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Permalink 10/02/08 , The CSN Way, CSN Columns

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The CSN Way: The 'P' Word

floated rightBy Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist

Nobody likes to hear it. Everyone likes to talk about the number of close games there were last weekend, or how close FCS teams came to upsetting FBS teams, or that “on any given Saturday, any team can beat any other team.”

But they’re all basically demonstrating the same thing. Demonstrated by the twenty close games last weekend, there’s only one ‘P’ word that can be used to describe the field this year - parity.

...

Truths, Damned Truths, and Statistics

The Massey ratings, according to their website, attempt to “achieve a reasonable balance between rewarding teams for wins, convincing wins, and playing a tough schedule.” To this end, Massey rates every team playing college football: from Division I FBS teams down to tiny NAIA teams. “Only the score, venue, and date of each game are used to calculate the Massey ratings,” in addition to strength of schedule it says on their website.

(On Massey’s website, he computes two different ratings: one using the original formula, and one using a factor called “Margin of Victory". The Gridiron Power Index, or GPI, uses Massey’s formula with the “MOV” component as part of its calculation. The rankings used here are the Massey ratings with the MOV component included.)

In his system, he keeps a “parity rating” for every conference in FCS as well as the conference itself. A “parity rating” of 1 signifies perfect competitive balance: that on any given Saturday anyone can really beat anyone else.

What his ratings tell us is fascinating: At the end of last year, all of FCS had a parity of 51%. This year, up to this point? 71%.

If you look at Massey’s raw numbers, this explanation is borne out. Massey attempts to rank all college football schools in all divisions through his formula. At the end of 2007, the highest-rated FCS school was Appalachian State (#43) and the lowest-rated was (since-discontinued) LaSalle (#642). Through the first third of the 2008 season, the highest-rated FCS school ranks lower than last year (James Madison, at #80) and the lowest-rated school ranks higher than last year (FCS’s newest member Campbell, at #590).

What’s the explanation? Further analysis of the numbers reveal more interesting trends.

Comparing 2007 to 2008-to-date, let’s look at the lowest-rated teams. In 2007, there were eleven teams ranked below #400 using Massey’s MOV rating system. In 2008, there are only eight.

However, last year there were twelve teams in the top 100 rated MOV teams by Massey. This year? To this point in the year, there are only four: James Madison, Montana, Furman, and New Hampshire.

Look even closer. The top 40 teams from last year ranged in ranking from #43 to #184. This year? The range is much, much smaller: ranging from #80 to #167. Put in perspective, the range between the 1st and 40th ranked team in FCS at the end of 2007 was 141 ranking points. This year, the range is 87 ranking points; the range is shrinking significantly.

Statistically speaking, that’s huge. It shows statistically what FCS people have been observing: that there are fewer FBS upsets by FCS teams - and also fewer upsets from lower-division teams over upper-division teams. This “power rating” shows a bunching of teams in the subdivision.

Games Aren’t Played on a Computer, They’re Played on the Field

Although some might be disappointed that there aren’t more FCS over FBS upsets, the Massey MOV rankings seem to indicate a wide-open race for the national championship, and an increase in competitive matchups within the FCS. Looking at last week’s results this seems to be borne out.

Twenty games were determined in the last two minutes of play last week - nineteen which involved battles between FCS opponents and one game (Central Washington at Montana) that featured a Division II team that, ranked at #148, would be considered a Top 40 school in FCS if using Massey’s ratings.

Villanova (#108) squeaked by Richmond (#113), Liberty (#155) prevailed over Youngstown State (#165), and Southern Illinois (#117) used a last-second field goal to down Northern Iowa (#111) at home. Brown (#161) stuffed Harvard’s (#166) two-point try to secure a win.

But those games were expected, for the most part, to be dogfights. It’s the other games which ought to make people pause.

Start with Georgia Southern (#160) stunning their local fans by going for two in overtime against Wofford (#118) - and failing, allowing the Terriers to win 38-37.

That leads us to even more games that - on paper, anyway - would have been seen as major blowouts before the games were actually played. South Dakota State (#125) fell behind Stephen F. Austin (#202) 38-6 before rallying to an improbable 50-48 victory. Northern Arizona (#138) had to rely on a missed two-point conversion try by Northern Colorado (#240) to eke out a 25-22 victory. Southern (#223) needed a last-minute touchdown pass to dispatch Alcorn State (#285). Columbia (#284) took Towson (#216) to the wire before the Tigers finally prevailed. And Austin Peay (#336) took Eastern Kentucky (#255) to the wire as well, finally losing 13-10 in overtime.

