#2 Alabama Slams #8 Michigan, #13 Michigan State Beats #24 Boise State, and 30 Schools Win “Cupcake Games” Against AA Schools

College Football Wrap-Up – Week 1

The first week of the 2012 NCAA college football season was business as usual—no less than 33 of the opening week’s 76 games (43%) found the 124 Division 1-A teams playing weaker Division 1-AA opponents.

This happens for at least 4 reasons:

1) The major 1-A teams (what the NCAA brain trust likes to call the FBS—Football Bowl Subdivision) want at least one or two easy victories to start the season so they can be temporarily undefeated before they play tougher competition (even the SEC teams do this).

2) Playing a much weaker team allows the major teams to give their first-time starters and younger players badly needed experience, and help build their confidence for the much tougher league games ahead.

3) Despite the preseason training, and however well it appears to go, there is nothing like game experience to reveal the weakness of a team’s offense and defense. Coaches also find out that some great practice players don’t do nearly as well under actual game pressure, and others come alive when it counts most.

4) Weaker AA teams (what the NCAA brain trust likes to call the FCS—Football Championship Subdivision) buy into this competitive disparity because they get a huge monetary payoff to help fund their programs, and much needed publicity when they can upset the bigger-name program and team.

It’s a symbiotic relationship that works because both teams benefit despite the obvious lack of competitive parity.

There would have been another two AA opponent games but the Oregon State-Nicholls contest was postponed when the Nicholls State Colonels could not fly out of Louisiana because of a hurricane warning, and the Texas A&M-Louisiana Tech game was postponed for the same reason.

To preserve my sanity, and yours as well, all of my articles on this site this season will only use the national rankings of the AP Top 25 Poll of sportswriters and sportscasters, since it is the most popular poll among fans. I am 68, after all, and have been watching or covering college football for 50 years.

A new twist this year will be to focus on Phil Steele’s preseason Top 10 Surprise Teams (ST) and Top 15 Most Improved Teams (MIT). Phil Steele is the most accurate forecaster in the world when it comes to major college football, and worth following (see my earlier posts on Phil Steele that came out last week).

Phil’s Surprise Teams this year are (in order) Texas, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Florida, Louisville, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Michigan State and Stanford.

Phil’s Most Improved Teams this year are (in order) Central Florida, Ohio State, South Florida, Bowling Green, Troy, Tennessee, Miami of Ohio, Fresno State, Army, East Carolina, UCLA, Texas Tech, San Jose State, Navy and Pittsburgh.

Let’s analyze the margins of victory in the first week’s results of these AA lopsided game opponents. As you read through these results, see what conclusions you can draw compared to mine:

+62  North Carolina at home over AA Elon 62-0 – The Tar Heels are awake at the expense of poor Elon, which has an undergraduate population of 5,000+; North Carolina has a student population of 27,000+.

+57  Arizona State at home over in-state rival AA Northern Arizona 63-6 – New Sun Devil Coach Todd Graham made it real clear that he has arrived to take over at Arizona State.

+52  Missouri at home over AA Southeast Louisiana 62-10 – Gary Pinkel and his Missouri Tigers had better get a quick start because they are now playing in the SEC.

+45  New Mexico at home over AA Southern 66-21 – The Lobos led 45-6 at halftime.

+45  Mississippi State at home over AA Jackson State 56-9

+42  Purdue at home over AA Eastern Kentucky 48-6

+41  Utah at home shut out AA Northern Colorado 41-0 – The Utes were focused and serious in their opener.

+40  Louisiana-Lafayette at home over AA Lamar 40-0 – The Ragin’ Cajuns wiped the floor in this shut out of the Cardinals. LA-Lafayette led 40 to nada at the half; the 2nd half was scoreless. Not sure what was going on there. Maybe both teams stopped for some Southern barbecued ribs.

+39  Western Kentucky at home over AA Austin Peay 49-10

+38  Texas Tech at home over AA Northwestern State 44-6

+31  Utah State at home over in-state rival AA Southern Utah 34-3

+30  New Mexico State at home over AA Sacramento State 49-19

+28  Air Force at home over AA Idaho State 49-21

+27  Fresno State at home over AA Weber State 37-10 – Fresno State is the #8 MIT.

+24  Virginia at home over AA Richmond 43-19

+22  East Carolina at home over AA Appalachian State 35-13 – East Carolina is the #10 MIT.

