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FCS giants have slimmer margin of error

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Montana State goes to Utah and loses. Montana falls at Tennessee. William & Mary gets battered at Virginia.

There was nothing unexpected by such results Saturday because FCS teams rarely beat the bigger FBS teams. In fact, only two FCS teams won the 38 FBS match- ups over the first week of games.

It's true some of the FCS' elite programs went home with nice paydays, but their margin of error for making the playoffs has been made slimmer because they also will play an opponent below the Championship Subdivision level.

When the NCAA playoff selection committee fills out its at-large bids, the members prefer FCS teams to have at least seven wins against Division I competition.

For many teams which play FBS competition, that generally leaves 10 games to get those seven wins.

But for four of the top eights teams in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Preseason FCS Top 25 - as well as No. 12 Montana, the longtime FCS power - upcoming games against sub-Division I competition won't count, either - which likely drops them to only nine opportunities to get the seven wins.

Those five teams with big expectations, but potential big problems in the long run, are preseason No. 3 William & Mary (Virginia loss; Division II New Haven on Sept. 17), No. 4 Georgia Southern (Sept. 10 versus Division II Tusculum and Nov. 19 at Alabama), No. 6 Montana State (Utah loss; Division II Minot State on Sept. 17), No. 8 Wofford (Sept. 10 at Clemson and Oct. 15 versus NAIA member Virginia-Wise) and No. 12 Montana (Tennessee loss; Division II Western Oregon on Nov. 5)

"What happens, happens," said William & Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock, whose program took the New Haven match-up to ensure an extra home game. "I've been through a lot of different schedules over the years and some looked a lot harder than others and some looked a lot easier than others and they all turned out tough. I anticipate this one being tough. We'll just go on and take each one at a time and add 'em up at the end and see where we are."

William & Mary will face Division II New Haven on September 17.
Scheduling necessities (money) or problems (finding a D-I opponent) put some teams into the position with which they play an FBS opponent for the money and the exposure. Even a solid program like Cal Poly, which was an at-large playoff team in 2005 and '08 - is playing two FBS teams - a loss at San Diego State on Saturday and a Sept. 24 trip to Northern Illinois - and a Division II team - Central Oklahoma on Oct. 8. Their schedule likely takes the Mustangs out of the playoff picture considering the Great West Conference doesn't have an automatic bid for its champion.

While playing an FBS team and a sub-Division I team in the same season makes sense for many FCS teams, it probably shouldn't for the top teams which harbor realistic dreams of a national championship.

Imagine Georgia Southern getting picked off a few times in the rugged Southern Conference, then needing to win at Alabama to get into the FCS playoffs.

It's a scary thought that Eagles fans don't want to think about.

HAIL THE CONQUERING HEROES

What stood out in Sacramento State's 29-28 overtime win at Oregon State and Richmond's 23-21 victory at Duke was how the two FCS teams put pressure on their FBS victims.

Sacramento State didn't trail until Oregon State scored on the first possession of overtime. And when the Hornets followed with Jeff Fleming's 6- yard touchdown pass to Brandyn Reed, they went right for the win, getting the same combination to hook up for a winning 2-point conversion.

"We got the touchdown and decided that we came all the way up here and battled so hard, let's go for the gusto," Fleming said after Sac State posted its first win over an FBS team and ended the Big Sky Conference's 49-game losing streak against such opposition.

Meanwhile, Richmond didn't trail Duke for long because both times the Blue Devils went ahead, the Spiders responded with a go-ahead touchdown on their next possession. The winning score was Garrett Turner's 1-yard TD run - making it 23-21 - with 10:12 left to play.

"Just a tremendous win for our kids," said interim head coach Wayne Lineburg, who took over on Aug. 23 after Latrell Scott's firing.

"I think they've hung together over some adverse conditions over the last few weeks and we're all just proud of them and we're proud of the staff for sticking together and doing things the right way. We've got great kids in this program and it showed tonight. They played hard and got after it, and it was a great win for the program."

Amazingly, it was Richmond's third straight win over Duke since 2006.

HEAD COACHING DEBUTS

Lineburg was joined by a handful of new head coaches who won their first games in Week 1.

