In the FCS Huddle: First impressions

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Updated: 9/01/2013 10:41 am

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Big Ten may want to cancel the order to cancel games against FCS programs.

The opening weekend of the college football season sure showed the FCS has a lot to offer against FBS competition.

As if we didn't know that already.

North Dakota State can play some serious ball as the two-time defending FCS champion. Ditto for fellow national powers Eastern Washington, Northern Iowa and Towson.

Even McNeese State isn't just there to collect a paycheck when it lines up against an FBS opponent - earning a win for the second consecutive season on Saturday.

The first weekend left a few jaws wide open as a stunning eight FCS teams beat FBS opponents. Two of the wins were against transitioning FBS programs, but they are meaningful nonetheless.

Last season's 10 FCS-over-FBS wins were the most since 2003. That number is more than within reach this season.

"We just know how to fight and we know how to not let any environment get to us. That's the biggest thing," Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said, explaining how his team beat Oregon State and basically how FCS teams pull the upsets.

While the FBS wins were the signature first impression for Week 1, there were plenty of others. Here are 10 that stand out:

- That six different FCS conferences joined in the wins over the FBS speaks to the depth nationally. The Missouri Valley (North Dakota State over Kansas State and Northern Iowa over Iowa State) and Big Sky (Southern Utah over South Alabama and Eastern Washington over Oregon State) conferences had two wins each, while CAA Football (Towson over Connecticut) and Ohio Valley (Eastern Illinois over San Diego State), Southern (Samford over Georgia State) and Southland (McNeese State over South Florida) conferences had one each. Impressive.

- The offensive line can't get enough credit for how top-ranked North Dakota State has become the pre-eminent power in the FCS (two straight national titles, four straight wins over FBS opposition). The Bison big boys, led by 6- foot-6, 314-pound left tackle Billy Turner, are a treat to watch as they crash up the field and make opposing defenders look small, if not overmatched. The Bison chewed up 215 yards on the ground in their 24-21 win over Kansas State.

- There's nothing like a true first impression, something you can never make again. Charlotte was out in front of the six new FCS programs that debuted in Week 1. The independent program, which is headed to the FBS level in two years, throttled Campbell, 52-7, as 16,630 looked on at Richardson Stadium. Mark Hogan set the tone in the game's opening minute by scoring off a 32-yard interception return and the 49ers forced four turnovers. Matt Johnson threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns for coach Brad Lambert.

- The Pioneer Football League champion will have an automatic bid to the playoffs for the first time in November, but the league will want to put Week 1 in the rearview mirror. Some of the forgettable results: two-time defending champion Drake lost at home to Grand View, Morehead State lost at home to Pikeville (yeah, the immortal Pikeville), Marist was handled at home by Sacred Heart and Valparaiso was on the wrong end of a 69-10 result against North Dakota.

- There are 19 new or interim head coaches who weren't at the helm of their program to start last season. The most impressive season-opening triumph was seemingly turned in by Charleston Southern and Jamey Chadwell, winning at The Citadel, 32-29. But give Jay Mills some credit for getting the Buccaneers going again in his final season a year ago.

- Key defections haven't completely robbed the Big South and Northeast conferences. In fact, Duquesne posted an especially satisfying win by defeating Albany, which has moved to the CAA along with former Big South power Stony Brook. Both conferences did quite well this weekend, with two Big South teams (Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern) beating SoCon opponents.

- They're baaaack. Or so it appears. The vaunted ground games of Montana and Northern Iowa sure made it seem last year's 5-6 records were a blip on the radar. Montana pounded Appalachian State and UNI beat Iowa State for the fifth time in its history.

- There's good reason to consider this the year of the running back, and the depth may go farther than anybody realized. Few backs looked as good as juniors David Johnson (199 yards, four total touchdowns) of Northern Iowa and Terrance West (156 yards, two touchdowns) of Towson did in their teams' FBS upsets. But the top seven rushers and 14 of the weekend's top 15 played on winning teams.

- If you can't beat a SDSU, beat another one. The Jimmy Garoppolo-to-Erik Lora connection at Eastern Illinois could be unstoppable again, one year after Lora set the FCS single-season record for receptions. They were on target 10 more times Saturday night - twice for touchdowns - as the Panthers passed by San Diego State University. The win over SDSU came after last season ended in the playoffs against South Dakota State University.

- Maybe Eastern Washington can weather its brutally tough schedule (likely the nation's toughest). Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams was nothing short of amazing with 518 total yards and six total touchdowns in lifting the Eagles to a 49-46 upset of Oregon State. Oh yes, the Eagles still have Toledo, Sam Houston State, Montana and Cal Poly on the road and Montana State at home.

TOP 25 SCOREBOARD

A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/my97uu5.

FCS-FBS SCOREBOARD

After the huge weekend for the FCS, its teams have an 8-23 record against FBS opponents.

Week 2 will have 35 more FCS-FBS matchups.

STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING

Rising: The Southland Conference might be good enough to put three teams in the playoffs. Not only are defending champions Central Arkansas and Sam Houston State in the Top 10, but McNeese State, which throttled South Florida, is senior-laden and Southeastern Louisiana, which throttled Southeast Missouri State, is transfer-laden.

Falling: Granted UT Martin might be underrated, but is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga overrated? This is supposed to be the season fifth- year coach Russ Huesman finally ends the Mocs' FCS playoff drought which dates to 1984. But the Mocs won the turnover battle (three to one) and had only a third of UTM's penalties (nine to three) yet never led in falling flat at home, 31-21.

