Ohio Valley teams eager for early shot at FBS competition
(STATS) - Despite Tennessee Tech's dismal history against FBS opponents, coach Watson Brown can't wait for his team's opening challenge at Houston on Saturday night.
He won't be the only one in the Ohio Valley Conference harboring that same anticipation.
"Our players love to play in (those games)," said the 65-year-old Brown, whose Golden Eagles have been outscored 465-58 by their 10 FBS opponents since he came to Cookeville in 2007. "We look forward to them."
Tennessee Tech is one of three OVC teams to face an FBS school this weekend. Last year, Eastern Kentucky snapped its own 18-game skid against such opponents with a 17-10 victory over Miami, Ohio.
It was the fourth time in the last five years an OVC team beat at least one FBS opponent. Prior to that stretch, the league went without a win from 2004-09.
Though the odds of UT Martin or Southeast Missouri State pulling off a stunner this weekend are remote, the opportunity to step up in competition, earn a nice paycheck and see how good your team is usually proves beneficial for FCS schools.
"It's a game the kids will be talking about when they're our age," said Southeast Missouri coach Tom Matukewicz, whose squad visits No. 24 Missouri on Saturday.
Riding a 14-game losing streak against the FBS, SEMO is 1-19 all-time in those meetings. Tennessee Tech, meanwhile, is 0-29 against FBS schools since college football's top tier-programs split into two divisions in 1978.
UT Martin is 1-18 in those games, but that one victory recently came over Memphis in 2012. The Skyhawks expect to have a more difficult time Saturday at No. 17 Mississippi, but won't be intimidated.
"You never approach it tentatively," UTM coach Jason Simpson said. "You prefer to get wins, but you can learn about your team."
Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood said during Tuesday's league conference call that he wasn't aware the school was not selected to join the Sun Belt. In a decision reached last weekend, that league chose Coastal Carolina over the Colonels as its newest member.
"I haven't pinned my ear to what's going on as much because we're trying to get ready to win a football game and that's my focus," Hood said. "Those are the things I can control."
After earning an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs last season, the No. 17 Colonels face Valparaiso on Thursday night.
In the week's marquee conference matchup, No. 7 Jacksonville State visits No. 8 Chattanooga on Saturday.
"It's a good way to start the season," Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. "It's kind of like a second round or quarterfinal round playoff game."
The Gamecocks didn't allow an offensive touchdown but needed overtime to pull out a 26-23 overtime victory against Chattanooga last September. They've won three of the last four meetings with the Mocs, each by four points or less.
NEW FACE, SAME PLACE=
Though Murray State coach Mitch Stewart is in his first season as a head coach, he spent the past five as an assistant with the Racers. While his team was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league by its coaches and sports information directors, Stewart already has the coach-speak down prior to Thursday night's date with Kentucky Wesleyan.
"If you don't have a positive outlook before the first game than you never will," he said.
A LONG TIME COMING=
Some 190 miles separate the campuses of Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois, but Thursday night's tilt is the first in the regular season since the schools squared off every year from 1934-1997. This season begins a two-year, home-and-home series between the former Gateway Conference foes.
"We're excited to be going over to Western," Panthers coach Kim Dameron said. "There has been a lot of history (in this rivalry), maybe not recent."
The teams last met during the 2002 playoffs when EIU fell 48-9 in Tony Romo's final collegiate contest.
Tennessee State begins its season with a rare Sunday night contest against Alabama State in the 17th annual John Merritt Classic. Played in the home of the Tennessee Titans, this matchup is one of two FCS games slated for Sunday, and the only one in the evening.
"Should be good for TV ratings," TSU coach Rod Reed joked. "Hopefully it will mean we'll get more fans to come out."
The Tigers are 11-5 all-time in the Classic.
NOW IS THE TIME=
When Austin Peay hosts Mercer on Saturday, it will try to snap an eight-game non-conference losing streak that dates to a 56-0 rout of NAIA Culver-Stockton on Nov. 3, 2012.
The Governors, 1-23 over the last two seasons, fell 49-21 last year to Mercer despite 196 yards on 15 carries from Otis Gerron.