record seventh FCS title since 2011.

2. Or maybe it's an Eagle nation: Big Sky power Eastern Washington has left no doubt - its 2018 mantra - after being denied an at-large playoff bid last season. The Eagles (12-2), coming off Eric Barriere's playoff-record seven touchdown passes in the semifinals, take a seven-game winning streak to Frisco, Texas, where they won the 2010 FCS title.

3. Jackrabbit nation? Coulda, shoulda, woulda …: South Dakota State's seven consecutive playoff appearances is the second-longest current streak to North Dakota State's nine, but for the fourth time in that run, the Jackrabbits were eliminated by the Bison, this time in the rivals' first-ever semifinal-round meeting. Still, it's been some run by the Jackrabbits.

4. Clean up, rinse, repeat: Some were shared titles, but eight of the 13 conferences had a team repeat as champion: Colgate (Patriot), Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley), Kennesaw State (Big South), North Carolina A&T (Mid-Eastern Athletic), North Dakota State (Missouri Valley), San Diego (Pioneer), Weber State (Big Sky) and Wofford (Southern). For NDSU, it was a record eighth straight MVFC title.

5. FC-yes? No, not this season: The FCS-FBS matchups heading into the season suggested a banner year of upsets, but the FCS went a disappointing 7-105. The FCS wins: UC Davis 44, San Jose State 38; Villanova 19, Temple 17; Nicholls 26, Kansas 23; Northern Arizona 30, UTEP 10; North Carolina A&T 28, Eastern Carolina 23; Maine 31, Western Kentucky 28; and Illinois State 35, Colorado State 19.

6. Most improved: The seasons few saw coming are always among the feel-good stories. The most-improved teams were Indiana State, which went from 0-11 last season to 7-4 this season, and Stetson, which went from 2-9 to 8-2. Playoff qualifiers Incarnate Word, Lamar, Maine, Southeast Missouri and UC Davis were at least plus-four in their improvement.

7. Idaho struggles: Idaho's return to the Big Sky after 22 seasons on the FBS level didn't go as planned. Picked to finish fourth out of 13 schools in the conference's preseason poll, the Vandals went 3-5 in conference games, tying for ninth place. Including their Division II win and two FBS losses, they finished 4-7 overall.

8. CAA's record haul: Led by conference champ Maine, which reached the national semifinals, CAA Football set a record with six playoff qualifiers. The others were Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Stony Brook and Towson. The CAA qualifiers did not include New Hampshire, whose 14-year run of playoff appearances came to an end.

9. Playoffs? Don't talk about … playoffs? The Ivy League presidents still say no even though just about everybody in Ivy League football wants the champion to advance to the FCS playoffs. Not only would Princeton (10-0) have qualified this season, but Dartmouth (9-1) might have earned an at-large bid. Oh yes, also credit Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens for hiring Callie Brownson as the team's offensive quality control coach, making her the first known full-time female football coach at the Division I level.

10. Magical QBs: Quarterback really was the most important position in the FCS, led by the likes Western Carolina's Tyrie Adams; Kennesaw State's Chandler Burks, who set the FCS single-season QB record with 29 touchdown runs; South Dakota State's Taryn Christion; Jacksonville State's Zerrick Cooper; Towson's Tom Flacco; Samford's Devlin Hodges, who set the all-time FCS passing yardage mark (14,854); San Diego's Anthony Lawrence; Princeton's John Lovett; UC Davis' Jake Maier; and North Dakota State's Easton Stick, who has tied the FCS all-time record for QB wins (48).

11. NEC on the run: How good were the running backs in the Northeast Conference? Central Connecticut State's Aaron Dawson (conference-record 361 yards) and Sacred Heart's Jordan Meachum (school-record 318 yards) went over 300 rushing yards on the same day and didn't even crack first-team all-conference. Not with STATS first-team All-Americans Ryan Fulse of Wagner and A.J. Hines of Duquesne roaming the turf.

12. Concern for Christion: The national outpouring was high for Tennessee State linebacker Christion Abercrombie, who continues to improve from a severe head injury in a Sept. 29 game at Vanderbilt. He had a second surgery on Dec. 7, but his rehabilitation has gone well.

13. Redshirt rule: If a player showed up in your favorite team's lineup late in the season, it shouldn't be surprising. The NCAA changed the way it classifies players for a redshirt season. Players, and the rule was mostly used with freshmen, can participate in up to four games without the season counting toward their four seasons of eligibility.

14. Celebrate good times, come on! MEAC champ North Carolina A&T captured the four-year-old Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl for a third time, edging Alcorn State 24-22 behind game MVPs Lamar Raynard and Richie Kittles.

15. Everybody's a winner: There were no winless teams in the FCS.

16. Jacksonville State's OVC streak ends: Jacksonville State fell three games shy of the FCS record when its 36-game conference winning streak ended with a 37-14 loss at Southeast Missouri in the Ohio Valley Conference. Still, the Gamecocks won a fifth straight OVC title under coach John Grass.

17. Miracle in Murray: Jacksonville State's outright OVC title was paved by arguably the FCS play of the year: Murray State's Malik Honeycutt weaving around Southeast Missouri players for a 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 20 seconds left in a 40-38 Racers' win.

18. Spell Colgate with a 'D': In a 9-0 start to the season, Patriot League champ Colgate had a mindboggling seven-game stretch in which it surrendered only two field goals. Included were five shutouts, which tied the FCS single-season record.

19. Home sweet home: On the Road to Frisco, home teams dominated the playoffs. They went 19-3, three wins better than the previous high since the playoffs were expanded to 24 teams in 2013.

20. Basketball or football? While posting its first winning season since 2007, Davidson beat Guilford 91-61 while setting NCAA records for total yards (964) and rushing yards (685) in a game. The Wildcats weren't done, rushing for a new-record 789 yards in a 56-52 loss to Pioneer Football League champ San Diego.

21. Southland chaos/fun: It wasn't so much who beat who in the Southland Conference, it was more who didn't beat who in a wild, unpredictable title race. Nicholls and Incarnate Word wound up as co-champs and Lamar, in finishing 6-3 in conference after an 0-3 start, gave the Southland a third playoff qualifier.

22. Left at the altar: Indiana State (7-4), Monmouth (8-3) and North Dakota (6-5) were announced as the first three teams outside the playoff field. Is there any more scrutinized group in the FCS than the playoff selection committee?

23. Coaching carousel: A stunning two-year run of schools with coaching changes has continued with 22 since the start of the 2018 seasons. There's been four FCS-to-FBS direct hires: James Madison's Mike Houston going to East Carolina, Austin Peay's Will Healy to Charlotte, North Dakota State's Chris Klieman to Kansas State and Chattanooga's Tom Arth to Akron.

24. Retirements: Some beloved coaches retired following the season, including William & Mary's Jimmye Laycock after 39 seasons and 249 career wins; Northern Arizona's Jerome Souers, the Big Sky's all-time leader in conference wins; and Lehigh's Andy Coen, who is facing a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

25. FCS Awards: The upcoming STATS national banquet will honor a distinguished group that has helped write the 2018 story lines: Jerry Rice Award winner Josh Davis of Weber State; Eddie Robinson Award winner Dan Hawkins of UC Davis; Doris Robinson Scholar Athlete Chris Infantino of Stony Brook; Walter Payton Award finalists Chandler Burks of Kennesaw State, Devlin Hodges of Samford and Easton Stick of North Dakota State; and Buck Buchanan Award finalists Zach Hall of Southeast Missouri, Dante Olson of Montana and Derick Roberson of Sam Houston State.

Updated December 21, 2018

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