Labels can be deceiving.
The labels on North Dakota State and Eastern Washington say FCS for Football Championship Subdivision, Division I’s second-tier. The reality is there are 123 programs and the range of quality is as great as the difference between the best teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (aka tier 1) and the worst.
“With all due respect there are plenty of FBS teams that you can’t lump with the Alabamas and the Oregons of the world,” Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said Sunday. “The same way you can’t lump all the FCS schools together.”
The FCS has won eight games against FBS opponents during the opening weekend of college football, twice as many as it did during last season’s opening weekend. The most notable victories were by two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State, which beat Kansas State on Friday night, and perennial FCS playoff team Eastern Washington, which knocked off No. 25 Oregon State on Saturday.
North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said Sunday that maybe it’s time to “get rid of some lines and start looking at some programs.”
Make no mistake, the majority of FBS-FCS matchups are glorified tuneups. In the 30 FBS-FCS matchups this weekend, the average score was FBS 37.7, FCS 18.3.
While McNeese State (53-21 over South Florida), Towson (33-18 over UConn) and Northern Iowa (28-20 over Iowa State) have made headlines, Nicholls (66-3 loss to Oregon), Austin Peay (45-0 loss to Tennessee) and Wofford (69-3 loss to Baylor) provided little resistance.
The favorites from the bigger conferences pay big bucks to bring FCS teams to their stadiums because they don’t have to worry about making a return trip.
ESPN.com reported the seven FCS teams that have won on the road have made a total of $2,375,000, ranging from $225,000 to $450,000 each.
North Dakota State made $350,000, and Eastern Washington $450,000.
Bohl’s Bison in recent years have knocked off Colorado State from the Mountain West, Minnesota from the Big Ten and Kansas from the Big 12. NDSU does it with power football. The Bison rallied to beat K-State 24-21 in Manhattan and it didn’t look fluky.
“After watching the game tape, it’s not like Kansas State was playing terrible,” Bohl said. “I just think we beat them.”
Eastern Washington, which became the third FCS team to beat a ranked FBS team, was just as a good in its own way. The Eagles spread the field with dual-threat quarterback Vernon Adams. Oregon State, from the Pac-12, just couldn’t stop EWU in a 49-46 victory. As with NDSU, EWU was just better than its FBS opponent.
“We certainly were on that day,” Baldwin said. “Maybe only a play or two better.”
There has been much discussion among the leaders of the top conferences in FBS about strengthening schedule. They want more appealing TV matchups and want an extra emphasis on strength of schedule to determine who plays in the coming College Football Playoff.
The Big Ten has proposed eliminating games against FCS teams altogether.
Bohl is part of the board of trustees for the American Football Coaches Association, headed by Texas’ Mack Brown with representatives from all levels of college football.
He said the 20 member board has voted unanimously to keep playing cross-divisional games.
“Football needs to be more inclusive instead of exclusive,’ said Bohl, a former Nebraska player and assistant coach. “Saturday was an example of that.”