It didn't take a sixth sense Saturday night to know the onslaught of Tweets that would come from James Madison and North Dakota State fans. When the FCS Kickoff Classic saw two early sputtering offenses and a ton of penalties from Jacksonville State and HBCU National Champ North Carolina A&T — you just knew.
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I don't know about all of you, but I turned off "alert" notifications from Twitter a long time ago. I'm glad I did that, especially on nights like Saturday when my colleagues in the Cramton Bowl pressbox probably would have tarred and feathered me. I knew the feedback was coming, mostly from Dukes and Bison fans.
It sure did.
I'm going to counter what I read repeatedly on Twitter last night after I published my piece applauding N.C. A&T on what was truly a cornerstone victory for its program. Again, I repeat this evening — as I finally get to sit down at home — What you watched last night was a Top 10 FCS battle featuring two teams with some serious talent on defense. Yes, there were penalties, but doesn't it always seem like that happens in season openers? It's like the train tracks haven't firmed up yet and teams get stuck in the molten steel or something.
Hey, just ask North Dakota State if its "Week Zero" performances ultimately hurt its seasons in 2015 and 2016. In 2015 the Bison lost to Montana, getting sliced and diced under a sweet looking Rocky Mountain backdrop with 28,000 crazy Griz fans rubbing it in. We all know how that season worked out — Carson Wentz holding on line one, sir.
In 2016 NDSU had the entire country to itself and needed overtime in the FargoDome to dispose of a feisty — but mostly overlooked — Charleston Southern program. And hey, James Madison's looked pretty darned good the past two years, but what about when the Dukes had the national stage against Richmond in 2015 with ESPN Gameday in town? The Dukes took some social media punches that day.
These not-so-perfect results on big stages don't decimate your program, they make your program better, I'd contend. I'm glad these games happen, especially early. I'm glad the powers of FCS struggle sometimes. We then get to see how they react to it.
Every program has rough spots that make you scratch your head. My two cents? That's exactly what we were seeing last night. JMU and NDSU diehards are comparing these two kickoff classic teams to what they've put on the field in the postseason the past 7 years. Come on, guys? How can you compete with that comparison? In August, no less. Of course you're right when you bring that comparison in, but it's almost like your two fanbases feel like you have a No. 1 team in the FCS, a No. 2 team in the FCS … and no other team should be allowed to be in the Top 10 … that No. 3 through No. 10 should be vacated and the next best team should be No. 11, receive 27 lashes and pray to the almighty Duke Dog & Thundar the Bison.
A personal anecdote: So I'm a Florida Gator grad, and before I covered the team in the 1990s for my small hometown paper, I was in those stands. And Steve Spurrier was rocking it, and I remember games where my alma mater would hang 50 points on teams like Auburn and LSU. My wise old man (a jealous Navy grad, I might add) would remind me to temper the cockiness and keep in mind that things wouldn't be that way forever, and trust me — they weren't. Yeah well, if anybody knows the last 10 years of Florida football, you'll think my dad was prophetic. There's an ebb and flow to this crazy world we live in, and college football is no different.
Jacksonville State and North Carolina A&T are Top 10 FCS programs this year. Mark my word on that. The Twitter naysayers said "neither team can play offense" but none of the naysayers pointed out that there were future NFL players on both defenses on Saturday night that might have at least played a tiny part in the offensive struggles. Nobody pointed out that it was a slobbernocker in a physical sense, a sensory heightened matchup between two programs aiming to prove something … nope, we just heard that it was undisciplined and penalty ridden.
Hey, it's all a matter of perspective. I think JMU and NDSU diehards tune into games like this to find solace in their hope that the two teams they're watching can't beat their favorite team sometime down the line. It's a defense mechanism. Hey, that's FCS curiosity at its finest. I get it. I'd be stupid to knock that. That's passion.
But to call either of these programs "garbage" is a stretch. Neither is garbage, and neither is "non rankable". By the way, I did see the word "garbage" used last night.
My take? These two teams will tighten up, improve, and do big things this year. If that third quarter QB Zerrick Cooper had for Jacksonville State becomes a four-quarter pattern instead of a one quarter glimpse? Watch out, JSU opponents. If N.C. A&T rises up and gives East Carolina as much hell this weekend as it gave Jacksonville State last night? The Aggies have the potential to go 11-0 again this year again and win the HBCU National Title for the third time in four years. And I'll add this right now: N.C. A&T would not fold in the 1st round of the FCS Playoffs. This is a potential quarterfinalist in the FCS Playoff structure. And if I hear the naysayers bring up the 2016 Richmond playoff game (the last NC A&T FCS Playoff appearance), the one where the Spiders were missing Kyle Lauletta because of injury and still hammered NC A&T? Just remember, Richmond wasn't the only team without its starting QB that day. North Carolina A&T was also missing its talented quarterback in that game — Lamar Raynard. Both teams played with backups.
PS — Lamar is still here.
Ah hell, I can't keep a straight face on this "column". Who am I kidding? I'm just glad we're talking about games now. Last night we smashed the proverbial champagne bottle against the maiden voyage vessel of 2018 FCS football. I'm just glad we're already seeing some piss and vinegar out of everybody.[divider]
FCS KICKOFF CLASSIC HISTORY
|2014||Eastern Wash.||Sam Houston St.||56-35||Cheney, WA||10,310|
|2016||NDSU||Charleston Southern||24-17 (OT)||Fargo, ND||18,881|
|2017||Jacksonville St.||Chattanooga||27-13||Montgomery, AL||12,952|
|2018||North Carolina A&T||Jacksonville St.||20-17||Montgomery, AL||13,500|
FCS PREVIEWS CONFERENCE BY CONFERENCE
Aug. 19 – Missouri Valley & Ohio Valley
Aug. 20 – Southland, SoCon & Big South
Aug. 21 – MEAC & SWAC
Aug. 22 – CAA & NEC
Aug. 23 – Big Sky & Pioneer
Aug. 24 – Patriot & Ivy