That’s five games between teams separated by sixty Massey ranking points or more - and many of those games came down to the final possession.

The GPI

The GPI, due to come out next week, does not solely use Massey’s MOV ranking system. It is an index which uses a variety of different statistical polls and ratings to rank all 125 FCS teams.

Looking at these six matchups using a GPI calculation for this week, it still paints a picture of crazy parity: Towson (#80) over Columbia (#98), Eastern Kentucky (#86) over Austin Peay (#105), Southern (#79) over Alcorn State (#103).

But according to the GPI, two of these close games - Northern Arizona (#25) over Northern Colorado (#82), and South Dakota State (#17) over Stephen F. Austin (#61) - would have been upsets of teams that ranked 40 GPI positions below them.

Upsets are what make college football great - Appalachian State over Michigan, Drake over Illinois State, or Cal Poly over San Diego State. And if the computer ranking systems are to be believed, we haven’t seen the end of it yet.

More than ever, FCS teams can’t overlook anybody on the schedule - teams are getting better, getting tougher, and the quality of play across the board seems to be getting better.

No matter how you rate it, that’s a formula for an exciting season.

Chuckles for Week #6 Ending 10/5

So much for opening my big mouth. After crowing about my incredible week the week before, I fell to a much more human 17-9 last week. That setback puts me at 100-31 on the year, or putting me at 76% on the year.

Despite the tough week, there were some bright spots. Notably, Brown did something for me this week - beating Harvard for the first time in nine years (predicted: 25-20; actual score, 24-22). Two more games I got pretty much dead on were James Madison over Maine (picked: 28-13, actual score, 24-10) and Central Arkansas scoring points but falling to FBS Tulsa (predicted: 62-36; actual score, 62-34).

Regret of the week

There are too many here to mention them all, but the game that sticks the most in my craw is picking UC Davis to travel 3,000 miles by plane to beat Northeastern. Why do I always spend too much time looking at the records? At 0-3, Northeastern had struggled in two FBS games and Georgia Southern, while UC Davis nearly upset one FBS opponent (San Jose State), beat a subpar Big Sky team at home (Portland State) and lost close games to nationally-ranked teams in Montana and Central Arkansas. How did I see this as a win for the road team that has to travel 3,000 miles - when they’re essentially the same type of team?

The Picks

Hofstra at #1 James Madison.
The Pride (2-2), who throttled Stony Brook on the strength of backup quarterback Cory Christopher’s three touchdowns, will see exactly how far they’ve progressed after winning two straight. Unfortunately, they’re playing against James Madison (3-1), the hottest team in the nation, who has one of the best quarterbacks in FCS (Rodney Landers) and an offensive and defensive line that chews you up and spits you out.
“Does Duke Dog Love Horsemeat?” 35, “Brought to you by the letter H” 14.

#12 The Citadel at #2 Appalachian State. For Appalachian State (2-2), the preseason is over as the Mountaineers enter league play with an interesting opening assignment: quarterback Bart Blanchard, wideout Andre Roberts and The Citadel (3-1), who dispatched Western Carolina 34-14 last week. With quarterback Armanti Edwards in the game, this would be a much easier call; but after suffering an injury against Presbyterian, the star quarterback for Appalachian is day-to-day along with a slew of other starters. It’s not a good time for the Mountaineers to face off against the #12 team in the country; and with a target firmly put on their backs, the Bulldogs do what they’ve been unable to do since 1992: win against Appalachian State at the Rock.
Howitzers Pointed At Boone 36, M*A*S*H-pplachian 30

#3 Montana at Weber State. The Wildcats have not beaten the Griz since 1998 - well before head coach Ron McBride showed up in Ogden, Utah. Is this the year that 3-2 Weber State finally beats their Grizzly neighbors to the north? There’s reason to believe, with quarterback Cameron Higgins (171.7 rating) and runningback Trevyn Smith (416 yards rushing, 6 rushing touchdowns). But look closer: take out two hard-fought losses to FBS Utah and FBS Hawaii and two sub-D-I wins, you’re left with a 32-27 win over Sacramento State. I’m not going against wideour Mike Ferriter and the Griz here. Like coach McBride himself said, “They know how to win and expect to win.”
Dynastic Griz 28, Ogden’s Ocelots 22

#4 McNeese State at #23 South Dakota State. The Cowboys have done as expected, losing to FBS North Carolina 34-27 and demolishing their two sub-D-I opponents. Derrick Fourroux and company face a South Dakota State team that last week woke up in time to outlast Stephen F. Austin 50-48 - overcoming five turnovers and a kickoff return for touchdown in the process. A gut-check win for the Jacks last week? If it was for quarterback Ryan Berry, then South Dakota State has a great chance to win. If they don’t though, they will find the Cowboys less forgiving. The Jacks keep turning over the ball, and this week the Cowboys make them pay.
Precision Cowpokes 32, Greased Jackrabbits 24

