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Why We Love FCS: Pat League’s unlikely leader and CFB’s 6th man of the Year

The Pat League’s leader is 3-9 and SE Louisiana has Sixth Man of the Year Candidate after another crazy week in FCS

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 22 Lehigh at Lafayette Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Can Lafayette actually win the Pat League?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Jake the Dog on the animated series Adventure Time. He tells a downtrodden Finn the Human that “sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” It’s excellent advice and, apparently, the 2019 Lafayette Leopards took that advice to heart in a big way.

Lafayette lost its first SEVEN games of the season. But they now lead the Patriot League after beating the best team in the conference, Holy Cross, 23-20 on the road. The Leopards have won three straight conference games for the first time since 2009. Improbably, they control their destiny in the Pat League and could get to an auto-bid to the playoffs with a losing record (a feat last accomplished by 2017 Lehigh.)

How did Lafayette go from zero to hero? First, their schedule got easier. Lafayette’s first six opponents, which included ranked Monmouth and Princeton, have an average SP+ ranking of 41.8 out of 127 teams (Note: FCS SP+ is still in beta form). Their Pat League opponents have an average ranking of 85th.

The Leopards also got healthy on the defensive line. The return of 2018 Pat League Rookie of the Year Malik Hamm and DT Ian Grayson has coincided with Lafayette giving up just 304 yards a game in the Pat League. Freshman QB Keegan Shoemaker has provided a steady force as he ranks first in the conference for passing yards, completion percentage, and total offense.

But the bigger question might be what Lafayette’s rise means for the Patriot League. The conference has suffered since allowing its teams to award athletic scholarships in 2012. The PL has fallen way behind their biggest competition, the Ivy League (did someone just scoff loudly?), and the Northeast and Southern have caught up to it. If you want a more extensive discussion of the Pat League’s issues, check out this great post by an unidentified Georgetown blogger.

Regardless, Lafayette (or the “Yettes” if you listen to the Solid Verbal) just needs to win next week to set up a de facto Pat League Championship game in The Rivalry against Lehigh. That’s great for the Leopards considering where they were earlier in the year.

Not so great for Lafayette is the reasoning for their nickname. According to the New York Times of October 23, 1924, Lafayette wanted an animal nickname like Yale, Pitt, Columbia, and Bucknell. They went with the Leopards for the alliteration, but also because of leopards’ cunning, physical strength, and “the fact that it is irresistible when aroused.” I know the words probably had a slightly different meaning back then, but it still sounds gross.

Cole Kelley: 6th man of the year

The most jarring result of the weekend was Central Arkansas getting shut out 34-0 against Southeastern Louisiana. I feel like I jinxed the Bears as this was their first game on striped turf since I wrote about it. Alas. But it’s time to shine a light on the Lions’ offense.

SE Louisiana put up 480 yards over 38 minutes of possession. They rank in the top 10 of FCS for total offense (5th), scoring (9th), and passing (4th). The team also leads FCS in completion percentage at 69%.

I say “the team” instead of a name because SE runs an honest-to-God two-quarterback system. Chason Virgil starts the game and Cole Kelley comes if the offense needs a change. Virgil has thrown for 2356 yards and 15 touchdowns (but nine interceptions). Kelley has completed 80.6% of his passes with a 9-to-1 TD/INT ratio.

On Saturday, Virgil struggled as the offense went three-and-out on their first three drives. Kelley came in and the offense exploded. He threw for 273 yards and a score while tying a school-record with four rushing touchdowns.

If you only pay attention to FBS, you may remember Cole Kelley from his first two years at Arkansas or his ranking as the 2nd-best QB in Louisiana in 2016 or the fact that he’s 6’7”. He decided to transfer closer to his home and roll with the punches. A lot of former FBS players (especially four-stars like Kelley) may have insisted on being the starter or sulk when he didn’t get the job.

Not Kelley. He has come in and become a huge part of the Southland’s best offense. It’s a testament to his character, to his coaching staff for getting creative, and the rest of the team for buying in.

Quick Slants

I couldn’t pick just one third subject because there was just too much crazy stuff that happened this weekend.

  • With less than 2 minutes left in their game against Northern Arizona, No. 6 Sacramento State trailed by 10 and had a 0.4% win probability. Naturally, they won the game. Backup QB Jack Dunniway, in his first start, threw two touchdown passes in the last 1:38 of the game and the Hornets got a perfect bounce for an onside kick. Sac State is a really really good football team and they may be 2019’s “Team of Destiny.”
  • William and Mary exploded for a school-record 462 rushing yards as they blew out Rhode Island 55-19. The Tribe is finally getting some wins after a brutal start to the CAA season, the best conference in the country in FCS SP+. I’ve been trying to get #RollTribe going for years, maybe this rushing attack finally deserves it.
  • Side note: W&M defensive tackle Bill Murray (who has a killer moustache) blocked two PATs on Saturday. The Senior now has 9 blocked kicks for his career, which is a ton but nowhere near close to Leonard Smith’s absurd record of 17 at McNeese State in the 80s or the FBS record of 19 by James Ferebee of NM State.
  • The Ivy League had a weekend. Dartmouth beat Princeton in Yankee Stadium 27-10 to stay unbeaten. They need a win against either Cornell or Brown, the Ivy League’s worst teams, to clinch the conference. Columbia beat Harvard for the first time SINCE 2003! Many of the vestiges of Harvard’s dominant 15-year run (8 Ivy League titles from 2001-2015) are disappearing and the Crimson will need to rebuild the program. Lastly, check out this insane double pass by Penn to take the lead against Cornell.