Football Gazette's Small College Football Blog

Don Hansen's Football Gazette Blog of information, comments, notes, and tidebits on Small College Football. NCAA 1-AA & Mid Major, Division II & Mid Major, Division III, NAIA, and NCCAA

Thursday, September 13, 2007

RED ZONE for 9/12/07

THE RED ZONE By Craig Burroughs

This football season has certainly gotten off to a wild and woolly start! Four 1-AA teams (yes, I, like USA Today, will continue to refer to that subdivision of D-1 by its historic monicker, as the confusing "FCS" and "BCS" nomenclature is, in my mind, just another example of the NCAA shooting itself in the proverbial foot by its failure to focus group their changes for public reaction) have already beaten 1-A teams. Northern Iowa's decisive 24-13 win over my Iowa State Cyclones was the most lopsided, and was a shocking outcome for the largest crowd in the history of Jack Trice Stadium, but it was hardly the biggest shocker of this season, or any season in living memory. Two-time defending 1-AA champion Appalachian State rocked the football world with its stunning upset of then-#5-ranked Michigan in front of more than 109,000 Maize and Blue fans at the "Big House" in Ann Arbor.
You've all heard about the historical superlatives of this game by now, but it puts me in mind, once again, about how deep the pool of college football talent, both players and coaches, has become. If the top 1-AA team can beat a Top 10 1-A program on the road, who's to say that major college football's #16 can't upset the #1 team in the country in an opening round playoff game. Each year the argument for a 16-team playoff in 1-A intensifies, and App State has clearly shown the way.
I will not stop commenting about the clear injustice and hypocrisy of the 2-team popularity contest of the current BCS system until the bowl game mavens and major college administrators figure out that everybody wins when 16 teams vie for a real National Championship by actually playing the games! Tens of thousands of fans of schools like Boise State, TCU, Fresno State, Toledo, Hawai'i, Southern Miss and their underappreciated ilk will be extremely, and justifiably, grateful!
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My season has gotten off to an unusual start as well. On my way home from my second Canadian Juniors game of the season, at Winnipeg on August 29th, my faithful Battleship JB, with over 750,000 miles behind, finally broke the crankshaft on an engine that had needed only one tuneup in 15 years. Rather than pay the price for a new car or shell out $10,000 or more to buy someone else's problems, I made the easy decision to put a rebuilt engine and accessories in my intrepid and widely-traveled Olds wagon at a cost of $4,500. While driving a rental during the past two weeks, I had a minor contretemps with a gap in the concrete while going through a construction zone in damage to me or the car, fortunately, but the shock deployed the airbag, meaning another $1,100 out the window since my insurance didn't cover it! I am safely back on the road now in my own wheels, and headed for a truly exciting and adventurous year. This weekend I'll be in California to see Whitworth at LaVerne, and I'll be taking legendary LaVerne coach Roland Ortmayer to the game with me. Ort is now 89 years old and spends most of his time in a wheelchair as a result of a stroke several years ago, but he is still quite lucid and enjoys reminiscing about his 45-year head coaching career, and it will be a real pleasure to see him visit the stadium that bears his name to watch the first Leopards home game in 59 years under the direction of a coach who isn't himself or someone who played for him. By the end of this year I hope to have seen at least 83 college games, in addition to another couple of dozen NFL, CFL and high school games. I've already seen 2 Canadian college games and a CFL game, and plan to see both the Vanier Cup(Canadian college championship) and Grey Cup(CFL title game) this year, as both are at the Rogers Centre in Toronto just two days apart. This may also be the season that I end with the Super Bowl, a game I haven't attended since Super Bowl IV at the late Tulane Stadium in 1970.
College football game #1,000 occurred for me at the first game in Saint Vincent's brand-new Chuck Noll Field on September 1st, which was also SVC's first varsity football game in 45 years. The opponent was Gallaudet, playing its first varsity game in 10 years, after fielding a club team during that time. GU's Bison won the game 32-13 against a coach who had been their mentor in 1970 and '71. I've seen three of the seven new teams for 2007 already, and will see the final two playing against each other when Faulkner meets UNC-Pembroke in Pembroke, NC, on the 27th of October. Until then, I will keep you posted on a regular basis as the thrills and excitement of a very promising season continue to unfold.
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I have noticed a strange trend already this season that makes me feel even more strongly about a position I've taken for a long time....teams should try for 2 points on conversion attempts more often, if not most of the time. I was reminded of this while watching the Minnesota JuCo Kickoff Classic at Saint Cloud State in late August. Over a span of five games in two days, I witnessed 21 missed conversion attempts, 18 of the kicking attempts. Only one of the 10 teams made all of its extra point tries, and in one game only 1 of 7 XP's was good, while another game saw just one successful conversion in six tries. Of course, the success ration of less than 40% of kicks in these five games is far from representative, I have witnessed more missed kicking attempts than usual in four-year college games as well. It has long seemed to me that if you can't make three yards 50% of the time for a two-point conversion, you're not preparing very well. This is especially true when you consider that most teams don't prepare much for 2-point conversions. If you assume that only about 90% of kicking tries are successful, that means you only have to make 45% of 2-pointers to break even. Anything more than that gives you an advantage, and the odd scoring patterns created by successful 2-point tries is a further advantage, because it often forces the opposition to match the score, or possibly to settle for a field goal when they might be in good position to go for the TD. My advice to coaches: Spend more time on 2-point conversions. I was very pleased to see Lake Erie College's first college game last weekend, a 33-3 win over Ohio Wesleyan's JV, and the Storm's head coach, Mark McNelly, went for two successfully with a "swinging gate" formation early in the game. I would love to see more teams follow his lead and take control of the game's scoring patterns at the outset.
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