By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Short of winning a real, earned-on-the-field national championship, there is almost nothing more exhilarating for a Football Championship Subdivision team than scoring a victory over one of their counterparts from a Football Bowl Subdivision squad, or better yet one of those Bowl Championship Series schools.
Four teams from FCS reached those heights last week, McNeese State (27-21 over Middle Tennessee State), Eastern Washington (20-3 vs Idaho), Youngstown State (31-17 against Pittsburgh) and Tennessee-Martin (20-17 at Memphis).
But as thrilling as those victories were, close losses for teams such as Liberty (coming up short, 20-17, at Wake Forest), William & Mary (a 7-6 heartbreaking loss at Maryland), Northern Iowa (falling short in a 26-21 comeback at Wisconsin), Wagner (narrowly losing 7-3 to Florida Atlantic) and Indiana State (barely stumbling 24-17 at Indiana), were every bit as excruciating.
As we head to week two of the season, we are almost sure to see more euphoria and more agony as this football year plays out.
LIBERTY RUNS OUT OF TIME
This writer took in four FCS vs FBS games last week, trying to mine one of those upset gems.
Towson self-destructed in a 41-21 loss at Kent State and Villanova couldn't match Temple's speed in a 41-10 defeat at Lincoln Financial Field, the NFL home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Appalachian State challenged East Carolina for three quarters, despite brutal heat and humidity and almost as bad officiating.
The Mountaineers were down 14-13 late in the third period when a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — complete with what should have been a holding penalty for the final block — helped wilt Appalachian.
That left me with one last chance to witness an upset in person — Liberty at Wake Forest.
And it went down to the wire before Wake Forest held on for a 20-17 victory.
"All in all, it was a scary night and we were lucky to get a win," said Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe. "Whether it is 3-0, or 49-0, it is good to get a win."
At least a rain storm that started at the opening kickoff and lasted for most of the first half brought down the heat that had scorched North Carolina earlier in the day.
Liberty took an early 7-0 lead on a 37-yard TD pass from first-time starter Brian Hudson (20-of-37 for 267 yards and two TDs passing) to Elliott Dutra, who was making his first career catch.
The Flame defense made it tough for the Demon Deacon attack the rest of the way, allowing only one sustained touchdown drive.
Outside of nine receptions from Wake Forest wide out Michael Campanaro for 92 yards, the Demonized Deacons found little help against the solid and consistent Liberty defense.
Hudson did enough things right, throwing a second TD aerial on a 12-yard swing pass to running back Sirchauncey Holloway to help the Flames to a 14-7 lead early in the third period — an advantage that held until one critical Hudson mistake late in that quarter.
Hudson forced a pass into coverage and A.J. Marshall returned it 39 yards for a touchdown that tied the game for Wake Forest with 4:16 left in the third stanza.
The Deacons then added a two-yard scoring surge from Deandre Martin, but botched the snap on the extra point to go up 20-14 with 13:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Liberty looked unpressured as it marched down to set up a 49-yard field goal by freshman John Lunsford with 9:39 left.
The remarkably poised and strong-legged Lunsford — who went to the same Evangel Christian High School that produced Appalachian State icon Corey Lynch — narrowly missed from 51 yards on the final play of the first half and his presence gave the Flames hope for at least a tie as they stopped Wake Forest and earned one final possession late in the game.
Hudson quickly moved Liberty into striking distance and was within a couple of first downs of Lunsford's extended field-goal range when the Deacon defense finally closed down Hudson's passing lanes to preserve a very hard-fought win.
Despite the loss in new coach Turner Gill's first game, the Flames could take heart that their defense should keep them in every game and that the inexperienced offense has the talent to get better.
"I'm proud of the way our guys played," said Gill, who moves to Liberty after head coaching stops at Buffalo and Kansas. "We did a lot of good things."
A lot of those "good things" came on defense.
"I was hoping we would tackle well," said Gill. "I think tackling was the key thing. They are going to give a great effort."
Gill's positive demeanor was short-lived when he suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday with the death of his mother, one of his biggest supporters in a tremendous career as a quarterback at Nebraska and now as a coach.
