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Mid-Major Monday

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All the talk re: smaller schools is naturally centered on Appalachian State, which is not technically a "mid-major" as this feature defines the term, but the Mountaineers' takedown Saturday could have reverberations in terms of future scheduling trends. In a Diary posted to the reader's right, Notre Dame partisan Will from the K.C. Royals blog Royals Review frets that ASU's win will "encourage and or justify more horrible, patently absurd 1-AA/Bowl Sudbivision Matchups, serving as a stock or built-in apologia for the BCS schools." USC-based e-mailer Chet Longley sent along an ASU-generated release that notes an interesting fact about the Championship Subdivision and the Big Ten:

Despite Appalachian scoring FCS's only victory in four matchups against Big Ten opponents on Saturday, FCS squads are still 3-5 versus the Big Ten in the last eight FCS-Big Ten meetings. FCS teams are just one point shy of being even with the Big Ten in the last eight matchups -- Minnesota squeaked by North Dakota State, 10-9, last Oct. 21.

The other two victories, for the record: New Hampshire over Northwestern and Southern Illinois over Indiana last year. Less impressive than ASU over Michigan, obviously, but still, Chet wonders if this means "...the argument that I-AA - I mean FCS - teams couldn't hang with the I-A - I mean BCS - teams looses quite a bit of steam, yes?"


For anyone thinking of scheduling a I-AA team again, yes, that's enough.
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I would think that yes, it does, and I think the ramifications of that impression are the exact opposite of what Will suggests in his diary. The main punching bag of fan backlash on Michigan's end to date has been Bill Martin for scheduling Appalachian State in the first place, a game that - as many commenters are noting - has no possible upside for a program like Michigan. Blow them out - so what? A blowout is par for the course. But a mediocre or close win is essentially a negative result, and the inconceivable loss, as we've seen, is potentially catastrophic. Michigan gains nothing from a game with a I-AA team, which is why it hasn't scheduled one before and certainly won't again. And its loss is a lesson to other major teams looking for an easy, tune-up win: they don't come so easy any more. If I-AA teams are closing the gap, the big schools will want nothing to do with them. If you're going to risk a loss in that kind of game, at least make it someone respectable. It's not worth the potential ridicule. If Saturday has any reverberations in scheduling - I'm not sure it will - the schedules should get tougher at the top levels, not easier.

I-AA teams will remain valuable to the middle-of-the-pack, borderline bowl teams, because those games will still be the easiest way to pad the win total and still guarantee a postseason date with a 3-5 record in-conference. Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon - a lot of teams on the fence last year would have been sitting at home in December without a I-AA game "guaranteed" to push the record to .500, and it doesn't make since if a bowl game is the goal for a borderline BCS team to step up its schedule strength. Games against I-AA teams have a tangible value for them, because they need those wins.

A team like Michigan, though, isn't worried about just getting into a bowl game. It gains nothing from beating Appalachian State, and sacrifices almost everything by losing. I-AA games have no value for top tier schools that expect to win nine or ten games, minimum, and I think you'll see a lot less of them before you see more. The trend may even trickle up to Buffalo and Eastern Michigan and the Sun Belt and the like at the bottom of the Bowl Subdivision, if we're lucky.

This is good for the average fan. Bad for the smaller schools, which subsequently lose their opportunity to advance by beating the big boys, but bigger, better non-conference games would be a positive for the sport overall.

Steppin' Up


The Record vs. BCS Conferences
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Last week: 6-21
Avg. Score: 35-15

This year: 6-21
Avg. Score: 35-15

Hail to the Conquering Heroes
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A few of Saturday's class-hopping winners were already favorites: no surprises in TCU over Baylor or BYU over Arizona, neither of which turned out to be that close. Kent State (23-14 at Iowa State), on the other hand, along with Central Florida (25-23 at N.C. State), Bowling Green (32-31 in overtime at Minnesota) and especially Wyoming, because of the wide margin (23-3 over Virginia), were less predictable.

I covered the Cowboys' Cavalier ass-kicking, or Cavalier self-destruction, earlier, and I'm fairly confident given the offensive prowess UVA carried over from last year that its incompetence is adequate insurance against Mountain West hand-wringing over Wyoming's defense at this early stage. Central Florida scored on an 80-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and completely dominated the first half in Raleigh, outgaining N.C. State 248-47 and leading 25-3 at the half. Once the Wolfpack replaced obviously ineffective Daniel Evans with Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, though, the tables turned in a hurry: N.C. State outscored UCF 20-0 in the second half and had a chance to tie on a two-point conversion after Beck's touchdown pass to Donald Bowens a little before the midway point of the fourth quarter. So are the Knights fearsome? The first half beatdown dwindled into a 38-yard second half - they had four separate drives that covered more yards in the first two quarters - so the jury's ordering Chinese.

