By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The highway billboard that I drove past all summer never failed to capture my attention. It was for a plastic surgeon's office and the big photo was zoomed in on a woman's low-cut dress. To the side were the words, "At least you're not texting right now."
The debut of red turf at Eastern Washington University on Saturday figures to be similar - bizarre, mesmerizing and surreal all wrapped together. It will be hard for me or anybody to take the eyes off it, but there will be no stopping the texting, tweeting and emailing about it.
The national spotlight that Eastern Washington sought after it installed red SprinTurf this summer at newly named Roos Field will reach its height when Big Sky Conference kingpin Montana rolls into Cheney for an incredible early season showdown. Considering the sixth-ranked Grizzlies have won at least a share of 12 straight conference titles, and reached the FCS championship in each of the past two seasons, the 18th-ranked Eagles would turn the race upside down with a victory in the conference opener for both teams.
By going red, Eastern Washington hopes to get the boost that Boise State has enjoyed with its one-of-a-kind blue turf. The former Big Sky member Broncos went 63-2 at home in the 2000s - the highest home winning percentage in the nation during the decade.
Opponents are especially distracted when Boise State players wear all-blue uniforms on the blue turf. Eastern Washington will wear all-red uniforms on Saturday.
"Once you're on it, you don't notice it," Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin said Wednesday in one of his old try-telling-that-to-the-Grizzlies lines. "Watching film the first couple times was pretty interesting. That's probably a lot tougher than when you're on it.
"Seeing it from the airplane when we flew to Nevada (for their season opener) was kind of interesting, flying in and out. It gives pilots a good idea that they're coming up on Cheney."
Montana first-year coach Robin Pflugrad is looking forward to seeing red. He's been on Boise State's turf before.
"These young players aren't used to a lot of things," Pflugrad said. "So every week is actually fairly similar whether, again, we're getting on an airplane to go play Cal Poly or having a home game as an opener or going over to Cheney. So our message doesn't change that much. It's about ourselves getting prepared and doing the right things first and foremost.
"Playing Boise State on blue back in the old days was fun. Different color, we'll march on. Our end zones are maroon, so we've been practicing in the end zone all week. Hopefully, we can get in there every once in awhile."
The game could be a shootout, like last year's 41-34 Montana victory, its fourth straight in the series.
The Griz have won 15 straight conference games and haven't lost in back-to- back weeks since 2003. All-America running back Chase Reynolds, with only 72 rushing yards through two games, hasn't gotten on track in Pflugrad's wide- open offense. Andrew Selle is scheduled to start again at quarterback, but Justin Roper has played a lot as well.
Eastern Washington, which, like Montana, is 1-1, features electrifying tailback Taiwan Jones, who leads the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (278.5). SMU transfer Bo Levi Mitchell is settling in at quarterback and the Eagles have the biggest difference-maker on either defense, linebacker J.C. Sherritt.
Still, the red turf will share the spotlight (sunglasses, anyone?) as 11,000, and probably more, pack Roos Field for a memorable day of more than football.
"It's really sharp," Baldwin said. "And going into it I was excited about it from the get-go, but you still didn't know exactly how it would look or exactly turn out - you've never seen one before. But they did an incredible job with it. Obviously, we love the look of it and the surface itself. It gives us a better surface, especially throughout the year when weather starts getting bad."
"I love it, I think it's so awesome, the attention we're getting in the Big Sky Conference," Pflugrad said. "I think it's awesome, I think every school should have their own color."
RICHMOND HOPING TO FEEL AT HOME AGAINST ELON
The red on the turf at Richmond's renovated stadium is the logo of the spider at midfield.
On Saturday, Richmond will play on campus for the first time in 82 years at Robins Stadium, which has undergone a $25 million renovation and brought the Spiders back from playing downtown at Richmond Stadium.
Richmond, ranked ninth in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25, isn't exactly opening its door to a cupcake. Seventh-ranked Elon of the Southern Conference will try to put a damper on the day.
In the initial design phase of Robins Stadium, Richmond used Elon's Rhodes Stadium, which opened in 2001, as a model.
"Obviously, this is a big step for us," Richmond coach Latrell Scott said. "It's a great situation for our team, for our students, for our alumni, and just to have the ability after over 80 years to be able to come back and actually play on campus, I think it's a great situation."
In a game that features an outstanding quarterback matchup - all-time Southern Conference passing yardage leader Scott Riddle of Elon versus Southern California transfer Aaron Corp of Richmond - both coaches will try to keep the focus on football.