OTHER NEAR MISSES
William & Mary was tremendous on defense, forcing four Maryland turnovers and limiting the Terrapins to 236 yards.
An interception by DeAndre Houston-Carson and another by All-American safety Brian Thompson set up a pair of Drake Kuhn field goals from 30 and 22 yards to give the Tribe a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.
But William & Mary's offense was held to 229 yards — just 104 on the ground — and the Tribe was unable to build on that early advantage.
Maryland finally put together a drive in the fourth quarter and Justus Pickett scored from six yards out to tie the score with 9:52 remaining. Brad Craddock's PAT gave the Terrapins the lead.
On its final two possessions, William & Mary advanced to the Maryland 49 before being forced to punt and to its own 40 before turning the ball over on downs.
Northern Iowa used a late comeback to make Wisconsin nervous.
Sawyer Kollmorgen, a redshirt freshman, made his first game a memorable one when he nearly led the Panthers to an upset win over BCS powerhouse Wisconsin.
Kollmorgen fired a pair of touchdown passes to running back David Johnson in the fourth quarter to turn a 26-7 deficit into a 26-21 game before UNI ran out of time in a narrow loss at historic Camp Randall Stadium.
Just the fifth freshman to start at quarterback in Panther history, Kollmorgen completed 18-of-34 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns against the defending Big Ten champion.
After getting the game within five points, UNI could not get the ball back in the final 2:46. Montee Bell raced 13 yards on first down and the Badgers ran three more plays to finish off the win.
THE NUMBERS GAME
Despite a disadvantage in scholarship levels, 85-40, Wagner made its first game against an FBS opponent a memorable one.
Wagner controlled Florida Atlantic most of the way last Friday, taking a 3-0 lead in the second period on David Lopez's 30-yard field goal.
The Seahawk defense kept the athletic Florida Atlantic squad off the scoreboard until backup quarterback Graham Wilbert came on to toss a 39-yard TD strike to Byron Hankerson with 11:36 remaining.
The Owls were trying to run out the clock with a fourth and goal situation from the one when a fumble forced by Blake Bascom could have made for a shocking finish in the final 20 seconds.
But rather than grab the ball and run for the opposite goal line, Wagner defender Trevor Loveland fell on the fumble at the four and Wagner ran out of time with some desperation passes at the end.
Wagner move the ball to the FAU 49 before being forced to punt on the drive following the touchdown and the Owls went on an 18-play march from its own 20 to the Seahawk one to run off most of the game clock.
MY INDIANA HOME
Shakir Bell showed why he is considered one of the top running backs in FCS and why he was a runner-up for the Walter Payton Award last season as he nearly sparked Indiana State to a victory over Indiana.
It took everything the Hoosiers had in the final period to hang on for a 24-17 win.
Bell rushed 24 times for 192 yards and a touchdown, including a 103-yard effort and a 54-yard touchdown scamper to give the Sycamores an early lead in the first quarter.
Mike Perish, a transfer from Western Michigan held ISU's cause with 20-of-31 passing for 211 yards and one TD, but with one interception.
Indiana State failed on drives to the Hoosier 35, 42 and 36 in the fourth quarter with Indiana clinging to a seven-point lead after Austin Wozniak had scored on a 23-yard strike from Perish with 5:14 left in the third stanza.
Tre Roberson (26-of-36 passing, 280 yards) passed for one TD and ran for another to lift the Hoosiers to the victory.
THE FBS SUCCESS STORIES
We talked last week about McNeese State's shove-the-ball-down-your-throats performance against Middle Tennessee State and Eastern Washington's statement win against Idaho, proving to everyone that the Vandals really need to reconsider a drop back to FCS and the Big Sky Conference.
One sure way to make sure you close out a win over an FBS club is to forge a lead and then ram the ball down your opponent's throat, like McNeese State did on Thursday.
The Cowboys rolled to a 24-6 lead in the third period as Cody Stroud passed for 139 yards and a touchdown and Marcus Wiltz smashed for 105 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Middle Tennessee State, another member of the FCS alumni club, rallied to within six points with five minutes to play, but Stroud and company made sure the Blue Raiders never got the ball back.
