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Hoonhout: FCS teams pose a threat to FBS squads for season openers

| Monday, September 4, 2017

If there’s one takeaway from college football’s opening weekend, it’s that FBS teams shouldn’t schedule FCS opponents to open the season.

On Saturday, not one but two Division I programs lost their home openers to FCS foes. Baylor fell in Matt Rhule’s first game as head coach to Liberty University in a 48-45 shootout, the Bears’ first season opening loss since 2008. UNLV also lost to an FCS school, as Howard University — despite being a whopping 45-point underdog — beat the Rebels 43-40 behind three touchdowns from quarterback Caylin Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton.

And while several other teams played FCS opponents — some winning comfortably, others escaping with tight wins — the dangers that FCS schools present to FBS opponents are too big to ignore. While it may be a semi-common trend for programs to schedule “weaker” opposition to open the season, the threat of upset always looms. You can look back to games like Eastern Washington over No. 25 Oregon State in 2013, or the infamous Appalachian State-Michigan game in 2007, and yet still some programs choose to open their season against FCS opponents, as if the mindset is to start the season with an easy win that really doesn’t say a lot about the ability of your team.

Except it doesn’t always happen that way. Every time an FCS team upsets an FBS one, the case only grows for why, from an FBS perspective, the two shouldn’t mix. Because if you take a step back to look at it from both sides, the problems become clear.

For an FBS school to schedule an FCS opponent, there are a number of factors that could clearly be dangerous, perhaps none more than the chance that a team takes a game for granted. While there may be a temptation to just assume that an FBS school will beat an FCS one, the reality is that, on one side, FBS players aren’t as serious because of their lowered expectations, while on the other, FCS players are relishing the chance to give their all and walk away with a statement win. As a coach, getting your team motivated is one of the most important aspects of managing a team, and for an FCS coach playing an FBS school, it shouldn’t be too difficult. On the flip side, however, the challenge definitely presents itself.

Additionally, season openers can be a very mixed bag. Oftentimes, teams are still finding their identity as the season opens and may still be far from the best product they can offer. So while an FCS opponent may be a good alternative for those teams worried about their performance level, it can also set a team multiple steps back if they end up losing.

But that’s not the only implication of a loss. In today’s age of the College Football Playoff, losing a game can seriously endanger the chances of that program being selected; to lose a season opener to an FCS opponent is an automatic death sentence. And while programs like Baylor and UNLV were never in the conversation to begin with as far as this season’s playoff chances, a situation like Appalachian State-Michigan, where Michigan was ranked No. 5 at the time, could have serious repercussions for a playoff-pursuing program and could cost a coach his job. Add on to the fact that, many times, the FBS host school pays the FCS opponent — as UNLV did this weekend with Howard — and the costs of losing far outweigh the gains of winning.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

Contact Tobias