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« The CAA Today: Growth From Week One To Week TwoCSN Dowd's Den: Week Two – Top Ten Turmoil! »

Permalink 09/17/09 , The CSN Way, CSN Columns

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The CSN Way: The Completely Awesome Association

By Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist

floatedleftfloated rightVillanova’s head football coach Andy Talley calmly sat down at the post-game press conference, flanked by two 100 yard rushers in senior wideout Matt Szczur and junior quarterback Chris Whitney after their 38-17 domination over Lehigh this Saturday. After a dominating victory, in a game they never trailed with over 300 rushing yards, you’d expect the Wildcat head coach to give some praise to his team effort on the night. No such luck; Talley proceeded to disclose, that he thought his own team - the No. 3 team in the country on the way to becoming the No. 2 team in the country - was overrated. “Frankly, I think we’re overrated. We did not play well,” he said to all the press in attendance.

It’s understandable why coach Talley might want to give that message to his team, considering he has four opponents coming up on the schedule that are all ranked in the top ten FCS teams in the country. Those four opponents that concern Talley the most are the No. 1, No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 teams in the country - all from the Wildcats’ own conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, or CAA. But Villanova - and all the other CAA teams in the Top 25 - are hardly overrated.

Like it or not, the CAA’s awesome performance has grabbed the attention of the wider world of FCS football this year. And the CAA deserves the accolades they’ve gotten - they’re a stacked conference in 2009. And while it hasn’t exactly been a secret that their conference is one of the best in FCS, their success is making people stand up and take notice how awesome they’ve become.


Top Guns
While beating FBS schools isn’t what the CAA is really about, their early stranglehold on the Sports Network Top 25 is aided immensely by their four wins over FBS squads, the only FBS victories to date by FCS teams this year.

Three of them occurred in Week one: Villanova beat Temple, 27-24; Richmond dominated Duke, 24-16; and William & Mary toppled Virginia, 26-14. And last week, New Hampshire joined the party over David Letterman’s alma mater Ball State 23-16.

floatedrightIt’s difficult to call the win by the No. 9 FCS team in the country over last year’s MAC championship finalists an “upset” since the Wildcats have won their last five games against FBS competition. But just like last year’s 27-10 UNH domination over Army, it was defense that drove the Wildcat win. “It was probably as good a performance on defense as I’ve seen here at UNH,” coach Jack McDonnell said of his defensive unit that held Ball State to 58 total yards in the first three quarters. “We’re proud we went out there and got a win against a pretty good football team.”

Even some of the CAA’s near-misses against FBS teams felt like wins, too.

In Week one, UMass scored two third-quarter touchdowns to close the gap with Kansas State to four, and hung tough in a 21-17 defeat to the Wildcats. Putting to rest the idea that FBS teams are bigger, faster, and stronger than FCS teams, running back Tony Nelson gained 107 yards on Kansas State, on 5.6 yards per carry.

“Most people probably didn’t expect us to come this close. We’ve got to take this as a step, and move forward,” said Nelson in the post-game press conference. (The No. 17 team in the country did - resoundingly - after pulverizing Albany last week 44-7.)

In Week two, tied at 35, No. 6-ranked James Madison was driving for the game-winning field goal against Maryland only to see a late flag negate a 30 yard run and take the Dukes out of field goal range. Head coach Mickey Matthews threw his visor away in anger as Maryland would squeak one out, 38-35, in overtime. (Just call him “Maverick".) James Madison would outgain Maryland and were ahead most of the second half, and James Madison quarterback Drew Dudzik (253 total yards, 3 touchdowns) would outduel his Maryland counterpart Chris Turner (264 total yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception).

What do the coaches think of all the talk about FBS wins? UNH head coach Sean McDonnell isn’t all that impressed. (Call him “Goose” to Matthews’ “Maverick".) “I think that you’re not as far away as you think from the [FBS] schools at times,” he said. “I think we have some outstanding talent. Defensively, a long time ago teams used to be able to be so strong and so physical they could run over you and take over a game physically. Your kids get confidence when they keep playing and playing against these teams and grow as the game goes on and not get worn down.”