Little stands out about Kent State's win over Iowa State, a good sign for the Flashes and a very bad omen for ISU: KSU ran for 207 yards (81 of them on runs by quarterback Julian Edelman), picked Bret Meyer twice and generally handled the Cyclones - other than JUCO transfer J.J. Bass, who ran for 133 on six per carry and was not hit for a negative play - as equals. Its MAC East comrade Bowling Green was so equal in the Metrodome, the Falcons exploded  behind surprise quarterback starter Tyler Sheehan to a 21-0 lead at the half before Minnesota settled into its old running game and scored on three straight drives of 75, 64 and 75 yards. Feeling the momentum slipping away to the more talented team, the Falcons pulled a Boise State after it answered the Gophers' touchdown in overtime, electing to risk the win on a two-point conversion rather than attempt to hang through another round. The result:

That was Tim Brewster getting up off his stomach. Tough way to lose a debut: his team fought back, but it's a long, long year ahead if it still can't defend the pass. Sheehan finished with 388 yards.

What Should Have Been...
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After Ole Miss' opening 92-yard touchdown drive in Memphis, the teams combined for four different drives of 60-plus yards in the first half alone that resulted in zero points, three of them by the Tigers. Actually, it's wrong to say they resulted in zero points, since a 64-yard Memphis drive in the second quarter resulted in a 99-yard interception return that put Ole Miss up 20-0 with less than a minute to play in the half despite its defense having yielded 246 yards in total offense:

In the end, five turnovers kept Memphis out of the end zone until its final three drives of the game, marathon possessions that covered more than twelve minutes and 230 yards altogether. By then, it was too late: a 479-270 advantage in total yards was for naught when the tying two-point conversion failed with 31 seconds on the clock.


Allow 33 first downs and win. Da Coach O be knawn dat D, ya heah?.
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...and What Never Had a Prayer
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Top billing for Hideously Lopsided Effort of the Week is a toss-up between UAB, Central Michigan and Nevada, the latter because it allowed an obscene, mid-90s-like 400 yards rushing to Nebraska. But at least the Wolfpack briefly led in Lincoln, running Sam Keller's first interception as a Husker back for a touchdown to go up 10-7 in the second quarter before being ground to dust.

By contrast, very, very young UAB was down 42-0 in the second quarter at Michigan State before it managed a meager field goal, having allowed MSU to score on each of its first six possessions, covering 382 yards - again, before halftime. By comparison, Kansas' reaming of Central Michigan seems positively humane: the Jayhawks only led 35-0 at the break and were actually forced to punt more than once en route to a 52-7 throttling of my ill-chosen upset pick. And apparently Mark Mangino has no patience for punting, so he took out his frustrations on poor Raimond Peterson Pendelton.

Mid-Major Game(s) of the Week
While you were waiting for Michael Henig's lip to stop trembling...
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Quasi-rivals Ball State and Miami, Ohio, took a pivotal early MAC game to the dying seconds, overcoming soul-deadening setbacks all the while. The first quarter featured three solid drives - two by Miami, one by Ball State - that culminated in failed field goal attempts, and the RedHawks (that's Miami, if you weren't sure) went into the half leading 7-3. Ball State finally answered in the third quarter with an epic, 17-play, 92-yard death march that cut the score to 7-6 on a short field goal, then went ahead early in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard pass from Nate Davis to the steamily-named Dante Love.

Now, fourth quarter, your team leads 12-7. Is there a significant difference with eleven minutes to play in a five-point lead and a six-point lead? A touchdown and PAT beats them both. This seems like moment tailor-made for the two-point conversion. Ball State, though, playing it tight to the vest in a low-scoring game, kicks for a 13-7 lead. Of course, it would regret the decision.

Miami first responded to the deficit by driving 69 yards in 14 plays, taking just shy of seven minutes off the clock, battling inside the BSU ten, and throwing a crippling third down interception that might have ended the game for a less persistent team. But the RedHawk defense, needing a three-and-out with just over four minutes to play, held its ground on a decisive 3rd-and-1 from the Ball State 29, stuffing MiQuale Lewis for no gain and forcing a punt that Eugene Harris subsequently brought back 56 yards to the BSU 23 with 1:40 to play. Slowing it down, the RedHawks ran Brandon Murphy three times down to the six, opening a lane for Murphy into the end zone with less than 20 seconds on the clock. Trevor Cook's extra point was good for the win: Miami, Ohio 14, Ball State 13.

Mid-Major Player(s) of the Week
Non-Brennan Division
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Scrambler Anthony Turner started ten games at quarterback for Bowling Green last year and was the presumptive starter again - every magazine lists him first team without any mention of controversy - but it was sophomore Tyler Sheehan who opened up against Minnesota and flambeed the Gophers for 388 yards and two touchdowns with no picks in BG's road upset. Turner attempted one pass and ran four times in brief relief in the second quarter, but the Falcons offense only looked like the version we know and love, the one that finished in the top three nationally from 2002-04 under Josh Harris and Omar Jenkins, when Sheehan was running the show.

