By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's easy to forget James Madison prepared for its upset over Virginia Tech last season with the same thought of winning the game as the Hokies.
The Dukes' guaranteed payout from Virginia Tech was going to be $400,000 either win or lose. But just because an FCS school is supposed to lose - and many times get hammered - by a team from the Bowl Subdivision doesn't mean it will be listening to the naysayers.
An FCS school can't put a price tag on all the potential rewards of playing up a division, so it should maximize its opportunity to command the spotlight, of which there are many this week as the college football season kicks off.
"We live in an ESPN world. Unless Kirk Herbstreet talks about you, no one else knows who you are," said James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews, the architect of last year's memorable upset of the 13th-ranked Hokies. "That's not (right). There's a lot of good football teams that never get on ESPN.
Today more than ever FCS schools are embracing the financial rewards of playing an FBS opponent. Among this week's 38 FCS-FBS meetings, Montana will go to Tennessee on Saturday for its first FBS game in five years.
Montana's, and any school's, six-figure payout stretches far for an athletic department's budget, as these games often help pay for expenses from, say, the field hockey or men's lacrosse team as much as the football team.
It's the football coach's job, though, to get his players thinking about only the on-the-field advantages. Such games can be the season's biggest barometer for an FCS team, even though they often occur in the first or second week of the season.
"We've been doing that for a long, long time, even before it was pretty en vogue to do it right now," said William & Mary coach Jimmye Layock, whose team on Saturday will try to replicate its 2009 upset of Virginia in Charlottesville.
"My reason that I wanted to do it way back when was I wanted that to be a part of a player's football experience when he came to William & Mary. You can get a great education and you compete for championships and all that. But you're also going to get a chance once a year to challenge yourself on a bigger level. And these are the games you'll remember the rest of your life, to go into a big stadium, a big game. You may not win them all, but if you win one of them here and there, it's something that will stay with you forever."
It's something seven teams could say last season, headlined by James Madison and Jacksonville State, which pulled a 49-48, double-overtime upset at Ole Miss.
Appalachian State won three straight FCS titles from 2005-07, but to this day its stunning upset over fifth-ranked Michigan to open the '07 season draws the most attention.
It may seem like the higher-level teams have so much to lose and little to gain by playing FCS teams, but they rarely lose. Last season, FBS teams won 85 of the 92 meetings while gaining the extra home games with all of their financial rewards, justifying the risks.
"Certainly it's a matter of confidence," Massachusetts coach Kevin Morris said. His Minutemen lost at Michigan, 42-37, last September.
"It depends on how you play out the course of the game. We came out of the Michigan game last year with an onside kick at the end to get the ball back and try to score to win. It was a pretty high-scoring affair, so I think our kids felt pretty confident coming out of the game that we could compete. It's really a game for us to get ready for the CAA (Football schedule), to look at it that way.
"Our kids get really excited in the FCS about playing the FBS teams because a lot of them felt they shoulda, woulda, coulda been recruited by one of those schools."
"I thought it was a great experience," said Colgate coach Dick Biddle, whose team played Syracuse last season. "I mean, they're going to talk about it the rest of their lives. Particularly when Syracuse went 8-4 and won a bowl game, it makes you look good. We hung with them for a little bit."
The FCS players have to play faster, bigger players, but their hearts measure the same size.
It's ultra important that the FCS team comes out of the game a better team for it. If it translates into a win the following game over a conference opponent, all the more better.
"The only minus to it I think is losing," Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. "I think that's the only negative thing about it. And you can sugarcoat that. You can make excuses and you say they've got 85 scholarships, they got this, they got that. Those are really just excuses. There are a lot more plusses to playing them than there are that one minus. I think it's great competition-wise, it's a great way to see where you are early in the season.
"In 2005, we played LSU (in the) next-to-the-last game. And we played really, really well. We came back and played the next week, beat Western Carolina, (won) the conference championship and went on to win our first NCAA championship. And I thought that game was good for us."
