The Open Man countdowns to the 2018 college football season with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.
Adam Sandler’s predictably awful remake of The Longest Yard includes the following line:
OK, first off: Paul Crewe is a fictional character. But, if you’re the kind of person who refers to FCS as “Division II,” this is for you:
Now, what makes the line funny — not “ha ha funny,” which no Sandler movie has managed to achieve since Bill Clinton was in the White House — but rather Alanis Morrisette life has a funny, funny way funny, is that Appalachian State won the first of three consecutive national championships seven months after The Longest Yard hit theaters. Winning a title after inviting Sandler to Boone to watch a game is a pretty damn impressive way to call your shot.
The season of the last championship in the Appalachian State dynasty proved seminal to college football history, and gave FCS its greatest national exposure. The Mountaineers kicked off that campaign with the landmark upset of Michigan, giving the Big Ten Network greater advertising on its launch weekend than any marketing campaign and introducing the nation to Armanti Edwards.
Appalachian State’s defeat of Michigan taught the FBS-following nation to not disrespect such opponents as “Div. II slacks.” If the FBS needs any reminder, FCS teams provide plenty of reminders each season.
The decade since Appalachian State over Michigan has produced plenty more earth-shaking FCS over FBS upsets. In 2010, James Madison stunned Virginia Tech, the first FCS win of a ranked FBS opponent since 2007. Eastern Washington joined the fray in 2013, beating Oregon State in the game that effectively introduced the nation to Vernon Adams.
That 2013 season also included North Dakota State’s defeat of reigning Big 12 Conference champion Kansas State. In the same way App State-Michigan launched the Big Ten Network, NDSU beating (I avoid using “upsetting,” despite it fitting the Las Vegas definition) K-State was one of the first college football games aired on FS1.
That doesn’t mean you should blame either Craig Bohl or Bill Snyder for Speak For Yourself, though.
Scheduling North Dakota State is a fool’s errand for any FBS program — the Bison own wins over Minnesota (x2), Colorado State, Iowa State and Iowa (one season removed from the Hawkeyes winning the Big Ten), suggesting their worthiness in FBS polls. But it’s not just the standard-bearer of FCS leading the charge in upsets of the FBS.
The subdivision has undergone change. Former FCS dynasties Appalachian State and Georgia Southern (which beat Florida in 2014) found success in the Sun Belt, as has upstart Old Dominion in Conference USA. Sledding has not been so easy for Texas State and UMass, one of which played in a national championship game last decade, and the other that came a field goal shy of doing so the year prior.
Still, the pursuit of FBS TV contract riches — which would theoretically widen the chasm between 85-scholarship FBS programs and 63-scholarship FCS programs — has seen a number of programs move in recent years. That would also seemingly further separate the two, Division I subdivisions. Not so.
The 2015 included The Citadel knocking off South Carolina, and Portland State’s 66-7 blowout of North Texas setting a new record for largest FCS blowout of an FBS opponent. Ten FCS teams beat FBS opponents in 2016. The 2017 season featured Howard scoring the largest point-spread upset in college football history.
FCS upsets of FBS are college football’s counterpart to underdog automatic bids stunning powerhouse opponents in the NCAA Tournament. Try as the game’s power brokers might to deny the underdogs opportunities, the FCS will score wins against the FBS. And it’s so much more entertaining than an Adam Sandler movie.