Texas A&M Upsets South Carolina, 52-28; Florida State, Alabama & UCLA Just Get By

College Football Wrap-Up – Week 1

The first week of the 2014 NCAA college football season was business as usual—no less than 46 of the opening week’s 85 games (54%) found the 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 calls 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 league 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 as well as the 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.

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 70, after all, and have been watching or covering college football for 50+ years, and need all of the focus I can get.

A new twist this year will be to focus on Phil Steele’s preseason Top 13 Surprise Teams (ST) and Top 12 Most Improved Teams (MIT). Phil Steele is the most accurate forecaster in the world when it comes to major college football, and is worth following (see my earlier posts on Phil Steele that came out last week).

Phil’s Surprise Teams this year are (in order) Georgia, USC, Wisconsin, TCU, North Carolina, Mississippi, Iowa, LSU, Virginia Tech, Texas, Florida, Notre Dame and Northwestern.

Phil’s Most Improved Teams this year are (in order) TCU, Florida, Northwestern, Air Force, Nevada, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Tennessee, NC State, Army, Akron and Indiana.

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:

+65 Texas State at home over AA Arkansas-Pine Bluff 65-Zip – Texas State is on neither of Phil Steele’s list of Surprise Teams or Most Improved Teams, but then again, winners always announce themselves.

+63 Memphis at home skunked AA Austin Peay 63-Nothing – Memphis is one of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams this year, and now you know why.

+62 Pittsburgh at home blanked AA Delaware 62-Zip – About time these Panthers came to life.

+45 Kentucky at home over AA UT Martin 59-14 – Martin is an extension of the University of Tennessee.

+54 Middle Tennessee at home over AA Savannah State 61-7

+52 Northern Illinois at home over AA Presbyterian 55-3

+49 #3-Ranked Oregon at home over AA South Dakota 62-13

+45 Maryland at home over AA James Madison 52-7 – This is about as good as it will ever get for the Maryland Terripans. Speed kills in college football. Unless the football season goes to 100 games, those turtles are never going to catch the rabbits.

+45 #11-Ranked Stanford at home blanked AA UC Davis 45-0. The University of California at Davis football players became road kill for the always physical Stanford players in this one. Stanford is not happy with the talent it lost to UCLA and USC, and they aim to do something about it.

+45 East Carolina at home over AA in-state rival North Carolina Central 52-7

+42 Utah at home over AA Idaho State 56-14

+41 Akron at home blanked AA Howard, 41-0 – Remember that Akron is one of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams. Ohio (Akron’s home state) seems like a good place to be at the moment. After all, LeBron James has returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Ohio State garnered a #5 ranking in the AP Top 25 Pre-Season Poll.

+39 Duke at home over AA Elon 52-13 – This is a Duke team that should win by 39 points.

+39 UL Lafayette at home over AA Southern 45-6

+39 #20-Ranked Kansas State at home over AA Stephen F. Austin 55-16

+38 #8-Ranked Michigan State at home over AA Jacksonville State 45-7

+34 TCU at home over AA Samford 48-14 – TCU is one of Phil Steele’s Surprise Teams.

+34 Toledo at home over AA New Hampshire 54-20

+32 San Jose State at home over AA North Dakota 42-10

+31 #19-Ranked Arizona State at home over AA Weber State 45-14

+31 San Diego State at home over AA Northern Arizona 38-7

+28 Air Force at home over AA Nicholls State 44-16 – Air Force is one of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams.

+27 #23 Ranked North Carolina at home over AA Liberty 56-29 – North Carolina is one of Phil Steele’s Surprise Teams.

+27 Arkansas State at home over AA Montana State 37-10

+25 Virginia Tech at home over AA William & Mary (aka Bill & Mary) 34-9

+22 Minnesota at home over AA Eastern Illinois 42-20

+20 Ball State at home over AA Colgate 30-10

+20 #24-Ranked Missouri at home over AA South Dakota State 38-18

+19 Georgia Tech at home over AA Wofford 38-19

+18 New Mexico State at home over AA Cal Poly 28-10

+18 Indiana at home over AA in-state rival Indiana State 28-10 – Indiana is another of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams.

+15 Oregon State at home over AA in-state rival Portland State 29-14 –Thought sure that the Beavers would beat Portland State by more than 15 points. Looks like Mike Riley needs more firepower, and a better defense.

+13 Old Dominion at home over AA Hampton 41-28 – When you cover college football for 50 years, some of us old-timers are surprised that Old Dominion is a 1-A football school. The surprise will be all ours if the Monarchs win more games than they lose.

+11 Illinois at home over AA Youngstown State 28-17

+10 Buffalo at home over AA Duquesne 38-28

+9 Nevada at home over AA Southern Utah 28-19 – Nevada is another of Phil Steele’s Most Improved Teams.

+8 Iowa at home over AA in-state rival Northern Iowa 31-23 – In-state rivals can play tough as Iowa found out. Iowa is one of Phil Steele’s Surprise Teams. The Hawkeyes better get more surprising before they enter Big Ten Conference play!

+7 Texas Tech at home over AA Central Arkansas 42-35

+5 Wyoming at home over AA Montana 17-12 – Both of these states are short on people and also scoring. Montana is 44th of 50 states with barely 1 million population, and Wyoming is the smallest of 50 states with less than 600,000. You need to have a big gas tank when traveling through Wyoming.