“We took sixty guys up there to Maryland, and twenty to twenty-five of them didn’t play extensively last year,” JMU head coach Mickey Matthews said. “Hopefully Maryland thinks our league can play after that game. Those guys should have more depth than we do, but we did some things on execution in overtime that lost us the game. We made them earn everything they got. We were very upset we lost the game.”

“I think Maryland’s top fifty players are better than the top fifty players here at JMU, but when we get eleven out there and they get eleven out there, there’s not that much difference. We have good players.”

(FCS) Family Matters
The FBS wins are head-turning enough, but it’s not nearly as impressive as the 7-0 record against fellow FCS teams in the early going with an average margin of victory of 17 points per game. Out-of-conference, the CAA only has four total losses - all to FBS teams.

Albany, Lehigh and Central Connecticut State all had plans to kick off their seasons against wins against CAA teams - and have carved a reputation for terrifying the best teams in the CAA. But this year, all of them were humbled: Albany 44-7 by UMass, Central Connecticut State 33-14 by William & Mary, and Lehigh 38-17 by Villanova.

One of the best game in the FCS last weekend, though, happened in Delaware. Fittingly, it pitted two CAA teams against each other.

floatedleftThe No. 1 team in the nation, Richmond, had their hands full against the Blue Hens. The same Spider team that handled Duke struggled to get their offense going against Delaware, only gaining 56 yards on the ground and scoring their first touchdown in the waning minutes of the first half. Richmond was operating from behind until a Andrew Howard field goal game the Spiders their first lead of the game with just under six minutes to play.

In a game with evenly matched teams, sometimes the game comes down to the little things, like converting kicks. With seconds left on the clock, Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin coolly guided the Hens to a chip-shot field goal try - a 23 yarder, no further than an extra point. Richmond put in what they call their “Desperation Unit” to try to block the kick - and, almost miraculously, junior wideout Kevin Grayson’s hand, in the middle of three leaping Spider defenders, knocked the ball to the ground in front of the stunned Delaware crowd numbering 20,800 fans.

“I don’t know what feeling went through my body when that ball hit my hand, but I can tell you I was the happiest person in America,” Grayson said in the post-game press conference.

“I sat right here in this [conference] room Friday and told them it will come down to special teams play,” a fired-up K.C. Keeler, Delaware’s head football coach, said. “When two really good teams play each other, it comes down to turnovers and special teams. Win the turnover battle and the special teams battle, and that’s how you win.”

The other CAA league game on Saturday was defensive minded and exciting as well, involving the No. 20 team in the country.

Maine upended Northeastern 17-7 in a game where the young Black Bear defense stopped the Huskies twice inside the Maine 15 yard line in the last five minutes of the game.
Defensive linemen Kris Enslen and Jordan Stevens teamed up for two sacks apiece, while Maine’s defense only allowed 278 yards total offense on the afternoon.

Defensive back Trevor Coston nabbed two interceptions, one of which led directly to a Black Bear touchdown, a one yard run by backup running back Derek Sessions. Preseason all-American fullback Jared Turcotte was held out for the second straight week with a groin injury.

“We had a lot of greenhorns out there [on defense] in Week One, and we had a better business approach coming into the Northeastern game,” Cosgrove said. “Coston we think is a very talented young man, just getting started on a great career [as a sophomore]. We think he’s going to be a very, very good football player for us.”

Full House
floatedrightWhat’s the CAA’s secret for having such a full house of Top 25 teams? Certainly when the CAA took over operations of the Atlantic 10 football league, they knew they were taking over a great property: Delaware had just won their first-ever I-AA championship in 2003 over Colgate, and James Madison pulled off the same trick in 2004. But since the CAA started competing as an official football league in 2007, they’ve accomplished more than simply adding two teams to Chattanooga (Delaware in 2007, Richmond in 2008, who ended up being the FCS national champions).