Grambling State's Doug Williams, back for his second stint at the SWAC university, enjoyed a 21-14 victory over his cousin Melvin Spears Jr., who was making his debut at Alcorn State. Williams' freshman son D.J. threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns in wind and rain in Shreveport, La.

"I thought we made plays when we needed to, but, more importantly, didn't make the kinds of bad plays that can kill you," Doug Williams said.

Grambling State's former head coach, Rod Broadway, got off to a successful start at North Carolina A&T when the Aggies beat the new Division II Lynchburg program, 38-7.

Also in the MEAC, Delaware State gave Kermit Blount a 24-21 victory over VMI.

Gardner-Webb, behind new coach Ron Dickerson Jr., beat Division II Brevard, 34-17.

AROUND THE NATION

Marist head coach Jim Parady collected his 100th career win in the Red Foxes' 20-7 victory at Sacred Heart. The thank-yous could start with sophomore quarterback Chuckie Looney, who threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start ... How Kool was South Dakota State's 29-28 win over Southern Utah? Tyrel Kool gained 186 yards from scrimmage (107 rushing, 79 receiving) with one touchdown and his brother Dirk broke up a potential game- winning 2-point attempt with two seconds remaining ... Good sign for defending FCS champion Eastern Washington: in a 30-27 loss at Washington, its Bo Levi Mitchell-led offense rolled up 504 yards compared to the Huskies' 250 ... Bucknell's Josh Eden set FCS records by blocking six extra points and eight kicks last season. He blocked another extra point in the first quarter against Duquesne and the Bison wound up winning by one point, 27-26 ... Colgate senior Nate Eachus, the 2010 FCS rushing leader, picked up where he left off with 165 yards on 36 carries in a 37-34 overtime win over Albany. His 1-yard TD run in OT was the difference ... Georgetown's 40-16 win over Davidson featured linebacker Jeremy Grasso collecting 3.5 sacks ... One of the more impressive performances for a Week 1 losing team was turned in by Presbyterian. Wofford needed a last-minute touchdown - Mitch Allen's 26-yard pass to Jeff Ashley - in the escape. Presbyterian was 2-20 in coach Harold Nicholls' first two seasons; Wofford, the 2010 Southern Conference co-champion, was ranked eighth in the preseason ... The 66 points that Appalachian State surrendered in a 66-13 loss at Virginia Tech were the second-most in program history ... From the hard-to-believe department, Florida A&M committed 19 penalties for 207 yards in its 28-22 rally past Division II Fort Valley State ... After San Antonio fans embraced UTSA with an FCS start-up program record of 56,732 at the Alamodome for Saturday's 31-3 win over Division II Northeastern State, head coach Larry Coker was fired up. "This is maybe the most awesome game I've been around. I'm being totally honest with you," said the coach of the 2001 national championship squad at Miami (Fla.) ... An Estes Stadium record crowd of 12,755 came out for the debut of Central Arkansas' purple and gray turf against Henderson State. Bears coach Clint Conque often tries not to run up scores against Division II teams, and his team won, 38-14 ... Let's hear it for the defense. North Dakota, Lamar, Morehead State, Nicholls State and Portland State all posted shutouts, albeit the latter four did it against sub- Division I competition.

A LOOK AHEAD

A handful of games stand out among Week 2 matchups, led by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener between South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla. Both teams made the FCS playoffs last season.

Also, Jacksonville State travels to Chattanooga and Northern Iowa visits Stephen F. Austin in particularly appealing showdowns.

Future Big Sky opponents meet when UC Davis goes to Montana State, Cal Poly visits Montana and Sacramento State goes to Southern Utah.

Colgate visits Holy Cross in the Patriot League, while New Hampshire heads to defending Patriot champ Lehigh. Jacksonville, which was 10-1 last season and felt robbed of an at-large playoff bid, basically needs to win at Western Illinois to keep its playoff hopes alive - following a season-opening loss at The Citadel.

Morehouse and Howard collide in the inaugural Nation's Football Classic at RFK Stadium in Washington, while Texas Southern interim head coach Kevin Ramsey makes his debut in a Southwestern Athletic Conference match-up against Prairie View A&M.

The FCS-FBS menu features Wofford at Clemson.

If you can't wait until all those Saturday games, Thursday offers Florida A&M at Hampton in the MEAC.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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