+22  Mississippi at home over AA Central Arkansas 49-27

+21  South Florida at home over AA Chattanooga 34-13 – South Florida is the #3 MIT.

+20  Kent State at home over AA Towson 41-21 – Dude, you gave up 3 touchdowns to Towson?

+14  Kansas at home over AA South Dakota State 31-17 – If it were not for basketball, Jayhawk fans would have nothing to cheer about. The Jayhawks 10-year record is 55-67 (45%).

+11  Central Michigan at home over AA SE Missouri State 38-27

+7  Indiana at home over in-state rival AA Indiana State 24-17 – The Indiana Hoosiers would be lucky to beat their in-laws in a scrub game, but at least they got by a AA opponent without totally embarrassing themselves. Do not write me over this assessment of Indiana; the Hoosiers have gone 37 and 82 over the last 10 years (31%), and it has felt like 100 years. With its great basketball heritage under Bobby Knight, Indiana raises its ineptitude in football to an art form (if there is a way to lose, they will find it). 

+4  Florida Atlantic at home over AA Wagner 7-3

+3  Memphis at home over AA Tennessee-Martin 20-17 – Don’t look surprised, Memphis is a music and basketball town.

+3  Wake Forest at home over AA Liberty 20-17 – What exactly were the Demon Deacon players doing on Friday night? Knowing might be TMI (too much information). Liberty is lucky to even know how to put on their uniforms against a 1-A school.

+1 Maryland at home over AA William & Mary 7-6 – Is there a Maryland JV team? Good grief, one wouldn’t want to be a Terrapin this year.

Minus 6  Middle Tennessee State at home was upset by unranked, AA McNeese State from Louisiana 27-21 – Middle Tennessee State was a 7-point favorite. Yo, Earth to Middle Tennessee: What’s going on down there?

Minus 14  Pittsburgh at home was upset by AA Youngstown State 31-17 – The Panthers have fallen apart. A once great team cannot seem to find itself on the major college landscape at this time. Pittsburgh was a #15 MIT that has simply NOT improved, for whatever reason. Pennsylvania, a once great football state, has hit rock bottom with all of the Penn State and Pitt woes.

Minus 17  Idaho at  home was upset by AA Eastern Washington 20-3 – Idaho was a 7-point favorite at home, but Eastern Washington won the AA National Championship 2 years ago and is currently ranked 15th in the Top 25 AA Coaches Poll. In other words, Idaho is not very good, and Eastern Washington is very good for a AA school.

What is your analysis of these AA games? Here is mine:

1) In 50 years of watching and covering college football, I can say that unless an A team beats a double-A team by 40+ points, they are probably not ready for prime play in the next few weeks.

So at least 8 teams get attention right now because they have an offense—North Carolina, Arizona State, Missouri, New Mexico, Mississippi State, Purdue, Utah and Louisiana-Lafayette.

The best victory was North Carolina stomping a mud hole in Elon in a 62-0 shutout. When you can put 62 points on the board and keep your opponent scoreless, you are damn serious about playing football.

The worst victory was Maryland at home over AA William & Mary, 7-6.

The worst performance came from the players at Middle Tennessee State, Pittsburgh and Idaho, all of whom lost to AA teams by a total of 37 points.

Thirty of the 33 teams that played AA teams won, that’s 90%. No wonder they do it. The 3 teams to not escape were Middle Tennessee State, Pittsburgh and Idaho. And that is the risk—that you may be very embarrassed by a lesser opponent.

AA upsets can and do happen.

Last year the Oregon State Beavers allowed Sacramento State to pull off a 29-28 victory in overtime.

Two years ago, Jacksonville State, a AA team from the Ohio Valley Conference, overcame a 21-point deficit to upend Mississippi 49-48, marking only the second ever loss by an SEC team (Southeastern Conference) to a AA team.

In another stunning AA win two years ago, No. 13-ranked Virginia Tech lost at home to the James Madison Dukes, 21-16, in what had to be one of the worst – if not the worst – defeats in Hokie history. To add insult to injury, Virginia Tech was favored by 33 points, and failed to cover by 39, which could not have made Hokie boosters happy as they went home broke.

In the first week of the 2007 season, visiting AA Appalachian State pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college football history when the Mountaineers knocked off then 5th-ranked Michigan, 34-32, on a final play blocked field goal attempt at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Some fans think Appalachian State’s upset was THE greatest in history since no AA team had beaten a team ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll between 1989 and 2006—an 18-year period—and it’s unlikely that it had ever happened before since the Division I subdivisions were created in 1978.

