By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
PHILADELPHIA — I'll admit it freely, I am somewhat of a music nut, with tastes that tend to lean towards progressive rock and ECM-tinged jazz, with a nice mix of classic rock and even a little Windham Hill thrown in.
I also have a music studio in my home and have written and recorded my own share of keyboard-heavy compositions over the years.
When I sit down late at night to write columns about the Football Championship Subdivision, it isn't unusual for a song to run through my mind, or my stereo.
As I still try to recuperate from the first week of the FCS season (even as the second week of the journey is on the horizon), the Rod Stewart tune "The First Cut Is The Deepest" is filtering through my rather tired brain.
My FCS-FBS Death March began last week at Lincoln Financial Field, watching Villanova's young team get dismantled by maybe the best Temple squad I've ever seen.
The Wildcats have a talented, young quarterback in redshirt freshman Dustin Thomas, but the loss of All-American receiver Norman White and too much of Temple running back Andrew Pierce was enough to pin a 42-7 loss on Villanova.
Thomas did have his moments, including a long pass reception from Dorian Wells, but he must learn the importance of ball security.
It continued through television games of Murray State fighting Louisville tooth and nail before losing 21-9 in a replay early Friday morning.
After a working lunch at the local Chinese buffet, discussing FCS with my CSN colleague Chuck Burton, it was time to watch more football.
Then it was time to watch UC Davis get overwhelmed by Arizona State in another replay on Friday afternoon, 48-14 before settling in to watch Youngstown State live on the Big Ten Network in a surprisingly competitive 28-6 defeat (don't be fooled by that score, the Penguins were in this one until getting worn down late).
A few hours later, I was pulling out of my driveway for the start of a 24-hour marathon.
I drove six and a half hours to Blacksburg, VA. for the Appalachian State-Virginia Tech game.
ASU is normally pretty competitive against FBS foes and had one thing in common with the high-powered, No. 13-ranked Hokies.
The Mountaineers were one of two FCS teams to win against a team ranked in the Associated Press Top-25, beating Michigan 34-32 in 2007.
Virginia Tech was the other ranked BCS squad to lose to an FCS team, falling 21-16 just a year earlier against James Madison.
But on the second play from scrimmage, ASU quarterback DeAndre Presley fumbled as he attempted to hand off on the Mountaineers' bread-and-butter zone read play and the Hokies recovered.
From there, it was the David Wilson show. Wilson, an NFL-calinber runner in a college uniform, rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns and every time the Mountaineers seemed to make a mistakes, there was Wilson scoring a touchdown on the next play.
I've witnessed a couple of other non-competitive Appalachian State performances in 19 years of watching the Mountaineers, like a crushing loss at Wyoming in 2003 and a 2004 thumping at Georgia Southern, but I'd never seen one that was this lopsided.
Outside of some booming punts from Sam Martin, some nice pass breakups by cornerback Ed Gainey and a couple of nice throws from backup quarterback Jamal Jackson to Brian Quick (for a TD) and Tony Washington (to set up a 15-yard Jackson scoring scamper), there wasn't much to brag about for the Mountaineers.
By the time Virginia Tech had finished off its 66-13 victory, I was well on my way down Interstate 81, heading towards Knoxville, TN. and a date for Montana against Tennessee at iconic Neyland Stadium.
I arrived just in time for the national anthem and a frightening thunderstorm that sent fans scattering for the exits at this enormous facility.
When the game finally got started over 90 minutes late, I watched the Grizzlies show their typical fight, making Tennessee work for everything it got in a 42-16 contest.
Two plays epitomized the work ethic of this Montana club.
In the third quarter, one of my favorite FCS receivers, Jabin Sambrano, ran head-long into the not-so-well protected and padded wall near the back of the end zone.
The Griz fans held their breaths as the oft-injured pass catcher stayed down for a couple of minutes before jumping to his feet and running back to the sidelines. Before long, Sambrano — who scored one of the two Griz TDs — was back in the lineup.
Then in the fourth quarter, long after the game had been decided, Montana's defense made an impressive goal-line stand in the final minute.
Tennessee showed a lack of class by calling time out on fourth down, but the Grizzlies took the righteous high ground by stuffing the final Volunteer run.
Ironically, the game wasn't as lopsided as it might have seemed.
I don't know when I've ever seen a game where one team fumbled six times and recovered them all and had two pass intercepted, only to get the ball back on pass interference calls.
Yes, I've got to say the talented Vols had Lady Luck on their sides in this one, though they might have won this one even without some extra help.
I followed a night of upsets (can we say Sacramento State over Oregon State, 29-28, and Richmond over Duke, 23-21) and near-misses (how I hurt for teams like Northern Iowa, Weber State, Stony Brook, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Washington, who all should have beaten FBS opponents), I furiously worked my computer for updates until the Saturday schedule had concluded.
I still had a three-hour drive back to my second home in Boone, N.C. and finally had my head hit the pillow at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, 24 hours after I had left for my first game.
