The Road to Chattanooga
at Harrisburg, Va.
Wofford (9-2) at No. 1 James Madison (10-1)
at Philadelphia, Penn.
Colgate (9-2) at Villanova (9-2)
at Missoula, Mont.
Texas St. (8-4) at No. 4 Montana (11-1)
at San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Weber St. (9-3) at Cal Poly (8-2)
at Boone, N.C.
South Carolina St. (10-2) at No. 2 Appalachian St. (10-2)
at Richmond, Va.
Eastern Ky. (8-3) at Richmond (9-3)
at Cedar Falls, Iowa
Maine (8-4) at No. 3 UNI (10-2)
November 29 at Carbondale, Ill.
New Hampshire (9-2) at Southern Ill. (9-2)
The four-week march to Finley Stadium begins Saturday.
The field is set for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, and 16 teams are on the Road to Chattanooga. Two will make it through and play for the national championship on Dec. 19 at Finley Stadium, which is hosting the title game for the 12th year in a row.
Southern Conference champion Appalachian State (10-2) is chasing an unprecedented fourth straight national title, but perhaps nobody is more eager to return to the Scenic City than 2004 champion James Madison (10-1), which is the No. 1 seed and hosts Wofford (9-2) in a tough first-round matchup on Saturday.
The Dukes have been ranked No. 1 for most of the season and won the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title, and they are driven, coach Mickey Matthews said Sunday, by the disappointments of the past two seasons.
“The best word to describe our football team is ‘frustrated,’” Matthews said. “I’m not going to say we should have won (the national championship in 2006 and 2007), but we should have played for it the last two years.”
James Madison lost by four in the first round at Youngstown State in 2006, giving up the game-winning touchdown with 76 seconds left, and lost 28-27 in the first round at Appalachian State last season after fumbling at the Mountaineers’ 9-yard line with 22 seconds remaining.
“We’ve got a ton of kids that were in both of those locker rooms, so it’s not been difficult to motivate this group,” Matthews said.
James Madison lost at Duke in its opener this season and has reeled of 10 wins in a row heading into the playoffs, which start Saturday. Of those 10 wins, four were over teams in this year’s playoff field, including No. 2 seed Appalachian State, which led 21-0 at the half before the Dukes rallied for a 35-32 victory on Sept. 20.
“We were wanting to win so bad that we played very poorly in the first half,” Matthews said. “We were so frustrated after last year to lose the game like we did that I think it hurt us, but we played much better in the second half.”
The Mountaineers, who host South Carolina State (10-2) in the first round, have won nine in a row since that game, including an 8-0 run through the SoCon that included a 70-24 win over Wofford. The three-time defending champs have to be considered the favorite, said David Coulson, who covers the FCS for The Sports Network.
“If Appalachian State is playing up to their total potential, they’re better than anybody else,” Coulson said. “If they play like they did against Wofford, nobody can hold a candle to them.”
The other top-four seeds are No. 3 Northern Iowa (10-2) and No. 4 Montana (11-1). Another team that could make it to Chattanooga is Cal Poly (8-2), which lost by two to Montana on Sept. 6, and in overtime at Wisconsin last Saturday.
James Madison is one of five CAA teams to make the field of 16, which features eight automatic bids that go to conference champions and eight at-large bids. The CAA earned four of the at-large bids for the second year in a row, with Richmond, Villanova, New Hampshire and Maine also making the field.
Appalachian State and Wofford, which received an at-large bid, were the only two SoCon teams to make the playoffs for the second straight year. Elon (8-4) had a shot at an at-large bid heading into last Saturday’s non-conference game at Liberty, but the Phoenix’s hopes were dashed by a 26-3 loss.
Along with the CAA and the SoCon, the Missouri Valley (Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois) and the Big Sky (Weber State and Montana) were the only conferences to receive multiple bids.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...