#6 Richmond at VMI. The Spiders will find that the best tonic after the loss of the #1 ranking could quite possibly be VMI. Quarterback Eric Ward would probably prefer the game at home, but he’ll still take the win on the road.
‘#1 For a Week 49′, ‘We Wish We Could Be Nationally Ranked for a Week’ 12

#15 Furman at #7 Elon. Simply put, it’s a big one. A huge game for both teams loom at Rhodes stadium as two nationally-ranked 4-1 SoCon teams duke it out, and it should be a great one. It’s not just about the offenses, but it’s impossible to look at this matchup and not see it being a duel of quarterbacks: Elon’s Scott Riddle (1,439 pards passing, 11 touchdowns) and Furman’s former ball boy, quarterback Jordan Sorrels (1,128 yards passing, 11 touchdowns). With such evenly matched passing offenses, you have to look at something else in this game; namely, how is Elon going to stop Paladin runningback Mike Brown (373 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns)? It will be a tight one; but it’s Brown’s running at the end of the game that will allow Furman to hang on and win in this one.
Ball Boys 34, Riddlers 30

South Dakota at #8 Cal Poly. Any thought of an extra week off slowing down the powerful Mustang combination of quarterback Jonathan Dally and wideout Ramses Barden was quickly put to rest last week with a 52-18 demolition of Northwestern State. Does new Great West Member South Dakota, led by quarterback Noah Shepard, stand a chance against powerful Cal Poly? It’s hard to see it; Poly rolls through their first Great West conference test.
Rollin’ Ramses 49, Cowed Coyotes 12

Nicholls State at #10 Northern Iowa. Talk about the tale of two seasons. Northern Iowa (2-2) hasn’t only played four games, they’ve already entered league play after a tough loss to Missouri Valley Football Conference rival Southern Illinois 27-24 on a last-second field goal. Nicholls State, on the other hand, suffered through two game postponements due to hurricane damage and just started their season last week with a 31-10 defeat to FBS Memphis. The Colonels, whose triple-option attack saw only 4 pass attempts last week and a rushing attack that saw six different Nicholls State players get rushing attempts, feature defensive back Ladarius Webb and a ball-hawking secondary, while the Panthers, behind runningback Johnny Gray, have a balanced offensive attack and a traditionally solid defense. The almost-homeless Colonels, playing in their second game of the year, don’t have the horses to keep up in the UNIDome.
Dry Cats 31, Wet Lieutenants 14

#11 Eastern Washington at Portland State. I want Jerry Glanville to win at Portland State, I really do. But in a game where Eagle quarterback Matt Nicholls has to be looking for revenge from last year (a 28-21 defeat), even on the road this seems to be a tall order for runningback Bobby McClintock and the Vikings. With Eastern Washington boasting defensive back Matt Johnson, look for revenge to be exacted.
Flying Eagles 38, Grounded Elvises 14

#13 Southern Illinois at #17 North Dakota State. A huge, emotional win by defensive end Brandin Jordan and the Salukis over league rival Northern Iowa last week. A bye week for quarterback Nick Mertens and the Bison after losing a hard-fought physical game versus Youngstown State two weeks ago, 32-24. On paper, this is a recipe for a letdown for Southern Illinois and a bounceback home performance for North Dakota State, with their proverbial “backs against the wall". Although I like the Salukis to beat up the Bison, there’s simply too much at stake here for the Bison to lose this game at home. The week off is the difference in the game.
Free Range Bison 28, Socked Salukis 21

#14 Villanova at William & Mary. Danger Will Robinson! This looms as a huge trap game for quarterback Chris Whitney and the Wildcats as they come fresh off a dominating 26-20 win over Richmond. Fresh off a bye week, quarterback Jake Phillips and William & Mary is an intriguing team looking to start off CAA league play with a huge win. Playing the letdown theory heavily here - and seeing that William & Mary could be a potential sleeper team in the powerful CAA - the Tribe shock the rest of the FCS world and send notice that they’re in this race.
Fightin’ Feathers 31, Whitney’s Warriors 22

