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CSN Dowd's Den: Week One – FCS Makes a Statement!
By Bruce Dowd, CSN Dowd’s Den Columnist
Well, I had a great opening weekend starting in Philadelphia on Thursday night and ending up in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, with a stop over in Greenville, and then back home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on Monday; a lot of miles, a lot of good memories, and a ton of great FCS football.
While the CAA South did us all proud and made a huge statement this week with wins over FBS opponents by William and Mary, Richmond, and Villanova perhaps an argument can be made that some even more impressive performances occurred in a few losses, like for example by Northern Iowa. More on that later in Dowd’s Den Top Ten, but first let me take you through an incredible opening weekend for me and report back to you what I saw as I watched each of our top three teams play in person. If you read my column last week then you know that the final results of these games came out exactly as I predicted, but there were a few minor surprises along the way.
Why does it happen?
But before we move on with the actually tailgating and game experience for this opening weekend from our top three teams, I want to first talk about a topic that is near and dear to me and a topic we will touch on all year as the opportunity presents itself. The questions we want to begin to try and answer here this week and as the season progresses is; what are the intangibles that go into a win? What makes up the difference between a championship contender and just an average team? Or, as this week illustrated, why do upsets even happen? How can a FCS Team, playing on the road, beat a FBS team who has bigger, faster and many more scholarship players?
First let’s get a little reality check. It is easy for us to say “Hey we are as good as those FBS schools and we can play with them!” The reality though is that in general they are better. While we had three big wins last week and a few real close calls, the truth is all those wins and close games came from some of the best the FBS has to offer and with the exception of the N. Iowa at Iowa game, most of the FBS schools were not the best they have to offer. Here is another reality check; while we are all excited about three FCS teams beating their FBS opponents, there were 35 losses to FBS teams last week. That is a 3-35 record. I know, by now you are saying “Bruce, what are you doing to me? You are bursting my bubble!”
What I am trying to do is set the stage for this topic. Those three wins were upsets. Here is an interesting quote from Coach Talley this week discussing this very topic, about what it means to beat a FBS team “ . . . you can’t let it fool you either. We were lucky to win the game. LUCKY, LUCKY is the word. We were lucky to win the game. We didn’t power anybody. They beat us in the statistics. They were bigger, stronger, faster, and we were lucky to win the game.”
There are explanations for it though. There are answers to these questions. Even though some coaches won’t admit it, a team’s emotional state does matter. Who is up for the game and who isn’t. Then there is the coaching, something I believe is very, very underrated. How about chemistry and character of a team? You hear that term a lot from coaches. Then speaking of coaching, it is not just about motivating your players there is the game plan and then the execution of the game plan. We are going to touch on all these things this week and as the year goes on. I would love to hear from you folks on this topic, especially from ex-players and how you feel about these intangibles, the things that make up a win that have nothing to do with talent or skill level of the players. I would love to share some of your stories with the rest of our readers.
I hate to bring in an FBS example but when I was spending almost 20 hours in the car this past extended weekend, I listened to ESPN so often that I could have recited what they were going to say next. One interview really intrigued me though. I don’t even remember who was being interviewed but they were asked what team had the most impressive showing on this opening weekend. Their answer was Navy. I don’t remember the exact words but this is the gist of what he had to say. He felt that Navy had maybe at the most four or five players who could have even made the Ohio State team, never mind start. Yet Navy was in the game at the end and actually had a good chance of tying the game with just two minutes to go. So, how does a team that is so undermanned, out weighed by 30 or 40 pounds a man, go on the road in front of a hostile crowd and almost pull the upset? I’ll tell you how; good coaching, a great game plan, an offensive scheme that maximizes your team’s potential and minimizes the other team’s strength’s. And then there is the emotional factor; Navy was up for this game, Navy played fired up and at an emotional peak maximizing their performance while Ohio State may have taken Navy for granted and were not ready to play, thereby diminishing their skills. Theses are some of the reasons why this upset almost happened.
So, now that the stage and theme is set for this week and the rest of the season, its game time!
Game One: Villanova 27, Temple 24
So, the trip started for me late Thursday morning as I carefully packed the “Den Mobile” (more on the careful packing later) and headed up Route 13 through some very scenic and rural countryside in Maryland and Delaware. When I hit I-95, obviously the scenery started to change signifying that I was nearing Philadelphia. The closer I got to Philly, the more the stress of my other life is left behind and my thoughts become more centered on what awaits me this opening weekend and this year in general for FCS Football. Could it be possible to ever top what I saw last year? A good four hours from home now, as I pull into Lincoln Field the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, I see the sights of tents going up, the smells of grills firing up and my excitement really starts to peak. I know, I know, “get a life” right? Well if you had one much different than mine you probably wouldn’t be reading this column either so cut me a break!
