By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — It was at halftime of the Appalachian State-Michigan game in 2007 when renowned sports columnist Mitch Albom pulled up a chair next to me in the Michigan Stadium press box to pick my brain.
After watching the Mountaineers dismantle the Wolverines for 30 minutes to take a 28-17 lead, Albom had a simple question.
“What is the greatest upset by an FCS team all-time?” Albom asked.
Albom was already convinced he might be watching history being made — as was I — and wanted to be prepared.
I told him that my No. 1 win by a Football Championship Subdivision team over a Football Bowl Subdivision squad was The Citadel’s 10-3 win over Arkansas in 1992 — a result that got Razerback coach Jack Crowe fired by Arkansas athletic director and former football coach Frank Broyles the next day.
Of course, Albom and I witnessed Appalachian State beat Michigan in the most dramatic of fashions, 34-32, as Mountaineer star Corey Lynch blocked a field goal on the final play of the game and ASU receiver Dexter Jackson ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
It will may be difficult for that game to ever be topped on the list of FCS-over-FBS upsets, considering the Wolverines were ranked No. 5 in the nation at that time and went on to win the Florida Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day over Tim Tebow and Florida.
But we have never seen four days of football quite like what we watched in the first week of the 2013 season and we may never seen another weekend quite like it again.
A WEEK LIKE NO OTHER
There are years where four or five FCS teams manage to beat FBS opponents in one season, but to see eight of these schools win in four days was incredible. There were a relatively-high 10 games won by FCS squads in these matchups last season — the most since 2003.
Even more stunning was the fact that two teams, North Dakota State and Eastern Washington dumped teams (Kansas State and Oregon State) that were ranked among the top 30 of FBS — as many wins that FCS clubs had accomplished in the previous 36-year history of the subdivision.
Appalachian State’s win over Michigan in 2007 and James Madison’s 21-16 victory over Virginia Tech on the second week of the 2010 campaign were the only FCS wins over Associated Press-ranked opponents.
Some recognize a 14-3 win in 1983 by Cincinnati over No. 20 Penn State as an FCS victory over a ranked team, but even though the Bearcats were temporarily classified as a I-AA squad, they successfully appealed that decision and really didn’t meet modern criteria for FCS schools, playing 10 of 11 games in 1983 against I-A opponents (Cornell was the lone exception).
Oregon State was ranked 25th in the preseason AP poll, while Kansas State came in just out of the ratings at 26th.
That didn’t stop Eastern Washington from coming back in the final seconds for a wild, 49-46 win and NDSU from grinding out an 18-play, eight-and-half-minute drive to finish off its 24-21 triumph.
Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams passed for 411 yards and rushed for 107, including the final two yards with 18 seconds left for the game-winning score. Adams had four TD strikes and ran for two more touchdowns.
Oregon State missed a 52-yard field goal as time expired on a day where Adams and the Eagles rolled up 625 yards of total offense.
EWU dominated FBS Idaho, 20-3, in its opener last season after disappointing losses to Washington (30-27) in 2011 and Washington State (24-20) later in 2012.
COMING THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH
Senior Brock Jensen might not be the flashiest, or most talented quarterback in FCS, but he manages to come up big in the fourth quarter almost every game. His one-yard, second-effort TD blast with 28 second left put the Bison in front after he was 7-for-7 passing and ran for 11 yards on the last, desperation drive.
All-American senior linebacker Grant Olson ended Kansas State’s hopes with an interception as two-time national champion NDSU improved to 7-3 against FBS opponents since moving to FCS in 2006.
The Bison trailed 21-7 with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter, but Jensen passed for 165 yards and Sam Ojuri smashed for 127 yards on just 10 carries to lead NDSU back.
North Dakota State toppled Colorado State (22-7) in 2012, Minnesota (37-24) in 2011, Kansas (6-3) in 2010, Central Michigan (44-14) and Minnesota (27-21) in 2007 and Ball State (29-24) in 2006.
We also saw McNeese State demolish South Florida, 53-21, with a 31-0 outburst in the second quarter leading to the largest winning margin for an FCS unit ever against a team from a Bowl Championship Subdivision team.
The 32-point winning margin bettered Furman’s 28-3 demolition of North Carolina in 1999.
It was the second straight year that those Lake Charles-based Cowboys had thumped an FBS opponent. McNeese State ripped Middle Tennessee State 27-21 last season.
After spotting USF — a one-time FCS team — seven points in the first period, the Cowboys dominated the new American Athletic Conference opponent. Cody Stroud passed 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns and McNeese State rushed for 180 yards.
STAYING WITH TRADITION
Northern Iowa traditionally gives in-state competition like Iowa and Iowa State fits and won for the fourth time since 1992 over the Cyclones, 28-20.
Junior David Johnson gave notice that he is ready to move into the ranks of elite FCS running backs with 199 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground and two more scores on receptions.
Sophomore quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen was an efficient 21-of-28 for 218 yards and those two TD tosses to Johnson.
The Panther defense allowed 410 yards of total offense, but stopped ISU twice in the red zone and forced the Cyclones to settle for field goals.
It was the seventh FBS victory for the Panthers, one off Appalachian State’s record of eight and matching the seven wins of North Dakota State and New Hampshire.
GETTING THEIR KICKS
Southern Utah wasn’t in unfamiliar territory as it downed FBS newcomer South Alabama on a final-play field goal, 22-21.
