By Charles Burton, College Sporting News
Conference Rundown: Week 2
* The Big South has come onto the national scene with a giant "bang" this week, with the conference's first-ever wins over FBS programs. With Gardner-Webb's win over Akron and Liberty's win over Ball State, that gives the upstart conference more wins over FBS programs - two - than the nearby rival SoCon has had over FBS programs since Appalachian State stunned Michigan over three years ago. Since that fateful day, the SoCon has not beaten any FBS team.
Ironically, if the season plays out just right, a likely destination for one of those Big South teams in this year's playoffs might be... The Rock.
* Speaking of unreasonable reasons to lose a football game, do you think Cal Poly's thrilling 35-33 upset over Montana hqad anything to do with getting those faux-Transformers metallic purple pants off of Spanos Stadium? As any devotee of Fashion Week knows, dark, platinum metallics are so 2008, while Hunter Green and Gold are the new Black. (In San Luis Obispo, anyway.)
It's a tad bit more likely that Cal Poly's 0-13 regular season record had a lot more to do with motivating the Mustangs this weekend - and QB Gordon Shumway, nicknamed "Someway Shumway" for waiting for the most unlikely of chances to star on offense for Cal Poly. Piching in relief for injured QB Tony Smith, his stat line - 3 for 3, with 2 TD passes - it was Shumway's performance that gave the Mustangs their first-ever regular season win over the Griz - and their first-ever win over Montana at San Luis Obispo.
Am I the only one who can't wait for the Cal Poly/Griz matchup every year when the Mustangs and Griz will be conference mates in the Big Sky? I've even got a name for it: the "Battle for the Platinum Blonde", or the Nicole Richie trophy. Look for it to displace "Cat/Griz" and the "Battle of the Shoe" soon!
* Speaking of teams in metallic colors, silver and blue Georgetown hasn't had much to celebrate since joining the Patriot League in 2001. This year, however, with a win over Davidson of the Pioneer League in Week One and a shock 28-24 defeat of Lafayette last weekend in Easton, the Hoyas are shouting "Hoya Saxa!" with a 2-0 record.
The Hoyas, coming off an 0-11 season in 2008, went 5-38 over the prior four years under head coach Kevin Kelly. What has been the difference so far this year? A housecleaning on offense, for starters, as offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude came from Hofstra and has - by all accounts - installed a brand-new attitude on offense and appears to have gone a long way towards having the formerly hopeless Hoyas the belief that they can win football games.
To put into perspective how enormous their 2-0 start has been, this is the first season that the Hoyas have enjoyed a 2-0 record since 1999, when they were a part of the non-scholarship MAAC conference. Prior to this weekend, the Hoyas have sat atop the Patriot League standings one time, in the first week of 2005 - and a week later, they lost to Holy Cross and never sat in the catbird's seat since.
The Hoyas will be lining up against Yale in the Yale Bowl this weekend, searching for their first ever win against the Eli. Casual fans might say that winning in New Haven might be a tall order. But they don't know that ain't your fathers Hoyas. It's crystal clear that these Hoyas are like famous alumnus Bill Clinton - coming from a town called Hope.
* "When you get right down to it, they didn't want any of our guys. It's kind of comical to think you're going to go down there and beat them." - Colorful James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews, whose Dukes upset the nationally ranked "Chokies" - oops, I meant Hokies - 21-16 in an instant classic.
* “We have done some of the most impressive things that I have ever seen as a football coach – the fourth down situations being one of them. We are also one of the scarier teams to ourselves. Offensively, I don’t think anyone in the country has scored every time in the fourth quarter – that’s impressive.” - Jacksonville State head football coach Jack Crowe, on his team's amazing ability to come from behind it two incredibly hard-fought games against FBS Ole Miss and Chattanooga.
* "I think that kind of says it all right there, the fact that we had that kind of statistical effect on their play." - South Carolina State head coach "Buddy" Pough, on holding Mississippi Valley State to -9 yards rushing, six first downs, and 44 total yards.
[Editor Note: The format for The CSN Way has changed this year. Instead of a column released in it's entirety each week, this column will appear earlier in the week with the "Conference Rundown" and will be added to later in the week with Mr. Burton's game predictions, "Chuckles".]
