By Charles Burton, College Sporting News
Conference Rundown: Week 3
* You have to admit it's at least a tiny bit suspicious.
Bringing in head coach Rich Rodriguez - a longtime devotee of the spread offense? Scheduling UMass - a team that reached the FCS National Championship game in 2006? And - to top it all off - installing a speedy, athletic quarterback that has dreadlocks flowing beneath his maize-and-blue helmet?
It's so clear to FCS observers: Michigan has Armanti Envy. Seriously.
If Michigan's fans and head coaches were at least honest about what they were doing, it would be one thing. But what's particularly hilarious is that in Michigan-world, no lessons appeared to have been learned about FCS teams: that they can compete, scare the pants off their fans, and even win. It seems instead they are content with denying it to the last that they can compete - and then, subconsciously, trying to copy it.
The media reports didn't help one bit, either. The Detroit Free Press wrote that coach Rodriguez noted to his team that "if you play a good one, you're going to have to play. We are playing a good one; UMass is one of the better ones in the FCS. So our guys will see that on film, and that'll get their attention." The blog Michigan Against the World "feigned hatred" of UMass, somehow twisting the idea that App State didn't win the game, but Michigan lost it: "The 2007 Michigan players and coaches gave this proud university a huge black eye when they simply assumed that an upstart collection of players from a lower division would simply roll over and die when they saw the winged helmet. It is mentioned constantly. People who bring it up don't talk much about the game itself. How we may have won if Shawn Crable decided to block anyone on the final play. How Lloyd Carr decided to hold Mike Hart out of the game for no reason at all. How Hart almost singlehandedly brought Michigan back to victory when Carr finally decided that his best players shouldn't be on the bench when we are losing. How the Michigan coaching staff once again failed miserably in its attempts to handle a mobile QB. How Michigan simply didn't prepare for App State."
It must be strange being a Michigan fan - thinking your team is the greatest thing since the Wing-T, yet needing to acknowledge that Appalachian State beat them. It's the only explanation for Denard Robinson. It's the only explanation for scheduling UMass. By becoming what beat you, you become the hero in your new version of history.
Unfortunately for Michigan fans, UMass didn't stick to the script that they were supposed to lay down against the Wolverines. Jumping out to a 17-7 lead like that, behind the strong running by RB Jonathan Hernandez and a big "O" line that was up to the challenge of handling the line of scrimmage. Executing some great disguised blitzes by LB Mike Miele to stuff Wilson in key situations. Getting those two late touchdowns to give the Minutemen a chance to win the game - one of which came off a blocked punt. There they were again: two minutes to play, and an onsides kick away from another upset in the Big House.
You won't see those highlights, however, from the Big Ten Network's heavily edited highlights of the game on demand. You'll see a lot more clips of Denard Robinson making some big runs, and some grabs by WR Darryl Stonum - but nothing on UMass' gritty effort or their improbable run at the upset.
Watching their highlights, I was reminded of "Hanoi Hannah", the propaganda broadcasts by the North Vietnamese in a strange effort to portray a different reality. "How are you, GI Joe? It seems to me that most of you are poorly informed about this game, to say nothing about a correct explanation of how Michigan trounced UMass and Appalachian State four years ago. Nothing is more confused than thinking that there is any football aside from Big Ten football, the only conference in college football."
Fortunately, UMass Athletics' website shows a more "fair and balanced" news account of the game, complete with touchdown passes from Kyle Havens, runs from Jonathan Hernandez, and the missing pieces of how UMass competed so well against their Big Ten foes. It was not a win - and Havens, in particular, was none too happy about it.
But it was an effort that should be noted by everyone. Even by Michigan fans in denial, as their Armanti-looking quarterback tries to execute Armanti's offense in an effort to try to finally get back on top in the Big Ten.
* When you go to the website of the Seattle Post-Intelligencier and look up college football, you're greeted by a pop-up ad asking readers to buy tickets to the University of Washington. The Huskies are 1-2, however, with their only win coming against hapless Syracuse.
