University of Toledo football helmet
There is a template major college football teams like to consult when previewing a match up against a FCS opponent.
Players and coaches will recite statistics illustrating the rise of the lower-tier Division I subdivision. They might stress the perceived shrinking divide between the haves and have nots in college football. If they fail to make their point they can always evoke Appalachian State-Michigan.
Spin is unnecessary this week at the University of Toledo. The Rockets’ opponent in their home opener is not merely a beneficiary of an improving FCS. Eastern Washington is the improvement seen in the FCS.
“Honestly, they’re a Division I team. They should be in FBS,” UT running back David Fluellen said. “I feel like they can compete with any team in the country.”
Point spreads are not typically recognized for FBS-FCS matchups, but at least one gambling Web site — Covers.com — lists the Rockets as a slim 3½-point favorite. The Rockets have won their last 15 against FCS opponents and are 19-2 overall.
The 2010 national champion Eagles grasped the country’s attention two weeks ago when their break-neck offense authored an upset of No. 25 Oregon State, becoming just the third FCS team to take down a ranked FBS opponent. EWU scored on all but one offensive series.
Seven more FBS-FCS matchups from college football’s opening weekend produced an eye-opening result. It’s not like the losers are traditional patsies. South Florida, Kansas State, Iowa State, San Diego State, Connecticut, and South Alabama doled out a combined $2.3 million to start 0-1. Samford’s payout for its win over new FBS member Georgia State has not been publicized.
Eastern Washington, which in June, 2012, agreed with Toledo to a one-game contract, will pocket $375,000 for the program’s fourth appearance east of the Mississippi River.
Toledo has hosted a FCS team in three of the past four years and will play another — New Hampshire — to open the 2014 slate. Athletic director Mike O’Brien’s scheduling history suggests he prefers home games against FCS teams over guaranteed road games — think Florida this year, and Michigan in 2008 — in which the bigger program is not obligated to pay the Rockets a return visit in Toledo.
“We call a variety of schools and FCS schools call us,” O’Brien said. “The date worked out. It just simply worked out. I know we’re hosting a very good team on Saturday.”
The second-ranked Eagles are 9-20 against FBS teams, with the majority of their defeats coming at the hands of the conference known now as the Pac-12. A 20-3 win last year over Idaho snapped a 10-game skid against FBS opponents.
EWU went 11-3 last season and captured its sixth Big Sky title before losing in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs. The Eagles opened this year ranked No. 4 in the preseason FCS poll and third nationally in the coaches’ poll.
“You can tell they’ve won in their program’s history,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “They play that way. They play with great consistency and energy.”
The 2013 numbers EWU is producing should be unnerving to a Toledo team hoping to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2007. The Eagles have eight seniors starting on a defense that limited Division II Western Oregon to 217 yards on Saturday, the lowest total in EWU’s last 78 contests. Three starters and eight players overall are Pac-12 transfers.
And then there is the offensive fireworks. The Eagles are averaging 611 yards after torching Oregon State for 625 and Western Oregon for 597. Dual-threat quarterback Vernon Adams has accounted for 861 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“They have a chip on their shoulder to show everyone they should be D-I,” Rockets defensive end Jayrone Elliott said. “They’re very talkative, and they like to have fun out there. They’re very passionate about their game. They’re going to come out here and be very confident, as well they should be. They’re 2-0 and we haven’t won a game yet.”