Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - One of the tallest trees in the FCS woods fell this past weekend - Appalachian State.
Even if you weren't there to see it happen, it really happened.
It occurred in an FCS game - Appalachian State-Montana - usually as big a matchup as you can get in the subdivision.
The fact Appalachian State is still considered an FCS team, however, has some people shaking their heads.
The Mountaineers, and their fellow Southern Conference power Georgia Southern, are in their final season of playing in the FCS, both headed to the Sun Belt Conference on the FBS level.
As they raise football scholarships during their two-year transition toward FBS bowl eligibility, both programs had to follow NCAA rules and go over the FCS limit of 63 this season to move closer to the 85 allowed in the FBS when they are eligible in 2015.
ASU and GSU's SoCon games will be counted in the conference standings this season, but they are not eligible to win the conference championship and are at the bottom of the standings with asterisks. They also can't participate in the FCS playoffs.
The Sports Network decided to keep the two teams eligible for its weekly Top-25 poll and their team members eligible for the four major FCS awards after the regular season - the Walter Payton (outstanding player), Buck Buchanan (outstanding defensive player), Jerry Rice (freshman of the year) and Eddie Robinson (coach of the year).
About 15 percent of the poll's voters are balking at the notion. They have left Georgia Southern and Appalachian State off their first two ballots - in the preseason and following Week 1 of the regular season. Most of the voters maintain the two teams should be disqualified from consideration because they have gone over 63 scholarships and are ineligible for the FCS playoffs.
The Sports Network is letting the voters make their own decisions and honoring the ballots. It's not quite a voter protest in silence - like the proverbial tree falling unseen in the woods - because it's clearly noticeable that Georgia Southern, a record six-team FCS national champion, is ranked only 10th this week after it reached the national semifinals in each of the last three seasons and Appalachian State, a three-time national champion, has a No. 21 ranking which is its lowest since 2005.
The Sports Network has kept the two teams eligible for the Top-25 poll and the FCS awards for several reasons. Above all, TSN wants to do what is in the best interest of the student-athletes and not victimize them by the impending move to the FBS.
In addition, the two teams remain members of the Southern Conference and are competing with FCS schedules. Also, FCS teams with different numbers of scholarships, sometimes vastly different, play each other regularly. For example, Youngstown State's full-scholarship team out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference sits just two spots outside the Top 25 and is opening the season with back-to-back games against Pioneer Football League teams which don't offer any football scholarships.
"Although both schools are transitioning to FBS, we at The Sports Network feel that it would be unfair to the talented student-athletes of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to bar them from our postseason awards, such as the Walter Payton Award," said Phil Sokol, TSN's director of operations. "Mr. Payton built his reputation on hard work and ethical standards that we should all live by."
Appalachian State increased its scholarship level to 70, but only four were offered to players who weren't members of the program already and only one of the four newcomers has a chance to play this season (the other three have been redshirted). Georgia Southern is up to 73 scholarships.
But the voters seemingly have drawn a line in the sand.
"First they made the decision to leave the FCS and are not eligible for the national championship this season. I think the poll should reflect the teams who want to be a part of the FCS," said voter Kyle Schwartz, an Ohio Valley Conference voter in the 165-member poll.
"Also, they are giving more scholarships than the 63 the rest of the FCS is allowed to give, which in my opinion gives them an advantage and technically does not make them a FCS school - no matter how the NCAA wants to classify them. In my opinion, an FCS school is one that offers 63 or fewer scholarships."
Said another OVC voter, who wanted his name to remain anonymous: "I think the FCS Top-25 polls are a factor in how the committee members look at teams and conferences when selecting and seeding the FCS playoff field, and to have two or more teams that are not eligible in the mix of ranked teams may have a trickle- down effect on those teams on the bubble where a Top-25 ranking could be the difference in consideration for the field."
Chris Lang, a Big South Conference voter, said, "I'm not voting for Georgia Southern and Appalachian State because both have already begun the transition to FBS, both are ineligible for their conference championships and both are ineligible for the playoffs. To me, it's unfair to judge other FCS programs against FBS programs that are already operating with a scholarship advantage, however small that advantage may be. I respect those who don't feel the same way as I do, but it's my vote, and I'm choosing to vote with these self- guidelines in mind."
Three voters from the Southern Conference kept the two schools off their first two ballots. One of the voters, Adam Smith, said, "The decision to leave App State and Georgia Southern off my ballots and not rank them has nothing to do with being mean or punitive, and everything to do with presenting an accurate picture to the public of who truly are the elite teams in the FCS. I'd make the same call on Montana or Central Arkansas or Stony Brook or any other program that was in this situation."
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: Of the 11 conference teams in action, only North Dakota won't face an FBS (six) or Division II (four) opponent, instead getting a visit from No. 6 South Dakota State. The former Division II rivals are meeting for the 85th time, but only for the second time as FCS programs. UND is breaking in a freshman quarterback, Ryan Bartels, but Greg Hardin and his fellow wide receivers stand to make Bartels look good this season ... Vernon Adams' addition to the Walter Payton Award Watch List appears inevitable. After beating up Oregon State with 518 total yards and six total touchdowns, the sophomore quarterback gets a rare breather in the Eastern Washington schedule against Western Oregon.
Big South: Kennesaw State has joined the Big South Conference as an associate member in football for the team's inaugural season in 2015. Coach Brian Bohannon and the Owls will be eligible for the Big South championship and the conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs upon entry. They will join Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Liberty, Presbyterian and associate member Monmouth, which will begin play in the Big South next year, as football members. Like Monmouth, Kennesaw State's associate membership is for four years.
