Alabama left College Station with a victory in what was undoubtedly college football’s most exciting game this season. The game had it all. Two huge brands, Alabama and Texas A&M, playing a game that could be the stepping stone into the Georgia Dome for a shot at the SEC title. That’s not even including the fact that Johnny Manziel brings a unique brand of hysteria and media attention to any game he plays. The game itself was tremendous to boot. Alabama came back from the dead, before Johnny Football started slinging the football around like a video game on what is probably the best defense in America. Seven days removed from two SEC juggernauts butting heads and lighting up the scoreboard, week four of the college football season halted that momentum as viewers watched a bunch of the nation’s top programs feast on championship division cupcakes in the dreaded FBS vs. FCS matchup.
You’re not going to have huge marquee games like Alabama vs. Texas A&M each week of the college football season. Logistically, it just can’t happen. Even in the nation’s toughest conferences, there’s going to be a beefy median of good to so-so to downright awful teams that at some point, are going to have to take their lashings and deal with it. It makes sense that while we get to see Stanford and Oregon play every year, at some point the Ducks get to play catch against someone like Nicholls State. Given the fact there is no preseason in college football, it makes even more sense to schedule games like Nicholls State early in the season, hopefully week one, as a tuneup for players that until that point have only scrimmaged or ran drills through the summer and early fall. Even against an FCS underling, you still see some rust and some rough edges. Sometimes, you even see the unthinkable and see an unthinkable upset (but more on that later) . From the university’s standpoint, you’re giving your fans a chance to come to town, buy a ticket and see their team win. If you’re Colorado or Iowa State, you can’t always say that come November.
If you’ve watched one of these games before, or more than likely, watched many, they play out in a similar manner. By midway through the second quarter, the home team is mostly composed of players that will never see the field again this season or maybe ever again. Scoring is largely at will and depending on the coaching philosophy the final tally might look more like an NBA score than a college football game. Fans will rush to message boards to talk about how great the third string quarterback looked throwing a 15 yard pass to a receiver that won’t play again this year against a defense nobody will ever play again while up forty points. To some degree, there’s merit in that. Even against an FCS team, getting one’s feet wet in live action, feeling a real hit from an opposing linebacker or laying some wood onto an opposing quarterback for the first time is valuable experience no matter who is on the other side of the field.
Most teams follow a format of feasting on a FCS team in the opener and gradually going into a couple of FBS doormats and easing into conference play. Some schools, like Alabama, have welcomed some big names into their non conference scheduling like Michigan, Virginia Tech and Penn State peppered around directional schools. But this last weekend of college football saw Ohio State beat Florida A&M to the score of 76-0 and Miami drop 77 on Savannah State. Savannah State, by the way, has had an exceptionally rough couple of seasons. The Tigers lost by 84 and 55 respectively in the first two seasons of 2012 against Oklahoma State and Florida State. The Florida State game was cut short due to inclement weather, the Tigers were spared by the football gods. The point remains though, that there’s really no team in a BCS qualifier conference that is similar to Savannah State. After a team has already played a game, or two, that matters, what’s to be gained by taking a week off and blitzing someone by a hundred points? Maybe it gives a squad time to recover from injury, but there’s just as real a chance it stunts momentum or the rhythm of an offense or defense, especially at an amateur level where 20 year old players have a million things on their mind each week. It’s not always easy at the amateur level to keep that stamina and focus where it needs to be in a major conference going from leaving it all on the field to sleepwalking against Georgia State.
And when ranked Northwestern comes out flat against Maine, or Kansas State actually loses to a very good South Dakota State on the night they unveil a statue for their head coach, the athletic directors are probably scratching their head wondering if any of it was worth it. Beat the tar out of Maine or South Dakota State and nobody bats an eye because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Lose to an underling on your home turf and you risk severe backlash in the polls, in your fanbase or given the coaching situation, the athletic department. That’s not even taking into account the fact you’re literally paying these schools to play on your home field as a friendly gesture for allowing a group of poor kids to get thrown around like ragdolls for an hour at the Horseshoe. Could you envision a scenario in which the Yankees pay the Astros half a million dollars to beat them on national TV? Could you envision a scenario in which the Heat pay the Bobcats half a million dollars to come get beat down by thirty points in Miami? Either way, it really doesn’t say anything about those teams, because I don’t need to see LeBron drop 80 on a semi-pro team from Lithuana to know the Heat are a great basketball team. I also don’t think the players on Florida A&M really gain anything from getting scored on so much they can’t sleep because of flashbacks later that night. While they probably don’t run sub 4.5 forties like Ohio State’s backs, they probably didn’t get a roster spot, even at Florida A&M, without understanding what happens when the guys in the silver helmets cross the goal line twenty times.
In 2007, Michigan won 9 games and finished in the top 20 in both the coaches and AP polls. They even beat Tim Tebow in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. But, if you’re not a Michigan fan, you probably don’t remember any of that, at least at first, when talking about Michigan’s 2007 season. If I told you that was the year they lost to Appalachian State at home, there’s a good chance you remember that game and the fallout afterwards. There’s a good chunk of schools in college football that would be thrilled with nine wins and a top 20 finish, but there’s really only one thing most of us remember from that Michigan season. That game was the infinitesimal exception to the 88 to nothing rule, but perhaps it’s a cautionary enough tale to just scrap the idea of feasting on FCS teams as a whole. If it’s not, ask Oregon State or Kansas State how they feel about the concept this year, or West Virginia who almost coughed one up to William & Mary. As the days of the BCS come to an end and a new playoff system is rolled out, perhaps these garbage games slowly disappear. There’s plenty of bad teams in the bowl subdivision, but they’re at least athletically more similar to the mean than Bethune-Cookman. Fans can tolerate it in week one, or even week two. But once we get our remote controls into a nice rhythm and do what’s necessary to plan our games around college football on Saturdays, is it too much to ask to see BCS programs play football against teams with a pulse?