In many ways, the CAA represents itself - and, by extension, FCS football - extremely well. They are so well organized, with video recap shows and a full audio teleconferences available every week. They were among the first FCS conferences to embrace Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Their regional package of broadcasts is the envy of the rest of FCS, averaging no fewer than two televised games every week and even more available from online video streams. They even gather all the satellite coordinates up for folks with DirectTV, so they can follow their teams anywhere in America.

CAA commissioner Tom Yeager also mentions another key ingredient in getting recruits to come to his schools: NFL players.

“You’ve got good players, good coaches, and players who play hard,” William & Mary head football coach Jimmye Laycock said this week. “The league is very very strong. It’s no great secret [how schools in the CAA gets players.]” Laycock should know: this week, his team is No. 5 in the country.

“Continuing on with our postseason success, the connection with coaches that are accessible, student-athletes who are really students. And when you see those guys being successful - we had 39 players in the NFL last year - it really is the epitome of what college athletics is supposed to be,” he said.

And with the CAA stepping up their game - winning football games, setting up 21st-century media packages, getting their games on broadcast TV - it challenges the rest of FCS to bring their game, literally and figuratively, up to their level.

Chuckles for Week Two Ending 9/20
It figures; as soon as I crow about a great week picking games, I fall flat on my face the following week. Sure, picking a close Montana/UC Davis game and coming out on the right side of the North Dakota State/Sam Houston State game made me smile, those limbs I went out on (two Pioneer League teams with wins over Northern Colorado and Samford? Western Illinois beating FBS Northern Illinois?) really hurt me. I went 18-10 last week, putting me at 40-19 for the year, or 67.8% on the year.

That’s OK. This week, I won’t make the same mistakes again.

Regret of last week
This one is easy. Week One, I was picking FBS upsets like they were going out of style. Yet picking New Hampshire - The Wildcats! 4-0 against their last 4 FBS opponents! - somehow eluded me. Perhaps I read too much into quarterback R.J. Toman’s struggles against St. Francis (PA) (who, incidentally, broke their 12-game losing streak last week with a resounding 27-0 win over Morehead State.) Perhaps I thought there was no way that Ball State could pssibly overlook the Wildcats - that their efforts should be redoubled this week, that they’d be fired up. How wrong I was: the Cardinal couldn’t score 38 points on UNH, they were lucky to score 16!

Five Quick Hits Outside the Top 25
Liberty at Lafayette.
I figured I’d start with the game I’m going to this weekend: a revenge match, as Liberty’s 35-21 win in Lynchburg last year may very well have kept the Flames from the postseason last year. But already this is a different team from that squad; start with the fact that former South Carolina quarterback Tommy Beecher (228 yards passing, 1 touchdown) is helming the Flames. Can head caoch Frank Tavani’s always-stifling defense, led by Mark Leggerio, stop Liberty? I think Lafayette will slow them down, but ultimately the fire of revenge burns brighter.

Preacher Beecher 28, Def Leopards 21

Stephen F. Austin at Western Illinois. If you look at statistics, Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses is the greatest quarterback in the country (676 yards passing, 8 touchdowns). But after the Lumberjacks beat NAIA Texas College 92-0 last weekend, let’s just say the numbers are, well, a little skewed. Still, the duel between Moses and Western Illinois quarterback Matt Barr (554 yards passing, 3 touchdowns) ought to be one to watch. Call it a hunch, but I think the Lumberjacks go to 3-0 and put the FCS world on notice that they’re here to stay.

“Was Moses a Lumberjack?” 35, Barr-n Burners 31

Howard at Florida A&M. In this Thursday game, Florida A&M continues their march towards the MEAC title with quarterback Curtis Pulley (579 all-purpose yards, 4 touchdowns). Howard won’t put up much of a fight, but the Rattlers will continue to get stronger.

