Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Beating FBS teams was all the rage last year when FCS schools brought them down a peg a record 16 times, including eight times on the season's first weekend.
Understandably, FCS conferences spent this past offseason trumpeting that they're closer to the bottom half of the FBS than the schools in those conferences are to the power conference schools which are seeking more autonomy.
That notion may be true when you're talking financials, but there's also something about walking the walk on the playing fields when you're talking the talk.
On this opening weekend of the 2014 college football season, the gap was evident. FCS teams were humbled by the FBS, winning only two of the 46 meetings between the two levels of Division I football.
Of course, there were highlights for the FCS. Three-time reigning FCS champion North Dakota State made it five straight seasons with a win over an FBS opponent, routing Iowa State, 34-14, and Bethune-Cookman tripped FIU once again, 14-12. Villanova (Syracuse) and Abilene Christian (Georgia State) coulda, shoulda, woulda had upsets, while Central Arkansas made it real interesting at Texas Tech, as did the likes of Western Carolina (South Florida), Montana (Wyoming) and Morgan State (Eastern Michigan).
But there were the usual drubbings, too, including Austin Peay, Delaware and Arkansas-Pine Bluff by a combined 190-0.
As tremendous as the 2013 season was for the FCS, its record against FBS opponents still ended up 16-92. That stat alone puts the gap in perspective.
This year's Week 1 results further accentuated it.
SECOND AND 10
While the lack of FCS success against the FBS stood out, there were many other observations from Week 1. Here are 10 more:
- One of the great questions of the preseason was whether Eastern Washington's veteran squad deserved to be ranked No. 1 over North Dakota State, which entered the season on a 24-game roll and coming off a third straight national title but had to replace 12 starters, 24 seniors and its head coach. The voters in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 did just that, giving EWU 82 first- place votes over NDSU's 62. But it's apparent the composed Bison, who blasted Iowa State, should be ranked No. 1 until they are beaten.
- Any ranked FCS team that wasn't playing FBS competition knew how to schedule on opening weekend (think: easy). They went 9-1 with six of the winners allowing 10 or fewer points.
- North Dakota State's Chris Klieman had to share the nod for the most impressive win of the weekend by a new head coach. Central Connecticut State. coming off a 4-8 season, won at 2013 FCS national runner-up Towson, 31-27, in Pete Rossomando's debut.
- Central Connecticut State wasn't the only surprise from the Northeast Conference, which turned what appeared to be a sure losing weekend into a winning one. Bryant also upset a CAA Football squad, Stony Brook, 13-7. Sacred Heart and Wagner posted wins on the NEC's 4-3 weekend, and one of the losses was Duquesne's tight affair against FBS member Buffalo.
- In the race toward being the top FCS conference, the Missouri Valley looked a lot stronger than the CAA. Besides the NDSU win, Northern Iowa (Iowa) and Youngstown State (Illinois) were particularly valiant against FCS competition, while the CAA had one of its more regrettable weeks.
- Grambling State was happy to have a fresh start no matter the result on Saturday (which was a 42-27 loss to Lamar). New coach Broderick Fobbs continues to deliver healing at his alma mater after the Tigers went through a tumultuous 2013 season, including their forfeit to Jackson State during a six- day player walkout regarding conditions in the program.
- A strong rushing offense, a stingy defense and winning the turnover battle are time-tested formulas of winning teams. Through Saturday's action, 12 of the top 13 teams in rushing offense and the top 11 and 17 of the top 18 in total defense were Week 1 winners. But, strangely, only four of the top 11 teams in turnover margin collected wins.
- The fallout of injuries will take its toll all season. For instance, among quarterbacks, Delaware State's Esayah Obado (back, leg) didn't even make his team's travel roster in Week 1, South Dakota State's Austin Sumner (foot) didn't make it through the first quarter against Missouri and will be reportedly sidelined for 6-8 weeks, and Furman's Reese Hannon (fractured ankle) was lost for the remainder of the season.
- If Zach Zenner can rush for 103 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri, what is the South Dakota State running back going to do against Wisconsin- Oshkosh next month? Everyone's All-American, who is 115 yards from becoming the all-time leading rusher in the Missouri Valley Conference, is trying to become the first FCS player to rush for 2,000 yards in three seasons.
- The MEAC-SWAC meetings of North Carolina A&T-Alabama A&M and Florida A&M- Jackson State on opening weekend made too much sense for the FCS' two traditionally black college conferences not to have frequent matchups. Sadly, only one other meeting is scheduled this season - Grambling State at Bethune- Cookman on Sept. 13.
WEEK 1 SCOREBOARD
A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/nw8y3lz.
The full FCS scoreboard can be found at http://tinyurl.com/pmg6o2b.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Stock Rising - Quarterbacks on the Walter Payton Award Watch List are off to flying starts, led by Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams, Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett, Fordham's Michael Nebrich, Villanova's John Robertson, Coastal Carolina's Alex Ross and Richmond's Michael Strauss.
Stock Falling - If you were looking for a dark horse to come out of CAA Football, you might have settled on Delaware, Stony Brook or James Madison in the preseason. All three were left stuck at the starter's line with flat tires. Delaware managed only 64 yards and five first downs in its 62-0 loss to Pittsburgh - the Blue Hens' first shutout defeat since 1996. Stony Brook was without senior running back Marcus Coker, who was serving a one-game team suspension, in its 13-7 loss to Bryant. James Madison allowed the first 45 points of coach Everett Withers' debut and lost 52-7 at Maryland.
Southern Utah sophomore linebacker Chinedu Ahanonu collected 28 tackles in the Thunderbirds' 28-19 loss to Nevada.
One can't hit the panic button after one week of action, so our preseason playoff field stays intact for the most part.
But, Towson, you're out, and Southern Illinois, you're in.
Projected playoff field - automatic qualifiers: Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Washington, Fordham, Jacksonville State, New Hampshire, North Dakota State, Sacred Heart, San Diego, South Carolina State and Southeastern Louisiana; at-large bids: Eastern Illinois, Furman, Liberty, McNeese State, Montana, Montana State, Northern Iowa, Richmond, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Tennessee State, Villanova and William & Mary.
A LOOK AHEAD
The FCS schedule appears to get stronger in Week 2 next Saturday.
Ranked FCS teams should square off for the first time when Fordham travels to Villanova and Jacksonville State visits Chattanooga. The Southern Illinois at Eastern Illinois matchup also figures to be a battle of ranked teams if the visiting Salukis move into The Sports Network FCS Top 25 this week.
Among the other key non-conference games are James Madison at Lehigh; Tennessee State at Alabama State; Delaware State at Delaware; Duquesne at Youngstown State; William & Mary at Hampton; Coastal Carolina at North Carolina A&T; UT Martin at Central Arkansas; Lafayette at Sacred Heart; Southern Utah at Southeastern Louisiana; and Cal Poly at South Dakota State.
There are 29 more FCS-FBS matchups, including Eastern Washington at Washington, The Citadel at FBS No. 1 Florida State, Sam Houston State at LSU, Richmond at Virginia, Towson at West Virginia, Stony Brook at Connecticut, McNeese State at Nebraska, South Carolina State at Clemson, Missouri State at Oklahoma State, Eastern Kentucky at Miami (Ohio), Sacramento State at Cal, and Gardner-Webb at Wake Forest
Mercer will play its first Southern Conference game by hosting Furman, while Incarnate Word will play its first Southland Conference game when it visits Stephen F. Austin.