Three Conference USA running backs were in the top ten rushers of the first weekend, headlined by UCF's Kevin Smith (35 for 217 yards, 2 TDs in the Knights' win at N.C. State) and Houston's Anthony Alridge, who lived up to his nickname ("Quick") and picked up where he left off after moving from receiver last year, breaking off a 60-yarder en route to a 205-yard afternoon at Oregon. The Cougars lost 48-21, but, as pointed out by Duck blogger Addicted to Quack, Houston had four 50-plus-yard that ended in turnovers or one variety or another, three of them leading directly to 17 Oregon points off a short field.

Obligatory Brennan Stat Watch
While desperately attempting to retain grains of skepticism.
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Señor Brennan had an easy night, coasting to a mere 416 yards and six touchdowns on 34 of 40 passing (85 percent) in two quarters of work against Northern Colorado. Most amazing related stat: three other quarterbacks nationally had higher-rated openers as passers. Weak, Colt. Weak.

Pace for the Season: Assuming he plays in all four quarters of his remaining eleven games, Brennan would complete 782 of 920 passes for 9,568 yards and 138 touchdowns.


Not even on pace for 10,000 yards? Do you want the Heisman or don't you, ya bum? On the bench!
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An Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
This is more of a power poll. All teams this week are 1-0.
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1. TCU • Shut out Baylor without suddenly mercurial/sick defensive star Tommy Blake. Becomes a BCS favorite with an upset at Texas.
2. Hawaii • See above. Still a month away from its first quasi-challenge, at, uh, San Jose State.
3. Boise State • I don't have NCAA Football 08, but if I did, I'd bump Ian Johnson's acceleration up to at least a 98.
4. BYU • Efficient offense, stingy defense against Arizona. Another big prove it game at UCLA.
5. Wyoming • Three touchdown wins over ACC schools are still worth a big jump, even if it is a shadow of the Team Formerly Known As Virginia.
6. Central Florida • Ruined Tom O'Brien's N.C. State debut, though two mid-major teams vanquished the Wolfpack last year, too, so, whatever.
7. Southern Miss • Inefficient passing game (11-26, 115 yards) despite running for 300 yards against UT-Martin is a concern going into Tennessee.
8. Bowling Green • Lost one starting quarterback on the first pass at Minnesota, and discovered a better one. Let's try that again: put the returning starter on the bench from the outset, and delivered a better one.
9. Kent State • Making Steele look smart: Flashes scored the final 14 points to beat Iowa State 23-14.
10. Tulsa • Malzahn spread offense had 300 yards passing in its collegiate debute at UL-Monroe, but the Hurricane also ran it 55 times.
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Honorable Mention: Navy might move into the poll with a respectable game against Rutgers this week. East Carolina and Houston scared the hell out of the rest of Conference USA in defeat, ECU for its defense at Virginia Tech and the Cougars for their offense, a pass-oriented attack in the past that racked up well over 300 yards rushing at Oregon due to the big play merits of Anthony Alridge. Put them together, and the resulting Frankenstein could dominate the league.

Coming Up
Optimism in the week ahead.
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Best Game: Judging from Texas' lackluster effort against Arkansas State and TCU's shutout of Baylor sans Blake, the Frogs will come into Austin Saturday with momentum and, better, a ruthless, legit defense that will give a young offensive line and Colt McCoy all kinds of problems if they're not any sharper than they were against ASU. I don't know how TCU plans to move the ball, though, so it only wins a punishing sort of game with scores in the teens or lower, a la the 17-10 win at Oklahoma two years ago.

Honorable Mention: South Florida beat the tar out of something or someone named "Elon" this week while Auburn was struggling to get Kansas State into the prone, quarterback-killing position it finally found itself in at the very end. USF's George Selvie had four sacks on the opening weekend, so with Quentin Groves coming around the end for Auburn, both teams might want to think about a steady diet of screens and draws, for their quarterbacks' sake.
Most Realistic Upset: It's probably not fair to call East Carolina over North Carolina an "upset" after ECU's opening stranglehold on the Virginia Tech offense fell just short of the real thing. The Pirates are athletic on defense and appear to have found a quarterback in Patrick Pinkney, younger brother of just-departed James Pinkney. I doubt we'll see much or any of Rob Kass, the projected starter who missed the opener after a late DWI arrest and was promptly Pipped.
Most Unrealistic Upset: Colorado State's offense had a generally good debut against Colorado, and might be able to find similar holes in Cal's defense. But CSU was also beaten by a redshirt freshman in his first start, working from behind in the second half with a sketchy, usually very predictable running game. Good luck with Nate Longshore, DeSean Jackson, Justin Forsett, LaVelle Hawkins...you get the point.
Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout: The tag-team backfields at West Virginia and Clemson should have a generous route to the end zone Saturday: Slaton and White lead the Mountaineers against Marshall, which just finished allowing 260 yards on the ground to one-dimensional Miami, and C.J. Spiller and James Davis roll up against UL-Monroe, who found the going tough on the ground against Tulsa: the Golden Hurricane ran for 216 in a 35-17 win.