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CSN West: The Opening Week Lacks Marquee Games in the West
By Kent Schmidt, CSN West Columnist
As I mentioned last week, it’s great to see football back in the “West” [MVFC, PFL, BSC, GWC]. While Indiana State started last week and unfortunately continued its longest losing DI streak of 27 games now (and that was against a NAIA team - Quincy of Illinois), this official first week doesn’t appear to have any outstanding games.
That opening contest did highlight something similar to what we see in the West for official Week 1 games. There are 33 games that involve a CSN West team, but only five matchups result in playing another FCS opponent. And of those five, none include a Top 25 team from any of the FCS polls.
While I can complain about the number of FCS vs. FCS games within the West, there are several chances this week for a FCS West team to upset a FBS team. In fact, there are 14 such crossover Division I games in the West this week; two of which I will attend in the state of Iowa - North Dakota State @ Iowa State and Northern Iowa @ Iowa.
What are the other FCS West teams vs. FBS opponents?
Besides those two Missouri Valley Football Conference games playing the two FBS teams from Iowa, the following are the other contests within the West:
Weber State @ Wyoming
Northern Colorado @ Kansas
Sacramento State @ UNLV
Idaho State @ Arizona State
Montana State @ Michigan State
Portland State @ Oregon State
North Dakota @ Texas Tech
UC Davis @ Fresno State
Youngstown State @ Pittsburgh
Southern Illinois @ Marshall
Missouri State @ Arkansas
Indiana State @ Louisville
Of these games, which ones do I think are upset possibilities?
The first game I’m attending is NDSU @ Iowa State, along with Weber State @ Wyoming might be one of the top chances for a FCS upset. Iowa State comes in with a 10-game losing streak and Wyoming, which finished 4-8 last year. Southern Illinois also might have a chance against former FCS member Marshall.
Iowa State finished 2008 at 2-10, but it did defeat FCS West South Dakota State 44-17 for one of its victories. Wyoming nearly lost to NDSU 16-13 a year ago, but it also defeated Tennessee on the road so it was an up-and-down team. Marshall also was 4-8 a year ago, but it did defeat Illinois State 35-10 for one of its victories.
To be honest, I don’t think any of the other games will result in an upset, but I have been wrong before.
What are the FCS West games versus another FCS team?
As mentioned, there are only five such games this week and really only two true “West” games from a conference geography sense. The following are the five games with the first two the most compelling.
Western Illinois @ Sam Houston State
Illinois State @ Eastern Illinois
Davidson @ Elon
Marist @ Sacred Heart
North Carolina Central @ Hampton
Why are there so few FCS vs. FCS games this week?
This stems from the FBS rule for bowls being able to count one victory versus a FCS team counting toward its overall total. Six victories is the minimum win total to get a bowl bid for a FBS team. The first and second weeks of the season are like those within the FCS conferences, the prime time to have a school’s nonconference games.
Also, FBS teams tend to think that a FCS team is a good warmup for its season.
But as Cal Poly and New Hampshire proved last year, these warmups can result in a loss for a FBS team.
While I think most of us West conference supporters would prefer to see a good game against CAA or SoCon or against one of the other West conferences, we all know that in these economic times, these so-called money games will not be going away soon.
Montana, one of the few FCS teams that typically does not schedule FBS teams, has announced games against McNeese State and Appalachian State.
We will see whether we can get more of these types of FCS versus FCS games in the future but for now, we have to live with hoping for upsets of FBS opponents.
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FCS West Game of the Week
Western Illinois @ Sam Houston State, Thursday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m.
In a week where there are few strong matchups, this one bucks that trend. WIU and SHSU are teams that had several standout players from a year ago missing. WIU is coming off a 6-5 season where it started strong but finished slowly. SHSU was 4-6 last season where it had a high-powered offence but a porous defense. The Bearkats were ranked in the Top 10 in several offensive categories in FCS but were above 100th in most defensive categories.
The Leathernecks will be missing linebacker and third-round NFL Draft pick Jason Williams, but likely won’t experience much of a drop in production. Middle linebacker Kyle Glazier returns as the team’s leading tackler.
The same situation is on offense for WIU where it expects senior Dre Gibbs to replace the graduated Herb Donaldson in the backfield. Gibbs spent the first half of last season as a solid complement to Donaldson, earning first-team all-conference honors and all-America recognition as a fullback. He will be more of the featured tailback this year.
One area for WIU where it will have a returning starter is at quarterback with junior Matt Barr, who has started since he was a freshman.
SHSU also loses a standout in quarterback Rhett Bomar and two players have been battling for the starting spot. Junior Bryan Randolph and senior Houston transfer Blake Joseph have been battling it out in camp, but Joseph just was named the starter for the first game.
These two teams have played each other seven times with the Bearkats holding a 4-2-1 advantage. The last meeting between these two schools was in 2002 when WIU won at home.
With several unknowns on both sides in this matchup, it’s rather tough to pick a winner, but I think WIU will handle the road contest just fine and come home with a closely fought, high-scoring victory. I will take WIU by a field goal. Western Illinois 34, Sam Houston State 31.
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FCS West News & Notes
- Eastern Washington begins the 2009 season ineligible for the postseason. The Eagles were placed on three years’ probation by the NCAA during the offseason. As of now, Eastern Washington is ineligible to win the Big Sky Conference regular-season title or to qualify for the FCS playoffs.
- Northern Arizona’s Jerome Souers is entering his 12th season as head coach, tying him for second all-time in league history. Nevada’s Chris Ault coached 13 seasons in the league from 1979-91. Mike Kramer was a head coach at Eastern Washington and Montana State for 12 seasons from 1994-2006.
- The Big Sky’s last victories over FBS teams came in 2006 when Montana State beat Colorado and Portland State beat New Mexico on the same day. Since then, the Big Sky has lost 27 straight to FBS teams.
- Seven “West” teams are represented in The Sports Network Top 25 poll, with Montana (3), Northern Iowa (4), Southern Illinois (7), Weber State (9), Cal Poly (12), Eastern Washington (18) and South Dakota State (22) in this group.