#16 Delaware at #18 UMass. I’m probably overplaying this a little, but I’m picking a lot of teams that are fresh off of bye weeks playing at home. But quarterback Liam Coen and 2-2UMass, heading into last weeks’ bye week with losses to James Madison and FBS Texas Tech, are in a must-win situation against linebacker Erik Johnson and the 2-2 Blue Hens. Delaware’s two punishing physical games against Furman and Albany work against them here; I think Coen, and the fresher UMass offense, get enough working to get the Minutemen a win they absolutely must have to keep any CAA title and playoff bid alive.
Sixty Minutemen 28, Blue Hen Marsala 20

#21 Western Illinois at Missouri State. Runningback Herb Donaldson and the Leathernecks cannot afford a slipup here. And against runningback Kingjack Washington and the Bears, they won’t.
‘Donaldson: 45 rushes, 300 yards’ 42, ‘Washington: Not So Much’ 7

Southeast Missouri State at #22 Jacksonville State. The rest of FCS has finally discovered something that I discovered long ago: quarterback Ryan Perrilloux is good. No, really. He’s good. And Jacksonville State is a Top 25 team. They’ll do nothing to dispel that notion this week at home against what could be the worst team in the OVC.
Ryan is the Hope 49, ‘We Won’t SEMO a Win Here’ 3

Sacramento State at #24 Northern Arizona. I am baffled as to why 3-1 Northern Arizona is so highly regarded by Sports Network poll voters. Was it quarterback Lance Kreisen’s three touchdown passes in four games? Is it their way-too-close-for-comfort wins against 0-3 Northern Colorado and 2-3 Southern Utah? Facing off against a real live offense this week - wideout Tony Washington and the surprising 3-2 Sacramento State Hornets - they might be in trouble. And I think they will be.
‘Washington, Not Ah-Nohld, Cleaned Up Sacramento’ 32 ‘There Is No Joy In Flagstaff’ 27

#25 Brown at Rhode Island. This just in; Brown could win the Ivy League title. Not only that, they defensive end James Develin and the Bears could win the ‘Governor’s Cup’ this weekend against in-state rival Rhode Island. Here’s some more news; Brown is bigger, better, and more along than the work-in-progress Rams as Rhode Island breaks from their triple-option offense to a spread offense led by Ram quarterback Derek Cassidy. Cassidy will run for his life, and I think Brown rolls to a very impressive win here.
Man-Eating Killing Machines 37, ‘Come On Get… Sacked’ 6

Five Outside the Top 25

Harvard at Lafayette.
Has quarterback Rob Curley and the Lafayette offense gotten over the Ivy League ‘curse’; meaning, they consistently lose to Ivy League teams, no matter who they are? Crimson quarterback Chris Pizzotti is hoping the answer is ‘no’; but unfortunately for them, the real answer is ‘yes’.
Leopards Might As Well Be Walkin’ On The Sun 27, Black and Blue and Crimson 20

Holy Cross at Yale. Who would heve ever thought in a million years that Yale would miss… quarterback Matt Polhemus? They do, though; and the team with the all-American at quarterback (Holy Cross’ Dominic Randolph) wins this one with surprising ease.
Men In Purple 38, Polhemus-Less Eli 20

Hampton at Delaware State. In the ‘troubling upsets you didn’t see’ department, Delaware State’s 28-10 humiliation has to be near the top of the list. Unless quarterback Vashon Winton can get the offense in gear this week - an offense, mind you, that only earned 240 yards total against CCSU - this looks more and more like the handing of the MEAC championship rings back to return man Jeremy Gilchrist and Hampton.
Punchin’ Pirates 35, Humbled Hornets 10

Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State (State Fair Classic). It’s bad when you lose a Classic game in the SWAC. It’s really bad when that Classic you lose is in your backyard. It’s really, really bad when that Classic is in the Cotton Bowl. But where it really gets awful is when you haven’t won the Classic in your backyard in the Cotton Bowl against a SWAC rival since Ronald Reagan was president. Linebacker Zach East and his Prairie View A&M Panthers, though, think they finally have the team to win this game - and they do. Tiger quarterback J.P. Tillman needs to score more than a couple touchdowns to beat Prairie View. They won’t; and it will kick off the biggest party in Dallas for Prairie View fans since Prince was still, well Prince… and he was still making hit records.
‘You Don’t Have to Watch Dynasty…’ 31, Grumbling State 7

Tennessee State at UT Martin. This one isn’t only big in the ‘Seargent York Trophy’ series - which recognizes the OVC’s Tennessee Champion from Tennessee State, Austin Peay, UT Martin, and Tennessee tech - it also could serve as ’separation Saturday’ for two OVC title contenders. Is Skyhawk quarterback Cade Thompson (1,106 yards passing, 13 touchdowns) for real? Or will effecient Tiger quarterback Antonio Heffner (156.3 quarterback rating) re-establish himself as state of Tennessee supremo? Even on the road, expect Heffner to bounce back from the setback to Florida A&M last week.
Heffalumps 44, ‘This Ain’t Concordia’ 20