After an overly aggressive week (Southern Illinois over Illinois? Really, Chuck?) I was 23-8 for the week (74%), putting me at 49-17 (74%) on the year. Proud moments include picking Central Arkansas' win over Eastern Illinois, Cal Poly's upset of Montana and picking the Liberty upset of FBS Ball State - and coming real close to picking the final score perfectly on two of them. Aside from Illinois, picking a close game in the Virginia Tech/James Madison game will probably be one of my biggest regrets of the year, while taking South Dakota State to come into the Tub to beat Delaware seems, well, dippy in retrospect.
Here are my picks for week three.
Dayton 35, Morehead State 16 - Dayton rebounds after their heartbreaker vs. Duquesne.
Brown 38, Stony Brook 28 - Defending Big South champs get a taste of what Brown QB Kyle Newhall-Caballero can do.
Prairie View A&M 28, Alabama State 10 - K.J. Black has a field day against the Hornets.
Harvard 35, Holy Cross 21 - QB Andrew Hatch will celebrate his return to the Crimson with a big win.
Southern Utah 31, San Jose State (FBS) 16 - The Thunderbirds couldn't close it out vs. Wyoming. But they'll do it against the Spartans.
Tennessee State 29, Austin Peay 28 - The Seargent York Trophy gets off to a flying start, with the first round going to the Tigers.
Picking the Sports Network Top 25
Towson at No. 1 Villanova. After losing a tight one to Temple and dominating Lehigh at their place 35-0, what are the odds that WR Matt Szczur, in his home debut at Villanova stadium, will come up with a flat performance? Pretty slim, I'd say.
All Hail Szczur 38, Torn-Up Tigers 3
NC Central at No. 2 Appalachian State. Last year, the Mountaineers demolished the Eagles 55-21 on QB Armanti Edwards' final homecoming. While the conference of NC Central changes (they join the MEAC officially this year) and the App State quarterback changes (DeAndre Presley), the outcome remains the same. Well, mostly.
DeApps Get DeWin 56, Egregious Eagles 13
No. 4 Jacksonville State at Georgia State. The Gamecocks, after successfully maneuvering through the Gauntlet of Doom (called Ole Miss of the SEC, and "not your Grandma's Chattanooga"), QB Marques Ivory will get a breather here on the road at the Georgia DOme against FCS newbie Georgia State. You know. The same Georgia State that lost 23-14 to Division II Lambuth last weekend.
Gametime for Gamecocks 70, Peach Cobbler 0
Southeast Missouri State at No. 5 Southern Illinois. The Redhawks of SEMO - who play in the "Show-Me state" - come to Carbondale, Illinois to face off against the Salukis in a "show-me" game. It's a safe bet to think that QB Chris Dieker and Southern Illinois are somewhere between the team that was flattened 35-3 by FBS Illinois and who were the steamroller in a 70-7 win over NAIA Quincy. The Redhawks, whose option attack is led by QB Matt Scheible, will find out too - but it won't be enough for them to get the "W".
Dieker And Dunker 31, Scheible Dribble 10
No. 6 Montana at No. 18 Eastern Washington. Any other weekend, this would be the game of the week. The first game ever on Eastern Washington's "Red Death" atrificial turf at newly-dedicated Roos field? The Eagles, with RB Taiwan Jones, trying to avoid an 0-2 start? And Montana, the perennial big dogs in the Big Sky, as their first opponents in the new stadium? Are you kidding me? But QB Andrew Selle and the Griz, equally desperate to avoid their first two-loss September since 1992 (and even then, it was only because they squared off against FBS Washington State and Kansas State), are not easily intimidated, especially when they've won their last five against the Eagles. Expect a tough fight, but don't expect a different result.
Griz Is The New Green 38, Not Taiwan's Red Redemption 35
No. 8 New Hampshire at Rhode Island. "The program is banged up after that (Pitt) game," Wildcat head coach Sean McDonnell said. "It was a physical game out there, against a big, strong team." If you think that this will matter against a team that has lost twelve straight games, you're mistaken.
Granite Greatness 31, Not So Ram Tough 6
No. 10 Stephen F. Austin at No. 13 Northern Iowa. Are the Panthers ready for the pinball offense of QB Jeremy Moses and the Lumberjacks - who dismembered Albany 59-14 in a game where fifteen different players caught passes? With Panther safety L.J. Fort patrolling the defense - and playing in the always-tough UNI Dome - look for SFA to have a tougher job against Northern Iowa. The Jacks are good, but they'll hit a brick wall in Cedar Falls.
