The lower division conundrum, circa 2009

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It’s easy to look at some of this week’s quality offerings and get excited about the first week of college football.

After all, who wouldn’t want to see Virginia Tech-Alabama. Or Georgia-Oklahoma State. Or Boise State-Oregon.

Or even the likes of California-Maryland, Baylor-Wake Forest, N.C. State-South Carolina and Minnesota-Syracuse, each compelling in their own ways.

Alas, there are also 38 games featuring a major-college program and one from the former Division I-AA. Many, as expected, will be routs.

But maybe there will be a surprise or two. Last year, Cal Poly beat San Diego State and nearly toppled Wisconsin. New Hampshire upended Army in the first week of the season.

So not all of those supposed mismatches will turn out to be ugly. Here’s guessing five or six are genuinely good games.

And in order of likelihood of upset, here are those 38 games:

1. Weber State at Wyoming: Wyoming is installing a new scheme with a new head coach and is coming off a wretched season. Weber State is ranked in the top 10 of the former I-AA in the preseason. This looks a lot like that Cal Poly-San Diego State game last year.

2. Appalachian State at East Carolina: Yes, Armanti Edwards is still in Boone. And yes, the Mountaineers are the nation’s No. 1 team at their level. Even though East Carolina is good, it would take a top-15 opponent to keep App State from rising high on this list.

3. Southern Illinois at Marshall: The Thundering Herd keep rolling up losing seasons, and the Salukis are a regular playoff contender. This one will not be easy.

4. North Dakota State at Iowa State: The Cyclones were awful last year, yet their coach somehow jumped to Auburn. Things aren’t pretty in Ames, and might be worse if they lose to an unranked team from a lower division.

5. Richmond at Duke: For once, this speaks more about Duke’s opponent than Duke. The Spiders are defending national champions, so it’s not as if they’re an easy test for David Cutcliffe’s team to begin the season.

6. Villanova at Temple: Truly a perfect matchup for this sort of game, the two Philadelphia schools will link up at the Linc. Much like the Duke game, this speaks more to the smaller school’s potency than the improving major college’s longtime struggles.

7. Eastern Kentucky at Indiana: The Hoosiers are just about a unanimous choice to finish in the Big Ten basement. They probably won’t validate those concerns this weekend, but you never know.

8. Samford at Central Florida: We’re into those games that could plausibly yield upsets, but only if the lower-division team is much better than a year ago.

9. Coastal Carolina at Kent State: See Samford-Central Florida.

10. Central Arkansas at Hawaii: That’s one long trip. If they met halfway – well, not in the middle of the ocean, but say L.A. – it could be a scary one.

11. Massachusetts at Kansas State: The Minutemen have a new head coach, as do the Wildcats. Of course, K-State’s is same as the old coach. And both times Bill Snyder took over, he inherited a mess.

12. William & Mary at Virginia: This is a scary opener for the Cavaliers, who will unveil their spread offense against an in-state team plenty capable of reaching the playoffs.

13. Wofford at South Florida: The Terriers’ chances might be even better than this. It’s just that South Florida does tend to play well in September. Nevertheless, a dangerous game.

14. Southern at UL Lafayette: Another in-state game with some intrigue, but the likelihood of upsets starts going down right around here.

15. Northern Iowa at Iowa: The Panthers would skyrocket up this list against a lesser opponent. But between Iowa’s quality and the in-state issue, the Hawkeyes should win this one.

16. Stephen F. Austin at SMU: Two unimposing teams in the heart of Texas. An upset is possible.

17. Jackson State at Mississippi State: A one-step way to end new coach Dan Mullen’s honeymoon would be to lose this game. The Bulldogs did lose to Maine in Sylvester Croom’s first season.

18. Nicholls State at Air Force: Not very likely at all.

19. Northeastern at Boston College: Eagles, desperately ISO starting quarterback, would be in more trouble against a team that didn’t go 2-10 last year.

20. Missouri State at Arkansas: Hogs shouldn’t struggle with midpack Missouri Valley team.

21. UC Davis at Fresno State: UC Davis should be a bit better this year, but Fresno usually reserves its headscratchers for late in the season.

22. Towson at Northwestern: Whether it’s James Madison or Northwestern, Towson isn’t likely to enjoy going up against purple this season.

23. Liberty at West Virginia: Not the easiest opener for the Mountaineers, but they should turn back the Flames in Morgantown.

24. Sacramento State at UNLV: Hornets turned in a .500 season last year. Rebels nearly did. But this one should go to UNLV

25. Western Carolina at Vanderbilt: If Vanderbilt’s anemic offense of last year re-appears, this could be closer than expected.

26. Youngstown State at Pittsburgh: Maybe this should be higher, but why not hedge your bets against Dave Wannstedt in a season opener?

27. Northwestern State at Houston: Not a good matchup for the Demons, who will spend a lot of time watching Case Keenum throw it all over the place.

28. Montana State at Michigan State: Again, just a little bit too much of a divide to expect a close game.

29. Portland State at Oregon State: Beavers do struggle early in the season, but not against in-state, lower-division teams that don’t receive votes in national preseason polls.

30. The Citadel at North Carolina: Tar Heels won’t need tons of turnovers to win this one.

31. Northern Colorado at Kansas: Gotta like the Jayhawks’ chances against a 1-10 team from  a year ago.

32. Mississippi Valley State at Arkansas State: Consider this one of the Red Wolves’ requisite six victories this season.

33. Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech: The Gamecocks didn’t do well with Ryan Perrilloux in this game last year. Can’t expect things to be better with him suspended.

34. Alcorn State at Southern Mississippi: Another struggling program visiting a regular bowl participant. This won’t end well for the Braves (besides cashing the guarantee check).

35. North Dakota at Texas Tech: Sorry. Even sans Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech will hang half a hundred.

36. Idaho State at Arizona State: The Bengals were 1-11 last year. Which means this would be a crazy upset.

37. Indiana State at Louisville: The Sycamores just lost to an NAIA school last week. There will be no shocker in the ‘Ville this year.

38. Charleston Southern at Florida: Can you fathom the Blessed Tebow losing to Chuck South in Gainesville? Didn’t think so.

Patrick Stevens

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