Three More Games I’m Watching

Albany at Duquesne.
The Great Danes, with runningback David McCarty, haven’t played a home game yet - and that was by design. How will that affect Albany against quarterback Connor Dixon and the Dukes? The answer: the Danes will turn it up and win this game.
‘I Knew I Should Have Made That Right Turn At Newark’ 31, ‘Not Quite NEC Championship Material Yet’ 7

Davidson at Morehead State. Two Pioneer teams with big wins last week - runningback Jerrold Pendleton had three touchdowns as the Eagles clipped St Francis 36-21 last weekend, while the Wildcats rallied behind kicker Ben Behrent’s 23 yard field goal to squeak past Jacksonville 38-35. Look for the home team to take this one - and set up some interesting matchups with Dayton and San Diego later in the year.
‘Today’s Evan Sawyer’s Mean, Mean Drives’ 34, ‘Can We Suit Up Curry on offense?’ 17

North Carolina A & T vs. North Carolina Central (Charlotte, North Carolina). It’s not officially the ‘Aggie-Eagle Classic’ yet - but you’d never believe it after game organizers arranged to move this game to Memorial Coliseum in Charlotte to accomodate demand for the 80th meeting between these long-time rivals. It’s games like this that North Carolina Central moved up to Division I - and it’s a game that Eagle quarterback Stafford Browne would desperately love to have. But this isn’t last year’s NC A&T team: this one already has two wins behind the running of Michael Ferguson (408 yards, 5 touchdowns). The Aggies are better; and they’ll win the game, too.
Elated Aggies 30, Agonized Eagles 20

Game of the Week

#20 Liberty at Coastal Carolina

There are games in bigger conferences this week. There are games featuring higher-ranked opponents this week. There are some big rivalries as well going on this week. But no game combines all these elments in the same game - and have an added element of do-or-die in regards to the FCS playoffs. Simply put, it’s the game I want to see the most this week.

floatedleftCoastal Carolina head coach David Bennett said of their Big South rivals, “[Liberty is] making a great homemade soup and they keep adding ingredients.” So far, the Flames’ soup has been cooking well enough to earn the #20 spot in the Sports Network poll this week.

One ingredient for their success that game is runningback Rashad Jennings (436 yards, 5 touchdowns on the season). Another ingredient is quarterback Brock Smith (672 yards passing, 5 touchdowns). Add a dash of wideout Dominc Bolden (305 yards, 3 touchdowns) and you have yourself a spicy offense.

That’s not all, though. Not only do you have defensive back Chuck Duffey leading a stingy defense with two interceptions, you have the culture of Liberty’s athletic department who, according the the Virginia News & Advance, “spends much of the year drilling into the heads of its students and athletes that Coastal is the school’s No. 1 athletic rival.” It’s the game that Liberty circles on the calendar every year.

Last week, the Flames maintained their status in the national rankings by holding off a former FCS National Champion, beating Youngstown State by a 31-28 score.

floatedrightCoastal Carolina, whose streak of Big South championships were interrupted by Liberty last year, started out with some tough competition as well, falling to FBS Penn State 66-10 and losing on the last play of the game to 2003 I-AA Championship runner-up Colgate 23-19. But since then the Chanticleers’ defense has come alive, holding three consecutive opponents under 10 points. Linebacker D.J. Rice (33 tackles, 1 forced fumble) is a leader on this defensive unit.

Offensively, though, questions about after quarterback Zach McDowell suffered an ankle injury. That means largely untested William Richardson will be starting what may be Coastal Carolina’s biggest game of the year.

And it really is the biggest game of the year. To have any chance at the postseason, the Chants will have to win this game, win the Big South, and probably win the rest of their games as well. And the Flames are no less aware of the ramifications of this game; win this game, and Liberty will be well positioned through the rest of the year for a potential Big South title and possible playoff bid. Lose, and it’s all in jeopardy.

It’s going to be a game full of emotion on both sides. The squeaky-clean Liberty program has been looking with disapproval at much of the off-the-field problems that Coastal has had this offseason. Two different schools; a probable sellout crowd; and two teams with good old-fashioned hate against each other. What could be better?

It will be close. Despite McDowell’s injury, look for the Chanticleers to lay themselves on the line in this game. And look for Coastal Carolina - the home team - to give the fans on Brooks Stadium something big to celebrate.

Coastal Carolina 24, Liberty 21