L.J.'s Lincoln Logs 28, Moses' Tavern 24
Duquesne at No. 11 Delaware. Tea party primaries in the headlines? Heck with that; the big question in the First State this week involves Blue Hen QB Pat Devlin: will the broken bones in his non-throwing hand heal up enough to play this Saturday? With or without Devlin, it seems like Delaware's defense, led by LB Matt Marcorelle, will be able to punish the undefeated Dukes, who beat Dayton last weekend by a last minute touchdown grab from TE Sean Bunevich.
Devlin Devotees Disappointed 27, But Not As Disappointed As Dukes Fans 9
No. 12 William & Mary at Old Dominion. What is it about nationally-ranked teams playing at realtively new FCS programs this weekend? What's next? UMass travelling to Bryant? Appalachian State taking a trip to Mobile, Alabama to take on South Alabama? Maybe South Dakota going to Beaumont, Texas to crush the Lamar Cardinals? (Wait a minute... that one is going to happen.) While the Monarchs are improving in leaps and bounds, Tribe RB Jonathan Grimes and the rest of the Tribe are likely to give Old Dominion a valuable lesson: that they still have a long way to go before being competitive in their ultimate destination, the CAA, in 2012.
Grimes Goes Tribal 31, Old Dominated 0
No. 14 South Carolina State at Benedict (D-II). Labeled the "South Carolina Historically Black College and University Classic" about the only thing that promises to be classic about this mismatch between the MEAC powerhouse and its winless D-II opponent will be the tailgating fare.
Bulldogs Get Brats At Halftime 55, Benedict Gets Bupkis 0
No. 15 Liberty at Robert Morris. Oddly, the Colonials, led by former NFL head coach Joe "Must Go" Walton, have a 1-0 record against Top 25 teams - they beat leaguemate Central Connecticut State in 2006 by a 23-17 score in double overtime in 2006. This weekend, however, facing off against a Flames squad brimming with confidence after beating FBS Ball State, it looks like Liberty QB Mike Brown will be ready to even their record.
Great Balls of Fire 38, "First Nova In Basketball, Now This" 14
No. 16 UMass at Michigan (FBS). Can another FCS team win in the Big House? While the Wolverines have stayed away from Top 25 FCS opponents since Appalachian State's Shot Heard Around the World in 2008, they must have known that the Minutemen, former NCAA champions and always tough member of the CAA, won't be an easy out. For UMass head coach Kevin Morris, who has surged to a surprising 2-0 record, the question becomes: can the UMass defense, led by LB Tyler Holmes, really slow down Wolverine QB Denard Robinson? I have to beleive - of all the teams in Football Championship Subdivision - Michigan, and their head coach Rich Rodriguez, will lot lay down for the Minutemen.
Denard Denies Minutemen 35, Minute Rice 3
No. 17 Cal Poly at Texas State. QB Gordon "Someday" Shumway had all week to revel in his perfect, 2 TD, come-from-behind 35-33 win against the Griz. Will the afterglow cause a letdown for Cal Poly, who face off against RB Karrington Bush and the Bobcats? I think so.
Kash and Karrington 31, "Beat Texas State In San Marcos? Someday" 28
Illinois State at No. 20 South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits, led by RB Kyle Minett, almost never lose this game, dubbed "The Cereal Bowl" and has been contested for the last 15 years. And the Redbirds, who very nearly were upset by Central Missouri (D-II) in Week One, don't seem like the team that will stop the streak.
Minett Report 35, Red Rum Redbirds 16
No. 21 Weber State at Sacramento State. Has anyone else noticed that the entire Big Sky is 1-1 after two weeks of games? Of all of those games, none was as draining as the four-overtime, 50-47 marathon that Weber State endured at Northern Colorado, complete with a blackout during the third overtime. And if QB Cameron Higgins thinks that it will get any easier against LB Peter Buck and the Hornets, he has another thing coming. An exhausting road trup for the Wildcats - which started across the country at Boston College, ends in defeat in Sacramento.