For those of you who don’t know, Lincoln Field is right across the street from Citizen’s Park, home of the Phillies and as fate would have, the Phillies were playing at home that night so the parking lots were really filling up with Phillies, Temple, and Nova fans. For a city, Philly is a pretty cool place to be.
With our FCS teams all visiting and with the three stadiums much larger in scope than your normal FCS facility, the tailgating was really spread out making finding our FCS tailgaters more difficult. Finally though, and thanks to being in the cell phone era, I was able to locate most of the Villanova tailgaters and came upon some of my old favorites headed by Tom and Gene.
These guys are famous for their great food, especially their chili, or as they called it this week; “Whoop-Ass Back-Fire Chili.” Knowing that Friday was going to be a long road trip to North Carolina and also knowing that there wouldn’t be anyone else in the car with me, I took the gamble and had several bowls of that chili.
It is not only the players that have injuries. She looks so sad here doesn’t she?
No matter what I said I couldn’t convince her that my hamstrings need stretching too
Okay, enough about the Nova tailgating, my hamstring, and any personal digestive issues, it is now Game Time! Again, if you have followed my columns over the years, you also know that I like to spend most of my time on the field rather then in the press box. I believe it allows me to get a better feel for the game, the speed, and the emotions and at times some inside info that you can’t get in the press box and this game was no exception.
As I was watching Nova warm up, Coach Talley recognized me and came over for a little chat. When I asked how the team looked he had a gleam in his eyes as he said “good, very good.” One little interesting tidbit came when I asked him about the health of this team as injuries have plagued them over the past few years. He told me that he had purposely held his team back from much contact during camp hoping to have them healthy and have fresh legs for the opener. This was actually a factor in this game as you will see later. We also discussed the brutal part of his schedule around the middle of the season and as a result how difficult it makes it if Nova losses this one even though it is an FBS opponent.
Well, in general the first half wasn’t much to watch, especially the first quarter. Actually pretty sloppy play on both teams parts although Temple dominated the play a little more than Villanova did. Two of the biggest plays in the entire game came near the end of the first and at the start of the second half.
With just 1:11 left in the half we had the first real let down by the Wildcats’ defense as they allow James Nixon to get loose behind the secondary and Charlton hit him with a perfect pass right in stride as he went 75 yards for the first touchdown, ending the first half with Temple ahead 10-0.
I was up in the press box by now watching this part of the game and to be honest, with that play and the slight dominance of Temple in that first half, it looked like it might be a long day for Nova. Also, the play of Nova’s starting quarterback, Chris Whitney was an issue in that first half. He actually missed two big pass plays; both sure fire touchdowns with two of the worst passes I have seen in a long time. There was some talk in the press box about the possibility of Antwon starting the second half, and to be honest, I was one of the ones questioning if that would happen. As it turns out, there is a good reason why Talley is the coach of Villanova and not any of us reporters, yours truly included, and why we are in the press box as the second half was a total reversal of Whitney’s first half performance.
The next big play happened right at the start of the second half as on the first play from scrimmage the Owls connected on a 28 yard pass giving Temple a first down on the Nova 46 yard line. Temple looked poised to score again and put this game away when on the very next play; the Wildcats Tim Kukucka popped the Temple running back and forced a fumble that Ross Ventrone scooped up and bolted untouched down the sideline for 59 yards and a touchdown. Suddenly the momentum had totally switched and Nova was right back in it. That was enough for me in the press box as it was time to head back down to the field.
After a real bad first half, Whitney finished the game 24-35 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. As good as Whitney’s performance was in that second half, Brandyn Harvey’s was even better as he had nine catches for 142 yards and a touchdown with six of those catches coming in the fourth quarter. Harvey was clearly the most valuable player of the game and perhaps even of the entire weekend. Some of his catches were just circus catches and incredible to watch.
The two teams started trading scores for awhile until Villanova really took over in the fourth quarter and started to play like champions. Aided by several key turnovers by Temple, Villanova scored on their last four possessions.