McNeese State methodically ran the ball down the field on its final drive to close out the game and finished the contest with a 298-103 ground advantage.
The Big Sky took a bold stand in inviting Idaho to rejoin the league earlier this summer as the Western Athletic Conference began its final collapse like a black hole.
And on Thursday, Eastern Washington showed why the Vandals should seriously consider a move back down to FCS with a 20-3 thrashing of this old Big Sky rival.
SMU transfer quarterback Kyle Padron was just 13-of-33, but he threw for 260 yards and one touchdown to scorch the Idaho defense.
Brandon Kaufman, the MVP of EWU's 2011 national championship run, showed he is ready to reclaim his perch as one of the top receivers in FCS, making five acrobatic catches for 148 yards to spark the Eagles' attack.
Eastern Washington's defense held Idaho to a field goal on an early drive and then didn't allow the Vandals to score again. It was 10-3 at halftime and the Eagles closed things out with 10 more points in the second half.
But little did we know that we would be celebrating two other FCS thunderbolts over FBS opponents.
Youngstown State gave notice that it might be a team to keep an eye on last season when it handed North Dakota State its only loss (27-24) of the 2011 championship campaign — not only that, but also doing it at the Fargodome.
The Penguins turned around and lost the next week at home to a poor Missouri State club, 38-34, to knock YSU out of the playoffs.
But Youngstown State — one of the most storied programs in FCS history, with four national titles and six championship-game appearances in the 1990s — showed it might have its best team since a 2006 run to the NCAA semifinals.
Not only did the Penguins beat Pittsburgh, they dominated the Pitt Panthers, 31-17.
Andre Stubbs, who missed all but three games last season and earned an injury redshirt for his freshman season was awesome with six carries for 71 yards rushing, four catches, 61 yards receiving, two kickoff returns for 40 yards and 172 all-purpose yards.
Kurt Hess, expected to be one of the top quarterbacks in FCS this season was an efficient 13-of-23 for 154 yards and two TDs, but the big stat for him was zero interceptions.
Stubbs and Hess hooked up on a 27-yard scoring play midway through the first period for the first Penguin touchdown and YSU never trailed in the game.
While YSU was perfect in protecting the ball, the Penguin defense forced two Pitt fumbles and recovered them both.
The only reason that the Panthers were close to YSU in total offense (381-369 in YSU's favor) was that they fell behind and had to repeatedly pass to try to get back into the game.
Youngstown State beat Pitt on the ground, 204-130, while the Panthers had a 239-177 advantage in passing. The Penguins also had 10 more minutes of possession time than Pitt.
YSU's star running back Jamaine Cook showed he had other skills by throwing a 23-yard TD pass to Will Shaw early in the third quarter to break the game open at 21-10.
Tennessee-Martin might have been coming off a losing season, but the Skyhawks kept their cool through several hours of weather delays to stun Memphis, 20-17, on Cody Sandlin's 43-yard field goal with four seconds left.
Composure was indeed the key for UT-Martin. Memphis tied the score at 17-all with 52 seconds to play when Jacob Karam hit Marcus Rucker for a 20-yard pass in the end zone.
But UTM quarterback Derek Carr, who was 19-of-38 for 211 yards, calmly marched the Skyhawks back into scoring range and Sandlin sealed the deal.
Both sides were hurt by three turnovers each, but Carr threw a nine-yard TD pass to Quentin Sims in the second quarter and D.J. McNeil plowed into the end zone from five yards out to give the Skyhawks a 14-10 lead with 4:45 left in the third period.
Sandlin extended the lead to seven points with under five minutes to play with a 26-yard field goal to set up the late fireworks.
UT-Martin held a 392-359 edge in total offense, winning the passing battle 221-157. Memphis had a 202-181 advantage on the ground, but Sandlin proved to be the difference.
FCS VS FBS/GAME OF THE WEEK
Eastern Washington at Washington State
Can the Eagles make it two FBS wins in a row — North Dakota State and The Citadel are the only ones to pull off two FBS victories in one year — in a game that has plenty of intrigue?
EWU beat Idaho soundly last week and came within a Bo Levi Mitchell intercepted pass at the goal line of knocking off Washington last year. The Eagles held a 2-1 advantage in total offense in that frustrating loss.
