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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Overall, Not a Banner Weekend for F.B.S.

Over the course of last year’s opening weekend, F.B.S. teams went a combined 36-2 against F.C.S. opponents. The two losses: Oregon State to Sacramento State (29-28) and Duke to Richmond (23-21). There were other close calls, including Washington’s flirtation with disaster against Eastern Washington, Iowa State’s near-loss experience to Northern Iowa and UTEP’s overtime victory against Stony Brook.

The point: F.B.S. teams have owned F.C.S. opponents, by and large, but with a few examples at our disposal, F.C.S. teams have narrowed the gap over the last two or three seasons. That’s one way to explain what occurred over the past weekend, from Thursday to Saturday. Not that it makes the weekend any less inexplicable.

Four teams lost to an F.C.S. foe: Middle Tennessee State to McNeese State (27-21), Idaho to Eastern Washington (20-3), Pittsburgh to Youngstown State (31-17) and Memphis to Tennessee-Martin (20-17). Another five teams beat an F.C.S. opponent by a touchdown or less: Indiana, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Maryland and Florida Atlantic.

The big-picture takeaway from the season’s opening weekend was the exponentially larger number of ugly losses suffered by teams on the F.B.S. level – or the overall ugliness of several victories. That eight teams struggled putting away F.C.S. opponents – the F.B.S. went 31-4 overall in such games – speaks to the increased level of competitiveness across the entirety of college football.

Or does it? These games say more about the F.B.S. teams in question than their F.C.S. counterparts; in every case but Wisconsin, you’re looking at an also-ran, if not worse. What else does nearly every team share? Outside of Wake Forest, each team entered 2012 dealing with coaching or massive personnel turnover.

Middle Tennessee State is a mess – which is why Rick Stockstill isn’t long for Murfreesboro. Idaho is dealing with a quarterback quandary, not to mention the off-field expansion-related news that has plagued the program since the early summer. Pittsburgh is breaking in a new coaching staff.

As if Florida Atlantic, which beat Wagner, 7-6. Once again, Indiana is the youngest team in major college football. Maryland’s already thin roster has been further decimated by injuries, especially at quarterback. Even Wisconsin is breaking in a new starter under center while retooling its coaching staff.

You can take this a step further – including B.C.S. conference teams that lost to supposedly inferior competition off of the F.B.S. level. Colorado State topped Colorado, making Jim McElwain the first first-year coach in program history to top the Buffaloes. California lost at home to Nevada; as an aside, the last time Nevada topped the Golden Bears in September it went on to win 13 games.

Houston lost to Texas State. Florida had its hands full with Bowling Green. Likewise with Minnesota, Stanford, Iowa and Rutgers, with U.N.L.V., San Jose State, Northern Illinois and Tulane, respectively. Simply put, it wasn’t a banner weekend for the F.B.S. – you could even say it was one of the worst opening weekends in recent memory.

Mark it down to… what? Opening-week jitters? That’s one option, and when combined with new-staff jitters, it makes for a tidy explanation. One example: Pittsburgh wasn’t just stepping onto the field under Paul Chryst, but stepping onto the field with the program’s third full-time coach in as many years. Florida Atlantic might even get worse under Carl Pelini before it gets better; while those who watched the Owls a year ago might say that it can’t get any worse, Pelini knows that he needs to build F.A.U. from the bottom up.

Or are there more bad teams in the F.B.S. than most originally believed? It’s too early to go that far – though I’m tempted to throw Pittsburgh and Colorado into the same boat with Memphis, South Alabama, Akron and others, it’s more likely that these B.C.S. conference programs simply need time to gather themselves before entering conference play.

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  1. Bill Condon says:

    My impression, too, Paul, was that there was an unusual amount of just sloppy football being played in the opening “weekend.” Georgia won comfortably, yes, but Buffalo was far more effective than it should have been against such an opponent–a #6 vs a #110. I wonder whether some number of such games were affected by the ever more severe internal disciplinary crackdowns. Georgia played without 1 injured and 5 suspended starters on defense. Perhaps that explains why Buffalo’s QB, Zordich, had such an open field whenever he took off.

    Of course, some teams played even more lowly programs and won by huge scores. But how many of those FBS vs FBS games might have been more sloppily played because of missing players? That seems like a big category.

    The one team I saw that was in mid-season form was Alabama. Michigan might have looked a bit better without their two suspended starters, but an amazingly well-coached Bama squad owned that game.

  2. Dan says:

    Nice summary Paul.

    @ Bill Some good points Mr Condon. I thought the Buffalo QB looked very good as well. Expected that game to be over quick. Lot of first week jitters/kinks out there.

    Seeing a lot of love for Alabama, and was proud they won handily, but Denard just cannot throw the ball consistently well. If he hit his open recievers the game is closer. Makes you wonder about the Arkansas game coming up in a couple weeks.

  3. Zach says:

    I don’t know if I’d put the Rutgers at tulane game in this category. Rutgers never trailed and the Tulane offense was made completely one dimensional (8 yards rushing). Ryan Griffin played like the senior he is against a Rutgers defense that looked intentionally vanilla; the same could be said of the playbook used on the other side of the ball. While watching it I never thought the outcome was in doubt, if that’s what you’re implying by including it above.

  4. OwlFamily says:

    Hey Paul,

    Just a clarification note. Florida Atlantic beat Wagner 7-3.

    Still an “Ugly” win but neverthless a win.

    Love your sight.

    GO OWLS!

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