Rising Rattlers 41, Howard the Ducks 7

Eastern Illinois at Southeast Missouri State. Quietly, Eastern Illinois is telling the OVC that maybe, just maybe, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Back to back dominating wins against Illinois State and Indiana State, with fine performances by quarterback Jake Christensen (312 yards passing, 4 touchdowns) and running back Mon Williams (200 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns). The Redhawks will be the Panthers’ next victim as folks around FCS start to take notice, too.

Panther Power 31, No-so-Ready-Hawks 3

Four More Games I’m Watching
Delaware State at Delaware.
(The “Route 1 Rivalry") On paper it seems like a mismatch, but this game means so much in the fact it’s being played at all. After resistance from the powers-that-be in Newark and Dover, this year Delaware finally started a regular-season rivalry with their downstate neighbors that will add even more buzz to Tubby Raymond stadium than usual. Blue Hen quarterback Pat Devlin will romp - and get the “Route 1 Rivalry” started in the right way with an old-fashioned trip to the woodshed.

Joe Flaccos 49, Shaheer McBrides 13

Grambling State at Jackson State. Could this be a preview of the SWAC championship game in December? Many seemed to think so, but with Jackson State’s 0-2 start some may be rethinking their predictions. As it stands, Grambling State, with their dominating defense (and defensive back Christian Anthony, who nabbed two interceptions in a 38-17 win over Northwestern State last weekend), seems farther along. Even on the road, Grambling takes care of Jackson State.

C.A. On Broadway 27, “Jackson State? SWAC Champs?” 9

Columbia at Fordham. (The Liberty Cup) This battle between crosstown New York City rivals, inspired by 9/11, is always a huge game on both the Rams’ and Lions’ schedules.

While Ram quarterback John Skelton is eager to erase a bad 41-24 loss to Rhode Island two weeks ago, Columbia senior Austin Knowlin may be the X-factor that gives the Lions a big confidence-boosting win to open their season. “We have to play keep-away and keep him [Skelton] on the bench,” Columbia head football coach Norries Wilson said in the pre-game press conference. They will; and they’ll win.

Blue Boys 24, Red Rums 21

Old Dominion at Jacksonville. Old Dominion, the feel-good FCS story of 2009, destroyed their first two (non-FCS) competition in front of sellout crowds. But now the Monarchs take their show on the road to last year’s Pioneer League champion Jacksonville, who were shut out by Samford 27-0 last week. Will ODU keep their home momentum going against running back Rudell Small (147 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns) and company? I’m thinking the Monarchs, behind quarterback Thomas DeMarco (321 yards, 3 touchdowns) will do just that.

Monarchs - Still Undefeated since 1958 27, Small Ball 21

Picking the Sports Network Top 25

Hofstra at No. 1 Richmond.
On the Pride’s preview of the game at No. 1-ranked Richmond this weekend, the game notes beam with the fact that it has faced four defending national champions and two No. 1-ranked teams in the last ten years. The trouble is that they are 1-5 in those games, and if they lose to the Spiders on the road this weekend, their record will be 1-7.

If the Pride hope to pull off the upset, they’ll need big production from senior quarterback Cory Christopher (470 yards passing, 3 touchdowns). Unfortunately, they’re facing something bigger this weekend: the daunting Spider defense, led by linebacker Patrick Weldon. Add to this the fact that the Spiders will be playing their first home game since their FCS Championship, and you don’t have the recipe for a CAA upset.

Spider Sauce 27, Pureed Pride 3

No. 2 Villanova at Penn. Villanova head coach Andy Talley is very cognizant that this “Big 5″ Philadelphia opponent is a danger lurking in the weeds. That’s because no matter what the records in the last five years of this rivalry, this game always seems to come down to the wire. Last year, Talley not only squeaked out a 20-14 win in overtime - despite Penn cornerback Chris Wynn’s two interceptions - he also discovered his new starting quarterback after Chris Whitney came in relief of an ineffective Antwon Young.