Among this week's marquee FCS-FBS match-ups: Thursday, Villanova at Temple, New Hampshire at Toledo and Montana State at Utah; and Saturday, Appalachian State at Virginia Tech, James Madison at North Carolina, Delaware at Navy, Eastern Washington at Washington, Montana at Tennessee, Richmond at Duke, William & Mary at Virginia, Chattanooga at Nebraska and Liberty at North Carolina State.
SPOO BEGINS FINAL SEASON
Eastern Illinois senior guard Eric Zink laughs that his team's rivalry games against Illinois State are always intense because, "We don't like them and they don't like us."
The two programs will square off for the 100th time Thursday night at EIU, but this season isn't only about wins and losses. That's because longtime EIU head coach Bob Spoo, who is coaching in his final season, is about much more than that - a graceful man who teaches life lessons as well.
"Basically, he's a living legend, EIU linebacker Corey Leman said. "There's nothing more than we want then to send him out on the right note. For all the years he's put in, all the hard work, he deserves it and we owe it to him."
The in-state rivalry - the 13th oldest on the FCS level - began in 1901. Illinois State has won seven of the last nine meetings, including an FCS playoff game in 2006, to take a 51-39-9 series lead. The game has been renamed the Mid-America Classic and has a new traveling trophy.
"Fifty years, 25 (at EIU), it's a good time," Spoo said, looking ahead. "You know, the spirit is well, but the flesh is weak. I'm a little weak, to be honest with you.
"I don't know what I'm going to do, first of all. I've never had to face up to the challenge of not going into the office every day. I'm going to miss the coaches that I've coached with, players that I've coached. I'll live through it. It's going to happen. I want this to be a special year in a lot of ways, not the least of which is winning."
EIU has been a playoff team nine times under Spoo, most recently as the Ohio Valley Conference champion in 2009. But the Panthers are trying to rebuild off a 2-9 season, so it will be difficult for them to get Spoo, who has a 142-122-1 career record, to the 150-win mark.
On Thursday, Spoo will look across the sideline to one of his many coaching disciples, Illinois State third-year head coach Brock Spack, who roamed the sidelines under Spoo from 1987-90 in Charleston.
"We're really looking to turn things around this year," Leman said. "Obviously, last year was a disappointment, traditionally not up to our standards. So this year we're focusing again on getting back to the top of the conference - conference champion. It's a good goal. Yeah, just a real turnaround and send Coach Spoo out on a good final year."
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT?
Marshall Sperbeck, Sacramento State - The talent is there for the Hornets to take the next step as a program. It's up to Sperbeck to get the job done.
Robin Pflugrad, Montana - The Grizzlies' run of 12 straight Big Sky titles and 17 straight FCS playoff appearances ended in Pflugrad's first season last year. Nobody in Missoula is interested in a repeat.
Paul Gorham, Sacred Heart - The Pioneers have had a winning record in Northeast Conference play in only one of his seven seasons.
Watson Brown, Tennessee Tech - He's well-liked, but needs wins from a team that appears ready to be competitive this season.
Rick Christophel, Austin Peay - The Governors have gone 15-29 in Christophel's four seasons and are going backward in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Mike Lucas, Southeastern Louisiana - Only 12-28 in Southland Conference games, Lucas needs improvement.
FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...
Once again this season, In the FCS Huddle is projecting the potential FCS playoff field. The projections are a long-range look at the season - not based off current records or rankings - and can be found at here.
