Jeff Ogden made me a believer in the FCS.
In 1997 the University of Idaho made the trip up U.S. Highway 195 to Joe Albi Stadium to take on the Eastern Washington Eagles. This was long before Appalachian State winning at the Big House in 2007. Eons before North Dakota State stunned Kansas State in Week 1 of this season. Back when the FCS was simply Division 1-AA. Back before the Bowl Lobby felt the tide turning so heavily against them they had to rename Division 1-A the Football Bowl Subdivision (See, you can't get rid of Bowls, it's in the name!).
It was on this fateful fall day that Idaho taught me a lesson that we all should have ingrained in our memories by now. The Vandals let 21-17 with just over a minute remaining, when the following sequence happened.*
IDAHO 21, EASTERN WASHINGTON 17
Troy Scott kickoff 45 yards to the EWU20, Jimmy Lake return 16 yards to the EWU36
E 1-10 E36 EASTERN WASHINGTON drive start at 01:11.
E 1-10 E36 Harry Leons pass complete to Jeff Ogden for 38 yards to the UI26, 1ST DOWN EWU, out-of-bounds (Kevin Hill).
E 1-10 I26 Harry Leons pass complete to Jeff Ogden for 23 yards to the UI3, 1ST DOWN EWU (Tony Uranga).
E 1-G I03 Timeout Eastern Washington, clock 00:50.
E 1-G I03 Rex Prescott rush for no gain to the UI3 (Ryan Skinner;Bryson Gardner).
E 2-G I03 Timeout Eastern Washington, clock 00:37.
E 2-G I03 Rex Prescott rush for 3 yards to the UI0, TOUCHDOWN,clock 00:34.
Josh Atwood kick attempt good.
IDAHO 21, EASTERN WASHINGTON 24
Jeff Ogden made up 61 yards of ground in 21 seconds for the Eagles. Rex Prescott punched in the ball from the 3, and some very unhappy Vandals made their way back home to Idaho.
In retrospect, it shouldn't have been shocking that Idaho's former Big Sky colleague upset them in Spokane. Still, on that day, it was quite a stunner.
The winds of upset were also swirling when Eastern Washington's Hail Mary dropped to the ground against WSU (thank goodness) in 2012. When C.J. Mizell intercepted Denarius McGhee to cap a 16-point, fourth quarter comeback against Montana State in 2010.
The Cougars were lucky. Even the worst of our teams somehow - almost inexplicably - avoided the bite of the FCS bug.
The FCS is a monster we created. By scheduling these home-only games, FBS teams like Washington State try to create a quick win for themselves. In addition, the FBS team gets another home game, increased ticket sales for the year and (usually) TV coverage as the icing on the cake. The FCS team gets money, and (usually) an L in their win/loss column.
If you believe it's always a better deal for the FBS team, think again. The FCS team takes the money they earn for their appearance and invests it in better coaches, better facilities, uniquely-colored turf, and so on (Ed. note: I am aware a booster paid for Eastern's red "Inferno"). They also get something else that I think many forget about: exposure. My Dad's alma mater Samford could drive down to Auburn for a drubbing, but that drubbing puts them on the national scoreboard. It puts their school name in your ScoreCenter app, gets ESPN to mention them in passing, gets you to think, if only for a moment, "Who is Samford?"‡
Then, there's the next level. If you are a North Dakota State, a Montana, an Eastern Washington -- you get a chance to actually go into one of the hallowed grounds of college football and win. The win makes you temporary national darlings; a top play on SportsCenter, a conversation topic around the water cooler on Monday. Congratulations, little school, you're a champion today.
FCS upsets are more common than you might think. I looked at two sources that examined the issue in depth and came to roughly the same conclusion: FBS teams historically beat FCS teams about 82% of the time. That means the FCS team wins 18% of the time. Almost 1 in 5. Not great odds, but certainly not terrible odds. Better than I would have guessed.
Some other fun facts (via footballgeography.com and updated to 2013 by yours truly):
-Temple has the most losses to FCS opponents (10). They play Fordham on Saturday.
-Army has played the most games versus FCS opponents (66).
-Notre Dame, USC and UCLA have never played FCS teams.
-Washington has played an FCS team, although for years they loved to brag that they would never stoop that low.
-Until their win over Central Arkansas last weekend, Colorado had a losing record against FCS teams (now 2-2).
-Four times an FCS team has beat an AP-ranked FBS team; the most recent being (who else) Eastern Washington over No. 25 Oregon State.
This brings me to one final point. The FBS had its best seasons by win percentage against the FCS in 2008, 2005, and 2009. All fairly recent seasons. The tide is turning yet again. Mammoth television contracts for the power conferences in the FBS have re-ignited another facilities arms race. Coaches in the automatic qualifier conferences routinely receive seven figure salaries. FBS teams are getting smarter about scheduling the Idaho States of the world instead of the Montana States (Not all FCS teams are created equal). At some point, power conference teams may begin blacking out FCS opponents either out of pride or as a way to get recruits to forget those teams even exist.
The gap is widening yet again, and wins for our underdog friends in the FCS are going to be harder to come by. Still, out of luck, skill and sheer sample size we do know that the FCS -- for now -- isn't going down without a fight.
Southern Utah could beat Washington State on Saturday. If they do, we'll be upset, we'll be angry and we'll want to tear down the lego statue of Mike Leach we built after the USC game.
But let's be honest: Is the FCS really shocking anyone anymore?
*This is the second time I've mentioned this game on CougCenter, because I love it so much
‡ I bet you'll Google Samford now