I was standing right under the goalpost when freshman kicker Nick Yako nailed the game winning fieldgoal as time expired giving Villanova their first lead of the game and an incredible comeback victory setting the stage on opening night for a very exciting first weekend in FCS football; final score; VILLANOVA 27, TEMPLE 24.
During the timeout, I noticed that Coach Talley went over to his freshman kicker and whispered something in his ear. When I asked Yako about that after the game, he said that the coach just told him to just go out there and have fun. I asked Yako if that helped relax him and he said absolutely.
I was wondering earlier that day during my drive if I could possibly have another year as exciting as last year. Well, I guess I got my answer. Here we go again guys!
Summing up the Villanova Game:
So, in keeping with our theme here how did Villanova pull the upset? Well many people will point to the five turnovers by Temple as the reason and that is a hard point to argue, but there were other factors as well.
This victory belongs to Talley more than anyone else for some really brilliant coaching. First of all, there is the game plan. Nova has been predominately a run team first and the Temple coach after the game mentioned how the Owls knew that and felt they were successful in stopping the run. But Talley admitted that he knew the Nova would have trouble against that big, strong and fast defensive front so their game plan was to open it up more and that obviously worked.
Next there is the little things like that one word of encouragement to a freshman kicker who was probably scared out of his mind at the time, which helped relax him and allowed him to boot the winning kick. He also kept his team out of a lot of contact during the preseason so they were healthy and fresh for the game. It was obvious to me that Villanova seemed to be the better conditioned team in this game proven by the Wildcats’ dominance in the fourth quarter.
So, what I saw here was a better conditioned team and a better coached team; at least they were on that Thursday night. Nova also seemed to have that team chemistry and played like champions when the pressure was on and when it really counted. That is what I saw and that is why I think our FCS team beat this FBS team who had bigger, faster, and more scholarship players.
Friday was a travel day for me as I made my way down to North Carolina for the next two games on Saturday. The teams were not the only ones experiencing opening day issues as apparently in my excitement to get to the game on Thursday, I had forgot to pack my suitcase which contained all my underwear, shirts, etc.
As I headed back down Route 13 I had someone from home meet me on the highway to bring me my suitcase. Now fully loaded with my underwear and the rest of my clothes and with ESPN on the radio plus the lingering memories of Tom and Gene’s chili to keep me company, I completed the long drive arriving in North Carolina on Friday night as I prepared for a very busy day Saturday with two big games to watch on the same day.
Game Two: East Carolina 29, Appalachian State 24
I arrived at the stadium around 9:00 am to allow me amble time to walk the tailgate sections and get settled in at the press box. As predicted it was a beautiful day and the campus was buzzing with tailgate activities everywhere. There would be over 40,000 people there that day and I believe at least half of them were tailgating. It was quite a scene.
When I approached this group and starting talking football with one of them he eventually told me he didn’t know much about football. So when I asked who was the resident expert on ECU football, the guy on the right was pointed out to me and they were right. One interesting piece of information I got from him was on the strength of the East Carolina defensive front. Apparently, at least three of them are legitimate pro prospects. This proved to be accurate information as you will see later. His main concern was how the inexperienced linebackers were going to handle Armanti. I really enjoyed talking to this guy.
In case I didn’t mention it, there was some pretty serious tailgating going on here. This campus was showcasing a full blown FBS style football and tailgating experience. It was a pleasure to see and be a part of.
Well, that was enough ECU football for me, time to find those App State fans and get into some FCS talk. So I asked where they might be and I was pointed in a general direction. As I looked over the hedge, it became pretty obvious where they were.
Now that is what I was looking for- Um, I mean finally I found some App State people. Yea, that’s what I meant.
These App Alumni sure know how to travel. That was quite a spread they put out.
I had met these folks before at a previous year’s game. They remembered me and made sure I got fed. Thanks folks for the hospitality.
I just can’t get enough of those designs on the cheeks. Way too cute!
I am sorry honey, but if you are not sure what it is, I wouldn’t eat it.
These girls took three poses to get the thumbs right and this wasn’t the one.
They start them young in Mountaineer country.
And apparently, they start them even younger at East Carolina.
The closer to game time it got, the more popular this spot became. Remember now folks, this is an AWAY tailgate for App; pretty impressive stuff.
They even had a DJ there pumping out the music. Not sure what he is doing here with his kid and not sure I want to know. Perhaps he is showing him the proper technique for taking down an Elon running as he gets older.
