College Football 2011: 10 Games That Could Go the Little Guy's Way
James Madison was one of last year's little guys who came up big with a win over eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech
Last year there were several FCS squads that went in and stunned FBS powers.
Notable upsets for the little guy last season included Jacksonville State's memorable double-overtime thriller in which they won on the road against SEC foe Ole Miss. Also that same week, North Dakota State handed Kansas a 6-3 shocker in Lawrence.
The next week it was the Dukes—no, not the Dukies from Duke University, but the James Madison Dukes—walking into Lane Stadium and handing Virginia Tech its second straight loss.
On a personal note, I never saw any of these three coming. I had written an article midsummer predicting 10 games that could be close, if not turn into an upset. Well, to put it gently, I was wrong.
So this year I have read my publications, done my homework and come up with "the list" of games to watch for in which the little guy could come away with a win over the big guy.
Sept. 3: Appalachian State at Virginia Tech
If App State is going to pull off this shocker, they will need a big game from QB and FCS All American DeAndre Presley
Appalachian State is no stranger to the opening day upset of an FBS power, having beaten then-No. 5 Michigan to start the 2007 season. On the other hand, VaTech found out how it felt to be beaten by a FCS foe last year when James Madison came into Blacksburg and pulled the shocker.
So what are the keys to this one possibly being a shocker?
The first is having All-American QB DeAndre Presley make solid decisions when it comes to the passing game. Presley will have to be patient in the pocket and not be too quick to use his feet.
Virginia Tech will look to expose App State up front, as the Mountaineers must replace several starters up front on both sides of the ball, including All-American defensive end Jabari Fletcher. But the Hokies won't have a Ryan Williams or Darren Evans to have new QB Logan Thomas hand the ball off to.
The Mountaineers definitely should feel good about going into Blacksburg and giving the Hokies all they can handle.
Sept. 1: New Hampshire at Toledo
In last year's FCS playoff win Kevin Decker showed he was ready to lead the Cats
New Hampshire went into Evanston back in 2006 and beat Northwestern by double digits. A Thursday night opener in Toledo could provide similar results.
On paper Toledo will be a heavy favorite. It returns a ton of starters, including All-American return man Eric Page and 1,000-yard rusher Adonis Thomas. The Rockets also appear very tough up front on defense with ends like T.J. Fatinikun.
However, New Hampshire has a QB in Kevin Decker who has sat and watched while R.J. Toman led the Cats to playoff year after playoff year. Last year, when Toman went down, Decker stepped in to throw for 289 yards and three scores in their win over Bethune-Cookman in the playoffs.
There are holes in the Toledo pass defense, and that could be the opening the Wildcats need to make the opener in the Glass Bowl extra special for the boys from the Granite State.
Sept. 3: Richmond at Duke
Richmond and QB Aaron Corp will look to win early and often in 2011.
Last year Richmond was bitten by the injury bug, as it lost USC transfer QB Aaron Corp in the fifth game. This year expectations are high as the Spiders look to return to the FCS playoffs.
Duke once again finished at the bottom of the ACC at 3-9 and allowed over 450 yards per game. The Blue Devils were not very good at stopping the run and even worse at getting pressure on the quarterback.
The key to this upset will be up front, where the Spiders have a solid young group that gained its experience last season.
Aaron Corp has a big day, as does Duke QB Sean Renfree, but the Spiders pull off a mild upset in Durham.
Sept. 3: Liberty at N.C. State
Liberty QB Mike Brown went for over 3800 yards of total offense in 2010
This game will be interesting for one reason: quarterback play.
N.C. State dismissed Russell Wilson earlier this spring and opted to go with junior Mike Glennon. All Wilson did during his career with the Wolfpack was throw for over 8,500 yards and 76 scores. In fact, they were a win over Maryland away from competing for the ACC title.
On the other side is Liberty QB Mike Brown. Brown is on the Walter Payton watch list already, and why not? He accounted for over 3,800 yards a season ago and won the Big South offensive player of the year award for the second straight year.
The game could and should be won up front, where N.C. State is much bigger and stronger, but do not overlook a passionate QB with the ability to make plays. This one is much closer than the experts think.
Sept. 3: William & Mary at Virginia
Tribe tailback Jonathan Grimes is perhaps the best back in the FCS
The cliché is if you play solid defense and run the ball well, you will win most of the time. That is the case for the Tribe of William & Mary as they head into Charlottesville in the opener to take on Virginia.