Their teams are familiar after Richmond won at Elon, 28-10, to open the 2008 season and then knocked the Phoenix out of the 2009 FCS playoffs, 16-13, just 10 months ago in Richmond. The Spiders have won the three all-time meetings.
"I think you don't make a bigger deal out of it than it is," Elon coach Pete Lembo said. "Obviously, it's a huge deal for the folks at Richmond, but for us we're used to going to places like Appalachian (State) and Georgia Southern and The Citadel. You know we were just at Duke two weeks ago with 34,000 people. Obviously, it's going to be a packed house and an emotional crowd and an emotional day for a lot of Richmond alums that have waited many years for this. But once the whistle blows, it's just football and it's going to be two good teams out there. That's not going to be any different."
Skydivers will deliver the official game ball.
KEELER, DELAWARE ON TRACK
I'm convinced that if my friend Pat cuts himself shaving, he would bleed royal blue and gold. He and my Aunt Norma are die-hard fans of Delaware football, and considering that four of the Blue Hens' five seasons from 2005-09 were subpar, they have asked about head coach K.C. Keeler's job security, like many others among the Blue Hens faithful.
It doesn't appear Keeler is going anywhere soon. As fans learned from Delaware's 26-3 roll past then-Top 10 South Dakota State this past Saturday, the conversation no longer is about where the Blue Hens aren't going this season but how far they will go in the CAA Football race and then the FCS playoffs.
Well, on many Saturdays they won't be traveling far. With seven home games among 11 this season, and more sure to come in the playoffs, the Blue Hens appear to be a major factor again.
Keeler, with a lot of help from quarterback Joe Flacco, took them to the national final in 2007. The many necessary pieces are in place again, with All-American QB Pat Devlin now surrounded by an experienced team, including a dominant secondary, and freshman running back Andrew Pierce has shown he belongs.
Sure the ride has been up and down under Keeler, who is 64-39 in Newark and won the 2003 national title. I kept answering Delaware fans that Keeler suddenly didn't forget how to coach a quality team. It's nice to let the results show it more.
THE LONG JOURNEY
First the good news - well, great news - for Cal Poly: The Mustangs, nearly humbled by Humboldt State in their season opener, made all the necessary adjustments from Week 1 to Week 2 and beat then-No. 1 Montana this past Saturday in San Luis Obispo.
Now the bad news: Their upcoming stretch of games is absolutely diabolical.
Cal Poly will play five straight difficult games on the road, the first two against Southland Conference schools, Saturday at Texas State and Sept. 25 at McNeese State, then Oct. 2 at Fresno State's strong FBS program, Oct. 9 all the way across the country at Old Dominion and Oct. 16 against fellow Great West hopeful Southern Utah.
A stretch in the Big Sky Conference - which Cal Poly will be joining, likely in 2012 - won't be as tough as this one.
Maybe the win over Montana indicates that coach Tim Walsh's squad will be up to the difficult task.
THOMAS HAD BRAIN DISEASE
Penn football player Owen Thomas had a trauma-induced brain disease associated with hard hits when he committed suicide in April. A detailed examination of his brain revealed he was in the early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, an Alzheimer's-like disease that has been linked to depression and impulse control, primarily among NFL players.
The New York Times first reported the findings of research at Boston University on Thomas' brain tissue. The junior defensive end was 21 at his death.
Penn will honor Thomas before its season opener against Lafayette on Saturday at Franklin Field.
All eight Ivy League teams open their season on Saturday.
ON TARGET I
Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault pronounces his name Terry Oh. Maybe it should be Terry Oh!
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior transfer from Grand Rapids Community College is an education major who is taking opponents to school. He has completed 50- of-85 passes for 688 yards (an FCS-best 344 per game) and seven touchdowns with only one interception. Not surprisingly, the Tigers are 2-0, with a visit to SWAC rival Grambling State up next on Saturday.
"He has worked hard to understand our offense and is doing an great job of reading defenses and checking to the right play," Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said.
ON TARGET II
A lot of terrific players are off to fast starts and Portland State sophomore place-kicker Zach Brown is on as high a level as any through two games.
Brown has made 7-of-8 field-goal attempts - the most in all of Division I - including kicks of 46, 47, 48 and 53 yards. His only miss is from 53 yards, which stopped a streak of 10 straight made field goals dating to last season.