AROUND THE NATION

Big Sky: Welcome back, Bo Bolen. In returning from a two-year break for a LDS mission, the Weber State junior standout had 215 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns (including a 100-yard kickoff return) in a 50-40 win over Stephen F. Austin.

Big South: Gardner-Webb overcame a 21-7 third-quarter deficit in its impressive, 28-21 triumph over Furman. Running back Juanne Blount and wide receiver Kenny Cook scored two touchdowns each in Carroll McCray's coaching debut.

CAA Football: William & Mary hopes it has solved the quarterback uncertainty of recent seasons. Senior Michael Graham, who has been part of the inconsistency at the position, gave a take-charge performance in the Tribe's 24-17 loss to West Virginia. He completed 18-of-27 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown with one late-game interception. He also rushed for a touchdown.

Ivy: The additional week that makes this a 13-week season means four Ivy programs - Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth and Yale - will be behind their opening opponent by three games when the league kicks off play on Sept. 21.

Independents: Old Dominion junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke will keep putting up huge numbers as the Monarchs move out of the FCS. Yeah, no duh, huh? The 2012 Walter Payton Award winner threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 52 yards and a score in ODU's 52-38 loss to future Conference USA rival East Conference.

MEAC: Through Saturday's action, MEAC teams were winless in seven games. They then played in two spotlight games on Sunday: Florida A&M in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge and Bethune-Cookman at Tennessee State.

Missouri Valley: Many happy returns: As Western Illinois drubbed Hampton, 42-9, Dallas Nichols and Kevin Kintzel returned interceptions for touchdowns and Ryan Demming returned a fumble for a touchdown. Nichols' return went for a school- record 97 yards yet, go figure, was only the eighth-longest in conference history. The Leathernecks forced nine turnovers.

Northeast: Dominique Williams' 162 yards on the ground in Wagner's 28-21 rally past Georgetown was the 21st 100-yard rushing performance of his career. He scored the game-winning touchdown with 2:49 left.

Ohio Valley: Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel picked Ohio University transfer Kyle Snyder, who missed last season with a knee injury, as the starting quarterback over Scott Lathrop, who replaced Snyder last year and went on to win OVC freshman of the year honors. The Redhawks struggled in a 45-7 opening loss at Southeastern Louisiana.

Patriot: Six of Holy Cross' nine losses last season were by seven points or less. Sure enough, the Crusaders opened the new campaign with a 17-16 loss as Bryant made a last-minute field goal and All-Patriot preseason kicker John Macomber missed a 43-yard attempt on the game's final play.

Pioneer: While lightning and a thunderstorm interrupted Stetson's debut on Saturday and postponed the action to Sunday, Mercer got a jump on its fellow start-up program by defeating Reinhardt (an NAIA first-year team), 40-37. In the final 3:17, Josh Shutter tied the game with a short field goal and won it with another one.

Southern: Appalachian State's two Walter Payton Award candidates might be out of the running before it really gets going. Wide receiver Sean Price is serving an indefinite suspension and quarterback Jamal Londry-Jackson is coming off a knee injury and then suffered a hand injury in the 30-6 loss to Montana.

Southland: Oregon transfer Bryan Bennett was particularly impressive in Southeastern Louisiana's 45-7 rout of Southeast Missouri State. He rushed for three touchdowns and 106 yards while throwing for another 169 yards.

SWAC: Jackson State hopes senior quarterback Clayton Moore will be healthy enough for next Saturday's conference opener against Alabama State. Touted redshirt freshman LaMontiez Ivy had season-ending surgery on Friday after he replaced Moore as the starter in a 34-7 loss at Tulane Thursday night.

Extra Point: When NFL teams cut down to the regular-season limit of 53 players on Saturday, nine former Appalachian State players were on rosters: running back Travaris Cadet (New Orleans Saints), wide receiver Armanti Edwards (Carolina Panthers), defensive end Jason Hunter (Oakland Raiders), offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore (San Francisco 49ers), punter Sam Martin (Detroit Lions), defensive back Demetrius McCray (Jacksonville Jaguars), wide receiver Brian Quick (St. Louis Rams), linebacker D.J. Smith (San Diego Chargers) and linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough who will spend the season on the Washington Redskins' injured reserve following shoulder surgery.

A LOOK AHEAD

Among the FCS-FBS matchups in Week 2 are Eastern Kentucky-Louisville, Old Dominion-Maryland, Richmond-North Carolina State, Sam Houston State-Texas A&M, Central Arkansas-Colorado, Southeastern Louisiana-TCU, Samford-Arkansas, Montana State-SMU, UT Martin-Boise State, New Hampshire-Central Michigan and Cal Poly-Fresno State.

Among the big FCS games are Wofford at The Citadel in the Southern Conference and Alabama State at Jackson State in the SWAC. Cross-conference games include Tennessee State at Florida A&M, Towson at Holy Cross, Albany at Colgate, South Dakota State at North Dakota, Eastern Illinois at Southern Illinois and Arkansas-Pine Bluff at McNeese State.

Stony Brook will play a CAA Football game for the first time when it visits Rhode Island, whose 14-game losing streak is the longest all of Division I.

The full schedule can be found at http://tinyurl.com/qaappgo.

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