During the week I got an email from Scott Kadlub who promised to get me an App State hat to wear on the sidelines. He lived up to his word and ran me down at the Alumni tailgate to deliver the hat in person which I wore proudly on the field and in the press box. I wish I could have gotten a picture of him, but he caught me in the chow line so I couldn’t spend too much time with him. Thanks Scott, really appreciate it and hope to see you again this year.
Then these jokers, who I have seen at previous App games, recognized me as I was walking around. After I told them the story about the hat I got from Scott, they promised to send me some real serious App State gear. Okay guys, your picture is now on-line and unless you want the whole App State Nation to know you didn’t live up to your promise, you better deliver. Email me and I will give you the address to send everything. I will keep the rest of the App State crowd posted on the progress of this promise as the season progresses.
Here is Chip and a buddy of his with some real nice scenery in between. Hey, I was talking about the field in the background what did you think I was talking about?
Okay, it was now time to enter the stadium and get ready for the game. One of the big questions of the day was if Armanti was going to play. Prior to catching the pic I took below I had already had a conversation on the field with one of the assistant coaches and knew the story.
That old expression comes to mind; “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, I bet we would have to bleep out 900 of those words. This was obviously one of the big stories of the day and a key factor in the outcome of the game. My sources tell me that Armanti was very upset that he didn’t play and felt he was ready. I am sure this was a tough decision for the coach but you have to trust his judgment here. Obviously risking an injury to Armanti in week one against a FBS opponent with the entire season in front of you is not a smart decision. Even in hindsight and knowing that App could have won this game if Armanti played, I still think Coach Moore made the right decision.
Here is another picture I took before the game not realizing how much this picture would reflect on the flow of the game itself.
Rather than get into the play-by-play of this game I will just summarize what happened as the summary really illustrates the point we are trying to make this week. This game between East Carolina and App State was all about emotion and momentum and how that can drastically alter the ebb and flow of a game and overcome any possible differences in skill levels.
This was definitely a tail of two halves. App State was trailing 24-0 after just 17 minutes of the game and down 27-7 at half time. ECU only scored two points in the second half and that was on a safety from a bad snap. ECU had 320 total yards at the end of the game and only 53 in the second half.
ASU outscored ECU 17-2 in the second half and 17-0 in the fourth quarter. So the question remains, how is it possible for this much of a difference between halves? The answer to that is emotion and desire. In the Nova v Temple game we talked about how coaching played such a big part in that game, well this one was all about emotion and here are some of the reasons as I saw it.
From the East Carolina perspective, this was their home opener, a sellout crowd of 43,279 which was the ninth largest in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium history. They were super pumped up to start the game.
From the Appalachian State side we had what you see in the picture above. I explained earlier how I like to be on the field to get a real sense of what is happening. I know the coaches and maybe even some of the players will disagree with me, but I noticed a lack of emotion from App State prior to the game. That look that was captured in the pictures above of Armanti, permeated through the whole team. He is App State’s key player, their leader, and the best player that the FCS has to offer. So if Armanti was even half as dejected as he looked, then it would only be natural to filter down to the whole team. Plus the team can’t help but think that without Armanti, they had very little chance of winning.
So as a result, App came out flat and East Carolina dominated them early. So then, what happened to turn it around? If you remember the conversation I had with the ECU tailgater about that stud defensive line of the Pirates earlier in the day, well he was right.
That defensive front was too much for the App State’s offensive line and Presley had no where to run and no time to pass.
However, as the game wore on the ECU players starting dropping like flies; some from injuries but most from cramps. By the time the second half rolled around, three of those four star defensive linemen were out of the game.
All of a sudden, and with the spark of Cadet at quarterback, App State started to move the football and they started to gain confidence and their energy level really picked up. It also fired up the App State defense that played out of their minds in the second half.
I noticed something else too. I believe the Mountaineers were embarrassed by their play and how they were getting dominated. This is when the pedigree of a true champion shows up and it did in App. Without their star player these Mountaineers played like champions and mounted a furious comeback. If this game had another couple of minutes on the clock I am convinced App State would have pulled the upset.
The more App rallied the more East Carolina started to have doubts and the entire momentum had shifted, and it all shifted on pure emotion. Emotion was the wild card in this game, no doubt in my mind. To be honest I have to confess that I had left the stadium before the fourth quarter was over. I had to, otherwise fighting 43,000 leaving the stadium and trying to get to Duke in time would have been impossible. As a result of my slightly early departure I was able to listen to the ECU radio coverage and trust me when I say they were very relieved to walk away with a win. They knew they had dodged a bullet.
