On the surface the University at Buffalo’s five-overtime victory over Stony Brook Saturday comes across as underwhelming. The Seawolves play at the lower FCS level. Popular thought says an FCS team shouldn’t be able to play with schools in the FBS tier. But consider what Rod Carey, coach of MAC power Northern Illinois, had to say on Monday’s coaches teleconference.
Northern Illinois opened at Iowa of the Big Ten. Then followed it with a game at Idaho, an FBS independent. This week the Huskies are home to Eastern Illinois, an FCS school. Carey resoundingly dismissed the idea NIU has it easy this week as it steps down in class. In fact, he took his assessment of the Panthers to the highest heights.
“No disrespect to anybody we’ve played so far, but it’s probably the best football team we’ve played to date and it’s going to be a real challenge for us,” Carey said.
Eastern Illinois’ transformation under head coach Dino Babers, a former Baylor assistant, should be catching the eye of FBS athletic directors across the country. EIU finished last in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2011. In came Babers. The Panthers won the OVC title last year and are off to a 3-0 start that includes a 40-19 rout of San Diego State of the Mountain West.
“I don’t care about labels. You may, I don’t,” Casey said of EIU’s FCS stature. “All I know is what you see on tape and I can tell you Eastern Illinois has our full attention. This is a fine football team. Their quarterback’s good, their running back’s good, the wideouts are good, their defense moves around, creates havoc. You name it, everything’s concerning. They’re a good football team.”
UB coach Jeff Quinn needs no convincing that FCS schools can be dangerous despite their lesser scholarship allotments. Stony Brook gave UB all it could handle.
“I think you see it every year,” Quinn said. “There’s always going to be a lot more good players than there are scholarship opportunities at the I-A level. When you look at 126 Division I-A schools, and, typically, you can sign only 20 per school, on the average — you can sign up to 25 total — but that leaves a lot of kids out there. And those programs benefit from it.
“Plus they get transfers. We played against a team that had guys that came out of high school that were recognized by Florida State’s staff, and Maryland’s and Temple’s and Pitt and UC (Cincinnati). They’re good football players. And there are great coaches.”
Bulls coaches hit the road
UB steps back for its bye week and then returns Sept. 28 for its final non-conference game, against Connecticut at UB Stadium. Quinn said the Bulls won’t be getting too far ahead of themselves in this week’s work.
“The majority of it’s going to be on UConn,” he said. “We’re going to get our coaches out and do a little recruiting. I want to get our gentlemen out on the road and get out there with some of our guys that have expressed a sincere interest in our program. But it’s going to be utilized to work on UConn mainly but it’s also going to give our coordinators and myself a chance to continue to catch up on some of the future opponents.”
UB plays its MAC opener at home Oct. 5 against Eastern Michigan and travels to Western Michigan the following week.
Could it be that Akron’s on the verge of becoming relevant again in the MAC? The Zips nearly pulled off an upset for the ages Saturday before falling, 28-24, at No. 11/12 Michigan. The Zips, who haven’t beaten an FBS team since the final game of 2010 (UB), took a long drive to the Wolverines 1 with 15 seconds left but couldn’t get it in.
Akron had eight tackles for losses, three interceptions (one a Pick Six), missed two field goals and threw an end-zone interception earlier in the game.
“It’s amazing,” said Akron coach Terry Bowden. “They say you have to do everything perfect to have a chance to win but …“
It could have been Akron’s first road win since 2008. Still, it’s something to build on.
“There’s a great deal of confidence, a little more bounce in their step, then there would have been otherwise if we did not play well,” Bowden said. “We also got to make sure we get focused on the next one. Here comes Louisiana-Lafayette, two years in a row 9-3 and won their bowl game.”
MAC players of week
Offense: Kyle Pohl, QB, Akron, 25-49-311 and two TDs vs. Michigan. Defense: Devin Bass, DB, Ohio U., 11 tackles and an INT in a 34-31 win over Marshall. Special Teams: Paul Senn, LB, Bowling Green, returned his own blocked punt for a TD and added a fumble recover on kick coverage in 42-10 loss at Indiana.
Offense: Tommylee Lewis, WR, Northern Illinois, nine catches for 56 yards and four rushes for 102 yards in 45-35 win at Idaho. Defense: Ken Bishop, DT, NIU, eight tackles (six solo) and a fumble recovery vs. Idaho. Special Teams: Jeremiah Detmer, K, Toledo, made two FGs and put four of seven kickoffs for touchbacks in the Rockets 33-21 win over Eastern Washington.
Game of the week
Eastern Illinois at Northern Illinois, 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3. This game has been added to the Web broadcast schedule, as well it should. Expect the fireworks to fly. NIU remains on the fringes of the Top 25 after wins over Iowa and Idaho but is looking susceptible on the defensive side of the ball. EIU is averaging 46 points a game and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo already has thrown for 1,281 yards and 14 touchdowns. Garoppolo was listed on NFL.com as the No. 7 senior QB entering the season. He’s 6-3, 225.