I have been known for my opposition and sadness toward IA teams, especially IA powerhouses, playing IAA teams. Not just for the lack of gamemanship in such games, but that they represent one of the plagues of modern college football: bowing down to the almighty dollar. Well, this first weekend of college football 2006 has shown me something: perhaps I have been a little hasty in my opinions considering this.
For what must be a the first time since the rigid distinction between IA and IAA was made, 3, count them, 3 IA teams lost to their IAA opponents. The Richmond Spiders posted a 13-0 win over Duke, continuing the Blue Devils misery on the gridiron. Portland State overcame the Lobos of New Mexico 17-6, a result somewhat more surprising than a IAA teams posting a win over the woeful Blue Devils. But the biggest shocker of all - Colorado - Big 12 North champ last year, BCS conference member, losing to the Bobcats of Montana State 19-10. What a good start to the Dan Hawkins era!
Even more surprising, and disappointing for fans of certain teams, were the troubles that some teams had with the lower division teams they played. Maryland struggled with William and Mary, finally winning 27-14. NC State had similar problems against perennial IAA power, Appalachian State. (By the way, ACC, that's not a good way to establish yourself as a power conference). Kansas State managed a win against Illinois State, only because after a late TD, the Rebirds went for the 2 point conversion for the win, and didn't kick the point after for the tie to force overtime. Arizona State had all it could handle against Northern Arizona, until pulling away in the 4th quarter. The same could be said for South Florida in its opener against McNeese State. Or Purdue, against Indiana State.
Meanwhile, of course, some teams managed to completely dismantle their IA opponents, regardless of conference (Arkansas - at least you didn't give up 70 this time. That 36 point margin of victory, so much more acceptable). So, perhaps a rethinking of my position the IAA game is necessary. Clearly, for some teams, the better IAA teams are just as comparable as any IA team - Sun Belt, Duke, the bottom half of the Mac, I'm talking to you. Also clear, though, following last year's huge upset of Stanford by UC Davis (a newly risen IAA team) and the Colorado debacle this year, is that big time programs, in BCS conferences, can lose to IAA teams. That speaks of a far more even playing field than I could have imagined. I will state, however, that a bye week later in the season would've done these teams more good than these losses seem to have.
Other thoughts on the weekend so far -
1. The worst game in college football has in all likelihood been played already. The worst team in IA, Temple, was beaten by Buffalo, one of the Bottom 10, 9-3. In OT. Which resulted in Bulls fans rushing the field. A win against Temple, you rush the field? What a comment on how your team has been doing lately.
2. Coaching - there has been some really bad, bad, bad coaching decisions this opening weekend. While there's some adjustment to the new timing rules, and the first week bugs that need to get ironed out, there have just been some flat-out awful calls. Central Michigan, driving to tie up the game, calls a trick play that sends a QB and 4 receivers out to face 11 men, while the other 6 are lined up halfway across the field, resulting in a pick. Nevada, with little time left and down by 9 points to Fresno State, goes for it on fourth down with 20 seconds left, instead of taking the FG, and trying for the requisite onside kick for the win. GT burns time-outs early and punts late in the game, instead of going for it on the 45 yard line, not recognizing that ND will be able to run out the clock. Jeff Tedford once again making the wrong call between Longshore and Ayoob pre-season, which is shown in the openner against Tennessee. I know the new rule that the clock will start on a change of possession is a change, but come on, coaches - you do this for a living - you should adjust better than that, and it doesn't explain some of the bonehead calls.
3. The first game - I know you can't put much stock in the first game, but somethings I think I've learned:
a. unless GT's D was just that good, I'm now less worried about the Nittany Lions visit to South Bend next week. I think if Penn State can hold ND to 14 points, too, we win that game.
b. The Big 12 seems even more divided into haves and have nots this year. The haves, so far: Texas, Nebraska, Texas Tech. The have nots: Colorado, Kansas State, Oklahoma. Look for some lopsided scores in conference play, and Oklahoma boosters - Texas fans want you to keep cheating - it works so well for us.
c. Conference records vs. OOC opponents to date (I'll be keeping a running tally):
ACC 6-4 (with a loss and two very close wins coming to IAA teams, 4 IAA overall)
Big 12 10-1 (sole loss to IAA, 6 IAA opponents overall - taking over from the SEC this year)
Big East 6-1 (3 IAA opponents)
Big Ten 11-0 (4 IAA opponents - keeping with the Joneses, are we, Big 10?)
C-USA 3-5 (Only 2AA opponents - good for you, C-USA!)
Independents 2-2 (No IAA yet, but with Army and Temple, that chance to win a game guarantees some IAA action in the future)
MAC 2-8 (1 IAA, and kudos to CMU and Toledo for almost making the upsets)
MWC 4-3 (3 IAA, and a loss to one of them - way to go, New Mexico!)
Pac 10 6-2 (2 IAA, and one loss - that bye week looks better and better, doesn't it?)
SEC 6-2 (and wait for it - only a single IAA game - on top of that, let's look at opening week conference opponents - 3 Pac 10, 1 Big 10, 1 C-USA, 1 WAC, 1 Sun Belt - good going, SEC, for showing that you CAN win when you play quality opponents. Well, except for Vandy and Arkansas, anyway)
Sun Belt 3-3 (2 IAA so far, and 2 wins against IAA. Well, 3, if you count Army)
WAC 2-6 (With both victories coming against the 2 IAA opponents - trying to compete with the Sun Belt, are we?)
So there you have it - the only undefeated in non-conference play to date is the Big 10, with their slate of MAC teams, WAC teams, IAA teams, and Vandy. Next best is the Big 12, with a similar slate, plus some Sun Belt action. The SEC is our #3, and, with the best OOC SOS to date, needs to be given the trophy for the week, for actually playing teams that just might be able to beat you. Well done, SEC, and we'll see what happens through the rest of the weekend.