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In the FCS Huddle: Teams think big picture, too

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Updated: 8/27 7:02 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The days of the gruff old coach controlling every part of his program are basically over.

Let's face it, even Vince Lombardi couldn't control the thoughts in the back of his players' minds.

Sure, it's politically correct to say the next practice or the next game or, well, the next second is all a team is thinking about, but many of today's FCS coaches admit they let their players think big picture ... as long as they are taking care of their daily business to work up to long-term goals.

That can be a conference title, a playoff bid, even the FCS national championship.

But when a team points toward a big target, its coaches can use the individual games to reel the players back in to the smaller picture.

"I think what I do is I try to allow them to think big picture," said Beau Baldwin, head coach of the Eastern Washington program that entered the 2014 season ranked No. 1. "I want to allow us to talk about, 'Yeah, we're going after a national title.'

"And we're not afraid to talk about it. But, like anything, what are the steps along the way? So I don't just totally avoid it because it's out there. I've embraced the idea that we're going after a national title. There's no doubting it. I guarantee the Seahawks are going after a Super Bowl title.

"But then you have to then break it down. I try to compare to little things even in their life. When you're excited or you're competing in the classroom, like we like our guys to do, and you sign up for this geology class or history class, and you're in to getting good grades, you don't start that class and go, 'You know what, I have to take it one lecture at a time.' You say, 'I'm going to get an A in this class.' But in order to get that A, what do you have to do? Well, I have to take notes each day, I have to go to class each day. It means a lot at the end."

The tradition-rich programs can think more on a grander scale. Montana, for example, has appeared in seven FCS national championship games, so its goals are different than a lower-tier Big Sky Conference member like Idaho State or Northern Colorado. The Griz think conference title first, and then hope to transfer that success into the postseason.

But the thought process also is alive at Austin Peay or Columbia, whose programs are coming off winless seasons. They aren't just thinking about winning one game this season, they have bigger dreams of improvement. But it takes the right steps each day to get to the larger goals.

"Just tell them, 'Don't believe the hype.' Nobody's as good as they think they are," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. "With that (national) ranking comes responsibility. Being a starter or a really good player behind you or a young kid coming up, (you can say), 'This thing's not going to be given to you. This is something that has to be earned. Keep it, keep working on it. Understand that people are chasing you.' I've always said I would rather be climbing the mountain than sitting on top of it for a long, long time. Everybody talks about who builds a program. The credit goes to the kids that maintain it."

Talking about the big picture can put a team in a vulnerable position. So it's probably best served in the offseason, when teams are formulating goals and working toward something realistic - even if it is the national championship.

But once the season begins, the talk shouldn't be so grandiose. Teams should be increasing their focus on the present and letting their actions, not words, speak for them.

"Obviously, we have to talk about it because the kids talk about it," said North Dakota State's first-year coach Chris Klieman, whose Bison program has won the last three FCS national titles. "We'll mention it briefly the first couple days just so those young kids get an understanding of what the expectations are here. It doesn't matter who the head football coach is here at North Dakota State, there's always going to be high expectations. And that's a good thing."

NEW ERAS

There are 28 new head coaches among the 124 FCS programs. Sam Houston State's K.C. Keeler was the first to debut this past Saturday, when the Bearkats lost to Eastern Washington. All the other new coaches will follow this week except for Rhode Island's Jim Fleming, whose first game is Sept. 6 at Marshall.

The Big South has a new member in Monmouth, while Elon made the move to CAA Football. Mercer and VMI are in the Southern Conference, and the Southland Conference brings in three new members with Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

The Sports Network FCS conference preview package can be found at http://tinyurl.com/lnu6v6l.

Predicted conference champions - 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

Projected playoff field - automatic qualifiers: Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Washington, Fordham, Jacksonville State, New Hampshire, North Dakota State, Sacred Heart, San Diego, South Carolina State and Southeastern Louisiana; at-large bids: Eastern Illinois, Furman, Liberty, McNeese State, Montana, Montana State, Northern Iowa, Richmond, South Dakota State, Tennessee State, Towson, Villanova and William & Mary

National champion: Eastern Washington

FCS TOP 25 AND AWARDS

The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.

Six 2013 finalists are on this year's Walter Payton Award Watch List, while seven former finalists are nominees for the 20th Buck Buchanan Award. The FCS Awards package can be found at http://tinyurl.com/n5ysh8x.

WEEK 1 PREDICTIONS

This Season's Record: 1-0 (1.000)

Last Season's Record: 636-222 (.741); 2012: 580-187 (.756); 2011: 590-203 (.744); 2010: 590-186 (.760)

X-Predicted Winner

TOP 25

Just as the North Dakota State Bison did last year, they will kick off their season by making a national appearance on Fox Sports 1 - this time against Iowa State in Chris Klieman's head coaching debut. They beat Kansas State last year to jumpstart a 15-0 season, which culminated with them winning a third straight FCS title.