If folks in Washington state want to see winning football - and quite possibly the best football-playing team in the state - they should go to the Inferno.
That's the name Eastern Washington has christened "Roos Field", with its brand-new blood red turf, which was broken in this past Saturday in the best possible way - with a win over hated division rival Montana, their first in Cheney since 1991.
"It feels amazing," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "And more than anything, I love it for the players. These seniors have never been a part of beating Montana. For these seniors it was huge, and that's who I am most happy for. The players deserve it because they are the ones who came out and made the plays when we needed them. I'm happy for the team."
The game was a wild one from start to finish. After Montana jetted to a 14-0 lead, Eagle RB Taiwan Jones - who would pile up 303 yards of total offense on the day - would score his only touchdown midway through the second quarter to knot the game at 14. The Eagles would get their first lead 24-21 on the evening with blocked punt return by Darriel Beaumonte, and then it became a nip-and-tuck affair with field goals, including an amazing 53 yarder by Griz PK Brody McKnight.
As great as Jones was, it was Eastern's defense and special teams that really deserved the spotlight, with the block punt return for a touchdown, and forcing six turnovers - the final one on the last play of the game. The play, given to the Griz because Eastern Washington fans stormed the field before regulation had expired during the final kickoff, ended in a strip of QB Justin Roper that was scooped up by DT Renaud Williams and returned to christen the "Red Death" turf with a huge conference victory.
“New turf doesn’t much matter,” said Eagles S Matt Johnson in the post game press conference, “if you lose that first game on it.” But they did have the new turf, and they did win on it - in a game they'll be talking about a long time in Cheney.
Longer than they'll be talking about the Huskies this year, anyway.
* The Ivy League sometimes gets the short shrift in FCS circles. A lot of this is the league's own doing, as the Ivy League continually refuses to do things that almost all other FCS teams do, like play an eleven game schedule, have a bye week, or participate in the FCS playoffs.
But the fact that Harvard's season-opening 34-6 demolition of Holy Cross didn't get more national attention was downright bizarre.
First of all, it was the return of QB Andrew Hatch, whose strange collegiate career involves playing at Harvard, taking a year off to complete a religious mission, transferring to LSU for two years, and then transferring back to Harvard. Not only was he good enough start for an FBS powerhouse, he had to sit out two years to play four seasons of football. That's a guy who really loves this game.
But when you look at his incredible performance last Saturday night against a team that was nationally-ranked to start the year - 20 of 25, with 276 yards passing 39 yards rushing, and 3 TDS - really must have been an eye-opener to teams that will figure on the Crimson's schedule this year. Especially considering that three of his incompletions were dropped passes.
“Hatch just made a lot of good decisions,” head coach Tim Murphy said after the game. “We talked all preseason about it’s one thing being a good thrower and another thing being a good quarterback. He really did a good job. We pretty much executed our gameplan as planned."
* "He's been in so many of these games throughout his career that things like that don't shake him. I think it showed up in our defense." -- Richmond head coach Latrell Scott, talking about defensive coordinator Bob Trott's gameplan in their 27-21 overtime win against nationally-ranked Elon
* “There’s being explosive and then exploding yourself. Those are the instances that can happen. Every phase and every play can swing the pendulum.” -- Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley, on how a host of miscues, including 10 penalties, 1 missed extra point, and 3 fumbles in the red zone
* ““This is the best football team that we’ve played,” Walton said. “There’s no doubt about it. I’m as shocked as anyone else, but I’m pleased. Now we have to run the table on the Northeast Conference.” - Robert Morris head coach Joe Walton, on the 30-23 upset victory against Liberty, and what is considered by some as the biggest win in the program’s 17-year history.
It was a week when pretty much nothing went right for anyone who was picking FCS games, and I was no exception. I went a miserable 19-12, or a miserable 61%. That puts me at 68-29, or 70% on the year so far. I did pick a few of the many upsets around FCS this weekend - notably Cal Poly losing to Texas Sate and Sacramento State upsetting Weber State. But had North Dakota State not managed to beat Morgan State, I would have gone 0-fer Missouri Valley (missing Stephen F. Austin over Northern Iowa, Southeast Missouri State over Southern Illinois, and Illinois State over South Dakota State). Then again, who picked any of those upsets?