+5 South Florida at home over AA Western Carolina 36-31.

+4 Central Michigan at home over AA Chattanooga 20-16 – The Chippewas were behind 16-7 at the half, but came to their senses and won the 2nd half 13-0.

+3 Eastern Michigan at home over AA Morgan State 31-28 – Seriously, Eastern Michigan Eagles, you win by a field goal and give up 4 touchdowns to Morgan State?

+2 Florida International at home over AA Bethune-Cookman 14-12 – It’s truly good that Florida International actually beat AA Bethune-Cookman, otherwise, FIU might not win another game this season. Last year they finished at 1-11.

+1 Georgia State at home squeaked by AA Abilene Christian 38-37 – Georgia State is a relatively new 1-A team, and not progressing very fast, even apparently against AA competition.

+1 Syracuse at home needs two overtimes to beat AA Villanova 27-26 – Does Syracuse, at one time a competitive 1-A school, miss the legendary Jim Brown? You betcha, and then some, even more than the Cleveland Browns.

Minus 20 – Iowa State at home was upset by AA North Dakota State 34-14 – So, just how bad are the Iowa State Cyclones? Apparently, they are really, really bad. Iowa State ends up being the ONLY 1-A team unable to beat its AA opponent during the first week of the 2014 college football season. Apparently the Bison from Fargo are not too shabby!

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 a dozen teams get attention right now because they have an offense—Texas State, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, Stanford, East Carolina, Utah and Akron.

The best victory over an AA team was Texas State stomping a mud hole in Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a 65-0 shutout. When you can put 65 points on the board and keep your opponent scoreless, you are damn serious about playing football.

The worst victories were by Georgia State and Syracuse; both won by 1 against AA teams. The worst performance came from the players at Iowa State, whom lost to AA North Dakota State by 20.

Forty-five of the 46 teams that played AA teams won, that’s 98%. No wonder they do it. The only team to not escape was Iowa State. And that is the risk—that you may be very embarrassed by a lesser opponent.

AA upsets can and do happen.

In 2011, the Oregon State Beavers allowed AA Sacramento State to pull off a 29-28 victory in overtime.

In 2010, Jacksonville State, an 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 an AA team.

In another stunning AA win in 2010, 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 are the results of the only 3 games with ranked opponents colliding during the first week:

#9-Ranked South Carolina at home, favored by 10.5, was upset by #21-Ranked Texas A&M by 24 points, 52-28—a swing in the wrong direction for the Gamecocks of no less than 34. In order to appreciate how close this game was, the Aggies were up 31-14 at halftime. Many pundits thought losing star QB Johnny Manziel (drafted #22), OT Jake Matthews (#6) and WR Mike Evans (#7) in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft would hurt Texas A&M this year.

So how bad did Texas A&M miss hotshot Johnny Manziel? Not too much. New Aggie QB Kenny Hill carved up South Carolina, breaking Manziel’s single-game passing record with 511 yards, ending the Gamecock’s 18-game home win streak, and becoming the most passing yards given up in Steve Spurrier’s 10 years as coach at South Carolina. You can pretty much say goodbye to South Carolina winning the national championship this year; it’s unlikely that the Gamecocks will make it to the SEC title game.

#12 Georgia at home beat #16 Clemson 45-21. Georgia is Phil Steele’s #1-Ranked Surprise Team this year.

#13 LSU on-the-road beat #14 Wisconsin 28-24 – Phil Steele had both LSU and Wisconsin both as two of his Surprise Teams this year.

In other notable games this week:

#7-Ranked UCLA, favored by 21 on-the-road, could only beat unranked Virginia by 8, 28-20

#15-Ranked USC, favored by 22 at home, acted like it, ripping unranked Fresno State by 39 points, 52-13.

#2-Ranked Alabama, favored by 26 at home, could only beat unranked West Virginia by 10, 33-23, and the Crimson Tide defense had trouble stopping the Mountaineer offense.

#1-Ranked Florida State, favored by 17.5 on-the-road, could only beat unranked Oklahoma State by 6, 37-31. So last year’s national champion gave up 31 points to the unranked Cowboys.

#25-Ranked Washington, favored by 17 on-the-road, could only beat unranked Hawaii a point, 17-16, and was lucky to get out of Honolulu with a victory. Washington would not have won without speedy sophomore wideout John Ross, the fastest Husky and one of the fastest players in college football. Ross scored on a 20-yard reverse, and then smoked the Warriors on a 91-yard catch and run. The dude can fly. The Husky defense gave up 424 yards of total offense, and at times could not stop Hawaii from moving the ball. None of this bodes well for Washington making a serious run in the Pac-12 race.

Tulsa at home outlasted Tulane 38-31 in double overtime.

Unranked Washington State, favored by 8 at home, was upset by unranked Rutgers, 41-38. Same Washington State again—lots of offense, not so much defense. Mike Leach needs to recruit some defenders or he is going to lose some track meets on the turf.

Unranked Vanderbilt, favored by 13.5 at home, was upset by unranked Temple, 37-7, in a rout.

That wraps up 2014’s Week 1 of college football. Come back for next week’s results.

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