Here’s what the 1st week looked like in the normal world of parity (A teams playing A teams in their opener):

#1 USC at home easily beat up the Hawaii Warriors, 49-10. Beware of the Trojans, they are on a Duck hunt in the new Pac 12 Conference. Should Oregon win the Pac-12 this season, it would mark its 4th consecutive championship.

#2 Alabama met #8 Michigan in the premier game of opening week at a neutral site in Texas (Jerry Jones’ man cave) and, the Crimson Tide was typically Alabama, kicking the living snot out of the Wolverines, 41-14. The Crimson Tide beat up their all-everything QB, Denard Robinson, their pride, their egos, and their maize-and-blue jerseys. Seriously, was Michigan the 8th best team in the country coming into the season? Obviously not. It happened because the press corps was drinking too much Ann Arbor Kool-Aid. The press crops should stick to Jameson. 

#3 LSU at home let the Tiger loose on North Texas, 41-14.

#4 Oklahoma on-the-road took time from a water break to down UTEP (Texas-El Paso), 24-7. The Sooners are really hungry after the last few years, but are they THAT good? Landry Jones, who ignored the NFL draft to find out, was pressured on nearly every snap by the Miners, and could not find his receivers, but the Sooners did finally outscore UTEP 14-0 in the last quarter, and it was a good thing they did, or they might have had their first loss of the new season.

#5 Oregon, at home no less, gives up 24 second-half points to Arkansas State, but wins, 57-34. Perhaps Oregon was giving some experience to its depth chart, or, has the Duck defense suddenly become less defensive? USC and Washington certainly hope so.

#6 Georgia at home rolled over Buffalo, 45-23. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns in every quarter. In other words, Buffalo has no defense.

#7 Florida State at home gave AA Murray State a 69-3 lesson the Racers will not soon forget.

#9 South Carolina on-the-road needed a come-from-behind 4th quarter touchdown to beat unranked Vanderbilt, 17-13. The Gamecocks did not look good. Marcus Lattimore had 2 touchdowns and ran for 110 yards in his first game back after tearing his left ACL early last season, and QB Conner Shaw, despite taking a helmet to his shoulder blade in his throwing arm late in the 1st half, ran for 92 yards on 14 carries (6.57 yards per carry). Without Lattimore, South Carolina would not have won this game. Note: #9 is the highest ranking the Gamecocks have ever had starting a season, and comes after their 11-2 finish last season.

#10 Arkansas at home beat AA Jacksonville State 49-24, as expected.

#11 West Virginia at home whipped Marshall, 69-34. The Mountaineers rolled up 655 yards of offense to record its highest-scoring season opener in school history. I think I am impressed. So, let me get this right. West Virginia scores more than a point a minute on Marshall, but gives up 4 touchdowns and 2 field goals to the Thundering Herd. Sounds to me like Marshall Coach Doc Holliday brought his guns to the fight, or West Virginia played a lot of its depth chart at some point.

#12 Wisconsin, at home and the #5 ST, apparently did not intimidate AA Northern Iowa. The Badgers won, 26-21, but, seriously, by only 5 points? This is not going to scare a lot of Big Ten opponents.

#13 Michigan State at home held #24 Boise State scoreless in the 2nd half while adding a last quarter score by Le’Von Bell to hold off the Broncos 17-13. Boise State played tough and profited from two turnovers that led to an interception return touchdown and a field goal as Michigan State’s offense gave Boise State 10 points; the Spartan defense held the Broncos to a field goal as Le’Von Bell ran for a career-high 210 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was a huge loss for Boise State and a huge victory for Michigan State.

#14 Clemson, on-the-road at Auburn in a game of different Tigers, showed Auburn why it’s the #2 ST by beating Auburn, 26-19, to preserve its Top 25 ranking.

#15 Texas, at home and the #1 ST, stuck a fork in Wyoming, 37-17.

#16 Virginia Tech, at home and the #8 ST, was down 17-14 to unranked Georgia Tech and tied the game on the final play before winning the game 20-17 in overtime. The Hokies were lucky to win this opener at home, and certainly did not look like the 16th best team in the country.

#17 Nebraska, at home and the #7 ST, took care of Southern Mississippi, 49-20.

#18 Ohio State, at home and the #2 MIT, did not disappoint new Coach Urban Meyer or Buckeye fans by stomping a mud hole in in-state rival Miami of Ohio, 56-10. Is Ohio State back already? Yes, mam, they are. We’re talking Urban Meyer here, and the Big Ten better get ready (that includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa).