One scene I missed but they talked a lot about on the radio was the interaction between the players and the App State fans after the game. They marveled at the support and love between them. Again, that little extra something; the chemistry and love that help motivate a team when they need it. App was playing as much for the fans as they were for themselves in that game and it really showed in the second half.
So, as I headed the Den Mobile out of Greenville for the two hour ride to Durham, I realized that this was the second game in a row where I left thinking I might have just watched the next National Champion play. How can that be? How can there be two? Especially when I am on my way to see the current defending National Champions play next.
You could easily argue that this loss by App State was more impressive then Nova’s win over Temple for several reasons. I believe East Carolina is a stronger team than Temple although they were both similar in how strong they were up front on defense. Just like how Villanova dominated Temple in that fourth quarter so did App against ECU and App did it without their starting quarterback and arguably the best player in the entire FCS.
So as I am driving across North Carolina, listening to ESPN, I am struggling trying to figure out which team I thought was the best. What I do know, is that just as I suspected, they both clearly belong at the top of the heap in the FCS. As I take off my App State hat and put on my Richmond hat, it is time to see how Richmond shapes up against what I have just seen so far this weekend.
Game Three: Richmond 24, Duke 16
As I finally arrived in Durham for the final game of this opening weekend adventure I couldn’t help wonder what this game had in store for me that might possibly compare to the first two I saw.
Due to the distance between the games my arrival was a little too late to do any tailgating. Another problem was that the Duke parking and tailgating was very spread out making it difficult to locate any Spider tailgaters that might have made the trip. So I decided to just go directly into the stadium and spend some quality time on the field during warm ups. So, proudly wearing my Richmond hat and lugging my computer and camera I headed up a steep hill on my way into Duke Stadium.
However, as my good luck would have it, right next to the stadium tailgating with some Duke Alums was “Peanut Guy”, someone I had met last year at a Richmond tailgate. He recognized me and called me over. That is Peanut Guy in the back with the red shirt and blue and white hat.
Nice to see some old friends and nice to see the combined tailgating for Duke and Richmond in this group. They were kind enough to offer me some food so I got to take part in my third tailgate in two days. Way cool! With my belly partially full I now headed into the stadium.
I met this little guy as soon as I entered the stadium. Even though he is a Duke rooter, all together now – Ahhhhhhhhh! His father informed me that he is now entering his junior year at Duke.
Duke’s stadium is a horseshoe shaped stadium; older construction but pretty nice all things considered. The one thing I didn’t like about it was the track that runs around the field. I am not a big fan of these types of stadiums as I feel the fans are a little too far from the action.
They did have a nice modern scoreboard and because of the horseshoe design it was very viewable from all areas of the stadium. Please note the practice field in the background as the visitor’s locker room is at the far end of that field and this will have some meaning later on in my game discussion.
Because I couldn’t do much tailgating at this game, I decided to search the stands for some interesting shots and some fans interaction. I spotted these Spider Honeys tailgating in the stands during pregame warm-ups.
Speaking of interesting shots – there is no telling what you might find in the stands. I have no idea what this is all about but I found myself very happy this guy was on the Duke side.
Now this is more like it! Thanks for posing for me girls.
Even from all the way down on the field I couldn’t resist those pretty Green Spider Eyes!
As you know, I really feel that one of Richmond’s greatest strengths this year is their offensive line. So we will concentrate a little on them during this game presentation. Here is a shot of them warming up.
These guys are big and good! Hey, last year I nicknamed the Spider defense as the “Stonewall Defense.” This year it is time to name the offensive line. So McCracken, Silva and company – got any ideas for me?
Here is Duke’s press box which was pretty nice all things considered. Actually, while the stadium was not as good as East Carolina’s, I enjoyed the Duke press box more. They had a terrific spread of food for us too and really treated all of us well. I spent more time than I usually do in a press box during this game as after all this was the third game in 48 hours so I was getting a little tired. And thanks to Lance King (www.LanceImages.com) who I met on the field during pre game and who agreed to send me game photos, I was able to enjoy most of this game from the press box. All of the game shots here are from Lance.
Richmond actually had a pretty good showing of fans at this game and they made some noise too.
I swear this Richmond Cutie was looking right at me, at least that is my reality so please indulge me.
And then some old friends from tailgates gone by spotted me and we exchanged finger pointing and grunting, you know, stupid guy stuff.