So how good is Penn? Starting quarterback Keiffer Garton played a few games last year, but he’s in effect an X-factor since he’s never gone against the No. 2 team in the country. He’ll probably make some plays - but I think Villanova has too much for the Quakers to handle on defense like linebacker Terrance Thomas. Despite recent history, this one shouldn’t come down to the wire - not because Penn isn’t any good, but Villanova IS that good.

Biggest of the “Big Five” 31, Quakeriest of the “Big Five” 6

St. Francis (PA) at No. 3 Northern Iowa. While St. Francis (PA) should be happy with breaking their 12 game losing streak against Morehead State last weekend, they shouldn’t get used to it. And when they line up against UNI quarterback Pat Grace next weekend, they’ll find out why.

UNI Cycles 44, Flooded Flashes 0

Portland State at No. 4 Montana. Every year I look forward to this game, because you know that Jerry Glanville would give his right ear to beat the Griz in Montana. The week leading up to the game at Washington-Grizzly stadium was, as predicted, a conference call full of quotes from the former NFL head coach. Glanville recounted an offseason trip to Running Eagle Falls, a sacred Blackfoot Indian area, to get inspiration on how to beat the Griz. (Running Eagle, a woman, was a hunter who killed grizzly bears.) For good measure, he added that last year the Griz treated his Portland State Vikings like “a stepchild".

Bobby Hauck’s approach to the game is different: keeping the focus on Portland State quarterback Drew Hubel, the linchpin in the Vikings’ run-and-shoot offense, and saying that he still needs to “find out a lot about his team” in the coming weeks. One thing Hauck does know, though, is that Chase Reynolds is a marquee FCS running back - and he’ll once again carry the load in a big Griz victory. Glanville may need another trip - or three - to Running Eagle falls until he figures it out.

Grunting Griz 31, Men In Blackfeet 13

No. 5 William & Mary at Norfolk State and VMI at No. 7 James Madison. I’m combining these two previews together since, frankly, the Keydets and Spartans will have their hands full this Saturday. They are very similar: Norfolk State and VMI are regional rivals to both William & Mary and JMU. They have some stars of their own: VMI running back Jonathan Maypray (146 all-purpose yards vs. Robert Morris, 1 touchdown) and Norfolk State quarterback Dennis Brown (413 all-purupose yards, 3 touchdowns). And they’ll struggle against players like William & Mary running back Jonathan Grimes (205 all-purpose yards) and James Madison quarterback Drew Dudzik (253 all-purpose yards, 3 touchdowns).

Grimy Tribe 34, Spiffy Spartans 20
Double Down Dukes 41, “Ruh Roh, Roos!” 7

Savannah State at No. 8 McNeese State. So you’ve just knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, Cowboy head coach Matt Viator. Quarterback Derrick Fourroux and running back Todrick Pendland ran roughshod over Appalachian State’s supposedly-impenetrable defense. And what greets you when you return to Lake Charles, Louisiana? No mention in the CSN Way this week until 9/10ths of the way down the column. Oh yeah, you’re also playing Savannah State this weekend.

Sorry, Tigers. I didn’t mean to make Matt Viator angry.

Viator’s Vindicators 55, Savannah’s Pussycats 3

Southwest Baptist (D-II) at No. 9 Southern Illinois. Continuing the theme in these last four games I’ve picked, Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon has to be thinking, “I needed two weeks to prepare for these guys?” Linebacker Brandin Jordan, and the rest of the Salukis, will roll this weekend.

Sleepy Salukis 27, Teddy Bearcats 3

No. 11 Elon at Wake Forest (FBS). The ACC hasn’t, to put it mildly, had a great year versus the CAA this year. Could Pete Lembo’s Elon Phoenix extend the ACC upset party to the SoCon as well and take out the Demon Deacons?