The only ranked team not playing this week is No. 8 McNeese State. Twenty of the 24 ranked teams in action play on Saturday.

Thursday, Aug. 28

X-No. 14 Chattanooga at Central Michigan, 7 p.m. The Mocs have their highest preseason ranking ever. Their next win will be the 32nd for sixth-year coach Russ Huesman. They had only 32 in the 10 seasons before his arrival.

No. 16 Eastern Illinois at X-Minnesota, 7 p.m. New coach Kim Dameron is expected to use both quarterbacks Andrew Manley and Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow, with the likely starter announced prior to the game.

Friday, Aug. 29

No. 6 Jacksonville State at X-Michigan State, 7:30 p.m. Yeah, Gamecocks senior star DaMarcus James is built like a Big Ten running back.

No. 12 Villanova at X-Syracuse, 7:30 p.m. This would make a pretty good basketball game. 'Nova is determined to put a disappointing 2013 campaign behind it.

Saturday, Aug. 30

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 2 North Dakota State at X-Iowa State, noon. The Bison, 7-3 against FBS opponents, have won 24 straight games to match the FCS record. New head coach Chris Klieman's rebuilt offensive line is a concern.

No. 24 Youngstown State at X-Illinois, noon. With four-year starting quarterback Kurt Hess gone, junior Dante Nania has earned the top job.

No. 9 Northern Iowa at X-Iowa, noon. UNI has a way of making FBS opponents sweat, winning 10 times since 1985. The Panthers opened last season with a win at Iowa State behind running back David Johnson.

No. 10 South Dakota State at X-Missouri, 3:30 p.m. Senior Zach Zenner begins his assault on a third straight season of at least 2,000 rushing yards.

No. 5 Montana at X-Wyoming, 4 p.m. Two-time Eddie Robinson Award-winning coach Craig Bohl makes his debut at Wyoming against a Grizzlies program that he would have faced next month had he remained at North Dakota State.

No. 19 William & Mary at X-Virginia Tech, 4 p.m. Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock is tied as the longest-tenured FCS coach at his school, while the Hokies' Frank Beamer is the longest-tenured FBS coach (28th season).

X-No. 7 Coastal Carolina at The Citadel, 6 p.m. Big South teams finished 6-3 against Southern Conference competition last season.

Saint Francis (Pa.) at X-No. 11 Fordham, 6 p.m. The Red Flash did a pretty good job of containing Fordham's outstanding passing attack last season, but quarterback Michael Nebrich has three 1,000-yard receivers back.

Central Connecticut State at X-No. 13 Towson, 6 p.m. No Terrance West right, left, up the middle anymore, but his understudy, Darius Victor, was the 2013 CAA Football offensive rookie of the year.

Norfolk State at X-No. 25 Maine, 6 p.m. The 2013 CAA defensive rookie of the year, linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, won't be buying a vowel from Vanna White anytime soon.

Morehead State at X-No. 20 Richmond, 6 p.m. If Richmond coach Danny Rocco wants to get playing time for both of his quarterbacks - Michael Strauss and Michael Rocco - this should be an excellent opportunity.

No. 4 New Hampshire at X-Toledo, 7 p.m. UNH used to beat FBS competition regularly, but its three-game losing streak against the higher level started with a 58-22 drilling at Toledo to open the 2011 season.

Edward Waters at X-No. 15 Tennessee State, 7 p.m. TSU standouts Anthony Bass (defensive end), Nick Thrasher (linebacker) and Daniel Fitzpatrick (safety) are all strong candidates for Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year.

No. 18 Montana State at X-Arkansas State, 7 p.m. A Texan is starting at quarterback for the Bobcats, but it's not DeNarius McGhee, it's redshirt sophomore Dakota Prukop. This is the first meeting between the two programs.

Gardner-Webb at X-No. 21 Furman, 7 p.m. The visiting Runnin' Bulldogs beat three Top 25 teams a year ago.

X-No. 22 Bethune-Cookman at FIU, 7 p.m. It's not as strong a cast at Bethune, but the Wildcats handled FIU last season.

No. 23 Northern Arizona at X-San Diego State, 7 p.m. The Aztecs are thrilled NAU doesn't have a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo.

Alabama State at X-No. 17 Sam Houston State (0-1), 7:30 p.m. With a trip to LSU next weekend, the Bearkats don't want to waste a chance to give new coach K.C. Keeler his first win.