Before we get into the actual game coverage let me tell you about a very cool thing that occurred as Richmond took the field. Remember I mentioned earlier about how far removed the visitors locker room was from the stadium.
The best way to describe this is that the entire team took a very slow walk not only from the locker room to the field but across the field and into their bench area.
They walked 6x6, holding hands, carrying the American Flag and the Richmond Flag, in total silence as they went to their bench area. Only the cheers of the Spider fans were heard.
After the game I found out that Coach London wanted to do something different to counter all the noise and fanfare of how Duke had just entered the field with the fireworks and smoke.
Well I am here to tell you that it worked. It was a stroke of genius by London and one of the coolest things I have ever seen. It showed unity, bravado, and they looked like champions as the slowly walked across the field. When I looked over at the Duke bench, there wasn’t a player whose eyes weren’t riveted on what was happening. It is the little things like this that can make a big difference in the emotional make-up of a team and a game.
Now it was GAME TIME! Richmond got the ball first and picked up two big first downs right away showing they could move the ball against Duke. Ward missed an easy early touchdown when he over threw a wide open receiver bolting down the sidelines. The big play in this game came on Duke’s next series when Richmond blocked a punt and returned it in for a touchdown.
Richmond never gave up the lead or control of the game after that and actually had a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter until Duke scored a late touchdown with about two minutes remaining creating the final eight point margin.
This game was different that the other two games I saw. Duke was obviously not as strong as either Temple or especially East Carolina, but they are still FBS and ACC so that is not to take anything away from Richmond’s victory.
Unlike the other games though, to me it looked like Richmond matched up in personnel. Duke may have had more scholarship players, but they were not any bigger or faster than Richmond.
As I expected, Richmond’s offensive line played a big part in the win. Richmond was able to get 125 yards rushing at 3.1 yards per carry while Duke could only manage 19 total yards rushing, thereby proving the point of how Richmond matched up physically with Duke. The Spider’s offensive line also kept Ward from being sacked at all. These rushing results are pretty good stats considering this was against an ACC team.
Coach London had an interesting quote right after the game when I asked him about his offensive line; “. . . we have a very experienced offensive line. They can block and make holes, they can also protect and that is significant. I won’t have this luxury next year because they will all be gone but I am glad I got them right now . . .”
So what was the difference here in this game? Why did Richmond get this upset? The answer is a little different than the previous two games. I felt the Villanova game was all about coaching and it was obvious to me that the App State game was all about the emotions and resulting momentum swing. The Richmond game was different. While that opening hand holding walk was a stroke of genius, it wasn’t a big factor in the win. In the Richmond game, the physical match–up was closer and a result I don’t think the Spiders had that much of a speed or size disadvantage. What I saw was a quiet swagger, the inner confidence of a championship team going about their business in a very even and controlled manor. Simply put, Richmond was better than Duke and the Spiders just took care of business.
As I left the field and again watched a special bond between players and fans I couldn’t help but appreciate what I had just witnessed this week. I saw three great games and three outstanding teams, all deserving of being the top three teams in the FCS. We went a combined 2-1 as I predicted and I firmly believe that if not for Armanti being injured, we would have gone 3-0.
Now it was time to head back to the hotel for a much deserved good nights rest before cranking up the Den Mobile the next day for the long ride back home. I hope you enjoyed sharing this journey with me and don’t forget to email me your thoughts.
Final Summary and Some Parting Thoughts:
One very interesting fact in all three games is that it seemed in each case that our FCS teams were better conditioned than the FBS teams they played. Not sure what that means if anything, but it was obvious to me. Both Coach Talley and Coach London admitted to holding their veteran squads out of any real contact during preseason. Perhaps that might have been part of the reason.
I have been asked by more than one person since the weekend, now that I have seen all three teams in person, who is better? Before I get into that, I have to mention that there were a few very impressive performances from teams that I didn’t get to see that really deserve mentioning. William and Mary is one who went into Virginia and pulled a big upset so they have hit my radar screen big time. And then there is the N. Iowa game and with what was almost one of the biggest upsets since the App State victory over Michigan. Not to mention that we are still in week one and some very good teams haven’t been challenged yet to show their true grit. Then there is James Madison who hasn’t even played yet. Don’t forget the great game Massachusetts played against Kansas State. Well you start to get my drift.
