In the FCS Huddle: Big Sky impresses in opening week

It's pretty much a consensus that the Colonial Athletic Association is the toughest conference in the FCS. However, the Big Sky has been making a push to at least be included in the discussion.

In addition to the defending national champion residing within the conference - Eastern Washington - the first week of the season once again proved the Big Sky is in fact one of the power conferences at the FCS level.

Sacramento State had the most impressive result, upsetting Pac-12 opponent Oregon State, 29-28, in overtime, but that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to impressive performances from Big Sky teams.

Eastern Washington nearly pulled the upset against Washington, but a Bo Levi Mitchell pass to the end zone was intercepted late in a 30-27 loss - a performance still worthy of the Eagles' lofty preseason goals.

Montana State, which was crowned Big Sky co-champion with Eastern Washington last season, fell to Utah, 27-10, but the defense impressed, limiting the Utes to just 10 points and 228 points over the final three quarters.

Another team on the losing - but impressive - end of the spectrum was Weber State. The Wildcats nearly knocked off Wyoming, but a late touchdown saved the Cowboys from falling to an FCS opponent. Also, don't ignore the 541 yards of total offense the Wildcats posted as a possible sign of things to come.

Portland State looked impressive in a 52-0 win against Division II Southern Oregon, as a 31-point first quarter allowed many of the starters to enjoy the rest of the game from the comfort of the sidelines.

The Big Sky's opening weekend looks even more impressive when CAA teams New Hampshire, Villanova, Delaware, James Madison and William & Mary were all on the wrong end of one-sided affairs with FBS foes.

While there were some disappointments - including Montana not putting up much of a fight against Tennessee and Northern Colorado losing to transitioning member Division II Lindenwood - the Big Sky's opening weekend and its performance against FBS schools once again sent a message to the rest of the FCS.


Wayne Lineburg may be a rookie head coach, but he's already continued Richmond's recent tradition of beating up on FBS opponent Duke, prevailing, 23-21, in his coaching debut.

While the Blue Devils gained more yards and forced more turnovers, the Spiders did what was necessary to win - scoring on a fourth-down touchdown run and stopping Duke in the red zone - and getting a little bit of luck that comes with upsets, as Duke missed two field goals in the final two minutes.

Lucky? Perhaps, but winning three straight against Duke in the past six years is more than just a fluke and it seems that Richmond has a spot reserved for the Blue Devils in its usual web of victims.


In no way am I advocating benching a dual-threat quarterback who was a 2010 Walter Payton Award (sponsored by finalist after one game, but after what Jamal Jackson did in relief of DeAndre Presley, you have to wonder if the sophomore will sniff the field a bit more this season.

Presley struggled, completing only seven passes for 89 yards and tossing a pair of interceptions, while failing to lead a scoring drive. While Jackson's numbers weren't great (only two completions) he did show great arm strength on a 46-yard touchdown strike and guided another scoring drive as well.

With Presley a senior, it might not be a bad idea for the Mountaineers to get Jackson some reps, because clearly we learned this kid has some raw talent.


When I spoke to Larry Coker back in July, you could tell he was excited for the season. Saturday, he finally got to live that dream as UTSA opened its inaugural season with a 31-3 win against Division II Northeastern State.

Even more impressive than quarterback Eric Soza's three combined touchdowns was the crowd of 56,743 that filled the Alamodome, sending a message that the major market is ready to support the Roadrunners.


I'll hold any final judgement for when they play an actual FCS team, but Stephen F. Austin's defense was lights out against Division III McMurry and perhaps even more impressive than the offense in an 82-6 (yes, 82 points) victory.

McMurry was held to a mere 128 yards on 72 plays - a minuscule 1.8 yards per offensive snap. SFA held its opponent to an amazing 0-for-18 on third-down conversions.

With that type of defense - albeit against a lower level team - it makes replacing a Walter Payton Award winner (Jeremy Moses) that much easier.


In both games I attended this past week, an FBS school (Temple and Navy) handed an FCS school (Villanova and Delaware) quite the beatdown. In addition to both teams failing to stop the opponent's running game - which for Delaware is somewhat excusable when Navy runs the triple option - both the Wildcats and Blue Hens had momentum-swinging penalties go against them.

Incidentally, both were third-down plays, where Villanova and Delaware handed their opponent a first down due to a late hit out of bounds. In each case, the other team scored later that same drive.

Were the late hits simply an adrenaline rush or first-game jitters? Maybe, but for two historically disciplined CAA programs, those penalties shouldn't be an issue by next weekend.


Sacramento State - how could you argue against this pick? The Hornets upset an FBS team in gutsy fashion, going for a 2-point conversion in overtime. I had the Hornets tabbed at No. 11 in my preseason poll ballot (ended up No. 24). They deserve to rise into the Top 10 this week.


Speaking of Sacramento State's decision to go for the 2-point conversion, it really was a 50-50 chance of the Hornets getting the win, as they'd converted five times on 10 tries since the 2008 season.


The Southland Conference did well, going 6-2 this week (both losses to FBS teams) ... One of the Southland teams, Central Arkansas, debuted its new alternating purple and gray turf this week. Want to see it? Bears games on Sept. 24 (local) and Oct. 15 (Southland TV) will be televised ... Congratulations to Marist coach Jim Parady for earning his 100th career win ... UTEP just outlasted Stony Brook in overtime, derailing a possible third FCS over FBS upset ... Presbyterian gave Wofford a scare in only losing by a touchdown. Could the Blue Hose be ready to reverse past fortunes?