AROUND THE NATION
Line 'em up: UTSA will play its first game as a program by hosting Division II Northeastern State on Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, where a huge crowd is expected. "It seems like only yesterday that I was being introduced at a press conference and now I've been here for almost three years," UTSA head coach Larry Coker said. "I didn't know my way around when I first got here, but I'll tell you, the anticipation in the air for our players is so different this week because they know they finally have a game to play. To practice football for a year with no games was really tough for them." ... All but one of the 16 new FCS head coaches debut this week, with Texas Southern's interim coach Kevin Ramsey having to wait until Sept. 10 against Prairie View A&M. The debuts include Doug Williams' return to Grambling State for a second coaching stint. His Tigers visit Alcorn State and quarterback Brandon Bridge in an intriguing SWAC match-up ... The first conference game of the season is Thursday night's OVC matchup of UT Martin at Jacksonville State. New JSU defensive coordinator Chris Boone spent the last five seasons in the same position at UT Martin ... Redshirt freshman Brandon Hill will be under center Thursday night when Massachusetts begins its final season in the FCS at Holy Cross - the first night game ever at Fitton Field ... Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore seeks his 200th win with the Mountaineers on Saturday at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, Marist head coach Jim Parady seeks his 100th career win Saturday at Sacred Heart. He's 99-96-1 with the Red Foxes ... Montana is playing Tennessee for the first time, but it's played in the state before, making five trips to the FCS championship game that used to be played in Chattanooga ... Central Arkansas will debut its new two-toned field - alternating purple and gray every five yards - Thursday night against Division II member Henderson State ... Quarterbacks reign in the two non-scholarship leagues. All eight Ivy League teams return their starting quarterback and seven of the 10 Pioneer Football League teams return their starter ... Five FCS programs will open the season with back-to-back games against FBS opponents: Austin Peay (Cincinnati and Memphis); Charleston Southern (UCF and Florida State); Stony Brook (UTEP and Buffalo); Texas State (Texas Tech and Wyoming); and Weber State (Wyoming and Utah State) ... The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference will use instant replay during its conference-sponsored television games on ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN Classic. Replay will be used during the MEAC/SWAC Challenge - Bethune-Cookman versus Prairie View A&M - Sunday on ESPN ... Fordham's scheduled game at Connecticut on Thursday has been postponed, perhaps until Saturday, because Rentschler Field in East Hartford is being used by the National Guard for relief efforts after Hurricane Irene ... The FCS' longest winning streak belongs to defending FCS champion and preseason No. 1 Eastern Washington at 11 games and the longest losing streak belongs to Valparaiso at 20.
FAVORITE PRESEASON QUOTE
Murray State coach Chris Hatcher on his team's approach to football:
"We don't take things very seriously with our ball club. We're kind of a real loose group, like to have a good time. That's kind of the way we coach. Every team's different. This year, if I walk into the locker room and they look like what you would perceive a football team should look like before they head onto the field, we're in trouble. If it looks like a zoo in there, like a bunch of children on a playground right before their mamas come to pick them up, then you know we're ready to play."
JUST THE PICKS
Last Season's Record: 590-186 (.760)
All Times EST
Thursday, Sept. 1
Murray State at X-Louisville, 6 p.m.
Kentucky Christian at X-Morehead State, 7 p.m.
Delta State at X-Northwestern State, 7 p.m.
Western Illinois at X-Sam Houston State, 7 p.m.
UT Martin at X-Jacksonville State, 7 p.m.
South Carolina State at X-Central Michigan, 7 p.m.
New Hampshire at X-Toledo, 7 p.m.
Villanova at X-Temple, 7 p.m.
McMurry at X-Stephen F. Austin, 7 p.m.
Western Carolina at X-Georgia Tech, 7:30 p.m.
West Alabama at X-South Alabama, 7:30 p.m.
X-Illinois State at Eastern Illinois, 7:30 p.m.
North Carolina Central at X-Rutgers, 7:30 p.m.
Evangel at X-Nicholls State, 7:30 p.m.
Drake at X-North Dakota, 8 p.m.
Henderson State at X-Central Arkansas, 8 p.m.
X-Massachusetts at Holy Cross, 8 p.m.
Montana State at X-Utah, 8 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 2
Youngstown State at X-Michigan State, 7:30 p.m.