However, I am trying not to dodge the question so without any disrespect to those other teams mentioned above and some I forgot to mention, here is my answer; I was pretty sure that I saw our next National Champion play this past weekend in person, but I am just not quite sure which team it was. There is a legitimate argument for each one as you will see below.
Dowd’s Den Top Ten:
So, with the above section as a good lead in, here is my Top Ten:
(1) Richmond: Again, very possible that you might have an argument that another team is better, but the Spiders are the defending National Champions returning most of their team and with a current 10 game winning streak including the season opener against FBS Duke. So, until someone knocks them off they deserve top billing.
(2) Villanova: Many people might argue that App State belongs ahead of Nova and there is a good argument for that. But that was an impressive comeback victory over a much better Temple team than most people think. So, time will tell on this one and in the CAA South there will be plenty of roadblocks as the season progresses.
(3) Appalachian State: Recent three time National Champions and they have what many people consider the best player in the entire FCS. They have also returned a bunch of quality players from last year. In many ways, that loss against East Carolina may have been more impressive than either of the wins by Richmond or Villanova, especially considering it was without Armanti. However, it was still a loss so third is where they are for this week, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them at the top of the rankings before the season is over.
(4) Northern Iowa: Wow, almost one of the biggest upsets of the past couple years. These guys are really the heartbreak kids aren’t they. It was a very impressive, IMPRESSIVE showing against Iowa last week. Even in a loss, maybe the best performance of the week by an FCS team so they deserve at least the number four slot and will be definitely be a team fighting for the National Title this year.
(5) William and Mary: Biggest surprise of the opening weekend. While everyone knew they were good this year they weren’t given much of a chance with all those great teams in the CAA South, but they made a statement with that big win at FBS Virginia and have vaulted all the way up to fifth in my rankings as they now have everyone’s attention.
(6) Montana: beat Western State 38-0 which tells me nothing. This week’s game at UC Davis could be interesting and should tell us a lot more about how good Montana is this year.
The following four teams round out my Top Ten but I don’t have enough information on any of them to separate them from each other just yet.
(7) James Madison: Did not play last week and they have a big question mark on replacing Rodney Landers, although their defense looks strong. This week’s game against Maryland should tell us a lot.
(7) Weber State: Played FBS Wyoming tough last week in a 29-22 loss. I still have this team as a sleeper and it wouldn’t surprise me if they knocked off Montana this year. I can’t wait to see that showdown game on October 31st.
(7) Southern Illinois: Also looked strong in a three point loss to FBS Marshall but it is still too early to know how good this team is.
(7) Elon: Beat Davidson 56-0 which tells me absolutely nothing, and next week they play Presbyterian which is not going to tell me much either. If they are as good as some people think they are then the game in week three against Wake Forest should tell us all we need to know.
Games I am Keeping a Close Eye On This Week:
Montana at UC Davis: Montana needs to make a statement here as there are those who are questioning how good they are this year. Need to take care of business on the road.
Richmond at Delaware: Could be an upset here. After the year Delaware had last year, they are fired up for this one. Richmond is on the road for a second week in a row and coming off of a big win against FBS Duke. The Blue Hen defense is good enough to keep them in the game so you just never know. Watch out Spiders!
JMU at Maryland: Traditionally, Coach Matthews doesn’t like these FBS games but I am anxious to see how JMU holds up against an ACC team. If the Dukes prevail, that will make the CAA South 3-0 against the ACC. That would be quite a feat and should create quite a stir nationally.
McNeese State at App State: Take it to the bank, Armanti will play in this one and he is more than anxious to play. This is a very rare early season match-up with two traditional powers from different conferences. This game should tell us if App State is as good as they looked in defeat last week against FBS East Carolina.
New Hampshire at Ball State: Many people have UNH ranked in their top ten. While I have always loved the coaching staff I just feel they have lost too much offensively to compete this year at the top level. This game should tell us if New Hampshire is for real this year.
Next Week for the Den:
I was originally hoping to see the App State v McNeese State game in person, but I just can’t make a second trip in a row to North Carolina. I may save my next App State game for their late season match-up against Elon. So, I am parking the Den Mobile in the driveway and I will catch the Richmond v Delaware game on TV and also do the ESPN 360 thing for the JMU v Maryland game while I scoreboard watch all day Saturday.
DOWD’S DEN SIGNING OFF
That’s it for this week and I hope you enjoyed reliving my journey as I followed the top three teams on opening weekend. Don’t forget to email me your thoughts and comments. DowdsDen@verizon.net