One thing’s for sure: if Wake Forest starts the way they did against Stanford and Baylor, the Phoenix have a shot. The Demon Deacons were outscored 27-10 in the first half of those games, and they came against two teams that aren’t considered elite passing teams. Elon, on the other hand, behind the passing of quarterback Scott Riddle and wideout Terrell Hudgins, could have one of the best passing combination in all of FCS and will definitely give Wake Forest fits.

Elon could be a bit rusty; they haven’t really needed to break a sweat against Davidson and Presbyterian in their first two games. But Lembo will have them ready - and the ACC will feel the heat next Monday.

Hudgins, Not Owens 28, Dunkin’s, Not Deacons 24

No. 12 Cal Poly at Ohio (FBS). Like New Hampshire, Cal Poly is one of the FCS teams FBS teams don’t want any part of: last year, they beat San Diego State and were one kick away from beating Wisconsin in the final game of the regular season. While the key players are gone from that team, this year’s Cal Poly team showed they’re ready to pick up right where they left off with their 38-19 demolition of regional rival Sacramento State. While wide receiver Dominique Johnson, fresh from UCLA, came in with a splash (4 passes for 61 yards), it was quarterback Tony Smith who stole the show with 300 all-purpose yards and 4 touchdowns.

And Ohio seems like a team - with their 109th ranked offense - that the Mustangs can take. If Cal Poly keeps the mistakes down, they will show that they’re the better team this Saturday.

Strong ‘Stangs 34, Bubbled Bobcats 17

Idaho State at No. 13 Weber State. A battle of 0-2 teams? It is, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Idaho State, led on defense by linebacker A.J. Storms, got outscored 114-3 against two FBS teams (Arizona State and Oklahoma) and looked quite worthy of an 0-2 start. Weber State, on the other hand, are led on offense by quarterback Cameron Higgins and were barely nipped by two FBS teams (Wyoming and Colorado State) in very tight ball games.

The Wildcats won’t stand for an 0-3 beginning. And they’ll be eager to put it behind them after two frustrating possible wins against FBS schools.

Weber Wobbles But They Don’t Fall Down 44, Bengals Bumble And They Do 9

No. 14 Wofford at Wisconsin (FBS). The Badgers have two wins over FCS schools the past two years, but they have been anything but cushy affairs. In 2007, The Citadel played Wisconsin tough for three quarters before ultimately falling 48-31, while the Badgers escaped with a win (and a bowl bid) after a 35-34 overtime squeaker against Cal Poly. Can the Terriers do them one better?

With fullback Eric Breitenstein with a possible season-ending injury for the Terriers, head coach Mike Ayers’ task went from tough to tougher. But Ayers’ “dinosaur-bone” offense will probably have someone take his place, and they’ll be ready on Saturday. Also worthy of mention is that Wisconsin’s team had a flu outbreak that has sidelined practice for a good portion of the team.

It’s not going to be an easy road to hoe for the Badgers. But they’ll find a way to win this one - barely - after the Terriers give them yet another FCS fright.

Lucky - Or Bucky - Badgers 41, Terriers Toying with FBS Teams 38

No. 16 Central Arkansas at Western Kentucky (FBS). All of a sudden, any school in the Top 25 against an FBS seems like they have a chance to win this year. There have been pitifully few blowouts, and a host of teams with favorable matchups. Western Kentucky, themselves only a few years removed from their move from FCS to FBS, loom as yet another upset possibility.

The Hilltoppers, pounded by Tennessee and South Florida in their first two games, have scored 20 points in two games while giving up an average of 49 points. And Central Arkansas shocked not a few pundits themselves when two weeks ago running back Brett Grimes and the Bears came oh-so-close to beating Hawai’i, falling 25-20.

With two weeks to prepare for WKU, Central Arkansas has to feel like they can at least make a game of it against the Hilltoppers. And they will, because eleven-on-eleven, they’re the better team.

