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September 06, 2015

(STATS) - Hold on a second before you start beating the FCS T-shirt on your chest.

It's great that Fordham, South Dakota State, Portland State and North Dakota got the FCS-FBS upsets going in the first full (and extended) weekend of college football. It's bound to happen, though, when there are 48 such matchups between the two levels of Division I.

But the Big Ten has a point in not wanting its teams to be playing FCS opponents. It's not because Indiana nearly lost to Southern Illinois, either.

As the five FBS power conferences - yeah, that sounds better than autonomy conferences - continue to move away from the pack, their teams all want in on the College Football Playoff.

While it's true the FCS gets it right with a 24-team postseason compared to the four-team playoff on the FBS level, it's all about power ratings and conference perception in the ever-changing landscape atop the FBS. Conferences like the Pac-12 are gaining more from a USC beating Arkansas State than an Oregon defeating FCS No. 6 Eastern Washington.

The hope to many people is Cinderella continues to get invitations to the FBS ball. But as the College Football Playoff grows in stature, if not teams, the FCS is at the mercy of the bigger conference decisions. The Pac-12, Big 12, SEC and ACC could come to agree with the Big Ten.

Maybe the Power Five break away and Division I totally realigns. Then a Missouri Valley versus an American Athletic or Mid-America program becomes just another conference game.

That's not too bad of a scenario.



Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:

- No doubt the highest focus among FCS-FBS matchups was Eastern Washington facing Oregon and its former quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr. It was unfortunate Adams was knocked from the game on a late hit by Eagles linebacker John Kreifels, and it was even worse that Kreifels taunted fans from the EWU sideline before some of his coaches wisely sent him to the locker room. Not the least bit surprising was Jordan West, Adams' successor at EWU, performed well before leaving in the second half with cramps, and Eagles wide receiver Cooper Kupp was the most dominant player on the field with 15 receptions for 246 yards - both career highs - and three touchdowns. He has 40 TD catches in 29 career games.

- In the same breath as an FCS-FBS upset is a non-scholarship team from the Pioneer Football League defeating a 63-scholarship team from CAA Football. Jacksonville made the 20-14 statement at Delaware, but it might have read the Dolphins are trying to be unofficial PFL champs this year. Of course, they are ineligible for a second consecutive season after improperly awarding financial aid from 2010-14. But credit the Fish for the big win, fueled by quarterback Kade Bell (25 for 43 for 269 yards and one TD), great special teams play and linebacker D.J. Howard's fumble recovery in the Blue Hens' end zone with 2:09 left. The actual PFL preseason favorite, defending champ San Diego, fell to San Diego State 37-3 before 48,785 at Qualcomm Stadium.

- Who will hold the No. 1 ranking in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday afternoon is anyone's guess. Montana could have grabbed the nod had the Grizzlies beaten Cal Poly, but their 20-19 home loss Saturday night was more predictable than them beating four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State a week earlier. Cal Poly, whose triple option is hard to prepare for in a seven-day turnaround, has beaten the Griz in two straight seasons and three of the last five meetings since 2010. The only top-five team to be 1-0 is No. 5 Coastal Carolina, but it had to hold on to beat Furman 38-35. Second-ranked Illinois State and No. 3 Sam Houston State lost decisively to FBS opponents, and No. 4 Villanova kept it close at Connecticut but didn't deserve to win the game. The only other Top 10 team to be 1-0 is No. 7 Jacksonville State, which rallied to beat No. 8 Chattanooga.

- Speaking of which, the weekend's only matchup of Top 25 teams was a doozy. Jacksonville State has beaten rival Chattanooga by three points in each of the past three seasons. Appropriately, the game ended on JSU defensive end Darius Jackson's sack of Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman. The Gamecocks' ferocious defense is far different from the usual Ohio Valley Conference team. It had four sacks on Huesman, the two-time Southern Conference offensive player of the year, and held the Mocs offense to 196 yards.

- Fordham getting a jump on Patriot League rivals with scholarship classes - by four years, beginning in 2010 - was evident in the depth coach Joe Moorhead unveiled in the No. 20 Rams' 37-35 win over Army West Point. The Rams graduated 18 starters and 32 seniors from last year's league championship squad and beat an opponent they failed to defeat last November. All the changes drew shouts of "So what?" in a jubilant locker room afterward. Perhaps the Rams still are the league's best team.

- The reason the McNeese State at LSU matchup, stopped by lightning early in the first quarter Saturday night and delayed for four hours before being canceled, wasn't made up on Sunday was the visiting Cowboys didn't have a "ranch" to stay in. The Southland Conference team, ranked 25th, planned to make the two-hour drive upstate from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles after the game, so it didn't have a hotel. Both schools mutually agreed to scrap the game, and McNeese will still get its $500,000 guarantee.

- The team of the week: Western Illinois, which handled Eastern Illinois 33-5. The Fighting Leathernecks talked in the preseason about having the toughest schedule in the FCS, but maybe third-year coach Bob Nielson's squad is up for the challenge. And perhaps EIU, which was the first team outside the preseason Top 25, isn't as good as previously thought. Leathernecks junior Lance Lenoir was spectacular in the thumping with 280 all-purpose yards (124 receiving, 156 on returns) and a touchdown.

- There were plenty of big opening-week numbers, including: Southern Illinois quarterback Mark Iannotti (517 total yards in a near-miss against Indiana); Tennessee Tech wide receiver Brock McCoin (264 receiving yards against Houston); Cal Poly safety B.J. Nard (three interceptions against Montana); and The Citadel (535 rushing yards against Davidson). From the attendance department, give Montana credit for following its all-time high at Washington-Grizzly Stadium against North Dakota State (26,472) with another 26,065 on hand for Cal Poly.

- The best season-opening performance by an FCS conference belonged to the Big Sky as nine of its 13 teams are in the win column already. Montana beating North Dakota State and then losing to Cal Poly was evident of the conference's depth, and Portland State (Washington State) and North Dakota (Wyoming) had two of the four FCS wins over FBS programs. Southern Utah led Utah State for over 3½ quarters before falling, while Northern Arizona was a road winner in the battle of the Lumberjacks at No. 24 Stephen F. Austin.

- It was a tough weekend for new FCS head coaches, one week after Bob Stitt's spectacular debut for Montana over NDSU. Obviously, Portland State likes what it sees in interim coach Bruce Barnum, who talks about being on "my one-year interview." Also of note: Samford beating Central Arkansas in Chris Hatcher's first game and Mitch Stewart, who replaced Hatcher at Murray State and is Division I's youngest head coach, leading the Racers past overmatched Kentucky Wesleyan.



FCS-FBS matchups will continue to fascinate college football fans next Saturday. Among the higher-profile matchups are Jacksonville State at Auburn, Western Illinois at Illinois, Indiana State at Purdue, Liberty at West Virginia, North Carolina A&T at North Carolina, Eastern Kentucky at North Carolina State, Charleston Southern at Troy and Cal Poly at Arizona State.

But FCS matchups rule as well. Within the Top 25, Eastern Washington will travel to Northern Iowa and Villanova visits Fordham.

Other intriguing non-conference games are New Hampshire at Colgate, Coastal Carolina at South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman at Grambling State, Tennessee State vs. Jackson State in Memphis, Southern Illinois at Southeast Missouri State and Morgan State at Illinois State.

Also, defending SWAC champion Alcorn State opens conference play at Alabama State.

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