Also, as Portland State handed head coach Nigel Burton his first career win last Saturday at UC Davis, Brown had a 2-point conversion on an option play and averaged 68.5 yards on eight kickoffs.
RHODE ISLAND MOVE CLOSER TO BEING FINALIZED
It appears Rhode Island's move from CAA Football to the Northeast Conference could be announced in the coming weeks. URI has been finalizing the details internally since this summer, when the NEC extended an invitation to the Rams to become an associate member for football.
The change of conferences would go into effect for the 2013 season. It would increase NEC football to 10 schools, but currently there are not plans to break into divisional play.
CAA Football allows for the maximum of 63 athletic scholarships. The NEC will allow 40 athletic scholarship by 2013, but Rhode Island, like other conference members, also would be allowed to offer need-based scholarships to student- athletes. This season, NEC members are offering 34 athletic scholarships in addition to need-based scholarships.
Villanova's 2009 FCS champions were among the NCAA winners from the 2009-10 academic year who were honored at the White House on Monday. During his address to all the champions, President Obama referenced how Villanova's Matt Szczur donated blood-forming cells to a leukemia patient this past spring.
"There's one young man who even donated his bone marrow to a young girl he never met," Obama said. "As he said, 'That's more important than a football game' and those kind of things will stay with you the rest of your lives."
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER
FCS programs own six wins over FBS teams through the first two weeks of action, with five more trying to increase the total on Saturday. Massachusetts visits the Big House to take on Michigan, whose loss to Appalachian State in 2007 is the standard for big school-little school upsets. Also on tap are Portland State at Oregon, Furman at South Carolina, Maine at Syracuse and Southern Utah at San Jose State ... It will be no-huddle offense versus no- huddle offense on Saturday when Central Arkansas (2-0) hosts Murray State (0-2). The host Bears prefer a fast style under coach Clint Conque and stunned Eastern Illinois, 37-7, last Saturday. Conque and Murray State coach Chris Hatcher are old friends, and Hatcher has brought a spread offense to the Racers this season ... Drake visits Montana State on Saturday to take on its all-time winningest coach, Rob Ash, who left the Bulldogs in 2007. Ash led Drake to three outright Pioneer Football League titles (1995, 1998 and 2004) and a shared crown in 2000 ... After being declared ineligible by Hampton for its first game, senior defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis earned MEAC Defensive Player of the Week honors against Howard last Saturday with 16 tackles, including 2.5 for losses, two sacks, one quarterback hurry and one fumble recovery. Ellis is a nominee for the Buck Buchanan Award, presented by Fathead.com ... Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses sits third among active FCS players in career passing yards at 9,887. He figures to reach the 10,000 plateau at Northern Iowa on Saturday in a meeting of nationally ranked teams. Of course, Moses will need to stay upright against a UNI defense that recorded a school-record 11 sacks against North Dakota State last Saturday ... Meanwhile, Southern Utah's Tysson Poots, whose 2,912 receiving yards in his career make him the active leader, could reach the 3,000 mark in Saturday's visit to San Jose State ... Youngstown State lost senior outside linebacker Na'eem Outler to a transfer to Miami (Ohio). He was a productive player for the Penguins each of the last two seasons ... If Bucknell first-year coach Joe Susan can get his first victory in the Bison's home opener Saturday against Dartmouth, it would come on his 55th birthday.
JUST THE PICKS
Last Week's Record: 58-18 (.763)
Season Record: 134-28 (.827)
Thursday, Sept. 16
Newberry (1-1) at X-Samford (1-1), 8 p.m.
Lane (0-3) at X-Tennessee Tech (0-2), 8 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 18
X-Sacred Heart (1-1) at St. Francis, Pa. (0-2), noon
Webber (2-0) at X-Jacksonville (1-1), noon
X-No. 15 Liberty (2-0) at Robert Morris (1-1), noon
X-Georgetown (2-0) at Yale (0-0), noon
X-No. 8 New Hampshire (1-1) at Rhode Island (0-2), noon
No. 16 Massachusetts (2-0) at X-Michigan (2-0), noon
X-Stony Brook (1-1) at Brown (0-0), noon
X-Fordham (1-1) at Columbia (0-0), 12:30 p.m.
Princeton (0-0) at X-Lehigh (1-1), 12:37 p.m.
Taylor (1-1) at X-Butler (1-1), 1 p.m.
Cornell (0-0) at X-Wagner (0-1), 1 p.m.
No. 7 Elon (1-1) at X-No. 9 Richmond (0-1), 1 p.m.