Just seven hours later, it was time for more FCS action and I munched on fish and chips at Beef O'Brady's in Boone as I watched the MEAC-SWAC Challenge between Bethune-Cookman and Prairie View on ESPN.
Bethune-Cookman was truly impressive as it took Prairie View to the woodshed, 63-14.
Anyone that watched had to think that the Wildcats had found a replacement for dynamic All-American quarterback Michael Johnson.
Jamarr Robinson, a redshirt senior, played barely over a half, but earned game MVP honors by rushing five times for 30 yards and two TDs and converting 22-of-31 passes for 251 yards and another score, with no interceptions.
Robinson led B-CU to a 42-7 halftime lead against one of the SWAC's top teams of the past three seasons.
When my body found my bed later that evening, I began to wonder if I was ever going to see a competitive game?
Things were a little better when I sat down to view ESPNU's HBCU Game of the Week, but Hampton's 23-17 home victory over less-than-impressive Florida A&M left me still wanting something more.
There is always week two, which for me will include an early-season game between ranked teams and 2010 playoff participants as New Hampshire travels to Lehigh and another contest of utmost importance for two Colonial Athletic Association squads as Villanova hits the road to take on re-energized Towson.
Is New Hampshire — a team that normally eats FBS opponents for lunch and dinner, — suspect after a 58-22 loss to Toledo of the Mid-American Conference?
Or is Lehigh as good as it looked in a 49-24 thrashing of Monmouth?
If New Hampshire loses this key road test, the Wildcats could have their string of seven straight playoff bids in early jeopardy.
If Lehigh wins, it might be making a case for a top-10 ranking and could springboard into contention for a home playoff game when the postseason begins.
It never is to soon to win an impact game.
Villanova should know by Saturday night if it is truly in rebuilding mode, or if it has the chance to grow into an FCS contender as the season progresses.
Standing in the way is a Towson squad that can smell some blood in the water.
The Tigers have found football excitement behind coach Rob Ambrose and new athletic director Mike Waddell.
Towson also has some confidence after winning the battle of Baltimore last Saturday, hammering out an impressive 42-3 win over Morgan State at home.
It should make for an interesting day and evening.
SHOULD WE STAY, OR SHOULD WE GO?
With all due respect to the Clash.
It was rather interesting that my first three games this season represented teams that have been contemplating their place in FCS.
I couldn't help but think that Montana has its head screwed on straight with its decision to turn down an offer from the Western Athletic Conference and stay with the Big Sky Conference.
There isn't anything wrong with being a big fish in a small, but interesting pond.
And it is definitely smart to see that the financial grass of FBS isn't necessarily greener than that of FCS.
On the flip side, the performance of Appalachian State further suggested to me that the Mountaineers are more like the Not Ready For Primetime Players than a program that is going to be the next Boise State.
The best ASU can hope for after a campus committee recently recommended the Mountaineers move to FBS is a place in Conference USA and the reestablishment of old rivalries with Marshall and East Carolina — at the cost of great rivalries currently with Georgia Southern and Furman.
The problem is that the road from bottom-feeder FBS conference to the Bowl Championship Series is littered with carnage. Even teams that have experience some modicum of success at FBS, like Marshall, or Connecticut, have found it difficult to balance budgets.
How many lower-level FBS teams ever get the opportunity to move into the BCS anyway?
And that doesn't even consider what has happened to other sports at schools like Marshall.
Villanova is still in a holding pattern as the Big East battles itself on the issue of whether the Wildcats should play football in that FCS conference, or not.
The crowd the Wildcats drew for the third annual Mayor's Cup game against Temple did little to convince skeptics like Pittsburgh, Rutgers, or West Virginia that Villanova belongs in Big East football.
Villanova can recruit with any of those schools, which is probably why the Panthers, Scarlet Knights and Mountaineers would just as soon that the Wildcats remain at the FCS level.
Finding an excuse like the lack of a properly-sized stadium is just a smoke screen.
But the question has always been whether all of the numbers and infrastructure add up for a school that is more interested in protecting its men's basketball program than how its football team would do in the BCS.
Even the campus community on the Main Line has been split about what Villanova should do.
Villanova will have another de-facto BCS audition on Nov. 19, when its closes the season at PPC Park in Chester, PA. — the home of Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union — against arch-rival Delaware in the Battle of the Blue game.
Strong ticket sales for that game — which are just as likely to be fueled by Blue Hen fans as the Villanova faithful — might alleviate some Big East concerns, but it might be too little, too late.
With the move by Texas A&M to jump the Big 12 ship for the Southeast Conference and rumors of Texas and Oklahoma possibly going to the Pac-12, the Big East may jump quickly to pick at the carcass of the Big 12.
Schools like Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Baylor and Iowa State could be attractive to the Big East in football and basketball.
The door to BCS football could close almost as rapidly as it opened for Villanova.