CAA Football: No. 17 Stony Brook opens its season with its first-ever CAA game at Rhode Island and intimate Meade Stadium. The Seawolves are 7-12 all-time against current CAA teams: fellow new member Albany (5-9), Maine (1-1), New Hampshire (0-1), Richmond (0-1) and Villanova (1-0). With Lyle Negron now the starting quarterback, Stony Brook should be even more run-dominated, so Cincinnati transfer Jameel Poteat and sophomore Jamie Williams should factor in behind starting running back Marcus Coker.
Ivy: Ivy teams will kick off their season on Sept. 21 and play the final 10 weekends of the season.
Independents: Monmouth will get its only look this season at its Big South future when it visits Liberty for a first-ever meeting. The Hawks play eight of their 12 games on the road, including last Thursday night's opener at Montana State. Their only previous games against Big South teams were two losses to Coastal Carolina.
MEAC: It's time to jump-start the offenses. In nine games in Week 1, MEAC teams didn't have a 100-yard rusher or 200-yard passer, and South Carolina State's Tyler McDonald was the conference's only 100-yard receiver, gaining 108 against Coastal Carolina ... The Week 2 schedule includes the third annual Nation's Classic at RFK Stadium between Howard and Division II Morehouse. Howard has won the last two years by a combined four points for a 23-10-2 series lead.
Missouri Valley: Jimmy Garoppolo, here comes Southern Illinois' pass rushers. The record-throwing Eastern Illinois quarterback could get a stern test from the Salukis' pressure on Saturday. SIU's five sacks in a 42-34 season-opening loss to Illinois marked the third straight game, and fourth in six, in which the Salukis have recorded at least five sacks. Outside linebacker Tyler Williamson is their returning leader in sacks, but the player right before him alphabetically on the roster, sophomore defensive end Brand Williams, had a team-high 1.5 sacks against Illinois.
Northeast: Saint Francis (Pa.) coach Chris Villarrial will go with a two- quarterback system of redshirt freshmen Capri Thompson and Max Ward in Saturday's season opener at Georgia Southern. The Red Flash's 5-6 record last year represented their highest win total since moving to the FCS. Their last winning season was in 1992.
Ohio Valley: Brett Favre's nephew Dylan started to make a name for himself at UT Martin, as if he needed to do so, in the Skyhawks' season-opening 31-21 win at Chattanooga. The junior transfer came off the bench to engineer three of the team's four scoring drives. He completed 9-of-12 passes and accounted for two touchdowns (one pass, one rush). Next up for the Skyhawks is a trip to the blue turf of Boise State, whose 79-4 (.952) home record since 2000 ranks first in the FBS.
Patriot: The Patriot League could make some waves nationally Saturday, and it doesn't have to involve kingpins Colgate and Lehigh. Holy Cross and Fordham both host Top 10 teams from the CAA, with No. 5 Towson at Holy Cross and No. 8 Villanova at Fordham ... After going through five quarterbacks last season, Georgetown installed Isaiah Kempf as the starter again last week after he missed almost all of last season with a concussion.
Pioneer: How ironic that the only two PFL teams to emerge from Week 1 with victories were Mercer and Stetson, who both restarted their programs after long breaks. "I've played or coached in 30 FCS playoff games, I've played in a national championship game, I've coached in two national championship games, and I told the players before the game that this was bigger than all of them," Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said after the Bears' 40-37 win over Reinhardt.
Southern: The potential quickest game of the week is one of the most important in the FCS. Wofford travels to The Citadel for the SoCon opener between two of its triple option offenses. The Terriers have won the last 14 meetings, although last year's game was the closest one at 24-21. Without the departed Eric Breitenstein, their all-time leading rusher, the Terriers are seemingly vulnerable this season.
Southland: Some teams may not score as many points as Lamar and Sam Houston State did in Week 1 over the first half of the season. Lamar scored 75 points and Sam Houston State rang up 74 to rank 1-2 in the official NCAA statistics. Six of the eight teams in the conference ranked in the Top 20 nationally in points scored: Central Arkansas (sixth, 58), McNeese State (ninth, 53), Southeastern Louisiana (15th, 45) and Stephen F. Austin (tie for 18th, 40). For good measure, Abilene Christian, transitioning from Division II to the Southland Conference but not counted in the NCAA's official statistics, scored 84 points against Concordia (Ala.)
SWAC: Grambling State hardly indicated it is ready to come out of its 2012 offensive funk. The Tigers managed only 165 yards and nine points in its season-opening loss to Alabama A&M. Sophomore Cedric Skinner's 73 yards on 14 carries was the most encouraging sign. The Tigers visit ULM on Saturday.
Extra Point: It's hard enough for former FCS players to win starting jobs in the NFL, so the center-quarterback exchange for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, whose season kicks off Thursday night, is quite unique. For the last five seasons, the Ravens had it good with center Matt Birk (Harvard) snapping the ball to quarterback Joe Flacco (Delaware). Now that Birk has retired from a 15-year career, the Ravens are plugging in another former FCS player at center, Gino Gradkowski, also a former Delaware Blue Hen.
THE GAME WE'RE NOT SEEING
Sure, it will be great if No. 3 Montana State pulls an FBS upset at SMU on Saturday. But the game this weekend that would have been best for the FCS was the one MSU pulled out of last winter to secure a bigger pay day against SMU - the Bobcats' scheduled meeting with No. 1 North Dakota State at the Fargodome.
Maybe they'll meet in the FCS playoffs.
WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW
The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88q2k7t.
Also, once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/fcs/FCS_Bracket.pdf.