Living in parts of New York City, you get accustomed to dealing with the annoyance of mice. You lay traps, don’t leave out food and pray you don’t scream in falsetto when you cross one scurrying across the kitchen floor at midnight. The FBS subdivision is trying to figure their own infestation problem. Every year since the Division I divorce in 1978, FBS programs have dished out six-figures to invite FCS programs into their homes as lab mice for "guarantee games". In exchange, the FBS school receives a glorified scrimmage and a win that advances the cause of bowl eligibility. At some point though FCS programs figured out how to capture the cheese without getting caught in the trap, and are leaving droppings over FBS L columns in the process.
While the BCS is on the verge of joining dinosaurs in extinction and the entire FBS division altered by the effects of realignment, an evolution of sorts has taken place in the FCS gene pool. Appalachian State’s victory over Michigan in their 2007 season opener hipped folks to the infestation problem and earned them a spot in the top 25 — the FBS’. Since then, there hasn’t been an FCS over FBS win of that quality, but the quantity of wins has been on the upswing.
In week one, a record eight FCS programs – who collected six-figure paychecks to step into the ring as the sparring partners for FBS programs and get their asses handed to them on a silver platter – started walking upright and punched college football’s top jocks right in the face. Five were from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences.
The Big Ten has been criticized for its Charmin’-soft schedules in the past and, in response, has begun fumigating by urging its squads to avoid scheduling FCS teams.
As the elite FCS programs began making the jump into FBS, the constant uptick in upsets was expected to slow down. Instead, a whole new family of FCS vermin has found its way to irk FBS inhabitants.
The talent gap between the two divisions of college football is still vast, but it’s undergone a little liposuction over the last decade thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of the spread offense. While most of us use it to guffaw at videos of mascots fighting, FCS programs have taken advantage of online recruiting services to swoop in and snatch up crumbs left behind by FBS programs. The spread offense has mitigated size advantages at every level of football.
We probably won’t see FCS programs playing top 10 teams in night games on ABC anytime soon, but this weekend, Texas A&M and the tumultuous Manziel Show might not want to take Sam Houston State too lightly a week after they put a 70-burger on the board in a shutout of Houston Baptist. Otherwise that's $900,000 down the drain. Not even Money Manziel can pick up that tab.
HEISMAN JURY: These candidates are making their case for why they should be awarded the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Each week, TSL will deliberate over each player’s weekly exploits.
Braxton Miller - The only blemish on Braxton Miller’s resume last season was his passing acumen. However, watching him hurl a 47-yard touchdown right out of the gates to Devin Smith was a message to the nation – he’s not a one-dimensional quarterback.
Todd Gurley - In a loss, Gurley established himself as the top running back in the nation. His 154 yards was the eighth highest total of the weekend. It only took him 12 carries to do so after he tweaked his knee early in the first quarter.
Tajh Boyd - Clemson’s offensive coordinator is not a fan of slow jams. Chad Morris wants Boyd to speed up the tempo, plus more plays equals more opportunities for Boyd to pad his stats.
Sammy Watkins - Boyd’s accomplice in battering secondaries likely won’t get as much Heisman love, but he should. His ability to exploit a leak in the defense on a short route and bowl over a defensive back on his way to the end zone was on display against UGA. Of his 127 yards, 95 came after the catch.
Jameis Winston - Winston's 25-27, 356-yard, five touchdown performance was one of the greatest debuts in history. Not sports history. I’m talking history period..
NO ALIBIS: Whereabouts unaccounted for at the time of kickoff.
Jadeveon Clowney - Concerns about Clowney’s conditioning were raised after he was seen loitering inside of Kenan Memorial Stadium. The hope is that it’s a first-time offense or else the scouts who have alluded to his tendency to take plays off will start taking a cleaver to his draft stock.
Ka’Deem Carey - Carey was suspended for the season opener against Northern Arizona. Still, keep an eye on the 2012’s leading rusher making noise on the ground in the Pass-12 conference.
RING OF FIRE: Whatever you do, don't miss these games this weekend.