Man-Eating Killing Machines 26, “Topper Takes A Lopper” 13

Rhode Island at No. 17 UMass. Have things changed in Kingston? Ram fans are basing their optimism on a 41-28 shellacking of Fordham in their first weekend - a team that beat them the last two times they played. They did it with a promising new quarterback in Chris Paul-Etienne (238 all-purpose yards, 2 touchdowns). Can they also do it against a team they consider one of their biggest rivals?

It promises to be a hard-fought game - but it remains to be seen how Paul-Etienne reacts to the presence of preseason all-American Jeromy Miles (15 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception) in the UMass defensive backfield. It will be close, even at home at McGuirk Stadium, but the Minutemen will prevail in the end.

Miles and Miles of Miles 24, The Rams to the C to the P to the E 17

Indiana State at No. 18 South Dakota State. If defensive end Danny Batten was able to do THAT to Georgia Southern last week (44-6), imagine what they will do against a young Indiana State team with nowhere near the same level of talent.

Batten the Battering Ram 49, “If a Sycamore Falls in South Dakota, Does it Score a Point?” 0

No. 19 Texas State at TCU (FBS). One thing will be sure on Saturday: TCU sure isn’t Wake Forest. (Or Ohio, Western Kentucky or Wisconsin for that matter.) The Horned Frogs are ranked No. 15 in FBS and have a powerful offense led by quarterback Andy Dalton (198 all-purpose yards). Texas State has the capability of putting up points in bunches, but so does TCU - and the Horned Frogs will take down running back Karrington Bush and the rest of the Bobcats handily as Texas State’s already-suspect defense gets sliced and diced by a team with no mercy.

Pointy Toads 62, Deep In the Heart of… San Marcos 28

No. 20 Maine at Albany. It’s tempting to write off Albany after their 44-7 drubbing at the hands of UMass last week. But head coach Bob Ford won’t let his 0-2 Great Danes get down as they face a shaky 2-0 Maine team that still needs to hit its stride. A multi-faceted running game consisting of quarterback Andrew Smith and running backs David McCarty and Justin Gannon (293 yards, 4 touchdowns) are generating the yards, Albany is a tough team that can take opponents off guard if they can play their game.

Can Maine force them out of it? It’s hard to say. In many ways, Maine’s two-quarterback, multi-facted run game is an awful lot like Albany’s, with quarterback Mike Brusko (103 yards, 2 touchdowns) and running back Derek Session (238 yards, 2 touchdowns). But it’s the fact that Jared Turcotte is still missing - the “you’ve got to stop him” back that is hurting the Black Bear offense - that will cause Albany to come out on top.

Three Danes The Charm 26, Missing Bear Necessities 16

Northern Colorado at No. 21 Eastern Washington. If you’re a Northern Colorado fan, you don’t want to look at your history against Eastern Washington. The Bears have gone 1-5 against the Eagles, never scoring more than 16 points in their six meetings since 1979. That’s what running back Andre Harris (219 all-purpose yards, 2 touchdowns) and Northern Colorado are up against, never mind a potential all-Big Sky quarterback in Matt Nichols (481 yards passing, 4 touchdowns).

They’ll eclipse 16 points, but they won’t pull off the upset.

Nifty Nichols 34, Directional Bears 19

Tennessee Tech at No. 22 Eastern Kentucky. Look at the statistics of the OVC, and you’ll see Tennessee Tech atop many of the lists. That’s because quarterback Lee Sweeney (187 yards, 1 touchdown) pummeled D-II Pikeville, 51-10, in their scrimmage of an opener.

As the Eagles will discover, Eastern Kentucky is an entirely different animal. Fresh after more that ten days off from their near-upset at FBS Indiana 19-13, quarterback Cody Watts (207 all-purpose yards, 1 touchdown) will be ready to put those statistics back in order.

