A long but steady climb to respectability categorizes Long Island's short life as an FCS program. The Sharks had as bad a start as any reclassifying program could have, finishing 0-10 in their first year, but the Sharks improved each successive year, winning two games in both 2020 and 2021 and four in 2022, with a 4-3 mark in the Northeast Conference.
The Sharks made another leap yesterday, although most of the country may not have noticed. Long Island played competitively against Baylor, only trailing 16-7 at halftime before falling 30-7. The Sharks had a late field goal attempt blocked that would have made the score closer. The 30 points were the fewest allowed by an FCS school against Baylor since Texas State held the Bears to 24 points in 2004.
Even though the Sharks lost by 23, the game was arguably the best performance by an NEC school all year. To put it lightly, the NEC has been atrocious. The NEC has a 4-16 record in non-conference play, with three wins against sub-Division I competition. Stonehill has the lone Division I non-conference win, a three-point win over a Georgetown team that went 2-9 in 2022.
It is not a stretch to say that LIU may have had the best non-conference showing of any school in the NEC. Their 23-point loss to Baylor was the third-smallest margin of defeat to an FBS school for an NEC team, trailing only their 17-point loss to Ohio and St. Francis' loss to Western Michigan.
LIU's loss to Baylor is more impressive than St. Francis' loss to Western Michigan, given Baylor was a bowl team out of the Big 12 last season, and Western Michigan went 5-7 in the MAC. Even the Sharks' 17-point loss to Ohio is impressive since the Bobcats just defeated Iowa State this weekend.
Sure, saying a school that went 4-7 is a sleeper in a conference may seem like a stretch. Yet, the Northeast Conference is a vacuum. The overwhelming preseason favorite, St. Francis, has disappointed early, losing to a Robert Morris team that went 0-11 last year. The early frontrunner, Stonehill, is not eligible for the FCS Playoffs until 2026.
As a result, LIU is a contender for the playoff spot. The Sharks have competed against the stiffest competition and have continually improved since moving up to Division I in 2019. The Sharks face Merrimack, Sacred Heart, and Duquesne at home. Even though the Sharks must travel to St. Francis, the Red Flash look very beatable.
LIU is an example of a program that has paid its dues throughout its move to the FBS. The Sharks going from winless to a playoff team within five years has the potential to be one of the FCS' best stories of the season.