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DeFranks: Small programs strike back (Sept. 14)

By Matthew DeFranks | Friday, September 14, 2012

Tailgating and grilling started two weeks ago but we can finally welcome in the college football season. No more Savannah States, no more directional schools, no more cupcakes, just conference games that actually matter.

Every year, in the first few weeks of the season, teams pad their stats and records by scheduling a vastly inferior opponent to saunter into their stadium and gladly take a beating to collect a check. But those matchups do not do any good for anyone. They do not help an SEC or Big 12 team sharpen their skills; they certainly do not help the cupcake’s confidence. They do not please fans or television audiences.

The big schools don’t even have anything to gain by taking on inferior opponents. If LSU rolls over North Texas, what do they get? A simple and very expected victory over a team that is barely a blip on the national radar. But what if they lose? Their season is a loss and their program will be ridiculed everywhere.

They are just pointless and painful to watch.

So the members of the Football Championship Division, the Sun Belt and the MAC decided to do something about it this year. They fought back.

Youngstown State, the former annual punching bag of Ohio State during the Jim Tressel years – after Tressel himself led the program – strolled into Pittsburgh during the first week of the season and knocked off the Panthers. Yes, those Panthers that still could earn a berth in a BCS bowl. And the mighty Penguins won by two touchdowns, no less.

Pittsburgh learned its lesson.

Ohio, the Bobcats from the MAC, entered an emotional Happy Valley two weeks ago to face a retooled Penn State squad. The Bobcats held on for a 10-point victory over the Nittany Lions. Don’t get me wrong, Ohio is much improved this season while Penn State is not. But when this game was scheduled, I’m sure the Nittany Lions penciled this one in as a win.

Penn State learned its lesson.

And just last week, a mighty top-10 power from the SEC fell to a Sun Belt foe. If you are sitting there and wondering what the Sun Belt is, you probably aren’t alone. No, it is not a fruit snacks company or a Bible-thumping group. It is a conference.

Louisiana-Monroe, a member of the Sun Belt, walked into Fayetteville, Ark., last week as huge underdogs and swaggered out of SEC country with a monumental win over then-No. 8 Arkansas. The Razorbacks blew fourth-quarter and overtime leads by allowing the Warhawks (yes, the Warhawks) to convert two big fourth downs. With the loss, Arkansas plummeted out of both the top-25 and people’s respect.

Arkansas learned its lesson.

Sure, you are still going to have teams like Florida State schedule two lackluster opponents to open the season (yes, I do realize Savannah State was a backup plan when West Virginia backed out of the game).

I understand the excuses that some teams extend. “Our conference schedule is too tough.” “Our old coach is there now.” “My buddy is the director of athletics there.” But understand them is all I do. I do not agree with them nor do I like them.

But maybe some schools will realize cupcakes just don’t taste that good.