Last week was an opportunity to take a spin in what is often called here the lower-division conundrum – namely, sorting the obvious mismatches between teams from the former Division I-A and the former Division I-AA out from the legitimately tight games.
Three of the lower division teams won over the weekend. On last week’s list of 38 games, they were ranked fifth (Richmond over Duke), sixth (Villanova over Temple) and 12th (William & Mary over Virginia).
In retrospect, obviously, it would have been nice to have Virginia’s turnover-prone bunch higher. Instead, it’s just time for round two.
There’s only 16 such games this week, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be an upset or two. And in a couple cases, it won’t really be an upset. Especially in this first game, given what happened last week and the lower-division team’s pedigree…
1. New Hampshire at Ball State: The Wildcats have defeated Rutgers, Northwestern, Marshall and Army since 2004. Ball State just lost to a dreadful North Texas bunch. It would be a mild surprise if New Hampshire didn’t win.
2. James Madison at Maryland: Might as well stick to the CAA, which authored last week’s impressive victories. The Dukes’ record against top-division foes isn’t pretty, and their quarterback situation is tenuous. But Maryland didn’t look all that great last week, and Madison’s had all summer to get ready for the Terps to open their season.
3. Prairie View A&M at New Mexico State: The Aggies have already lost DeWayne Walker’s debut as head coach to perennially lowly Idaho. The Panthers happen to be pretty good, coming off a 9-1 season as they head into Las Cruces. This could be a dangerous game for New Mexico State.
4. Northern Arizona at Arizona: Look at a lot of the upsets and near upsets (like Iowa-Northern Iowa) from last week, and proximity was a common factor. The Lumberjacks could stay close with Arizona, which opened with a 19-6 defeat of Central Michigan.
5. Weber State at Colorado State: The Wildcats didn’t live up to their spot atop last week’s list, losing by a touchdown at Wyoming. No matter. They’re still pretty good, and will not be an easy out for the Rams – whose opening victory against Colorado might say a lot more about the Buffaloes’ woes than Colorado State’s greatness.
6. Western Illinois at Northern Illinois: The next four games are basically interchangeable. The Huskies are coming off a solid showing at Wisconsin – though that might not mean as much as most seasons. The Leathernecks are the only 1-0 team in the Missouri Valley.
7. Morgan State at Akron: A .500ish team from I-A should beat a .500ish team from I-AA. It doesn’t always happen, but the Zips have the edge despite getting mauled at Penn State. If not, it will be an unpleasant day in the debut of their new stadium.
8. Southern Utah at San Diego State: The Aztecs lost to Cal Poly last year. And while Southern Utah isn’t quite that good, it’s not like San Diego State is suddenly unbeatable.
9. Texas Southern at UL Monroe: There isn’t much to read into Monroe’s loss at Texas. Texas Southern lost 17-7 at home to Prairie View A&M in its opener.
10. Murray State at N.C. State: The Wolfpack will score a touchdown eventually. And after Thursday’s debacle, here’s guessing Russell Wilson runs it in himself when State does get on the board.
11. Illinois State at Illinois: Well, Ron Zook’s got to be able to hang his hat on something other than recruiting. How about beating the Redbirds? It’s not a great consolation prize, but the Illini should be better in the second week after getting blitzed by Missouri.
12. Jacksonville State at Florida State: There have been some frightful nights for Papa Bowden the last few years. But judging from what Georgia Tech did to the Gamecocks on Saturday, this really shouldn’t be one of them.
13. Howard at Rutgers: Nothing ails a humbled football team like a visit from an undermanned crew that went 1-10 last year.
14. Southeast Missouri State at Cincinnati: Near the top of any list of college football commandments is “Thou shalt not underestimate Brian Kelly. Ever.” Which is a big reason why the Bearcats aren’t losing after today’s demolition of Rutgers.
15. Idaho State at Oklahoma: Even with second-stringers, the Sooners should be able to demolish the bumbling Bengals.
16. Eastern Washington at California: After what I saw in Berkeley, there might be only two teams on the Bears’ schedule that I’d think of picking to beat them. Eastern Washington is not one of those teams.