The Collegian
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Little guys fight back: FCS teams beating big school foes

In basketball, they are called "Cinderellas," but in football they are the members of the Football Championship Subdivision. Either way, these teams aren't supposed to beat their bigger and more well-known competition. And yet they somehow find a way to win.

The first three weeks of college football are often littered with games between big-name Football Bowl Subdivision schools going against the so-called "cupcakes" of the FCS. Although there were plenty of those games this weekend, an increasing number of the games were not so easy this year.

A year after only winning two games all year versus their FBS big brothers, three FCS teams won games this past weekend, and two fell just short of winning, too.

The University of Richmond, Villanova University and the College of William & Mary — all members of the Colonial Athletic Association — defeated Duke University, Temple University and the University of Virginia. Five other FBS teams had a chance of pulling the upset.

The University of Northern Iowa lost on back-to-back blocked field goals during the final seven seconds to No. 22 University of Iowa.

Appalachian State University lost by five points to East Carolina University — without their star quarterback Armanti Edwards.

The University of Hawaii had to get a touchdown with 1:22 left in the game to avoid being upset by the University of Central Arkansas.

Two fourth-quarter rallies by Southern Methodist University and University of Central Florida were needed to avoid the embarrassment of losing to Stephen F. Austin State University and Samford University.

All of this came one year after the University of New Hampshire beat Army for the FCS's only win against an FBS team. This brings up the question: Is the FCS getting better, or is it just a fluke?

Part of the reason for the increase in FCS wins this year: top teams in the FCS are playing some of the weaker FBS teams. Although expectations were high for Duke, the Blue Devils have not had a winning season since 1994, which was also the last time they went to a bowl game. Virginia struggled through a 5-7 record last year, and Temple is 17-65 during the past seven years. They aren't the teams you expect to see in a BCS bowl.

Headed into the games, Richmond was ranked No. 2, Villanova was No. 5, and William & Mary was No. 14 in the coaches' poll. Both Richmond and Villanova made the playoffs last year, with Richmond winning the national title (as if anyone on this campus forgot). In FBS terms, these teams are like the University of Florida, University of Texas and Ohio State University.

Another possible reason for the FCS wins is the "over-looking" factor. This weekend Temple plays No. 9 Pennsylvania State University, East Carolina goes to West Virginia University, Iowa plays in-state rival Iowa State University, and Virginia hosts No. 17 Texas Christian University. It would be natural for the FBS teams to consider the games easy wins and focus more on their Week Two opponents.

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But for the FCS teams, these games against the more marquee teams are often the most exposure they will get all year. If they can actually get a win against the FBS team, it would be a huge boost to that school. For example, when Appalachian State beat No. 5 University of Michigan two years ago. After that game, Appalachian State and Armanti Edwards became household names. That win, plus a third-consecutive national championship, made its opening game last year against No. 7 Louisiana State University one of the most talked-about games to start the season. For most of the FCS teams, these games represent their best opportunity for national exposure.

During the Richmond game last weekend, the Spiders out-hit, out-hustled and outplayed the Blue Devils. Richmond looked like it wanted to win more than Duke did. That is the type of desire that an FCS team must bring in order to pull the upset.

The FCS may not be done making some noise this year. This week, James Madison University plays University of Maryland, and New Hampshire plays Ball State University. Both of those teams went to a bowl game last year but lost a good portion of their starters from last year's team.

There are opportunities for shockers, and the gap between the two divisions is closing. The FBS better start paying attention to their FCS opponents.

Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at andrew.prezioso@richmond.edu

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