Jacksonville at X-No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana, 8 p.m. Coach Kerwin Bell's squad never shies away from tough competition, but they're like Dolphins out of water against the transfer-laden Lions.

Montana-Western at X-No. 1 Eastern Washington (1-0), 9:05 p.m. Take away a couple big plays, and Eagles coach Beau Baldwin thought his defense played well in its 56-35 opener against Sam Houston State.

NON-RANKED FCS-FBS

FCS teams beat FBS opponents a record 16 times last year, posting an 8-23 mark on opening weekend, which was a record number of wins for one week of action.

There are 46 matchups this week among an 83-game schedule involving FCS teams.

Wednesday, Aug. 27

Abilene Christian at X-Georgia State, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 28

Presbyterian at X-Northern Illinois, 7 p.m.

Howard at X-Akron, 7 p.m.

Idaho State at X-Utah, 7:30 p.m.

X-Cal Poly at New Mexico State, 8 p.m.

North Dakota at X-San Jose State, 10 p.m.

Weber State at X-Arizona State, 10:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 30

Delaware at X-Pittsburgh, noon

Indiana State at X-Indiana, noon

UT Martin at X-Kentucky, noon

Wofford at X-Georgia Tech, 12:30 p.m.

Nicholls at X-Air Force, 2 p.m.

Colgate at X-Ball State, 2 p.m.

Southern Utah at X-Nevada, 3 p.m.

Duquesne at X-Buffalo, 3:30 p.m.

James Madison at X-Maryland, 3:30 p.m.

Hampton at X-Old Dominion, 3:30 p.m.

Portland State at X-Oregon State, 4 p.m.

UC Davis at X-Stanford, 4 p.m.

Elon at X-Duke, 6 p.m.

Liberty at X-North Carolina, 6 p.m.

Morgan State at X-Eastern Michigan, 6 p.m.

Samford at X-TCU, 7 p.m.

Central Arkansas at X-Texas Tech, 7 p.m.

Western Carolina at X-South Florida, 7 p.m.

Savannah State at X-Middle Tennessee, 7 p.m.

Austin Peay at X-Memphis, 7 p.m.

Southern at X-Louisiana, 7 p.m.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff at X-Texas State, 7 p.m.

Stephen F. Austin at X-Kansas State, 7:10 p.m.

North Carolina Central at X-East Carolina, 8 p.m.

South Dakota at X-Oregon, 10:30 p.m.

NON-RANKED NON-CONFERENCE

The MEAC-SWAC Challenge will celebrate its 10th anniversary Sunday with the North Carolina A&T-Alabama A&M matchup, which will be played at the University of Central Florida because the Florida Citrus Bowl is unavailable while undergoing renovation. New Alabama A&M coach James Spady hopes to flip the script because the teams from the SWAC trail 7-2 in the series.

Thursday, Aug. 28

Valparaiso at X-Western Illinois, 7 p.m.

X-Missouri State at Northwestern State, 7 p.m.

X-Charlotte at Campbell, 7 p.m.

Missouri Baptist at X-Southeast Missouri State, 7 p.m.

Reinhardt at X-Mercer, 7 p.m.

X-Eastern Kentucky at Robert Morris, 7 p.m.

Bryant at X-Stony Brook, 7 p.m.

Point at X-Charleston Southern, 7 p.m.

Union (Ky.) at X-Murray State, 8 p.m.

Taylor at X-Southern Illinois, 8 p.m.

Kentucky Christian at X-Tennessee Tech, 8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 30

Wagner at X-Georgetown, noon

Delaware State at X-Monmouth, 1 p.m.

Virginia-Lynchburg at X-Alcorn State, 5 p.m.

X-South Carolina State at Benedict (at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina), 5 p.m.

University of Faith at X-Mississippi Valley State, 5 p.m.

VMI at X-Bucknell, 6 p.m.

Holy Cross at X-Albany, 6 p.m.

Marist at X-Sacred Heart, 6 p.m.

X-Stetson at Warner, 7 p.m.

X-Florida A&M at Jackson State, 7 p.m.

X-Sacramento State at Incarnate Word, 7 p.m.

Grand View at X-Drake, 7 p.m.

College of Faith at X-Davidson, 7 p.m.

Grambling State at X-Lamar, 8 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 31

MEAC/SWAC Challenge: X-North Carolina A&T vs. Alabama A&M (at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando), 11:45 a.m.

SWAC

Sunday, Aug. 31

The 30th Labor Day Classic is the only FCS conference matchup of Week 1. Prairie View has too many offensive weapons for TSU's rebuilding program.

Texas Southern at X-Prairie View A&M, 5 p.m.

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