Playing practically in it backyard, EWU hasn't faced Washington State in 104, losing 73-0 to the Cougars in 1908. But Kyle Padron, the Eagles' second transfer quarterback in a row from SMU, did lead the Mustangs to a 35-21 win over WSU in 2010.
Padron struggled at times in his first EWU game against Idaho, but has probably the best group of receivers in FCS with Brandon Kaufman, Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd.
Kaufman, the Eagles' MVP of the 2010 national championship run, had a brilliant game against Idaho after missing most of 2011 with injuries.
Furthering the interest in this game is the fact that most of the Cougar players were recruited by former EWU coach Paul Wulff, who was fired last December and replaced by ex-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
An interesting side note on Leach is that he was nearly named offensive coordinator at Villanova back in the 1990s. Wildcat coach Andy Talley hired now-Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson instead to coach players such as Payton Award winners Brian Finneran and Brian Westbrook.
Leach's first Washington State game was a 30-6 loss last week to BYU. But Leach beat EWU 49-24 when he was the coach at Texas Tech in 2008.
EWU is a solid 8-20 all-time against FBS opponents, but Washington State has never lost to an FCS team in 16 tries.
FCS VS FBS, PART DEUX
Among the other teams trying to make their marks as underdogs this weekend will be the following teams against their FBS opponents:
New Hampshire at Minnesota
The Wildcats from New England had won against FBS opponents for five consecutive years until losing last season. And Minnesota, coached by former Eddie Robinson Award winner and Southern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, has struggled to hold off schools like North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State in recent years.
The Gophers lost to North Dakota State twice in recent years, including last year and nearly dropped a third game to the defending-national-champion Bison.
South Dakota stunned Minnesota on this very weekend in 2010, while South Dakota State lost by just three points in heartbreaking fashion in 2009.
There are still questions for defending Buchanan Award winner Matt Evans and the New Hampshire defense, but what concern the Wildcats had at quarterback were relieved by the performance of redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich, who went 21-of-31 passing for 193 and two TDs, 10 carries for a team-high 71 yards rushing in a 38-17 victory at Holy Cross.
Coach Sean McDonnell's New Hampshire club beat Rutgers in 2004, Northwestern in 2006, Marshall in 2007, Army in 2008 and Ball State in 2009 before seeing the streak snapped in a loss to Pittsburgh in 2010.
Maine at Boston College
The Black Bears open the season with tons of experience everywhere but at quarterback and the two safety positions after a run to the FCS quarterfinals last year.
And they return senior inside linebacker Donte Dennis, who missed all of last season with an injury, along with one of the top defensive ends in FCS, Michael Cole.
After nearly knocking off Pittsburgh last season, the Black Bears could be a dangerous opponent for Boston College.
Illinois State at Eastern Michigan
EMU is always suspect as an opponent of a good FCS team and No. 21 Illinois State is dangerous with the likes of strong-armed senior quarterback Matt Brown.
Southern Illinois at Miami (Ohio)
The Salukis have tumbled from being one of the top programs in FCS to a team in trouble since going to the FCS semifinals in 2007 and the quarterfinals in 2005-06 and 2009.
Coach Dale Lennon, who replaced program-rejuvenator Jerry Kill, probably needs to have a winning season to survive. A win over Miami would be like a shot of adrenaline for the program, but is unlikely.
Austin Peay at Virginia Tech
The Hokies learned their lesson with a 21-16 loss to James Madison two years this weekend. Virginia Tech left no doubt last year against FCS powerhouse Appalachian State, winning 66-13, and playing against a building program from Austin Peay won't prove much of a challenge.
Southern Utah at California
The Thunderbirds earned an FBS scalp against former Montana coach Bobby Hauck and UNLV last season and routinely take on as many FBS opponents as anyone in the FCS ranks.
Brad Sorenson is the top NFL prospect among FCS quarterbacks and could challenge Elon receiver Aaron Mellette for the honor of being the first FCS player chosen in the 2013 NFL draft, but he will have his hands full with coach Jeff Tedford's Cal Golden Bears.