Mega Watts 34, Tennessee Touch Football 10

No. 24 Jacksonville State at Alabama A&M. Jacksonville head coach Jack Crowe said last week that FBS Florida State might have been suffering from an emotional hangover after their loss to Miami (FL) last weekend. After his Gamecocks lost a close, thrilling 19-9 game to nearly upset one of college football’s Immortals, it’s his team that might need to guard against an emotional hangover.

If the 2-0 Bulldogs are to take advantage, it will begin with a huge effort by running back Ulysses Banks (213 yards, 1 touchdown) and end with a smothering effort by their defense, who already held Tennessee State earlier in the year to 7 points. But quarterabck Ryan Perriloux (252 yards, 1 touchdown) will make things miserable for Alabama A&M’s defense: they’ve seen nothing like him.

Perilous Perri-Winners 42, Ulysees S. Not Today’s 17

Game of the Week
No. 25 Harvard at No. 23 Holy Cross.

floatedleftThere’s only one matchup between ranked FCS opponents this week, and it’s a game that has developed into a heated Massachusetts rivalry. The last two games in this series have been thrillers: in 2007, a last-second touchdown pass by quarterback Dominic Randolph capped a 31-28 victory, while last year it was Harvard quarterback Chris Pizzoti’s last-second quarterback sneak (pictured here) that gave the Crimson their 25-24 revenge last year.

If the game comes down to quarterback play, it would seem like Holy Cross, with preseason all-American quarterback Dominic Randolph, would have a huge edge. A bona-fide Payton Award candidate and NFL prospect, the fifth-year senior has put up the passing numbers in the early going that Crusaders fans have come to expect (688 yards passing, 4 touchdowns). Randolph has also, however, been calling his own number more as well: he also has 81 rushing yards and two touchdowns, quieting critics that have at times called him more of a pure drop-back passer.

floatedrightWhile Randolph’s Payton-caliber play at Holy Cross was going to be a given this season, the questions about the Crusaders going into the season were about, well, almost everywhere else. Where were the carries going to come from? (Running backs Eddie Houghton and Matt Bellomo, combining for 307 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns.) What about go-to receivers? (Wideouts Luke Chmielinski and Bill Edger, combining for 300 receive yards and 3 touchdowns.) What about the defense - can they hold up? (Defensive back Anthony DiMichele has logged 16 tackles and 1 interception, and they’ve only given up 2 touchdowns on the year so far.)

So far, Holy Cross has all the answers. But Harvard, as are all the Ivy League teams at the beginning of the year, is always tough. Can they actually ride a first-time starter - or two- at quarterback to their second straight win in the series?

floatedlefhtCollier Winters promises to be a speedy quarterback for the Crimson. Even though he’s 5′11 and would seem to be a run-first, pass second quarterback, head coach Tim Murphy insists that the Crimson offense hasn’t changed: they’ll still be the pass-happy team they’ve always been. Whomever lines up at center - either Winters, or his more prototypical pocket-passing backup, Matt Simpson - they will be able to rely on a huge offensive line (featuring NFL prospect James Williams) as well as running back Gino Gordon and wideout Matt Luft, their leading rusher and receiver, respectively, from last year.

Defensively, Carl Elrich will be the linchpin of the Crimson’s 4-3 defense that is always physical and brutal for opposing players. Yet as their first game of the year, there’s always that nagging question in the back of your mind? Can these guys play at a level to beat Holy Cross? Can they stop their offensive machine?

In the past three years, Harvard has always seemed up to the challenge of facing the Crusaders, and while Randolph will get his yards, you wonder if Holy Cross will throw in enough wrinkles to fool the Crimson on defense enough. But what might look like Harvard’s biggest weakness - an unfamiliar offense, and new starters on defense - is actually their strength. Holy Cross will need to adjust - and by the time they do, Harvard will have won their Fitton Fling.

Harvard 34, Holy Cross 31