Thursday, September 29, 2011

Anatomy of Upsets

By Kevin Beane

This past week was a banner week for upsets in college football. We saw not one, not two, but three 1-AA (my boycott of the term "FCS" continues apace) teams beat 1-A (ditto "FBS") sides. Each has an interesting story behind it.

Sam Houston State 48, New Mexico 45 (OT)

Sam Houston State, a member of the Southland Conference (a collection of schools in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas), finished a pedestrian 6-5 last year, and would normally be content to defeat their in-state conference rivals Stephen F. Austin, Lamar, and Texas State (who will join the WAC next year).

But as New Mexico was already recognizably one of the worst teams in 1-A, SHSU knew they had a chance to win this game, and they took advantage of it, hastening the exit of New Mexico coach Mike Locksley.

Locksley, I have to assume, was secretly in some sort of reality show competition about who could put together the worst coaching resume of all-time. The day after the game, it was revealed that a New Mexico recruit blew a DUI traffic stop ... in a car registered to Locksley. Keeping that in mind, check out these gaudy qualifications (courtesy of The Upset Blog, a blog that, sadly, is not all about upsets):

* A secretary in the athletic department filed a sexual harassment suit against Locksley before the coach's first game at New Mexico.

* Locksley reportedly punched and/or choked assistant coach J.B. Gerald.

* A recruit was cited for DWI while driving a car registered to Locksley after measuring twice the legal limit for blood-alcohol levels.

* 2-26 overall record (2-15 in MWC, 0-11 non-conference).

* 0-2 against rival/lesser light New Mexico State, whom they will play this week.

* Lost to Sam Houston State at 2011 UNM homecoming.

That's right, it was homecoming, the game schools typically try to schedule a cream-puff for so they have the best chance of sending those crazy kids to the dance in the best possible spirits.

Looking over Locksley's, erm, credentials, would he even survive the first round of cuts when applying for your kid's middle school's assistant tight end's coach?

North Dakota State 37, Minnesota 24

I won't say whose column it was — the guy probably won't need the publicity because he's so brilliant and probably very handsome — but check out what this guy said in his last column two weeks ago:

"No team has had more of an embarrassing run against 1-AA opponents and lower-echelon 1-A opponents than Minnesota over the last few years. In 2006, they escaped the Metrodome with a 10-9 win over 1-AA North Dakota State when NDSU missed a field goad as time expired. A sampling of results since then:

(snipping a list of ignoble results, including three to 1-AA Dakota schools)

Perhaps from a competitive standpoint, Minnesota should consider leaving the Big 10 and join the about-to-be-homeless castoffs of the Big 12. Minnesota will try again to crack these pesky Dakota schools in two weeks when they host NDSU again."

... and SURE ENOUGH! The Bison out-gained Minnesota, committed fewer penalties, and played turnover-free football en route to victory, marked by a four-touchdown second quarter.

By the way, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is in the hospital again after suffering still another seizure. I hate to say it, but he probably should not be coaching for health reasons and job performance. Granted, coaching Minnesota could instantly send the fittest, smartest, calmest man — I'm imagining some amalgamation of Vin Diesel and Chesley Sullenberger — to the Mayo Clinic with the worst case of PTSD, depression, and severe and poorly-understood heart and digestive ailments — but even for a first-year coach, you shouldn't be able to keep a Big Ten job if you lose to New Mexico State and North Dakota State in the same season.

Southern Utah 41, UNLV 16

I can't find reliable information to verify or refute this, but this may be the biggest blowout at 1-AA school has ever put down on a 1-A school ... and 6 of UNLV's points were courtesy of a garbage-time touchdown.

The prior week, many eyebrows — including my own — were raised when UNLV, a 17-point underdog, comfortably handled Hawaii, 40-20. Was UNLV a lot better than we thought, or Hawaii a lot worse? Well, I guess we have our answer, although I suspect both results were pretty fluky.

You know who is especially happy about SUU's victory? Tysson Poots. Oh you know Tysson Poots! You don't? Well, he was an all-American wide receiver for the Thunderbirds, and came to my attention during a preseason Cowboys game my girlfriend and I watched (he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys, but sadly was cut).

Oh, what a kick we got out of that name. And although it's apparently pronounced like "Tyson," we insist on pronouncing it "Tisson," which makes his name very close to being Puss in Boots. I hope he catches on somewhere. Or makes it on "The Price is Right."

Speaking of upsets, and my girlfriend, props to her alma mater (she's a diehard Aggie Fan, and attended A&M, but ultimately graduated from) North Texas, which knocked off Indiana this week, 24-21. The game was not as close as the score indicates: UNT led 24-0 and then held off a furious Indiana run of three fourth quarter touchdowns to seal the victory.

Although I mainly focus of 1-AA over 1-A upsets, the three undisputed bottom-feeders of 1-A are the WAC, MAC, and Sun Belt, and now Big Ten schools have lost to the worst the WAC (New Mexico State over Minnesota) and the Sun Belt (UNT over Indiana) have to offer. Not counting their upsets wins, UNT and NMSU are 0-6. Merciful fate dictates that the Hoosiers and Gophers will not play this year, sparing us from a rematch of the 1987 Toilet Bowl.

As far as the MAC goes (the bottom feeder conference nearest to my heart), congratulations to Temple for absolutely thrashing Maryland, 38-7. Penn State fans were in a tizzy for their near-miss 14-10 win over the Owls, but I warned them that Temple's pretty damn good, and they've proven it.

My quibble with Temple — or the MAC, to be exact — is that they accepted Temple in the first place under the conditions that they did: Football only. Temple was kicked out of the Big East in 2004 for persistent suckitude (the only time I've heard tell of a conference doing that), and had no options. Temple would have raised the MAC's basketball profile considerably and the conference should have insisted on full conference membership or nothing.

Instead, Temple gets to keep their basketball team in the superior (to the MAC) Atlantic 10 conference, which does not sponsor football, in exchange for Temple agreeing to play a few MAC foes in non-conference basketball action each year. (This allowed me to watch my Zips get throttled by 35 in Philadelphia by the Owls last year. You may have had the better team, Temple, but THE HOT DOGS IN YOUR ARENA WERE UNMEMORABLE!)

The MAC gave the same sweetheart deal to UMass, who will join the MAC in football in the coming years while staying in the Atlantic 10 in basketball. Apparently, the MAC is so interested in getting into those sought after "new markets" (Philadelphia and Boston in this case) that they will let these schools into the conference under whatever circumstances they desire.

Which brings me to a preview of my next column: why the MAC should not have agreed to pay New York City's Tisch School of the Arts $100 million a year to field a football team in the MAC. Stay tuned!

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