Philadelphia, PA – In looking at the 2013 schedules of FCS teams, you sometimes find yourself saying, "What were they thinking?"
Some schedules are too demanding, others not challenging enough (Pepto-Bismol or cupcakes, you can have plenty of either).
It is a season in which teams are allowed to play 12 regular-season games instead of the usual 11 because the calendar has 13 weekends between the Thursday before Labor Day (opening night on Aug. 29) and the Saturday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23).
The conference schedules are set, of course, so there's not a lot teams can do about their opponents - and that's a good thing.
Of course, teams should be lauded for challenging themselves in their non- conference games.
But it's also easy to think in the long run some will lament taking too big of a bite - ala Northern Iowa last season when a 1-5 start led to its first losing season in 10 years.
Conversely, some teams take too much of a breather out of conference, which doesn't necessarily prepare them in the long run, either - ala Delaware last season with a 4-0 start and a 5-6 final record.
Sometimes it's just dumb luck that a schedule shapes up differently than with what was envisioned when the contracts were signed in past years.
Some schedules, whether tough or not, fit the teams. Some, though, just stand out.
Eastern Washington - The poster child for bringing on possible tough times, EWU will visit two FBS programs - Oregon State and Toledo - and the team that knocked the Eagles out of the FCS semifinals last December - Sam Houston State - in their first four games. It's asking a lot considering they have a brutal three-games-in-four stretch within the Big Sky Conference against Montana (road), Montana State (home) and Cal Poly (road).
Austin Peay - Welcome to the meat grinder, Kirby Cannon. Before the Governors' new coach staggers into October, his team (7-26 the last three seasons) will play road games at three FBS opponents - Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Ohio University - and possible FCS playoff team Chattanooga from the Southern Conference. They then open their Ohio Valley Conference schedule at Eastern Kentucky, the winningest program in conference history, and against defending champion Eastern Illinois.
Eastern Illinois - The defending OVC champion Panthers may need back-to-back titles to return to the playoffs because gaining an at-large bid may prove to be too difficult. In their four non-conference games to open the season, two are at FBS opponents that combined for 21 wins last season - San Diego State and Northern Illinois - and they play at traditional rival Southern Illinois and host another strong Missouri Valley Football Conference squad, Illinois State, which reached the national quarterfinals last season.
Delaware State - The Hornets from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference are playing only three non-conference games. They clearly don't need any more after opening the season at intra-state power Delaware, a Towson squad going for a third straight CAA Football title and a North Dakota State squad that isn't just going for a third straight Missouri Valley title, it's going for a third straight national title.
McNeese State - The Cowboys have a sneaky schedule because it really adds up in a tough way. They open at FBS South Florida, host defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Division II power West Alabama and Weber State from the Big Sky in succession, go to Northern Iowa and then begin Southland Conference play against last year's co-champs, traveling to Central Arkansas and then hosting Sam Houston State.
Western Carolina - Not even a home game against Mars Hill will negate the punishment the Catamounts face at the FBS trio of Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Auburn. The Southern Conference road games to look forward to as well? Samford, Chattanooga, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
James Madison - This is the year the Dukes should have taken on a 12th game. The FBS game they have sandwiched between home dates against Northeast Conference teams Central Connecticut State and St. Francis (Pa.) is Akron, which went 1-11 last season. The CAA power could have added a fourth non- conference game against somebody, anybody. Bueller? Bueller?
Youngstown State - It's a good thing the Penguins have a trip to Michigan State because they aren't going to win a strength-of-schedule contest by starting the season against non-scholarship programs Dayton and Morehead State and then hosting Duquesne from the NEC. OK, so maybe they need to load up on wins before the season-ending Missouri Valley stretch at Northern Iowa and against North Dakota State and South Dakota State.