No. 14 Notre Dame at No. 17 Michigan
Brian Kelly can try all he wants to downplay this rivalry. Conversely, the last five matchups have been decided on the final possession or by a touchdown or less. Michigan saves its vitriol for Ohio State and Notre Dame only sharpens its spears for battles against USC, but there’s enough leftover passion for them to go for each other's jugulars annually.
No. 12 Florida at Miami (FL)
Jeff Driskel still hasn’t figured out how to play quarterback from the pocket and the Gators offense will likely remain grounded against the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes will be facing a juggernaut on defense. Duke Johnson has a herculean task ahead of him against a top-five run defense. A win for Miami would be a huge boon for the Hurricanes program that was left for dead two years ago.
No. 6 South Carolina at No. 11 UGA
The perfectly manicured hedges enclosing the playing field at Sanford Stadium are looking like a mighty attractive hiding spot for Aaron Murray. Or it could prove to be more of a deterrent for Clowney and the Gamecocks rushers than UGA’s spongy offensive line. Clowney got Murray so out of rhythm that he finished with the worst QBR rating of his career last October. It’s also worth noting that Richt hasn’t beaten Spurrier since 2009. South Carolina is often where UGA's dreams go to die. After Saturday's season-opening loss, this may be the cremation.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
Earlier this summer, acrobat Nik Wallenda earned his 15 minutes of fame and shattered cable ratings records by walking across a sky wire over the Grand Canyon without the security of a parachute, harness or net. If he was watching, UGA coach Mark Richt probably scoffed at the feat. Not because he’s a hater. Naw, he’s been walking the tightrope for years in front of the most rabid college football fans in the nation.
In his first five years as UGA head coach, he was a two-time SEC champion. It only seemed like it would be a matter of time before he took that final leap. However, there’s always a new obstacle preventing him from getting an all-access pass to college football’s ultimate stage. In 2002, it was a loss to Ron Zook’s Florida Gators; then, in 2007, the Matt Stafford/Knowshon Moreno-led offense couldn’t muster more than four field goals in a 16-12 loss to South Carolina that kept them out of the title hunt during a volatile year.
A combined 14-12 record during the '08 and '09 seasons, plus a 0-2 start to the 2010 season had Richt on the ropes. Ten straight wins later, the Bulldogs were in the SEC Championship Game, getting slapped across the field by LSU.
Saturday night’s loss to Clemson has been laid at the feet of Aaron Murray, but Richt’s feeling the heat as well. On Monday, a mourning UGA zealot dialed into Atlanta’s 92.9 The Game FM, openly wept about the loss, derided Richt’s teams’ penchant for unraveling top 15 teams and demanded they fire him.
For years, Richt has tuned out these calls for his job. He’s a ho-hum, bland personality, an awesome recruiter and a man of faith. There’s also an element of ingenuity lacking in his schemes over the last decade in a Silicon Valley sport where new innovations seem to spring up like dispensaries in Colorado every week.
At varying times, the arrival of Urban Meyer, the return of Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier’s revival have left him on the outside looking in at SEC greatness. It’s not just about Richt. Auburn, Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama have each won national championships since UGA’s last one 33 years ago. Bulldog Nation is getting impatient with Richt’s inability to harness the pro talent he hooks every Signing Day and create championship teams. Conference realignment has only made his job tougher.
In this tense win-now SEC climate, Richt is stuck in a realm between great and good enough. Sure there are other potential coaches out there who have glistening resumes and sterling recommendations (see: UGA alum/’Bama def. coordinator Kirby Smart), but Richt’s averaged 10 wins a season since he was hired. He’s a victim of his own raised standards who may be strangled by his own cord. His predecessor, Jim Donnan, was fired because he couldn’t pierce the Top 10.
Richt is too even-keeled to let the pressure affect the Bulldogs on Saturday. He’s supplanted T.I. as the Peach State’s Rubberband Man and will keep selling his dope winning percentage while raking in $3.2 million per year.
Whatever happens on Saturday afternoon, Richt won’t get shook. Every time it appears he’s about to topple over – or the tension from the pressure begins to show signs of snapping his rope and sending his highwire act plummeting to earth – Richt bounces back. That’s why he’s the most resilient coach in college football.