Buck's Killer Bees 32, Wiped-out Wildcats 15
Drake at No. 22 Montana State. Rob Ash's Bobcats, oh-so-close to give former Washington State an embarassing upset (finally falling 23-22 to the Cougars and ex-Eastern Washington head football coach Paul Wulff), face off this weekend against DE Dain Taylor and Drake in the Bulldogs' toughest match of the year. LB Clay Bignell and the Bobcats' agressive defense will likely put the hammer down on Drake's chances.
Clay Likes Drakes Cakes 28, Feel The Dain Of Everyone 3
Morgan State at No. 23 North Dakota State. “We have to get the offensive production going,” said Morgan State head coach Donald Hill-Eley, whose team has yet to score an offensive touchdown this season. “We have to fix a couple leaks we had in special teams and defense. We had a couple secondary problems but those are all fixable things.” Playing the Bison in the FargoDome isn't a great time to plug leaks, Mr. Hill-Eley.
Stampeding Bison 28, Bowled-Over Bears 8
No. 24 Furman at South Carolina (FBS). While Furman is still reveling in their dominating 45-15 win over Colgate, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has looked at the Ole Miss loss and tapes of the Paladins' win and said, "Not us."
The Other Gamecocks 38, Parched Paladins 16
Northwest Oklahoma (NAIA) at No. 25 South Dakota. To put in perspective what Big Ten fans are calling the "Dakota Debacle", the Coyotes 41-38 upset win over Minnesota wasn't even the first time that the Golden Gophers have lost to an FCS team from the Dakotas. Don't tell that to Coyote head coach Ed Meierkort though, who along with his players is still reveling in the biggest win in in their young FCS history. It's a safe bet that playing Northwest Oklahoma in the DakotaDome won't exactly be the same for QB Dante Warren as last week's game - and the Rangers are not a patsy team, as thewy are a Top Ten team in NAIA - but the outcome will emphatically be the same. And they'll sell a lot of tickets for it, too, this weekend.
Dante's Inferno 38, Ranger Ricks 27
Game of the Week
No. 7 Elon at No. 9 Richmond.
If you're a Richmond fan, you can't ask for much more drama in the first-ever game on Robins Stadium right on the University of Richmond campus.
"This is an exciting time for us," said Spider head coach LaTrell Scott. "The current fifth-year seniors were the first recruiting class I had here at Richmond and this stadium is something we promised them. Having the ability to play in front of the students, alumni and our fans on campus...is the perfect situation for us," he said.
It's going to be a huge day: complete with rally towels, championship banners, and skydivers delivering the game ball. For pomp and circumstance, few games will match what's happening in Richmond this weekend.
That's more than enough drama for one Top Ten matchup. But, incredibly, there is yet another intriguing storyline as well.
At the conclusion of Richmond's season last year - a last-second loss to Appalachian State in the quarterfinals of the playoffs - head coach Mike London made the decision to jump to the University of Virginia, his alma mater. In the head coaching search - eventually won by Scott - one of the coaches the Spiders had on their short list of possibilities was none other than Pete Lembo. But out of respect for the program he pulled up from the ashes four years ago - he withdrew his name from consideration.
“These are my guys,” Lembo said in the pregame press conference. “And the flip side of that is I feel like I’m Elon’s guy. That’s how I’ve been embraced here, to that level. I appreciate the way I’m treated here every day.”
With all the focus on the past and the future, it's easy to miss the significance of the matchup in the present world of FCS as well. With both teams losing tough opening weekend games to ACC opponents, neither team can afford to drop into an 0-2 hole prior to the tough CAA and SoCon schedules, respectively. Scott Riddle - the four-year starter for the Phoenix at quarterback - will be duelling against one of the CAA's roughest defenses, led by LB Eric McBride. Both want desperately to remain as Top Ten teams and get the inside track in the FCS title race, and - yes - playoff positioning as well.
The Spiders will be jacked up beyond belief. The long wait they've had to have their own state-of-the-art on-campus stadium is finally over, and that emotion will be tough to overcome on Saturday. But if I've learned something in picking these FCS games over the years, it's this: a seasoned head coach who loves where he is, and a veteran quarterback, can get you tough victories. That, and the fact that the Phoenix are playing the team that ended their season last year, will be enough to win a thriller.
Elon 23, Richmond 19