CSJ preseason All-American Colton Cook drilled a 28-yard kick — his third of the evening — as time expired to lift the Thunderbirds to the victory.
SUU squashed former Montana coach and his UNLV Rebels 41-16 in 2011.
Aaron Cantu passed for 183 yards and a touchdown and Raysean Martin balanced the Thunderbird attack with 23 carries for 107 yards and another score.
LEAVE NO DOUBT
Towson should have presented a game ball to last year’s NCAA Division I football committee chairman Charlie Cobb after the Tigers smashed Connecticut, 33-18.
Former UConn offensive coordinator Rob Ambrose and his team are still furious that they were left out of last year’s playoffs after going 7-2 against FCS opponents, giving LSU all it wanted in a 38-22 loss in Death Valley, winning a share of the Colonial Athletic Association crown in back-to-back years and beating New Hampshire, 64-35, in their final regular-season game.
Somehow Cobb’s committee responded to that final statement by awarding UNH a playoff bid and a first-round bye, while keeping Towson at home. That was the motivation behind the “Leave No Doubt” slogan the Tigers have adopted since then.
After allowing a touchdown on UConn’s second possession, Towson’s rock-solid defense kept the Huskies out of the end zone the rest of the way, while Terrance West was banging out 156 yards and a pair of TDs on 36 carries.
Eastern Illinois showed off its high-powered offense by hammering San Diego State, 40-19. The Panthers, coming off an Ohio Valley Conference championship last year, dominated the Aztecs 21-3 in the second half to pull away.
Jimmy Garoppolo hit 31-of-46 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to All-American receiver Erik Lora (10 catches overall) as EIU took charge.
Two big plays allowed the Panthers to close it out in the fourth period. Shephard Little scampered 60 yards for a punt-return touchdown and Taylor Duncan (20 carries, 92 yards) raced 45 yards for another score.
Samford is a veteran squad that many folks think will compete for the Southern Conference championship this season. So it wasn’t particularly surprising that the Bulldogs dumped first-year FBS program Georgia State, 31-21.
GSU didn’t win a game last season in the final year of its brief FCS experience.
But it was a nice gift to coach and former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, who was back home recovering from cervical fusion surgery.
All-American Fabian Truss started things off for Samford with a 100-yard TD return on the opening kickoff. But the Bulldogs needed a 24-point run in the second half to come back from a 14-7 deficit.
Jaquinski Tartt began the comeback with a 33-yard interception return for a score to tie the game early in the third period and Truss’s second touchdown on a one-yard blast put the Bulldogs ahead for good in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Georgia State QB Ronnie Bell passed for 392 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. It was the first game for former Indiana State coach Trent Miles, who replaced Bill Curry at GSU.
There could have easily been other FCS-over-FBS wins last week.
William & Mary was heartbroken for the second straight year in a 24-17 loss to West Virginia. The Tribe led 17-7 at halftime, but the Mountaineers tied it with 10 third-quarter points and won it on Wendall Smallwood’s two-yard smash with 3:22 to play.
The Tribe lost its opener to Maryland, 7-6, last year.
It was a similar story for Liberty, which saw a potential BCS win slip away late to Wake Forest last year, 20-17. This time, Kent State scored 10 points in the fourth quarter after trailing most of the way for a 17-10 victory.
Chris Humphrey hauled in a pass for 42 yards and a tie-breaking TD with 4:28 remaining to lift the Golden Flashes to the win.
Kent State had beaten Towson, 41-21, in its opener in 2012.
Howard led Eastern Michigan 24-13 late in the third quarter before the Eagles scored 21 points in the final 16 minutes for a 34-24 victory.
Quarterback Greg McGhee passed for 182 yards and had a third-period TD throw and rushed for 93 yards and another score in the third quarter for the Bison.
Villanova led Boston College, 14-7, at the half before the Eagles came back to grind out a 24-14 victory.
The Wildcats were hampered by four turnovers, though quarterback John Robertson had 262 yards of total offense.
Southern Illinois came back from deficits of 25-7 at the half and 39-17 late in the third period to trail by eight in the final seconds.
Quarterback Kory Faulkner drove the Salukis to the Illini three with 44 seconds left, but Faulkner’s fourth-down pass sailed beyond the reach of a leaping Adam Fuehne in the end zone to seal SIU’s fate.
One of the top intersectional rivalries in FCS has been the Montana-Appalachian State series, which featured three classic games — two in the playoff semifinals — that were settled in the final moments.
But what is likely the final meeting between the two, as ASU moves to FBS next season, was anything but competitive as Montana stormed to a 30-6 victory before a record crowd of 26,293 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Quarterback Jordan Johnson, who was forced to miss all of last season before being acquitted of controversial rape charges, returned to the Grizzlies to complete his first 12 passes on the way to hitting 19-of-23 attempts for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
Ironically, it was a transfer from another old ASU rival, Marshall, that also damaged the Mountaineer hopes. Travon Van rushed 20 times for 118 yards and a touchdown as the Grizzlies took a 16-3 lead in the first half and pulled away.
Montana’s defense held ASU without a touchdown as the Mountaineers introduced new head coach Scott Satterfield after 24 years under Jerry Moore.
That win doesn’t count as an FCS vs FBS victory for Montana, but it was just as sweet on a remarkable opening week of play.