X-No. 4 Jacksonville State (2-0) at Georgia State (1-1), 1 p.m.
X-Dartmouth (0-0) at Bucknell (0-2),1 p.m.
Merrimack (0-1) at X-Bryant (2-0), 1 p.m.
Morehead State (1-1) at X-Dayton (1-1),1 p.m.
Alabama A&M (1-1) at X-Texas Southern (0-2), 1 p.m.
X-Florida A&M (1-1) at Howard (0-2), 1 p.m.
Davidson (0-2) at X-Campbell (1-1), 1 p.m.
Mars Hill (2-1) at X-Charleston Southern (1-1), 1:30 p.m.
X-No. 14 South Carolina State (1-1) at Benedict (0-3), 2 p.m.
Sam Houston State (0-1) at X-Western Illinois (1-1), 2 p.m.
Drake (1-1) at X-No. 22 Montana State (1-1), 3:05 p.m.
North Carolina Central (1-1) at X-No. 2 Appalachian State (2-0), 3:30 p.m.
Towson (1-1) at X-No. 1 Villanova (1-1), 3:30 p.m.
Idaho State (1-1) at X-Northern Colorado (1-1), 3:35 p.m.
Savannah State (0-2) at X-Bethune-Cookman (1-0), 4:00 p.m.
X-Alcorn State (1-0) at Mississippi Valley State (0-2), 5 p.m.
Northeastern State (1-1) at X-North Dakota (0-2), 5 p.m.
Alabama State (2-0) at X-Prairie View A&M (1-1), 5 p.m.
X-Jackson State (2-0) at Grambling State (0-1), 5 p.m.
Nicholls State (0-2) at X-South Alabama (1-0), 5 p.m.
X-No. 10 Stephen F. Austin (1-1) at No. 13 Northern Iowa (1-0), 5:05 p.m.
NW Oklahoma (0-1) at X-No. 25 South Dakota (1-1), 5:05 p.m.
Virginia State (2-0) at X-Norfolk State (1-1), 6 p.m.
North Carolina A&T (0-2) at X-Hampton (1-1), 6 p.m.
Georgia Southern (1-1) at X-Coastal Carolina (0-2), 6 p.m.
Central Connecticut State (1-1) at X-Youngstown State (1-1), 6 p.m.
Western Carolina (0-2) at X-Gardner-Webb (1-1), 6 p.m.
Duquesne (2-0) at X-No. 11 Delaware (2-0), 6 p.m.
Eastern Kentucky (0-2) at X-Chattanooga (0-2), 6 p.m.
Portland State (1-1) at X-Oregon (2-0), 6:15 p.m.
Lafayette (0-1) at X-Penn (0-0), 7 p.m.
X-Tarleton State (0-2) at Northwestern State (0-2), 7 p.m.
Illinois State (1-1) at X-No. 20 South Dakota State (0-1), 7 p.m.
SE Missouri State (1-1) at X-No. 5 Southern Illinois (1-1), 7 p.m.
No. 24 Furman (1-0) at X-South Carolina (2-0), 7 p.m.
Murray State (0-2) at X-Central Arkansas (2-0), 7 p.m.
Lamar (1-1) at X-SE Louisiana (1-1), 7 p.m.
St. Joseph's, Ind. (0-3) at X-Valparaiso (0-2), 7 p.m.
Morgan State (1-1) at X-No. 23 North Dakota State (1-1), 7 p.m.
Presbyterian (0-2) at X-The Citadel (1-1), 7 p.m.
Union, Ky. (1-1) at X-Wofford (1-1), 7 p.m.
X-Eastern Illinois (1-1) at Tennessee-Martin (0-2), 7 p.m.
No. 17 Cal Poly (1-1) at X-Texas State (1-1), 7 p.m.
X-Austin Peay (1-1) at Tennessee State (1-1), 7 p.m.
X-No. 12 William & Mary (1-1) at Old Dominion (1-1),
7 p.m. Holy Cross (1-1) at X-Harvard (0-0), 7 p.m.
No. 6 Montana (1-1) at X-No. 18 Eastern Washington (1-1), 7:05 p.m.
Maine (1-1) at X-Syracuse (1-1), 7:15 p.m.
Southern Utah (1-1) at X-San Jose State (0-2), 8 p.m.
No. 21 Weber State (1-1) at X-Sacramento State (1-1), 9:05 p.m.
X-UC Davis (1-1) at San Diego (0-2), 9:05 p.m.