Virtually every “__ Days Until College Football Season!” tweet you’ve read for the last, oh, six months or so, is wrong. The 2014 college football season kicks off on Week 0 with an opening matchup is one well worth cutting into your end-of-summer plans.
Eastern Washington hosts Sam Houston State on ESPN in a showdown of Football Championship Subdivision contenders on Aug. 23, a Saturday earlier than the typical kickoff date of the season.
For the college football starved, this is indeed Christmas come early. But if you’re some kind of weirdo who needs convincing, below are five reasons to tune into ESPN on Aug. 23 at 3:30 ET/12:30 PT.
1. A CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER BOUT IN AUGUST
Eastern Washington is the last Football Championship Subdivision program to win the NCAA Div. I national championship since North Dakota State’s dominant run. The Eagles are contenders to book-end NDSU’s championship, claiming the top spot of the Sports Network and Athlon Sports preseason rankings. They’re second in the Coaches Poll.
Sam Houston State has been oh-so-close and is seeking to finally get over the hump in a new era.
SHSU got two cracks at beating North Dakota State in the title game, in 2011 and 2012, but fell short both times. The 2012 season’s matchup was set thanks to a Bearkats’ win over this very Eastern Washington program.
Their Aug. 23 encounter is a rematch of that Dec. 2012 showdown at Roos Field, in which the Bearkats jumped to a 35-point halftime lead only to have to hold off a 42-point second half from the Eagles.
Eastern Washington has twice the revenge motivation though, as last September the Eagles visited the Bearkats in Huntsville, Texas, and left with a 49-34 loss.
Sam Houston State is replacing the head coach responsible for its recent run of success, Willie Fritz. Fritz left for newly minted FBS program Georgia Southern in January.
His replacement has plenty of FCS experience to his name, however. K.C. Keeler took Delaware to three NCAA Championship games and won the 2003 Div. I-AA title. His most recent title game appearance came against head coach Beau Baldwin and Eastern Washington in January 2011.
2. THE INFERNO
Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
The above quote is taken from The Divine Comedy, better known as Dante’s Inferno. The literary classic shares its nickname with Eastern Washington’s home, Roos Field.
EWU certainly stands out with its bright, red field turf. While it’s not the outlandish specialty turf out there–that distinction belongs to Central Arkansas’ purple-and-silver stripes–The Inferno makes Boise State’s Smurf Turf seem downright mundane.
3. POINTS! POINTS! POINTS!
The combined 87 points the Eagles and Bearkats scored in their 2012 national semifinal matchup is no aberration. Eastern Washington and Sam Houston State have been two of the most consistently explosive offenses in the FCS over the last decade.
In 2011, 2012 and 2013, SHSU averaged 36.9, 40.0 and 41.1 points per game.
There will be changes in the transition from Fritz to Keeler. The Bearkats attacked primarily from the ground with explosive running back Tim Flanders and dual-threat quarterback Brian Bell.
Keeler prefers a more aerial attack, but he won’t slow the Bearkats’ tempo. Three quarterbacks are vying for the starting job, but the winner will have running back Keshawn Hill on whom to rely for Week 0.
Hill could be a breakout star in the new system a la Andrew Pierce, the Delaware running back who scored 30 touchdowns for Keeler’s Blue Hens in 2010 and 2011.
Behind Baldwin’s high-flying offense, Eastern Washington averaged more than 31 points per game every season since 2009 and peaked last year at 39.5.
Eagles quarterbacks consistently set new program benchmarks. Matt Nichols scrawled his name all over the record books, and successor Bo Levi Mitchell won the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player in FCS.
Baldwin’s current quarterback may be his best yet.
4. VERNON ADAMS
Vernon Adams might be a new name to some, both Oregon State knows him well. Last year in the Eagles’ season opener against the then-No. 25 ranked Beavers, Adams passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for an addition 107 and two in a 49-46 EWU win.
His performance was reminiscent of another FCS star quarterback’s effort in an upset over a ranked FBS foe, with Adams doing his best Armanti Edwards-against-Michigan impression.
Adams certainly caught the attention of Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. Per his post-game press conference via OSUBeavers.com:
You don’t really prepare for something like that and we were a step behind. He was eluding tackles, which I think was a major factor in the game, the number of tackles that he made us miss and number of missed opportunities we had to sack him. And then there were the big plays he made. Early in the game he set the tone for how the rest of the game went.
And it was hardly one game in which Adams made an impact. While his rush production was never quite at the same level again as it was Week 1 vs. Oregon State, the Eagles didn’t need it to be–not with Adams passing for a ridiculous 4,994 yards and 55 touchdowns.
That’s not a typo: Vernon Adams threw for 55 touchdowns in 15 games, which was 15 more than Heisman Trophy Jameis Winston racked up in 14 appearances.
5. IT’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON!
This is what we’ve been waiting for for seven long months. College football has finally arrived–and a week early, no less!
Athletic administrators at these universities deserves kudos for making this happen. There’s a lot of great football played in FCS, but it’s understandably overshadowed.
Gaining exposure for the subdivision requires some inventive and bold thinking. With the stage all theirs and a national broadcast on ESPN, Eastern Washington and Sam Houston State are ideal ambassadors to welcome newcomers to FCS. They’re also excellent teams to welcome all fans to the 2014 college football season.