FCS vs. FBS

Aug. 27, 2014 @ 11:17 PM

Let the whuppings begin!

‘Tis the season when football stadiums morph into something akin to the Colosseum in ancient Rome wherein human beings lined up across from wild animals for the epitome of ultimate fighting, the sort of scraps that put a whole different spin on sudden-death overtime.

Release the hounds!

N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack said he will lead his Eagles into East Carolina’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium fully expecting to beat the Pirates on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPNews). There will be no moral victories or anything like that to measure the final outcome, he said.

“I only know one way, and that’s wins and losses,” Mack said.

In that regard, Dowdy-Ficklen is the Colosseum. ECU, an NCAA Division I school that plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of college football, is a beast. And NCCU, also a D-I school but in the lower-tiered Football Championship Subdivision, represents mankind.

ECU will pay NCCU $290,000 to come and take what some would regard as a guaranteed spanking. The money will help financially challenged NCCU while presumably allowing ECU to pick up an easy win toward becoming eligible for a bowl game. An FBS team is allowed to count one win per season against an FCS team on its postseason résumé.

It is what it is, according to naysayers who argue that FCS teams and FBS teams have no business on the same field at the same time.

The Appalachian State Mountaineers had something to say about that in 2007, when they went inside The Big House and beat No. 5 Michigan to become the first FCS team to knock off a ranked FBS team.

Raleigh’s William Peebles was at that game, in the stands cheering for Appalachian State, his alma mater.

“Once in a while, some magic will happen,” Peebles said.

What Appalachian State pulled off was some David Copperfield-type stuff, the Mountaineers blocking a field-goal attempt at the end of the game that would have won it.

In 1991, Peebles helped Appalachian State conjure up a little hocus-pocus when the Mountaineers ventured into the Atlantic Coast Conference and beat Wake Forest 17-3. It gets at the reason why Appalachian State belongs on the field with Michigan in Saturday’s rematch, and it’s why NCCU’s guys have every right to spots on either side of the line of scrimmage against ECU, Peebles said.

North Carolina and Duke — two of the Triangle’s three FBS schools — host FCS teams this weekend. Duke lost to FCS-level Richmond in 2011, 2009 and 2006.

N.C. State hosts Georgia Southern, formerly an FCS school that is in its inaugural season in the Sun Belt Conference, an FBS league.

There’s no running from the numbers. An FBS team is allowed to distribute 85 scholarships. FCS schools each get 63 scholarships, and that means fewer bodies to work with, less depth. That gives FBS teams the upper hand over FCS teams, Peebles said. Third-team players on a lot of FBS squads would start at FCS schools, he said.

But ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said not all FBS teams are created equally, and there are some FCS teams that are stout and stacked, too.

Generally speaking, FCS wide receivers, running backs and other skill-position players are just as good as those on the FBS level, McNeill said. It’s largely the big boys in the trenches, the linemen, who make FBS football what it is, he said.

McNeill was Peebles’ position coach and defensive coordinator at Appalachian State.

Willow Springs’ John Leach was toting the football for Wake Forest when Peebles had his hand in the dirt for Appalachian State. Peebles remembered one particular game when he got a bunch of hits on Leach.

Leach recalled his 329 rushing yards against Maryland in 1993 which established an ACC single-game record that held up until last season, when Boston College running back Andre Williams ran for 339 yards against N.C. State.

“The record stood for 20 years. I cannot complain,” Leach said. “I was kind of shocked and surprised (that someone broke the record).”

Those Wake Forest squads in the early-mid 1990s didn’t lose any intensity when the next team up was a lower-tiered opponent, Leach said.

“The mood was the same,” Leach said. “It wasn’t necessarily that we thought it was going to be a win for us.”

Of course, Wake Forest wasn’t and still isn’t a football juggernaut. Higher-profile FBS schools probably don’t take certain FCS teams quite as seriously, Leach said.

But FCS teams deserve to be on the field with FBS teams, Leach said.

“You have to look it now as far as the talent,” Leach said. “You have a lot of FCS schools that put out the same kind of talent as FBS schools.”

“Look at every NFL roster,” McNeill said. “Kids are from everywhere, and that’s called parity.”

In the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, where NCCU plays, Bethune-Cookman and S.C. State were co-champs of the league a year ago and represented the conference in the FCS playoffs, where they once again lost in the first round. Those two schools are the favorites to make it back to the playoffs this season. A postseason win sure would be nice, Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins said.

“It’s time to stop talking about getting a win. It’s time to get one,” Jenkins said. “Where we’re at now is unacceptable.”

Where Bethune-Cookman is puts the Wildcats easily among the best that the MEAC has to offer, but during the so-called guarantee games or money games against FBS teams, Jenkins’ squads have been knocked back.

Still, Jenkins said he’d put his guys up against any team in either the FBS or the FCS.

“We feel we can match up with anybody,” Jenkins said. “We don’t feel inferior to anybody.”

S.C. State coach Buddy Pough, on the other hand, readily acknowledged the disparity between his team and FCS programs that have bounced his Bulldogs from the playoffs, when winning comes down to the teams with fewer injuries, home-field advantages and financial resources, he said. That money part makes S.C. State inferior to some FCS schools and, by extension, to many FBS programs.

“Financially we are (inferior),” Pough said. “The things that those guys can do as far as money is concerned sometimes is a little bit different than what we can afford to do. It is, to a certain degree, us little guys against some of the bigger guys, especially toward the top of the heap.”

Even so, FCS teams still belong on the field with FBS teams, McNeill said.

“I’m not afraid to say that, at all,” McNeill said. “Competition is competition.”

There is a talent gap even among FBS schools. McNeill conceded that he can’t just walk through the front door of a high school and emerge with a trail of recruits behind him. The three big letters across his shirt are ECU, not UNC.

“We get kids that are not 5-star kids and not 3-star kids,” McNeill said. “We get some guys as walk-ons, and that’s OK, because there (are) good football players everywhere.

“People need to look up where I come from and how I grew up in this business.”

McNeill has coached both low- and high-level Division II teams, and low- and high-level FCS teams. He said that makes him appreciate that there are a lot of coaches like Mack throughout the game at myriad levels who know what they’re doing.

“I respect and understand that we know we’d better be playing our best game (against NCCU),” McNeill said.

“I think ECU is not going to take them lightly,” Leach said.

Peebles, who runs his own insurance firm, said FCS-FBS games are win-win situations.

“Everybody who gets a football scholarship, they want to go to the biggest schools,” Peebles said.

Appalachian State joined the Sun Belt in July. Again, that’s FBS football — the Mountaineers played FCS football when Peebles was on the team.

“My first college game, we played at Clemson,” Peebles said.

That was back on Sept. 7, 1991. Clemson creamed Appalachian State 34-0 in Death Valley.

“We got thumped every time,” Peebles said.

That tends to be the deal with FCS schools versus FBS schools.

Yet Peebles got to share the stage in Death Valley with future National Football League guys like Chester McGlockton and Levon Kirkland.

“It felt like your Super Bowl,” Peebles said. “There’s no way they’re pumped up to play us, and you can, kind of, feel it. That’s why it’s dangerous to play us.”

“Appalachian State proved that against Michigan,” Leach said.