#19 Oklahoma State, at home and the #3 ST, sucker punched AA Savannah State in an 84-0 shut out. That, my friends, is an offense not waiting to happen. The Savannah State Tigers had better go home, lick their wounds, and hope that doesn’t happen again anytime soon, or they will become paper tigers. 

#21 Stanford at home needed a 4th quarter field goal to barely avoid losing to San Jose State 20-17. The Cardinal players looked terrible in their opener. Stanford lost 4 key players in the NFL Draft last year (#1 pick Quarterback Andrew Luck, #24 pick Guard David DeCastro, #34 pick Tight End Coby Fleener and #42 pick Offensive Tackle Jonathon Martin), and it showed. San Jose State was Phil Steel’s #13 MIT and Stanford was his #10 ST; no wonder it was so close!

#22 Kansas State at home dispatched AA Missouri State in short order, 51-9 – Kansas State led 9-6 at the half, and then Coach Bill Snyder made a few adjustments, and the Wildcats scored 42 points in the 2nd half. Be advised: Bill Snyder is back at K-State and, if you haven’t noticed, opposing coaches are saying nothing (a good idea), but dread playing K-State.

#23 Florida, at home and the #5 ST, was not all that impressive in beating Bowling Green, 27-14. Maybe that is because Bowling Green Falcons are the #4 MIT.

#25 Louisville, at home and the #6 ST, beat Kentucky, 32-14.

#20 TCU (Texas Christian) was idle this week.

In other games of note:

Tennessee, the #11 ST and #6 MIT team, took care of North Carolina State 35-21.

Mike Leach’s much ballyhooed debut as the new Washington State Cougar coach turned into a big dud when the Brigham Young Cougars won at home in a game of the Cougars that was not nearly as close as the 30-6 score. BYU’s defense held Washington State to 2 field goals in the non-conference rout as BYU’s offense moved the ball at will. Washington State’s defense looked as bad as the Washington Husky defense last year, giving up 303 yards passing and 123 yards rushing while being held to minus 5 yards rushing (hint: WSU has NO running game and cannot block for its quarterback).

In an overtime game this opening week, the Minnesota Golden Gophers on-the-road needed 3 overtime periods to put away UNLV by a field goal, 30-27.

The Massachusetts Minutemen, who joined Division 1-A football this year, went scoreless in their opener, losing to Connecticut 37-zip.

Unranked Notre Dame may finally be ready to compete after its opening 50-10 win over Navy, a game played in Dublin, Ireland. Guess who the home team was? Notre Dame was the #14 MIT.

Troy, a 6-point favorite on-the-road and the #5 MIT, beat Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), 39-29. When you win and also cover in an away game, that is a real plus.

New Coach Jim Mora and his UCLA Bruin players went on-the-road and won by 25 over Rice, 49-24, creating a successful debut for Mora  – The Bruins from LA are the #11 MIT, and have finally shown they have some offense.

Central Florida (UCF), the #1 MIT this year, put a whipping on Akron 56-14.

UTSA (Texas-San Antonio), a newcomer to Division 1-A this season, got their debut right by nipping South Alabama, 33-31. Welcome to the Big Show, San Antonio Roadrunners.

California, a Pac-12 school, gets stuffed by Nevada, 31-24. The Bears have adopted a new nickname, Teddy. Apparently, if you squeeze them, they make a noise, like “Hey, cut it out, that hurts!”

New Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez and his Wildcats had a successful debut, beating Toledo, 24-17, at home – Rich Rod owned West Virginia (he went 32-5 his last 3 years with 3 consecutive bowl victories), bombed at Michigan (a dismal 15-22 record and old, loyal Wolverine fans who hated his spread offense), and has now resurfaced at Arizona. Lots of sunshine may agree with Rich Rod. We will see.

Texas State, another newcomer to Division 1-A play this year, beat up on Houston, 30-13, an impressive first-game win for the Bobcats from San Marcos. Houston was 13-1 last year (losing only to Southern Miss for the Conference USA title), and beat #24 Penn State 30-14 in the TicketCity Bowl.

Washington Husky Coach Steve Sarkisian started his 4th season with a bunch of hungry players and a 21-12 victory over San Diego State. Coach Sark and his talented offense could cause some grief in the Pac 12, and it looks like his defense has begun to finally find itself under new D-Coordinator Justin Wilcox via Boise State and Tennessee.

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