Here are my picks for Week 4.
Alcorn State 28, Alabama State 17 - A letdown for the Hornets after their big win over Prairie View A&M.
Florida A&M 37, Tennessee State 20 - The Rattlers have won eight straight "Atlanta Classics". Make it nine.
San Diego 31, Butler 13 - Don't be fooled by the Toreros 0-3 record: QB Mason Mills is good.
Albany 19, Duquesne 3 - Never give coach Bob Ford an extra week to prepare for a NEC game. It's not fair.
Brown 42, Harvard 35 - It should be a barn-burner in the first-ever night game at Brown stadium. And I'm learning from Eastern Washington: never pick against a home team with a good gimmick to get fans to show.
PICKING THE SPORTS NETWORK TOP 25
No. 24 Penn at No. 1 Villanova
Will the Quakers be the next to hail WR Matt Szczur in this "Big 5" rivalry game? Or will a smothering defense prevail, led last week by CB Jonathan Saelinger's 3 interceptions, in a come-from-behind 19-14 win over Lafayette? Some folks think Andy Talley's Wildcats will steamroll over Al Bagnoli's Quakers in this game, but there is no doubt that this intense rivalry will be a game in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats win - but barely.
Tilly Talleys 16, Quakers in the Rye 13
No. 2 Appalachian State at Samford
I've got to beleive RB Chris Evans and the Bulldogs are better than the 38-35 squeaker last Thursday over 1-2 Newberry (D-II). But even if LB D.J. Smith and the Appalachian State defense lay an egg this weekend against Samford, I've got to believe the No. 1 offense in the nation will continue to score anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
D.J. Heroes 32, Samford I Am 18
No. 22 Liberty at No. 3 James Madison
Some of the luster came off this matchup when QB Mike Brown and Liberty travelled to the Pittsburgh area this past weekend and lost a wild 30-23 game against Robert Morris. But James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews managed successfully to put the luster back on this week, when he casually mentioned that five key offensive and defensive linemen would be out against the Flames, and this gem, too: "This is their Super Bowl, to come play us, much like it was our Super Bowl to go play at Virginia Tech.”" Mickey Matthews should know better than to fan Flames.
Brown-Outs 31, Firestarters 28
No. 4 Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois
What happened to Bob Spoo's Panthers? Granted, Eastern Illinois has played a very challenging schedule with FBS Iowa and nationally-ranked Central Arkansas, and RB Mon Williams has been slowed by injury, but 3 touchdowns in 3 games? To call this a must-win against the cardiac Gamecocks, their last heart-stopping win in the Georgia Dome 34-27 against FCS newbie Georgia State, goes without saying. The Panthers will give LB Rodney Garrott all the Gamecocks can handle, but in the end, I've got to go with head coach Jack Crowe's red-hot team.
Rappin Rodneys 34, Wan Mons 28
Lamar at No. 6 Stephen F. Austin
Who are the Lamar Cardinals, and why are they striking fear into the hearts of the other members of the Southland Conference? It could be the scare they put into McNeese State in Week One in a narrow 30-27 defeat - or that touchdown pass that QB Andre Bevil threw last weekend to stun Southeastern Louisiana, 29-28. Now head coach Ray Woodard's team will be lining up against the class of the Southland so far, Stephen F. Austin, who just added an impressive 22-20 road victory against perennial FCS power Northern Iowa. I don't see the letdown: WR Gralyn Crawford shows the Cardinals that they will not be laying out any welcome mats to Lamar this weekend.