Clark Atlanta at X-Georgia State, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3
Fordham at X-Connecticut, TBA (postponed from Thursday)
Indiana State at X-Penn State, noon
Southern Connecticut at X-Central Connecticut State, noon
Dayton at X-Robert Morris, noon
Tennessee Tech at X-Iowa, noon
Appalachian State at X-Virginia Tech, 12:30 p.m.
St Francis (Pa.) at X-Wagner, 1 p.m.
Albion at X-Butler, 1 p.m.
X-Lehigh at Monmouth, 1 p.m.
X-Wofford at Presbyterian, 1:30 p.m.
X-Delaware State at VMI, 1:30 p.m.
South Dakota at X-Air Force, 2 p.m.
Northeastern State at X-Texas-San Antonio, 2 p.m.
Concordia (Ala.) at X-Jackson State, 2:30 p.m.
Southeastern Louisiana at X-Tulane, 3:30 p.m.
James Madison at X-North Carolina, 3:30 p.m.
Delaware at X-Navy, 3:30 p.m.
Chattanooga at X-Nebraska, 3:30 p.m.
Lindenwood at X-Northern Colorado, 3:35 p.m.
Sacramento State at X-Oregon State, 4 p.m.
Virginia-Lynchburg at X-North Carolina A&T, 4 p.m.
Southern Oregon at X-Portland State, 4:05 p.m.
Savannah State at X-Albany State in Macon, Ga., 5 p.m.
Bryant at X-Maine, 5 p.m.
Alabama A&M at X-Hampton, 5 p.m.
Idaho State at X-Washington State, 5 p.m.
X-William & Mary at Virginia, 6 p.m.
Montana at X-Tennessee, 6 p.m.
Campbell at X-Old Dominion, 6 p.m.
X-Alabama State at Mississippi Valley State, 6 p.m.
X-Furman at Coastal Carolina, 6 p.m.
Liberty at X-North Carolina State, 6 p.m.
Virginia State at X-Norfolk State, 6 p.m.
Langston at X-Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Little Rock, Ark., 6 p.m.
Davidson at X-Georgetown, 6 p.m.
X-Albany at Colgate, 6 p.m.
Jacksonville at X-The Citadel, 6 p.m.
X-Duquesne at Bucknell, 6 p.m.
Fort Valley State at X-Florida A&M, 6 p.m.
Brevard at X-Gardner-Webb, 6 p.m.
Howard at X-Eastern Michigan, 7 p.m.
Austin Peay at X-Cincinnati, 7 p.m.
Richmond at X-Duke, 7 p.m.
Morgan State at X-Towson, 7 p.m.
X-Georgia Southern at Samford, 7 p.m.
Charleston Southern at X-UCF, 7 p.m.
X-Grambling St at Alcorn State in Shreveport, La., 7 p.m.
Missouri State at X-Arkansas, 7 p.m.
X-Southern Illinois at Southeast Missouri State, 7 p.m.
X-Southern Utah at South Dakota State, 7 p.m.
Lafayette at X-North Dakota State, 7 p.m.
X-Marist at Sacred Heart, 7 p.m.
Southern at X-Tennessee State, 7 p.m.
McNeese State at X-Kansas, 7 p.m.
Eastern Kentucky at X-Kansas State, 7 p.m.
Northern Iowa at X-Iowa State, 7 p.m.
Texas State at X-Texas Tech, 7 p.m.
X-Eastern Washington at Washington, 7 p.m.
Elon at X-Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m.
X-Franklin at Valparaiso, 8 p.m.
Texas College at X-Lamar, 8:30 p.m.
Stony Brook at X-UTEP, 9 p.m.
San Diego at X-Azusa Pacific, 9 p.m.
Northern Arizona at X-Arizona, 9 p.m.
Weber State at X-Wyoming, 9 p.m.
UC Davis at X-Arizona State, 10 p.m.
Cal Poly at X-San Diego State, 10 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 4
Prairie View A&M at X-Bethune-Cookman in Orlando, Fla., noon