Sacramento State at Colorado
The Hornets had one of the best FBS wins of the 2011 season with a stunning 29-28 victory against Oregon State, before slipping to 4-7 in an injury-ravaged campaign.
The Buffaloes have been vulnerable in the past in these games — anyone in Boulder remember Montana State? — but SSU is of unknown quality so far.
Weber State at Brigham Young
The Wildcats came up short to a good Fresno State squad, 37-10, last Saturday and should struggle even more against a talented BYU unit, even though Mike Hoke is a solid QB for WSU.
Howard at Rutgers
Rutgers remembers losses to Villanova and New Hampshire a few years back, but should be able to handle a rebuilding Howard program that is still missing several suspended players, including the best linebacker in FCS, Keith Pough.
Georgia State at Tennessee
Most folks in the FCS ranks thought that Georgia State was crazy for announcing a move to the Sun Belt Conference and FBS this summer after completing only two seasons of football thus far.
The Panthers showed how far they have to go as they were pounded 33-6 by a strong South Carolina State squad last week and they will learn even further of how far the gap between the big boys and GSU is when Tennessee shows up at Neyland Stadium with around 100,000 fans on hand.
Savannah State at Florida State
No "body-bag" game will get as much derision this weekend as this matchup between one of the top programs in the BCS and one of the bottom feeders in FCS.
Florida State comes in as nearly 71-point favorites, going against a Tiger squad that lost 84-0 to Oklahoma State last week. At least SSU is getting paid well for the second week in a row to take another beating.
Florida A&M at Oklahoma
The Racers pulled off one of the all-time FCS upsets when they beat the cross-state rival Miami Hurricanes under coach Rudy Hubbard in 1979, a year after winning the first FCS national title.
But the Joe Taylor-coached FAMU squad is facing an even more storied program as it goes to historic Owen Field to take on the Sooners. The Racers lost money games to Miami (Florida) 45-0 in 2010 and 70-17 to South Florida last season and are coming off disappointing 17-14 loss to Tennessee State last weekend.
Western Carolina at Marshall
The Catamounts scored one of the first-ever victories at Marshall Stadium back in the 1990s and regularly gave the Thundering Herd fits during Marshall's Southern Conference days.
WCU earned a 49-14 victory over Mars Hill last week in the debut of new coach Mark Speir, but this young, improving squad probably doesn't have enough bodies to stay up with Marshall in this one.
Tennessee-Martin at Northern Illinois
One of the most well-liked coaches in the FCS ranks when he was at Southern Illinois, Jerry Kill left a good foundation at NIU before leaving for Minnesota. The Huskies even made it to a bowl game last season.
But Tennessee-Martin is looking to go two-for-two against FBS opponents following that stunning win at Memphis last Saturday night.
Grambling at TCU
The Grambling Tigers lost a surprising 22-21 decision to Alcorn State at home last Saturday in their SWAC opener and now coach Doug Williams faces the challenge of getting his team ready for one of the top programs in FBS.
Eastern Illinois at Western Michigan
The Panthers said goodbye to the era of legendary coach Bob Spoo and began a new era with a solid 49-28 victory over in-state rival Southern Illinois last week.
Jimmy Garoppolo was one of the College Sports Journal national players of the week after throwing for 369 yards on 32-of-49 completions and five touchdown.
EIU will need another performance like that from Garoppolo and company to keep up with a Western Michigan program that has been competitive in the Mid-American Conference in recent years.
UC Davis at San Jose State
This is the final season for coach Bob Biggs, a one-time quarterback star at UCD, and almost nothing would make him happier than another win over an FBS opponent.
With Randy Wright slinging the ball around at QB and playing a Spartan team that has struggled through the years against FCS opponents, the Aggies should have a shot at this one. Anybody remember Stanford a few years ago?
Northern Arizona at UNLV
NAU coach Jerome Souers never had much success when Bobby Hauck was the coach at Montana, but this should be a competitive battle.
The Lumberjacks are coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, but will be playing a UNLV club that is closer to NAU in terms of talent. And, of course, the Rebels still remember that pounding they took against Southern Utah last season.
UNLV will need to slow down Zac Bauman, one of the top returning running backs in FCS.