Gralyn Skies 41, Cardinal Isn't The New Green 24
No. 8 William & Mary at Maine
The 2-1 Tribe - who desperately need to win a tough game on the road against the Black Bears - instead found themselves sidetracked by a local media fracas about something head coach Jimmye Laycock mentioned about "late hits" in their 21-17 win over Old Dominion last weekend. Lost in the distraction were a couple of key points: The Tribe's vanilla offense, led by RB Jonathan Grimes, has not been the effective machine it was last year. The other is the 1-2 Black Bears - led by newcomer DE Matthew Cole - actually played very well against FBS Syracuse last weekend until a second-half breakdown caused a 38-14 defeat. I think Maine is Bear Country this weekend.
Bears Get No Kick From... Champagne 21, Mauled Grimes 16
No. 9 Eastern Washington at No. 17 Montana State
It didn't get more thrilling - or crazy - in the Eagles' 30-27 victory over the Griz last Saturday evening to break in the "Inferno", or Eastern Washington's red artificial turf. The problem for the Eagles is:if RB Taiwan Jones runs roughshod over LB Alexsei Grosulak and the Bobcats this weekend, how will they motivate themselves to play well the rest of the year? Games against Idaho State? Southern Utah?
Taiwan... And On... And On 30, Grosulak Pointe Blank 21
No. 10 Elon at Georgia Southern
Aside from the fact that this is a must-game for Pete Lembo's Elon Phoenix to avoid a 1-3 start, the big news this week was the revelation that when Elon was interviewing for their head coaching vacancy after the 2005 season, current first-year man at Georgia Southern, Jeff Monken was one of the interviewees. (What is it about Elon's games that bring out the talk of head coaching searches?) While that's interesting, more important in picking this game is the fact that Elon's underrated rush defense, led by LB Brandon Wiggins, should pickle RB Robert Brown as the Phoenix get the win they need under Paulson Stadium's six championship flags.
Just Wiggins, Baby 28, Six Flags Over Not Quite Back Yet 16
No. 11 UMass at Stony Brook
Will RB Jonathan Hernandez, and the rest of the Minutemen team, lay an egg against RB Brock Jackolski and the Seawolves? Stony Brook may have the edge in football-player sounding names in their backfield, but it's Hernandez and UMass which will have the last laugh this weekend.
Won't Let Up For A Minutemen 38, Jacked-up Jackloskis 6
No. 13 Southern Illinois at Youngstown State
"This is a statement game for this team," Youngstown state S Andre Elliott said this week. "We have a lot to prove. We fought with Penn State for the first half, and then the second half didn't go the way we wanted to. Then we played a couple of teams (Butler and Central Connecticut State) and we did some things we wanted to, but now it's a conference team." That conference team is QB Chris Dieker and Southern Illinois, which has everyone who follows FCS puzzled as heck after their 24-20 defeat - at home! - to Southeast Missouri State. Talk about a tough game to pick. Are the Penguins really back? I think they have the rushing attack to give the Salukis problems - and Southern Illinois continues their slide.
Untouchable Penguins 28, Frozen Egyptian Dogs 10
Sacramento State at No. 14 Montana
I've heard knocks about the Griz this week: that they've on their way to the WAC, that they haven't beaten a Division I school yet, that the reign of the Griz atop the Big Sky, under head coach Robin Pflugrad, is over. I've also heard that Sacramento State, always on the verge, it seems, of "big things" which involve playoffs and runs at a Big Sky championship, is ready to knock off the Griz at Washington-Grizzly stadium, thanks to their upset win at home 24-17 over Weber State. But look at the fact. Montana RB Chase Reynolds and Hornet RB Bryan Hilliard are both good backs, but never pick against a cornered Griz in their own cave.
Griz Crunch 44, Hilliard Running For His Life 7
No. 15 Northern Iowa at Iowa State (FBS)
Some of the folks down Cyclone Way are worried about Northern Iowa, who gave FBS Iowa a major scare last year. They haven't seen the same Panther team I'm seeing this year.