The Tribe features a defense that has averaged giving up less than 15 a game over the past two seasons. They also feature a running back in Jonathan Grimes who is already the all-time leader in all-purpose yards with over 5,400.
Last year Virginia improved by one victory but failed to stop the run, allowing over five yards per carry and 28 scores. Not good when Grimes comes calling.
William & Mary is a favorite to make a run at an FCS championship, and after this game at Virginia, the entire nation will know why.
Sept. 3: Cal Poly at San Diego State
Cal Poly beating San Diego State in Rocky Long's debut would surely shock the college football world.
San Diego State lost four games last year by a combined total of just 15 points. QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman were sensational at times, and the Aztecs finished with a bowl victory. But that was 2010.
Head coach Brady Hoke has gone to Michigan, leaving Rocky Long the choice to replace him.
Cal Poly fell just short in an upset effort at Camp Randall just a few years ago. Now head coach Tim Walsh is hoping that a year of experience is what QB Andre Broadous and his offense needed.
This has potential upset all over it. You have a non-traditional offense coming in to play against a team that is with a new (retreaded) coach in a season that is filled with expectation.
It may be a Long shot, as in a Rocky Long shot upset, but nevertheless, it should be interesting.
Sept. 3: Eastern Washington at Washington
Eastern Washington won the 2010 FCS title and is looking to prove that they are the best team in Washington
Many college football fans in the state of Washington will remember the 2010 season as the year Jake Locker led the Huskies to a shocking victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. However, a few weeks later the team from across the state proved that it was the best in all of the land.
The opening day meeting between these two brings a lot of intrigue to the table.
How well will the Huskies play in the post-Locker era?
Is Eastern Washington going to be the best team in the state in 2011?
Eagle QB Bo Levi Mitchell will lead an attack that will have to march the ball against an athletic defense and a rabid crowd. They lost star tailback Taiwan Jones to the NFL and the Oakland Raiders.
The key in this one will be up front for the Eagles. Can the defense stop Chris Polk from establishing the run, and can the offense protect Mitchell long enough for him to find his playmakers on the outside?
This one will be close throughout, and if the Eagles can find a back to replace Jones, they could steal one in Seattle.
Sept. 3: Montana at Tennessee
Could a Montana lead Montana past a tough SEC foe?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Here is one that could be full of intrigue for one reason: Joe Montana—whoops, I mean his kid Nate.
Nate transferred to his namesake university in February and is competing for the starting spot. However, a June 3rd DUI arrest could derail his season and the game.
Montana has its hands full in this one no matter who starts at quarterback. The Vols have more depth, speed and talent. But the Grizz did boast a top-10 defense in the FCS, and that could help against a Vols team that struggled to put points on the board.
Look for this one to be close at halftime. If Montana can get going on offense, then this could be huge for the little guy against a big guy from the best conference in college football.
Sept. 3: Delaware at Navy
Delaware will look to pound the ball with CAA Rookie of the Year Andrew Pierce
The Blue Hens are trying to get that nasty taste out of their mouth. It is a taste that is similar to blowing a 19-0 lead over Eastern Washington in the FCS title game. They could start by beating Navy in their opener.
Both squads are looking to replace a starting quarterback. Pat Devlin, a transfer from Penn State, led Delaware for two seasons, while Ricky Dobbs was at times untouchable for the Midshipmen.
Navy is experienced up front and should move the ball, but look for the difference-maker in this one to be All-CAA running back Andrew Pierce, who ran for over 1,600 yards a season ago.
It's not an App State-Michigan circa 2007 upset, but look for the Hens to make Navy feel blue when this one is through.
Sept. 24: North Dakota State at Minnesota
The Bison did it in 2007, will 2011 also be a charm?
In 2007 the Bison went into the Metrodome and handed Goldy a 27-21 loss. The Bison will look to do the same at TCF Bank Stadium when they come in later in September.
New head coach Jerry Kill will have to endure his first season in the Twin Cities knowing he inherits a team that lacks a lot of talent. Junior MarQueis Gray will finally get his shot at QB but has little around him. Defensively the Gophers gave up over 30 a game and lack size up front.
North Dakota State shocked Kansas last year, so winning against the big boys comes as no surprise to the Bison. Look for them to pound the ball like they did four years ago, this time with 1,600-yard back D.J. McNorton.
Look for this one to be close throughout with the Bison stealing another one from Goldy late.