Psyched Cyclones 28, Punished Panthers 10
Lehigh at No. 16 New Hampshire
With New Hampshire's shocking 28-25 loss to Rhode Island this past weekend - and their first drop outside the Top 11 for an entire year - you've got to believe the Wildcats, led by DE Brian McNally, will be extra-motivated to put the punishment on the Mountain Hawks. CB Jarard Cribbs and Lehigh will not be intimidated - but ultimately New Hampshire's desperation will win out.
Cornered Wildcats 28, Cribbed Hawks 24
No. 21 South Dakota at No. 18 North Dakota State
This game, aside from being a rivalry that's been contested since about 1900, is the quintessential unstoppable force (the Coyotes' running game, led by RB Chris Gainous) and the immovable object (the Bison defense, led by LB Preston Evans). Think Craig Bohl's North Dakota State team will be impressed with South Dakota's 41-38 win over Minnesota? Not when they handled them in 2007.
Stampeding Bohls 20, Coyotes Stopped For No Gainous 17
No. 20 Cal Poly at No. 19 McNeese State
The Mustangs, on the second game of the five game road trip from hell, will have their hands full for the second week in a row against a Southland opponent. RB Jordan Yocum is good, but he'll have his hands full against CB Jace Peterson and the Cowboys.
Jace High 30, Yodeling Yocums 18
The Citadel at No. 23 Furman
The Paladins were dealt a severe blow this week when they learned UCLA transfer QB Chris Forcier, injured in a game vs. Colgate, would be done for the season. That will pose a challenge for Bobby Lamb's troops when they face off against RB Terrell Dallas and the Bulldogs - but one the Paladins should be able to overcome at home.
Lamb Loses Lamb-Orghini 28, "Who Shot J.R.?" 21
No. 25 Central Arkansas at Tulsa (FBS)
This is an extremely winnable game for QB Nathan Dick and the Bears, since Tulsa has one of the worst defenses in all of FBS. I think the fact that Tulsa is pathetic - and that insular Golden Wave fans seem to think that Clint Conque's 3-0 team, with big wins over Eastern Illinois and Murray State is somehow similar to Tulsa's 1-2 team that gave up 136 points in 3 games - means the Bears add another FBS scalp to the growing number of "upsets".
"Bear-ly As Good As Tulsa? Ha!" 48, Golden Waves of Shame 32
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 7 Delaware at No. 5 Richmond
One thing you can count on when Richmond and Delaware play in the past few years: You're in for one whale of a game.
Remember that five-overtime game, won 62-56 by the Spiders, in a game that famously didn't have video? FCS fans remember scrambling for an audio feed over the internet as RB Josh Vaughn somehow got the final touchdown for Richmond as Delaware QB Joe Flacco's pass on 4th down in the fifth overtime fell incomplete.
Remember that 16-15 battle last year, that was moved from Richmond to Delaware after an issue with the field, where Richmond WR Kevin Grayson blocked a chip-shot 23 yard FG that would have given the Blue Hens an upset over the No. 1 team in the nation at the time?
This year, we have yet more drama in the form of another new head coach at Richmond in Latrell Scott, who is coming off a huge home opener, a 27-21 overtime win against nationally-ranked Elon that was another instant classic.
And then there's Delaware QB Pat Devlin - whose non-throwing arm was in a cast, and who didn't play in the Blue Hens' 30-6 win over Duquesne of the NEC. Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler says that Devlin will be back in charge against the Spiders in their brand-new on-campus stadium (Robins Stadium) in Richmond.
Devlin - a transfer from Penn State - will be squaring off against Richmond QB Aaron Corp, himself a transfer from USC.
"I think the sky's the limit for Aaron," Scott said this week. "Aaron works at it. Aaron does the things the quarterback needs to do to be successful. He's in watching tape. He spends time with his teammates. He's becoming a leader."
I think the Blue Hens, who have had a realtively easy time at home with three home games, will be in for their first true challenge against a possible sellout at Robins Stadium and - by far - the toughest team they've played all year. Beating Division II West Chester at home is one thing. Beating Richmond's "Marine Corp" on the road is quite another matter.
Richmond 28, Delaware 27